Mossy Thoughts

I walked in the woods today, hoping for more than I got. The temperatures are warming, but the forest isn’t quite ready to get out of bed. I can’t blame it–what a long, frigid winter. It felt weird when I walked into the house–the cabin was colder than the outside air. I poked around in the woods behind the house, saw bulbs coming up, and heard the crows, as I always do. I saw a squirrel, which I don’t see too many of out there. 
Behind the house is a rotting tree which the woodpeckers have made their own. They’ve feasted on it, and now it’s just the right kind of tree for a screech owl. At home we just bought our own Hooter House to hang on a tree, but in the forest they prefer a woodpecker hole that’s deeply hollowed out. I tried to get onto my tiptoes and ooch my way up the tree, but genetics bestowed upon me the spaz gene and, naturally, I fell right off that mossy rock to the left. It’s just as well; no owl wants a big oaf tumbling into their hole anyway.

I love moss. I adore it. Moss makes me so unbelievably happy–this is the true sign of a nerd. I can’t tell why, but moss is peaceful, and quiet, and vibrant, and it smells earthy and peaty. And look at it growing! I pulled it back just a bit and a little spider came out and sat on my hand and looked generally terrified, quickly bailing out over the side of my pinky finger. 

I sat by the mossy rocks for quite a long time, thinking about this intense time in my life–grad school, little children, problems with my mental health–and wondering, in particular, why I feel so overwhelmed by the readings in class, and how deeply they affect me. Yes, the deer over the side of the cliff was awful, and the rainbow fish deserved to be set free. I have emotional responses to each piece we read, but on a deeper level, I am left feeling drained, and sometimes hopeless. It should not be so. Is there no hope in the nature writer’s repertoire?

There must be. And I have begun a series of daily affirmations in which I remind myself that there are thousand of voices, thousands of writers, and we must pair our voices with politicians (yes, we must) and scientists, and activists. And anyone who wants to join the cause. It is not a one-man job. It is the job of a generation. And part of my fear is the demon on my back, this anxiety disorder, which takes the form of a methane devil threatening to choke my children. But part of it is reality, the future which is coming. I do put my faith in science, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why everyone else in the world does not.

I often wonder, where is the harm in accepting the evidence? Where is the harm in assuming that we are on a global trajectory towards disaster? We act now, and we avert disaster. And let’s say for a moment that there is no global disaster looming. Have we lost anything by acting? If nothing else, we end up with a healthier planet. Where is the down side, here? I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the fundamental need to deny this coming change. Why do the deniers plant their feet so steadfastly? What do they gain by denying?

Oh, wait, money.

I don’t understand, and it gets to me. My job, for the moment, is to work on deflecting these hopeless feelings and focus on the positive. Fear will get me nowhere.

At the top of the hill behind the cabin, the woods meet the cornfield. This is the field that was slated for drilling last summer, and for whatever reason the drillers moved to a different site, for now. What unique set of circumstances came together so that these three trees decided to be such good buddies for the entirety of their lives?

I found again the frog pond I loved as child, and it turns out that it’s nothing more than a pile of dirt left when some bulldozer plowed the beginnings of a road 50 years ago. No frogs today; only much and detritus. Which, I believe, will be a fantastic little ecosystem to poke around in when muck is closer to room temperature and creatures wake up. I have every intention of bringing the boys to the frog pond and allowing them to investigate it. Andy will keep his hands clean and possibly poke it with a stick. Ben will dive in, and pick up snakes and toads and bugs. When he was two he brought me a dead mole. 
Andy will feel the world too deeply, like I do. The world hurts him. Unkindness hurts him, even as a witness. (The Sarah McLachlan commercials make him sob.) Ben, meanwhile, marches around with a stick-gun asking me what he can kill. He’s experiencing a 4-year-old surge of testosterone, and my first reaction is terror that he’ll be an animal torturer. He, and every other little boy in preschool. They all march around with stick-guns, having no concept whatsoever of weaponry or death. I try extra-hard with Ben to show him the gentle side of nature. He’s my outdoorsy guy, but he wants to smash and trash and be wild. 

I went back to the moss. I sat by the moss, and put my head on the moss, and smelled it. It smelled so deeply “Piedmont”, as though it contained the essences of all of my family members and our lifetimes of adventures. It smelled like everything, and it smelled like dirt. Both poetic and stinky. 

*This was a tough entry to write, as my brain is fogged up under the effects of a new medicine. I hope that some semblance of a message came through.

Please follow and like us:
2

Piedmont Paddle

Hello,old friend.

Today’s trip to Piedmont delivered me a dose of the lake as I know it, in my mind. The snowy lake is like a carnival: it’s fun and exciting and new, but after so many trips through the freak tent I get sick of looking at the bearded lady and long for my old favorites, liquid water and soft air. When I drove up today for a moment the sky reflected on the water giving an impression of ice, and I cursed out loud at the notion that it might still be here. I learned so much from the ice, but now I want it gone. (It’s like sex education with Coach Kozdris.)


The ice is indeed gone. The woods are brown, tipped with the earliest spring red (Frost was wrong: Nature’s first green is not gold). The water rippled with wind, and a warm front arrived at the same time I did. The girls were not with me (Maya’s toenail split in half and her foot is bandaged) and before I knew it I was dragging my kayak down the driveway to the water, which has risen in the last few weeks with the rain and the closing of the spillway. It’s up to the summer level now, and Dad’s dock doesn’t look quite so wonky, but he and Shawn have a frigid date with a sledge hammer and a pair of hip waders to get the poles straightened out in April. 

The lake is up! The rock is under.

The birds know it’s spring. For several years now, the lake has been a stopover for migrating loons. Nobody in my family believed my sightings until someone on the Piedmont Facebook page snapped a photo. Several loons were on the lake today. They ride low in the water and dive frequently. As I paddled along the shoreline to avoid the wicked wind, the loons kept their distance and remained in the middle of the cove, hiding in a swarm of seagulls. Seagulls are also new to the lake. I imagine they found their way here from Lake Erie, and now we have a very small resident population of gripers and squabblers. They exist in such contrast to the loons, who are downright serene and stealthy. The gulls carry on like a fraternity party, swooping and diving and uttering tenuous quivering cries, and occasionally yakking up their libations on the dock. 


