Autumnal Grandeur

Autumnal Grandeur

I have always looked at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s delicate, flittering wings.
But had never really seen as he rested,
Perched proudly as he searched for his mate.
So much beauty never considered.
Guilt consumes me.
I’m inspired to change.
To not only hear, but listen;
Not only touch, but feel.
Respond to the echoing call of the common loon,
Beckoning me back to Moose Lake.
Watch as my girls listen to the chorus of howling wolves
Beneath the sky’s dancing Northern Lights.
I want to observe the blue needles of the Minnesota pines become bluer,
The red carpet of dewberry become redder.
I wonder how it smells,
As I remember the comforting aroma of birch bark and blueberries,
Of campfires and fresh caught walleye.
I dream of how it feels to jump off the end of the long wooden dock
And swim in the cold lake’s waters.
I consider the stories of the woods’ tallest tree.
It has seen so much more than me.
Impressive in it’s grandeur.
I will be back,
To seek answers to all I have missed.

Inspired by my mom, I wrote “Autumnal Grandeur,” for a creative writing project in my last semester at ISU. I spent the whole semester writing and designing a book about the power of a mother/daughter bond, in which this poem was included. It was published in the Clinton Journal two years ago as a part of my mom’s column, “Naturalist Notes.” Since then, it has been edited to the way it reads now. It serves as a reminder to me, once again, of how we can always improve on the past while still preserving our memories.

Balance

Balance

Repost from 2015:

I visit the cemetery frequently with my two young girls. Although they don’t completely understand, they know that we are visiting their Nana, my mom, Carol McFeeters Thompson. We share laughs and stories with mom – sometimes even tears – hoping that she is able to hear them, knowing that either way she is there in our hearts.

My oldest daughter recently started preschool, leaving some special one-on-one time for my youngest and me. Last week, Collins and I brought donuts and juice for a picnic with mom. That morning, the clouds were dark with the threat of rain. We were already committed to our plans, and headed for the cemetery anyway. We laid out a quilt (made of my old souvenir t-shirts mom had saved from our travels together) under the oak tree that extends over mom’s grave as well as the graves of our Grandpa and Grammy. We listened as acorns dropped from the tree, making a thud as they hit the ground around us. We felt the breeze as it blew lightly across our faces and through our hair.  We noticed as the dark clouds faded to white and then separated so that the sun could shine directly on us. My mom may not have been there physically, but she was all around us. She had always encouraged others to see the beauty around them, and that is exactly what we did. Inspired by her life’s lessons, we sat and really took in our surroundings.

 

We have noticed an abundant number of ground squirrels throughout the cemetery. Kendall, my oldest daughter, has named them all “Buddy.” She is thrilled when she sees them, shrieking “Hi, Buddy!”, which inevitably causes them to jump back down into their holes – every time. While I cannot immediately identify the species of ground squirrel as my mom could, I can encourage Kendall that lowering her voice and standing still will allow her to enjoy “Buddy,” rather than scare him away. In return, we can watch him pop his head out of his hole, examining us as we examine him.

 

Collins and I were surrounded by ground squirrels during our visit, as Collins is significantly more quiet than Kendall. She’s just as full of energy though, and took off running through the cemetery. We visited the graves of some of Collins’s relatives and some of my very dear friends, cleaning them off along our way – realizing the unfortunate losses so many of us share.

 

As we returned to my mom’s grave, we saw a red-tailed hawk. I have always been impressed by their grace and beauty. Watching her soar freely through the now cloudless sky immediately reminded me of my mom, of course. In an article she once wrote, she said of the red-tailed hawk, “Designed for nearly effortless flight over open country, she sailed on the wind, gliding across the sky in little more than a moment without ever flapping her massive wings.  When she rose to clear the trees, the sun highlighted her distinctive russet tail against the bright turquoise sky  She disappeared from view, but her majesty lingered.” What a beautiful and impeccably perfect description of what Collins and I saw together, sharing those memories with my daughter as my mom once shared with me – and so many others. That’s when it occurred to me, our new found friend, the red-tailed hawk, was not only graceful to watch, but intuitive. While we were busy watching “Buddy”, so was she. “She wanted only to be left in peace to use her keen vision to watch for a hint of movement in the grass below that might signal a small rodent suitable for her dinner.”

