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Outdoors North: Time is a thief

JOHN PEPIN

“All the clouds from the west go east to confess it is spring,” – Chuck Berry

Over the past week, I’ve spent a fair amount of time along ice-cold streams and creeks, ambling through tag alders and over cedar boughs and trudging into and out of thick, black shoreline mud.

I’ve also stood along placid lakes and ponds, watching the sun go down.

In doing so, it occurred to me that water bodies can often truly reflect our images, traits and even emotions.

This may be one reason I have always felt such strong affinity for water or being in places where the water is. Other reasons would include that this is where the trout, waterfalls and frogs and turtles are.

In likely the most obvious of its reflective powers, water reflects like a mirror not only our faces and the rest of ourselves, but the skies, forests and everything around us. At once this is both obvious and fascinating.

I think I have only come to accept water’s mirroring property because I have always been around it. It has become familiar to me. Think of walking past a mirror or a water body for the first time not ever having experienced the entrancing and illuminating powers of reflection before.

In springtime, it’s not uncommon to see some birds attacking windows, chrome and car mirrors after mistaking their reflections for that of rivals. This behavior makes it clear to me that birds, and perhaps other animals, understand water’s reflective powers less than we do.

Beyond the ability to reflect our visual image, water has incredible power to reflect, and even inspire, emotion when we look at it. It’s like going through the looking glass to see inside ourselves.

On many days, I have been beside water bodies and thought that this lake or river or creek looks the way I feel. That makes me wonder if we are attracted to water bodies, at least in some sense, to feel this oneness or similarity with the water features?

Once more, I have often looked out on a gray-white, frothy and tempestuous Lake Superior and felt uneasy doing so. It felt as though that cold, rough water was inside me, churning up my emotions.

I have had similar experiences in seeing calm and tranquil lake surfaces, on sunny days with blue skies, when I’ve felt calmer and more at ease by just looking at the water.

This may explain one of the reasons why I often feel restored emotionally when I go out amidst nature. Perhaps seeing, hearing and sometimes feeling the calm or gently rolling waters tumbling over rocks in a stream makes me feel rejuvenated.

That, along with the quieting peacefulness of the place I am in, the lifetime of associations I’ve had with water as a soothing and life-giving thing and the negative ions generated at waterfalls and rapids.

I think there are other things involved as well.

For me, one thing about being around water bodies that has an emotional effect on me is the ability to see for good distances, unimpeded. There is plenty of wide-open water and sky space to see across lakes, ponds and wetlands.

In this sense, prairies, grasslands and deserts can have the same effect of allowing the viewer to see far and wide, which tends to help open-up my mind and generate feelings of being free. A clearing occurs.

Animals are drawn to water too. They come to find water to drink, of course. Some swim and bathe in it. I enjoy watching animals, wherever they might be, going on with their lives mostly unconcerned about my presence whatsoever.

It’s as though they are accepting me, while at the same time, suggesting that there’s no big deal about humans. Get over yourselves. Just another animal at the watering hole. I like that.

I wonder if animals find more benefits for themselves than drinking and bathing when they encounter water bodies? Do they receive any psychological benefits by looking at, or otherwise experiencing, water?

I’ve also noticed a lot of overlapping in the past week, mostly involving the changing of the seasonal guard.

I saw white-tailed deer and cottontail rabbits looking gray and scruffy after the wintertime. American goldfinch males have turned from their greenish-amber of winter to almost their bright, Easter-chick yellow of summer, but not quite.

I’ve also seen fresh, green grass growing up in the backyard, while at the fringes lay the dead, browned and downed leaves of last autumn.

In a similar way, we scooped dead maple, oak and poplar leaves out of one of our flower beds at home this week to give the bright green wildflowers sprouting through the dirt more of a fighting chance.

There was also a light-green colored cast over the tops of the trees along the lakeshore this week. The leaves are getting ready to pop open. I think all they might need now would be another couple of warm days.

Wintertime has its own power to affect us, or at least me anyway. When winter comes it seems to bring a brainwashing – like how the snow in “The Wizard of Oz” reversed the poison – that almost erases my mind of how things look, sound or feel.

Each springtime, I wait with childlike anticipation for the leaves of the trees and forest plants to roll out. I’ve seen it every spring of my lifetime, but it always seems like there is a newness to it that I wait excitedly to see.

After just a span of a few months that winter has been here, I need to refresh my mind on the songs of warblers and other spring bird migrants. Could it really be that I’ve forgotten which song goes with which bird over such a relatively short period of time, or has the winter wiped the slate?

Right now, I am trying to recall how a warm, summer rain feels. It seems like I haven’t felt one falling over me in the longest time. In the same sense, it feels like I haven’t heard or felt the powerful rolling thunder or seen the dramatic slashing of lightning through the blue-black night in so long.

Sometimes, it’s as though I need to try to piece words together out my alphabet soup, every time the seasons change from winter to spring.

Meanwhile, there are tremendous signs spring is here in full force with no chance of turning back now. Among these are the recent migration flights of literally thousands of broad-winged hawks across the skies over Delta County, headed north.

Garden seeds and bulbs that we planted last fall have sprouted and poked out through the dirt to reach heights of several inches. Soon they will bear beautiful flowers that will last in showy, dancing colors for weeks before fading.

Getting outside to walk or to do anything really makes me want to do it some more. I find that if I am not outside, I am inside often looking outside.

In walking along one of those ice-cold creeks this week, I saw the tremendous work of beavers to fell and drag trees and branches from the woods to the water. A black duck lifted off the water with a splash as I rounded a bend.

The air was chilly, and the sun was setting far too quickly for my liking. It reminded me of being a kid called into the house by my mom when I wanted to play outside until it was pitch black out there.

I continue to encounter new thoughts and questions about things that I thought I knew all about previously. To me, this is a positive sign that I am still open to learning and that I am indeed learning more about the beautiful and intriguing world around me.

When I add this to the endless questions I have about things I realize I know little or nothing about, I again feel like I will get called in to the house before I get a chance to do all the things I want to do.

Time is indeed a thief.

Editor’s note: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.

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