Oct 30, 2023

Column: Shut the lights out. I don’t need them.

Jun 10, 2023

"Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again." – Paul Simon

To look at the scene here now, there's a quiet, almost pastel Impressionist feeling to everything. About the only thing that could make the setting softer would be a gentle rain, sifting down from the whitish, blue-gray skies.

Through the sweet apple white and pink cherry blossoms there's a soft buzzing of bees – a soothing drone that could lull a person to sleep if they were seated at the base of a tree trunk, or sprawled out on the cool, green grass.

Water is trickling through a muddy gully just a few feet away. It's a stretch, but if you concentrate, you can hear it. With my eyes closed, I’m sensing the summery feeling I’ve dreamt about through many a cold and ice-blue winter night.

It's a warm day sensation that I remember from the halcyon days of my youth, when often the biggest task at hand during the summertime was finding something to do.

Days that are now miniscule and fading forms in my rearview mirror.

I walk along the edge of a northern hardwood forest and hear the trees full of birdsong. We’re not waiting for anything else at this point to arrive from "down south."

I am hearing the typical singers in the choir from this type of habitat – the red-eyed vireos, chestnut-sided warblers, ovenbirds, indigo buntings and American redstarts.

Above me, a squadron of chimney swifts banks around a corner of sky, with their wings and voices flittering and twittering, respectively.

Underneath the apple trees, a mouse runs across the ground and disappears into a thicket. The dragonflies are out now. With bats diminished in numbers these days, these mosquito eaters have got their work cut out for them.

When I mow the lawn in our backyard, the dragonflies lead me along, sometimes as many as a couple dozen, eating the bugs that fly up when the mower cuts down the tall grass. I hope they’re very hungry.

It's no secret that mosquitoes are out in force this season. It's one of the worst years for them most people can remember.

There was a lot of standing water for them to breed in after that late winter, early May dump of two feet or more of snow, followed by a significant temperature warm-up.

Those were some prime conditions for breeding and multiplying.

A cold front that tumbled across the peninsula last night brought temperatures down to about 40 degrees in many areas, at least putting a crimp in the mosquito front line forces.

There are old farm remnants here, including a barn with a silo, old, rotted fence rows and even a corral, with gray, faded and splintered wood rails.

Leaning on that old top rail, I can almost hear the horse's hooves clopping in the soft, gray dirt or see a pretty cowgirl riding a palomino pony down the old farm road or through the dried and brown grasses.

There is no gate here anymore. If there were any horses, there would be nothing to keep them from galloping away down the road or across the small field here and into the woodlands.

A couple of tree swallows are gliding overhead with their wings outstretched flat. They turn left and then right as though they are signaling to us here on the ground in some way.

In a mirrored reflection, they kind of look like a person would if they were sending semaphore signals into the heavens from a beach on a deserted island.

I feel like one of the horses from the old corral today. It's like I’ve got a bridle around me, and I’m being led around in circles for show. But I’m not a show horse nor a one-trick pony.

If I’m anything equine related, I am a wild stallion running across the western prairie someplace, racing with the pronghorn antelope and kicking up a bunch of dust in my wake.

No damned bridle. No damned tether or saddle. I need to run free, if only in my mind.

Empty and quiet places tend to conjure up feelings of loneliness, emptiness and quiet desperation for many.

But for me, these places instead imbue me with a welcome sensation of being somewhere integral, part of a much larger thing, far from the nonsense talk, foolishness and avarice, hatred and stupidity.

Shut the lights out. I don't need them. I don't need to see anybody tonight. I just want to sit against the wall of this old, wooden feed bin here and listen to the rain falling on the roof of the stable.

The next day, I will do the same thing and that night, the same thing again. The things I need are simple and I can find them here in places like this.

I walk down the road a little way, maybe a bit slower than I’m used to, but that's OK too. I am in no damned hurry.

There's a road that twists and winds in a downward spiral to the shore along the lake.

There the shoreline is decorated with driftwood and the ancient and craggy rock walls are covered in lichen. The sky is now sapphire cut in dozens of pieces by thin, long clouds that slice through the blue.

The water lapping against the shore helps me hear the rhythm of my heartbeat.

The still icy cold water feels deliciously refreshing against my skin. I splash some on my face and I lie in the sand admiring the clarity and purity of this big drink of water.

The depth and breadth of this great lake is truly colossal. Just try to imagine how long it has existed before we did. That alone is staggering.

I see a handful of people far away on a distant shore. It looks like a family gathered along the lake for some summer fun in the sun. You can have it people. Take mine too.

I prefer to skulk away into the birch trees at the line where the woods meet the water.

I am more tired today than I have felt in a long time.

It's a sometime thing and this is sometimes, I guess.

I am so tired that I wish I could stop hearing my own voice in my head. I just want to envelope myself solely in the sound of silence or the nature around me.

The walk back up the hillside looks steeper than I remember it being on my way down.

I don't care. I have got all night to get back up there and half the night until the sun goes down. I’ll see and enjoy the twilight and then the moonlight.

The scene still looks like a painting to me, though this time the impression I am getting is of a non-descript man walking through a woodland of aspen and birch trees.

He's slow but able. His jacket is the style of the country, and his clothes are a match. He knows some things, but there's a lot more to learn. He's a truth seeker, pushing back against the regular line.

He's reliable as a westbound train and true as north.

He's like a wind chime hanging in an empty closet, a broom leaning against a corner in a quiet room.

If he says he’ll be there, he will.

If he claims he will try, he will do his best.

I can't see much more you could ask of a man but friendship, maybe kindness and a willingness to keep rolling on.

The sun meets my eyes coming off the corner of the silo. I squint into the rays bent golden and soft with the quieting of the day. Take me down with you sunshine, let's fall into the big lake together – take a plunge.

Tomorrow we’ll try to do it all over again.

More chimney swifts are twittering at me from up above the old homestead here. You could take me with you too, I say, almost audible.

I want to fly but my feet are hard to lift, like they’re tethered to the ground by the roots of an old apple tree. My comfort is found in rest, peace, quiet and sleep.

I now sense little to nothing.

I close my eyes and fall backwards into the arms of peaceful sleep.

A dog who has befriended me here will watch over me.

I’ll try not to stir.

He needs his rest too.

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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