Summer Reflections — Nice and Spooky Michigan Minnows

When I was a kid, we’d spend a week or two each summer at my grandmother’s cottage. There were always minnows hanging about in the shallow waters near the shore. Sometimes we would make them scatter with the wave of a shadow hand. Other times we would feed them end pieces of bread. They were fun to play with.

One day, I got this brilliant idea which involved changing into my swimsuit and grabbing a third a loaf of bread to feed them from the water. When I first walked in, the little minnows, of course, fled. But then I knelt chest-deep into the water and waited patiently until some of the little fishies ventured near. I sprinkled crumbs in front of me. More minnows arrived. I proceeded to spread bread crumbs in a circle around me. Lo and behold, more came. Lots more — brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and a hundred distant fish relatives. I couldn’t get the bread crumbled fast enough for them all. Soon they started nibbling on not just the bread crumbs, but on me! As in, with nearly my entire body underwater with skin exposed, I became the fish food. I jumped up, threw down my remaining bread slices and splashed back to dry land.

Flash forward a few decades.

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My husband and I took a motorcycle ride and stopped at a lake to walk out on the public boat dock near the entrance ramp. It was a gorgeous Michigan summer day with a few billowing white clouds against the blue sky and a light breeze waving the plants growing along the shore, and the sounds of kids laughing and splashing a few houses down. When I looked down from the dock, I saw minnows in the water, fairly large ones, two or more inches long. As they waited silently, facing us, my husband pointed out that someone must be feeding them. My first reaction was warm and good, remembering all those times my brother and sister and I fed minnows at my grandmother’s cottage. Then I noticed they weren’t moving, like most fish do. It was like they were speaking to me in minnow-talk, “We’ve heard stories about you, Sandy Carlson, passed down through the generations. Come. Come back into the water.” Pretty sky, pretty clouds, pretty waving plants. We climbed on our motorcycle and put our backs to those zombie minnows. I don’t know for sure, but maybe if you go to that lake, you might see them, too, and you just might be able to hear them calling. But don’t you listen to them. Feed them from the land, if you wish, but not while in the water.

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Summer Reflections — All In An August Day — Library, Hobbit Tree, and more

Last Friday — my husband’s day off for the week — we headed out in 88° weather with threats of thunderstorms overhead, to a state park, or as many are called here in Michigan, a Recreation Area. Yankee Springs Recreation Area is about an hour north of us.

On the way we passed through the town of Dowling, which has about five buildings at an intersection, including a library just one building over. There was a sale going on that day. We serendipitously decided to stop to support tiny Dowling Library. What fun! The basement was full of old books. I didn’t see any children’s, so asked. The woman’s eyes lit up and said, “Oh, sure,” and took me to a back room nearly the size of the first. It was loaded with old children’s books. Many of them were from an elementary school a few miles away which had closed in the past few years. I wish I’d taken a picture of this delightful little library for you.

We moved on. I was delighted with my bag of fifteen books and a new Dowling Library T-shirt, and grinned all the way to the park.

We’d packed a picnic lunch and picnicked in a secluded spot of Yankee Springs on one of two picnic tables near the lake, far away from the beach goers and campers. Just as we started eating, a black, dark-windowed pickup truck pulled slowly into the little lot and parked, not in any of the other five spots, but off to the side, immediately next to our van. It took about ten minutes before the person inside finally climbed out, during which time Jeff and I speculated about what sort might be in the truck and what he might be doing. When he climbed out, he had a metal detector, which I know are illegal in other Michigan state parks, but didn’t know if it was illegal in all Michigan state parks. We didn’t want to call him out on it because he had a military-grade serrated  knife, about 8″ long, which he used to dig with about every four feet. He told us his father used to pull in to this spot thirty years ago with his boat. Jeff speculated later that perhaps his pirate father had buried his treasure there and his son was now searching for it. As he walked around us, he asked if he was disturbing us. Neither of us responded for a moment, but eying that knife in his hand, we both nearly shouted at him, “No! Of course, not!”

