Category Archives: Gifts from Nature

Inner Nutrition: What Camp Means to Me, by Christine Saari

Photograph by Christine Saari

 

It all began with a clearing in the woods cluttered with ramshackle buildings from a former homestead: the remains of a cabin, a leaning barn, a decaying pig sty and chicken coop. I was horrified to learn this was to be the site for our camp. Why would we want a camp to begin with when we lived amidst a beautiful landscape waiting to be explored? “I’ll never come here,” I said to my husband. If he wanted a camp, so be it. I did not!

Jon proceeded without me. One day he took me to the transformed site – the buildings were gone, the clearing pristine. Then he purchased a 100-year old log cabin which had brambles growing inside and no windows and doors. Again I was aghast. But Jon was undeterred. The building was taken apart, transferred and rebuilt. Trees were felled for replacement logs, windows cut, doors made, layers of wallpaper stripped off the cedar logs. Endless work, but I participated, helped lay the floor, chinked, found furniture, worked to make the place cozy.

The two-story cabin has been proudly standing in our clearing since 1994, over time joined by a two-seater outhouse bought from an aunt, a shed and sauna rescued from a pasture for cows who rubbed the dovetailed corners round. Finnish relatives equipped the smoke sauna with a hearth and benches, and a deck was added to the house.

Although I said I’d never come, I have grown to love our camp above the West Branch of the Whitefish River. Why? What does camp mean for me?

With a thirty-mile trip, it is close enough from home to come for just an evening in the summer or for an overnight stay. Of course, if we can we stay longer, but whatever the length of our visit, we return to town refreshed.

Thanks to the “primitive” nature of the place – no electricity, a spring in the woods, a wood stove, life there slows down immediately. We forget about the news, e-mail or phone connection. Instead we make sure the kerosene lamps are filled for the evening and that there is enough wood to stay warm. This is a place just to be. We cook simple meals, talk, write letters, read and play scrabble. We take time to take a nap, we go to bed early. In summer we take canoe rides on the river, in winter we ski. We watch the natural world around us: a wild turkey has lost a beautiful feather, irises are blooming on the shore, a heron flies overhead.

Although we are close to a road, we seem far away from civilization. I can sunbathe unobserved. There are berries and mushrooms and flowers to pick. The stars shine brightly at night, the moon lights up the clearing, fireflies glow in the dark. Because the area is small, we have gotten to know it intimately. Every time we come we see changes. The river swells from melting snow, spring leaves unfold, white trilliums cover the dark forest floor. Here we are aware of the annual cycle of growth and decay and of our place in this universe.

Aside from all that, at camp we are surrounded by our ancestors: the flour bin reminds us of Jon’s grandmother’s farm. Jon’s father brought the cuckoo clock from the war in Europe, and camp brings me back to my childhood, to the Austrian mountain farm without electricity and running water where I grew up. Here I am connected to the past and to nature. Here I feel whole.

Christine Saari, an Austrian immigrant,  is a writer and visual artist. She has published a book, Love and War at Stag Farm, The Story of Hirschengut, an Austrian Mountain Farm 1938-48. It tells the story of her family in Austria during WWII and its aftermath.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2012 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Camp, Gifts from Nature, Inner Nutrition, Uncategorized

Gifts from Nature: Autumn’s Look Within, by Kevin McGrath

As I sit amongst the trees on the banks of the Chocolay River, on this summer-like autumn day, gazing at the placid lifeblood of this Greatest Lake of ours, I can’t help but realize the correlation between the trees’ evolution with nature’s flow, dropping their color and beauty to become future fertilizer and soil, their trunks and branches sending energy inward and down toward their root systems, and us humans sending our kids and students back to school.

This back-to-basics time, working on a core human feature – our brains, can be likened to the inward journey of our hardwood brethren, the aspens, tamaracks and birches, to name a few, as we potentially learn to reclaim ourselves from the inside out.

For me, as I contemplate this renewal, I ask myself, “Am I living up to my personal standards? Am I living life on my terms? Am I being the person I truly want to be?”

