Life in da woods

Life choices

"The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why."
                                                                                                           Mark Twain

If you ever have the chance to drive to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, you may just fall in love with a Lake Superior sunset.  The water is so clear you can see the bottom at almost any shore line depth.  In the summer, as you stand on the shore of a deserted cove, sister breeze brushes back your hair and caresses your cheek. The lake breeze takes from you the stress of the day and hypnotize your very soul.  Every cell of your body will enter the primal memory of our ancestors, memories that have been forever etched in the histories of our humanity.

This peninsula is as close to an island unto itself as one can get. Water on three side and totally at the mercy of the truck lines. "End of the Earth" is a town up in the very tip of the Copper Country. There is actually no where to go once you have seen the town except back to whence you came.  It is located in the part of the peninsula that looks like a dogs' tail.  People that live up there are really hearty or totally insane.  It can snow up to 300+ inches in one winter season and the wind can blow incessantly.  The cold air from the jet stream coming down from Canada meets the warm waters of Lake Superior and mixes it up a bit, "presto" the lake effect snow machine gets cranking. Snow can bury you in an afternoon. In December and January the setting sun ushers in total darkness at 4:30 in the afternoon. If the clouds part long enough we may get 8 hours of daylight.

Life in the U.P. isn't for everyone, but for me it is the best that this ol' earth has to offer.  The fresh crisp almost unpolluted air, sweet tasting artesian water and room to move around are my heaven.  Several times I have been out walking and came face to face with a critter of one kind or another.  Like the time I took a walk one October evening. I was walking down our paved road minding my own business when about 20 yards ahead of me a Bobcat strolled out of the woods.  He stopped when he reached the middle of the road and turned to look at me.  There he stood just sizing me up as I held my breath for fear of looking like something to eat.  I'm sure it was only a few seconds but you know, it seemed like a long time.  Finally, he turned back and continued on his way.  The illusive beast  wanted to let me know that he was in control of this encounter, I'm sure of it.  Or the time I bounded out the back door without turning on the porch light to close up the chicken coop.  It's something we do every night to prevent small evil critters from making their way into the coop and eating the night stupid birds.  This particular early summer night was moonless, thick, black and warm.   At the moment the back door slammed shut behind me there was a very close, very loud, blood chilling hooooowwwwwwl.  A big black wolf let loose with a howl, not more than 50 feet from where I stood.  Every hair on the back of my neck stood at attention.  I retracted my steps backward until I reached the porch  and bolted into the back door. I can still feel those eerie goose bumps.

Coyotes and moose have been known to walk up the driveway, as well as a flock of turkeys on several occasions. What a sight they were too! We had been raising our own turkeys, big white ones. They were in a pen next to our long driveway, a few yards from the house. The conversation our captive big whites were having with their wild brothers and sisters was so funny. From what I could tell, it looked like the big Tom of the wild group was trying to recruit our hens for his harem. But our big whites said they had it too good right where they were, to go off with the likes of him.

This last summer our neighbor captured this bad boy in his yard with a critter cam.
It's only been recently the DNR would admitted that cougar exist in the Upper Peninsula. They had never actually seen one. Now with more people than even in the woods, sightings are becoming common. 
A really sad thing happened to a cougar like this one in another county in the U.P. just a couple of days ago. During a visit to their hunting camp two men from out of state, looked out the window and saw a cougar strolling past their back yard. This majestic beast was minding his own business with no intent on hurting anyone. (As a matter of FYI, most wild animals try to avoid humans like the plague.) Instead of grabbing a camera, one of the men loaded a shotgun and shot this elusive creature dead, for no good reason. Of course, they had to brag about it at the local watering hole which cost them a trip to county jail and some huge fines. Cougars are protected. 

What is it like to live in the big woods homestead?