The Creepy Metal Detector Guy

We swallowed the remainder of our lunch in two bites and packed up. We drove to the end of the peninsula, as far away as we could in that lake area from the detector guy. We were still shaking when we got out of the van, but nature laid her magic on us. About a hundred yards away, a group of seven deer ran and leapt into the woods. It’s a tiny peninsula, so we were surprised to see the deer there. We decided to take a slow walk down a path near where they’d entered the forest, but didn’t spot them again. When we exited the woods on the other side of the path, we found ourselves in Monarch Butterfly Realm — a wide field of milkweeds. I spotted two young caterpillars and six monarch butterflies. Very cool.

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After that short hike, we wanted just a little more before going home, and more secluded, as in away from other people who may or may not creep us out. We stopped at the Hall Lake Trailhead. No one was there. No cars were parked in the tiny lot. Perfect. We’d hiked the full trail several times in the past. We walked only the twenty minutes along the poison-ivy lined trail to reach the lake instead of doing the entire trail before the mosquitoes at last turned us back to our van.

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After I returned home, I downloaded the shots taken that day and noticed something odd about one of the forest photos. It looked like a small Hobbit tree in the background, screaming and running off to the right, while the adolescent trees marched onward to the left. It was as if they heard our quiet footsteps and froze so we wouldn’t notice them. Of course, if it were a Hobbit tree, it was probably running towards the battle, not away. Looking at the photo, I’m sure you’ll agree with my assesment. (And now you know part of my reasoning for believing I’ve seen mythical creatures in the woods. I just may have. You can decide for yourself on this one, but I know what I saw!)

Runaway Hobbit Tree

At the end of the day, back home safe and sound, Jeff barbecued some chicken while I cooked one of our yard-grown acorn squash along with some sweet Michigan corn-on-the-cob. Our diets were rather blown that evening, but it was Jeff’s day off, after all. He commented afterwards: “It was a sublime meal, worth it especially after a day of travel and hiking.” I couldn’t agree more.

Summer Reflections — Cumberland Gap National Historic Park (Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia)

I started to post a new Summer Reflections when I discovered I hadn’t posted this last one from our July trip. So here, you go.

The last of our vacation stops was at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, in parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. I’d heard of the Cumberland Gap my entire life. I knew stories of the first white people crossing it, and seeing the land of “Kentuckee,” Native for “Land of the Many Bison.” The awe and mystic of crossing through the mountains on the journey westward for trading (Natives) and settlements (White).

Heading to the park from the south, we passed under the mountain from Tennessee to the south and into Kentucky by riding through the 25E tunnel. Tunnel construction started in 1979 to alleviate traffic in the small towns on either side of the gap, and also prevent accidents along the treacherous road through the gap. The tunnel did run parallel to the gap. We could have halted in Middlesboro, KY, to hike to actual trail, which long ago was a bison path, then an Indian trail, then a path used by white folks’ wagons, horses and pedestrians. Later it turned into a  curvy and steep road, once nicknamed Massacre Road because of all the accidents. And after the tunnel, turned back into a trail.

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Just past the tunnel, we stopped at the National Park Visitor Center and were able to catch a mother-daughter folk dance team, which was lovely and fun. I bought a pioneer bonnet there which would match my 1860’s outfit I wear for school visits. On the label, it was marked for Gettysburg, PA, and stated it was made in China. So much for purchasing folksy hand-made Americana.

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One thing which surprised me was it seemed most attention in the park was focused on the period of the Civil War. Being border towns during the Civil War, they were both pro-Union, but the location changed hands several times during this period.

I, however, wanted to learn about the days of Indians, and of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett (the latter of whom was never even mentioned at the park, and after I’d been singing “King of the Wild Frontier” for most of my time around there.)

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Here are views from Pinnacle Overlook, above the saddle of Cumberland Gap. We stood there for a long time with four women from a sports team. They came from between the Smoky Mountains and Cumberland Gap, and were familiar with the area, and the briars and the poisonous snakes.

In the first view, there is the small town of Cumberland Gap, TN, with 25E starting into the mountain. The middle picture shows the saddle of the Gap. The third photo shows the town of Middlesboro, KY, and 25E continuing to wind its way west and north.