I have more questions than answers at this point, but as fall starts giving way to winter, my contemplation period can develop into devising a plan in early winter, so that sometime during the new year, a personal yearly manifesto is constructed and written down, enabling me to look back at it when the need is there. It’s a New Year’s resolution of sorts on how I plan on being a better person. I observe shortcomings in myself and attempt to rectify them through new actions.

For example, I never used to dance. Somewhere along the line in growing up, my perception was that real men didn’t dance. Even though it looked like a lot of fun, I avoided dancing at all cost. I was afraid of appearing vulnerable and inept, and becoming the target of jokes.

As I turned middle aged, I had an a-ha moment, realizing “Who cares what others think or say? Deep down I want to dance!” Now I dance whenever I can, and to help with my two left feet, I started taking Zumba, an exercise dance class, where to my surprise I discovered I love it, even though I’m often the only male there. I move a little more smoothly now, and it’s really helped my city league basketball game.

So as I take this time to evaluate where I am in life, like the trees focusing inward and our schoolchildren going back to learning, I look to this time of renewal to help tweak the real me into becoming the person who feels completely happy and comfortable with himself.

Kevin McGrath can be found dancing amongst the trees, tweaking the direction of his life, or as Jim Carey told Marshall University graduates, “hitting the reset button as often as it takes” to become the true him.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Fall 2014 issue, copyright 2014, Intuitive Learning Creations.

*Did you know you can find exclusive Solar Products for the U.P. online at www.upgreen.org? Great hiking and off-grid products included!

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Filed under Energy Conservation, Gifts from Nature, green living

Gifts from Nature: Mid City Gem, by Kevin McGrath

I am torn about writing the following, as the low number of people that use the area I’m about to describe is one reason it’s such a gem.  We are often confronted with this catch-22 in the U.P., which has many treasured local spots we might hope to keep to ourselves.  This selfishness is unhealthy and far too prevalent in current society.  The Native American concept of un-ownable land makes good sense, allowing everyone to share in its abundance.

So I’m going ahead and sharing information on one of my favorite hiking and cross-country ski trails which is hidden in plain sight – the Fit Strip, a half-mile by half-mile plot of land bordering Park Cemetery.  On a first-of-spring jaunt through this easy, meandering trail winding past stunning white pines and other conifers, maples and birch, a jogger approached. He pointed and asked whether I saw the red fox grazing just fifty feet off the path.  We both stopped and enjoyed the view for a moment before this sleek critter with a white patch on the tip of its full tail slipped back into denser thicket.

The park is home to an array of four-legged foragers, including deer, skunk, raccoon, squirrel, chipmunk, and mouse.  I’m always pleasantly surprised when I venture into this woodsy park.  Nearly every year brings a new and exciting sighting. Once while traversing the soft wood chip trail, I turned a sharp corner and spotted a great horned owl a mere twenty feet away, busily devouring a chippy or mouse.  He seemed perturbed by my sudden appearance, yet determined to finish his delectable meal.  I stopped quickly and slowly backed away around the same corner so I could watch him without triggering his early departure. He turned his head toward me with an intensely fierce stare that penetrated my being, and then continued shredding the helpless rodent.

Several years ago, a six-hundred pound moose yearling wandered into this forest haven and claimed it as home.  Park Cemetery offers three beautiful ponds filled with water lilies, so this massive adolescent would sleep in the fit strip, forage, and then go to the pond to drink and feast.  At first a handful of us watched his every move. Then the crowds grew each week until finally, after several months, hundreds would await his timely arrival. This gentle giant had to navigate through the crowds three times a day, causing concern from local authorities about possible danger.

These crowds are not what I am seeking, but if you are looking for a close-to-home, nature-filled, peaceful adventure, this mid-city gem is worth the trip.  It offers entrance from every side and trails that wind gracefully through a gently sloped city forest of endless nature-watching possibilities.

