Sunday, October 25, 2009

Visitor in the Wilderness

The day after the great storm, I decided to take a lightly traveled path into the Porcupine Mountains to see if there might be anything of interest to paint there. It was called "Lost Creek Trail", which should have given me some hint of what was to come. Arriving at the path, I saw no other cars in the parking lot, so I knew I would be completely alone on the path. This was nothing new for me, as I relish the opportunity to be alone in nature. I often sing at these times, as I know I won't be disturbing anyone, and I can "let loose" as I do in the concert hall, and the sound in the woods, or over lakes is fantastic.

About a half hour into the walk, I heard water rushing off to my right and decided to leave the path to investigate. It sounded like a waterfall. A little bit of background for those who don't venture off path in virgin woods very often: the ground is not solid, it feels hollow underfoot, because of thousands of years of dead trees falling and decaying one upon another without compaction. As a result, you feel as though you are stepping on a sponge filled with holes, covered by leaves.

I placed my walking stick into the ground carefully at each step until I arrived at the edge of a cliff. Below me stretched a narrow, long sunlit valley with a lively creek running through it. Water cascaded from the hillside and the ground beneath me felt slightly squishy and unsteady, like a soggy bread crust. I stepped back from the edge slightly and felt compelled to remember this moment in song. I looked around carefully to make sure I was alone. No one was there.

I chose a soprano solo from Bach's Magnificate. It sings well in the open air, each note traveling in purest clarity. The forest becomes still when I sing, as if every creature is listening. The sun broke through in the middle of the aria and yellow leaves sparkled like jewels. I finished and felt the silence around me slowly filling again with movement. I turned to head back to the path I had left behind.

The forest was dense and dark compared to the sunlit valley. I felt as though I was being watched, and my flesh began to tingle with a strange electrical current. My dog let out a low growl and the hair on his back stood up. He backed up away from the path, moving back towards the cliff. I looked hard into the darkness in front of me, attempting to readjust my eyes. I saw a solid shape, with red eyes. At first I thought it was "Big Foot"! It looked huge, and my dog had never reacted that way to anything. Without waiting to see exactly what it was, I started moving away from the path and followed instead the line of the cliff. I walked as fast as I could, still being cautious about the unsteady ground. Never once looking back, I soon found a path that I had seen on the map which crossed the stream and the valley leading to a Yurt. This lead to an old logging trail not indicated on the map. I took it, figuring it had to lead to the road eventually. My dog growled again in the general direction of the first sighting and I wasted no time in jogging out.

Safe on the road, I searched my memory of the sighting, and decided that it must have been a black bear.

Later, I decided...if Bach's Magnificate attracted bears, I would have to remember to take it off my list of woodland songs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Storm in September

Photos taken the day after the two-day storm.

The end of September, I called a small resort in the U.P. to make arrangements to rent cabin on the shore of Lake Superior. I asked the owner what I might be able to expect for weather, as I was a painter and required at least some sunshine to do my work. The owner was a bit put off by my inquiry and told me that he couldn't guarantee the weather conditions. I assured him that I was coming anyway, but was hoping to get the best week up there for color, etc. I also asked for a cabin as close to the water as possible. He said, "all you can see from your window is Lake Superior!" So I reserved the cabin.

The drive up was great, the fall color was beautiful. I had high hopes for the week ahead. I stopped several times to take photos, so I was running a bit later than anticipated. Just as I arrived at my destination, dark clouds rolled in and the winds kicked up. People were running around frantically bringing in lawn chairs and shutting windows. The owner took me the cabin I had rented and true to his word, it was about 10 feet from the shore. "We usually close this cabin before weather like this comes in..." he said, "But that normally doesn't happen until November."

That night, deafening winds and waves crashed against the tiny cabin. The cover flew off my wall heater during the night and blew out the pilot light. I couldn't relight it. That evening, the Houghton airport reported a record low of 27 degrees.

For two days, the storm ripped against the shoreline. The wind was so strong, it could blow you over. Wind gusts reached speeds of over 60 miles an hour. Now and then, I peeked out my front window at the grey spray and amazing waves. My cabin and car was covered with a colored mosaic of shredded leaves and twigs. Even my dog wouldn't leave the cabin for more than what was absolutely necessary.

On the third day, the temperature was still in the 40's, but I ventured out as the wind was bearable. At noon, the sun broke through, and there was a festive spirit in the air. People everywhere were sharing their experiences of the last two days, some had been in tents, or backpacking when it started. Some had trees come down around them. One tree flattened a car at a hotel in Copper Harbor. Fortunately, no one was injured. My host offered to reduce my rate for the last couple of days because I had not been able to paint outside, but I told him I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was like spending two days at the base of Niagra Falls! I truly feel blessed to have experienced the power and wonder of Lake Superior first hand.

And, then we had sun for the next two days!

Painter and Classical Singer in Michigan

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