Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Game On

I used to hate Winter.  Living where I do, that was a bad thing.  As soon as the temperatures dropped below 50 I began preparing for my winter hibernation.  Once we were firmly in the 30's and the snow was starting to fly, I was done with everything for the next five months.  I stayed home.  I ate junk food.  I gained weight.  I was tired all the time, and had no interest in anything.

Then a few years ago, a friend who grew weary of listening to me complain about Winter suggested I get out in it.  She encouraged me to take a walk each day, and as I became accustomed to the weather, she challenged me to embrace the cold outdoors.

I really didn't want to, but I'm a competitive person, so once she told me how great she was at finding ways to be outdoors during the Winter, it was game on.  If she could do it, so could I.

I began by becoming the rink maid.  My husband had built an ice hockey rink - a rather elaborate affair - in our woods, but I rarely ventured down there when my son and his teammates were playing hockey.  I learned how to resurface the ice, and made it my habit to carry the water hose across our property, down a steep hill, hook it up to the water pump, connect the manual Zamboni, and drag it back and forth, back and forth, over the entire rink.  I did this at 9:00 pm, 10:00 pm, 11:00 pm, and sometimes even later.

The Rink at Night
We had the best ice that year, and for several years after.  My work produced a thick glassy surface on which the boys loved to skate.  I was the Rink Maid, and it didn't kill me.
Backyard Ski Jump

Then I added to my game by becoming the official backyard photographer on Snow Days.  All the kids came to our house to snowmobile, build jumps to ski and board off, skate, and play in the snow.  I stayed outside all day, and into the night,  capturing these youthful images for my kids to forever remember.

The following year, I made a vow to add a walk in the woods daily.  We have a neighbor who owns several acres of woods with two ponds, he allows the people who live in the area to walk the paths he keeps clear.  On one of my walks, I discovered a fireplace and majestic chimney, standing alone among the trees.  There was once a cabin that went with the chimney, but it had burned down.  I was captivated with the chimney, and walked down there frequently to sit on its hearth and watch the creatures in the woods.  I still do that.

Chimney in the Woods

My Snowy Backyard

As much as I hated to admit it, I found that my friend was right.  The more I made myself go outside during Winter, the more I came to enjoy the special surprises of this cold season.  Walking on the ice at midnight brings an unworldly kind of silence and peace.  If the temperature drops below zero, the ice cracks and pops, and the echoes of it can be heard all the way up to our house.  When it snows, I can hear each flake hitting the ground in the woods.  The air feels cleaner, colors are sharper, and I feel good.

Drummond Island Ledges
Last year, I planned to take my game to a whole new level.  I researched a trip to Drummond Island, in Lake Huron.  The possibilities were endless!  Fossil ledges accessible only by snowshoeing, a snowmobile trail across frozen Lake Huron to Canada, the icy tundra of the rare Alvar region on the island all beckoned me to challenge myself and fully experience Winter.  The unusually warm Winter of 2012 put a damper on my plans, but I went to Drummond Island anyway.  While the weather was mild and there was little snow, it still ended up being a wonderful trip because of the people and places there.  I fell in love with the island, and plan to return.

Drummond Island Alvar Region
But this year, I am going a step further in the game.  Next week, I will travel north to the shores of Lake Superior, where I will join a group of strangers to climb the icy cliffs of the Pictured Rocks.  The last several days at home we have been hit with an arctic blast of cold air, and I have forced myself to go outside each day to acclimate my body to the frigid temperatures.  The weather prediction for up north is cold, which is good, because I really don't want to trust my life to a giant icicle when it is 40 degrees outside.  I am so excited to push myself physically on this challenging quest, embrace Winter, and meet other people whose sanity is as questionable as mine.
Courtesy Google Images

As for my friend who got me started on this with a dare, I am grateful to Donna for pushing me to be a Winter person; however,  I'm pretty sure she has never been ice climbing.  Game on, indeed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"It Wasn't My Line"

I came across An Inspirational Video by Sebastien Montaz-Rosset the other day, called "Revelation: A Visual Poem"  In a rare moment of quiet in my home, I was able to sit back and really take it in, the words and images which are so inspiring.  My favorite line came early in the clip, "I towed the line, it wasn't my line".

