Transition

Oops, it's almost winter. Through a crazy summer and fall my last appearance here was in June! The warm months were packed with any excuse to be outside, so I hiked and biked with reckless abandon. Now there's a tinge of white on the higher peaks out my back window. No stopping the hike/bike, though, and time to focus on getting up high on off days. Today sounds good. Upward to San Bernardino Peak I go. 

Cheers to our Veterans today, and every day!

Witch Tree

Buddy of mine from Southern Cal is an ace photographer (check him out at dougearnestphotography.com) and he sent this over the other day. Mystical looking shot and he needed a title for it. Here you go...

  You are stoic strength,    Aged and molded by time eternal    You are stark, beautiful   You are mass, and sculptor of the path  that led you here, to this place  You provided purchase, and gave me life  You hold me still, and I will stand with you  Until we forever rest, together

You are stoic strength,

Aged and molded by time eternal

You are stark, beautiful

You are mass, and sculptor of the path

that led you here, to this place

You provided purchase, and gave me life

You hold me still, and I will stand with you

Until we forever rest, together


Uncommonly Elegant

I feel like talking about loons. 

Their species is officially called the common loon, but I was up at the cabin a few weeks back, with a blue, blue sky and warm sun reflecting off the lake and a loon called from over on the bay. I never tire of that song, and 'common' is hardly a deserving title for the artist providing the vocals.

Belying its regular-guy title, the common loon is the venerable symbol of the North Country, its visage plastered on coffee mugs and key chains and menus, and anointed the state bird of  Minnesota. But in the middle of, say, a late-night ghost story at a remote island campsite, its haunting call echoing horizon-wide across the lake says this bird is far from ordinary. If you live or have spent extended time in our part of the Northland, you are familiar with this voice from out there on the water. 

To me there is simply nothing better than sitting by a campfire or paddling a canoe and hearing a loon song, and a call from one will often elicit a choral reply from other loons. It’s like the icing on our already delicious cake. Loons can sing and look good doing it, in dapper, black and white checkerboard colors and piercing red eyes, and with a 50 million-year lineage, loons hold stage as one of earth’s oldest living birds. Becha didn’t know that, eh?

Loons play the now you see me, now you don’t game with aplomb, casually floating along then suddenly vanishing from sight. These diver birds can remain underwater in the neighborhood of three minutes while hunting for prey. They are graceful in the water, to be sure, and even watching them take off from it is a treat, as they speed across a runway of surface water, the tips of their 54-inch wingspan slapping like firecrackers before finally lifting off. Loons will often call while in flight as well, announcing their arrival above your barbeque party or lounge chair or seat of a boat, or barreling through the sky at high speed.

  I guess we could call it common, if simply considering the good fortune of having these enchanting birds on our lakes and sharing our homes and cabins with theirs for so many generations. We have come to expect their company. Familiar, but what a blessing to know them.

  Listen….

 

Spring

Northern Spring

It’s noisy outside. Springtime is the listening season, and nature’s volume is all the way up. Birdsong fills the air with a dozen recognizable melodies and double that of tunes by unknown artists. Chickadees are my favorite hit makers today, whistling their zippity doo dah salute to the morning and dancing past my head with that shuffling card deck sound of their rapid-fire wing flutters. Staccato hammer blows in the woods means the trunk of a dead spruce will soon look more like a whiffle ball, thanks to the determined beak of a pileated woodpecker. A tawny brown chipmunk crinkles open a sunflower seed and stuffs it in his mouth, repeating until its cheeks swell past capacity.

  At the lakeshore, a gnarled oak leaf shrunken with age and the weight of winter snow suddenly lifts on a mini tempest of wind into a pirouette at my feet. Three other leaves join the circular waltz, dancing stem to lobe in a tick-ticking beat. I move to step around the fray and jump at the gunshot slap of a beaver’s tail, the stealthy critter previously invisible. He resurfaces past the reed bed, still gripping a stubby birch branch with home construction in its future.

