North Country Trail — Again — in Marshall, Michigan

 

CA87C2FE-0A1D-4152-97F5-EB9BC927791E.jpeg

My husband has been sick for about a month. I was sick about a week of that. Either scenario meant no hiking for the sickies. (Oh, just rip out my heart and lay it on the table.) Finally, on May 3, a Friday, and therefore DH’s day off, the air was dry after raining all week, and the temp, cold (mid- to lower-40’s), meaning we wouldn’t be hiking on a muddy woodland trail. We put on our winter jackets (yes, I know: it’s May) and decided on a tried-and-true boardwalk along the Kalamazoo River in Marshall, MI, about 20 minutes from home.

FA4E609B-DB10-4149-8BF9-E9BCE8DCFF03.jpeg

This past week, tree leaves started to pop out around here. I usually give trees about two weeks each spring to go from first bud to full leaf, depending, of course, on precipitation and temperature. It’s a very delicate time of year with the woods appearing like a green lace cloth has been draped over the canopy. There’s also a lot of pollen in the air and on the ground with the tree blossoms acting like flower girls for the coming leaves.

If I knew this before, I’d forgotten:  The Riverwalk in Marshall, Michigan, is part of the North Country Trail. Hurray. We’d found ourselves on it once again! (The week before we’d taken our grands on another part of it, at Bridge Historical Park. The entire National Trail is 4,600 miles. We’ve got a bit more of it to walk yet.)

90BBEBD0-DC45-4DA8-BEA5-8A1A3D75F632.jpeg  E18A35CD-AEA0-4003-8B0D-1623FEAF3D4E.jpeg

We had the boardwalk to ourselves, but across the way, we waved to others in the area. First, was the Great Blue Heron. Can you spot it in this picture? Jeff did. (Closeups and more to the story further on.)

2B72AE4C-A532-41D6-9170-D1B46FFE726D.jpeg

Wilderness-eyed Jeff also spotted deer across the river (how many do you count?), and two turtles (not included here).

 

1CAE71D6-5017-49BE-805C-BECC31054435.jpeg

I kept hoping for an otter sighting like on our previous visit, but no such luck this time with spotting that delightful creature. I called out for it — just ask Jeff — but it must have been underwater or too far away to hear me. Along our walk there were also an abundance of serenading birds. Not too bad at all for a boardwalk.

And…the rest of the Great Blue Heron story is that we had the privilege to watch it fish and then eat a meal. I’m only guessing, but I’m thinking that fish was at least a foot long. Big bird. Big fish. Nice meal. Thank you, Heron, for allowing us watch.

 

To Continue a Series or Call It Quits?

My War Unicorn Chronicles will have its fourth book, RESCUE, THE WAR UNICORN CHRONICLES, BOOK 3, published in June through Books We Love, LLC. Already, there is a pre-purchase link with nine e-book stores listed, and the print stores will be listed soon, too. Yay. Newly published books are very exciting. Although with the electronical books, I can’t smell the newness of the printed page, there is still that new-excitement in the air for the author.

74C416C3-F6CC-4731-B274-CBC128DCDE28

(http://books2read.com/Rescue-War-Unicorn-Chronicles-3)

As I wrote the first book, WAR UNICORN: THE RING, I thought of it as a one-off — a story unto itself with beginning, middle, and end. But then after it was published, I started wondering where to go (writing-wise), so naturally thought about a sequel. As I drafted said sequel, my writing brain started trotting down different paths as I imagined other story lines with those same characters. So as I wrote, I plotted out five more possible books in the series.  The sequel, DRAGON PRINCESS, THE WAR UNICORN CHRONICES, BOOK ONE, is now, as the title indicates, “Book One” making the original, WAR UNICORN: THE RING, “Book Zero”.  A bit confusing, however, I couldn’t go back and change the title of the first book, so considered it in a similar format as THE HOBBIT to LORD OF THE RINGS.

Calrson-WarUnicorn-TheRing-150   WarUnicorn-web 123 MB   Carlson-WarUnicorn2Escape 4mb

(Link to stores for all the above books:  http://www.bookswelove.com/authors/carlson-s-l-ya-fantasy/)

Even after four books, there could be more adventures for these characters. There are, constantly galloping around through my mind. However…I’m wondering…should I continue the series or call it quits (on The War Unicorn Chronicles, that is)?

It’s soon my turn to submit something to my critique group. They are the ones who keep me accountable for continued writing. Maybe I could write up a short story with Neighbor and Aldric. Maybe I could switch POV (point of view) and write from Neighbor’s herd of unicorns — IF THEY EXIST, that is. Or I could write something entirely different, like start a new fantasy story with elves or fairies? Or pick up some old manuscripts in other genres?

Oh, what to do? What to do?

A Spring Visitor

This weekend we had a spring visitor. He or she – I’m not certain which – decided to build a nest on the ledge on our front porch window sill.

At first we swept away the nest-building attempt 2-3 times a day. I felt a little badly, since every spring the chipmunks eat the robin eggs in the nest-bushes around our house. I didn’t think the chipmunks would climb up the side of our brick porch, so figured the eggs would be safe for a change. But that would mean we could not use our front door or porch for a couple months, and any mail or packages delivery people would be attacked by the defending birds.

So I put a rock in the spot. It did not deter the robin. We tossed the nesting material into our yard recycling can once again, and I put up a second rock.

It  didn’t stop her.

So I tried further methods to discourage nest-building at that spot.

There were a few dried grass attempts to rebuild, but I think the humans were finally able to outwit the bird.

Yay…and boo.

