I was on my way home from an evening of trout fishing and noticed the foggy haze settling over a bog I passed. I backed up, grabbed my point and shoot digital camera and took some pictures.
The low fog gives the bog an eerie presence.
I was on my way home from an evening of trout fishing and noticed the foggy haze settling over a bog I passed. I backed up, grabbed my point and shoot digital camera and took some pictures.
The low fog gives the bog an eerie presence.
It was warm, windy and sunny. I hiked the Three Lakes Trail, camera in hand.
With recent rains, the forest is lush with green foliage. I found some sparkling wild flowers but while searching for more wild flowers, I found an interesting small, brown grass frond and decided to give myself an assignment to find pictures consisting only of brown tones. I found some ‘brown’ photos but when I got home, I fond I had also collected some ‘brown’ wood ticks crawling all over me.
Buddy and I hiked the bog trail again today. We hear the TV forecaster use words like, “5 inches of snow Friday night” and figure today was the day to hike.
I find the interplay of light and color in this bog fascinating. The softness of the mossy bog is such a stark comparison to the craggy tamaracks.
There is a boardwalk leading to the bog. I liked the interplay of the plank’s grain and the shadow of the small pine so I took a picture. It looks more interesting in black and white.
In the movies if there’s a sound followed by a character saying, “What was that?” you know that whatever follows isn’t going to be good for that character. That three word phrase always gets our attention.
It’s an ink black, dark night. Your head has found perfect pillow placement and your brain has discovered the blissful world of REM sleep. Suddenly there’s a loud ‘crash’ and your spouse says in a semi frantic voice, “What was that?” Your suddenly de-REM’d brain is still groggy so your response is something brilliant like, “Huh?” A brief discussion ensues and it’s determined that the sound came from someplace like “maybe the basement.” You stumble downstairs and search for something that must have fallen to the floor. If you’re lucky, you find a broom has fallen off it’s hook. But it’s much more likely that you won’t find anything. The search that follows ends up encompassing every room in the house followed by a flashlight review of the exterior siding and roof. You finally decide that, what the heck, the front porch is still attached so why worry. You head back to the bedroom where you find your spouse snoring lightly into her pillow. You spend the next sixty minutes trying to calm your brain which is working overtime to conjure up all sorts of sources for the noise.
“What was that?” are three very powerful words. If the house is dark and quiet and you hear a soft rasping sound coming from some indistinct household location, “What was that?” might be expressed with a breathy, slightly nervous delivery. The sound could be anything. Is it a mouse crawling in the wall? Maybe a bat, trapped between the walls? Carpenter ants chewing to a Latin beat? Yep, sleep will come hard tonight.
If you’re walking back to the car after fly fishing and you hear a rustling sound in the brush next to the path, your brain silently screams, “What was that?” The rustling sound is quenched by the loud thudding sound of your wildly beating heart. Your intellect works to convince you, “it’s really nothing,” but your heart definitively won’t beat quietly until you’re safely back in the car.
There are rare occasions when these three words might include a fourth – “What the #+!&$ was that?” The four word expletive version usually follows a really loud noise like the “Kaboom” of a gas grill blowing up. Or after the distinctive crash made by a brand new flat screen TV falling off the wall mount.
Saturday, Judi and I were watching TV. It was very windy. Unexpectedly there was an odd sound that caused us to simultaneously utter those three dramatic words. Judi thought it sounded like plastic rustling. I thought it might be sand blown through the screens on the porch. It wasn’t dramatically loud nor scary dark out so we let it pass. Then the dog informed me that he needed to inspect our lawn.
The tree I found strewn across our front yard was tall enough to hit the front deck or windows. Fortunately it drifted away from the house as it crashed. Fifteen feet to the south and Judi and I might have simultaneously uttered the four word version; “What the #+!&$ was that!”