We chose our location and moved out here about 19 years ago, at the absolute horror of our grown children. That first summer we didn't have running water or electricity. There were very few people out this way and since we didn't have running water we would heat water on the wood stove and take a shower out on the front porch.
The outhouse was our toilet and was in desperate need of repair.  That first winter was really hard. For a couple of days the air temperature dropped to minus 50. It was so cold that when you threw a cup of warm water into the air it came back down as snow.
 I woke up early one morning to find the fire in the wood stove had burned itself out. We slept so sound that neither one of us got up to put wood in the stove so the inside temperature was a frosty 28 degrees and I had to go. I put on my boots and coat over my long johns and waded in the deep snow to the outhouse. Needless to say when I started to get up from the seat, it came too. I had to literally peel that frozen seat from my cold, red butt.  Oh, mother nature is an excellent teacher. I scoured the pile of building materials until I found a piece of Styrofoam and cut it in the shape of the outhouse seat. Ahhh, what a difference!
Over the course of all these years we have made many improvements, the first of which was plumbing and electricity. Next came the indoor bathroom and cabin remodeling. Gardens went in and a chicken house built. Another lesson from dear Mother Nature provided much frustration and tears. 
 We had dug up tons of quack grass and fought back the woods to claim title to a small patch to grow a garden. It is a wonderful sense of satisfaction knowing you are providing yourself with security and self reliance, that you have grown with your own hands, broccoli, peas, carrots, corn and cabbage. Half way through the season we went to bed pleased and a little bit arrogant that our efforts were paying off so well. As we slept Mother Nature was steeling itself through the shadows to show us who was really in charge. In the morning when I woke and walked out onto the porch to wonder in amazement at the beauty of nature, my heart dropped like a ton of bricks. Deer had eaten our gardens bounty down to the nubbins, row by row.
Our next 30 mile trip into town, we purchased several rolls of chicken wire fencing and poles to hang it on. Of course, that years garden was done for, you only get one chance to grow what you need 100+ miles north of the 45th parallel. With the fence installed, we were ready for next years critters, we thought. Right? Well, no. A young bear decided to use one of our wooden fence posts to climb on. His weight was too much for the poor post and the fence collapsed. And to continue the trail of terror he came back 3 nights in a row and trashed a different fence post each night.

That was then, this is now.

We've got the wrinkles smoothed out now and life is a tad bit easier. Although, some things just don't change. We still cut and split and stack about 10 cords (that's 4' X 4' X 8' each cord) every fall.
 Half way through winter the wood shed starts to look a little sparse. It seems like a lot of work just to shove it into a stove all winter.

With the yard work about done, we will go ice fishing for awhile. I heard there is about 18 inches of ice over the lake now. Perfect! 


In the winter there is always something, some event somewhere. In Ternary, there is the outhouse races. In Eagle River, Wisconsin you'll find Klondyke Days. They hold logging contests to see who can cut through a huge log first, bad axe tossing. pole climbing and a 1700's style rendezvous. Horse drawn wagon rides and dog sled rides, all free or just a donation. Also, in February Iron Mountain hosts the world champion ski jumps. Actually, this event ends up being a drunk, tailgate party, where the cops just sit and wait to make their monthly quota of tickets and arrests in just two days of the festivities. Winter is really busy, with snowmobile season keeping the merchants alive through the rest of the year.
Summers bring campers and tourists. Most people don't hang around long in the warmer months due to bugs, bugs and more bugs. The old timers claim the U.P. has two seasons, winter and bug season. They have also said that it has snowed at least once in every month of the year. That I believe because just a few years ago we had frost on my beautiful garden the first week in July.
Well, time to get off this machine and get some work done around here, days a wastin'.
 Got to put these in the pantry and start on the next batch. Rarely is there a day when I can say I'm bored. There is always something one can do. About the only time we don't venture far from the front door is during deer hunting season. It gets kind of scary then. So for those few weeks we may find things to do close to the house. Our son bagged us a deer this year and in return I made a huge bunch of venison jerky.
May all your prayers and wishes come true.