A murder of crows perched in a tree and uttered a bombastic and raucous chorus of chortles in my direction. The bastards were laughing at me as I paddled into the wind. They hopped along the treetops, following me. Is there nothing so bawdy as a crow? They obviously tell each other smutty jokes and compare the sizes of their cloacas. 

On the shoreline near where Ben attempted to fall through the ice the other day (see the video), a pair of Canada Geese were setting up a family home. I hate those birds. Today I saw only the pair, in the midst of their nest preparations, but soon they’ll be joined by several other pairs of adults and 15 to 20 babies. And when we arrive for the weekend with our dogs the entire flotilla will come barreling into the water and swim over to our dock to pick a fight with a German Shepherd. It’s an offensive strategy that surprises me every time. They poop on our rock, too. Filthy buggars. 

Yes, I know. Way to be a nature writer. 

Poopin’ on the shoreline

Other avian specimens included the ever-present turkey vultures, a flock of mallards, a pair of courting cardinals, and an abandoned nest I believe to be that of an eastern Towhee who regularly romances himself in the garage window. The bald eagle did not make an appearance, as s/he tends to stay in the headwaters. The largest fish I have ever seen jumped near the dock; it was a muskellunge, of which one very noble specimen hangs on the wall above Shawn’s desk. They reign as top predator in Piedmont Lake, and the Conservancy stocks the lake full of tens of thousands of muskie fingerlings each spring in an attempt to draw anglers and hold onto the state muskie record, which is always caught in Piedmont. We bass anglers feel the muskie have taken over the lake and nary a bucket-mouth bass can now be found. The muskie Shawn caught that day was an accident; we were fishing for saugeye one April day in 2004. 


Yakkin’

My paddle was a meditation. I haven’t paddled for six months, and I shared the lake with two fishing boats in the distance. Of late I struggle terribly with an unmedicated anxiety disorder and OCD—it’s not that I choose to eschew medication but that I cannot find the right one and the wheels of the medical establishment turn so slowly. The lake was a big wet Xanax today, and for the hours I spent there, I was a human being again. Winter and school have sucked away my sanity. After so many weeks of drawing from within, as we writers are wont to do, perhaps I’m the biggest loon on the lake.


Dockin’

Whose nest is this?

Bawdy crow beak chatter and a scolding
Please follow and like us:
2

General Disaster and Captain Calamity

Nugget was at the groomers and missed the walk.

Blog 5 is overdue, and I deliver it to you with great pain, my friends. I have suffered for this entry, as so many writers have suffered for their craft. Some bleed for their art. Some starve. Some die with words still unwritten.

My special brand of masochism involved taking my children with me today. And it was every bit the disaster you’d imagine. They’re on spring break and mercifully go back to school tomorrow. I was able to get them out of bed and on the road before 10am. Ben assigned himself the job of monitoring my speed on the interstate; Andy designated himself the head of the Smug Police, and issued a verbal warning to any backseat drivers who seemed to big for their britches. They corrected each other’s grammar and criticized each other’s vocabulary. Andy befouled the car several times and claimed the stink with the pride of an 8-year-old.


When we got off the interstate we drove along the country roads in the bright sun and Ben said, almost nonchalantly, “I see a wolf, Mommy.” I asked him if he was serious, and then his brother chimed in and said he’d seen a wolf, too, naturally. If they actually saw anything, it was either a red fox or a coyote, so I turned the car around and rumbled along the berm peering into the woods while they argued over whether foxes fart and who saw it first. I saw nothing. Andy stuck to his story but Ben finally conceded that it might just have been a bush.

Tracks

And so it went. When we arrived at the cabin there was still plenty of snow, but it was hard, crusty, and held the weight of the kids, whereas I punched through. It would have been a great snowshoe day. There were tracks by the cabin and I’ve not yet decided what they are. I tried so hard to show the boys and have them guess what might have left the snow prints, but Maya pooped on the driveway and Ben was staring at the pile, gagging and wretching, unable to look away.

The ice was still there. This weekend was the first weather above freezing in two months. For over eight weeks the ice has lingered. It’s given me an amazing study, watching it change every other week, seeing the many forms it can take and the many, many moods. The Conservancy has closed the spillway and the lake is beginning to rise. Signs of spring! In the photos it’s obvious where the rising water has seeped out from under the thick, opaque ice and has frozen along the shoreline, but this ice is frail. Off the end of the dock I was able to stand on it, and I suspect it will take all of 10 days for it to disappear.

The lake is rising

Before we could begin a hike Ben’s boot fell apart, necessitating my return to the cabin for duct tape. Andy assured me he would keep Ben from the ice while I ran up. When I returned, Andy was standing on the ice. “Don’t put your feet it, kids,” I said. “You’ll get your legs wet.” Ben decided to crawl onto the ice on his hands and knees. I heard him make a noise and turned to find him wallowing in the freezing water like a puffy little seal.

My little blonde burden

His feet were soaked, his pants were soggy. The sun was in his eyes. There was no hike to be taken today. Instead, I let them loose on the empty playground at the church camp nearby and lay on a wooden bench in the bright sun, trying to soak up a little silence. A woodpecker was in the woods, somewhere above our heads, and though it took 17 attempts, I was able to shush them long enough for them to hear the sound of the pecking. Then Ben fell off a tire swing and sobbed, and it was over. His foot hurt, his body was wet, and he was too tired to get his tiny little body down the hill and back up the next hill to the cabin. Guess who did the schlepping?


I tried to give the kids a nature walk. I silently told myself that they were not willing to receive the experience today. But then I realized they were having their own experience. They are little children; they don’t see the moods of the ice. They don’t relish stillness, and the sound of a woodpecker is but an interesting tidbit on the way to the next mudhole. They aren’t capable of seeing what I see, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I was 8 I probably enjoyed tossing rocks and tire swings more than I did traipsing through crusty snow that came up to my shins. That was where I started, and now I’m a grown adult who put those fun little moments in nature together to form a greater appreciation and desire for nature. Whether I put them in “real” nature or “artificial” nature, I cannot manufacture experiences for them. Nor would I want to. Today I let them play, and I let them take some risks. I didn’t ask anything of them but to walk with me and listen for birds. I may not know for 30 years what these experiences mean to them, but hope they will be worthwhile.

As for me, I did not get my dose of Piedmont Peace. But I saw another perspective, got a stern reminder that my eyes are by no means the only eyes. Take whatever experience you like from nature; it’s all good.

