Outdoors North: Nature strips away all the worries of the world
“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding,” — Nick Lowe
Out here, along the pine-needle-covered gravel road, the inch or so of snow that fell last night is still here. It’s one of those dry, fluffy type of snows that can blow away like feathers with just a gentle puff of wind.
It’s cold, but not uncomfortably so. It’s not bad at all for this time of the year. This is when I especially like to get away from the crowds and the hustle of the holiday season. The quieter, the better.
It’s not that I don’t like these late-year holiday celebrations, but I don’t love them either, not by any means. There’s often a temptation to just close my eyes and sleep until they’re over, waking up in the excitement and anticipation of the new year.
But that would be a waste of a great deal of precious time.
I recall that at one point, which lasted several years, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I think it was the notion of giving thanks for what we have, and the fellowship of friends and relatives centered on something positive that helped me make that determination.
I think I soured on Thanksgiving and especially Christmas, with the commercialization of the holidays kicking into seemingly higher and higher gear with each year that passes — Black Friday through Blue Monday.
For several years there, after I got divorced, we had kind of a boy’s club established around Thanksgiving that was quite enjoyable.
In those years, my brother and his friend would travel down from Canada for “American Thanksgiving,” with me and my dad and one of my oldest friends I had met in California who had since moved to Michigan.
I’d cook the turkey dinner and we’d watch football all day and have a bunch of laughs.
But then, like wedding bells, there came a breaking up of that old gang of mine.
The laughs stopped sort of abruptly the one Thanksgiving I drove through a snowstorm to pick up my dad and bring him back to my apartment. He wasn’t driving as much as he used to, but the old mailman was still big on walking places.
As he sat on the passenger side of my pick-up truck, he complained of being cold, but it was very warm in the vehicle and he had a jacket on.
By the time we got back to my place, it was obvious to me that he had lost more than a few steps over the past few weeks.
He took his shoes off outside the front door and we put them in the coat closet. Later, he would claim someone had stolen his shoes, and that the ones we gave him from the closet weren’t his.
My boys called during the afternoon. When I passed the phone to my dad, he held it a couple of feet in front of him and talked toward it like it was a walkie-talkie.
We all thought that was funny at first, but that passed quickly once it became apparent that he had misremembered how to use a telephone. That wasn’t the beginning of the end, but it was my realization that we were farther down the road than I had thought.
It wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t go anywhere without his stuffed animal puppy.
I don’t remember celebrating with that same group, in that same way, since.
Now, years later, a lot of things have changed. I’m remarried, my friend has moved to Wisconsin for work. My brother doesn’t hang around with his friend anymore and my dad died in 2008.
Thanksgivings these past couple of years have been rudely interrupted by the global pandemic. This year is the first that my brother and his live-in girlfriend have been able to rejoin us for the holiday.
We usually get a chance to get out fishing or hiking or even visiting a state park. We still watch football and eat turkey and my mom’s homemade stuffing recipe. It’s real nice, maybe even better than those old days. It’s hard to say.
I know that I’ve changed. I’m far more interested in getting outside to do something than sitting in front of the television set to watch one football game, let alone three.
Some of the old traditions, all year long, have become just that for me — old and stale, something done simply out of tradition.
For me, my greatest appreciation of holidays now seems to be centered on finding the truth or the heart of what those occasions were meant to be celebrated for and then crafting new traditions with those foundations in mind.
The newest and best part of these new-found enjoyments for me is a shared getting outdoors to see what nature is doing amidst all the social chaos and hoopla.
Finding the quiet and reflection, paired with the camaraderie of friends or loved ones, bring me the truest peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women.
The chill of my morning walk alone is a comfort I hold dear to my heart and soul. There’s a profound honesty and clarity in the ability of the cold air to cut through the stagnation of warmer breezes.
The fresh air is exhilarating to breath, rushing a sense of being alive through me all the way down to the tips of my fingers. Hearing the soft sound of my boot heels on the snow as I walk reminds me of my presence here and how fortunate I am to be in this place, right here, right now.
Nothing whatsoever needs to happen. Being in this setting is more than enough for me. I don’t need conversation, cohabitation, companionship, co-anything. I just need to be and to be here.
The trees and the rocks all know me. They know that just like them, I have always been here and in other places like this too. The fox and the sparrow know that I might leave, but I always come back.
All the components of the natural world graciously allow my presence, in fact, they welcome me fully and unconditionally. I can feel that I am at home here. There are no expectations of any of us.
I do my best to walk in reverence anytime I’m in the woods. I’ve never been a yeller or one who felt it was important to ensure my presence was made known for miles around.
It’s out of gratitude and awe of the spectacular wonders around me that I take this tack in how I behave out here. I don’t even like to accidentally slam a car door.
For me, I just want to absorb as I observe, open my heart, soul and mind to learn silently all that there is. I am afraid I’ll miss something if I talk or even think to loudly in preoccupation with my insignificant daily trials.
Nature can take away all the worry, the wanting and the world. It can revitalize and reconnect me with the spirit, rhythm and rhyme of the universe. I can’t hear those things back in town, in front of a television or even around a holiday dinner table.
Maybe this year, my holiday dream of leaving everything behind for a night or two in a cabin will come true. I’ve never been out of contact with family or friends on Christmas before — not in my whole lifetime.
It’s not that I don’t love them and appreciate their love for me, I just have a need to know what nature does on Christmas morning or Christmas eve.
I’ll bet the owls still sing back and forth to each other across the valley and the deer still nod their way down the snow-covered paths in the moonlight. I think the stars might shine even a little brighter on a cold, Christmas night.
But unless I go there to find out these things, I’ll never know for certain.
I’d even be pleased to take others with me, but their dream and my dream might not be the same. This world seems to provide innumerable opportunities to be misunderstood, discounted, dismissed, divided and disillusioned.
It’s true peace, love, understanding and hope that I want to find. Whatever the means to everyone else, I want that for them too.
Out here, for now, I am content with the chilly breeze in my nose, the blush from the cold on my cheeks and the skies, blue and rolling, everlasting.
I walked on quietly.
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.