  A dozen mergansers engage in earnest, murmured conversation farther out on the water—or perhaps that is a merganser way to wax poetically on the brilliance of a sunny, cobalt sky and a receding ice floe. I listen in but the waterfowl chatter is overshadowed by whale song.

  The ice has relaxed its shore to shore grip, and every spring announces it with a fantastical ode to warmer waters uncannily similar to the songs of whales in a deep ocean. There is audible life in the otherwise static, frozen sheet and the refrain is often accompanied by space movie laser sounds or the severe birth of a crack heaving a huge, horizontal iceberg from its host.

  The mood is decidedly different at shoreline. A tortilla-thin layer of ice covers water so clear it seems no water is there. Small birch branches hover in suspended animation just below the surface, and a young perch glides by, its shadow close behind. Reflected on the ice, the big white pine slowly sways to the west and back again, a light wind breathing a melody through the tree’s needles.

  I sit at the base of an aged birch, lean back to its trunk, and listen. Ne’er a fairer place to be than in a northern spring.    

Up North

I've been remiss in adding new posts, what with all the move west, new job, travelin' and the like. But here's a good one. I write an outdoor column for a small newspaper in northern WI, the Bottom Line News and Views, and for the March issue I asked my kids to be guest columnists, telling the world just what it is that's so great about up north. 

For You, My Child

Summer at the cabin.

For a kid with three months off from school, a whole lot of energy and a hard case of wanderlust, there was no better place to be than the cabin. For an adult (still acting like a kid) with children of his own who inherited said energy and spirit of adventure, the cabin is still our place to be. I am fiercely proud of my northern Wisconsin roots, from which sprouted two members of our family’s fifth generation in the area. Seeing my kids learn and live and laugh as much as I did in the incomparable beauty of this place, and passing on a lifetime of tradition, is a dad’s best kind of peace.

  What better way to know the moment than to hear its best parts right from the source? I asked my son and daughter to share a thought or two on what they love about being ‘up north.’ Bottom Line readers, I’d like to introduce this month’s guest columnists:

Jack, age 12

I really like swimming in the summer, and snowshoeing in the winter. We also go skiing, and sledding on the big hill by our cabin. I like summer the best, especially going through the channel on my grandma and grandpa’s pontoon boat, seeing big fish in the weeds, and going to the swimmin’ hole. We all love to snorkel in the lake, too. We see sunfish and minnows and other cool things right by the shore. We also go tubing on the lake sometimes, which is super fun. In any season, I would build huge towers and fortresses out of Lincoln Logs with my sister and cousin. We have a lot of campfires by the lake and roast marshmallows before going to bed. That’s one of my favorite things to do, and I love hearing the loons call. I could listen to that all day. We see lots of bald eagles, too. I also like to build stuff with my grandpa in his shop. That’s really fun and he knows how to build anything. Playing in the woods and fishing is great, too. It’s awesome at the cabin.

Lauren, age 10

I love when we go to the Trading Post for pizza or hamburgers. I also love when the lake is frozen and we can walk on it. But that is in the winter; let’s get on to summer. During summer, sometimes me and my family go to the swimming hole and swim around. One time I found three crayfish and my grandpa saw a big, big, BIG northern hiding in the weeds. We also just go on a little cruise with grandpa and grandma’s boat. It’s fun to fish off the dock, too. Now, let’s get back to winter. I like to sled down the hill by the cabin and go right on to the frozen lake. I remember me and my brother piling on top of my dad on the runner sled and we all went down the hill at once, then we crashed. One time, my dad let me and Jack, my older brother, jump off the roof of grandpa’s garage and land in the big pile of snow below. You may be wondering why I keep saying grandma and grandpa so much. Well, it’s because whenever I go up north I stay at my grandparents’ cabin. And that is the funnest thing of all.

Ruminations from Up North

Snowing at the cabin. Fire in the wood stove. All kinds of quiet both inside and out. All good ingredients for a productive night of musing. I write an outdoors column for a small newspaper in northern Wisconsin, but this month I took a flyer and followed some thoughts on days past and those we live in now....

