Newly Discovered Social Group — Mall Power-Walkers

I’d rather be outside than in — unless there’s a tornado or hailstorm. Ash and smoke from a nearby wildfire has pushed me indoors as well. Then there was last Friday — hubby’s day off, and the chance to get out into the woods again. But with temperatures in the 30’s and low 40’s with wind and rain and snow and overcast-no-blue sky making me feel blah, we decided to go to the local mall to do our “hike”.

We’d heard of others doing this, but as for us, we were virgin mall power-walkers. We found it interesting exploring this new-to-us social activity and dynamics, so I thought I’d share what we observed on our morning weekday mall hike (generally speaking):

  1. People walk in easily identified pairs with a no-window-shopping stride.
  2. The average age of walker is in the mid-60’s.
  3. Winter coats are abandoned over chairs in the food court area until departure.
  4. The taller the couple, the faster their pace.
  5. Later in the morning brings out single walkers.

I bought a pair of sandals at the end of our hike, so I didn’t feel too badly about using the space. I also didn’t take any photos because with all the closed shops and no anchor stores, it seemed a very different mall from fourteen years ago when we first visited.

I was a little jealous of the younger woman sitting in the window of the Barnes and Nobel, writing in a notebook. I thought to go in, walk up to her, and ask, “Whatcha writin’?” Writers tend to attract to each other like magnets. But her earbuds were as clear as a No Trespassing sign. Besides, I only dare enter a bookstore when I have a particular book to purchase, or am doing a book-signing, or have lots and lots of spare money to buy oh-so-many more books. Books rather addicting.

The mall walk shooed my blah feeling away and changed it into an isn’t-that-interesting feeling. I would still rather be outside most any day, observing flora and fauna, but people, too, can be fascinating to watch.

Winterspration on the North Country Trail

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A week ago, Friday, March 1st, we had winter cabin fever. That day it reached up to the mid-20’s. The day was overcast-gloomy, like most of the week had been. So… being sick of the cold and wind and snow, what did we Carlsons do? We decided we needed to get outside. (What can I say?)

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We chose to hike a new-to-us trail, part of the North Country Trail we haven’t been on. It started at the sort-of trailhead across the highway from Fort Custer State Recreation Area. The “parking lot” is a space off the shoulder, enough for one or two cars. We were the only vehicle there; so, not crowded!

Although spring was still twenty days away and the trees were leafless, daylight had increased, causing the woodland birds to start their chirping and mate-finding. I’d like to stop the sound description with that serene twitter of birds singing in the woods, however, the trail at this point runs between a busy 4-lane road and a 2-lane road, with about a mile or mile and a half pathway through the forest. Yet, our eyes told us we were in the woods.

With the recent snowfall, the snow didn’t crunch under our feet like it had the previous week. However, there was The Thaw a couple of days previous, so underneath the light snowcover was ice. My hiking stick slipped at nearly every step, so it was a more careful walk than our usual hiking stride. We weren’t the only ones slipping through the woods. Even the deer had an obvious slip or two.

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We were alone on the trail, yet not quite alone. There was a canine present somewhere. I could tell by the snowfall distorting other animal prints (rabbit, squirrel, opossum with their cute little thumbs) that the canine prints were recent, that day, and didn’t have corresponding fresh human footprints. Of course, the markings of yellow snow here and there also led us to conclude the recent passing. Around each bend, over each hill, we kept our eyes open for…wolf! Oh, wait. We weren’t in Canada. Loose dog, then.

Interestingly enough, just before when we came to the board telling we were now entering Fort Custer National Cemetery, and to stay on the trail, and to be respectful of the hallowed ground although we were still in the woods with no grave markers in sight, the canine prints veered off into the woods. Why did it refuse to enter hallowed ground? Yes, fiction-writer that I am, the thought of werewolf popped into my mind.

A little ways past that board was this seemingly conflicting sign:

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No trespassing! Welcome! We understood it to mean we had right of way to proceed, but just to stay on that way. Still…amusing.

After this point we were truly alone. Not even human footprints lay before us in the snow, and the animal paw and hoof prints were a day or more old. Even the birds had stopped singing. Hallowed ground.

We had planned to walk the linear trail for a certain amount of time, and then reverse back to our van. But as we continued walking, the terrain changed. The trail became more interesting with each step. We kept saying, “Let’s just go to that bend (tree, or top of hill, or fallen tree), and then turn around.” We might have stopped at the fallen tree, but visual curiosity kept us going. We climbed over it, stepping through large branches which lay across the narrowing and unused path. Down we descended toward what would be a marsh in the summer, and past an old beaver-felled tree.

