I’ve taken on a very special project this summer, building a cabin for myself and my family on eighty five acres of land my mother inherited in Kimball, South Dakota. It’s exactly what my heart wants to be doing right now, and I’ve never been in greater need of keeping my hands busy. I’m taking photos and documenting the process on another blog:
I hope you’ll check it out.
Begging for re-definition, Spring greets us this year with high winds and snow storms – a true “Spring cleaning” of the Northwoods; with dead and dying branches cleared from the trees and littering the forest floor.
From The Education of Little Tree:
“Folks who laugh and say that all is known about Nature, and that Nature don’t have a soul-spirit, have never been in a mountain spring storm. When She’s birthing spring, She gets right down to it, tearing at the mountains like a birthing woman…“
Human reactions include everything from disgust and anger at a “late Spring” to overjoyed embrace of continued opportunities to enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, animal tracking and the beauty of frosted tree limbs. I fall closer to the latter.
A couple of highlights from this Magical Month include gusting winds from the Northeast (“Nor’easter”) and a snow storm which brought over a foot of snow to the Northwoods. On both occasions I was lucky enough to sneak away and be present to the magic. On April 11th, I visited Crystal Cove to watch the waves crash against the shore, sending their fierce mist up into the sky. On April 19th, I took a two-hour stroll through the Sawmill Creek Valley, breaking through snow on little-used back trails and discovering a lichen I’ve never seen before (see the small pink spots on the lichen-covered tree limb).
The photos are split into the two events, beginning with photos taken on April 11th at Crystal Cove and ending with photos taken at Wolf Ridge ELC during the April 19th snow storm.
The first time I experienced ice on Lake Superior was several weeks ago when I swam in her icy waters following a ski on the Onion River. The ice that day, however, was a paper-thin sheet resting just along the shore.
Yesterday, as I walked along the Ridge Loop at Wolf Ridge, I looked out over Lake Superior and was surprised to see not a glimmering surface of blue but an opaque white covering of ice over the majority of the surface of the lake! I blinked a few times, confirmed that the Lake was certainly covered in ice, and dashed back home to the West Dorm. A quick inquiry with fellow naturalists yielded one companion on a quick adventure to see the ice on the Lake. We took off in my car with less than an hour to spare for our spontaneous journey. It took us seventeen minutes to arrive at Crystal Cove, where we parked on the side of the road and trudged through knee-deep snow down to the shore. It was 4:30pm.
We laughed, we strolled, we shared a couple of fine Spring brews and we took a few photos. A juvenile Bald Eagle flew overhead, and a River Otter surprised us off shore. It was a wonderful way to spend the last few moments of the afternoon.
The following morning’s promise of a lovely sunrise was too tempting to let pass by. Another inquiry with my housemates provided two new companions for an early-morning visit to the Lake. We departed Wolf Ridge at 5:45am, arriving to the shore at Crystal Cove at about 6:00am. By the time we had found the perfect spot to start a small fire the sun was just beginning to peek over the edge of the horizon. The light shone magnificently off of the ice formations on the surrounding cliff-sides.
6:37AM – the very first showing of the sun; a brilliant burst of light
6:39AM – three-quarters of the sun over the horizon
6:40AM – the sun in its entireity showing; light beginning to spread across the lake
6:41AM – reflected light from the sun spreading halfway across the lake towards our shore
6:42AM – sky appears in a thin band below the sun; sunlight reflecting across the entire lake to our shore
We left after a few cups of chai. When we arrived back at my car we realized my first mistake of the morning – leaving my emergency flashers on while we were watching the sun rise…my battery was dead. Fortunately for those of us that live in rural areas, the first car we flagged down stopped and allowed us the use of a cell phone to call a permanent staff member at Wolf Ridge who was able to rescue us. We waited by the side of the road, eating granola bars, until he arrived to jump my car. We arrived back at Wolf Ridge only a few minutes late for our Monday morning seminar on story telling with Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux.
A Great start to the day.
It was a good, early morning as usual. I woke up at 6:37AM, just in time to beat the dreaded 6:45AM beeping of the alarm clock on my watch. I made a cup of Earl Grey tea and prepared toad-in-a-hole for breakfast with homemade bread, eggs from Round River Farm, and plenty of maple syrup.
