Nothin’ Could Be Finer

If I had a blog, today I would write about one of my favorite birds: The Carolina Wren.

web 10062014_247I love wrens. They are bold, brassy, and outspoken; flitting from pillar to post with their tail upright as if in protest. I’m not sure what Carolina’s have to protest, but believe me, rebellion is in their blood.

Carolina Wren’s average about 5″ in length and weigh about 3/4 of an ounce. They are the second largest wren in the United States after the cactus wren of the desert southwest. Carolina Wrens can live to be 6 years of age and often keep one mate for their entire breeding lifespan. When a pair of wrens bond, they not only stay together through the nesting season, they remain a pair and interact throughout the year.

Although both sexes of Carolina Wren can sing, it is primarily the males we hear making their strident calls from fence row and thicket. One captive male was recorded singing 3,000 times in one day! This is news to me, as I assumed female wrens were the ones making a racket during breeding and nesting season: Sort of an, “I am woman, hear me roar,” attitude. Nevertheless, female wrens do defend their nests with great vigor and anyone approaching her brood should do so with caution.

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Baby Carolina

During the breeding season, male Carolina Wrens several nests, although only one will be used for brooding. Not only do the “dummy” nests confuse predators, but scientists believe female wrens choose the most appealing nest to use for raising young.

The hallmark of the Carolina Wren is the bold, white eye stripe that gives them a somewhat cross demeanor. If wrens come back as humans, I think many would return as stereotypical boarding school teachers. Their stern visage speaks of rapped knuckles and detention after school. There would be no talking, note-passing, or other fol de rol in the classroom of Mr. or Mrs. Carolina Wren !

web 10062014_250Carolina wrens spend the majority of their time on or near the ground searching for food, or in tangles of vegetation and vines. They also probe bark crevices on lower tree levels, or pick up leaf-litter in order to search for prey. Their diet consists of invertebrates, such as beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, katydids, spiders, ants, bees, and wasps. Small lizards and tree frogs also make up the carnivorous portion of their diet. Vegetable matter makes up a small percentage of their diets, such as fruit pulp and various seeds. In the northern portion of their range, they frequent bird feeders.

For me, the bottom line is: I like wrens because they are small yet mighty. I admire their courage and the bold way they approach life. More often than not, life seems overwhelming to me and yet here are these wee birds who are ready to take on the world. When a Carolina is sitting on my porch, belting out his vibrant song, it gives me courage to be my authentic self, to sing my own wonderful song.

Free At Last: Part II

If I had a blog, today I would share some more of my journal from my trip to Ely, Minnesota in the fall of 1998.

September 3, 1998

Sometimes life is just too good. I had the most wonderful, peaceful, relaxing day. I followed my heart instead of my mind. No agenda, no goals, just what felt right at the moment.

I got up at sunrise, then went back to bed. I read and wrote and loafed. I went into town around noon and moseyed in and out of stores, soaking up the rich conversation inside and the glorious fall day outside.

MN Backroad (6) webLater on, I drove to Hegman Lake for an evening paddle and to see the pictographs. The drive out the Echo Trail was beautiful. The sunlight sparkled on Burntside Lake and the aspen leaves danced in the breeze and the colors of red maples and golden birch blazed in the forest.

The portage to Hegman was long, but once on the water, my aching muscles eased with every paddle stroke. Loons called from a secluded inlet and the only sound was my paddle along the gunwale. Coming and going, I met the nicest people and I visited a long time with everyone I met. Some light human interaction is good even for an introvert’s soul.


Hegman Lake Pictographs webThe pictographs themselves were fascinating. The Chippewa who made this their home lived here as long as 9,000 years ago and it is estimated that the pictographs were painted 500-1000 years ago. The Native Americans used hematite to dye their paint red, soot for black, and white clay for white. These particular pictographs were red and depict a moose, a wolf or dog and a man-like maymayguayshi figure. They are higher above the water than many other pictographs in the North, the artist sitting on a ledge high above the lake. Archaeologists think this may be why they are of such high quality.

