A challenge accepted and the benefits gained

Neighborhood walks have become my thing. And I’m only now realizing how important, and fun, they are for me. On Thanksgiving I read of a challenge for people to get outside for 30 minutes everyday for 101 days. That intrigued me and I realized that with my walking I cover a little less than two miles in 30 minutes. So I decided to challenge myself to walk two miles everyday until the end of the year. And then I saw that if I walked three or four miles for a dozen or so of those days I could reach 400 miles for the year of 2021. The goal was set and the challenge was on.

I started walking more regularly after I broke my leg in February 2020. My physical therapy was to get motion and movement to my ankle after the bones were pinned and screwed back together. Around the block was a challenge in those first months, but I stayed with it and went more blocks every few days. And with that increasing distance I learned and observed new things. This was near the beginning of our COVID-19 lockdown. I saw window signs of thanks to our front-line workers and I saw sidewalk chalk drawings of rainbows and better days. I walked through the months of signs about George Floyd and then election signs, both local and national. And I observed the Halloween decorations morph into Christmas lights and blowup Santas and snowmen, followed by the spring flowers, the green grass of summer, and the brilliance of fall leaves.

I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I’m walking — I prefer to be open to the sounds and sights around me. I’ve heard the happy squeals of children out on the playground during recess and the honking of geese flying high overhead. I’ve seen eagles above me, the first spring crocus emerging from the snow, a nest full of robin’s eggs, and deer crossing the path ahead of me. I’ve learned how to dress for the different weather – a baseball hat for summer’s sun and a tightly knit fleece-lined beanie for winter’s cold; waterproof boots for rain and thickly lined heavy boots for snow. And I’ve used the time to think — to process things that are bothering me, to think of lessons learned from the past, and to dream of future adventures.

Yesterday was a busy and full day with a long list of things to be done. I was up early, shoveled the light snow that had fallen overnight, then made a quick trip to the grocery store. Things to be tidied up at home, a visit to a loved one in the hospital, and quickly the daylight was passing by and I hadn’t gone for my walk. A half hour before sunset and feeling a bit stressed I put on my boots, hat, gloves, and heavy coat and headed out the door. With each step I got out of my head and started to look around me. The fresh snow was still lovely on the ground, and as the sun was starting its descent to the horizon it spread its light all around. In the distance I could hear the wolves at the Como zoo howling and the squeals of children riding their sleds down the hills. As I walked near the golf course at Como Park I looked to the east and was greeted with a pale full moon rising over the snow covered hills. I saw a group of skiers that had stopped to take in the sight too. These are the moments of delight that get me out of the house on my walk each day. I returned home with a new attitude.

So I have 12 days remaining before year end and 19.9 miles to go. Plenty of time for more delight and joy and to think of new challenges for 2022.

A carpet of trillium

Spring has been announced by the bright green leaves that are emerging and by the ephemerals that are popping up before the tree canopy is full. The white trillium have pushed through the carpet of leaves and winter’s debris to open up to the bright sunshine. Each flower has three white petals that bloom above the three broad leaves. For a very brief time the woodlands of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are brighter with a carpet of white trillium.

Spring emerging

It’s the shortest season here in the North. We’ve had snow and cold, freeze warnings in the mornings, and then it’s spring. All around plants, birds, animals are emerging. The ground is littered with leaves, pine needles, twigs, and branches. The trees are budded so there is no shade over the garden. But if you get down to ground level and look closely there are signs of spring. The trillium are up above the dead leaves and some of the other wildflowers are poking their shoots and leaves up. These ferns are about eight inches tall now but they will be hip height in a matter of a week. The fernheads are wrapped tightly in a ball but they will unfurl and spread their own shade over the ground below. And quickly the temperatures will rise, the humidity will increase, the lightning will crack and the thunder will roll, and spring will have passed to summer.

From the darkness of winter to spring light

The darkness of winter is giving way to the lightness of spring. The warmer temperatures have brought new sprouts and new leaves. Everywhere there’s an undercurrent of blossoming and coming forth. The birds are back and singing with glee, the grasses are greening and growing, and the plants that were hidden throughout the winter are reemerging above ground. The serviceberry trees in the yard are blossoming and bringing their lightness to our world. They are delicate and small but their brightness is welcome. We watched a recent light rainfall cause each blossom to dip down as the rain droplets touched it, reminding me of a piano being tenderly played — pulling each note’s sound out with the light touch of fingers.

Big Manitou Falls, Wisconsin

Last week we made a trip to Pattison State Park in northwestern Wisconsin, just south of Superior. Our winter snow has melted, we’ve had many days of rainfall, and I knew the waterfalls would be rushing…and we were not disappointed. Big Manitou Falls drops 165 feet, giving it the designation of the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. It is the flowage of the Black River that continues on to Lake Superior.

The falls gets its name from the Ojibwa who called it “Gitchee Manido (or Manitou)” meaning “Falls of the Great Spirit.” The darker root-beer color of the water comes from the tannic acid of decaying leaves and roots of vegetation along the river. Native American Indians were in this area for centuries and these falls were a well-known landmark and gathering place for the Chippewa. Copper mining was done by the Native Americans and later by European-Americans after 1845.

The state park is named for Martin Pattison who was a prominent miner and lumberman. In 1917 he heard of a plan to build a power dam on the Black River that would have eliminated the Big Falls. He purchased 660 acres of land along the river and then donated the land to the state in 1918.

Big Manitou Falls has a thundering roar as it cascades down the gorge. We explored the numerous views near the top, including the large overlook deck that is seen in the upper left hand corner of my photo. Then we found ourselves following the south-side trail that goes through the gorge to the bottom along the river. From here you can look up and truly appreciate the depth of the falls and the power of that volume of water.

For photographers that are reading this, I made images of the falls with varying shutter speeds. The slow shutter images softened the water to a “beautiful and dreamy” flow but I didn’t feel those images truly reflected the power and the turbulence that the river held the day we were there.