Pandemic, House-selling, and Power Outage – Oh, my!

I decided a week ago it was time to hook up the water hoses and get some moisture onto our dry lawn. We want it to look healthy and pretty for people passing by, for June 3rd, our house went on the open market – right in the middle of a pandemic. Even a sandhill crane seems interested.

I also went grocery shopping a week ago to load up our freezer and refrigerator. It’s important to have a well-stocked freezer and refrigerator, especially in days of uncertain pandemicness…unless two days later during a tree-tumbling hail and rainstorm you loose power for three days. When our electricity goes off, we also lose water since we’re on well water. The Internet was also cut. Good old primitive living.

Because the days were sunny, but not hot and humid, I decided to make me some sun tea — two cups in a glass jar. I also discovered that when the jar is set on some aluminum foil, the water actually heats up. This might become a good, normal, future thing to do.

Of course, if we had known power wouldn’t be restored for such a long time, we would have done things differently. But our energy company called every few hours to give updates on when it would be restored. These updates got pushed back eight times over those three days. Each update filled us with hope. And each passing update filled us with despair. The good news: after clearing out all our perishable foods, our refrigerator and freezer never looked so good, a necessity for leaving it with the house when we move.

Luckily, there were no appointments to see our house during the power outage, but 16-hours after we got power back (hurray!), we had two groups visiting our house (hurray!). Although neither party indicated a nibble (boo). Still…clean house; clean refrigerator-freezer (hurray!).

We have been so very careful during the lockdown, mostly ordering groceries delivered to us over the past three months. When the power when off, and CPAP machine wouldn’t function, we decided to go to a hotel for the second night — in the middle of a pandemic! Do you know how many people have been in that room recently? It was a rather sleepless night.

However, the following morning, with hotel Internet working, I had my first zoom doctor’s appointment. Slick. I mean, no waiting in the waiting room or individual patient room for an hour. Just a quick little visit, with my doctor telling me I’m doing well.

During one of our home-visits, Jeff and I drove out to Fort Custer State Park — a close and favorite place. Just driving down the two-lane, tree umbrellaed road made us take deep, refreshing breaths. The woods have always had that calming affect on us.

 

We first went down the dirt road to the Kalamazoo River boat launch area. It was gloriously empty of people and cars. We had that lovely little spot of the park all to ourselves. Or so we thought. As we stepped out of the van, as Jeff puts it, within three nano-seconds, fifty mosquitoes were upon each of us. By the time we’d hopped right back in, only about twenty unfortunate insects made it inside with us.  Disinfectant wipes will definitely be needed on all those smooshed bug bodies.

(Smooshed mosquito on window)

We continue to find it odd that the campgrounds remain closed. But we’re we to camp, we would have to burn an awfully lot of green plants making enough smoke to drive away the hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes hovering around.

Home to our screened house, with electricity. Life is good. Now just to have people get as much interest in our home as the birds.

Pandemic Day Off

Last Friday, we finally had the chance to hike again. We also immediately remembered why we prefer hiking autumn through springtime: mosquitoes and other biting insects!

 

We left for Fort Custer State Park at 10. It was more crowded than even a regular (non-pandemic) day off. For instance, by 11:30, the beach area was full of summer fun people. We decided to hike our favorite little trail circling a widening area of water (“swamp” on the maps), beneath the dam. It’s wooded 97% of the way.

 

It’s a trail not normally used by many others, and, in fact, there was only one other person on that trail with us — a bicyclist speeding past. We stepped aside too quickly to check if we were ankle-deep in poison ivy.

We’d seen plenty of it on and along the trail. Such a pretty green. But, thankfully, there was none where we’d moved aside.

I’ve called this trail The Double Dam Lake Trail, but last Friday, we discovered that the beaver dam had been dismantled some, so that only the lodge remained with the creek flowing around it. I wonder how long that will last?

 We were surprised there weren’t many wildflowers out, just some clover, daisies, and raspberry blossoms. And from the abundance of white flowers, we know in two weeks there will be plenty of raspberries along this trail.

 

We realize there may have been other flowers we passed. After all, our hike was considerably shorter than normal because of all the dozens of other trail inhabitants flying in front of our faces, and any bit of exposed skin.

Even so, we enjoyed our trek through Michigan woodland.

Ya know? There shouldn’t have been that many mosquitoes around us, because we’d sprayed repellant on our clothing, including hats. I’d also worn a twisty mosquito repellant bracelet as well as a battery-operated fan contraption, which has always worked in the past, but Friday, I moved it from my belt to my neckline. I even had a bandana I swung in circles in front of my face. Still. Those little critters sure were hungry. I’m wondering if all our spraying (even from planes) and repellants aren’t making today’s mosquitoes resistant to the “old” repellants.