 

Collins and I spent two hours in the cemetery that day. Heartbroken with the loss of my mother, it was initially difficult for me to find a suitable balance between new and old, the future and the past. Focussing on my surroundings, I have realized that balance is prevalent and necessary: predator and prey, life and death, past and present.  What I have discovered is that we can incorporate the past into our future, mixing new memories and experiences with old.

© 2015 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

The Great Outdoors, cont.

The Great Outdoors, cont.

There is a smell here, one that can only be described as the northwoods of Minnesota. It smells fresh and crisp, a mixture of birch bark and juniper. I have traveled enough places to know that I’ve never smelled it anywhere else. It comes in waves while I am here and when it hits me, I can’t help but smile, knowing exactly where I am and what it means.

Our third day in Minnesota was our most eventful. Hearing a commotion early in the morning, Delilah, the 9 pound lodge dog, chased off a 350 pound black bear just 50 feet from our cabin. Unfortunately, we were not privileged enough to witness that spectacle, but I’m sure it was a sight to see.

After breakfast, we headed down to the lake where we spent most of our day. We swam in the lake, both Andrew and I taking a turn at jumping off the end of the dock. Kendall caught a small bass with her minnow net and a frog that she carried around with her until he had enough and jumped back into the water.

We had one of those cheap kiddie fishing poles so the girls could fish off of the dock. Somehow Kendall managed to break the line inside of the reel before we even had a chance to try it out. Heartbroken, we went to the lodge to see if we could purchase another one.

Due to the quality of those fishing poles, they are not stocked. However, the lodge owner, Joe, made Kendall her very own pole out of a stick, some fishing line, and a chartreuse fishing jig. Wouldn’t you know that we caught at least 50 fish off the end of the dock with that pole. None of them were big enough to supply us with dinner, but the girls were thrilled, giggling and squealing with delight each time there was a fish on the end of the “pole.”

Andrew and I each took a ride on a paddle board (side note: if you haven’t tried one of those, you should). Andrew took each of the girls on their own special ride with him, and each of us took a solo ride as well.

As I got out on the lake, I sat silent in a little cove filled with lily pads and their colorful blooms. I felt the breeze wrap around me, as if it were giving me a gentle hug. I was at peace, the landscape serene. That is why people come here, and if you don’t, or haven’t – you should.

We chatted with many families that come here annually, as mine once did. One couple has been coming here for 47 years, another for 60, and all have continued to bring their families, who now bring their families, who will hopefully some day bring their families, too. It is probably unnecessary to say that we already have reservations to come back next year as well.

On Wednesday nights, the guests from the lodge all come together for s’mores and to converse around the fire. We roasted toasted coconut marshmallows to put on cinnamon graham crackers with just the right amount of chocolate, and Kendall played with her newfound friend, Grace.

Thursday we went back to town and ate, again at the Chocolate Moose, saving room for their signature cake for dessert. We sat next to an older couple who played peek-a-boo with Collins, sharing memories of their family with ours. We shopped for souvenirs, remembering to grab a case of Dorothy Molter Rootbeer, made right in Ely (this has a fun, and “Google-able” back story).

Our lodge (The Northwind Lodge) offered a painting class “Into the Brush,” taught by Joe himself. Thankfully, Andrew surprised me by signing me up, and I enjoyed an afternoon of painting (one of my all time favorite things to do).

I was privy to participating in the very first class offered through this program. Eventually, Joe plans to expand “Into the Brush,” utilizing his resources and knowledge for a mixture of indoor and outdoor painting classes (with discounted cabin stays and guided trips through the wilderness), teaching techniques for painting landscapes.