As I sat below these ancient works, I marveled at how many generations of we mere mortals they have seen. What stories they could tell! Tales of voyageurs and trappers, Chippewa and Cree and those like me, who simply come to honor what has gone before. There is something awe inspiring about such things.

The light was fading when I reached the take-out, yet I felt completely unhurried. Somehow, my tendency for speed is tempered here. I walk slower, drive slower, paddle slower, LIVE slower. In so doing, I taste much more of life. I savor the present instead of always rushing ahead into the future. What a lesson to remember and take home with me.

Damp, dirty and blissfully happy, I got home just at moonrise. and the sun’s pale sister called me to linger outside, to join her at the lake. Camera in hand and adrenaline pumping, I headed into the moonlit forest. Images of glittering eyes and low growls made me step lively, but the forest remained dark and silent.

At last I left the trees and the lake lay before me in all her glory. The moon rose high above the trees in a black satin sky and her reflection danced on the water like pale, liquid jewels. A beaver swam through the moon-path, his wake two silver threads. I wanted to fall to my knees in reverence to this wondrous hour. All fears calmed, I stood on the shore a long time, soaking it all in, making memories to carry with me.

At last, filled to the spiritual brim, I turned and started back. Once in the darkness of the trees, I felt a need to travel swiftly and the light from my cabin was a welcoming sight. It felt good to be inside, to bathe and dress for bed and at last settle down with a cup of coffee and my journal.

The loons are calling much tonight, perhaps preparing for their long flight to the sea. Or perhaps, like me, they are simply overcome by the beauty of the moonlight. Amen.

Free At Last

If I had a blog, today I would write about my first solo trip to Ely, Minnesota, in August and September 1998. A journey where I experienced The Wild for the first time.

September 2, 1998

Jules Chopping WoodIt takes time to heal from the taint of the world. But at last I am back in balance. Three days of healing in this mystic place have peeled away the facade. I am real again. I remember who I am.

It has taken me a few days to shed the ball-and-chain of responsibility that I wear back home: The need to accomplish, to prove, to meet the expectations of others. Now I am here for me for my renewal. I feel light, unburdened.

For this short span of days, I am Emerson, Thoreau, and Sigurd Olson: Lovers of The Wild who have inspired me to take this trip. I am here to bathe in the sunrise, dance in the moonlight and sing with the loons. The hikes to Bass and Ennis Lakes, canoeing on Johnson Lake at sunset, that’s what it’s all about. I don’t belong out there, in the shadowlands of fast-track careers, I belong here, among the birches and pines. This is my place.

Tonight I walked to the lake to watch the sunset. A beaver swam to and fro, gathering twigs for his winter store. He swam noiselessly until I moved, then he slapped the water and dove with a great splash. I sat on the rocks and watched the moon rise over the cathedral spires of fir and spruce. A late-day fisherman cast into the lily pads near the shore, hoping for one last tangle with a northern pike. He was as silent as I, for noise would be sacrilege in this holy hour.

07122011_224001Then, from across the lake, came the holiest sound of all: The evensong of the loon. One clear note rose in the chilly air, echoing in the Great Silence.Then came the haunting tremolo, the signature sound of wildness. The loon called again and again and chills ran up my spine. Tears came to my eyes for one cannot help but weep in the presence of The Divine.

Sigurd Olson calls this “the witching hour,” a moment of epiphany when our mother, the Earth, opens to us her wild beauty. These moments cannot be contrived or orchestrated, they are gifts of the highest order and I am humbled to be so blessed.

It is dark now and the full moon is shining over my bed. They say sleeping in the moonlight will make you crazy. Maybe so, I’ve been doing it all of my life. But if this is insanity, there is no way I would rather be.

The Greatest Gift

If I had a blog, today I would write about the greatest gift a human can receive.



Not long ago, I thought I was out of the Crazy Cat Lady business for good. Last November, when my puppy, Gus, fractured his shoulder, I gave my two house cats to a friend, leaving me with one barn cat, Miranda. Miranda is thirteen years old and while she’s friendly, she prefers to send her love from a distance rather than be cuddled or petted.




