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.
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.
February seems to mark the coldest temperatures of our winter, and that has certainly been true for this year. We are lucky to get above zero during the day, and our nighttime cold extends into the teens and twenties below zero. This is the belly of winter – the depths of winter – the take-your-breath-away time of winter. The sun casts long shadows over a landscape covered in snow. The blue sky is lovely but the wind howls and picks up any fresh snow, twirling it in the air and repositioning it with abandon. It’s a time to appreciate basic comforts like warm boots and clothes, furnaces and heat, and the knowledge that in a few months we will crawl out of this belly and eventually into spring.
With snow and temperatures below freezing our winter seems to be more “winter-like” now. We’ve enjoyed many mornings of freezing fog that coats the trees and vegetation with frost and a layer of white. With this rime ice the landscape seems magical, as if Mother Nature has used a paint brush and coated every branch with white. When the sun has appeared (which hasn’t been often) there’s been a beautiful contrast with the blue sky and the ice giving us that “winter wonderland” sensation.
For me this appreciation of the beauty of nature has been an escape from the sad events and turmoil that have roiled our country. I hope each of you has found a moment of peace, whether in nature, with friends, pets, or in the quiet of your own mind.
Christmas and a new year are both fast approaching. Amidst all the preparations I’m looking forward to a more hopeful time. Each morning we see the daylight overcome the dark of night. There’s a promise of a new start, a promise of a bright day.
I hope your upcoming days are filled with peace in your mind, kindness on your lips, and a joyfulness and lightness in your heart.