Fullness

There were three of us. We had planned this before we closed our eyes in sleep the night before. We were going on an expedition. It would cross a lake and take us through thick woods. Our goal was to find signs of wildlife. To actually see wildlife would amaze us.

 

We knew the snow would be deep. More than 1 foot of new snow had fallen in the past week. It was soft and fluffy and the whitest of all whites.DSC_0005_1825sig

 

We ate a fantastic breakfast. We never talked about what we were doing afterwards. It was not hard to get my companions put on their winter gear. They were wired for adventure. They did not brush their teeth before we left. My fault, guess I was excited for this adventure too.

 

As we stepped outside the air was fresh, and cool. Can fresh air smell good? This air did. My steps are big when a distant goal is in mind. My adventure partners kept up with me although their strides are shorter. They made the expedition enjoyable in the beginning and all the way to the end.DSC_0008_1827sig

 

The first part of the expedition was on the street. The snow had been removed, walking was easy. When we came to the lake the snow was up to our calves. We crossed the lake sliding through powdery whiteness. We took turns in the lead. When we reached the woods, we paused and got quiet. Our goal was to walk silently. With more than a foot of fresh snow it was quite easy. At the top of the hill up from the lake we found fresh turkey tracks. We followed them for a distance until the turkey went a direction we did not want. There were places after that where the snow was up to our thighs and almost up to my partner’s waists.

 

An expedition is a journey with a purpose. One of our goals was to walk to the river through the woods. We made it. My partners legs were much shorter, but their muscles were much younger. We walked through thick woods, down small hills and up steep ones. We admired the morning. We admired the trees especially a massive spreading Red Oak. Never once did my expedition partners complain they were tired. We walked over 2 miles, most of it through a foot of fresh snow. It was completely worth every step.DSC_0011_1828sig

 

Why? First there was companionship. When people experience a walk outside together the shared experience builds bonds. These bonds are strengthened by the visual memories of the beauty in nature. My partners and I will remember being together and some details from this hike with a purpose for the rest of our lives. Second, there is health. Our expedition this morning improved our physical wellbeing, reducing our blood pressures, heart rates, reducing my muscle tension ( I don’t think my partners have any), and even the reduction of stress hormones. Our cardiovascular health was  improved. We walked for about 90 minutes in the cleanest air among great winter beauty.DSC_0020_1831sig

 

You may wonder how it is that a walk outside is so healthy for anyone who does it. There is a depth to exercise outdoors that cannot be matched by indoor exercise. Indoor exercise has proven health benefits. But the benefits of time outside are greater. Time outside refreshes the soul.  Consider the words of the Psalmist. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:5 Knowing the earth is full of the unfailing love of God makes it easier to understand why time outside gives us health and peace. Consider these synonyms for full: complete, filled, and bursting. The earth is full of what? The unfailing love of God. The earth bursts with it. You sense it if you go outside. Perhaps that is why the fresh air smells so good. My partners and I found it today.DSC_0024_1834sig

 

It makes me want to go outside again tomorrow.DSC_0031_1837sig

Boone, In the Forest

As Boone made the final steps toward the forested shore, the sky began to lighten. He felt the wind on his cheeks. A wind shift-to the south-this would be very good for him. His scent would be carried away to the north. He thought, “If I am quiet and move slowly, I just may see more than birds.” As he reached the shore, the first late afternoon rays of sunlight brightened his path. A smile came to his 11-year-old lips. With the sun out, he would be able to see better in the woods.  Glancing down to where the shore met the ice edge he saw dark ice. Dark ice meant thin ice. Avoiding the ice, he chose the rock imbedded in the shore as his step.

Onshore he stopped and took a deep breath. He was relieved, and excited. He now knew the trip home across the ice would be safe. The thought occupying his mind now was, “what is ahead of me, what will I see?” His grandfather’s words came next, “God puts a surprise outside for you every day. Will you be out there to see it?” He was.