Then, sometime in May, Francie showed up. She was thin and her long hair was matted and tangled. She wasn’t afraid of me, but not tame enough to groom. I fed her every day in hopes I could eventually catch her and get her to the vet. I was sure she was a female and the last thing I wanted was a barn full of feral kittens.



As our rapport grew, I began to miss the quiet presence of my house cats. I didn’t regret giving them up, but the Crazy Cat Lady in me had a longing she couldn’t quite shake. That’s when I had the dream:

About two weeks ago, I had a dream where I was in the presence of lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. I was on the Serengeti in a Land Rover watching a female lion when my transport changed to something more like a dune buggy without doors. The lion kept following me and tried to get in my vehicle. I had to floor the gas to get to my compound, where I would be safe. It was a close call, but I zoomed through the gates just in the nick of time.

As I always do, I looked up the symbols in my dream to see what meaning they might have. I looked up lions et al and gleaned the following:

To see a cat in your dreams is to highlight your independent spirit, creativity and power. Take note of what the cat is doing and perhaps find ways to emulate what it is trying to show you about yourself. Fearing the cat is in essence the fear of your own power. The cat beckons us to realize that when we turn within to our own hearts, minds and souls, and trust in ourselves we will always be shown the truth of matters.

The dream resonated where I was having struggles expressing my artistic talent. I wasn’t afraid of the gift, just of using it. If I listened to my heart, though, I would forge on and trust that I needed to stay with my art: My writing, painting, and photography, taking firm hold of the belief that one day, my work would be a career. I also took heart in the feeling that one day, I would have cats in my life again. I just didn’t know it meant it would happen within twenty-four hours.



The morning after my dream, I went out to feed Miranda and Francie and I saw another feline slipping into the Cat Room. I hoped it wasn’t a male, come to meet Francie’s feminine needs, but when I looked in, I saw the interloper was a big, black-and-white kitten and his three siblings: A calico, a silver tabby, and a grey kitten with a white nose. Francie had pulled a fast one.


The best I can figure, Francie had been at the barn for longer than I knew and she’d had her kittens right under my nose. Being a good mother, she kept her babies hidden until they were up and going on their own and now, eight weeks later, she was ready to introduce them to the world.

Naturally, all my negative thoughts about feral kittens vanished at the sight of Francie’s brood. They were utterly terrified of me, of course, but I didn’t want them gone, I wanted to make them my friends and the socializing began.

Every morning I go to the barn, set out five dishes of loud-smelling canned cat food, sit on the floor of the Cat Room and wait. Some mornings all four kittens come out from behind the vet cabinet and sometimes they creep in one at a time. I can tell their fear is giving away to curiosity, most of which I attribute to their mom.

Francie has been a doll. After she eats, she comes over to me to be caressed and brushed. Yesterday, the grey kitten (Greystoke) followed Francie and came within a foot of me. This morning, after Francie came over for loving, she headed out and left the kittens alone with me. At first they looked askance at me, but then they relaxed into eating, grooming, and playing. I am hoping they will let me take their photo in the near future, but for now, they prefer to remain incognito.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than earning the trust of an animal. We don’t speak the same language, in most cases I am a giant in their world, and I come from a predator species. In short, there is no reason these kittens should trust me. If I can project the empathy and compassion I have for them without human devices like speech, it tells me I am the kind of person I want to be. If my being radiates love, then I am a success, worthy of the greatest gift in the world.




If I had a blog, today I would write about the coming of the honey bees.

080116_2132This summer we have new visitors at our hummingbird feeders: Honey bees. While we could buy hummy feeders with bee-guards to keep the little guys at bay, their urgent need has prompted us to make room for them at the table.

In past years, we’ve had problem with wasps taking over the hummingbird feeders. Wasps are aggressive and disinclined to share. They will drive hummys away if possible and if their threats go unheeded, they will even attack the little birds to drive them away. Not so with bees.

080116_2105On any given day this summer, you will find the holes around the feeders ringed with bees; six or seven per feeding area, but instead of jealously guarding their bounty, they are more than happy to share with the hummingbirds, letting them sip at will in the center of the ring of bees.