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At this point, the trail continued over a small foot bridge with a narrow strip of land crossing through the frozen wetland on either side to the hills beyond. We concluded that hiking this section during winter was preferable than summer because, you know: Mosquitoes!

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We uneventfully returned to our van, then drove across the highway and into the state park for our picnic lunch — inside the van, of course, but with a lovely natural view, and all alone.

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Enjoy the out of doors. Stay safe. And when you must remain indoors, do so with a good book.

Winterspration From a Winter River Hike

Husband’s day off = Time to nurture in nature

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Today we walked part of the Kalamazoo* Riverwalk near Bailey Park in Battle Creek. I wore my runners, foolishly expecting the path to be cleared vs wet and snowy as it is during our forest winter hikes. The asphalt-wood path was not cleared, and was indeed wet, icy, and snowy.

The sun was also out today, making for a welcomed change. Winter snow, water, and ice patterns revealed themselves with each step forward.

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I’ve gotten poison ivy a couple of times, getting in for close up nature shots. But the wetness today was caused by my own making. Thankfully, I’d chosen to wear wool socks, even though the temperature was a warm 33 degrees. Walking off trail, along the river’s edge, my foot started to sink through the flattened yellow grass and down into the hidden muck with water soaking into my shoe. Yay for wool socks which keep you warm even when they get wet.

The near river-dump was worth it to me. No poison ivy this time, just a soggy, muddy shoe. Do you agree with me?

One icy-snow masterpiece laying on top of the smooshed grass reminded me of the continental USA. Looking at it later, I realized poor California had melted into the Pacific, and Michigan’s UP and northern Wisconsin must have decided to join Canada. Florida’s rather fat, too, but there could be many creative, imaginative explanations for that.

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People, this snapshot moment in time is brief. The snow. The ice. The footprints. People.

Live. Love. Appreciate. And, of course, when you’re stuck inside: explore new places and new friends by reading.

* correction: These were taken along the Battle Creek River before it pours into the Kalamazoo River. (Sorry)

Winterspration – Writing Inspirations from Winter

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(Photo #1)

Are you sick of winter? Get rid of those blahs by being creative. For your creative pleasure, find here some Winterspration (yes, I made up that word) from photos taken during wintertime.

Give the pictures captions–wild, crazy, or beautiful–and share in the comments below. (Remember, this is a G-rated blog.)

Or be inspired to write a story or scene using one of these photos as a story-starter (or middle, or end).

Happy Winterspration!

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(Photo #2)

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(Photo #3)

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(Photo #4)

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(Photo #5)

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(Photo #6)

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(Photo #7)

The Human Element of a Winter Beach Trip

A one-day vacation beach trip. Where: Lake Michigan. When: February, 2019. Temperature: 32 degrees. Wind chill: nippy. Forecast of snow coming in from the west, over the lake. Location: Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

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We planned to eat lunch in the van before walking the beach. Jeff started to park the van between the designated lines in the 200-car upper parking lot. I assured him it was okay to pull forward to the edge of the sand. It went against his nature to be unlawful, even though we were completely alone, but he finally pulled up that extra five feet so instead of asphalt we had only sand and ice in our view.

After a little while it got crowded. A small red car came. With that entire parking lot to pick a spot from, they chose to park immediately behind us. The occupants never got out, and they didn’t stay long, but it got this author-brain wondering all the possible who and why scenarios of him/her/them. If they came to see the beach, why park with a big black van blocking their view? If they didn’t get out, were they expecting us to be someone else, and if so…for what reason? Of course, they may have been scared, coming to a park off-season, and needed to be near other human company in this great, big, wide, Michigan wilderness.

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After they left, we truly had the 1,950-acre park to ourselves. With lunch completed, we reparked, bundled up, grabbed our walking sticks (for stability, for poking at interesting spots, or in case of loose dogs), and headed out over the sand dune for the shore.

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Our visual memory of where the water line should be, the width of dark sand, and the close-up evidence of gentle water movement below eroded holes in the ice at the edge of sand and ice crust, let us know where the hidden shoreline was. Snow and ice buried the lake for as far as we could see. The wind had blown sand upon the crust, giving the illusion that it was solid. We knew otherwise. A dark line in the sand let us know our boundary, of where water had earlier made its way under the crust.  The crust also resulted in no wave movement, and no sound. Even the sea gulls had vanished.

We walked the sand to the creek (Painterville Drain) and worked our way along it to the crust boarder. We were startled out of the silence by a crash and splash. My thought was an orca had jumped. Jeff caught part of the action — a large chunk of sand next to the creek had fallen into the water. I witnessed the wave crashing to the opposite bank. It brought to his mind part of a glacier breaking off. I suppose I would have thought the same had I seen it mid-action. My image just came from the sound. 