It wasn't my line.

Ah, how many times have I felt that way?  How many times have you?  As a wife and mother, I have always felt that my family is perfect just the way it is.  We each have our separate personalities which I have made a point to glorify.  I have spent my entire adult life supporting and promoting the dreams of my husband and my children because, without even being conscious of this desire, it is very much my desire to help them become who they are; not someone else's idea of who they are.

Somewhere in all of that, though, I got lost.  There are only so many hours in a day, and most moms devote so much of their time to the family (as it should be) that little time is left for anything else.  At times, I think to myself, rather selfishly, "Who will I be, when the kids are grown up?"

Once I get over myself and think rationally again, it occurs to me that the choices I have made were mine.  I do not regret them.  Now that the kids are growing older and need less of me, I am faced with the question of who I will be when they go away.  I will always be their mom.  I just won't always devote all of my time to their needs because they will be doing what I have raised them to do; making their own choices and being responsible for their own lives.

What will be my line?

Gathering strength from the deep philosophical views on Pinterest, I've been thinking about my future.

I just like this one!
Yada, yada, yada.  Where does my heart lead me?  What is fun for me?  What do I dream about with passion?  Whatever the question, the answer is always the same.  I must be in my beloved woods.  How do I turn my walks in the woods into a career?  Therein lies the problem.  But then I receive inspiration from a random video, and with it comes the hope that someday, a long time from now, I can tow my own line.

When I envision who I will be, it falls under the category of part-time semi-adventurer.

It most certainly will not include yoga on a tightrope between mountain peaks.  It won't include running through the woods; I walk briskly, at best.  It won't include mountain climbing or off-road cycling or jumping off a cliff with a parachute.  But I think that maybe, just maybe, the line I tow might include inspiration.  Possibly, I can experience the outdoors with less adventure and inspire others to do the same.  I don't know if I can make a career out of it, but according to Pinterest, I can.

I spend what amounts to too much time, according to my family, alone in the woods.  From my perspective, I don't go there often enough.  We're working on finding that balance.  In the meantime, I take what I can get with the family's support, using each experience as a lesson for the future.

People have asked me why I want to leave my family to go off alone in the middle of nowhere.  My answer is simple.  From time to time, I briefly leave my family, but my family never leaves me.

Last February when I was walking Drummond Island alone, at the sight of a massive 14pt Buck I instinctively pointed it out to my son, only to remember he wasn't at my side.  Hiking the woods near the Two Hearted River by myself, I exclaimed over a pretty wildflower that my little Bean would love, had she been walking with me.  Out in the middle of nowhere, I think of all the things I want to tell my daughter who is soon to leave for college.  I walk alone, but I feel my kids and my husband in my heart, I silently speak to them, and I take lots of pictures to share with them later.

I travel alone because it is only in solitude that I can open myself up to being nothing.  I don't need to be in a role in the wilderness.  I belong to no one but God.  It is this time alone, a time of being nothing, that allows me to come home and be everything my family needs.  I go alone and empty myself so I can come home and be filled up again by the people I love most.  Put that on Pinterest!

I don't know yet what my line is.  I'm okay with it.  There is time yet for me, the right time is just ahead.  And the woods will be there waiting for me, while the mountains call to the real adventurers.  For now, I will focus on my family, taking a few days here and there to self impose a time-out while I live in a tin can, push myself to my physical unpotential, search for my elusive wolf, and walk alone in the woods.  The time alone is my line reconnecting me to the rest of my heart.  If I walk that line very carefully, keep it delicately balanced between home and the wilderness, it will never break.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Gift from the Gods

Earth.  Wind.  Water.  Fire.  The Four Elements.  I am particular to wind, because my American Indian ancestors believed wind is the whispers of all the souls who have gone before us.  There is wisdom in the wind.  But my favorite element is fire, because it is the only one I can create.