The bees are gentle with us too. When the feeder is empty, Mom and I have only to gently brush the bees away. They go without quarrel and return without malice, sometimes landing softly on our hands as we hand the feeder on its silver hook.

We don’t know where the bees came from. Perhaps they are a swarm that left an overcrowded farmstead hive along our road or maybe they have come from a long distance, finding solace in our little valley. From wherever they arrived, The Greenwood is now home and we are honored to host their banquet.


In a world where hatred seems to be the dominant force, I am glad to see cooperation, kindness, and gentleness right out my back door.

                          Poet Kahil Gibran wrote:”For bees, the flower is the fountain of life;                For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.”

This year they are our messengers of love as well. I love you little bees.


10102013_183150 web.jpgIf there is one thing I’m good at it is resistance. Give me a good reason to dig in my heels and you’ll need a tow truck (or two) to get me moving again. Recently, my resistance has been to the heat and humidity of our Missouri summers. It happens to some extent every year, but this summer we no longer have any livestock, so being outside is purely a matter of choice, and my choice has been to stay indoors.

For a while it was all good. In my spare time I watched movies and worked on photo projects and lounged around with my dog, Gus, but now the party is over. I’m bored and feel more than a little claustrophobic, even in the air conditioning. So, despite my refusal to acknowledge the existence of summer, yesterday I decided to go for a walk to the river.

08112013_122313 webWe live about a mile from the Little Piney and the walk is fairly easy in terms of terrain. Not much upping and downing. So, when my mom started on her walk yesterday morning, Gus and I decided to give it a try and, much to my chagrin, something amazing happened: Despite the sweat and the bugs and my determination to dismiss summer as entirely useless, I felt better for having done it.

The key, it seemed, was in the hardship itself. Spending an hour getting soaked with sweat, feeling like a chicken under the broiler was worth it because it felt so amazing to rise to the challenge and return victorious. Not only did I have a sense of accomplishment, I also got to enjoy the bliss of returning to the cool  house, taking a shower, and slipping into soft, clean clothes. It was the contrast that made the experience an epiphany.

Web of Purpose

I don’t know if it is true for all people, but for me, going out into the uncomfortable, uncertain natural world without resistance is life affirming. I need to get my hands dirty, rip my jeans on a greenbriar, get bitten by bugs, and become soaked with sweat as a sort of daily baptism – dying to the ease of modern life and being reborn a child of nature. It is an exhilarating experience.

I will have to push myself to go back out there every day. The dark coolness of my office says, “Just stay here and check Facebook or work on a blog,” but I have to get out, go wild, get messy first or the pleasantry of my life loses its meaning. I need The Wild to keep me strong and in love with life.

So I go forth in hope, hope that I can remember the bliss nonresistance can bring. I will fall open-armed into the discomforts of summer and emerge a creature of joy.




His Name Shall Be Augustus

If I had a blog, today I would write about the little, golden ball of light that has just entered my life.

Little Loaves of Love

Little Loaves of Love

On January 15, 2015, my life changed forever. On January 15,  my new best friend was born: His name is Gus and he’s a yellow lab. For the first six weeks, all I knew was that Gus was one of three yellow males born to Christmas Holly at the home of Misty Woods Labradors. Right from the start I knew I’d chosen a good breeder. Gus and his siblings (both yellow and black) were the sweetest little “loaves of love” I’d ever seen.

Gus at two weeks

Gus at two weeks

Puppies are born with eyes closed and their early first weeks are spent nursing and sleeping. If I’d lived closer to the breeder, Tammy Johnston, I would have visited every day just to hold those precious new lives in my arms and soak in the love. As it was, Tammy posted weekly photos of the brood and it was thrilling to see the changes taking place.


Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

I picked the name Gus in honor of Augustus McCray, a character in Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove. Gus was a scalawag and a ladies’ man, but he had passion for life and a heart of gold – the things that make Labs such wonderful companions. I told Tammy I wanted a confident dog, one who would enjoy being my companion at home, in the car, and on our farm. Tammy told me the pups’ personalities would begin to develop at four to five weeks and she would find the right match.