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Because the trees were leaf-bare, we could easily see the houses on the other side of the creek. During the summer, the houses are completely obscured by foliage.

We spotted bare human footprints in the sand. They’d been painted over with a light sprinkle of rain, so we guessed they were made either earlier that day or at the latest the afternoon before. My author’s mind went wild again, considering the who and why of the print-maker. They were large, so I assumed the maker was male. There was only one set, so it wasn’t a wintertime challenge with another person. There were also no shoe or boot prints nearby, indicating the man was alone. For anyone to choose to step onto the iced crust was foolishness. It could break or crack and the person then trapped. But mystery of mysteries, the tracks simply vanished. (Very cool, I mean, interesting.)

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When we returned to the van from our forty-minute walk, our faces were bright red — the result of both the cold and of getting wind burnt. But we also beamed, beamed from having a vacation day, beamed from our Michigan winter beach adventure.

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Staycation Michigan February Hike

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How do I get inspiration for settings or even plots? Getting outside. Always getting outside. Being outdoors is something I simply crave.

Of course, any staycation for us must include hikes to the woods and beach visit. I live in Michigan, after all. Today was supposed to be the nicest weather for the week. Today we decided to head to the west coast for a hike or two. The entire day was overcast and in the low 30’s (borderline freezing).

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(Notice the wooded sand dune hills.)

It was our first time to Grand Mere State Park. Fifteen years of passing it by on the interstate, and we never stopped. Today it was a destination. Snow and ice dotted the low-lying ditches, most covered with tan sand giving the flooded areas a tannic pine look. The dirt parking lot was soft in a muddy tan. We hesitated getting out of the car, but in the small parking lot (capable of holding about fifty cars if you squeezed together), there were already five cars. Popular mud spot. We tentatively stepped out of the van and made our way at least to the outhouses and picnic area. Surprise! The path was paved from that point. Well…sort of.

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As we discovered, the paved Nature Trail lays low between North and Middle Lakes and likely to flood, as well as having recent snow meltage. The fall leaves cushioned the path as well, rotting into wonderfully rich, black compost beneath our shoes.

After a while, the trail became too muddy for us to feel it was worth continuing in our chosen footwear…so…we headed upwards, on a sand path going over one of the many sand dunes in the wooded park. Jeff slipped on ice which was covered by oak leaves. I fell once to the ground stepping over a many-twigged branch which wrapped itself around my other leg. It was all part of the adventure.

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Although we hiked an hour, we never made it to Lake Michigan. It was not our intention. This was merely a serendipitous exploration. There were signs for waterfowl hunting and one warning of ticks, although not pertinent in winter hikes.

I spotted a large bird from the distance. It looked familiar, but unfamiliar. Only when it flew did I recognize it as a robin – with feathers fluffed up making it to about three times its normal size. Poor cold thing.

We only saw a couple people in parked cars, and one man walking his dog, otherwise, the park was ours. Quiet. Serene. Late winter wilderness. Gotta love Michigan in all seasons.

Keep on Writing!

Being a 1-computer-1-car home, I write when Jeff’s at work and do errands when he’s home. Yesterday was defeating. Besides being a tad sick, I kept staring at “the blank page”, knowing my computer time was limited, and frustrated I was so apathetic (although that may have had to do with being sick).
 
THEN I remembered a vital rule in writing: Never leave your writing at the end of a scene, but always in the middle. The end of the scene means completion, finished, stop. The middle of the scene is exciting and you know where it’s going and your brain and fingers can’t wait to pour out what comes next.
 
While Jeff was at a meeting last night, I started in on the next scene.
On to writing more of Book 3 of The War Unicorn Chronicles!
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Another Friday; Another Hike Out There

Scenes in many of my stories are taken directly from real-life adventures. Not that I’ve actually met unicorns, trolls, or dragons. (Or have I?) But the settings, the stillness, or the noise, loud and whispered — all of them experienced at one time or another. (And you thought I just made all this stuff up for my books.)

Last Friday, we knew a big-old snowstorm was heading our way lasting all-day Saturday. That wasn’t the reason why we decided to take a Friday hike. We just enjoy getting out there, and had the time.

A week ago on another hike, we met a deer. This week’s adventure led us to a cute opossum. Animal spotting in the wild is always stimulating, with just the right amount of mutual observation. That said, we also love the woods and water.

Fort Custer Recreation Area was farmland before the military bought up the land during WWII. It was marshland before that. There is at least one cemetery there (seen through the wire fence on the base next to the park), as well as the remnants of roads and house foundations if you know where to look for them.