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I would have liked to have spent more time exploring and thinking about Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, but on the day we visited, it was very hot, very mosquito-y, and it was the last sight on a week-long adventure before bee-lining it home to Michigan.

Summer Reflections — TVA, Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge — Whew!

Day Four of our vacation was packed with science (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), heavy traffic (Chattanooga) and incredible natural beauty.

Day Five was a taste of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1) I was not expecting such a gorgeous drive! Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina are spectacular. We even stopped serendipitously at the site of the 1996 Olympic kayaking river as well as several TVA spots;

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2) The traffic in Chattanooga was 6 lanes of bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go on the Interstate. It took us a long time to get through. I didn’t know if this heavy traffic was normal or not. I still don’t know. From Chattanooga to our hotel in North Carolina, we went from six lanes of traffic to four, to two, to a shared one lane for about a mile along a river which had claimed half the road earlier in the season. That evening, at our hotel in NC, we learned of the horrid killings at the Chattanooga military recruitment centers, just 3 hours before we passed through. Perhaps there was that unusual reason for crowded roads that afternoon.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway!

I rode on a stretch of this highway once before when our family drove back from Florida. What I remember of it as a seven-year-old was my father cursing the entire time that there were so many curves and hills that he couldn’t go faster than 45 mph. He got off it at the first possible opportunity. Me? It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on.  Besides the spectacular mountain views, there were tunnels and a mile-high marker through the Indian reservation and history! We stopped at several of the overlooks where we both clicked away madly on our iPhones. At one stop, Jeff finally commented, “Oh, look. More shots of hazy mountains and lots of trees.” Yeah, but gorgeous hazy mountains and lots of trees!

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 The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

There is only one paved road through Smoky Mountains National Park. If you come at it from the west in Tennessee, like we were, then when you land at the eastern entrance (North Carolina), you must either do a U-turn or go around the outside of the park by secondary roads to head back north. However, with our southern side trip from Nashville to Huntsville (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), there are roads you can wiggle along to get to the eastern entrance. Gorgeous roads.

We spent the night in Sylva, NC, surrounded by hazy blue-green mountains. I had planned for one day to see the Smoky Mountains. I know. Right? Impossible. But knowing how long to drive down there from our home, and how many other things we wanted to see during this trip as well, one day was all I could reasonable schedule for a taste of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were at the park at the height of tourist season. Hiking on one of the Quiet Walkways was not in the least quiet. Even though the trail moved perpendicular to the road, ho-boy: the traffic noise! It was also hot and humid, and loaded with mosquitoes. Only one day in mid- July was a good enough taste for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll return someday where there are less people and less mosquitoes…oh, and less heat.

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Pigeon Forge, TN

To end our day, we drove through the western entrance and through the town of Pigeon Forge. Now, if you knew anything about this place, you’d know to either avoid it or stay for a few days. We knew nothing. It took us longer to get through that town than it did Chattanooga. There must be 10,000 dinner theatres along that strip. And to think (oh, horror), I almost got us a hotel in that town. So if you’re looking for a place with cars for kids to drive, water parks, or 10,000 different themed dinner parks to choose from, Pigeon Forge is your destination spot. If you just want to get through the town — find a way around it!

Summer Reflections — Nashville, Tennessee, Surprise

Although I personally prefer to head north to the cool sand beaches of Michigan, ANY time (might have something to do with my name), this summer Hubby and I decided to go south for a change. We’d never been to Kentucky or Tennessee, except me, as a kid of 7. I gave in even if it was forecast to be in the mid-90’s, high humidity (99% is high), and thunderstormy. It was a new summertime someplace adventure. We picked six highlighted places to go. Our second highlight was Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville was a surprise! (Although, next time we go to Nashville,I believe we’ll fly v.s. driving the nearly ten hours to get here.)

I’d envisioned it as a small, redneck town. You know, like one you could walk into one of the many tiny recording studios along a hilly street, cut a record, and become famous. (I spoke to Elvis the other day, and he told me so.) But, not true! Nashville today is almost 700,000 in population. That ain’t no hick town by any standard. The music industry (Nashville is called Music City) has made this place very cosmopolitan.