While hiking through rough terrain in the woods can get you to some interesting places, it’s not the kind of hiking you want to do for a good cardio workout. The risks associated with hiking through a hilly tangle of roots and brush preclude a brisk hiking pace. Fortunately for us, there’s a wonderful alternative; a hiking / biking / X-country Ski trail that extends eight and one-half miles from the outskirts of Eagle River to the village of Three Lakes. It was built by volunteers and funded by local businesses. The path is a smooth, compacted sand/fine gravel mix that crosses a couple of rivers and meanders through a diverse mix of dense pine forest, mixed hardwoods, meadows and bogs. When the trail traverses a bog, it does so via a long boardwalk.
Judi and I work to get 30 to 45 minutes of cardio exercise every day. Most of the time it’s done on our treadmill. Boring as heck but it’s convenient and effective. Now that the weather’s decent and the nasty biting bugs have yet to show, a cardio hike on the Three Lakes Trail is a perfect alternative to the incessant drone of our treadmill.
Last week our dog, my binoculars and my camera came along with me on a Three Lakes Trail cardio hike. We moved along at a brisk pace covering about six miles round trip. It’s still early spring so there isn’t much greenery – just a few small buds here and there and maybe a small white hepatica bloom if you look carefully. The Tamarack bog is an interesting exception. A pale light suffuses the Tamarack bog and softly highlights it’s rich, verdant green floor. It’s hard to capture in a photograph what it feels like emotionally when you’re in the Tamarack bog but I gave it a shot.
Yesterday, our neighbor called us to ask if we wanted to see a bear den he discovered. He’s a logger and while assaying a forty acre stand deep in the forest he came across a remarkable bear den. The property and den are accessed via a gated logging road about three miles in from the county road. My neighbor needed to move his log skidder to the potential cut and Judi and I agreed to give him a ride home in exchange for a view of the bear den. We parked and hiked an old game trail for about a quarter mile to find the den. Our effort was rewarded with a really impressive den that looked big enough to hold a really impressive bear. The den’s owner was out. I suspect he was trying to avoid the local paparazzi.
In a few days I’ll be experiencing my 70th birthday. Wow, I can’t believe I’m that old!
It really shouldn’t be such a surprise because I’ve had plenty of hints. How could I not notice when the veins on the back of my hands stand out like a GoogleEarth satellite view of the Amazon and my skin, liberally sprinkled with liver spots, shows more wrinkles than a dollar bill in a hooker’s purse. Even without my glasses, the image I see reflected in the bathroom mirror as I shave each morning reveals a rainbow of colors – Goldfinch yellow teeth; hair the hue of dirty snow, and eyeballs that a ‘House and Garden’ reporter might describe as an interesting combination of dusky rose and milky brown.
But here’s the really odd part. While I’m constantly reminded that my body has continued to age over the past seventy years, I find that my brain seems to have stopped maturing at the chronological age of fifteen.
If you doubt me, just ask my wife. She’ll confirm that I articulate a very sophomoric sense of humor, reflecting the same superficiality I expressed as a fifteen year old teenager.
For example, take sex. The opposite sex not the carnal kind. When I turned fifteen, my hormones kicked in and I started to notice girls and cars. At fifteen I must admit that with both girls and cars, I only noticed headlights and trunks. Nothing beats a nice pair of headlights and a roomy, curvy trunk. The thing is, and Judi will confirm this, I still drool and ogle when I see a new model with a nice set of headlights and a roomy trunk. Of course unlike my teen age ability to recall every automotive detail, I can no longer readily identify the model, let alone the year of a new car…. or girl.
And then there’s my body-brain connection. My teenage brain says, “I think today I’ll split a cord of wood, wash the car, take the dog for a three mile hike, then go fishing for a few hours. My seventy-year-old body soon reminds me, “I’ll let you split two pieces of wood, think about washing the car and then, before we walk to get the mail, we’ll take a short nap in the chair while you try to stay awake watching an old ‘Cheers’ rerun.” In other words, my brain writes checks my body can’t cash.
I often wonder how in the heck my 15 year-old brain allowed me to keep adult jobs for fifty years. An educated guess? (From a high school sophomore’s perspective of course!) It may be possible that many of my male co-workers and bosses never noticed my “stilted male maturity syndrome” because they too were operating with a teenager’s brain.
