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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Out the Back Door


snowshoeing [My monthly column for the newspaper was due today, and I was really struggling to find a topic. Here's what I turned in.]

Out the Back Door

I’ve had no astounding adventures this past month. I’m as willing as the next person to stay inside when the fields and roads are covered with ice. I discovered about 25 years ago that falling down wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been 35 years ago.

So, this afternoon I’m headed out the back door to find something to write about. Perhaps I should tell you about the morning a couple of days ago when the snowflakes came down thick and soft, muffling every sound so thoroughly that I nearly didn’t hear the train go by. Every tortuous black branch of the sumac was lined with an icing of white, and the dusted pines bowed with the combined weight of a million soft flakes.

Yesterday, of course, was a different story! All softness was swept away by the 25 mph winds, which glazed the snow into a fragile crust. I broke through with every step, even on snowshoes. Great puffs of snow were lifted from the trees and hurled into the sky like smoke signals, and the wind howled across the ridge. It was all I could do to remain standing!

winter clouds and blue sky

But today? Today the sun is shining, and the wind is not blowing. The dog and I step out the back door and head for the Pere Marquette River. Our adventures are of the familiar kind. Animals whose tracks almost everyone recognizes have been out. Rabbits and mice have ventured from beneath thick bushes to leave their distinctive marks. The deer have traveled the farthest, pawing deep furrows in the snow. Stark crow tracks march across the field before disappearing abruptly where the bird took to the air.

dog gazing down a slopeMaggie and I reach the bluff above a backwater of the river– one of my favorite spots from which to contemplate the world– and note that the ice is not yet solid even on those shallow fingers of water. Aspen trunks, which don’t seem remarkable most of the year, stretch long golden fingers into the blue sky. Dark hemlock and rustling beech line the steep hill above the quiet bay.

bare aspen trees

As we return from the river, with the sun at my back, I can feel its warmth through my parka, and my shadow races ahead of me as we follow our homeward tracks. Every tiny hillock throws a long shadow and I see miniature landscapes of ever-changing geology. A dried and broken thistle stalk is silhouetted against the white background, imitating an oriental painting, or perhaps a many-headed dragon! All too soon, I'm back inside the door, stripping off my snowpants, and hoping not to peel off the joys of the afternoon along with the nylon.

dried thistle head

White clouds against blue sky on a calm and sunny winter day? Evidence of varieties of interesting wildlife so numerous that we consider them common? The ability to access all these without ever turning a car key? Perhaps this is astounding enough.

See Quiet Backwater for the same location as the picture with Maggie in it, but in April


RNSANE said...

Indeed, Shark, your world is very special - a million miles away from San Francisco, a beautiful city with its own spectacular views of nature but a city nontheless. I think, sometimes, an escape into your world is just what I need and I appreciate your taking me there, even photographically and through your writing.

VanillaSeven said...

It's so peaceful there. Sometime its good to walk to the place where not much people going.

Tes said...

Good to know you had a good day and a good time. Wind blowing can be a bit chilly! Good capture! Your photos come to life and tell a story! You certainly do a good job with each one. Your doggie looks cute in his shirt! :) You are lucky to be near such a heavenly hiking place! :)

Karen & Gerard Zemek said...

Beautiful! I considered going to the park with our dog in the snow yesterday, but changed my mind--it was just too cold for me.

wenn said...

lovely pictures! Happy 2010!

The Oceanside Animals said...

What a difference 8 months makes!

Secondary Roads said...

Oh, hello. For a while I was transported to a wonderful place -- a magical kingdom robed in white. A tranquil place, filled with life operating at its own pace.

betchai said...

thanks for sharing us this post Sharkbytes, you have a wonderful way of writing, your pictures and words perfectly mesh that i do not know which one speaks for the other. am glad the joy of being out was not stipped off when you went back inside.

Ratty said...

It was indeed a better day yesterday. Today was a little more cloudy, but almost as good for me. But I know what you mean about not wanting to fall on the ice. I ended my enjoyment today by slipping on ice and crashing down a small hill. I just wanted to go home by then.

Sharkbytes said...

Carmen- Wow... I'd be honored to show you around my kingdom. I've been to SF twice. It is a beautiful city, but I'm just not a city girl.

Vanilla- Yup! Love to get away. Since it's not a public trail, I very rarely see anyone there.

Tes- I am more than lucky! Several choices in my life were made with no looking back that keep me close to places like this.

Karen- Hope you can get out fairly often. Bundle up and just go!

wenn- thank you

Dennis- you checked out the April picture! You would love it, buddy. Bring Tucker and Trixie, and we will sniff out all those raccoons and dead fish to roll in, and black mud, and we can tag team 'em 'cause we look alike. Oh, fun fun fun fun fun... Maggie

Chuck- "Life operating at its own pace" I LOVE IT. I do get pressured into speeding ahead way too often.

Betchai- Thank you... your pictures always take me to special places. It seems to get harder and harder for me to retain the feelings of the wilds... I just need more and more outside time.

Ratty- Ouch! Hope you are ok. I never used to care at all about falling. Like to throw myself around on purpose... but when Steve was about 10 he got me to try skateboarding, and I fell a lot... it was that day that I realized that I no longer liked hitting hard surfaces and bouncing.

Anonymous said...

The photos are beautiful! It's definitely Michigan winter. I'm extremely cautious nowadays when walking on the snow..since I'm too old to bounce back up :-(

Sharkbytes said...

Icy- So your "name" is not where your have your finest hours?

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