Autumn has definitely been in the air this week. Cooler temps and shorter days certainly add to the feeling that the Holidays are just around the corner. The sky itself–the position of the sun and even how the clouds look–lends to that Autumn feel in the air.
Our family loves this time of year. The coziness that comes with the weather getting colder and the Autumn decorations coming out (excluding anything to do with Halloween) continues on into the Christmas season. Even more so with all of the Christmas decorations that come out. Some people and families don’t make this much of a big deal. And that’s certainly ok for them. But for us, it takes on a wonderful life of its own.
This time of year also means getting ready for home school. And this year brings for us a new curriculum that we’re using. That usually brings a little more stress to the situation since we aren’t familiar with the curriculum. But compared to the stress teachers deal with in public school on a daily basis, what we endure is hardly worth mentioning.
My wife does Daycare out of the home and has watched kids for a number of school teachers over the years. One of them was homeschooling her kids, even though she was a teacher! If that doesn’t go to show how bad things have gotten in our school systems, I don’t think much else will. That arena certainly is not what it used to be when I was a kid. I wouldn’t want anything to do with it now, which is another reason we took the home school plunge years ago.
We certainly recognize that homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to do it, it’s very much worth the effort! We have found it makes things far more flexible for us, allowing for trips to see family in Michigan certain times throughout the school year.
So, as we begin that process once again, it just goes to remind me that Autumn–my favorite time of the year–is here again!
What do White Pine Trees and Moms have to do with each other? In honor of Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that will answer that question.
White Pines are beautiful trees! These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between. While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are. White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.
So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree. I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes. As I said before, it even went with us when we moved. Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur. This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.
Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree. He was committed. He was focused. He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place. And he saw it through to his dying day.
As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth. I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. As it matured, though, it really began to fill out. Except for the north side of it.
To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree in the front yard. Still with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever. I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone. And he did just that–literally.
Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear. He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted. (Black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice.) He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart. They no sooner disappeared and he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees. All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way. Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.
So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car. We look behind us only to see a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us. I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face–it’s tail almost wagging as it trots along after us–has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major). Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I. Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do: She put herself in the line of fire for her kids. I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times. Thanks, Mom.
But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part). And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….
My Mom’s brother and his family have lived in Arizona for years. When you live in a state like that, there’s not much use for inner-tubes. (At least not like there is in Northern Michigan!) For one particular summer, though, they found out just how important inner-tubes are for making things interesting at the beach.
One of my cousins–Heather was her name–was about eight months older than me. So as cousins go, we were relatively close as a result. She and one of her girlfriends came with my Aunt and Uncle to our family cabin with us one summer when I was around fifteen. As you can imagine, that was exciting for me on multiple levels. Being a testosterone-ravaged teenager, I was keenly aware of Heather’s girlfriend (her name was Marian). Oh, yeah, and I got to be with my cousin, too.
Do you remember the stories involving the family cabin on Carp Lake in northern Michigan? Well, in the boathouse down by the lake there were always a couple of smaller inner-tubes. My brother and I used them as kids to float along the shoreline and look for interesting rocks. As we got older and sometime prior to the Arizona family coming up, Dad decided to get us all our own inner-tubes. Big ones for my brother and I and an absolutely huge one for he and Mom. Mine was slightly larger than my brother’s (being the older brother, I dictated that the larger one was mine). We eventually discovered something intoxicatingly fun, though. We could stack all five of these inner-tubes on top of each other and have it look something like this:
We’d create this inner-tube mountain, attempt to climb to the top of it and then balance long enough to stand. Once there, the other brother would try to disrupt the inner-tubes enough to dethrone the occupant at the top of the mountain. This, of course, would send the self-imposed dictator toppling down the mountain or sailing through the air. Either way, it was a good five feet to the water below. Sometimes, though, the trip down was through the middle of the inner-tubes. This usually resulted in the inner-tube nozzles raking across the rib cage as the dethroned fell to his demise. As entertaining as this was, however, it just wasn’t as adventurous as we had imagined it would be. So we found the excitement we were really after with these inner-tubes was located on Lake Michigan (about ten miles from the cabin).