While it’s not scientific, I have photographic evidence giving credence to my theory that “stilted male maturity syndrome” may be hereditary. I have a photo of my Great Grandfather standing next to a tree house he built when he was about my current age. He built it to play cards, drink beer and swap stories with his buddies. They didn’t have cars in 1880 but they did have girls and trains so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my great grandfather ogled and drooled when he saw a good set of headlights and a nice caboose. If I’d only known him!
I’ve been sitting at the computer for an hour now and I have to leave. Oh, for sure I have the mental energy to keep on typing but my seventy year old bladder’s time table is reminding my teenage brain that, if I sit here much longer, I may find I’ve reverted to the toddler urinary habits that so annoyed my mother.
I was getting set to take my morning shower. I stripped, then tossed my under-shorts into the washer. It was the way I did it that Judi found fascinating, not the fact that I actually put my shorts in the washer instead of leaving them on the floor. I was standing about seven feet from the washer when I launched my shorts into the air like a basketball jump shot. What particularly caught her attention was my Michael Jordon style and the bent wrist follow-through as the shot left my hand. Swish, the shorts dropped dead center into the washer. Judi exclaimed with a laugh, “What was that all about? Why didn’t you just drop them in the washer?”
Her comment got me to thinking. I can count on my hands the number of times in my adult life that I’ve actually dropped a piece of paper trash in a waste basket. Instead I’ve usually wadded the paper, faced the bucket, and taken what I considered to be a classic three point stance and shot. I have no idea what I look like as I do this but in my feeble mind, in that moment, I’m the image of a great player making the critical three pointer that wins the game.
In gym class I was never much of a basket ball player. I hit the rim more often then I dropped the ball through the hoop. In shooting paper wads, I must confess I’m just about as ineffectual. I remember during my pre-retirement working days, feeling almost joyous when I had some paper to throw away. While I had a waste basket under my desk, a neighbor’s basket across the isle was far more enticing and always warranted an attempt. Sometimes swish, it dropped dead center into the basket. More often it rimmed out and dribbled across the floor. Or course, if my neighbor was another guy, he’d see my miss, pick up the wad and launch his own three point attempt at my basket. If his shot went in, you could often see his lips whisper an inaudible “Swish!”
Years ago, I went so far as to envision a national office workers paper wad tournament. We’d establish rules. You’d have to shoot from a seated position in a swivel chair. Each contestant would shoot from various fixed distances. There would be pressure shots, like a – “Hey the boss is coming!” shot or unannounced, we’d have a girl in a black leather ultra-mini skirt and four inch red, spiked heels walk by just as the shooter was about to launch. As the game caught on, ESPN would probably give the tournament prime-time coverage. Teams would have uniforms. We’d have cheer squads and hire coaches. Scouts would video tape contests to prep paper wad teams for contests to follow. Of course things could get out of hand. As the game became international and wildly popular, companies like Microsoft and General Motors might hire retired pro-basketball players as $500,000 file clerks just so they could stack their team. Guys like me probably wouldn’t even make the practice squad.
Some co-workers saw the potential in my paper wad tournament idea – they were all guys of course. Female co-workers scoffed when I mentioned it. That kind of surprised me because a male’s physical prowess would be neutralized in this game. And there would be no sweating – girls would surely like that.
Unless someone reading this takes up the cause, I doubt I’ll ever see my paper wad tournament come to fruition. That’s o.k. though. I’ll just continue to go through life pantomime-shooting an ever widening variety of stuff into waste heaps. Like when I take the trash to the township transfer station. They have big steel containers for glass, tin, plastic, etc. You dump your bag of plastic into the plastic tank, your bag of glass into the glass tank, your bag of tin in the tin tank. You have the option of leaving the bags for the attendant to take care of later which, from what I’ve observed, virtually all women do. But I’ve also noticed that most guys prefer to do their own dumping and only one in twenty hold bags over the tanks and let the contents fall in. The other nineteen, me included, take out each bottle, each can, each plastic container and launch it into the appropriate cavernous tank using their own all American point-guard shooting style.