One short trail we’ve gone on several times circles a small lake, caused by dams, both human-made and beaver-made. With me stopping to take photos, or just to gape at the beauty around, it takes us about an hour to hike it. Short but sweet.

When the water is low, an old road rises from the lake bottom. It’s a secret road, for much of the time it lays unseen, buried below the watery surface. A few times when it was exposed, we’ve walked to the culvert in the middle of the “lake”. This wintery day, we decided to go all the way, straight across Sunken Lake. The tricky part was that walking here involved ice (under the snow-covered road), sinking marsh (through the plants along a narrow strip on either side of the road), or wetness (black water lake).

Successfully on the other side, through the woods, under birds, through a pine forest, and spying footprints in the snow which were tinier than chipmunk prints. Thinking back on it, they could be from mice — but very tiny mice. The prints were probably a day or two old (reasoned from my mad tracking skills), as the snow on the outlines had begun to cave.

Then, over the dam, back to our vehicle and civilization, and home. Those last three words ought to bring warmth. They in fact do: but only a physical warmth. For walking through the winter wilderness brings a deeper warmth, an inner warmth, a peace and stillness which can only be felt and experienced from being “out there”.

 

 

God’s Outdoor Ice Museum

On Jeff’s day off last Friday, we headed north to Yankee Springs Recreation Area. We only saw five other people in the park during the entire afternoon. The last time we visited was fourteen months ago, when we were treated to some pretty awesome water and ice features along Gunn Lake’s shore.

Remembering the ice sculptures from mid-November, 2017, and the gentle waves lapping over the lake –

(These 2 shots were taken over a year ago.) – we parked and headed for the grass shoreline.

We were not disappointed.

The lake was covered with layer of ice, making lovely patterns which mimicked the sky world.

As we walked along the shore, each step brought us to new natural artwork. It felt like we were on a personal tour, walking a hallway of a museum, God’s Outdoor Ice Museum.

There were ice-encased branches and grass.

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The red branches were particularly stunning.

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There were bubbles and drips, walls and chimes. Cones and fans, berries and fences.

Tree branches dipped to become one with the lake for the season. And an ice castle.

We even spotted angels.

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The sky changed from the morning see-no-shadows overcast grey to afternoon blue skies and sunshine. What a delightful day to explore God’s Outdoor Ice Museum. And just to let you in on our secret find so you, too, can explore hidden delights, if you peek over the edge, this is what the shore looked like on land:

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We look forward to more of God’s ice treasures another time.

 

Interview Questions from 5th Graders

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I received a request from 5th graders in a coastal town, doing research on ghost towns in Michigan. They’d read my book, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, and wanted me to come to their school so they could interview me. But as they live ninety minutes away, I suggested they email me their questions. I thought I’d share the Q&A with you.

1.Where did you get most of your information from? Various forms: books, newspaper articles, online articles, pamphlets, brochures, Douglas-Saugatuck Historical Society Museum, people who live or lived in the area, and visiting the area numerous times to get “the feel of the land”.
2.Did the burying happen slowly or faster? It took about 4 years for the entire location to be buried under sand dunes.
3.How large was the town? If you’re talking population, I can’t remember. I’m thinking hundreds v.s. thousands. (Research it) If you talking area, it was only a few miles along the Kalamazoo River.
4.Was the story about the man that kept moving to the next floor of the hotel once the sand reached the floor true? Yes, this is a true story. Not sure that it was a hotel. I’m thinking it was a house, although it might have been the boarding house.
5.What was the population? (see question 3)
6.Who started the town/main people? Once upon a time (8 years ago?) I knew this answer. It never came into my story, so wasn’t information I retained.
7.Did everyone evacuate before the town was buried? Yes.
8. Is the town still being buried? Yes and no. Most of the buildings were moved, board by board, window pane by window pane. The few remaining buildings are exposed and reburied with the blowing wind and rain.

Why haven’t they tried to uncover more of it? Imagine uncovering a town buried by a mountain avalanche. Now imagine that mountain being sand which is pushed and blown daily by wind and rain. Even if the remaining buildings were uncovered, they would soon be buried again by the shifting sand dunes.
9.Where there any deaths? None caused by the shifting sand.
10.What was Oshea Wilder’s lumber company called? I don’t know. (Research it.)
11. Who, do you feel, were the most influential members of the town? In any town there are influential members for various reasons, politicians, bankers, merchants, the sawmill owners and manager. My favorite historical townsman was the violin-maker. Was he influential? He is to me — more interesting than influential — but I changed his name in my book because he had descendants, and as I was making up things about the man, I didn’t want to blur fiction with nonfiction.

Good luck with your project.

Sandy Carlson