(Stage Left): Enter the Arizona crew.
We loaded up all of the inner-tubes and all drove out to the Big Lake. On this particular day, the wind had the waves at a perfect height of a foot or so. Getting out into chest-high water, pulling a mountain of inner-tubes to climb, with waves a foot high tossing them about….now that’s adventure!
So we did that for a while, ate lunch, laid out on the beach and eventually found ourselves doing our own thing. My Uncle and Marian were playing catch with a water-soaked Nerf football in water that wasn’t quite chest-high depth. I was laying on the monster inner-tube relatively close to Marian as I lazily watched this game of catch unfold.
It might be important to note that in my observations of Marian, I had noticed that she was fairly competitive when we played games of any sort. So as she and my Uncle tossed the football back and forth, things got more and more interesting. My Uncle kept getting further away from Marian and throwing the ball a little harder as he did so. Now, Lake Michigan water is typically on the cold side. When there’s any kind of wind, the water feels warmer if you just stay in it. So Marian was crouching down in the water whenever she didn’t have the football. As a result, this made it appear that she was in water up to her shoulders.
It was during one of these many throws and catches between my Uncle and Marian that shock and awe ensued. My Uncle lobbed a long throw with that heavy, water-soaked Nerf football. In Marian’s crouching position, it was going to sail well over her head. So without thinking much about it, she launched herself out of the water and into the air to get that ball. Did I mention that Marian had a tube-top bikini on that day? Actually, to be accurate, at this point she was suddenly wearing only half of it. She went up and her tube-top went down. And I got a Howard Cosell play-by-play close-up of the action since I was only five feet from her when this happened.
As you can imagine, she immediately went for cover. By that point, however, I had turned my head the other way for a few seconds to give her time to do just that. I was laughing about it as I turned my head back around to where she was (thankfully, she was too). She handled it very well, considering what had just happened. She slowly came up out of the water with everything where it should be and asked, “So, did you like the free show?”
As a teen-age boy, I couldn’t deny that this had been a rather interesting situation. But I was far more focused on something far more important: My “flesh” definitely wanted to keep looking at what it suddenly had an opportunity to look at; but the work God had been doing in me even to that point of my life meant that I knew that the right thing to do was to look away. And I did that! It’s a good feeling when you see yourself do something that’s right without even thinking about it.
Marian and my Uncle continued to play catch, but she no longer crouched in the water. Wise move on her part……
Do you remember the M65 trash bag story I told you about that involved me and my best friend from high school? That story is worth checking out, but to refresh your memory a bit, Rick and I go way back to middle school years. I was usually the “straight man” while he was the comic, delivering various jokes, stories, goofs, pranks and the like which always resulted in laughter–if nowhere else but from Rick himself. This, of course, brought laughter from those looking on anyway because he’s just got that kind of a laugh. Ever known anyone like that? It’s truly a gas! (And sometimes that was also the reason he was laughing…..odors most foul.) So with that little tidbit of background information, the following is something he shared with me when we caught up recently:
Rick has a large field behind his house that more or less separates his property from his Dad’s. Sometime before hunting season, he and his son, Parker, built a deer blind for this season’s hunting escapades. Here’s what it looks like:
Yes, you’re right, that’s him (apparently contemplating what took place in yonder field). And yes, you’re right about that as well: it is made almost exclusively out of old doors. It’s rather ingenious, actually. He made use of what he already had–these old doors came from an old barn behind his house–even cutting strategic openings into the doors to be able to shoot in any direction. He and Parker have each gotten a deer from this blind, even sleeping all night in it to do so. And, believe it or not, a high school senior actually had pictures taken with this blind!
That being said, this is where it gets…..interesting.