Guerilla parenting

Here you can see how far up the lake has risen since
they closed the spillway.
He decided this was as far as he was willing to go.
The church campers will appreciate that, Andy.
Those two dark blobs in the snow are
my children, 
Please follow and like us:
2

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You: Entry Five

*Due to sick children on spring break, travel, and many inches of snow, Blog 5 will be arriving after the weekend. Until then, please enjoy this photo of a shirtless Vladimir Putin riding the now-famous weasel riding the woodpecker.

Please follow and like us:
2

Hookers and Holes

I took the SUV as a sign. The blue sky, the wind chill warning, the photos on Facebook of ice fisherman with their coolers: it all makes for a lovely day at the lake, and it was, but when I saw the red Ford SUV pulling out of a gravelly drive, a pony-tailed woman on a cell phone behind the wheel, and the words, “Mobile Escort Service” emblazoned on the side, I knew it was also going to be a weird day at the lake.
Funky snow
I guess fishermen get as lonely as the next guy, right? Blech.
Okay, yes, it’s entirely possible this was the kind of escort that follows a large truck from the fracking fields to the gas plant. That actually didn’t occur to me until just now, after several uncomfortable hours imagining a diminutive woman in heels knocking on the creaky door of Big Curtis’s ice shack. 
The desert of ice and the approaching cirrus clouds
In 35 years I’ve never seen the ice stick around for eight weeks. Moreover, this blog has given me wonderful occasion to walk on it every ten days. I thought perhaps I’d go back into the woods today, that maybe everyone is tired of my ice walks. But here’s the thing about ice: it’s constantly morphing into something new. It’s as undependable as my husband at the grocery store. (“You wanted pads, right? These say “Poise”. Is that okay?”) At the moment, because of this extreme, lengthy cold, it feels as solid as the ground. When I jump on it, it neither echoes nor vibrates. And, hidden as it is under the crusty snow, it may as well be a sleeping cornfield. Yet, when the jet stream changes and warmer air arrives or a different sort of snow falls, it’ll be a foreign place again. 
I keep putting off her haircut for these hikes.
In my photos it always appears to be same lake. I’m so glad I’ve got words on my side to explain to you how vastly different it is from visit to visit. In January the ice was glassy and new. Two weeks ago it was windswept, and the snow was thin and spread out as on a blustery beach. Today the ice looked like a desert. There’s no snow on the trees, and we endured a weird snowstorm last weekend that created this Piedmont Sahara. Four inches of snow fell and then it began to rain/sleet/ice. The result is a snow cone, and in places it looked popcorny. The thin crust on the top of the snow cover gave way when I stepped on it. Temperatures have been so cold for so long that the ice can handle a fleet of Hummers. I transitioned from terra firma to the surface of the lake and had every intention of walking right across the cove to the other shore. We rarely get to do that; temps have to be below freezing for about two weeks. Our temps have been below zero for so long that all the melanin has left my skin and my butt now blends in with the bathroom tile. 
The solidity of the footing lulled me into a false sense of security. I walked along and suddenly crack!A tiny canyon shot horizontally across my path. I promptly shit my pantsdid a foul-mouthed two-step as I hustled my buns back to the shallows. My heart beat out its terror in my chest and my throat was dry and I felt the adrenaline surge diminish all the way down in my legs. It made no sense! The ice is every bit of ten inches thick. The Piedmont Facebook page was awash with ice fisherman this weekend. How could it—how dareit—crack under my weight? 
And so Nature gets a kick out of the silly writer who thinks she has it all figured out, who assumes there are rules, that 35 years of ice walks confers upon her a PhD in Piedmont Experience, giving her the rights and privileges to assume her way through all things wild.
I know nothing, Jon Snow.
The cracks seemed to follow me wherever I went. (Way to scarf that lemon paczki this morning, fatty.) I walked on the ice because I had to, because the snow-cone consistency of the land-snow made it impossible to navigate. Every ten minutes a crack tore out from under me heading off in an endless streak of horror. Even though my brain knew that the ice was thick enough to hold a gaggle of grumpy old men and their fishing huts, my body reacted with adrenaline and a sprint for the shore every time it uttered a noise. 
The mysterious hole

I theorized that there’s so much ice that it had nowhere to go, no choice but to crack. It’s almost a foot thick, if not more. It couldn’t have dropped me no matter how many delightful Polish pastries I consumed. Water expands as it freezes. It’s so heavy, so massive, that it inevitably tears itself apart.  Canyons open up, exposing stratifications like the sides of Pennsylvania hills when they’re blasted for an interstate. It heaves and sighs and bitches and complains when the temperature fluctuates. And, in places, it spouts its frustrations. I came to a hole in the ice that had frozen over. This appeared to be a very deep hole, and I could look down into its blackness. Ice fisherman’s plunder? Couldn’t be—there were no tracks nearby. As I walked along the shoreline I encountered many of these frozen holes. (And the wind chill today was probably around zero so I had some frozen holes of my own.)

Frozen flatulence?
Last summer in Russia several enormous holes appeared on the Siberian tundra, and scientists spent considerable effort trying to determine their origin. The fear is that the warming climate is causing methane trapped in the formerly frozen ground to expand and blow. I suspect that something similar, albeit benign, is happening at Piedmont. The ice is so thick that the air trapped under it has to go somewhere. Perhaps it finally blew, like my tire last week. The water flowed up through the hole and froze over again as soon as it touched the chill of the atmosphere.
The site of a weekend ice hut,
tracks from a rolling cart and the
fishing hole.
Are these holes a place where the pressure is releasing? For all intents and purposes, was I down on my knees sniffing an ice fart?
I ran for the shoreline like a weenie every time the ice burped or thwumped. I slipped a few times on slick spots. Maya had another case of the Leon Trotskies and I caught her dragging her butt on the ice in perhaps the least dignified posture ever achieved by a noble daughter of Rin Tin Tin. By the end of the hike I was certain that nature was out to get me. It’s the first time I’ve felt humbled by the lake. I had no answers, only questions, and though the bare hills revealed dozens of cabins I’ve never seen before, they were all empty and I felt incredibly isolated. It was me and the girls and a lone red-tailed hawk.
That’s probably why I decided to pee behind my mother’s boxwoods rather than fool with the frozen toilets.
Ice fisherman on 2/22/15
Who wants to tell my dad that his dock looks a little…askew?

