Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

Saturday, August 30, 2008 -- on Beaufort Lake near Three Lakes, MI

We're taking it easy this morning, updating the website and the online photo collection, reading various blogs and online newspapers, and waiting for the arrival of our son and daughter-in-law, Justin & Kaytlyn. They're driving up from Appleton for the weekend. And the weather looks absolutely perfect for canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and slow pontoon boat excursions around the lake. It should be a good time.

I'm flabbergasted how fast the summer has gone this year. Labor Day is the traditional end of the summer and that means fall is right around the corner. As I've mentioned before, there are a few hints at fall color in the woods but a lot fewer than last year. Within a couple more weeks though it'll be glorious.

Unfortunately, we won't be here to see it as this is our last weekend at Camp Soldner. It's hard to leave -- we've had a great and relaxing time. But we have an appointment at Spartan (the maker of our chassis) in Charlotte Michigan (near Lansing) a week from Tuesday to have a chassis checkup and alignment. We'll also spend some time with Dar's #1 favorite sister and her husband Jack, who live in Kalamazoo.

There are so many places yet to be explored.

T

Friday, August 29, 2008

Quiet Morning Walk

Friday, August 29, 2008 -- near Three Lakes, MI

I paused during my walk this morning, something I don't like to do as I've always heard pausing a workout reduces the aerobic benefits and the training effect. But I had to stop. I can't remember when I last had this experience.

During the past week or so, I've been trying to get myself back into my old routine of early morning exercise. And I've been pretty diligent about it so far, having crawled out of bed, slithered sleepily into T-shirt, shorts, and shoes, and stepped boldly into the fresh morning air for 7 of the past 8 days. I used to run but my creaky knees don't respond well to the pounding anymore. So I've convinced myself that, really, I can get all the aerobic exercise I need by walking. Not a slow stroll down the garden path... oh no.  I like to walk fast... at least 4 mph and sometimes faster... and do it for the better part of an hour. Throw in a few hills and the old ticker is really beating away. The semi-pained smile on my face is the result of a mental image of arterial sludge from last night's brownie delight desert dissolving -- melting -- away.

This morning's walk felt immediately different from the others this week. Stepping outside, I became aware of the stillness of the morning. A layer of morning fog was hovering overhead, in the treetops, but I could see clearly at ground level. This vaporous canopy seemed to muffle the sounds of the woods and the surrounding world. There was no wind, none. It was dead-calm. There was no traffic, none. My own footsteps on the asphalt were deafening and seemed to pollute the natural silence of the place and the moment. There's an urge to stop, just for a moment, and savor this experience. No, that would lessen the benefit of my doing this in the first place, wouldn't it? But how often does one notice and experience complete, nearly total, silence? Com'on, just stop, right here, in the middle of the road... you can do it!

So I did. I stopped right there, standing on the centerline of Petticoat Road, and heard nothing. Nothing! Ears attuned to sounds generated by people and civilization don't hear the sounds of nature without some effort. Slowly, as I stood there, I began to hear my own heartbeat. Then a flutter of wings as a bird moved. The canopy of fog which I first thought was muffling all sounds was now seeming to amplify the occasional nearby sounds of nature. There was the thunderous crack of a twig snapping in the woods -- maybe a deer taking a cautious step. Then, more birds greeting the morning. I made a small slow step forward -- that urge to keep going for exercise's sake -- and my knee creaked. In the spaces between those various small sounds, there was as total a silence as I've ever heard. A nearly complete and utter lack of any sound whatsoever.

We're conditioned, I believe, to be in awe of the really big things -- fireworks get bigger and louder, amusement park rides get higher and faster, Hollywood keeps us coming back to the next film by making the explosions bigger, the car crashes more dramatic... you get the idea. But this morning I was in awe of the littlest thing you can imagine... silence.

T

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Secret Shoe Tree Society

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 -- Not far from Three Lakes, MI

What do Yoopers (those friendly people from the U.P.) around here do for entertainment? It's almost an hour drive east to the movies, theaters, and museums of the Marquette Metroplex... your best bet if high-culture is what you're looking for. In any other direction you'd have to drive for days to find anything similar. But here in the Three Lakes area people are lower-maintenance, have more basic needs, and certainly don't have to travel far to have a good time.

Besides the normal outdoorsy activities... fishing, hunting, making wood, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snowplowing, and removing hundreds of inches of heavy winter snowfall from roofs before they collapse... besides all these fun activities, we stumbled upon another that demonstrates the creativity of people when they have a lot of time on their hands and too many shoes in their closets.