He took another deep breath and let it out slowly. He reminded himself to be calm. He determined to walk slowly and stop often. Carefully he stepped into the trees. He glanced behind. The sunlight illuminated the trees on the south side of every trunk. Light and shadow were everywhere. The snow-covered lake ice in the background made his heart surge. Boone was amazed. Why did sights like this thrill his heart? He took another deep breath. This one came from awe. He wondered, would this be the daily surprise Grandpa always told him to seek?DSC_0183_1131sig

Then he remembered something he should have done before stepping into the forest. He looked around; then around the trees near the tops. He’d forgotten to check for the Mountain Lion. He scanned slowly and carefully in a complete circle. He made no sound. As he came back to his starting place, he let out a slow breath. It was relief. No Mountain Lion in view.DSC_0194_1136

He was ready to move farther south. He decided to stay at the edge of the trees. He was thankful he did, but this came later. Coming to a clear-cut swath in the forest he stopped and looked behind again. Washed in the winter sun light was an Iron-wood tree. It still had rich-brown leaves clinging to some of its branches. He stood and admired the shape and silhouette of the tree. He noticed how it grew more to the east and less on the west side of the tree. Of course, there was more sunlight toward the clear-cut. Was this his surprise? He thought of grandpa’s other advice, “you’ll know which was your surprise when you get home and think about what you saw.”DSC_0201_1138

He turned to face west. He decided to walk west along the clear-cut. He took two steps. His eyes picked up a brown mass about 100 yards ahead. Boone had learned to estimate distances outside from his dad. Now, he was thankful he had listened. He stood, focused on what was ahead of him. Having spent considerable time outside with dad and grandpa, Boone knew this brown mass did not fit in with the forest surroundings. It was neither tree or brush. It moved. Boone’s senses went into hyper-alert. Slowly he lowered himself to his knees. Another of his dad’s lessons flashed through his mind, “keep low.”DSC_0219_1139sig

As he watched, unsure of what this animal was, he saw a second brown mass. A moment later, it moved too. Then he saw an ear twitch. Just as quickly, he could make out the head of the animal. It was a deer. By its size, Boone guessed it was possibly a yearling. It looked small. He watched the second brown mass. It was a deer. Boone’s next thought, “these are twins.”

Boone did not notice his breathing. He forgot the south wind on his left cheek. He forgot the Ironwood and the light and shadows with the lake behind. He never thought to check for the Mountain Lion. He knew he did not need to wait until he was home to know what his surprise was. It was the deer. He froze. A moment later one of the deer lifted its head and pointed its ears toward him. Boone understood this one knew he was there. He remembered his earlier decision to stay along the edge of the trees. He was thankful.

Boone believed that God directed his steps. He had been taught this since he was old enough to understand. He smiled now at the realization that he had experienced God leading him. Now he watched. While one deer watched the other picked at something on the ground. When they slowly began to move toward him Boone anticipated them coming much closer. His heart beat faster. While they slowly edged closer, the same deer kept its eyes and its ears on the alert. He was disappointed when just as smoothly they began to move into the forest to his right. It was not long before both had blended perfectly with their surroundings. Tree trunks, branches and brown grass in light and shadow enabled the brown twin deer to disappear.

After they were gone, Boone was still kneeling. He was savoring, totally enjoying the wonderful sight he had just witnessed. Time passed with Boone deep in thought. Moments later he came to a decision. It was time to go home. While he had not explored this wild place fully, he knew he had witnessed and delighted in his “God made nature surprise.” He would go home. On the way he would relive the seconds with the whitetails. His walk across the ice seemed routine now. He couldn’t wait to share his afternoon story with his family. He’d seen more than birds!DSC_0248_1145

Boone on Ice

His steps led him westward at first. West in the direction of the sunset. As he walked he came to the cross street that led south and east. This street edged the lake. His mind was filled with what he would do. He reminded himself to go slow. He needed to control his emotions to make good decisions. Calm thinking produced wise choices. First ice was no place for foolish thinking.

He was not only thinking about safety. He was thinking about what he would see. He remembered first ice walks with his father when he was younger. Boone smiled as he remembered the colors. He grinned at the thought of seeing the thousands of air bubbles trapped in the ice. His grin remained as these thoughts took him back to first ice last year. He thought the cracks and the impressive and connected network they made. He especially enjoyed the way cracks showed the depth of the ice. By looking down on them it was possible to see from the surface of the ice to where it met the water. Not only beautiful, they indicated how thick it was and if the ice was safe.