Gus the Show Dog

Gus the Show Dog

Tammy took my requests to heart and on March 2nd, one of Holly’s boys traded his baby name (Maroon Boy, for the color of the ribbon tied around his neck) for the name of Augustus. According to Tammy, Gus was fearless and in love with life. She thought he would love life as farm dog as and make a great companion. It sounded like a match made in Heaven.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

On Monday morning (March 16th), we met Tammy in Rolla, a pit-stop for her as she and one of her adult labs went to the St. Louis area for a show. As we pulled into the parking lot by Wal-Mart we saw her sitting on the grassy hillside, cuddling the most beautiful Labrador puppy I had ever seen. It was love at first sight!


Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

Now, as Day Four of my Life With Gus begins, I am still in awe that I was chosen to be his person. Every day he becomes more handsome, more intrepid, and more fun to be with. Like all little creatures, Gus requires a lot of attention – day and night – so I’m a little sleep deprived and I have some scrapes and bruises from his needle-teeth, but I have never been happier! Gus and I are Forever Friends.

Christmas to Me: Part III

If I had a blog, today I would finish telling you the story of my best Christmas ever…

Crossing Conchu Lake

Crossing Conchu Lake

Christmas Day dawned clear and cold. Without the folderol of opening presents or cooking a big company dinner, we ate our Paddler’s Porridge. This is our usual North Woods breakfast as it was the traditional breakfast of the French Voyageurs, the legendary fur-traders and explorers who made this part of the north part of song and lore during the 18th and 19th centuries. In need of a hearty breakfast, these strapping young men started each day with hot cereal made from of oatmeal, mixed with wild rice, and craisins. I add cinnamon, vanilla, cream, and butter to up the ante just a bit, but either way, after a bowl of Paddler’s Porridge, even a Southerner is ready to spend the day out on the frozen lakes.

Once the dishes were washed, we bundled up and strapped on our skis, traveling east towards Uranus and Conchu lakes. Around noon, we crossed from Conchu to the Kawishiwi River, a ribbon of ice between tree-lined shores. The name: Kawishiwi (or Kawashaway) comes from the Algonquin words Kaw, meaning “no” and Ashaway meaning “the place between.” To the Chippewa, who dwelt here until the coming of the white man, this land of “No Place Between” was a spirit land; home to those who had passed beyond the mortal coil and was forbidden to those who still lived. Despite the legend, we chose to follow in the footsteps of naturalist Sigurd Olson, who came to this place often, in search of some sense of the magic the Chippewa found in this world between worlds. We did not know what we would find, but it was thrilling to be in a place so steeped with mystery.

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

As we traveled along the river, we discovered we were not the only ones to use the Kawishiwi as a winter roadway. The new-fallen snow was crisscrossed with the tracks of deer, foxes, moose, and wolves and it made me feel good to be part of this tapestry of life, a member of The Wild. In the trees along the shoreline, chickadees, timberjays, and pine siskins went about their daily round, gathering pine-nuts or retrieving seeds hidden during the bounty of autumn. In the distance, we heard the raspy voice of ravens patrolling the landscape for food. The wolves rely on the ravens’ aerial reconnaissance to locate deer or moose that have died from injuries, starvation, or cold. The ravens circle above the carcass, calling loudly, in hopes that the wolves will come and tear the bounty into bits the ravens can share. It is a somewhat macabre relationship, but that is the way of The Wild, the way of The North.

Lunchtime found us near a frozen waterfall. Across the river was a rock outcropping where we ate the sandwiches we’d packed for just this occasion. Despite the cold temperatures, the dark rock face was warm and it made a perfect rest stop after a long morning of skiing. By the time we’d eaten and basked in the sun, it was time to turn towards home. That far north, it was twilight by 3:30 and full dark an hour later, so we didn’t have time to waste on our journey home.