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Our hotel had shuttles every thirty minutes to the impressive downtown area. Very convenient. The honky-tonk “Lower Broad” (Broadway) was fun. It is packed with bars and eateries, each with their own stage (in some cases, several) for musicians to perform. Our son who works in the music industry and has been to several conventions at the huge Nashville Convention Center, advised us to just walk down Broadway, listen for a band we liked, go into that bar, have a drink, tip the band, and move on to the next place we heard and liked and do the same. We walked “Lower Broad” in broad daylight, but even with the early time of day, there were music groups playing in some establishments as well as street musicians. We walked some of the Cumberland River bank, had ribs and local beer, and shuttled on back to our hotel.

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That evening we drove out to the Grand Ole Opry House. This is the third or fourth location for the Grand Old Opry stage. This most recent auditorium has 4,372 seats. The House is conveniently located next to the Opry Mill Mall, and where Opry House ticket holders are encouraged to park. There must be a symbiotic relationship between Mall and Opry House. We went into the mall and bought things. It was very interesting to see a vivacious, populated mall when malls throughout America seem to be dying out. It even holds a 20-theatre movie theatre.

I must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but sure am willing to listen. The slick-run two-hour show held each of the individuals or groups to three songs each, whether they were newcomers, current hit makers, or legends. We expereinced two standing ovations the night we went. Amazing.

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Naming Nashville “Music City” is no lie. There are literally thousands of venues for artists to perform, for free, for tips, or for pay. The really big trouble is there wasn’t a single musician or group I heard that didn’t play really, really well. However does someone make it in the music world these days, to not just recording tI must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night (the musicians could perform three songs only), and even recognizing some names and tunes, and hearing new artists, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but I’m now sure willing to listen to their music, but to getting music industry people to listen and like it, and then to have the public do the same?

It got me thinking of unpublished writers I know who are excellent writers, some even with agents (someone besides family and me believe in them!). In the writing world, too, it is really, really hard to break in and get published; and then after publication, noticed and read and liked by strangers.

Trying to be published or recorded can be so depressing. Luckily, Nashville also is home to the chocolate bar, Goo-Goo Cluster. They are worth every nibble of the 240 calories in a single bar, whether you’re depressed over not getting recognized or just in a sweet mood. I never had them before. I sing and play guitar well enough to go on some of the Nashville venues (even though that won’t happen), but, oh, yum; now I’ve got a new favorite candy bar. Thank you, Nashville.

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Summer Reflections — Huntsville, Alabama (U.S. Space and Rocket Center)

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I sent this first picture of Jeff to our family while we visited Alabama and texted the line, “Guess where we are?” One of our sons replied, “USA?”

It was Jeff’s idea to swing by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, since it was so near the northern border where we’d be. He’d heard of the place his whole life, and was always interested in going. I’d only heard of the Space Camp from thirty years ago when one of our elder son’s playmates was heart-set on going there.

The Center isn’t just about rocket ships and space craft. It’s also full of inventions and mechanical devises and the lives which led up to the remarkable feat of putting ships in space. Being a kid myself, I liked the Robot Zoo exhibit, but there were kids playing on each one of the huge mechanical toys. I felt a little silly saying, “Hey, I was here, first. Let me move the grasshopper’s mouth.”

Of course, most of the “exhibits” (i.e., actual space crafts which went beyond our atmosphere and returned) were outside, as they were quite large, including Saturn I and Saturn V. (Impressive even to someone tagging along with her husband was like a kid in a candy shop.) There were the tiny Gemini capsules, examples of freeze-dried space food, the contamination trailer used on the first flights, and so, so much more. I honestly do recommend visiting it. It’s a wonderful part of American history.

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For most of the time, I was only somewhat interested in everything around me, enjoying my husband having a wonderful time…and then I came across a moon plaque on the floor and froze, trying not to let my tears flow.

Jeff said, “I remember exactly where I was on that date in 1969.”

I could hardly get out of my mouth: “Me, too.”