Where Did The Day Go?

  Chances are you have heard that phrase expressed by a harried coworker or exhausted parent, and you are likely one or both of those people. We stumble headlong through hectic days of job demands, kid activities, family commitments and outings, and in the span of a blink it’s dinner and bedtime. There always seems more to do and not enough hours. “Not enough hours in the day,” my dad often said, when we were hauling a fourth load of logs out of the woods and I thought there were plenty of hours, thank you, practically sleepwalking back to the house.

  What if we knew where the days went? What if there was a repository of days we could walk into, and revisit those that have passed?  I asked a friend this question and we both agreed we’d like to know where that place is. We talked about what we might do if we could make an adjustment or two to some of those days, perhaps amend a regret or do something longer or say something different or say it twice. In this month of giving thanks, we talked about what was and what is to come.

  Replay. I think most of us have an abundance of days or memories we are fond of, and that’s a good thing. Wouldn’t it be great to fly again triumphantly through the unfettered joy of a few of those times? Kind of like playing your favorite song over and over, singing, living, being a little louder every time.

  Fast forward. Jump ahead to a good part, where you were winning, when you learned to ride a bike, when you taught your child to ride one, when you celebrated or danced or listened to a loon call on a moonlit, summer night. Leap past a bad part, when it hurt too much and the tears were too many, when you stumbled and fell, when that time didn’t work out like you wanted it to.

  Choose a moment. Say that thing you wish you would have, when you had the chance. Keep quiet when you didn’t.  Hug, kiss, shout it out.

  Go to that place, the one you wanted to be in, just a little earlier. To make things right.

To be there when you were wanted.

To help when you were needed.

To love when you could have.

  Erase one minute or ten or an hour. There were times of guilt, of shame, that we might wish did not happen. Times of debilitating sadness or red hot anger that brought us down. Would you erase an entire day, though, even a bad one? I am not sure I would. We have so few of them; even the rough ones have slivers of hope.

  I would go to this house of days, if it were there. I would change what I could to make more laughs than tears. But right now there is today. Follow where it leads, embrace what comes. Hug your kids. Find that person and say it. Believe in that promise. Go to that place and do. 

What will you do with your day?

Finished Product

It's official, finally. Longer I Run is done and live. Lookin' good, too, and available through Amazon's Kindle pages, as well as Barnes & Noble's ebook store, Sony e-reader,  Apple, and others. Should be downloadable to most any of your favorite devices, or even click, buy, read from my publisher's website, www.smashwords.com (in addition to download to device).

Check it out and let me know what you think. Next up: First in a series of children's books based--where else?--Out There, starting with an adventure in a northern Wisconsin cedar bog. Fun stuff.

cheers

O Say Can You Cicada?

I heard singing from the woods. I was out splitting wood and generally puttering around the cabin, and the best thing about outside chores is nature's accompaniment, so I stopped puttering and gave it a listen.

It is not an especially catchy melody. Just an extended, one-note anthem resonating from a tree branch somewhere. But it's a summertime song, one that hearkens to sultry afternoons, grilling and cold brew on the patio, and....uh-oh, an end to all of that. The song of the cicada is played in the dog days of summer, and while we cherish every one of those days, and every degree of warmth in them, we know they are waning. The kids will be back in school soon, then the leaves change color, then it snows.  For five months.

The cicadas know it, too, and make good use of this conclusion to summer. I suppose you could say a cicada is a somewhat less attractive insect, if you were one to appraise the beauty of bugs. With slimy skin, a wrinkly mug, and three "bonus" eyes on its head, the cicada is mostly alluring to, well, other cicadas. The attraction is apparently mutual, however, as about 2500 species of cicada around the world have been discovered and named, and the bug is the focus of poems and folklore in places like China and France. In many places the winged creatures are eaten as a regular dietary component. Deep-fried cicadas, anyone? How about cicada kabobs, cicadas blended into ice cream, or banana bread cicadas? Um, just a plain ol' burger for me, please.