Just up the road from Camp Soldner is a large tree that canopies over Petticoat Road. What looks like a normal tree, indistinguishable from thousands of other trees when you first see it from a distance, begins to change as you get closer... at first you don't understand what you're seeing... what's that hanging from the branches?... what? It's pairs of shoes! Wow. Literally hundreds of pairs of shoes. Kids shoes, adult shoes, running shoes, boots... you name it, it's up there.

The Shoe Tree

But now the story takes a strange twist. No one I've talked to around here will admit to anything more than acknowledging the existence of the Shoe Tree. Locals get strangely quiet, pensive... look away, and change the subject when the tree is brought up. Some won't respond at all and just walk away. I'm sure they know something and can't tell me, as an outsider, about it. It's a local secret.

But I'm forming a mental picture of a secret society, of secret meetings at midnight, dozens of cars slowly making their way quietly down the road and parking in the gravel pit across from the Shoe Tree... headlights on -- illuminating the tree while the members of the secret Shoe Tree Society form a circle and begin a ritualistic dance under it's powerful branches to a slow, low, quiet drum-beat... each person slowly waving their sacrificial shoes as their offering to the Shoe Tree gods. As the ritual rises to a climax, the drumbeat increasing in speed and intensity, the tied-together sacrificial shoes are flung -- hurled -- into the branches of the awaiting Shoe Tree... and the ceremony is done. The gods have been satisfied again... at least for a while.

Until someone actually opens up and gives me the real scoop on this thing, I'm going to let my mind devise it's own answers.

T

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Lake Discovered

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 -- Near Three Lakes, MI

Dar's been spending her spare moments working on the hundreds of pictures from the last few weeks, culling out the bad ones, adding comments, and getting ready to upload them to our online photo collection. Not wanting to add pressure and stress to her life, I think it'll be a few days yet before they're available for viewing. Our internet connection may also slow things down a bit as it's not as fast as we'd like for uploading pictures.

After a slow start to the day yesterday, Monday, we dragged the canoe out and headed out for an afternoon of exploration. The day was sunny and there was no wind -- perfect canoeing weather. The highlight of the expedition was our successful transit of the creek between Lake Beaufort and Lake George, the lake just to the north of us. This creek is a low wetland with a number of winding channels throughout. If we were to make it through to Lake George we'd have to find and follow the main channel. There were only a few wrong turns as we felt our way along... at times in water two or three feet deep and at other times scraping the sand bottom and using our paddles as poles to push our way to deeper water.

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Visibility is limited by the tall marsh grasses and reeds. There were tight turns and sandbars, and two small private road bridges that we passed under, one of which was so low we had to lay down in the canoe to keep our hats in place. But after a half-hour or so we successfully entered Lake George. Now that we know it can be done, we'll spend more time over there checking out the natives and their homes and cabins around this new (to us) lake.

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A late evening sauna -- a good sweat to soothe aching muscles -- and I was ready for the sack. There was no reading before bed last night.

T

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cold Morning

Monday, August 25, 2008 -- Camp Soldner near Three Lakes, MI

I knew it was going to be a cold night when word spread throughout the Three Lakes area that patchy frost was possible. A quick evening pontoon boat excursion around the lake with our good neighbors Bill and Nancy, despite heavier than normal outer wear, left me chilled and shivering. Before getting horizontal for the night the windows were all closed, our little electric heater was activated, and the full complement of covers, blankets, and bedspreads were in position.

When, at about 6:30am, my eyes opened enough to see the thermometer projected on the ceiling it read 39f degrees. Our neighbor, Bill, reported 35f degrees at his place. In any case, cold for August. A thick blanket of fog covered the lake but not the shore... and when I left on my morning walk (yes, I'm still at it... four days in a row now!) I couldn't see the other side. By the time I finished the fog was mostly gone and the day looks like it'll be calm and clear, and we could even reach the forecast high of 72f degrees. It's all part of life in the U.P.

The night sky up here is nothing short of spectacular. I find great entertainment in watching the nightly sky-show whenever I can. There's a free website I use that provides the program of each night's show, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested... www.heavens-above.com ... I also have a link to it on our Links Page.