The last house along the lake was his point of entry to its ice. His dad knew the people who lived there. They enjoyed Boone’s enthusiasm for nature and even gave permission for him to walk on the edge of their lawn down to the lake. Boone was grateful. He reached the edge of the lake. Its ice was in front of him. He stopped there was a problem. The ice next to shore was dark. Just beyond it the ice was snow-covered. He knew from listening to both his dad and grandfather that the dark color meant liquid water had come up on the ice. The ice at the edge could be weaker. He picked a spot where the dark color was narrow. He could step out onto the snow-covered ice. He took a big step.DSC_0078_1193sig

The ice held. It did not even  crack. Boone was on ice. This was his first time alone. He turned and looked across the lake. The trees on the far shore looked dark. There were no houses on the other side. No one lived there. He wanted to walk in those woods. This wood was home to many birds. Deer lived there. There were rumors that even the tracks of a mountain lion had been seen there. A little shiver went down Boone’s spine as he stared across at the forest on the other side. He did not plan to only look. He planned to walk among the trees on that dark shore. He wanted to see and hear the birds there. He would do his own search for mountain lion tracks. He took a deep breath of the cold brisk air of early winter and turned to walk the ice near the shore. It would be safer at the edge even though it would take longer to get to the wood.DSC_0080_1195sig

The stumps of trees frozen in the ice took his mind off the adventure awaiting him in the trees. As he walked closer, he could see the tracks of an animal that had gone there before him. Because they were filled with snow, he knew the animal had been here a few days earlier. He also knew that because they were a single line of tracks that a coyote likely made them. The thought of walking where a coyote had gone before added mystery. Boone wondered what the coyote had been hunting. The last tree stump was very weathered. Its bark gone. A short branch pointed out into the lake. Boone wondered how many birds had perched on this shelf of wood just above the water. He forgot about the coyote. His eyes drifted over the surface of the stump, wind and water had smoothed the surface.DSC_0087_1199sigDSC_0093_1203sig

As he walked past the stump he saw the cattail on the shore’s edge ahead of him. They gracefully swayed in the northwest wind. Their movement and color drew him. The golden cattail stalks were a beautiful contrast to the white snow he walked on. He wondered what animals moved in and out on the ice beneath these towering aquatic plants that lined this part of the lake shore. He thought a mink would find this area interesting. Mink eat muskrats and muskrats would come to eat the cattail here.DSC_0098_1205sigDSC_0101_1207sig

While he was a bit disappointed that snow had covered the ice before he arrived. He was thankful that the white covering made walking much easier, and he reminded himself, safer. A new thought came to mind. He stopped. He realized he was missing the cracks and the air bubbles. He knelt on the snow. With his mittens, he brushed off the thin layer of snow covering the ice. It was worth the effort.DSC_0115_1213sig

His window was too small to see many cracks. But the bubbles were there. The dark color below told him liquid water was beneath the ice. Boone wondered how so many bubbles could become wrapped in the ice. He found joy in seeing bubbles in different layers of the ice. The faint blue color and the random placement of bubbles was beauty he enjoyed. While he marveled at the miracle and beauty of ice he remembered that he had not heard one crack as he walked. He relaxed a bit. The ice would hold and he would stay safe-and dry.DSC_0121_1215sig

But, he would still walk near the shore. He would not take any unwise chances. He lifted his head toward the trees standing silently on the far shore. The ice would hold him. Soon, he would walk in those dark trees. He did not know what he would see next, but he knew it would be wonderful. It was time to be moving.

(coming soon: Into the Forest)DSC_0132_1218sig

Across the Frozen Lake

Across the Frozen Lake
Boone liked mornings. He liked adventure. It was morning. He’d been thinking about this adventure since yesterday. He would cross the lake. He would do it walking-on ice. He knew experts called ice a film on water. But he had been watching the lake. Ice had covered its surface three weeks earlier. It had never opened since. He would be careful. He told his dad. He told his mom. He knew what they would say, both did, “be careful, I love you.”

