Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Conveniently Located Hanging Tree

People with a debilitating phobia learn to avoid certain situations, so you would think I knew better.  As much time as I spend outdoors, hiking in the wilderness and deep woods, I shy away from areas that present the perfect environment for snakes.  Tall grass, wet and marshy fields, and rivers are the prime places for me to skirt around.  I know this.  I do it all the time.  Except this time.

I had traveled a day ahead of my family to the village of Empire in the Sleeping Bear Dunes to set up camp for our annual Family Camping Trip.  It's always a great weekend, with camping much less an emphasis than a whirlwind tour of all the area tourists attractions.  My husband loves tourist attractions. We were exploring the entire Leelanau Peninsula this year, since we try to go someplace new every year.

I love the annual Family Camping Trip, but struggle with camping in my beloved northern Michigan and spending all my time with crowds, overpriced food, and busy streets.  I want to be in the woods!  Early morning of the day my family would arrive was the only time I would be able to wander alone in the woods.  I made a quick stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor's Center, in search of a Trail Map, to fulfill a promise I made to my daughter, Birdie, to scout out some running trails for her as she is training for her first half-marathon.  The Visitor Center is very well staffed, with many exhibits and plenty of informational brochures available.  I found a Trail Guide, and purchased it on the Honor System by dropping a couple of dollars in the "Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes" box.  Another reason to love the wilds of Michigan.  Do you think a visit to any big city would include payments on an honor system?

Looking through the guide, I found a nearby trail system that would be easy for Birdie to access and drove a few miles to Esch Beach, within the National Lakeshore.  It wasn't particularly easy to find, and the old road that dead-ends at the beach is hilly with the asphalt washed-out on the edges.  Because it was still early, I walked through a small dune and came out on a completely deserted Lake Michigan beach, with dunes rising up behind me and the lake rushing toward me.  The sun was shining on dewey dune grass, making the dunes sparkle like diamonds.  I had found a very private stretch of beach and could not have been more delighted.

To my left, a small, crystal-clear creek emptied into the great lake.  According to my map, this was Otter Creek.  After walking the shoreline in solitude for about an hour, I returned to my car and found a sign located next to the vault toilet giving the history of the lost town of Aral.

It's a fascinating story.  According to Michigan's Lost Towns, Aral was a logging community in the late 1800's.  But perhaps its most intriguing story is not told on the official plaque at Esch Beach.  Behind the sign a very old, large tree lies on the ground, having toppled over a long time ago.  It's called The Hanging Tree.  On August 10, 1899, two Benzie County deputies were sent to Aral to place a lien on the stacked logs at the mill for unpaid taxes.  Mill Manager Charles Wright met the deputies on the road with a pistol and a rifle, and shot them dead.  The bodies were left where they fell and the mill continued operations as though nothing had happened.  As news of the double murder spread, the people of Aral became increasingly angry, and sent a telegram to Benzonia to inform the sheriff of the trouble.  As the sheriff dispatched a posse of twenty men to apprehend Wright, the mill manager shut down operations and disappeared into the woods.

Courtesy National Park Service
By the time the posse arrived, the angry mob was out for revenge.  Charles Wright had employed a man to act as interpreter for the Ottawa Indians, and Peter Lahala was thought to know the whereabouts of his boss.  The posse dropped a noose around Lahala's neck, and the Indian was hoisted in the air from the hanging tree.  The sheriff lowered him, asked where Wright was, and when Lahala couldn't answer, they hoisted him up again.  Before this grim justice could be fully carried out, Wright was dragged from the woods after being captured by a group of men, and Lahala was released.  Wright was sentenced to a life of hard labor at Jackson Prison.  One year later, his sentence was commuted by the Governor.

I find stories like these add so much more to my experience in a particular spot.  I drove my car about 50 feet up the road, and turned off at the trailhead.  A single-lane dirt two track led to several trailheads, so I kept driving to find the best trail for Birdie.  I knew she needed to run at least 12 miles, so I consulted the trail guide and started marking the different loops she could take.  As I drove further, I
Courtesy Google Images
saw Otter Lake on my right, and immediately thought I was in prime snake territory.  Going deeper into the woods, I stopped at Marker #4 and got out to walk, veering away from the marshy banks on the lake.  I walked a bit in my beloved woods, circled back to my car, and prepared to head back to the campground and wait for my family.  I had a clear idea of the route Birdie would run, and felt good that I was able to find it for her.