Sometimes maligned and wrongly accused of links to the swarming locust family, the cicada simply minds its own business as a big, slimy, three-eyed harbinger of the end of summer. They determinedly tunnel their way from underground lairs to the outside world, mate with verve, and sing. Oh, I guess it isn't so bad, hearing their call at this time of year. That glorious time of colored leaves and frosty nips and flannel is close, and even though we grumble a bit about shivering and plunging thermometers, the change in seasons reflects who we are. Embrace each other in your own song of summer, and play it over and over.   

The cicadas are singing. So, what better plan than to just sit back on the patio, with that cold brew, and listen to the music? 

A Whole New View

Long, long delay since the last post. I'll blame the prolonged battle with some really tough stuff that left little time or motivation to throw down a few words. In the meantime, we had about a five-minute spring and now it's that glorious, comfy, vibrant, life-bursting time of early summer. Temps are perfect for doing everything we love, as long as it's outside. I stepped out the door the other day, say 6:30 am or so, to a joyous orchestra of birdsong, 100 species strong, and all belting out their happiest lyrics. Over there on the birdfeeder--an indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, oriole, grosbeak, goldfinches, and chickadees. An all-star cast, with luminescent red cardinals making cameos from their sideline perches. 

We earned days like this from enduring so many frozen, white ones. It's too nice to be in here pecking at a computer. I'm goin' outside!

The Iceman Cometh

 Bald eagle couple above the caves

Bald eagle couple above the caves

Ok, more like the Iceman and 5,000 of his closest friends. After 5 consecutive weeks of being thwarted by temps unwilling to ascend from the depths of thermometers, days with merciless cold that will freeze extremities, if left exposed and vulnerable, defenseless, to a state of frosted rigor mortis, days when -40 air sears your lungs to the point of revolt, we finally made it to the ice caves on Lake Superior's south shore. Friday's weather was dismal, so we were forced with much grumbling to head out there on a Saturday, and believe you me, the hordes were of the likes I've never seen. All told during the season, over 100,000 souls walked from the Meyers Beach trailhead to see icicles.

But know this, regular ol', drip-from-the-gutter icicles these are not. Along a crescent in the sandstone cliffs, and past a raggedy and crevice-slashed promontory topped with spikes of white pine and birch and maple, the lake's eternal surges and violent, moody batterings of waves have scoured and sculpted a collection of mesmerizing natural art.

Wholly within the boundaries of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, just west of Bayfield, theses sea caves and arches and caverns are typically only accessible by water, and are justifiably impressive from whatever form of watercraft brings you to them. But in the grip of winter, the myriad creeks, springs, and rivulets leaking from the mainland form a phantasmagorical scene of frozen sculptures, three-story-high caverns of ice, and hidden corridors and tunnels that beg to be explored. I saw just as many moms and dads wriggling into icy portals as I did little kids. Put the caves on your go-to destination life-list.

It's winter. Embrace it; you'll thaw out later.  

SNOW!

Even multiple base layers cocooned in Gore-tex can't contain my kid-at-Christmas excitement. The snow piled up deep and often in northern WI this season, and we are enjoying the most white we've seen in nearly 20 years! I sink to mid-thigh, the cabin looks resplendent in its showy, ivory crown, and the plow just went by for a third time. Woke up to 4 inches of powdery delight and still unloading. Another foot by morning. Lovin' it! Calendar says first day of spring is just a few days away. Yeah, right. We might see green grass by, say, June. 

 A propane tank-shaped snow pile

A propane tank-shaped snow pile

 A baby balsam fir hibernates within...

A baby balsam fir hibernates within...

North to Winter Redux

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The infernal cold will not let up, with temps permanently plunged way, way below zero the past couple of weeks. Making it tough to enjoy, or at least stay frostbite-free, being out there. But the deep is a siren song and I still squeezed in a short woods wander up north. Stuck close to base this time and made a quick loop on the Tomahawk Lake trail system, just northeast of Barnes, and a bonus day on the Brule Bog trail.