Across the frozen lake was where he anticipated adventure. He’d walked on ice-covered water before. He knew ice could be unsafe, he would be safe and walk around the very edge. The water was not over his head there. He knew his first adventure would be on the ice. That would make two adventures in one. Even better. These quests would happen this morning.
It was cold. One of Boone’s daily habits was to check the family’s digital thermometer each morning when he got out of bed. This morning it read 12 degrees F. He would leave after breakfast. In his young life he had been faithfully taught by both parents and grandparents that the Bible is God’s word. Before breakfast and before final preparation to start these adventures, he picked up his Bible. This morning he read from Psalm 33 these words, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be…” Boone could not fully understand how God could just speak and things came to be. This morning he would walk among the things God spoke into being.cropped-dsc_0031_888sig1.jpg
He was becoming more and more eager to be on his way. He took time to eat a fine breakfast. He even ate a banana. That’s when his mom reminded him explorers brush their teeth before great expeditions. Sometimes he debated his mother about brushing. This morning he was keen on getting started. He brushed.
Before his dad left the house, he reminded Boone about dressing in layers. It was on his mind as he put his toothbrush away. When he walked through the kitchen his mom said, “the thermometer reads 15 degrees Boone, remember to layer up.” He knew if his grandpa were there, he would hear the same thing. His first layer was a one-piece suit of long underwear. It was old, but it was lightweight; and warm. He added a thermal turtle neck and pulled on two pair of socks, one wool. Over his cargo pants he added an outer layer of waterproof wind pants. For his arms and chest, he added a fleece vest and a lightweight parka with a hood. Once his insulated, waterproof boots were on, he would step outside. He did not plan to bring the survival bag his grandfather helped him assemble after his first solo trip. He was close to home. He would rely on his cell phone. He’d checked the charge on the battery. As he stepped out the door he reached for the willow walking stick his grandfather had made for him last Christmas. Boone felt his grandfather was near when the stick was in hand. Grandpa’s signature, burned in the wood near the top confirmed it.
He’d stepped into the crisp early winter air when he remembered. How many times had he heard is dad and grandfather say never head onto early ice without your ice picks. He’d left the two palm size cylinders of wood with nails firmly fastened to the end in the drawer in the laundry. The nylon cord attached to the other end of each cylinder went around his neck. If he accidentally broke through the ice he could use the ice picks to pull himself back to safety. He knew his dad would ask. His trip across the frozen lake would wait 5 minutes. Since he did not see his mom anywhere, he left his boots on to walk into the laundry. Boone thought to himself, they are clean yet.
Finally, he was ready and standing outside. Though he was 11 Boone had already developed the habits of someone used to being outside. He stopped and gazed around him. The first minute outside he always stood still and just watched. He was never disappointed.cropped-dsc_0091e2d.jpg
Boone was pleased his family lived two quick blocks from the lake. He would be there in five minutes. He decided to take big steps. He thought about how the lake had looked unfrozen. Then he thought about those first steps on the ice. He had completely forgotten the math homework due Monday. His drums and practicing them would have to wait. Adventure first and the first part of the adventure would be across the frozen lake. (to be continued)DSC_0059_1035sig

Boone’s Morning (conclusion)

Boone’s Morning Conclusion

Boone scanned the woods as he slowly made each step. He had learned the art of feeling the earth before he put his full weight on it. If a twig or branch was beneath, he moved his foot to the side. There was no sound of twigs or branches breaking when Boone walked. The leaves were something else. The carpeted the floor of the woods. He could not avoid them. He could pick up his feet and place them gently on the leafy mat which was part of the woods. He did not mind that walking took longer this way. Being quiet was his goal. He intended to see things.

He had walked 100 yards when he came to the small flow of water. Crossing a stream was a delight. This one had ice on the edges and Boone’s alert eyes noticed the movement of the water beneath the crystal-clear ice. Water moving under ice was a favorite sight of his. He paused. His eyes took in the liquid beauty flowing silently below him. He looked up and picked his crossing place. Deer had crossed here too.DSC_0025_1068sig

As he reached the top of the little stream bank he took a long look to the north through the woods. It was easy to see ahead. The trees in the woods were thick but with the leaves down the late fall view was uncluttered. Nothing moved. He was reminded then of the strength of the south wind as a fresh gust bent the tops of the trees. He could hear it growl as it tore through the limbs above his head. He knew his scent went before him. He resolved to be more careful, even more quiet. He began to look for a place to sit.

 He chose another landmark in one of the trees to the north. This time it was a large cluster of basswood, the only one like it. Quietly, with care he moved northward to the trunks bunched like only basswood can. He noticed the near perfect rings of holes drilled by a Sapsucker Woodpecker in the trunk. He liked the symmetry found in the woods too. Finding it many places was one of the other pleasures of being in the woods. Soundlessly he moved to the north side of the basswood. He saw the trunks made a perfect spot to sit. They would make a great backrest. But the ground was bare. He decided to pick up a handful of leaves to pad his seat and keep him dry. Even with the wind noise, the rustle they made disturbed the deep stillness. He did not pick up any more. DSC_0094_1081

Quietly he sat down, his back against one of the basswood trunks. He was on the south side of a bowl like dip in the forest floor. He could see everything to the north. He would sit here; and watch. Sitting outside always relaxed him. As the minutes passed Boone became drowsy. But he did not let himself sleep. He’d been quiet. He’d traveled slowly observing while he moved. Perhaps there was a deer standing nearby. Slowly, he swiveled his head from east to west, then back again. Nothing moved. The gusting rumble of the south wind continued. He waited eyes open, and alert. He felt alive. Adventures like this he could picture himself doing over and over. He watched and listened. Still nothing. He knew he needed to keep moving. He was not sure how much farther to the north the lake was.