Friday was our final day. We woke up early, visiting the lake one last time before our return next year, wishing we had just one more day. I remember when I was little, we would pack up all of our things and about the time we should be leaving, mom could be found on a rock in the woods, writing in her notebook. I could never figure out what she was doing, but now I understand, she just wasn’t ready to leave.

https://visitnorthwind.com

The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors

For the last three years, our little family has spent a week of our summer at the Northwind Lodge in Minnesota. This year, we will not be able to make it. However, next year – we will anxiously return to create more memories. If you’re looking for an amazing (and incredibly peaceful) summer reprieve, please look into the Northwind Lodge. I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

https://visitnorthwind.com

https://www.facebook.com/northwindlodgeely/

Written in 2016:

I am sitting here on a picnic table outside of our cabin just north of Ely, Minnesota. The sun is shining warmly, the waterfall is loudly pushing water down the hill into the lake, the white-throated sparrow is singing “Oh, Sweet Canada” amidst the other birds singing their morning song, and I am watching as a ground squirrel sneaks the peanuts we left him. He stealthily takes them off of a rock, running away as if there won’t be another handful waiting for him when he gets back. It may be cliche to say, but life is good – so good.

We arrived Monday afternoon after Andrew and I drove all night, switching off drivers so the other could nap before the next shift. The girls traveled well, and they, too, slept in shifts happily keeping us company through the long drive.

The girls have heard plenty about past adventures to Minnesota and were excited to start a new adventure, adding a new state to their (and Andrew’s) repertoire. I came here with my parents every summer, my mom came with hers, and her dad came with his. Several generations of our family have been to some of the exact spots we have visited since our arrival.

We are staying at the Northwind Lodge on Jasper Lake. Previously, my family frequented the North Country Lodge, just one lake over on Moose Lake. For nostalgic purposes, we drove down to the lodge my family used to stay in – which has since been broken down into personal properties. Seeing the old lodge and its new life was an emotional endeavor. Luckily, we are here to make new memories and start new traditions.

Our cabin came with a boat, which we took out an hour after we settled in. Five minutes on the lake and we saw a bald eagle swoop down to catch a fish right in front of us. Nearby, an otter playfully popped his head in and out of the water. Loons calling from across the lake completed our first boat outing.

We played in the lake, starting a rock collection of our favorite striped and speckled stones. Due to the high iron content here, it is not unusual to find Jasper in bright red hues. Quartz crystals are always a favorite and each collection gathered is guaranteed to have several.

When I was little and would come with my parents, we would fish…and fish…and fish…frequenting our personal fishing spots known to produce an abundant supply of walleye. As you can imagine, my mom had to come up with lots of creative ways to entertain a young girl in a canoe for hours every day. Inevitably, there would be a day that would rain and on those days (the best fishing days, but the worst to keep a little girl happy in a boat), my dad would fish and my mom would drive me to town to go shopping. Rain days were my favorite.

Tuesday, we took the girls to town to shop, in the same stores that brought me such joy when I was little. I was thrilled to see they are all still thriving – so many years later. We ate lunch outside on the patio of the Chocolate Moose, a restaurant I’ve eaten in countless times before. The girls picked out souvenir shirts and purses, binoculars, and a net to catch minnows.

Before we made it back to our cabin, we made another nostalgic and educational stop at the International Wolf Center. The girls were able to learn all about wolves, but unfortunately were unable to see one – maybe the next time we come to Minnesota.

Coming back to the cabin, we took a paddle boat out on the lake before grilling blueberry brats for dinner and s’mores for dessert. The girls and I fell asleep early, but Andrew had stayed up to watch for the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) that we heard might make an appearance. Thankfully, Andrew woke Kendall up and was able to take her to see the green lights of the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky, before she fell peacefully back to sleep.

The Northern Lights have not been visible here for weeks and are not a nightly occurrence. We are very lucky that this trip provided the opportunity to witness such a phenomenal light show. My heart couldn’t be happier that Andrew and Kendall were able to witness them together.

(To be continued)

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com