Tomahawk is a classic-ski track that serpentines through second-growth forest and the path's shoulders are wide enough to accommodate fat feet. I trailed off the main drag on an ancillary, and untracked, trail that curves back to the lake, then just a trek on the lake, cross a spruce-lined sandbar, and back to the trailhead. Nice loop, but just too cold to spend any extended time on the snow today.

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Lo, the temp shot all the way up to about 12 the next day, with clear blue and sun above, so I jetted over to Solon Springs and jumped on the Brule Bog trail. In summer, this place is an emerald green incubator of primordial white cedar, spongy mosses, and dozens of rare plants like the Lapland buttercup. Still as the eye of a storm, 3,500 feet of boardwalk bisects the bog to the headwaters of the revered Bois Brule River and the centuries-old Portage Trail. On the ridge above are sweet views across the Brule Valley, a glacial shoehorn scoop shrouded in conifer swamp and northern hardwood-pine forest. Very cool stuff, and now it is all muffled in white powder, cemetery quiet, and thanks to the boardwalk, the path remains stable for good hiking. I stepped off the boards on a turn at one point and sunk to mid-thigh. What a great winter! 

A heavily-traveled deer path spurs off from the main trail close to the start and leads up the ridge, too irresistible to pass by. Up top, the aforementioned views and the Portage Trail section of the NCT. From here it's an easy cruise downhill to the Hwy A trailhead. Good stuff.


North to Winter

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-38. What else to say about that number? Cold enough to button the rear flap of our long underwear, for sure. The ridiculous cold temps spawned an outdoor parlor trick demonstrated from far north Canada to southern Illinois: Fill a pot with boiling water, bring said pot outside and toss the contents into the air. Instant snow. Bbbrrrr.... A handy tool around here in southern MN, too, where we have only a lightweight blanket of five or six inches hiding the ground, with some places blown bare from gale winds. Frost has plunged six feet below our feet.

But north lies winter. Snow has fallen in copious amounts near our Wisconsin cabin, and to that powdery playground I traveled, just after Christmas and a recent dumping of white fluff. Targeted a section of the North Country Trail on the ridge above Cedar Island on the Brule River. The snow was DEEP, almost too deep even for snowshoes. Still sunk to my knees and loved it. Slow going and low mileage, but this was a day for that. Just take it in, stop often, and be glad to make first tracks in the woods.

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Trip highlight: A rest break on a downed log, clear blue sky hosting a late afternoon sun, its light at just the right angle to refract color from crystals on the snow. Typically sparkling like diamonds, this time I saw red and green, orange and blue and yellow. It looked like Christmas lights scattered all across the top of the snow. Never seen anything like it. A very unexpected and pretty distraction. It was one of those moments, in one of those places, when you can breathe deep of the sincerity of the forest's embrace, and even if just for the span of a sigh, be at peace.  

Harvest

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Sitting quiet all summer, verdant green and growing ripe from their start as tiny seeds in the spring, crop fields have turned beige, and their caretakers are out there, ushering in the next, and final chapter, of corn stalks or soybean plants or wheat kernels. It is a fascinating time of year, this annual rite called harvest, when the fields and dusty roads and dusty towns in the rural countryside come alive.   

The drone of laboring tractors accompanies each morning's sunrise, and hangs on the crispy autumn air all day. Extra large, mighty machines with names like John Deere and Oliver and International Harvester make their way through the fields, back and forth and back again, cutting peeling husking loading their assigned crop from the day's first light until well into the night. Tall as a building, some of these mechanical beasts snarl with snouts of horizontal teeth, chewing up rows of weather and time-grizzled corn in wide bites, digesting a booty of golden kernels into its belly and passing the tasteless skin and former parent cobs on to the dirt in its wake. After a long and gluttonous meal, the menacing red and green and yellow leviathans are joined by others of the same ilk, pulling hoppers alongside, and into those gaping maws go millions of bite-sized corn kernels, departing the only home they knew for the final time. 