Lark Lake Sunset

Lark Lake Sunset

We crossed onto Lark Lake at sunset, the sky awash in magenta and purple. Most winter sunsets Up North are quite pale, so this blaze of color was a perfect end to a perfect Christmas day.

Nearly twenty years have passed since our Christmas on Lark Lake. We’ve been back to Ely many times since and each trip has been more akin to a pilgrimage than a vacation. There is something powerful, mystical and magical in the wilderness of the North that opens a person to experiences most profound. Part the magic comes from living simply – without the bells and whistles of modern convenience – and the rest is experiencing Nature in her wildest, freest form. Up North, Nature is still a wild thing, unfettered by human design. When you step into the woods or onto a frozen lake in the North Country, you become the servant and Nature is the master. It is an exhilarating experience, a gift from The Wild I will never forget.

Christmas to Me: Part II

If I had a blog, today I would continue the story of my favorite Christmas…

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

Christmas Eve dawned grey and cold. By mid-morning, snow began falling, giving the landscape an ethereal, “Jack Londonesque” quality. Just before noon, the tableau was complete as two teams of sled dogs appeared from the forest edge. If Santa and his reindeer had appeared on Lark Lake that morning I could not have been more excited. I had wanted to be a musher since I was ten years old – the winter I hitched our yellow lab, Michael, to my toboggan and played “Iditarod” from dawn to dusk on the snow-covered fields that made up our farm. Now, at long last, I had a chance to do the real thing: Ride behind a string of sled dogs in the wilderness of The North.

Our Sled Dogs

Our Sled Dogs

The afternoon was everything I’d hoped for: Flying over the frozen landscape under the expert guidance of our mushers, getting a sense of the skill it takes to manage a team of eight canine athletes. My experience driving horses did little to prepare me for the experience of running dogs. Although the dogs were harnessed and attached to the sled, there were no reins to guide or stop the team. All directions, “gee” for right, “haw” for left, and the all important “whoa,” are spoken by the musher. The dogs have complete control over whether they obey or not, thus making a well-trained team an absolute necessity. Happily, both teams we rode with that day were the picture of obedience and their synchronicity with their drivers was poetry in motion.

Rest Stop on the Trail

Rest Stop on the Trail

After a couple hours of traveling, we stopped for a rest. We were cold and needed hot cocoa to fuel our inner fires, while the dogs were hot (it was, after all fifteen degrees that afternoon) and needed time to rest, drink, and roll merrily in the snow. If I ever had any doubts as to whether or not sled dogs were happy in their work, they were erased that winter’s day. I have never seen dogs with more joie de vie. As soon as our break was over, they were ready to go: Jumping and barking and pulling at the traces so we’d know they were far from ready to go home.

Thanking Our New Friends

Thanking Our New Friends

We returned to the cabin shortly before dusk and thanked the mushers and each of their dogs for giving us the adventure of a lifetime. As they vanished into the woods across the lake and the light from the mushers’ headlamps faded from sight, The Great Silence returned to Lark Lake and Christmas Eve began.

A Toast to Christmas

A Toast to Christmas

Our holiday dinner was simple fare: Hamburger casserole and dinner rolls, accompanied by fine wine, with which we toasted family, the North Woods, and the sacredness of the season.  As we did the dinner dishes, we turned on the short-wave radio and listened to a boys’ choir in Germany, singing carols to celebrate that holiest of eves. One-by-we made our way to the sauna, returning warm, clean, and ready for an evening around the fire. We sat up until midnight, sharing memories of Christmases past until, at last, we blew out the lamps and turned in for the night. Mom and Dad slept on the futon by the stove and David, Kindra, and I slept in the loft, nestled in our sleeping bags, with starlight shining in the windows. Music from a choir in England lulled me to sleep and for the first time in decades, I felt the spirit of Christmas in every fibre of my being. My last thoughts that wondrous night were the words of favorite carol. “O Holy Night…O Night Divine.”

To be continued…

Christmas to Me: Part I

If I had a blog, today I would write about the best Christmas of my life.