 

Later in the afternoon, we had to depart our home for an hour for a house showing. We decided to head south to Athens. Since it was National Doughnut Day, of course, we had to stop on our way at Station 66 for some of their homemade doughnuts. Because of the coronavirus, they were only doing window-orders. At the time I was there, 14 customers mulled around near the windows. Only 3 of us wore masks. I found it interesting that we mask-wearers were the only ones trying to implement social distancing of 6′. The others would walk right by us, or stand immediately behind me in line. (If you would allow one short rant: It’s their decision to wear masks or not, but for mask-choosers, it’s a safety concern. Not maintaining distance from strangers is not only risky, but also so disrespectful.)

We drove on down to Athens and stopped in their little river park for a bit. We were saddened to see the park equipment sectioned off (safety from virus).

 

We walked to the bridge, covered with Mayflies, as another car pulled in — right next to us. It’s a fairly big parking area. Back into the safety of our car.

I was thinking of all the dangers we encountered today. There was a risk of the COVID-19 from unmasked people, or even of strangers walking around inside our house and touching things. There was risk of diseases from mosquitoes (e.g., West Nile Virus, EEE, and La Crosse encephalitis, to name a few). Not to belittle the plant which loves me so, poison ivy. And let’s not forget arachnids. The brown recluse spider does damage, as well as ticks which could gift lyme disease and more.

In our past, we’ve lived-hiked-camped in bear-cougar-rattlesnake-moose country, but even those larger animals never deterred us. I suppose it would be safer to remain in one’s home, but lovely as our house is, and as much as Jeff and I get along with each other, we still enjoy being around friends and family, as well as exploring the great outdoors. So, even with the risks, we will continue to take the precautions needed to keep ourselves safe, and to interact with people and nature, and always trusting and continually thanking God.

A Woodland Hike…At Last!

 

Last Friday – Jeff’s day off of work – we decided to finally venture out of our house and either take a drive past some woods, or maybe even hike into some. The last time we hiked was March 13th, seven weeks ago. In the past seven weeks of our pandemic shelter-in-place, we drove downtown to the church building once to video a communion, and then last Tuesday at 7AM, I bravely entered a small store for groceries. Otherwise, it’s been home-deliveries and neighborhood walks. But on Friday, a good old day off, and with great trepidation from us both, we headed to the woods of Fort Custer State Park, about 20 minutes drive from our house.

We took face masks, but expected to only wear them if there was no way to avoid another human (e.g., passing people walking towards us on a narrow trail).

Our first shock came as we headed to the park: at 10:30AM, the Meijer grocery store had about 200 cars in its lot. And, oh, the traffic on the road! It was busier than a normal pre-pandemic Friday day-off day out.

Our second shock: Oy-yi-yi! The park itself was incredibly crowded, and we didn’t even go to the more popular places.

We bumped down a dirt road towards the Kalamazoo River. Usually when we’ve gone there, the small dirt parking lot is empty. Last Friday? Three cars. Crowded! We parked away from them and were getting ready to head for the river when a truck pulled in with three teens who popped out and headed to the out-of-the-way trail going along the river. The very trail I thought no one would be on.

Looking up the hill from our parked van, I spotted a bushed-over trail going away from the river…and away from people.  It looked like a deer trail, but as bushwacking is not unfamiliar to us, and the woods beaconing, up we headed through the brush. It connected to an equestrian trail. The thing about hiking on an equestrian trail is if you aren’t diligent about watching your step, well, horses are big old free-soilers, you know. I kept thinking we’d see someone, or need to step off-trail for a horse which had right-of-way. We didn’t see either person or horse.

We heard a lot of birds, and saw two tiny blue butterflies. Spring wildflowers were blooming,

and the mayapples were starting to bud.

Trees hadn’t started to leaf, so the walk was rather open, even going near a swamp.

Over one section, the path cut through grass. There was woodland before and after it. So, knowing the history of the park, and similar places in other Michigan parks, I’m guessing that was once someone’s lawn, although the brambles grew thickly around it. If I were curious enough, I’d research it.

But then (and now) I’m simply delighted that the two of us were able to be alone in the woods, and forgetting about the world for just a moment, to take one glorious hour’s hike.

 

Hiking Around the Double Dammed Lake

 

Actually, this lake within Fort Custer State Recreation Area has no name. It is labeled on the top of the map as a green-colored maps wetland. Therefore, I gave myself permission to name it: Double Dammed Lake, for at one end there is the man-made dam, and further downstream there is another dam, constructed by beavers. Hence, Double Dam. With all my stops for photos, it took us about an hour and a half to hike the wooded trail around this lovely, peaceful place.

 

There were 20-30 mph winds last Friday when we hiked it. You’d think walking through woods would make it less windy. I thought so. It was not so. I suppose leaves are needed to barricade the wind force. But because of the wind and the lack of leaves, we listened as the trees spoke to us — creaked to us might be more accurate — as they rubbed against each other.

 

After our quite winter, it was lovely to hear the voices of birds speaking. There were crow, red-winged blackbirds, and hawk. We saw duck last Friday, too. Other days we have seen geese and trumpeter swans there and an abundance of birds.