Edited to add: When I told my father about the mysterious holes he said, “Well how do you know that they aren’t ice fishing holes?” I said, “There are no tracks.” He replied, “How do you know they weren’t covered by snow?”

It’s a good explanation. These mysterious fart holes, though…they were all right against the shoreline, in only a foot or two of water. I can’t imagine a fisherman would be in such shallow water, and I know the fish aren’t there. They’re down in the deep.

Please follow and like us:
2

Bonus Entry: Chatty Writer Blathers Truth

*Please see the next blog post for the Official Nature Writing Blog Post of Week 6. This is a blather that I cannot keep in, because I blather.*

Now that I’ve spent a brief few moments exploring my senses and paying homage to the brilliant sun and a sky that makes me feel as though death would be nothing more than lying contentedly on a slab of ice alone (in a good way…sometimes lying on a slab of ice isn’t as much fun as others, say, after a hockey stick to the face or when you’ve just been pulled out of a morgue drawer), I can tell you what else happened. If you read this one, read the post below first. That’s the official one. It was all true and honest. So is this. Pam Houston and her 20% can go pick an ear.

When I left the house it was in disarray. School was letting out at 11:30am, and I had to make a 50 minute drive out, do my contemplative thing, and make another 50 minute drive home. AND make time to tinker with the toilet because it needs antifreeze and I had so much coffee that there’s no way I was going to get away with a quick wilderness tinkle behind my mother’s boxwoods. I left childen unshodden and a husband in the shower undoubtedly staring off into space having deep thoughts about man things like boobs and NATO.

When the girls and I arrived, they bolted for the lake. In the cabin I donned heavy snow pants, ski gloves, a balaclava that makes me look like an egglplant, and a hat over top of that. (I knit the hat myself, so I might as well have worn a paper towel on my head for all of the warmth it offered.)

I had my phone/camera out taking photos of the rock where I learned to jump as child. I was taken by the way it has a quiet cave underneath its eastern corner, and I always think I’d be the fat little bass that hangs out under there 5 days a week until the children come on weekends to throw sticks and pee off the edge. Being a writer, I can’t really just enjoy looking at a rock. I have to find meaning in a rock. Metaphor. Make a comparison. Find a symbol. Gah. It’s a rock that has an uppy corner. Shut up. You’re not a bass. You’re an ass.

The warmth of the sun called me out onto the ice and I decided to test its thickness with my own body weight rather than something sensible like a rock or one of my dogs. (That’s why I take two out there, right? Let’s be honest. I’ve got my ice-testing dog and my spare dog. They’re like birth control–it never hurts to double up because nobody likes an unexpected swimmer.)

My ego decided to come with me today. In my yoga class we’ve started this baloney of taking off all of our clothing, putting on some gaudy yoga pants and a tank top, going out into the snow and striking a yoga pose. And then we send them to each other and dare each other to top it. I wasn’t about to take off all of my clothing, but I decided to set up the camera, hit “record” and film myself doing a bit of eagle out on the ice. Wrapping my legs around each other, binding my arms was tough in so many thick layers, but I did it. As I retrieved the camera phone, again my vanity got the better of me and I hit “play”. There was my dumpy winter form on the beautiful ice, contorting itself into knots, and there behind me was my German Shepherd succumbing to an explosion of bloody diarrhea. Namaste, idiot.

Eagle ego: dog diarrhea
not pictured

That smart phone has an uncanny ability to reflect buffoonery every time. It calls me out like an overly-honest 4-year-old, the same one who appeared in the shower stall the other day to tell me I had some real nice flappy boobs, and how did I to go the bathroom without a penis anyway?

The commotion was happening along the shoreline. I was down-dogging on a slippery patch of ice uncovered by the wind, and for once there was no hot breath in my face. Again, as with a little kid, silence means they’re into something. When I regained my footing, Maya and Nugget were on the shoreline, digging furiously, and something was squealing. Chirping. Barking?

Boat pose: the only boat on the lake

Moving in snow pants and thick boots isn’t easy when you’re moseying; when you’re hauling buns it’s nearly impossible. I couldn’t get there fast enough, and when I did, there was blood all over the ice. Maya was smiling up at me with a beet-red mouth, and I couldn’t tell if the blood belong to her or the shrieking varmint who was hiding in the sand under the thick lip of the ice where it piled along the shoreline. Clearly, dog and beast battled it out and beast dove for cover. Unable to break the thick frozen barrier, Maya took a different approach and set to work digging from the other end, through the muck. The thing screamed.

WARNING: Some blood

From my angle I couldn’t see at all what it was, but only a few possibilities extended themselves on a such a bitter day: squirrel or woodchuck. The latter hibernates, but this seemed to be making more noise than I’d expect out of a nut-gnawer. Regardless, the critter tangoed with a big dog and probably lost a foot in the process. Most likely, its life’s pendulum would stop swinging within a day or two. Suffering animals prefer to hide themselves away, to make themselves small and quiet, and only in their most desperate hour do they call out in anger and defense the way this creature called out. I could offer it nothing but the peace in which it might die.

Instead I turned on my video camera and slowly inserted it into the crack in the ice, hoping to identify whatever victim lurked beneath the surface.

I had that coming, I’ll admit. Not only did I react with a distinctly anti-eco-feminine nancy-boy yowl when it squalled at me, I also caught it on film and feel obligated to offer it up on the confessional altar of Google’s favorite blogging platform as penance. My name is Laura and I tried to film a wounded weasel-thing under a block of ice because I was afraid it would bite my face if I looked too closely.

Bastard varmint.

The clock inched closer to the time of my required departure and the girls tore themselves away from the ugly scene. Happy to leave it behind, I took an extra 10 minutes for an ice savasana and received, in return, a hot tongue in my ear. Not the good, Saturday-night kind, either. The kind that smelt of resentful muskrat.

Up the hill in the house, I sat one more time on the world’s coldest toilet seat, not having been smart enough to turn on the heat when I arrived. But the car was still warm, and I loaded up the girls and drove out of the empty neighborhood, saying goodbye to the cabin for another week, and considering what I’d learned.

