W & W 7: Within the Understory

February 18, 2019

The month of February has been the month of BIG snow. Here in Northern Michigan we have been blasted with the lovely white stuff about every other day. Most of our snow is “lake effect” — snowstorms churned up by the moisture of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Since we live in the western “tip of the mitt” we get both of these Great Lakes crying down upon us often in February. But I’m not complaining! Unless you live daily in the north country you can’t really appreciate the beauty of the four seasons we are blessed with. Just one complaint, winter is a bit long.

Winter in the northern mitten lasts from November through April. That’s six months of winter! We have spring in the month of May. Autumn in September and October and summer from June – August. There is some crossover as sometimes snow appears in May and October.

I hesitated doing a Walk & Write this week as we were hit with about 15 inches of snow and I knew the woods would be difficult to navigate on snowshoes. Then I thought, what a challenge it would be! So, I donned my trusty footwear and headed out on the North Country Trail from Starvation Lake Road north toward Sand Lake. My goal was to get a 1.5 mile hike in, rest in the woods to read and write, then hike back out.

Nearing the one mile mark I was exhausted. My snowshoes were sinking down at least eight inches, but my stubborn German heritage kicked in and I kept repeating the mantra “One foot in front of the other, just walk forward!” And so I kept going. Then I hit the open section that I knew would be drifted with at least three feet of snow and it was. But, after the first turn I discovered that a snowmobile had ventured on to the trail and flattened the surface for me. Normally I would be mad that those stinky beasts had come upon my sanctuary since it is illegal for them to use a national hiking trail, but I shouted out to the wind “Hallelujah! Thank you Mr. Snowmobiler!!” It was a nice quarter of a mile of walking on top of snow instead of marching up and down lifting four inches of snow up into the blue sky every step of the way. Yes, I said blue sky!! We hadn’t had one of those in at least two weeks.

Red Pine Plantation on the North Country Trail, near Starvation Lake Road

I made my goal of 1.5 miles and rested against a middle-aged white pine. It was only 10 degrees out and the wind had picked up a bit, so I ended up doing just a 10-minute write/read in the woods.

For my read I chose The Earth Speaks by Steve VanMatre and Bill Weiler. It is book I bought back in the early 80’s and was the first book I read that really connected my heart to nature and writing, especially poetry. Though I’d been writing poetry since fourth grade, I hadn’t made the melded connection of the earth and musical words. I was hooked! Here is a sample from The Earth Speaks:

“Pine Tree Tops”

In the blue night

frost haze, the sky glows

with the moon

pine tree tops

bend snow – blue, face

into sky frost, starlight

the creak of boots

rabbit tracks, deer tracks,

what do we know.

by Gary Snyder

Isn’t that perfect for the way I was feeling? Absolutely! I had just wandered through a red pine plantation seeing squirrel and mice tracks. I had just observed the understory of baby beech trees. I had just listened to the mush of my snowshoes into a white wonderland.

I began writing notes for a poem I am now working on for editing. Here is the birth of my yet unfinished poem:

Brittle beach leaves
laugh at me
as I snowshoe by
so deep in the white wonder

I sink down with each step
They must wonder why
I venture here
breathing in frigidity
heart pounding, hips aching

Should I laugh back?
After all, they are rooted
unable to travel on
stuck in the understory

Soaring above them
red pines reach skyward
arms embracing sun
as the dwarf beech trees
rattle in the lower wind

Why do their leave hang on
don’t they know winter
has gripped the forest
and my spirit too?

to be continued

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I love your writing, thank you for sharing 🙂


  2. Sharon Curell says:

    Love your blog!! The beginning of your poem is so visual and offers lots of love!! Looking forward to more♥️


    1. Thanks, Sharon. I am having fun with this.


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