The deer that Rick shot, he gutted in the field to the left of the blind in the picture above. To the right of the blind, his Dad keeps a trailer:
After gutting the deer, Rick got inspired with wisdom and grabbed his Dad’s trailer, bringing it over to where the deer was in the field and loading the deer into the trailer to avoid dragging it up to his property. He then brought it into the old barn that he got the doors from to let it bleed out. (To do so, he backed the trailer into the barn and hung the deer from a rafter that was over the trailer. Then he put a bucket in the trailer underneath the deer to catch everything. I won’t go into detail about what ended up being in that bucket, but suffice it to say that it was more than just blood.) Once this was completed, he put the trailer back in the field where he had gotten it.
Shortly after this, his Dad needed the trailer to haul some Christmas decorations. At one point while he had the trailer loaded with Christmas stuff, it was dark outside. He needed to get something out of the trailer and with it being dark out, he just groped around in the trailer, trying to find whatever it was he was looking for. His groping suddenly stopped, however, when he found his hand deep inside the bucket that Rick forgot to remove from the trailer. I imagine Rick’s Dad completely forgot what he was even looking for, his focus totally absorbed with where his hand was at that moment. It’s just my observation, but there probably should have been a second bucket to catch something else that was probably coming up as well.
Rick and his Dad share a similar personality, so I’m not surprised at all that apparently neither one saw that the bucket was still in the trailer, even during daylight. Rick said that his Dad still isn’t laughing about it yet. I wonder how long that will take…..
Autumn is a wonderful time of the year and is definitely considered my favorite, what with leading into the cozy winter weather that is so often associated with Christmas.
We didn’t get out for any Autumn camping this Fall, but it did bring to mind a camping incident that I shared with you a year ago. So, for your entertainment, here it is again:
My family and I just completed our only Autumn campout for the year this weekend. It was a great time with some really great people! Most of our Euchre Club were the other campers, so we decided to have it at the campground for this month. We were by a large gazebo shelter that had a lot of picnic tables under it, which we made use of for our Euchre Club night. (Certainly a first for all of us and probably a last as well, since we were fighting wind and rain during most of our time playing. We stayed dry and we didn’t lose any cards, but the rain on the metal roof was irritating and almost required the use of sign language to communicate).
Well, some things were left out at the end of the night that brought in some rather unruly and uncouth vagabonds. These infiltrators wore masks and moved about the gazebo under cover of the wind and darkness. The only problem with their plan was the wind had picked up again and was snapping a table cover like a whip in the air. This happened to not only be right by our camper, but right by our end of the camper. So I woke up at 2 a.m. to the sounds of thumping and snapping from inside the gazebo, along with noises here and there of things falling off tables and crashing onto the floor. Oh sure, they tried to time it so that it would look like the wind did it, but I was on to their silly little games. But being awakened like that reminded me of a camping incident from years ago….
My Mom’s brother and his family were visiting from Arizona. Both sets of parents decided that we would all go up to Wilderness State Park in the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula and camp there. I’m not sure why, but my Mom and Dad decided that this time the four of us would stay in a tent instead of the pop-up camper that we had. It was an old canvas tent that was an old shade of yellow and the four of us just barely fit into it. My parents were on either end on cots and my brother and I were inbetween them on the tent floor.
Northern Michigan is beautiful country! The wilderness that surrounds you up there is breathtaking. But that also means that there are animals in that wilderness. Animals that don’t necessarily appreciate you treadin’ on their turf….crossing the line….gang wars and all that. We knew that we were in bear country–along with all kinds of other animals in their respective countries–so for a couple of early teenagers who knew that the woods surrounded three of the four sides of the campground (the fourth side being the beach of Lake Michigan), we went to bed with just a little trepidation.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I was slowly aroused from my slumber by a hideous growling and snarling that seemed to vary in pitch from deep disturbing tones of something big and ominous to higher tones of something small and ominous but with no less danger attached to it. At first it seemed to be coming from just outside the tent, which happened to be about a foot away from my head. As this realization began to cause my brain cells to fire in rapid succession, it seemed that whatever was just outside that tent wall was about ready to come tearing through that thin shell of old yellow canvas with razor-sharp teeth and claws, ready to carry off one of us into whatever country it had come from.