Our group of twenty-four gathered at 9:00AM, piled into a small congregation of cars and headed North for the Sugar Bush Ski Trails (near Tofte, MN). We left one vehicle at the outlet of the Onion River on Highway 61, while the rest of the caravan transported people and equipment to the trailhead.
Once we arrived, we took a quick group photo (“So that we could take another group photo at the end and make sure we hadn’t lost anyone along the way.”) and began our journey. We were warned that the upcoming adventure might entail open water, waterfalls and vertical drops. We laughed, but that wasn’t far from the truth. We skiied the ungroomed, untracked Onion River, through canyons, over waterfalls and under bridges for the better part of the morning. A brief lunch break afforded us the opportunity to fill our stomachs with crackers and sandwiches, and quench our thirst with box wine. The post-lunch challenge was to carry a glass of wine (plastic, really) in one hand while skiing the remainder of the river. I attempted and succeeded for part of the way, failing only when we were required to remove our skiis and use a rope to scramble down the face of one particularly steep frozen waterfall.
When we reached Lake Superior, we dipped the tips of our skiis into the icy waters to finalize our journey.
Although others were intrigued at the idea, I was the only one to strip naked and swim in the Lake, breaking through the thin layer of ice on top in order to reach the open water just off shore. I dipped under once and came back to shore, where I was immediately taken care of – being clothed in a mosaic of friends’ garments and rubbed vigorously on all sides while sipping hot water from a Nalgene. It was worth it, even if I did leave the experience with plenty of cuts and scrapes from the ice-covered water.
As the retrieved cars returned to pick up those of us left behind, we said our goodbyes and headed home with a most-interesting Radiolab program to listen to.
Another Great Day.
Welcome to Hatano – population roughly 20, with 11 standing houses and one slowly crumbling temple.
I recently picked up a detailed map of Kawamoto Town, with the hopes of discovering roads that I have not yet traveled. I immediately recognized a tiny mountain road leading up behind Shimane Chuo High School. I’d ridden my bike halfway up the steep road once before, but I hadn’t had the energy to complete the journey. I’d been curious ever since.
Today was the day – sunny with a cool breeze, traffic scarce… I took off just a little bit early from work and headed up the mountain. I turned onto a narrow road where a sign suggested it might lead to Denzui (the characters are den (rice field) and sui (water)). I eventually came to a fork in the road where another sign was pointing the way to the village of Hatano. I hadn’t noticed Hatano on the map. I thought I’d see if the road went through.
After another 15 minutes through thick mountain forest I came out on top of the mountain. There were a few scattered houses and several elderly folks out working in their fields. I passed through the town and found a road that I recognized heading back down into Central Kawamoto. The view from the top of the ridge was incredible.
I didn’t want to go back to Kawamoto, so I turned around and passed through Hatano again. This time, however, I pulled over near the home of an old man who was out on his front steps pulling weeds. I bowed hello and he took of his hat with a big smile and said: “My hearing’s not so good…why don’t you raise your voice a bit and tell me where you’re from.” We spoke for a few minutes, during which time he shared with me his version of the story of Hatano:
He was born in the same house he currently resides in 90 years and 7 months ago. The house was built 3 years before he was born. He lives alone now, but gets a ride into Kawamoto every once in a while as there aren’t any shops/restaurants/grocery stores in Hatano. I asked what the population of Hatano was and he counted off with ease the number of people living in each home in the tiny village. His name is Oomura-san (Oo: Big, Mura: Village) – he’s Mr. Big Village living in a tiny village in the mountains of Kawamoto. He laughed openly at the irony.
I returned to Kasubuchi by following the same road out the other side of the mountain – discovering ripe plums, waterfalls, and fern forests along the way.
A beautiful detour.
Every year Kawamoto Town organizes a jishibai – local theatre performance featuring a re-enactment of the lifestyle of the past in this area. I was lucky enough this year to be invited to make an appearance as a bon-odori dancer at the close of the play.
I was only able to attend a few practices, but I enjoyed every moment spent with this group of people. I was able to see a side of Japan that I haven’t yet experienced – a playful freedom that was enjoyed in acting out the lives of another time.