Spring

Spring is here and it’s my favorite season. I love watching as frozen landscapes come to life. Ice on water gradually fades into transparency, and the next moment waves dance on its surface. Snowbanks turn dingy and brown but remain after the ground cover of snow has melted like stubborn old men.

And the smells of spring! A little mud, some new greenery, some moldy leftovers of last year’s fallen leaves. Smells of old and new, conflicting yet shouting to your nostrils in one voice, spring is here. The smell of rain sinking into the soft ground and then snatched up by tree roots ascending to feed the fat buds of baby leaves.

The sounds. In New England it’s peepers with their incessant nighttime chirrup. It becomes so embedded into the background that you don’t even notice them until your 2 year old, looking quite nervous asks, “mommy, what is that noise?” In Minnesota, loons start making their calls that similar to howls echo from the distant shore. In Latvia the clacking of stork beaks rattle as they settle into their nests after returning north.

And the colors, that pale baby leaf green that looks like a hazy halo in the treetops. The dark brown mud during spring rains. The blue sky, it’s own new blue, as if the sky was just born yesterday too, along with the baby robins hatching from their speckled blue eggs. And the white, purple, yellow, pink, orange of spring flowers. Crocuses, daffodils, lily of the valley, tulips, hyacinth.

Photo credit to my talented friends on instagram @antikleopatra and @_jnphotography_

Macro

One day from my childhood stands out like a jewel in my memory. We were traveling to a very remote lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Before writing on, I tried using Google maps to scroll around the lakes and refresh my memory so I could tell you the name of the lake, but I give up. Mom and Dad, when you read this you’ll have to help me out.

We went on a day trip from our campsite to visit this little lake, and if I remember right, there weren’t even any sites on it and it didn’t lead to any other lake either. In other words, about as remote as you can get in the lower 48!

Photo credit: Christine D’Anza

It was a perfect day full of sunshine and sparkle. You know when there’s a very light wind and the waves are barely bigger than ripples. The sun reflects off each ripple so the lake looks like it’s wearing sequins. I remember canoeing around and then landing on shore. We all got out and just wandered around exploring. I came across a perfect rock shelf about 8 inches above the water line and just the right size for me to lie down on and stare into the lake.

I was instantly transported to a different world. Under water, creeping along the vertical face of my shelf were about 40 tiny snails. I actually counted them. I watched long enough to discover that each one was traveling a slightly different direction. They were going about their daily business totally unaware of their observer from above. Some were speeding right along, others took their time. That conclusion in itself seemed weird. A snail’s pace is one speed, slow, right? Actually, no!

When I finally got up, I had absolutely no idea how much time had gone by. Space and time had bent and stretched in ways I had never considered possible, until I experienced this vertical world where time moves at a snail’s pace. I had been so completely engulfed in what I imagined to be Snail Times Square, that I lost all sense of reality and was unaware of anything else around me.

Here are some pictures and video I took this week, using a macro lens on my phone. Looking at the world in macro brought the memory of Snail Times Square rushing back!

*Update: Mom says we weren’t in the Boundary Waters but Ontario, Canada and it was Eric Lake.  Sorry Google maps, it wasn’t your fault I couldn’t find the lake!

Dark

I’ve discovered I’m in the minority on the subject of darkness. I love to go outside in the dark!

I’ve discovered I’m in the minority on the subject of darkness. I love to go outside in the dark!

Do you know that feeling when someone takes your picture and the flash blinds you? In our modern world, we are all unknowingly being blinded. Headlights, street lamps, front porch lights, city lights are all blinding our eyes to the brightness of night.

You’re probably saying, “brightness of night?! Is she crazy?” Ok, maybe a little, but maybe I can help you understand what I mean.

When I was little our family often went camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness between Minnesota and Ontario. (Yes, it is in all capitals! In Minnesota anything having to do with nature is given high status. The DNR are more powerful than the local police. We take our nature seriously.)

When we were out in the wilderness, the worst thing you could imagine was having to get out of the tent at night and walk to the bathroom down a tiny path leading away from the campsite on the lake’s edge and taking you deeper into the forest. Imagine how petrifying! Now I was not one to be afraid of the dark. I used to argue with my little sister in our bedroom at home, trying to get her to turn off the night light, but she refused. But even I felt nervous to leave the tent at night.