All is Calm, All is Bright

All is Calm, All is Bright

Now that Thanksgiving is past, we have begun to enjoy our Christmas traditions, one of which is watching Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation.” We saw our old favorite last night and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that only in a Hollywood fiction can I find merriment in that kind of chaotic holiday gathering. In reality, a holiday season like the one on Christmas Vacation would be a waking nightmare: The throngs of guests, the crowded rooms, the clanging music, the clatter of cooking and serving, and the cacophony of screaming kids and barking dogs is more than an introvert like me can bear. It isn’t that such gatherings are innately bad, it’s simply not an experience an introvert can survive.

The good news is: The gods, to whom I am eternally grateful, gave me a family of introverts, so the quiet holidays I love have been less the exception than the rule. In fact, it was in the company of my fellow introverts, that I experienced the best Christmas of my life.

Ojibway Lake

Ojibway Lake

In December 1997 we decided to depart the commercial bombardment of modern life and retreat to the North Woods of Minnesota, for Christmas completely off the grid. We rented a remote cabin, accessible only by snowshoe, dogsled, or cross-country skis. Twenty miles from the town of Ely and four miles from the nearest road, our cabin on Lark Lake was the perfect backdrop for a Christmas with no strings attached. Our only source of power was propane, which fueled the lamps, stove, and refrigerator. We had bottled water to drink and to use in cooking, but wash water had to be dipped from a hole in the foot-thick ice on the lake. We had no plumbing, so an outhouse met those needs, and the wood-fired sauna next to the cabin offered a soul-cleansing way to freshen up at the end of day. No phones, no internet, and no television gave us sanctuary from the barrage of Christmas merchandising while the short-wave radio that sat in the window offered us access to music from around the world.

Crossing Triangle Lake

Crossing Triangle Lake

Our journey began on December 21st, the Winter Solstice. After gathering supplies at  Zup’s grocery store, we drove twenty miles out “The Fernberg” to Ojibway Lake. There we met our host, Steve Lampman, who had his snow-machine ready to take our heavier supplies across the frozen lakes to the cabin. We followed Steve’s tracks 4 miles across Ojibway and Triangle Lakes, to Lark Lake. The winter sun was pale as it shone down on the sheen of ice and snow and all around us was silence, glorious, luminous silence. This was not the quiet of a winter evening at home, this was The Great Silence – the phenomenon naturalist and Ely-resident Sigurd Olson described as, “…more than quiet, something that had no beginning or end, the great primeval hush the land once knew.”  Not only had we left the world behind, we had entered a new world, a place as sacred as the manger on a Christmas long ago.

We walked along in silence, lost in our own thoughts on this mystical place, but as we reached the center of Ojibway, my sister-in-law, Kindra looked down at our icy path and whispered, “We’re walking on water.” We stopped and took in the depth of what Kindra had observed. It was clear that this was going to be no ordinary Christmas.

Lark Lake Cabin

Lark Lake Cabin

As we crossed the last portage, through the woods between Triangle and Lark Lake, we say our cabin, tucked away among the balsam and fir trees. The propane lamps glowed warmly in the gathering dark and the little wood-stove had things warm and toasty inside. The heat of the stove drew out the fragrance of the pine logs that made the walls of the cabin and filled our need for a Christmas tree to celebrate the season. Out on the lake, the sunset turned the snow to pink, then violet before sinking beneath the horizon. Longest Night was upon us and we honored the ancient rituals of the Solstice with good food, good wine, and the love of family. It was a night I wished would never end.

Wolf Track

Wolf Track

Over the next few days, we settled into the Great Silence, our spirits buoyed by the absence of television, ringing telephones, and automobiles speeding along the highway. The only sounds were the wind in the pines and the occasional call of a raven. One afternoon, we heard wolves howling nearby and though a chill ran up my spine, I have never been more thrilled. We had seen the wolves’ huge footprints on the lake that morning, so we knew the pack was nearby and though I sensed a primordial fear of the big predators rise, it was quickly tempered by the exhilaration of walking on the same ground as wild wolves. For one brief moment, I had a connection with the big greys and I was overcome with joy.

To be continued….