Driving out, I noticed many clumps of wildflowers growing right next to the dirt road.  With such a narrow lane, I figured I could lean out of my car window and cut some wildflowers for my vase at the campsite.  I was nervous, knowing that that proximity of the lake and the long wild grass and flowers were great hiding spots for reptiles, but I was able to cut several flowers without stepping outside of the car.  As I came upon the bridge over Otter Creek, I spotted the most unusual clump of flowers, right next to the corner of the bridge.  They were beautiful!  I told myself that I had enough flowers, I was pushing my luck, and I would actually have to step out of the car to cut these.  River, dense undergrowth, bridge, shade on a hot morning, all screamed at me to just keep driving.  I stopped.  The flowers really were breathtaking.  I leaned out the window and scanned the ground, particularly around the base of the flowers.  I took one of the cut flowers and threw it out the window, to see if anything moved on the ground.  The morning was quiet, I saw no movement, and decided I was safe.

Open the car door.  Grab the scissors.  Put one foot on the ground next to the bridge flowers.  Keep one foot in the car.  Lean over, grab the whole bunch of flowers, and make one quick cut.  That was my plan.  As I reached down to cut, a very large, very black snake reared up from the center of the bunch…ohshitohshitohshitgetinthecarouch!slammedmyfootinthedoorohshitohshitohshit!  I hit the gas with the car door still open, called my husband, who was still driving north with the kids, and saw my world turning black around the edges.  When my husband answered, he knew what had happened right away.  He's heard that wheezing and moaning before.  He said, "Are you in the car?  Pull over, pull over!"  He knew chances were good I was about to faint.

I actually handled it well this time, considering the size of the snake and the surprise attack it launched at me.  I kept driving, resisted blacking out, and my husband talked me through it.  I was pretty shaky for several hours, and experienced flashbacks, but I didn't faint, so that's progress.

Later that afternoon, after my husband arrived, I drove him out Esch Road to take him and my son to the deserted beach I had walked earlier.  No longer deserted, we couldn't even park, so we drove out and I instructed him to turn down the dirt road to the bridge so I could show him where "the incident" occurred and let him check out Birdie's running route.   As he slowly drove over the bridge, my son hung his head out the window and said, "Oh yeah, there's your snake, Mom".    GoGoGoGoGoGo!  We peeled out of there, spraying dirt and small rocks behind us, and went back to the safety of the campsite.

Later that night, Birdie arrived at the campground with her boyfriend.  After greeting them, I hugged my daughter and said "Guess what?  I found your running trail today!"  She smiled and replied,

"Oh, thanks, mom, but you didn't need to.  I plan to take a break from running this weekend."

This would be an ironic end to my story, wouldn't it? Sadly, I'm an idiot, and the story isn't finished yet.

On the last morning of the Annual Family Camping Trip, I once again arose very early, and decided to drive back to Otter Creek Bridge to get a picture for my blog.  No sane person with a snake phobia would have returned there, but again, I had a plan.  Turning onto the dirt two-track, I stopped the car immediately, left it running, and using a 300mm zoom digital camera lens, leaned out the window to snap a photo of the bridge, where "the incident" happened.  A wild rabbit hopped across the lane, and I shot a beautiful picture of the rabbit sitting right in the spot where the vicious snake attacked me.  Backing out of the dirt road, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Now, I would never again return to the Otter Creek Bridge.

I had my shot for the blog, my family headed home, and I went north to spend a few days in the U.P.
 While there, a huge storm blew in, and I spent a cozy evening in the tin can, with the rain beating down on the roof and the wind gently rocking the camper back and forth.  I passed the time by downloading all my pictures onto the computer, and when the photo of the rabbit at the bridge came up, I thought it was a really pretty picture.  The sun was hitting the rabbit's back, making its fur shine.  The colors were glorious, the picture was perfect.  Wait…what is that long black thing in the lower right corner of the screen?  A stick?  A root?  Zoom in…ohshitohshitohshitohshit!

Yup, you guessed it.  My attack snake was crossing the road in front of my car when I took the picture. I never saw it until I zoomed in on the frame, safe in the tin can staring at my computer.

The next time I decide to go to Otter Creek Bridge, would someone please erect the fallen Hanging Tree and threaten me with it?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Can I Have A Moment, Please?

Lake Superior at Crisp Point
Sometimes, I just need a moment.  Maybe I need that moment to take a deep breath before I say something I shouldn't, or a moment to have a hissy fit wile I rant and rage and let out my frustration.  Most times, though, I need a moment to just be silent.  This usually involves sitting on a high bluff at the edge of the woods overlooking Lake Superior, which is where I plan to someday build my stone cottage and live out my days sitting on my bluff overlooking Lake Superior. And chopping firewood.