Softly he rose from his leafy seat. He picked another clump of basswood trunks visible across the bowl before. His northward steps were silent with only a slight leaf rustle. Boone had learned much about travel in the woods. The lake was ahead. He was eager to see it.DSC_0040_1071sig

After reaching the basswood clump, a burl on a birch tree led him further north. Reaching the birch, he glanced north. He could see the blue-gray color of ice on the lake. He did not pick another north facing landmark. He silently made his way to the lake. Just before reaching the downslope towards the water he crossed two deer trails. He had not seen any on the way to the lake. Yet these two paralleled the lake shore and they were only a few yards apart. He did not dwell long on the deer trails. His eyes were pulled the vista of the lake before him. He was amazed at the small hump of land that formed an island in the lake. It was entirely tree covered. In the mid-morning sun it glowed. Movement on the north end of the island shifted his gaze. A bird of prey drifted southward against the wind. He watched as the wind lifted it westward and behind the island out of sight.

He lingered on the edge of the lake for a few moments. The hike had been worth the effort. His reward was not the sighting of a deer, mink or even the fisher he knew lived in the park. His reward was something he knew he would picture again over and over in his memory. The lake pristine, its shoreline undeveloped and the feeling of wildness were his rewards. He made plans to return, for a longer hike next time. It was time to meet his grandfather. He knew the way back and how long it would take him. He turned and faced into the wind. He still hoped to get a glimpse of a whitetail deer. Boone resolved he could come back. There was much more to learn about this place. It was a better than usual morning.DSC_0119_1092

Boone’s Morning

Join me in something new. It’s been on my mind for an extraordinary long time. Meet Boone. He’s a 11-year old boy. He delights in the mysteries and wonders of nature. My idea is to use Boone to share with you some of my nature experiences. Boone is my fictional character, I chose his name today. Boone means good, a blessing.  His experiences will be based on real events in nature. My wish for you is that you enjoy this first adventure of Boone’s. My eyes actually have seen what you will read about in this first story.

Let’s call it “Boone’s Morning.”

 As far back as he could remember in his 11-year-old life, Boone had liked being outside. This morning was no different. He was taking a solo hike for 3 hours in a 10,000-acre park. This park had been returning to nature for nearly 50 years. He was ready. He’d been outside since he was old enough to walk. His grandfather had carefully taught him to be observant, and he knew how to listen to life outside. Boone could walk quietly. He knew his way in the woods.

 This was the first time Boone would go alone. His grandfather would drop him off. The drop off was just an approach, a little driveway that ended at the woods. He had his cell phone compass to keep his bearing, but he planned to walk due north. There was a lake ¾ of a mile distant. Boone planned to see it. His grandpa would be back in 3 hours.

 Boone looked into his grandpa’s eyes. He saw them tear up. But he heard grandpa’s strong voice, “You know what to do, enjoy this Boone.  I’ll be waiting here 3 hours from now like we planned.” Boone just nodded. He put his hand on grandpa’s arm. His smile said thanks. Boone turned to the woods while his grandfather drove away. The wind was strong at his back, at times it gusted over 20 miles an hour. It made a roar in the tops of the trees. Boone liked it. He did not like that the wind would move his scent in front of him long before he could see the wildlife that made this magnificent hardwood forest home. He determined to be ultra-quiet as he moved northward toward the lake which was his morning destination.

 He paused after his steps had taken him far enough from the road that he could not be seen. One thing he liked about the first few minutes in a wild place was the sense of the unknown. He did not know what he would see or hear. This mystery never got old. He gazed around him in a 360-degree swing taking in the whole woods. It smelled good here. The roar of the wind was muted. His heart swelled, this was better than he expected already.

 He took out his phone and turned on the compass. He knew he was facing north. But he knew grandpa would want him to check. North, it was. He carefully stored his phone in a zipped pocket. He took another deep breath of sweet forest air. Somewhere ahead lay the deep lake that was his morning destination. He smiled and thought, “I can do solo hikes like this for the rest of my life.” Once more he slowly scanned the trees for any sign of life. He really wanted to see a whitetail.DSC_0031_1069sig

 Then he took his first step. (to be continued.)