I was tapping my maples today prepping for the sap run. I finished drilling my last tap and installing my last drain spile. I had one spile left un-needed. The bucket that held my tapping supplies was about twenty feet off in a field of deep snow. A spile is a very small item and, if dropped in the snow, could easily be lost for weeks, maybe forever if the lawnmower found it before I did this summer. I had to walk to my bucket to put my extra spile away but ….. you guessed it, the Michael Jordon in me couldn’t let the opportunity pass. The scene unfolded: it was only seconds to go in the crucial game and we were behind by two points. I did my best point guard pose, squared to the bucket and launched a gorgeous shot from way outside the three point range. Swish…….. and the fans groaned as the soaring spile missed by just ‘that much’ and disappeared into a field of white. A buck seventy five likely lost to the summer lawnmower.
It’s three-thirty in the morning. Our bedroom is void of light – blacker than a banker’s heart. I’m aroused to reality by the sound of heavy panting and I sense, rather than see, the penetrating gaze of a pair of big, soft brown eyes. I know right away it isn’t my wife. She has blue eyes. When she would awaken me panting like that 40 years ago, I’d be a happy guy but if she did that now, I’d be dialing 911.
The heavy panter is our dog. He is informing me in his own peculiar way that he needs to go out. He began this routine several years ago when he was sick. Feeling sorry for him, we acquiesced to this little early morning whim. Of course now we regret that decision. The dog never barks or whines, he just stands close to my face and pants. He has the patience and cunning of a brownie selling girl scout cookies – he’ll keep up the panting relentlessly until I give in.
It’s an amazing force of nature I guess that our dog runs on an exact twelve hour food/potty schedule. Go out then eat at 3:30 PM, then repeat the routine exactly twelve hours later at 3:30 AM. Of course there are some interspersed outdoor excursions but they don’t have the urgency of the three-thirty to three-thirty regime. What really amazes me is that, unlike our clocks, I don’t have to manually adjust the dog to daylight savings time, he does it automatically!
Arising at 3:30 AM is an adventure for me as well as the dog. After stumbling around in the dark cursing and crashing into the door jam or bed post, I eventually find my pants and socks. Remembering to put them in a findable location before I go to bed at night helps but, like putting the toilet seat back down, I’m kind of hit and miss on this recollection.
I always let the dog out the front door. Since that interesting black morning when the dog walked off to the East to take a pee while a skunk strolled up from the South to take its pee, I now make sure the dog is on a long extendable leash. Luckily for me, the dog never saw that skunk before he moseyed off. I’m only guessing, but I’m pretty sure it was my fear sweat that convinced the skunk to leave.
During spring, summer and fall mornings, on his way to his favorite alleviating spot, the dog occasionally freezes, raises his nose skyward and sniffs deeply. A wistful poet would view this as my dog appreciating the mysteries of nature. The pragmatic reality is that this is a dog getting the scent of ‘SOMETHING’ out in the blackness. Now that something could be a deer, squirrel or field mouse but at 3:30 AM my sleepless, dream addled brain realizes it could also be a wolf or a BEAR. I tend to encourage the dog to “hurry, hurry, hurry,” at times like this.
My dog usually performs his early morning ritual in a reasonably perfunctory manor – except of course when it’s twenty below and windy. Then he decides to take his good natured time exploring for the ‘best spot’. It’s during extended frigid selection periods like these that mother nature reminds me I’ve forgotten to zip up my pants again. And for those of you beyond the pale of sixty, you know what comes next – watching and waiting for the dog wakes up my bladder which screams to me, “Dick, you need to get back in the house, NOW!”
You’ve got to admire my dog’s attitude though. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow nor dark of night will keep him from getting his master out of bed for his appointed 3:30 AM rounds. Hey, here he comes now with toy, wanting me to play. “Sorry pal, your old master isn’t quite up to chasing – his frost bite still chafes a bit when he runs.
Recent foul winter weather stories from around the country have taken up a good share of our TV news coverage. While I certainly sympathize with people in Orlando and Miami dealing with snow, many for the first time in their lives, it was the more significant snow fall in Southeastern Wisconsin got me thinking about snow in Milwaukee compared to snow in Eagle River. One assumes that snow is snow, no matter where it falls. It’s white, it’s kind of wet and only falls when it’s cold. But I find it more complex than that.