One night my dad showed me the beauty of darkness. He told me it was much easier to follow the trail without turning on the flashlight. I was skeptical, but when I tried it, wow! It was a revelation to me! Our eyes are made to slowly adjust to darkness, probably because darkness falls gradually in the evening. But when you turn your flashlight on suddenly, your eyes are forced to close the pupils as if in daylight. It pushes the dark out and keeps it at arms length like an invisible fence, turning the darkness into an enemy. Outside your little circle of light you can’t see anything. Any little noise from out there in the shadows gets amplified and twisted by our instinctual fear of the unknown.

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When you don’t turn on your flashlight, your eyes, accustomed to the darkness see all the details of the path in stark relief against the soft moonlight and the pinpricks of starlight. There are no shadows beyond and you are a shadow. The darkness of night is no longer an enemy, but a comforting friend. And you discover that night is not dark at all, it’s just like daytime only in black and white.

Man vs nature

The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

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This was a classic man vs. nature kind of day.

We’re up north at the summer cabin in Rangeley Maine. It’s unseasonably warm. In fact our thermometer says 50°F! You would think on a day like this nature would be on your side. Well think again!
All started off well. Our plan was to drive the snowmobile to town and load it into the truck before the lake became too slushy in the warmth and sunshine. So first we played around a little, not wanting the fun to be over. We pulled our older daughter in the sled behind the snowmobile (the little one is still scared of the noise and speed). We cross country skied in the track. We took pictures. Grandpa (my father in law, who is in his 80s) even came out and played! The temperature rose, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, and it was time to get the snowmobile brought in for this trip. So, my husband heads for town over the lake while I go to the truck at the street.

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Here begins the struggle! 

The driveway is a sheet of ice and the tires are just spinning in place. The warm temperatures, combined with the fact that the empty, rear wheel drive Ford pickup has no weight in the back causes our first problem. I can’t pull out of the slight incline of our driveway onto the road. I try calling my husband to let him know I’m stuck, but he’s tooling around the lake with the snowmobile, killing time while he waits and doesn’t hear his phone.

So I’m from Minnesota. I kinda sorta have an idea what to do in these situations. But I’m also feeling a deep sense of self doubt. Will I do the right thing? Will I be able to get the truck out without my husband’s help? I start to dig and chip at the ice under the tires. I get the bucket of sand from inside the cabin, and my father in law comes to help.

With a lot of dirt and a lot of digging, my father in law and I are again ready to attempt getting the truck out. He gets behind the wheel, while I stand in the bed (for weight). After a crazy, tire peeling, snowbank bouncing ride, we have the truck up on the road. For the moment I feel relieved.

Meanwhile, I try calling my husband again. And now he hears his phone. . . because the snowmobile broke down!

Struggle number 2 has started already unbeknownst to me.

The snowmobile broke out on the ice, about a mile and a half from town. By the time we talk, a friendly rider has taken pity on my husband trudging on foot across the frozen lake and given him a ride into town. Help is on the way, a local snowmobile shop has sent some guys to tow our snowmobile back into town.

I gather some supplies for hoisting the snowmobile into the truck, but that part ends up being surprisingly easy. The guys tow the snowmobile up onto a tall snowbank and we are able to push it right into the bed of the truck.

All ended well by lunch time, but not without a lot of anxiety, a lot of man power, some cash spent, and quite a bit of damage to the truck and snowmobile.

The main reason for our visit to the summer cabin in the middle of winter to begin with, was to shovel the snow off the roof to prevent collapse.

So all of this got me thinking. To survive in the north woods, a person’s got to have some grit, perseverance, and resilience. The power in something so commonplace as snow and ice is really awe inspiring. And you’ve got to respect that if you want to survive the struggle.

When you pit man vs nature, nature is always stronger. My shoulders and back have been telling me this since we got here and started digging a hole in a snow and ice bank 5 feet deep for our parking spot.

But if you stay on nature’s good side, you might survive with a story to tell. And somehow, you’ll end up feeling grateful to nature for giving you that much.