When a nature writer is in her chosen place in the year 2014, she may be doing any one of a number of things which do not include actual reflection. The intrusion of the smart phone into nature will prove to be the downfall of the deep thinker. Too great exists the temptation to amuse ourselves doing stupid-ass things that ultimately serve only to make us laugh, to give us an excuse to stare at our own faces rather than the face of the sun (actually, don’t do that – you’ll go blind). Hidden wonders wait under the ice for the soul un-tethered to her technology. A dog cannot find all of the gems in the wilderness for me. Next time I’ll have to look for myself, look at what’s before me.

For example, the log I smacked with my own face on the way back.

As I rubbed my split lip in the car an orange exclamation point lit up my dashboard, and an icon indicated my right front tire was low.

Low? That sucker was limp. Moreover, it was hissing. A steady stream of air was pouring out of the husk of its bulk. In the rubber flesh was embedded a tiny spearing rock. Like Dillard’s frog, a water bug had come up from under the tire and eaten out the inside, leaving a crumpled skin. Mother f*cker. This is because I tried to film a rat under the ice, isn’t it? As I crouched in the 3-degree air, it occurred to me that today was Friday the 13th. I wasn’t yet out of the shade of the hill, and the cell signal was at least a few miles away. Crap, I thought. Can I roll out of here on what little air is left or should I go back to the house and use the land line to call AAA or Shawn? I decided to gamble on the nearest gas station, 20 miles away.

As I emerged into the sunlight, I dared to pick up a little speed and thought I might just make it.

Rounding the bend, movement caught my eye and I slammed on the brakes as an inky black tomcat shot out of the bushes, crossing the icy gravel road in front of my car.

A better writer would come up with some conclusion. I’ll come back to this blog, soon, and write one. Until then, put that in your corn maze and husk it.

And then I got stuck behind the Amish.

Please follow and like us:
2

Under the Belmont Sun

*Note: I’m going to try to be short this time. Try.

The weather forecast had me confounded this week. Friday is the sunny day, Weather Channel said. The catch was that Friday was a cold day. Last night I got an alert: Friday morning wind chills 10 to 20 below zero. I told my family it was a bad idea. Saturday calls for several inches and a low of 0. Sunday calls for a high of 10. As I hit the pillow I felt certain I’d get up and go to the gym and write my hind end off all day at home.

It’s a little chilly.

But when I woke up this morning I saw the dawn, unclouded, and had my long underwear on before I could stop myself. I love the sun. And I decided that I was going to bundle up and have a meditation on cold, and suck the marrow out of today.

I am so very glad I went.

Why does the weather over the eastern US trap stratus cover like a kid under a blanket? I could Google the answer, I suppose. Our region is so cloudy, and the clouds only pile misery on top of the obesity and poverty and meth problems and just plain ugliness of this area. But the sun was out, and there was nothing in the sky but it’s crescent nighttime companion, setting in the west, and this wasn’t a blue dome, as they say. This was a lifetime stretching above my head.

I thought I’d be tired of ice, but when I felt how solid it was, I was only energized. After so many cold days and such deep temperatures, it’s thick. It barely bubbled, and I might have walked right across the middle of our cove were I not responsible for 2 little lives at home. It’s thick. Thick enough to stroll right across. I walked 50 feet out from shore with nary a concern.

Snow, or sand?

The wind has been scraping at the snow covering. It looked just as the sand does, at the beach, when it’s packed down and hard. Little blips of bluster had been scratched from the surface, indicating a wind coming from the southeast, and in the strong white light of 9am it looked very much like the sugar beaches of the Gulf Coast of Florida where I used to live.

The sun’s warmth on my right cheek, Nugget’s butt on my left.

If it had been cloudy I would not have laid down, but I did. It was three degrees when I arrived, but there was no breeze and the sun felt warm. I had many layers, and snow pants, and thick ski gloves, and two hats, and the solar radiation blossomed in my chest and I could have laid there all day.

Because the sun came with me to the lake, I asked myself no questions. Uninvited memories kept their distance. Sun and blue, snow and silence. The warmth took its place at my side and in my head as today’s reason for being and being there. It was three degrees, and I was so warm. When I retreated into the shade of the woods, I felt such a longing to stay.

Windswept ice, thick enough for an ice hut
We don’t understand why you don’t want our tongues on your face when you lie down.
Savasana on the ice

Please follow and like us:
2

The Premenstrual Nature Writer

I went to the woods because I wished to kill my husband, to front his head into a glove compartment and kick it closed a few times, to see if I could not learn to push him down a hill, and not, when it came time to smack him upside the head with a heavy shoe, discover that I had not smacked hard enough. 

Three or four inches of fresh snow

I brought a little bit of baggage with me to Piedmont Lake today. We take our baggage everywhere, don’t we? Just because we’re traipsing through the wilds of Eastern Ohio doesn’t mean we get to leave it behind. Unfortunately, the baggage I brought along really bogged me down and I viewed my experience through the lens of my own emotions. That’s true of every experience, but the negative lenses are so noticeable.

It was a rough morning and I needed to escape.

All week I’ve been grouchily kicking myself for choosing a place 50 minutes away from home, a place which cannot just be popped into and out of. This time has to be scheduled, and weather is a factor, particularly this week, with all of my schoolwork. What kind of buffoon chooses a location that requires a half-day of travel?

I hit the road, only to realize I’d forgotten my gloves. (Last time it was my hat.) Today was 16 degrees. Son of a…. I got off the interstate. I found a Dollar Store. I spent too long at the checkout line staring at a magazine about America’s worst serial killers and four people jumped in line ahead of me. In the car I realized I had to do some smart phone banking to cover the check I floated this morning. My nose began to bleed and I’ll be the first to admit I stuck my finger up there to see where the blood was coming from, only to be spotted doing so at an intersection.

That’s a federal offense, by the way. Check floating, not nasal inspection. Both, however, are terribly gauche. 

So much work. So much stress.

Quaking shepherd

I was not a sojourner today. Nor was I enjoying the travel. Every red light glared crimson at me. Every slow driver wedged into my lane. How desperately I sought to make it out into nature and how angry I was that I couldn’t reach my nature and begin to be a nature writer. Blue sky is so rare in the winter that I worried I’d lose it before I reached the lake, or that somehow the cabin would evaporate if I didn’t get out there in time. The shepherd heard the radio buttons make a frightening beep and began to quake with fear. She climbed into Benjamin’s car seat and I lost my temper and tried to spear her with an ice scraper at 70mph.