Sometimes when the water level is low, like last Friday, an abandoned road is revealed through this wetland-lake. It gives me pause, wondering about people who used this road long ago to reach their homes and farms, this road which is mostly under water these days.

 

As we headed over the man-made dam, Jeff asked if I wanted to take the road back to the van (the slightly longer route), or bushwack over the hill. I chose the more direct line, following what looked like a deer trail through the tall grass. About one third of the way up the steep hill, I got winded and asked, “Who picked this way?” But going that way confirmed my guess, first by the flattened grass and then by the piles. This was indeed a deer path, with deer beds and piles of droppings, hidden out of sight until you suddenly came upon it.

 

All in all, it was a wonderful little adventure with my best friend on a late winter day.

 

 

Return to Fort Custer

Our last three Fridays (free days) have been kind of bizarre. With the January bleak-and-dreary weather and drippy trees with muddy-slushy ground, we haven’t done much hiking. Today, though, we were blessed with a 90-minute hike at Fort Custer recreation area. Besides a ranger removing a life jacket from a drain and an orange-capped hunter in a car, we had the park to ourselves. Blessed.

With the snowy-melted-refrozen ground, every step was a crunch.

We did discover something new to us: At the group campsite area, which we have passed through dozens of times in the past 16 years, we found a lake access spot. It’s sloped down to the lake and only good for kayaks or canoes to be put in. But new discovery!

It was a quiet hike (except for our crunching steps). Nothing much to comment on, so here are some other photos from today:

 

Good Ole Fort Custer (near Augusta, MI)

 

Gloomy day. Overcast (no cloud distinctions in the white-grey above) with borderline freezing temps (30-32 degrees). Ice, a concern because of knee. But, hey! One day off a week = get outside when and if you can! We assumed the area Riverwalks would be too snowy/icy and the forest trails too soft/muddy. I suggested walking around the Fort Custer campground, thinking the gravel road might be rough enough. Jeff suggested parking walking the overlooking-the-lake picnic area. It was settled.

Sliding over the icy park roads, he commented how our outing might just end up being a pretty-drive day. (Insert a Sandy frowny face.) He also mentioned he was glad he grew up driving on snowy-icy Wisconsin roads, wishing we had a four-wheel drive vs automatic. I, too, was glad for his skills, for my heart fluttered drifting over that ice.

We found the park unusually crowded for a wintery Friday, with many trucks scattered throughout. The signs on one side of the road in the park read “No Firearms November 15-30” the signs on the other side read “No Hunting”, but we did notice a number of hunters (dressed in orange) out and about. Hopefully, just bow,

Still, after we reached our destination, I had to get out of the van. The parking lot was icy from melted packed snow. With my cross-country ski poles for sliding prevention, I wanted to make it to the untrodden snow off the lot.

Jeff grabbed his hiking stick which has a hunter-orange band around it, and since I was already wearing my colorful-goofy winter cap and red gloves, I grabbed my emergency-orange cap, and tied it to my ski pole strap. We also wisely decided to stick to open territory vs the woods, to be more easily seen by hunters.

Winter/Snow hikes are quite different than in any other time of year. You notice things unique to winter, like footprints and pawprints and hoofprints. I also try to estimate how long ago a track was made. It makes for a fun winter hiking game.

Here is my boot print to the left, and a man’s print to the right. Can you spot the difference in time? (e.g., iced heel, slightly eroded edges, leaf)

Besides boot prints, dog prints and a few smaller paws (raccoon perhaps?), there were also the distinctive deer prints.

One unbeknownst thing to me, which Jeff spotted right away, was a blood trail. I think I looked around for a huge bloody area, possibly deer kill, which had then been dragged off. But what former hunter Jeff spotted were the tiniest specks of red blood here and there. Perhaps a wounded deer?

We took a low gage trail down to the beach.

 Stopping at a picnic table for a shot, I was thinking in my head, just as Jeff said it out loud: “Carlson picnic”. Yes, we have brushed snow off table and benches to have a picnic in our past. But not this day.

I found the ice patterns and leaves along the shore pretty, and even spotted fowl prints.

 

We found canoes and boats simply left outside in the open. (FYI, canoeing or kyaking in winter has not been a known Carlson activity.)

Bushwhacking back up the hill to our van to avoid the ice, we did not get the expected hitchhikers (burrs) clinging to us, probably because we wore blue jeans and nylon coats. But the unexpected part was sinking a deceiving 7″ below the snow-dusted surface of snow-grass to terra firma, and consequently lifting my knees high with each step. Very difficult to capture a photo of this. I found it easier to follow in Jeff’s prints, even with his wider-longer stride.

No matter what the weather, I encourage you to get outside, but stay safe, both on the snow-packed-icy roads, and especially if walking through hunting territory.

(BTW, I’m honored when people tell me face-to-face how they enjoy going on our weekly hikes with us. It’s our pleasure to share God’s wonders.)