A couple of years ago, when I was going through a rough time, I started this blog as a catharsis of sorts, where I shared my moments of peace found while traveling in a vintage Airstream.  My tin can let me go places I had dreamed of my whole life.  I enjoyed sharing my stories so much, that I want to do more.  But life still intervenes and keeps me from traveling often enough to write about it full time.  I spent a considerable amount of time this summer thinking about how I could develop my blog when I only travel a few times a year.  I also spent a considerable amount of time this summer not writing, because the two dogs, two cats, husband, kids, and all their friends were a constant energy in the house that prevented me from writing.

I may have spent the first month of summer feeling frustrated and wishing more than anything that I could have just one hour to write, except I had nothing but my frustration to write about, and who wants to read that?  I may have let that feeling go on, except that I really enjoy being a positive person more than a negative one.  My good friend, Debbie, who shares so many of my adventures, reminded me, "it is what it is".  It was summer, and everyone was home.  I gave up trying to write (which also goes against my nature)  and started looking for the positive.  I found it.

Gotcha, Suzy!
In each day, somewhere in the chaos and noise and demands, I had a moment.  Suzy the Cat began a habit of climbing up the ladder to my daughter's bunk bed and stealing her stuffed frog animal.  I would find that frog in the oddest places, pick it up and return it to the bed, only to find it again in a new place the next day.  It became a game with me and my daughters.
Where would Suzy put the frog today?

There was a moment each morning, when my youngest daughter, The Wise One, would walk into the kitchen while I was having my second pot of coffee and sleepily murmur, "Good morning, Mom" followed by a hug.  It's always good to start your day with a fond greeting and a warm hug.  We would then proceed to place our bets for what item my older daughter, Birdie, would announce she needed to get from Target that day.  Birdie went to Target almost every day.  It's a disease, as is spending her paycheck before she gets another one.  We're working on that.

The couch is NOT for you, Rooney!
I had other moments, as well.  I rarely left the house this summer.  Why would I, when Birdie would be going to Target anyway and could pick up what I needed?  But a few times we met up with friends for an evening, giving me moments of laughter and companionship.  I watched my son, Fun Boy, growing into a fine young man this summer, who worked hard at his job all day and cheerfully helped out around the house.  I had many moments with Rooney the Newfoundland, but those are best left
unmentioned in my efforts to remain positive.  I settled in this summer, and while I admit I still had day after day of being frustrated with no peace, no time, and no privacy, I embraced that moment each day when my heart would warm with delight over my family and friends.

The Tin Can at Muskallonge Lake
This new-found emphasis on finding the good each day, taking the moments that were given to me and holding them, gave me some ideas on the direction my blog might take once school started and I had time again to write.  I have stories from a few trips I took this summer, but I need more.  Perhaps, instead of only writing periodically about my adventures in the tin can, I could fill my time with sharing the moments I find each and every day that give me peace beyond of the tin can.

Stop spinning, Rooney!
I already had one of those moments this morning.  In preparing for my upcoming escape to the mountains, I have been brushing Rooney's thick and unruly fur every morning, trying to loosen as much hair as possible before we go so my tin can doesn't accumulate an entirely new floor covering.  Rooney is pretty tolerant of being groomed, usually standing still until I tell him he can go.  However, this morning, I wanted to focus on his enormous tail, and he didn't like that so much.  I had to hold him by the collar with one hand and try to brush his tail with the other, while he kept spinning away from me.  He would spin, I would follow, he would spin again, I would follow again.  Long before I even made a dent in the massive amounts of hair on his tail, I became dizzy until I finally fell down and gave up.  See?  I told you moments with Rooney detract from my personal goal of being positive.  But at least these days, my house is quieter and I am finding time to think, write, and dream.

My son has returned to the University and is contemplating changing his major during his 3rd year.  I'm sure several moments will result from that.  The Wise One has entered Middle School and taken up running, following in the footsteps of her older sister.  Cross Country Meets are a great place for peaceful moments.  Birdie has moved to the big city to begin her Freshman year of nursing school, and gave me a really nice moment last week.  She called home and asked me if I had ever taken a Philosophy course in college.  I told her not only had I taken several, I taught Philosophy for many years at the college level.  She was surprised and duly impressed.  It's not often I can impress my children.  It was a really good moment.

Starting today, I plan to write often about my moments, good and bad, at home and in the tin can.  My goal is to connect with readers on a most basic level.  There are good days and bad days, ups and downs, and within each day is a moment to remember.  Sharing my moments with you will hopefully touch you so that you know you are not alone.  We can all love those peaceful moments together, and learn to laugh at ourselves during those not-so-peaceful moments.  Never forget, Rooney will be laughing at all of us during every moment.  He's good at that.

Have a spectacular day, and thanks for reading my blog!