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On a gravel road a few miles southeastwest of town, dust billows in dry, grit-laden clouds, left behind from the rear ends of lumbering semi trucks hauling corn to drying elevators, and pickup trucks hauling the rear ends of farmers hither and yon. The dust drifts with the afternoon wind, over the field and on to the ball cap-covered head and broad shoulders of four locals, leaning against the cracked rubber of a tractor tire, a fence post, a truck fender. The men all stem from fiercely proud generations of tireless workers, and not a one of them can imagine life any other way. One of them coughs and spits out a mouthful of the dust cloud, reaches up and takes off his cap, broken in from three years of rain and sun and sweat, its faded logo advertising the farmer's tractor of choice barely visible beneath yesterday's grime. He slaps the cap on the side of his thigh, awakening a new billow of dust from his pants, which floats around in no particular direction, settling back on to his cap before it returns to his head. The men lament the dry weather, complain about a broken driveshaft, and proffer their opinions on this year's crop prices. Later that evening, they gather in a corner booth at a dimly-lit tavern, take long pulls from stubby glass mugs of beer, and lament the dry weather or complain about the combine’s broken driveshaft.    

And so it will be, for a few more weeks, until the last cob is husked and kernel is squirreled away, and the sun sets on another season. Until the fields are disked into lumpy furrows, slowly frozen with frost, and blanketed under a shroud of white.  

On a rusty railroad spike driven into a splintered wooden post in the doorway of a barn, hangs a dusty ball cap, patiently waiting for the sunrise of spring, the start of a new season, new crops, new dust. 

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Out hikin'

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Timed this one perfectly. Between cold fronts and soggy weather patterns, the sky cleared above our cabin in northern Wisconsin, so we bolted to the North Country Trail for a walk in the woods. The Brule Portage section is a must-do, if you're a fan of the area, especially from the Highway A trailhead near Solon Springs and its easy access to the mystical cedar bog, but this day we chose to start from the other end, at the Highland Town Hall. Only time for a quick out and back, and that was fine this time. Just wanted to get in the woods and breathe that fall air, rife with the smells of orange red brown maple leaves, pine needles on and off their trees, and logs cloaked in moss, on their slow, decaying, return into the earth. Some of the originally orange maple leaves were mottled with red, like they were splattered with the flick of a paint brush. The Brule River only shows itself in brief moments from the ridge, but there are treetop views of the valley and opposite ridge, and occasional rolling hills in and out of ravines and drainages of tiny stream trickles. The whole forest was a shade brighter from the blazing yellow aspen, almost like a light was on. Gorgeous. Another couple of weeks, though, and navigation through here will get tricky, with the trail carpeted entirely in yellow and orange leaves. 

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Just a teaser today. Next time there will be full packs on our backs for a quiet night out. 

Transcendent

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I believe in angels. 

Like the one who helped my dad save me from drowning in the pool that day. Or the one who made me stop while skiing in the woods, alert for something, when I felt and heard the bullet whiz by from a distant shot, inches from my head. Some days angels were right in front of me, like the pretty ninth-grade girl who ordered the bullies to stop laughing at me, a shy seventh-grader, when I sat in gum on the bleachers. She died in a car accident before her high school graduation. I put a picture of her in a scrapbook and never forgot that day. Or the day I fell through the river ice with my dog, and after long minutes somehow found the strength to push him out and claw my way to shore before freezing to death. Those angels and others took forms of friends, parents, neighbors, people I knew, others I had never met.

On the rarest of occasions, we are lifted up from the inside. It starts with that....thing we feel, for someone, for somewhere. Then one day, maybe the next, maybe after many, and just at the right time, an angel touches our hearts, and we soar. Have you ever felt like that? Time goes by, so so quickly, and we try to do right by the world, and work at being good kids and parents and friends and maybe find one really extraordinary thing that we know is out there that will make a difference, and be that memory we look back on and we are grateful we took that moment and held on because now we can’t imagine being without it. Grab that moment and hold on, hold on tight, don't let it get away.  Soar.

