Outdoors North: Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind,” – Jimmy Seals and Darrell Crofts

It’s one of those mornings on one of those days when the summery weather outside my window is beckoning me come out to play.

From where I am sitting, if I look out my window, I see only blue and green. It’s the clear blue of the cloudless sky and the spectacular range of greens found in the maple leaves of May as they appear to me – some in sunlight, others in shade.

I am struck by how fast the springtime has busted out and bloomed everywhere all around me, seemingly almost all at once.

May is likely the most magnificent month on this pleasant peninsula, especially if the wonders of springtime are your thing.

There’s an intoxicating cool breeze crawling in through the window screen to my right that slips down the wall, across the floor and reaches me here on this soft, padded love seat.

I only have the window slid up from its frame less than two inches, but that’s more than enough space for all kinds of information from the outside world to enter my little realm here where I am working away.

Some robins and a great-crested flycatcher are trading solos with a male cardinal tempting me to find a front row seat to their performances out there under the whispering birches in the front yard.

Geese are there somewhere on the waters of the lake, past the county road and a few lines of trees standing on the shoreline.

They seem to be laughing at my predicament of being stuck inside working in my dungeon of human construct, instead of playing out there with them.

They sound like Burgess Meredith as the Penguin on the 1960’s Batman television show. Yank, yank, yank, yank, yank.

I know they’re right, but I could do without the taunting.

I should be out there.

Just like I should have been out there yesterday and the day before.

But its one of those mornings on one of those days when no matter how nice it is outside, or how much it pains me to be inside, I have things that need to get done and the only person who is going to do them is me.

It seems like it would be easy enough to just stand myself up and walk myself out of this study, down the flights of stairs and out the front door into the yard.

But it isn’t.

As I was growing up, my parents instilled a good sense of work ethic, doing the right thing and always trying your best inside of me.

In times like this, I wish I had paid a little less attention.

But those were different times, days almost unimaginable now, when parental threats of providing the unwilling or slow to move or learn a good swift kick in the behind were more than window dressing.

Wooden spoons were used for more than just gently stirring soup.

A flyswatter slapped across my buttocks might remind me that I did indeed want to confess that it was my younger brother who made the mess my mom was so upset about.

Before you feel sorry for my brother in this circumstance, please realize that the train rolled both ways down those tracks. I have been the bearer of numerous punishments meant for my one dear brother.

Today makes me recall a fine Saturday morning, when I was likely in the fourth or fifth grade and very dumb in math. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I just didn’t get it. All these years later, in a lot of ways, I still don’t.

I could hear my brother and the neighborhood gang out in our backyard throwing a ball around and laughing and joking – sounding from inside the house like a certain gaggle of geese I heard outside my window just a little while ago.

I wasn’t allowed to go outside until I finished my math homework.

Every half hour or so, my brother would stick his head into the kitchen from the back porch door and ask, “Are you done yet?”


“Well hurry up.”

“I’m trying.”

Just then my mom would yell to him from the living room.

“Jimmy, what are you doing in the house?”

In those days, us kids were supposed to be outside when it was nice weather, and we were not usually allowed inside until suppertime.

“I was just getting a drink of water.”

“Well, get one from the hose.”

Even when it was lunch time, we would sit on the back steps and eat sandwiches off napkins or paper plates, drinking Kool-Aid or Hi-C from plastic cups.

The menu contained items like hot dogs, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, red or green Jello and those crunchy, canned Pik-Nik original shoestring potatoes that we would dip into ketchup.

That day way back when and today do seem very much the same.

I know that there are several things to do that will likely keep me indoors for the next several hours anyway.

Some of these things are self-imposed deadline tasks, some are tasks requested by others and some are just things I would feel guilty about if I didn’t complete them before I left the house.

There are rain showers forecasted for this afternoon and I’ve heard that the water level in the creeks down near my favorite fishing hole is just about perfect.

I am setting my sights on making it down there today.

I don’t know whether I will be able to get there or not.

I’ve had very similar plans over the past few days, but they have all failed to materialize. One-by-one, those days have passed without my going anywhere near a fishing hole, a two-track, dirt backroad or even just a quiet vista where I can work to push thoughts out of my head and replace some of the stuffy, indoor air in my lungs with clean, fresh oxygen.

But as of 10:42 a.m. today, I am committed to changing all of that.

I know that except for a jaunt to the mailbox, I will be working until at least 4:30 p.m.

But after that, I think I could get out for at least for three or four hours, as long as I promise myself to return before it gets too late so I can still tackle some other tasks I have waiting for me here at home.

I’ll have to postpone dinner until I get back, eat quickly before I go, or pack a sandwich or a bag of peanuts to take with me for the ride.

I’ve got a million places I could go, but there are two or three that are at the top of my list today – locations I haven’t seen in months.

It’s amazing to see what changes nature brings to a stream over the course of just one fall or wintertime.

Shallow spots might now be deep holes and vice versa. Sand spits or riverbanks might be washed away. All of this means new things to explore in some of the familiar haunts.

Now there’s a northern parula warbler singing in the trees outside the window screen. A crow and a blue jay toss taunting calls into the morning air.

On second thought, what I interpret to be taunting might instead be an urgency on their part to try to talk some damned sense into me.

Maybe they are scolding me to get outside before my brain rots away any further.

It would be so nice to feel that cool breeze sliding all over me as I move through the forest or sit on a rock listening to my heart speak to me.

When it comes right down to it, what’s holding me back?

It’s deadlines and commitments.

Which reminds me of an old Eagles song.

So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key.

So, I am doubling down on doubling down that today I will be out there casting my fishing line and lure at a wily trout.

I already see my shoulder bag sitting by the closet door and my camera is in my office by my car keys and my wallet, which contains my fishing license.

I now just need to put mind over matter, stand up and put one foot in front of the other.

It’s crazy to think that I need to do all this sleight of hand, self-reflection and bargaining to be able to get myself outside where I belong.

I think it’s something that everyone goes through from time to time and when it happens, it can really be a struggle.

However, I know what it feels like having not overcome my mind traps and stayed behind when I should have gone out.

It’s a bad feeling and a strange contradiction to find me beating my own self with a figurative wooden spoon regretting my inaction. Truthfully, it’s hard to sit down for days afterward.

I wonder if my brother is somewhere right now doing the same thing – he’s the original wooden spoon survivor.

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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