It takes a few minutes to establish your location -- the program has to know where you're at so it can provide accurate sky charts and satellite pass information. But once it knows your position on the planet, it'll provide information about the sky above, the constellations, stars, planets, and the sun and moon. It'll also give you the exact times of every visible satellite that will be passing overhead that night, including what it is, who launched it, the time it'll pass, direction of travel, where in the sky it's coming from and going to, and how high it'll be. We'll print off the list for a night, sit under the canopy of a hundred million glowing dots of light, wait, and watch the blinking procession of satellites and space debris as it goes by. It may not be as exciting as the Olympics or a close ball game, but when you think about all those millions of worlds up there and try to figure out how we fit into all of this vastness... well, it helps me minimize stress and puts my problems into a different perspective.

T

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Important Things Come First

Sunday, August 24, 2008 -- at Camp Soldner near Three Lakes, MI

Solitude brings on fits of philosophical thinking. In that vein, I thought I'd revive the following old story that I've been carrying around with me for the last 10 years or so. I hope you'll find it enjoyable and thought provoking.

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A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. Wordlessly, as the class began, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

So the professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things - your family, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else-the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to exercise and get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal."

"Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Walking Habit

Saturday, August 23, 2008 -- Camp Soldner near Three Lakes, MI

A lively thunderstorm blew through the area last night, waking us up and scrambling to close windows. The weathermap shows this string of storms is pushing out ahead of a cold front that has already dropped temps from the lower 70's as the storm started about 3am to the lower 60's this morning. Nice but cool weather is projected for the next 4 or 5 days.

We've been busy around the camp and I haven't been diligent with the blog updates. Much of our first week here was spent helping with various work projects. Last year I wrote that my impression of the way a true "Youper" (a person from the U.P. of Michigan) views summer -- as a brief warm period that's used to get ready for the following winter. Building and remodeling projects up here are accompanied by an urgency not found in warmer places. And the woodshed needs to be filled with newly cut and split wood -- a Youper never has enough cut and split wood. You're a rich man in the U.P. if your woodshed is larger than your house and it's filled to overflowing.

Yesterday was our first full day of being here alone. Dennis and Laura, Dar's brother and sister-in-law who own the camp, and Cal and Marion, Dar's Mom and Dad, were here for most of our first week. While we really enjoy being with these guys we were ready for a little solitude as a balance to the frothy activity of all the recent wedding related stuff. It's this solitude that's good for the soul, that allows time to think instead of just react, that provides perspective.

Before we began this nomadic lifestyle I was a diligent morning walker. I had developed the habit of walking for exercise, 3 or 4 miles, most days of the week. But moving into the bus-house and being in different unfamiliar places gave me an excuse for not walking and I lost the habit. Yesterday I decided to stop being lazy and get back to the routine. I'll have to develop the habit all over again and writing about it here provides some additional incentive to stick to it -- who wants to fail publicly? So I did 2-1/2 miles yesterday and repeated it again this morning. It's a start.

T

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beaufort Lake

August 18, 2008 -- near Three Lakes, MI

We're parked on the western shore of Beaufort Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Beaufort is about a mile and a quarter long, a mile wide, and has a surface area of about 460 acres. It's deepest point is 35 feet with the average depth in the 15 to 20 foot range but there are a few shallow bars and an occasional boulder just below the surface waiting to eat your boat propeller. As we kayak or canoe around the lake we're 1640 feet above sea level. There's one small public campground along the north shore and no resorts or other commercial establishments with water frontage. The water is clean and clear, and the lake is surrounded by mostly heavily wooded hilly land. All in all, not a bad place to spend a few weeks during late summer in the north-country.

I have to clear something up. In recent posts to this blog and in the "What's New" section on our front page I've been referring to "Camp Soldner" -- the place we're camped during our time on Beaufort Lake. Unfortunately, I haven't made it clear that Camp Soldner is a private lake property owned by Dar's brother and his wife. You see, people in the UP of Michigan refer to their lake cottages as "camps". They have a "camp" on Beaufort Lake... not a cotttage. Anywhere else we've been in the USA this place would be a "cottage". But in the UP of Michigan, it's a "camp". I wrote a little about this and other "regionalisms" unique to the UP last year while here and started referring to it as Camp Soldner. With a little tongue-in-cheek the "Camp Soldner" moniker was born. Well, anyway, I've recently received a couple inquiries from people who read my blog and were having trouble finding more information about Camp Soldner. I can only imagine how, after reading about this place and seeing the pictures, people could be interested in making reservations and grabbing a few weeks of this paradise for themselves. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, Camp Soldner will remain private. Sorry for misleading you.