I can't make dirt, nor would I want to.  I suppose I could blow air out of my lungs and create wind, but it would be a pathetic attempt to mimic God.  I can't make water either.  I've never figured out how to combine hydrogen with oxygen at home.  I don't even know what hydrogen looks like, but I'm pretty sure it's not in my kitchen cupboards.

But fire is the one element I can create.  All I need is oxygen - hey, isn't there lots of that in the air? - heat, and fuel.  The fuel is the key to my bonfires, because cut firewood is expensive, so I have to get creative in finding wood.  I love my bonfires.  They bring to me a sense of peace, of everything being right, and warmth on a cold day so I can still be outside.

Ancient people believed that fire is a gift from the Gods.  I feel the same way.  God provides me with the other elements, but He lets me share His power to create fire.  It brings me closer to God.  As always, with power comes responsibility, and I am aware of this as I worry about setting the garage roof on fire.  It's a little close to my bonfire pit, so I monitor my fires very closely.  I really do not want to set my house on fire.

I take comfort in the routine of starting a bonfire.  Starting with dryer lint packed tightly in an empty toilet paper roll, I build a tepee out of twigs, then use my ax to split a piece of wood into kindling, add it to the tepee, and put two pieces of split wood over the structure.  I have two of the three ingredients needed now; oxygen and fuel.  I just have to create heat.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images
I know how to use a bow drill to create a spark.  But at home, I cheat with a Scripto clicker lighter, because who has time to make a bow drill and patiently wait for enough heat to generate to cause a spark?  If I were lost in the wilderness for days with no provisions, I could start a fire.  I choose to be prepared by always carrying a Scripto and a box of wooden matches when I hike.

There is something satisfying about the initial whoosh! of fuel catching fire.  Standing over the fire, waiting for more wood to catch so the heat intensifies and spreads out.  Heat from a bonfire is more encompassing than an electric heater.  Food cooked on an open fire tastes better than that which is prepared in my kitchen oven.  Sitting on a log, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, and staring at the flames evens my breathing, slows my heart rate, and lets stress melt away in the heat of the flames.  It is my ahhhhhh moment.

What fire gives, fire can take away.  In Spring 2012, the Duck Lake fire in Michigan's Upper Peninsula devastated a once dense forest area, destroyed homes, and handed the area is most crushing blow by burning down the Rainbow Lodge.  An icon for decades, the Lodge was the only stopping point for fishermen and snowmobilers in the U.P.'s northeastern quarter.

I hiked the entire Duck Lake Fire grounds in October 2012.  The silence was complete.  No birds chirped, no animals skittered in the undergrowth.  There were no places for creatures to find shelter or food.  It was eerie and it made me sad.  The cost of a forest fire is enormous, not just to the wildlife, but in the form of dollars spent fighting it.  The following link explains the hidden costs of wildfires:

The Duck Lake Fire also will result in a blow to the area's already struggling economy.  Without the Rainbow Lodge, where will visitors go?

My Bonfire

Whether at home, a campground, or in the wilderness, I am always very careful with a fire.  I have tremendous respect for its power and the responsibility that comes with unleashing its energy.  But I also am mesmerized by it.  As my fire dies down, the coals glow white hot.  The energy shifts and darts like a living thing.  A bonfire has a distinct personality which taunts me into believing I have power, then laughs at me for the foolish notion.

I find any excuse to start a bonfire.  As these winter days stretch on and on, my fires keep me outside, swinging an ax and hauling split wood up the hill to the courtyard outside my kitchen, where the fire is usually burning and guests are always welcome.  It is a gift from God.

Monday, January 7, 2013

That One Annoying Relative

Every year is the same.  Different locations, maybe, as family members take turns hosting the big dinner, and different stories as we all catch up on the past year, but essentially holidays remain the same.  Families all over the country gather together to eat too much, laugh, argue, roll their eyes, watch a football game, eat some more, and give thanks for the people sitting at the table with them.