But as my disorientation became oriented and I finally got my bearings on where I was and what and who was around me, it slowly began to dawn on me what kind of creature this was that I was hearing with so great an interest. As I lay there listening to its sounds, I began to realize that this creature was leaping from one side of the tent to the other! And then, as I became fully awake (as hearing something so hair-raising will do to you), I finally came to the realization that at the same time this creature leapt to my Dad’s side, the lower tones were heard; and when it leapt over to my Mom’s side, the higher tones were heard. Amazingly, this creature’s growls and snarls coincided perfectly with the snoring that was coming from my parents as they blissfully slept their night away.
If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know that we’ve been heading a certain direction for quite awhile now. Maybe you have only just begun to “walk in my snowshoes” with me. If that’s you, then you need to know that there’s something happening here you’re not going to want to miss. It will be well worth your time to scroll all the way down to the bottom of my blog and read upwards from there. The order of these stories and such has been very intentional. You’ll laugh a lot, but you’ll also begin to pick up on something: The more you read, the more you will see that a picture of sorts is being painted before you–also quite intentional. (If you just can’t make the time to do that, type “Journey” into the search box and that will give you a bird’s-eye view of what I’m talking about here. It won’t do justice to getting the full experience, but you’ll get an idea of where we are at this point.) Of course, if you’ve been with me for a while–especially from the very first step taken together as we walked out that door into the unknown–I’m sure I’m telling you something that you already know!
So why tell you all that? Well, I have known for about a week now that the time has come for me to tell you “the rest of the story”. You see, I know what you’re in for and I want you to get the full picture of where we are right now on this journey together before we strike out in that direction.
So get a fire in the fireplace going, pull up a couple of comfy chairs and make sure your snowshoes are at the ready. I’ll bring mine and coffee for two and then….I’ll tell you a tale!
There’s an older couple that goes to our church who live just outside of town. I was over there recently and was reminded of a very unique tree that he has.
It’s a very old pear tree with a trunk that’s a good foot or so in diameter and a height of twelve to fifteen feet. “What’s the big deal about a pear tree?”, you may ask. This tree is unique because it has nothing growing in the center of it! Here….take a look:
As you can see, this tree literally has nothing but its bark supporting it and keeping it alive. And yet, it lives! It produces fruit every year and has been like this for years.
Clarence (the owner of the property this tree sits on) said that when he discovered this so many years ago, the Lord spoke something to him. He said to Clarence, “Even if the center is rotten, you can still find good fruit.”
We’re camping on this Labor Day weekend. Which is what we were doing up in Michigan’s U.P. during our stay in the backwoods wilderness of that beautiful country. Which leads me to the black bear story…..
As I said before, we all stayed in tents both times that we went up there. The cabin sat on a corner lot of sorts, with the lake straight out in front of it and a thirty-foot wide tributary from the lake that passed the cabin on the left and became a smaller lake behind the cabin property. So our tents were on one side of the cabin and the tributary was on the other. An old bridge made of railroad ties, as I recall (as was the main dock into the lake), spanned the thirty feet of water and connected the cabin’s mainland with an island on the other side of the tributary. This bridge was a good five or six feet above the water (as a sharp 25+ year-old memory reveals) with a very old wooden rowboat on the cabin side of the shoreline.
If you recall my mentioning Nate and Jesse (the same Nate who went fishing for some Kelly in a previous story), Jesse was about four or five years old at the time of our first venture up there. Even though we were told to stay away from it, Jesse somehow miraculously found himself standing in the old rowboat. Then it started to sink. And he started to cry….loudly. His Dad was clear across the other side of the cabin where the tents were when he heard his youngest son cry. He was a blur of arms and legs as he came sprinting across the property to where his son was in the rowboat (don’t be too concerned–the water was only a couple feet deep where the boat was). He leapt into the water as he lunged for his son and whisked him right out of the boat. Once Jesse was deemed safe and unharmed…..well, then the crap hit the fan for why he was even anywhere near the boat to begin with.