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Summer Reflections — Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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My husband and I visited Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky last week. He had never been there before, but was always curious about it. I visited as a seven-year old with my family, and mostly remember my dad poking me in my back to move on or get in front.

Although it was hot and humid in Kentucky this July, the cave maintains a temperature of 57° and is not damp. Once I started descending through the woods to the historic entrance, I dreaded going back up to the surface.

We walked a mile in from the cave entrance, but didn’t see drip flow, although there is plenty in the more than 400 miles of explored cave. The number of miles changes every year as people spelunk and discover more connecting parts. There are also many other caves in the area, and I mean the LARGE area of hundreds of miles square on the surface. They only consider a cave part of the Mammoth system if you could physically get into it. If you could just reach out and hold hands with another spelunkers, but there was no other opening, they are not considered part of the same cave system.

The cave is dimly lit with orange lighting. We had some children on our tour group. One particular two-year-old screamed most of the time because she hated the We walked a mile in from the cave entrance, but didn’t see drip flow, although there is plenty in the more than 400 miles of explored cave. The number of miles changes every year as people spelunk and discover more connecting parts. There are also many other caves in the area, and I mean the LARGE area of hundreds of miles square on the surface. They only consider a cave part of the Mammoth system if you could physically get into it. If you could just reach out and hold hands with another spelunkers, but there was no other opening, they are not considered part of the same cave system.dark.

We took a short tour because we had other places to be that day and wanted a feel for the cave. The history of it was fascinating — the Indian cane-torches, the salt peter mined for gun powder during the War of 1812, the tourist attraction. One of the rangers I met topside (I wish I remembered his name) was a black-skinned man who is 5th-generation tour guide at Mammoth Cave. His first ancestor to be a tour guide was an ex-slave. Very interesting history.

The total darkness bit the ranger did (which is supposed to last a couple of minutes) lasted about fifteen seconds, with a very screaming kid the whole time. However, I did notice that the ranger’s watch glowed in the dark, and I couldn’t help it, my eyes followed his wrist during those 15 seconds. It wasn’t like I was scared of the dark, or screaming toddlers. It was the only light around. I tried looking away, but kept coming back to his watch. You’d think that those fifteen seconds lasted longer by this description, wouldn’t you? Needless to say, it was black-black-black (except for a wrist watch).

Leaving the cave, we tourists needed to walk through a sudsy rugged area to cleanse our shoes just in case we were visiting another cave. Mammoth bats have white nose syndrome, which is easily transported to other bats in other caves via tourists. Hence, the shoe washing.

Shopping in the bookstore afterwards, I bought a book (naturally) to discover one of the co-authors is a ranger at Mammoth, Charles Hanion. I waited about five minutes for him to return from his rounds and then had him sign the copy for me. Authors. You know. :)

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Before leaving the park, we went to the Mammoth Cave Post Office to mail some postcards and get them stamped there — we hadn’t done that old school personal stamp touch in years. The post mistress was chatty. Without any encouragement, she told us of one tourist who was surprised to hear that the cave tours were underground, and another person came to the post office wanting directions to the portal. Apparently, according to some nerd grapevine, there is a portal to an alien world someplace in Mammoth Cave. Well, when I heard that bit of information, this nerd wanted to take other tours. Why? So I could find the portal, too, of course. I MAY have found it (see pix above), but as I said, we had other places to be that day, so portal seeking would have to wait for another time. But if you go to Mammoth Cave National Park, and have time to explore more than I and happen to verify said portal, please send me a message about its location. I thank you.

Summer Reflections — Western Wildfires

Wildfires are unpredictable and dangerous. I feel for all the people who have endured wildfires both this summer and previously. They are worrisome.

On our honeymoon, we decided to backpack in the High Uinta Mountains of Utah over the crowded 4th of July. When we came back down to what was an overflow campground three days earlier, there was only one RV way down near the van…and our lone car sitting where the youth CCC was who were supposed to be watching it. The RV folk said the Park Rangers chased everyone out. “Why?” we asked. The man merely pointed to across the dam. About a mile away was billowing white smoke. A forest fire. We dashed to our car, tossed in our backpacks, and raced down the mountain. We weren’t the only ones racing. Deer with saucer sized eyes ran side-by-side with us until our road turned towards the fire. We had no choice. We saw the flames. Luckily the road turned again and we were able to flee the flames.