Our family is no different.  When my parents still lived in the house I grew up in, my mom always hosted holidays.  They sold that house a few years back, and once they moved to a smaller dwelling, festivities moved to my house.  Once in a while, we all travel to my sister's house, two hours away.  But each Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Graduation, Anniversary, or Fourth of July I try to come up with ways to make it different, more fun, the "holiday" to remember in my family lore.  Yet, it's always the same.

Everybody gathers, each person brings the same dish they always bring, we use the same dishes, and seating arrangements never vary.  And then there's always that one annoying relative.  The one everybody rolls their eyes at.  The one who doesn't quite fit in.  In my family, I strongly suspect the one annoying relative is…me.

I don't try to be annoying.  I vow before every family function to keep my mouth shut, blend in, and smile a lot.  It usually lasts about 30 minutes, until someone says something about the Catholic School System, or Stay-At-Home moms (translation:  GET A JOB, KIKI!), or the worst of all, when someone mentions that my dog should not be standing on the kitchen table eating the mashed potatoes.  Do my relatives really think I don't already know that?

I think they do it on purpose.  I see the glances at each other, silently egging someone on to say just the right thing to push me up on my soapbox.  It doesn't take much.  Bring up raising children, marriage, religion, gun control, or life goals and my temper flairs.  Throw my cleaner-than-clean household in as a conversation starter, and my defenses will soar.  Here's another fun topic; how many colleges did Kiki attend before graduating?  I will admit, I give them plenty of ammunition, but just once I wish they'd overlook the alphabetized soup cans and DVD's, ignore the clump of dog hair on the floor when I seriously just vacuumed, and omit their comments about my clothes hanging in the closet according to color and texture.  Why are they looking in my closet anyway?

My husband's family is worse, simply because his family is so much bigger than mine.  There are only 12 people in my family to give me grief; his has over 80.  But I've come to one conclusion.  Every once in a while, I have an obligation that prevents me from attending a family function.  When that happens, I think they miss me.  It's not nearly as much fun when that one annoying relative isn't there.  It leaves a gap.  Who do they whisper about?  Who else can they place bets on for questionable behavior when I'm not there?  Who makes them laugh?

I may be annoying, but it has its place in family.  That one annoying relative brings color to the party.  I bring the stuff that they talk about for months to come.  I become a legend in the family.

There are worse things to be legendary for than simply being different.  I don't drink and make a fool of myself.  I don't flirt or cheat on my husband.  My kids are great.  I never say half of the things that pop into my head because I truly don't want to offend anyone.  I'm just me.  Different than the rest of the family, but good and smart and funny with questionable fashion sense.

Even though my family likes to push my buttons for their own amusement, I still know they love me.  They don't laugh at me as much as for me.  The teasing is always accompanied by a hug and a wink.  I lighten the mood, and make them wish, just for a second, they had the courage to be different too.  The feeling usually goes away quickly.

I am currently planning my daughter's graduation party.  My family finds it annoying that I am preparing 6 months ahead of time, but they can be assured it will be an awesome party, annoying relative and all.  With color-coordinated foods on the banquet table and 18 years' worth of photos captioned and arranged chronologically, it just doesn't get any better than this!

So who is the annoying relative in your family and why?  I want to know how I rank!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Map On My Windshield

Happy New Year!  I'm starting out right in 2013, writing on my blog for the first time since November. The holiday season is just too busy!  I suppose one of my New Year's Resolutions should be to simplify Christmas, but I do not make New Year's Resolutions; I don't need any more reasons to fail.

But I have learned much this past year, which I plan on using to make 2013 a much, much better time for me and my family.  The year 2012 was rough, and at times I wanted to give up.  Ending it was symbolic for me as new doors are opening and fresh possibilities are waiting.  As always, while searching for signs of where I should go from here, I have several plans to travel, meet people, and learn.