T

Friday, August 15, 2008

First Morning at Camp Soldner

Friday, August 15, 2008 -- near Three Lakes, MI

The drive from Beaver Dam yesterday was about 270 miles; it took us a little over 5 hours. Other than a moderate headwind out of the north, driving conditions couldn't have been much better and the bus-house performed flawlessly. The camp is near the end of a small private one-lane gravel road and it's necessary to maneuver around low-hanging branches and a few trees encroaching into the roadway in order to get to the same spot we parked last year... facing east and about 50 feet from the lakeshore. We're partially shaded but enough sunlight finds its way through the trees to keep the solar panels busy much of the day. It's a perfect spot in this idyllic place.

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We both slept late this morning partially because we're tired from the drive and the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks. Camp Soldner is in the Eastern time zone and that fact provided the best excuse for why we slept in until almost 9am. Coffee was enjoyed on the dock while we watched two deer working the shoreline just a few hundred feet to the South and three bald eagles looking for breakfast further out in the lake. It was cool... 45f for a low this morning... but it's supposed to warm up the rest of the weekend.

Dar couldn't wait to get in the kayak and take a paddle around the lake. The surface was totally smooth and disturbed only by the kayak and paddles. I drank coffee, made a phone call or two, and talked with Dennis (the proprietor) and our favorite neighbors, Bill and Nancy. We did solve some current world problems but I'm sure we'll have even better solutions tomorrow.

Later in the day we'll start on a few chores and projects here at the camp... it's a way of earning our keep. But the uncomplicated nature of this place and the peace and calm that's all around have a way of making you see things differently... of providing a big virtual sigh that removes the stress of more complicated times.

T

Thursday, August 14, 2008

U.P. North Today

Thursday, August 14, 2008 -- near Beaver Dam, WI

The weather looks good for travel today... sunny, low wind (although it'll be a headwind of course!), with a high temp of only 76f. This has been a cool summer according to the weather service with many locations around the Midwest yet to have the first 90f degree day. But I'm not complaining as I prefer cool to hot.

We're experiencing that old "transplant" problem in getting ready to go today. When we stay some place for more than just a week or two, virtual roots grow down into the earth and grow deeper and thicker with each passing day. While the mind says "come on... let's go already!" these roots have to be dealt with. But the bus-house has had enough power to pull these roots out of the ground and move us on to new unexplored places.

The drive today will be a bit less than 300 miles, so we'll be wanting to get started earlier than normal for us. If we're on the road by 10am, we should be arriving at Camp Soldner just in time for a late happy hour and dinner.

T

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Resources for the Bus-House

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 -- near Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

While we're parked out at the farm near Beaver Dam or at Camp Soldner in the U.P. of Michigan, we ocassionally have to pack up and drive the bus-house to some nearby campground to dump our waste tanks. In both cases, we do have access to some limited electric power and can stretch hoses about 150 feet to fill the fresh-water tank, but there's no place to dump tanks.

A while back I wrote this piece about our ability to live independently of outside resources. I thought I'd revive it now:

The bus-house, like a regular "fixed" house, relies on certain resources from the outside world. Among these are fresh-water, sewer, electric power, and propane. There are others... phone, internet, television, radio... but these are all wireless and don't limit the length of our stay.

Of the big four, the addition of a solar array on the roof earlier this year has been a big positive with regards to electric power. We've always had the ability to run our generator for larger power demands and to re-charge the house batteries. But as quiet as it is, the generator does consume diesel fuel ($$) and we don't like running it when we're away from the bus-house for any period of time. The solar panels have pretty much taken over the battery charging responsibilities. As long as the sun shines and as long as we're not wasteful in our use of electricity, we can survive without being plugged into the "grid" indefinitely.

Propane is another outside resource that doesn't impact our length of stay very much. We carry about 25 gallons of it and it lasts a very long time -- especially during the summer when there's no need to heat the bus-house. Besides the furnace, propane is used by the refrigerator, the water heater, and the cook-top. It's easy to go the entire summer without danger of running out of propane.

So that leaves two critical resources -- fresh-water and sewer. When parked without a water hookup for an extended period, we go into "water conservation mode", which means extreme limits on water use. I won't go into all the little techniques, but let's just say we've found it's possible to survive for a while using just 7 or 8 gallons of water per day. But after two weeks or less, we've got find a place to refill. Our waste tanks can be stretched to go up to 2 weeks too.

So about every week and a half or two weeks, it's necessary to "re-connect" to the outside world. Often this means we've got to get into travel-mode and physically move the bus-house to a place we can re-fill with fresh-water and dump the sewer tanks.

It's a small price to pay for the freedom of living this nomadic lifestyle.