I was a real jerk.

Today, I epitomized our problem. Our instant-gratification nature-on-demand society holds an umbrella over me, too. Did Thoreau ever just want to get to the damn woods already? I don’t know if I wanted to get out there so I could do my required nature thing and get home or if I wanted to get out there so I could drop my “baggage” down in the driveway and breathe. Perhaps both.

I really blew the first half of the experience, proving myself inescapably human. The difference is that I’m writing about it, rather than glossing over the ugly parts.

Excuse me ma’am, your transcendentalism seems questionable. We’ll need to do a Thoreau examination of your methods.

The scene in the country was very Bob Ross – white snow and the blue sky that only comes on the first day of a high pressure system. All week I’d been hoping for a snow paddle in my kayak (an adventure my husband and father weren’t wild about) but the lake was frozen again. I tried to find Emerson’s ice harp, but a thick layer of snow blanketed the surface and it made no sounds today whatsoever. Everywhere I looked I saw diamonds; the quality of the snow for the past few days has been fluffy, and I arrived at the right hour of the day to see it twinkle. The diamonds relaxed me a bit, and I was drawn into a calmer state, and began to feel a bit of appreciation.

Buried under the snow, I couldn’t see the ice or determine its thickness, but it was not to be trusted. Since Frick and Frack the canine stooges were with me, a hike in the woods made far more sense. I had a Doberman once, and a Corgi, and when the Corgi fell through the ice and was subsequently plucked to safety, the Dobie had to go investigate the hole and fell in herself.

Diamonds in the snow

Hiking in the dead of winter feels effortless. No brambles snag your clothing; no bushwhacking required. I hiked where I wanted, in circles and curves, through the deserted church camp and on to the 4H camp. Nugget, who is fleecy and soft, quickly developed ice balls in her paws, and stopped every hundred yards to tear at them. At the 4H camp I found a bench and sat in the sunshine and listened.

Sparkles, everwhere

Last time the hum of air traffic and fracking machinery volleyed around the lake. Today, perhaps due to the cold, the frackers uttered nothing whatsoever. As I walked I heard chickadees and crows, and several times a yipping sound that could have been anything from bird to coyote to shnauzer. Step by step I thought about my rotten attitude this morning, and how it didn’t matter one hoot whether I arrived with a scowl or a smile; the lake didn’t care. I thought about this blog entry, and how it would invariably be colored by sarcasm and grump if I didn’t get my head out of my posterior. And most of all, I felt as though I’d failed to be a nature writer today, suddenly considering that the lens of human emotion is the most vital ingredient in a piece, whether positive or negative. What we do to nature may not be natural, but we are natural, and my craptastic mood was too.

The remnants of the Magnificent
Beech Tree

Beech trees pepper the woods at the lake. I love beech trees, but they seem too fragile for their own good, and church campers target their trunks for carvings. It seems to be the beech tree’s bad luck to have such smooth skin. For decades one large beech tree has been a favorite of ours, and my father used to tell me it was Piglet’s “magnificent beech tree”. Dad loves A.A. Milne, and the author is really quite funny. Dad’s always called it The Magnificent Beech Tree, and when I was little I’d sit in a hollowed out spot and pretend to be Piglet. In the last 20 years I’ve rather forgotten about the tree. Perspectives change as we grow, and things that caught our eyes as children may no longer do so.

I saw the Magnificent Beech Tree today. It’s dead. I know the tree lived its life and toppled in a storm, very naturally. The trunk snapped and the remaining spear is 15 feet tall. Carvings–why do you little bastards do that?–are all over the trunk. I circled the tree today and touched it, and then I noticed dozens and dozens of woodpecker holes. The tree died, the bugs moved in, and so did the peckers.

Evidence of pecker activity

I love a good pecker.

And if the Magnificent Beech Tree can take its place in the forest web, I can ask no more of Nature. The tree continues to serve and support, and only my silly tendency to anthromorphize it tears at my heart. It’s The Giving Tree, but this tree gave to the forest, not to some greedy man. Oops. Anthropomorphizing again.

I began to think about children and nature, and the importance of establishing a connection as young as possible. When I was a child, the tree truly was magnificent to me; now, though I see a stump I can still picture the tree in its glory and always will. But if I brought an outsider with me, an adult, they’d see a stump. Nothing more. We must create sacred spaces for our children so that they will always have a Magnificent Beech Tree, and a connection to the space around it. I don’t expect anyone to look at my photo and see what I see. I would not expect you to feel anything for the stump. We cannot forge connections that do not exist. Weave your childrens’ story with that of a specific place, as Barbara Kingsolver does in “The Memory Place”. It will root in their soul and flourish, and neither pollution nor degradation can wipe the memory of their own Magnificent Beech Tree. I hope, when I’m an old gray goat, that my kids will fight for Piedmont.

As if on cue, as I dictated these thoughts into my phone I came upon the equally-magnificent frog pond in the woods, which in reality is just a depression in the forest, a vernal pool that remains naught but muck over the summer. And behind the cabin I stumbled into the remnants of my old swingset. They seemed like echoes, and they seemed as fresh as this morning.

My very, very old swingset, a la 1979.

Back in the house I had to call my dad to ask about putting antifreeze in the toilets, and the spell cast by the memories of the beech tree was broken. I drove home listening to Sirius XM 80’s on 8 (continuing to revisit my formative years), and the moon hovered in front of my windshield the entire way.

I refused to call my husband to tell him I was alive.

Beautiful geometry

The trail
The church camp
Snowbeard

Please follow and like us:
2

Of Ice and Dogs

I came out here thinking, for whatever reason, that today would be a hike in the woods. I suppose all this talk of “wilderness” has me in a woodsy frame of mind, because I’ve always associated that term with a forest. There’s plenty of forest out here, and I look forward to watching winter progress and hope that spring will arrive early enough for me to see it unfold here, too.