We lived in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota for about ten years. Every single summer there were fires and fire threats. Some fires could be started from an arson or someone carelessly tossing a cigarette from the highway onto dried prairie grass. Once when we were there, hundreds of acres were burned from a spark from a bulldozer hitting a rock. There were signs at this one bit of acreage for sale NOT to drive in the fields for a hot muffler could cause a fire.

On one wilderness hike in “The Hills,” we noticed on an opposite hill what looked like several large targets: A large brown circle with a darker red-brown circle within it, with a black bull’s-eye in the center. It didn’t take us long to figure out those were lightning strikes. Trouble was, it was raining; we wore our rain coats; the low sky was dark and thick with clouds. We decided to hike back out. Lightning obviously doesn’t strike twice on the same Black Hill, but it strikes pretty close!

When it was hot (in the 80’s) and cinder smoke-filled the town from a nearby burning fire, we had to keep the house windows closed. It took us eight summers of going through steaming-hot summer-house time before we purchased one window air conditioner. Even so, during fires, the house smelled of constant smoke.

During a wildfire, the white ash littered the sky, but when it landed on your clothes or sidewalk, it turned black. We put special mats at our house entrances where we’d wipe the black ash off our shoes before stepping onto the beige living room carpet.

When I tried to describe the smell of burning pine, a friend wrote how she loved the smell of campfires. Agreed; when they are confined to a fire pit, but not when they’ve burned acres of land and threaten your house and all your possessions. When the fires came within ten miles of our house, there were always the thoughts of: “Which of our material possessions are so precious that we can toss them into to the van in a moment’s notice and flee?” Of course, our very lives is the utmost importance in any disaster. If there’s time, IDs and cash came next. Anything else was just material possessions. We could even live without the IDs and cash.

Here in soggy ole lower peninsula Michigan, there are not many wildfires. Tornadoes, yes. Flooding, yes. But not so much fires. But I haven’t forgotten. Whenever I hear of wildfires, my hearts go out to the people and animals it nears.

In fact, to get a personal grasp on both wildfires in western South Dakota and the Lakota culture, I wrote a fiction book about it: WILDFIRE by Sandy Carlson, available in both Kindle and paper (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1491236272).

Stay safe and be wise if you ever encounter a wildfire

Summer Reflections — Snakes

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A couple weeks ago I went to check on my seedlings along the fence and to remove the netting I’d put over them to protect from hungry little birds. I couldn’t tell how the seedlings were doing just then, as there was a huge snake lying under the netting. I mean, a 3.5 foot, 3 inch belly snake! I high-stepped back into my house, glancing around to make sure it wasn’t following.

Now snakes and me have this history. When I was a kid, I found them – lots of them – and shivered each time. I didn’t go looking for the creatures. I have accidentally (naturally) stepped on one barefoot, which proceeded to twist around my leg. I was the first to spot a water moccasin in our grandparents’ pond where we were swimming. At camp, I liked to lead the way on hikes, and inevitably, startled all the sun-bathing snakes off the path for the ignorant campers following.

It wasn’t until my kids were in high school and I did research for a book at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, that I quite suddenly overcame my fear. They aren’t at all slimy. They are quite smooth and relaxing. As long as you know the differences between those which could harm you and those which don’t.

The thing about finding snakes in the wild (or in your backyard) is that you always come upon them unexpectedly. It’s not like suddenly noticing a dog, or even a bear. Snakes startle. It takes a moment for your brain to translate what your eyesight discovered, and by that time you are slowly trying to change your mid-step action into the opposite direction.

After the time that I grew to like snakes (when I wasn’t startled by them), I was hiking alone in the Black Hills, going down a ravine, when my hiking stick went into some brush and I heard a rattle.