I heard or read somewhere that no two snowflakes are alike. Of the trillions of flakes that fall, I can’t imagine that somewhere there aren’t twins. If I were a young climatologist, I could envision a life devoted to finding two identical snowflakes, my worthy research funded by a lifetime of excessive government grants.
However, even without extensive duplicate snowflake research, I know that no city snowflake could ever be identical to a country snowflake. I know this because I’ve lived in both environments. And no matter what their appearance, city snowflakes and country snowflakes have very different personalities.
City snowflakes are tyrannical and malicious. While I was still working in Milwaukee, I remember watching from an office window as grinning, evil white flakes rushed to the ground in an effort to load up the freeways and roads before quitting time to insure that my drive home would be a nightmare. They fell from west coast clouds making winter pilgrimages north and east – the antithesis of Wisconsin snow birds heading to places like Florida and Arizona. I can almost imagine the flakes from these pacific coast clouds, delighting in the chaos they cause snarling traffic and laughing maniacally as shovelers wrench their backs heaving them from walks and drives. To add insult to injury, city flakes deliberately melt just enough to add extra weight to the shovel.
Country snowflakes couldn’t be more dissimilar. The country snowflake is a happy, friendly non-threatening guy or gal who just wants to make people happy. They gaily flutter lazily from their clouds, sporting big, happy smiles and giggling. Most come from Canada, often making an arduous trip across cold and blustery Lake Superior. As the clouds gather above our northern border, they probably reflect on how pretty the forests around Eagle River are and how anxious they are to get down there. Unlike their city cousins who race to the ground, country snowflakes are more deliberate in their decent so they can concentrate on decorative landscape art. These winter Picassos paint trees, lakes and fields in a blanket of velvety white. Even though these fluffy country flakes carry less moisture than a mosquito’s spit, they are almost apologetic to the shoveler who must gently remove them from his walkway.
Typically, city flakes do as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible, then rapidly depart as road salt and sun do their work. Only a few gray/brown icy piles and a bunch of dirty cars remain to give evidence of their visit. In contrast, north-country flakes stick around for several months providing thousands of hours of stress relieving joy for snowmobile, ski and snow shoe enthusiasts reveling in the forest’s pristine, snow-trimmed landscape.
Now and then a bunch of rowdy city flakes drive up from Milwaukee, intimidate the country flakes and generally cause some local disruption. It’s amazing how just a few depraved city flakes can give good country flakes a bad name. In fact it wasn’t long ago that I saw some of them smacking into my windows. How can I be sure they were city flakes? For one thing, they were charging the ground, grinning maniacally. Country flakes float and flutter and would have smiled gleefully. For another, as I shoveled my walk that day, I felt my back twinge – a sure sign that these were wet, sloppy city flakes – the evil twins.
Snow shoeing is a great winter time activity. It’s good exercise and you can hike to difficult places you wouldn’t dream of attempting during the summer.
This morning I woke up feeling that I should go snow shoeing and maybe find some picture opportunities. The snow has blown off most of the trees so the forest isn’t quite so picturesque now and that makes finding decent winter pictures more of a challenge. Under these circumstances I look for small vignettes that dramatize my impression of a crisp winter day.
The only roadblock to my snow shoe plans was my leather easy chair. We got it shortly after we moved in and after five years, it’s molded perfectly to my form. It is sooooo comfortable. I have it situated next to the big picture windows in our living area giving me an excellent view of the river, the forest and the snow. This morning, ensconced in my comfortable chair with a hot mug of coffee, the idea of snow shoeing lost some of its allure.
I guess I would have been smarter buying a less comfortable chair, a chair that would encourage me to leave it more often – something like a milking stool or maybe a used electric chair.
When I finished my mug of coffee I got up from my chair to get a refill and once up, decided that if I was going out, I’d better do it before my butt became permanently glued to the seat cushion.
Buddy and I wandered about, me looking for pictures, Buddy looking for something disgusting to snarf up. I took some pictures and Buddy ate some tree bark. I’m not sure which of us was more successful in our pursuits.