The angel that makes this all happen, so much good, can it be the same who was with us in the past? Mine was, and again lifted me high. High enough to see everything clearer, hear everything louder, play harder, work smarter, live better, love more. Brought out a lot of what was inside, but just needed that key, that hand, to unlock and let it out, let it bloom. What an amazing gift. I hope you can unwrap one like this in your life, too. Maybe you have and already know the story.

Where do we turn, though, if that story skips a chapter? Mine did, and it's like tumbling drifting floating through those empty pages, looking for something to cling to, to stop and find an answer, or help, some way to get back up there, bring the angel back to keep on with the tale. Such a wonderful and unexpected high, but a sudden down feels all the more devastating, and so difficult to navigate. It can feel helpless, to be sure. How to soar without wings? Don't think there is a way to do that, not alone, as much as we try to keep our heads up.  

But I will reach for you. 

I believe. 

Catch me. 

 

 

 

The Long Way

Even knowing him since high school, and what he was capable of back then, I still have a hard time believing he did it. Steve Knowlton ran all the way across the country, averaging about 35 miles every day.  Damn. Even physically superb, the mental fortitude required for this kind of (crazy?) feat is simply something not many of us have. He is far from the first to make the trip, and not the last, but he did battling alcoholism and Crohn's disease, and solo, pushing all of his gear along in a jogging stroller. Steve is nevertheless a gifted runner, and one day decided to go on this little jog, from one ocean to the other. The e-book is roughly halfway done and with some luck will be released in spring of next year. Meantime, keep an eye on the Portfolio page for advance excerpts.

P.S. - I ran a 5k today. 3.1 miles. In a row. Coast to coast, here I come.

Here's a teaser from the prologue: 

On a Key Largo beach in November’s chill, a tall, lanky man strips to his shorts and walks into the turbid waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is a celebratory plunge at the finish of a journey that saved his life, and baptism for a future free of his demons. Body and soul cleansed, the man retreats to the beach, leaving saltwater footprints on the sand, turning back to look far to the west, across swells undulating in an endless rotation of ups and downs. The sea’s changing identity mirrors what he has endured in his own life, but he sees in the waves that there is always an up, a time to be above, with a clear view of what lies ahead. And in the orange glow of a Florida sunset, he whispers a prayer of thanks.

  One hundred days earlier, Steve Knowlton sleeps in fits and starts in a hard plastic chair in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It is July 29th, 2010, and tomorrow he will run from here to the other side of the country, covering 30, 40, even 50 miles every day. He will rest when necessary, in whatever shelter will have him, be it the boughs of a spruce tree, tent in a roadside ditch, or more civilized hostel or hotel. He will transport a modest collection of gear, pushing it along in front of him in a three-wheeled jogging stroller. His 3,717-mile route is set, on paper, but there will be diversions, roadblocks to his goal, crises to overcome. There will be mountains, extreme heat, wind, rain, and cold. He will meet dozens of people from as many cultures in communities from high alpine to backwater bayou. He runs with Crohn’s disease, attacking him since high school, and alcoholism, fighting with him since college. He runs to beat those adversaries, runs for forgiveness, runs for rebirth.


 

Autumn

The kaleidoscope season is here... Talking about summer in the past tense always seems to happen too fast, and as much as I like reflecting the heat of a July day off of my own perspiring sheen, there's just something about flannel. Must be a North Country thing, eh? The mornings bring a tinge with them now, that little bite of refreshing chill. And it feels kinda good. Go walk in the woods, breathe deep, and tell me that doesn't make you smile. Stand there awhile. Listen to the chickadees. Watch a bright orange maple leaf on a fast-twitch, zigzag descent; let it hit you in the cheek (tick, crinkle), glance off your arm and land at your feet. You just saw the last chapter of a beautiful, moving, silent, life story.  

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When enough leaves fall, drop and make leaf angels (good practice for winter). Grab a kid (your own or borrow a neighbor's) and wander a fall festival and drink apple cider and eat caramel apples and apple pie. Corn on the cob and candy corn. The world is all reds and golds, frosty mornings and evening campfires. Throw on your hiking boots, hop on the bike, stretch out on a park bench. Let another leaf land.