Nugget and the humble cabin

Frost on the door, and the frozen lake in the background











I knitted the infinity scarf. The hat is atrocious.
I wasn’t thinking about the temperature, either. (Insert picture of utterly ridiculous hat I had to dig out of the closet because I forgot a beanie…where did we get this hat anyway? None of us hunt and we all despise camo. Whose hat is this? I look like Ma Kettle. )




If I had been thinking about temperature, I’d have remembered that this is the week for the annual ice walk. Granted, the temperatures have to cooperate, but in January the temps almost always drop below freezing for at least a week, and if it’s cold for 10 days, the lake is frozen over. I’m delighted to see it when I turn onto the lane, and moreover, it has that rare, glassy look. This is ice you can skate on, which requires a perfect concoction of weather; the lake froze last week in bitterly cold temps, and then on Sunday we had rain and the air warmed up just enough for the top half-inch of ice to melt, and then it froze again when the sun went down. The result is Zamboni-quality ice. I can see it reflecting back the blue sky.

So I decide that today should be devoted to an ice walk, because it’s an infrequent phenomenon, and because it’s so beautiful and so meditative. And hell, why pass up the opportunity to risk my life all by myself in place with no other people and no cell service?

 

I brought the girls, Maya and Nugget, with me. How could I not? They’ve taught me as much as anyone about nature. The entire way out I saw nothing in the rear view mirror but the shepherd’s hulking form, her goofy smile almost making up for breath that could knock out a steer. Nugget jumped up to the front, and then to the back, over and over. They knew where they were going, and they recognized when I stepped on the brake to get off on our exit. That’s always their cue to get stupid-excited and begin to pace and pant.

The thing about being a dog—or at least, being one of my dogs—is that there’s nothing in the world that isn’t great. Everything is an opportunity for exploration. Every tree must be sniffed to see who went before them, and whether they’re investigating a log or a pile of leaves, everything is of equal interest. There’s nothing, outside of an unguarded turkey carcass, that is of any more value than anything else. That tin can? Sniff it. That crow? Bark at it. That raccoon carcass? Jackpot! They see the world as an open door, and there’s naught but wonder in it.

Perhaps that’s today’s lesson. I came out here wanting to see the landscape with the eyes of a single, solitary person in the quiet. But I brought the moron twins with me, and instead spent more time watching them than I did thinking deep thoughts. Hint taken, Universe. I shall watch the dogs, today, along with the ice.

(I also notice, when we hike, that there’s no end to the contents of a dog’s digestive and urinary systems. It’s like they’ve saved it up. How many poops can one animal take in the span of 10 minutes? I’ll tell you. It’s 7. Bombs away!)

I make my way down to the lake and the snow is crunchy. The Conservancy lets the lake drop in November, and it rises again at the end of March. The docks are high and dry, and they look ridiculous, hovering in midair. At its deepest point Piedmont Lake is 38 feet, I believe. Our cove, which is shown in my photographs, is probably no more than 25, and that would be way out in the original stream bed.

Piedmont was created in 1938 when the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District dammed Stillwater Creek. The MWCD created about a dozen other flood control lakes at the time. My grandparents started coming out here when they were young and the lake was brand new. My dad and uncle spent weekends fishing and swimming on the family boat. In 1974, my parents were taking a drive one winter around Piedmont and stumbled down Goodrich Road. There was a For Sale sign on the very last house, the one so quietly tucked into the woods, surrounded on three sides by forest. They paid $27k for it. The previous owners had lived there full-time, and the school bus had journeyed all the way out there every morning to pick up the kids.

It’s quiet here, but it’s not silent. There’s a big difference. The lake lies under an air traffic corridor, and planes heading for Pittsburgh are always overhead. In addition to noise from above, in the stillness I can hear a low hum of reverberation. There is machinery on the move this morning. It’s 9am and it’s 16 degrees and civilization isn’t far away. The echo-y nature of the hills makes it impossible to determine the source of the activity, but I know it’s the bad guys, the frackers, driving on the roads and moving dirt. The noise that carries down to the ice reminds me of the thunder we hear in the distance in the summers, rolling in. Unlike summer thunder, this roar isn’t going to pass off to the east any time soon; it’s like living in the shadow of Mordor and Frodo sold the oil and gas rights under the Shire to Sauron. Shit. 

This is the field being considered for an oil and gas well. The cabin lies on the other side.

Ice heaving up onto the beach
I walk along the shoreline and the ice sings to me. Ice sings songs—did you know that? We think of ice as a solid, steadfast barrier between us and the water below, but ice is alive. (That’s a cliché but for a reason.) When it gets thick, it shifts. Water molecules, upon freezing, naturally form tetrahedral configurations, meaning that frozen water expands. (I learned this the hard way when I took my father’s German wine glass, filled it with orange juice and put it in the freezer overnight. Seemed like a good idea at the time.) Along the shoreline the ice is cracked and heaved up on the beach. Out on the surface I can hear the ice’s heartbeat, a random but unending wump wump. It sounds sort of like bubbles, but I think it’s the various pieces of ice rubbing against one another as it shifts and sighs. I try to record it, but I’m not sure such a subtle noise will be picked up by a smart phone. In reality, it sounds like digestion.

I haven’t the cojones to walk out on the ice yet, so I throw a rock and listen to it crash down and skid along. Years and years here have given me the aged ability to judge the thickness of the ice by sound. Emerson, in the reading, mentioned playing the ice-harp, and I know exactly what he’s talking about: 

A thin coat of ice covered the pond, but melted around the edge of the shore. I threw a stone upon the ice, which rebounded with a shrill sound, and falling again and again, repeated the note with modulation. I thought at first it was the ‘peep peep’ of a bird I had scared. I was so taken with the music that I threw down my stick and spent twenty minutes in throwing stones single or in handfuls on this crystal drum.

There’s a video going around right now of a young guy in Alaska who throws a rock onto a frozen lake and it reverberates with a wonky alto boi-oi-oing. (Start at 3:35 mark.) This is the ice harp, and it indicates the ice is thick but not trustworthy. Never walk on ice that pings. Today, however, the rock makes a dull thud when it hits, and there is no vibration at all. It can bear the weight of a man and a fishing hut (if anyone were so inclined to waste their time ice fishing…only once have I ever seen a hut out here, and once I saw a car on the ice…that can only happen after 3+ weeks of temps steadily below freezing). Nevertheless, I keep to the shore after a crack hundreds of yards long bursts forth right between my legs. I’m safe—it’s very thick—but it’s unnerving and I’m so alone.

And these rules are my own, gleaned from years of Januaries, not the word of ice professionals. Walk at your own risk, kids. 