A Pier Hike

Last Saturday, we went to a funeral 90 minutes north of us. For a lot of the drive up, I spoke to the leafless trees through my closed van window: “Hi there, my pretties.” “I’ve missed you terribly!” “I’ll be among you soon.” and other related sentiments. After all, it has been nearly a month since our last real hike through a woods.

068EB962-95CC-49CC-9F67-4BD7B310AFF6.jpeg

We attended the sad funeral. Long hugs. Light talk and meal. And afterwards, because of the proximity, we headed for the nearby West Coast.

Oh, the choices! Just to ride down the coastline back home? Take a hike through the woods? Or perhaps a walk on a beach? We’d packed extra shoes to change into, but not extra clothing, plus we’re limited with time.

I tried to decide which I missed more, water or woods; to hike or to beach? We passed several trails on the short drive to Lake Michigan, with a promise from me that we’d return someday to explore. We chose Holland State Park.

0DE21F38-09E5-4A5E-ACC2-5115C6E5AF4E.jpeg

It was a sunny Saturday with temperature in the lower 40’s along with a good, stiff wind, meaning surfers and kiteboarders were out in their wetsuits.

 

We chose to hike the narrow (about 4’ wide) pier to the north light tower. The waves crashed upon the rocks occasionally spilling onto the concrete walk. They also were not consistent in height. The walk was dry for the most part (foreshadowing disclaimer) giving us a false sense of security. The north side retained a sand-encrusted snowbank.

A9A2C5CB-91A4-47BC-9803-02116FD4BFD1

Four people in their 20’s stood close to the end of the pier.

“Soggy shoes,” I commented, pointing towards their feet.

“Worth it,” one of the girls replied as the group wiggled around us and headed back to shore.

Jeff and I ventured on, closer and closer to the light tower at pier’s end. Then a wave crested on one side and Jeff darted towards the wider end of pier. Another wave followed shortly after coming over from the other side.

Slightly soggy shoes.

We giggled and I took a few snapshots.

0805B3F8-B056-4D60-B5A5-35216B46B4D7

Remember me saying that the waves were not consistent in height? We heard it coming just seconds before we saw it. We both leapt as the wave washed under us. Gravity forced us downward splashing into about eight inches of water.

We spun and hustled back single file towards the beach. Our clothing was soaked from the knees down. We joked about wading in the ocean, and having prunes at the ends of our legs by the time we’d arrive home.

Back at the van the thought occurred to me that if a really inconsistent, bit larger wave would have come, we might have been swept right off that pier. 

Jeff rather concluded that a forest hike was now out of the question. I reluctantly agreed, glad to have heat blowing on our feet. But never fear, dear woods. We have future plans involving you as well.

D51EBFBF-ECDF-498E-B852-1A2AF80D9ABB.jpeg

 

Hikes, Hikes, and More Hikes in Very Early Spring

Since I last posted, husband and I have taken three hikes. Actually, the first two were actual hikes, while the third was driving around through woods and past lakes and sitting in nature.

I’d earlier attempted to post each week, letting you all in on my inspiration for settings for my stories. Practically anything out of doors would do. However, lately I failed in my weekly posts. Apologies.

One hike was part of the North Country Trail we hadn’t been on before. A 13-mile section goes through our town. Funny, how we’d seen this one blue bridge across the Kalamazoo River for the past nearly 15 years and always wondered about it. We finally ventured on it, going west from Helmer Road. We hadn’t even realized it was part of the North Country Trail until we were walking upon it. And there was another foot bridge not far away, always hidden from us all these years in the woods.

We heard traffic from the 4-lane road across the river until that road turned north. Then we heard planes, trains, and coo-coo birds (aka sandhill cranes). There were other birds we also saw and heard on our hour hike, but not a single other human. Our Carlson type of trail.

The following day we took another hour+ hike in Custer State Recreation Are about 15 minutes from our house. There are numerous choices for trails within this park. We focused around Eagle Lake – the beach and the river and the woods. It was a Saturday, plus the temperatures had sored up into the forty’s, so there were several people walking about there on that day.

And that brings us to last Friday. Poor hubby was weakened by a cold, so we took a drive through the many tree-lined back roads, up to (*Public Hunting Area), and finally back to our favorite nearby park (Custer) to eat our lunch in the car with a view of Whitford Lake. A swan came out to say How’d you do? then swam away. How pleasant.

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

44B1CB5B-DEEE-4FB2-96DE-F78BF1818F66.jpeg

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?)

D769B2C5-62DA-424B-B439-CF8F65B1CEDD.jpeg

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.

4A9E13CE-CE3E-4FF6-A9DA-743D6AF5E594.jpeg

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:

965B91A0-B465-4155-B131-256DBD18ECBA.jpeg

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.

16FEF4A0-79CD-4C59-B3F8-6C4E26426611.jpeg

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!

371240A9-A232-47FB-AAAF-476CEA7080C8.jpeg

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.

A61F43EB-D139-4C52-85FB-1B070EFE135D.jpeg

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

76B617DA-2FA9-4F34-A5CF-91675800ADB2

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.

C66F3B9D-CF8D-4630-AAF0-3EC35DA2AE49

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.

B309954C-09BC-4C08-B233-DA9E0E90E5E9.jpeg

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

FD93A146-B45C-4114-BC2E-32DA596D9827.jpeg

(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!

Kellogg St Manor Ice 2 09

(Photo #2)

99F18247-CA2C-41A2-831A-E6B2E6BF5EEE.jpeg

(Photo #3)

58EECF87-D409-4551-AC01-51DD1FB3BCE2.jpeg

(Photo #4)

FCBB2FBA-1FB0-48F6-85C1-66638382AB49.jpeg

(Photo #5)

Dune runoff 01

(Photo #6)

16603BFC-224D-497B-B22C-C504E023D6FC.jpeg

(Photo #7)