The three things they tell you to do when coming upon a rattle snake is to: 1) stop; 2) identify exactly where the sound comes from, or if you see it, know the location; and 3) slowly step away. Of course, I’ve seen a high school boy run three feet up in the air getting away from a rattler. So much for rules when you’re terrified!

Back to my rattle snake in the Black Hills ravine story.

When I heard the rattle, I froze. Yea me, for following directions. But then, I looked around and couldn’t see anything. So I stuck my stick back into the bush to make sure it was still at that location. Rattle. I pulled out my stick. No view of snake. I put my stick back in. Rattle. This was fun. Until I remembered that rattlers are family animals, and maybe it was a young-un with its mama or big sis coming to his little rattle rescue. So I slowly backed away without further incident.

Which brings us back to my poor backyard snake. I was pretty sure it was a harmless garter snake, but most garter snakes I’ve seen have only been a foot long, not more than three times that size. I mowed half of my backyard because I wanted short grass to see that snake approaching, even though I was sure it would stay to the fern-y and bushy areas near our house. The critter was still there after the mow. When my husnband came home for lunch, I showed him the snake. His comments: “That is big. Maybe it’s pregnant.” I filled a trash can of pulled plants from around the path to the water hose, checking every few minutes to see if mama snake was still there, imagining sharing the backyard this summer with a hundred baby snakes. Then our young neighbors came outside, so I showed them our snake, still lying there. It was then that I noticed the flies, which made me realize it was dead. Pretty sure, anyway. And then I felt awful.

I’d been scared of a harmless garter snake.

  1. I was scared all day long of a dead garter snake. (That’s fairly harmless animal.)
  2. I was the one who had accidently killed it when it got twisted in my bird netting. (Bad me.)
  3. To have gotten that big, it must have kept many creatures from our yard.
  4. Now what will this summer be like without our backyard garter snake guardian?

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Poor great-grandpa garter snake. You will be missed.

Summer Reflections — The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell!

Before I reflect on The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell, I feel the need to swing the pendulum for a moment with the worst smells I’ve smelled: #5) meat-packing plant; #4) chicken farm; #3) car fumes; #2) busted rotten egg; and #1) a decomposing animal.

Smells are supposed to be our most vivid memory. I remember the exact places of each of the above, the when and where and with whom. #5) riding my bike alone on the outskirts of town (IA); #4) holding my breath at the top of one hill, speeding down past the chicken farm in the car and up over the next hill before sucking in another breath (IA); #3) stuck in a big city parking garage for an hour after an event, feeling faint even with breathing through my wool coat sleeve (I thought I was going to die!) (NY); #2) my brother (need I say more? okay, I will) took a hammer and smashed an egg he found, not in the hen-house, on our grandparents farm (OH); and #1) canoeing a very-very narrow creek off of the Erie Canal, through farmland, noticing a smell moments before our bow nearly smacked into the rotting hog half-into the creek, and backpaddling very-very quickly (NY).

On to the good smells, or particularly The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell…

Fact: We bought our present house because of the industrial waste smell here.

Hint: We live in Battle Creek, Michigan (Home of Tony the Tiger and so many other cereal mascots).

Backstory: After accepting a job, we had about 48 hours to find housing before leaving the state. It rained nearly the entire time. We saw a dizzy-hard-to-keep-track-of eighteen homes. In fact, when we returned to sign the papers and get the house keys, I turned to my husband and said, “Let’s see what we bought.” The second time our realtor pulled us into this driveway, it not only stopped raining, but the sun popped out. She said, “It’s a sign!” My husband and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We don’t believe in signs like that. But then there wafted over us a distinct smell: chocolate chip cookies! It is part of the delicious industrial waste smells in Battle Creek. My husband and I glanced at each other and said at the same time, “It’s a sign!”

With Kelloggs (also Keebler), Post, Ralston-Purina baking up things, some days you can almost eat a meal by taking in deep breaths. I suppose if I lived above a bakery, that may come into the competition for best smells. What is your BEST industrial waste smell?

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(This time my Summer Reflections post concerned smells. To bring it back to a writing challenge for you: Pick a distinct smell, good or yucky. Describe it.)