Grab that rock!
Maya, however, is an idiot, and immediately runs out to fetch the rock I’ve chucked. Maya loves rocks. Her teeth are worn and sawed-off from the bricks she carries around the backyard. Rocks make her crazy; she whines and yammers at them as she gnaws. It once cost me $2300 to have a lava rock surgically removed from her stomach. The vet took pity on me and gave me a $300 discount because we’d just repaired her torn ACL six months earlier to a similar financial tune. Damn dog. She fetches every rock I throw, proving for certain that the ice is strong enough way out there to support a blubbery 83 pounds of stupid.

Happy buffoon gnaws rock

I love her. 

She and Nugget are the only animals I have seen today, save for the red-tailed hawk on the wire on the drive in, and the bird I believe to be a swift lurking around the shoreline. Every creature has gone away or to sleep.

Acres and acres of ice to the south
I walk along the shoreline until I reach the bend in the lake. I peer around it and see the channel leading off to the south; everything is frozen. I’m talking manically in a Scottish accent to my dogs, about the nature of ice and cracks and wondering why I feel the need to fill up the silence when I get an unmistakable whiff of skunk. I can’t see any critters around, and the stink does tend to carry for hundreds of yards. He’s probably way up in the woods. I was wrong–not every creature has gone. Nevertheless, it’s a good time to turn around. When I do, I look back towards our lane on the hillside and see the cabins, roughly 25 of them, squatting in the woods above the lake. They’re all deserted except for our neighbor Frank, who lives here full time with his two yappy shelties. Twenty-five families who have summer homes, who have to schedule their time with nature between 5pm Friday and 8pm Sunday.

We have to work so hard to relax.

I think my parents kept the curtains
and rug from the 1970’s.
I sit in the cabin to enjoy silence with a cup of tea, but the heat is slow to crank up, and my digits are too cold to type. Moreover, I’m in a lake frame of mind. Writing will happen at home, reflectively, in fleece pants. 
Today’s lessons:

1. A dog is a fine role model. Everything is nature to her. Everything is equal in her eyes, worthy of her time and energy. Whether or not it brings her pleasure, she inspects it all the same. The things that do bring her pleasure are reveled in. She’s joyful. She’s happy to be alive.

2. Ice has an audible heartbeat. It sings. It’s not to be trusted and takes 35 years, at the least, to learn.

3. I get a kick out of the same simian rock-throwing behavior that amused Ralph Waldo Emerson.


4. Change is coming to Piedmont. It remains to be seen how much change, and how noticeable that change may be. It’s not silent out there. Humans are on the move, and no matter what Rogers says, there is nothing natural about what is about to happen here.



Bonus lesson: Pee before I lock up the cabin. Those were some frozen, alabaster hams.


Look at this freshwater clam! He’s hauling buns. That’s probably 7 hours worth of movement. 



Here is a 5-minute video from my morning Piedmont Lake ice walk. You can hear the ice talking around the 20-second mark, 30-second mark, and as an occasional wump wump in the background. The dogs had a great hike.

As I was packing to leave, the sun blessed me and the ice by showing it’s face and the clouds blew away. I noticed that the ice was less reflective with direct light upon it, or perhaps the magic of the early morning was gone for another 24 hours. 

Best rock ever, suitable for teaching young ones to jump.

It was good to see the sun.
The dock, suspended by Dad’s weird rope contraption. Notice it’s still crooked.
That’s quite a claim to fame, buddy.

Please follow and like us:
2

Finding Piedmont Peace: A Brief Introduction

It takes about an hour to get here. Of course as a child I hopped into the car with little more than sneakers on my feet and a vague notion that I was supposed to have brought pajamas and clean underoos, and my concerns were limited only to the size and capacity of my bladder. When the lake came into view we bounced around and eventually tumbled out of the car, dizzy with travel vertigo and sweat and excitement. My dad’s stupid Irish Setter, Barney, paced and drooled and farted all over the station wagon, but even this couldn’t dampen our spirits.

Piedmont Lake
Wheeling is located along I-70 southwest of Pittsburgh. 

Aerial photo of the dam at Piedmont

In this lifetime, this adult lifetime, the travel hour is the easiest. The early part of the day will have seen me shopping for the weekend, and packing the food and the kids’ clothing, worrying about poison ivy cream and diarrhea medicine (the great blowout of June 2014), becoming more sour and more dour and hoping only to make it to the cabin without cursing at the children and Shawn (who, between the three of them, do more than their share of drooling and farting in the car). I’m the mom now, and it’s work to get back to nature. It’s an effort to create this childhood for Ben and Andy. So much so that I’ve lost touch with Piedmont Lake in recent years, so much so that I need to reconnect with something that’s as familiar as my own hands, as my own reflection. I’ve spent my lifetime in this cabin, summers and summers, and so it is with both ease and effort that I choose it for the location of this journal. Another location, a spot of old-growth forest to the south or a waterfall close to home would be simpler, and more foreign, and in so choosing this place I make more work for myself, because to know this place, this cabin in the woods, I’m going to have to do some real work, peel back the onion layers of my life here, forget the fights with that damn 9.9 horsepower motor, and the sunburns, and the spot on the couch where the dog fell so deeply asleep that she lost all bladder control. In a literal sense, I have to actually see the forest for the trees, to bring that wretched cliche to life.

For thirty-five years I’ve been coming to Piedmont Lake. I’ve never once come alone. I’ve never driven out in silence with only the excited pant of expectant dogs (how could I leave them behind?), and I’ve never walked to Dad’s frog pond by myself, or sat by The Magnificent Beech Tree (he borrowed a bit of A.A. Milne when I was 5) in silence. Always there have been parents, or partners, or children at my heels, in my ears. Always there have been conversations and thoughts and chatter and sighs and someone taking a leak on a tree.

It’s time to find the quiet part of Piedmont, by myself. It’s time to see it with eyes that aren’t peering out from the body of a child, or a mother.

This time, I find nature for myself. This time, I take the leaks.

Our first date in 2002, walking on the ice at Piedmont. My dad took the photo. Yeah, he was there on our first date. I figured, what the hell. If he doesn’t like my father and he doesn’t like my lake, he’s out. He ended up falling through the ice and spilling hot tea on his crotch.

The Y-chromosomes
Teaching Benjamin to fish when he was 2
Somebody tell the dog that it’s not polite to sit on the breakfast table.
Please follow and like us:
2