T

Mission Accomplished

Tuesday, August 12, 2009

Well, the wedding is over and the newlywed couple is honeymooning on the Mexican Riviera. Everyone can relax and get back to a measure of normalcy in their lives. It all came off very nice and without any serious hitches, probably the result of all the good planning and preparation -- most of it by the newlywed couple themselves. Congratulations Justin and Kaytlyn!

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I find time fascinating. One of the reasons I like history is the element of time and the relationships between time and people. So when milestone events like weddings happen, I tend to think about time as it relates to those same milestones in my life and the lives of those around me.

Every living thing on the planet has a beginning and an end. It's the cycle of life, the way it's always been and the way it always will be. Even our planet has a beginning and an end. The solar system began as swirling gases that coalesced into clumps, and those clumps, eventually, into the sun and planets and moons. Scientist tell us that in the far distant future the sun will run low of hydrogen fuel and dim... cool... die... taking the rest of the solar system with it. It's the cycle of life.

We're "sponges" as we grow out of infancy into childhood, soaking up the wonder of the world around us, experiences, and knowledge. We "exist" and look for meaning and purpose. Some grasp the concept of delayed gratification -- the long term -- and others live in the moment -- the short term. Some understand that we're really a part of a society of many people and that the prime imperative is the continuation and advancement of that society, while others live primarily for themselves. We develop skills and abilities and make our way through time. Many of us meet a soul-mate and we often have children -- children that will eventually take our place. We nurture those children, try to guide them, and give them what we can so they understand and absorb the prime imperative to continue and advance the society. Eventually, as minds and bodies mature, they're ready. And the cycle continues.

During the wedding ceremony I was thinking back to 1972, the same month -- August, and how I felt. We were in many ways still kids -- I was only 21 when Dar and I married. From the perspective of a 21 year old, you're only about 25% into your expected lifespan -- with 75% of your life still in the future. 75% is perceived as an immense about of time -- enough time that there's little thought about the end. There was so much to do, so many hopes, opportunities, and dreams that for all intents and purposes we felt almost immortal. The definition of our purpose and meaning was in the future. And things couldn't happen fast enough. Time seemed to crawl.

But from the perspective of a 57 year old things are different. There's still wonder... but it's wonder about how fast those middle years went. Time, which crawled slowly along during youth, is now not just going fast... it's accelerating. We've successfully replaced ourselves with two very special people, who have each found their own soul-mates. And the cycle continues.

And we have two grandkids. There will likely be more. We thoroughly enjoy the time we spend with little Ryan and Evan, and we hope that we're giving back to them just some of the joy that we get from them. In the past three years we've seen such growth in Ryan, and have watched Evan change from newborn to a little person that can interact with others around him. It's easy, from my perspective, to project into the future and "see" them going to school, as teens, as young adults... and the cycle continues.

Our children are now completely adults. Our job is officially over. Our biological purpose complete. This marriage marked the end of a big chapter in our lives. Where do we go from here?

The cycle will continue.

T

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wedding Preparations

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Our son, Justin, and his betrothed, Kaytlyn, are getting married this weekend. Family and friends are anticipating a good time and looking forward to helping with a happy start to their life together. They've handled most of the wedding preparations by themselves, and being financially conservative, they decided on a small uncomplicated affair... except that the father of the groom has been directed to wear a tux. A TUX? I'm not a tux kind of guy, but just as I've tried to keep a low profile during the past few weeks of final preparations, I'm smart enough to know the "tux-issue" isn't the one I was going to make a stink about. Just wait till you see the pictures!

Our daughter, Andrea, is bringing our two great grandkids for the special event. "Wait", you say... "you couldn't possibly have great grandkids! You're far too young!" Well you'd be wrong on both counts... I'm not all that young and I do have two of the greatest grandkids ever. We're awaiting their arrival later today. All the family in Beaver Dam is excited to see little Evan for the first time. And none of them will be able to comprehend how young Ryan could have grown from an infant to a young man in just three short years. The next few days will be a warm and exciting time for everyone.

Dar and I were married in August of 1972. It was 98 degrees in the shade, no breeze, and about 105% humidity... and not an air conditioner to be found... anywhere. When you plan a wedding in August in Wisconsin, there's always a chance you'll have to deal with tropical weather. I've always believed that the heat I was feeling that day did more to prepare me for married life than anything else I could have done. But, alas, it doesn't look like Justin and Kaytlyn will have the same learning experience I had. The advanced forecast for wedding day is mid-70's, low humidity, mostly sunny, and no chance for rain. In other words, perfect. I kinda feel sorry for them.

T