When I travel, I seek people who have stories to tell.  Everyone, everywhere, has a reason for why they are in a certain place at a certain time.  Sometimes the reasons are exciting and fun, sometimes heartwarming, and once in a while the story is a sad one.  But the best stories have a little bit of everything.

In October, after my dear friend Debbie and I had spent most of our camping trip lost in the wilderness, we decided to visit the Upper Tahquamenon Falls on her last full day before going home.  As we walked the path back after exploring the falls, my dog Rooney attracted a lot of attention, like he always does.  A woman approached us to greet Rooney, and as we exchanged pleasantries, she mentioned she was from Toronto, Canada.  We asked what brought her here, and she replied,

"The map on my windshield."

This is her story.

Betty didn't get along well with her mother for many years, but had recently reconciled with her and the two became the best of companions.  Taking her mother everywhere, Betty learned to appreciate a mature, honest relationship while discovering that her mom was a fascinating person.  They traveled extensively, but had never been to Michigan, so last summer they planned a trip to cross the bridge into Detroit, and drive north to the wine country of the Leelanau peninsula.  Betty had heard great things about the area, and she and her mom were very excited.

Then Betty's mom died peacefully one night in her sleep.  Devastated at the loss, so soon after Betty had come to a wonderful relationship with her mother, she ultimately decided to go ahead with the trip to Michigan.  She felt her mom would have wanted that.

Before she left, Betty went to dinner alone one night at a fancy restaurant.  There, she met a man.  He was very nice, and handsome, and they talked about life and dreams and plans.  Just when Betty thought this might be a man she could spend time with, his son arrived, and the man left.  But not before Betty had told him of her plans for the trip to Michigan.

She dined alone, then left the restaurant to go home to an empty house.  When Betty got to her car, there was a piece of paper on her windshield.  It was a crudely drawn map, with instructions to drive north and cross into Michigan to Sault St. Marie, in the Upper Peninsula.  From there, the instructions gave her many options of which places were a "must-see" in the U.P., where to stay, and so on.

The map was signed by her pre-dinner companion.  How he knew which car was hers, Betty did not understand.  But she took his advice, changed her plans, and a week later drove to the U.P.  She told us of an incredible journey, seeing places she had never dreamed could be so beautiful and meeting some lovely people.  She said it ended up being the trip of a lifetime, and even though she was alone, she felt her mother with her.  The map on Betty's windshield changed her life, gave her the strength to go on, and introduced her to the idea that she could go anywhere, see anything, be anyone.  It freed Betty, for the first time in her life.

I wish someone would put a map on my windshield.  I wish a stranger would tell me where to go and what to do once I arrived, because I've been trying to figure that out for a year now.

Courtesy Google Images
If I think about it, the map is on my windshield, I just can't quite see it clearly yet.  All these months,  there have been signs pointing me in a new direction.  I've just been too caught up in self pity to recognize the signs.  Time really does heal, though, and pity is turning to hope, despair is fading and excitement is building.  Like Betty, I can also now be free to become whoever I want to be.  I don't have to be defined by the job I lost, or the friends who faded away during my time of strife.  I can become someone better, someone who is passionate about life and eager to set goals.  I can finally, for the first time, be in control of the direction I take.  I can put my own map on the windshield.

I won't be making any resolutions, but I will be strengthening my resolve.  I can be more than I've been.  I can do it with the love and support of my husband and kids, and Debbie, the people who have never stopped believing in me even when I did.  I can do it with the fond memory of meeting Betty, whose story affected me more than she will ever know, and whose strength encourages me to be stronger, smarter, kinder, and forgiving.  Ooops, those sound like resolutions, don't they?

Thank you all for listening to my stories this year.  I hope you have a spectacular New Year, as I plan to.  I promise to keep writing if you will keep reading, and probably even if you won't!  Stay tuned for some exciting news in the next few months as I forge ahead, drawing my map and enjoying a few detours.  It's going to be a fun ride!