That same bridge, it was said to us kids, could possibly hold a black bear or two, which meant that there were possibly black bear in and around the woods that surrounded the cabin. We didn’t see any, but I’m pretty sure I heard one. The bathroom was a two-hole latrine about fifty-feet into the woods behind the cabin. Not much of an issue during the day, but at night that distance became a very significant obstacle. I remember one night making that very long trek through the fifty feet of trail that was surrounded by trees on either side, armed with nothing but the flashlight in my hand. The latrine was within sight at twenty feet away, but just as I came within sight of it, I heard significant rustling behind me just off the trail on the right. I don’t think my feet touched the ground those last twenty feet, and I certainly didn’t have to use the bathroom anymore by the time I found myself safely inside the confines of the latrine. I have no idea what I heard in those woods just off the trail, but I wasn’t about to go look. I waited a few minutes and then ran like I was shot out of a cannon those fifty feet back to the camping area where my parents and safety awaited me.
My fondest memories, though, are God’s nature that surrounded us up there. We had blueberry bushes all over up there, so one day for lunch, all we had were fresh blueberries in pudgy-pies (with sugar, of course); Todd and I took a canoe ride clear to the other side of the lake where a little nook offered us such solitude that the hushed tones of our conversation sounded like we were shouting; no sounds of civilization in the morning, just loons out on the misty water as the sun came up; and more than anything else, for me the very presence of God Himself to meet me there every day in His beautiful creation that was all around.
Should you get the chance to vacation in Northern Michigan–anywhere from the top of the mitten or higher–you will create for yourself a very memorable experience!
So, let’s get to the reason for the title of the last conversation we had….
It’s very important that you know that this lake had bloodsuckers in it (yes, leeches are the same thing, but calling them “bloodsuckers” seems far more appropriate for the disgusting, perverted and selfish behavior they exhibit). I don’t recall anyone informing me of this vital and necessary information until I was waist-high in the water the morning after we all got there and saw one swim by me at a measly distance of twelve inches . That really took any fun I was having in the water and shot it to oblivion. I hate creepy creatures like that and I found out that they were all over that lake. If you can picture Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes) hovering above the surface of the water with his legs and arms flailing so fast that he’s levitating himself, his eyes as big as saucers as he looks down into the water below him at something that has scared him spitless, that’s what I looked like when I saw that vile creature. I don’t recall getting in the water much after that.
I remember Cindy and a friend of hers being out on the floating dock one day sunning themselves. The dock was a good seventy-five to one-hundred yards away from the shore and she eventually hollered over the water’s surface that she really wanted her Dad to come out with the canoe and get them so that they didn’t have to get in the water (because, as you can imagine, the water between the shoreline and the floating dock was unquestionably patrolled on a regular basis by fleets of these life-sucking creatures trolling to and fro, just waiting to engage a helpless victim and drag them to the dark depths of the lake where they could feed at their leisure). This memory sticks indelibly in my head, because we watched in amazement as he left the shoreline in the canoe by himself and paddled by himself straight as an arrow to the floating dock to rescue his daughter from the evil clutches of those vehement blood-sucking bloodsuckers. Do you know how hard that is to do? But he did it perfectly. We were all amazed and impressed.
One up-side to this cabin was the sauna that it had. The evenings in Northern Michigan are typically cool, so we would sit in the sauna and get as hot and sweaty as possible, then run into the darkness from the sauna to the lake as fast as possible and jump in. Except for me. I would go to the water’s edge and quickly fling some water on myself to cool off. If I couldn’t see what was potentially lurking in the water for me, I wasn’t about to give it a free meal. (Jeff and Todd, however, did this repeatedly, which makes me wonder what kind of immunity they had somehow built up in order to withstand the vicious, blood-sucking attacks they must surely have been enduring every time they dove into that dark water. Absolutely amazing.)