To contact Kevin McGrath, see-male him hiking about enjoying the great outdoors.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Gifts from Nature, Kevin McGrath, Marquette, Nature

Beginning Your Own Herb Garden

by Victoria Jungwirth

I gave a presentation recently to a class of students at NMU and was asked what herbs I would grow if I was just starting up an herb garden. I had to think for a moment because I don’t grow many herbs, using mostly wild-crafted plants, or herbs I buy because they don’t grow well in our climate. But I do have some things in my garden that I can’t imagine life without, all easy to grow for beginners, good basics for medicinal use, and available from most seed catalogs.

Nettles

(Urtica Dioica):  I have cultivated a good patch of nettles in my garden.  They arrived by accident in compost imported from the city, and I was very happy to see them. A perennial, they are one of the first greens to appear in spring, well before anything I might care to sow, and I pick the young leaves for steaming and eating. (I am very careful when picking and don’t mind a few stings, but if you do, wear gloves for this!) As the season progresses, I pick and dry bunches for tea in the winter and make a batch of tincture. Nettles are high in vitamins and minerals, especially iron, so they make a useful addition to winter teas and stews, and are a great tonic, especially for treating persistent skin problems. They are easily cultivated from a root cutting or from seed, and grow well in most garden situations.

Comfrey

(Symphytum Officinale): Another perennial that grows vigorously, the pretty blue flowers attract bees to the garden, which is an added bonus. Comfrey appears early too and I add small leaves to salads, but they quickly become too furry to be palatable. Comfrey is the consummate healing herb for open wounds, speeding the healing process and reducing scarring. It can be infused in oil, or the leaves can be used fresh as a poultice. Excess leaves can be used to make manure tea for the garden by rotting them down in a bucket of water. The smell will quickly remind you why this is called “manure” tea! Again, a root cutting is the easiest way to propagate, but it can be grown from seed as well and grows anywhere!

Calendula

(Calendula Officinalis): This is an annual, so it needs to be sown each year, but the seeds are easy to save, and it often reseeds itself! The flowers are a beautiful addition to any garden and continue flowering late into fall, tolerating the first few frosts. Sometimes it’s hard to bring myself to harvest the flowers, but the more you pick, the more flowers will come. Calendula is mildly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, so it is useful for skin rashes or abrasions, especially if infection is suspected or there is swelling. It makes a great massage or baby oil, so consider putting some up for gifts. Pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day and cover them with good quality oil for four to six weeks. It’s as easy as that!

This year I grew feverfew and chamomile for the first time. The feverfew did well and I was able to make a batch of tincture with it, but the chamomile was not as productive. I’ve found some non-native plants do not produce such strong medicine, even if they appear to cultivate well. Echinacea is an example. I got some growing in my garden, but when I harvested the roots and made tincture, it was nowhere near as strong as the product I made with roots from the West Coast. I’m assuming that the shorter season and less sunshine contributed to this effect. So there is lots of room for experimentation.

Victoria Jungwirth is the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants. She lives in a remote corner of Marquette county where she and her husband build birch bark canoes. She is also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Gardening, Gifts from Nature, Herbalism, Victoria Jungwirth

Gifts from Nature: Take A Hike

by Kevin McGrath

The last several days had been downright frigid, with temperatures hovering at zero and below.  So when I looked outside on a mid-January Saturday and saw the sun shining, I knew I had to get outside to enjoy it.  Twenty-three is what the thermometer was showing and like most of us living in these north woods would say, it felt like spring.  So I jumped into my car and headed to the Dead River Falls where I usually enjoy a nice summer hike and also a fall excursion with all its colorful grandeur.

This was actually my first trip to this hidden gem during the winter months.  I was excited so I eagerly proceeded, camera in hand, wondering what this season had to offer.  After climbing the somewhat steep but level snow-covered path leading to the trail head, it was clear the snow surely made it slower going.  Upon entering the beginning of the trail, I was greeted by a pileated woodpecker busily chipping away at a tree in search of a mid-afternoon meal.  He was working so hard he didn’t even notice me as I got my camera out and took several photos of his colorful plumage.  I knew at that moment I was where I needed to be.

Continuing on my way down the slope, I could hear the powerful flow of the water long before I could see it.  Reaching the bottom of the hill, I entered an opening where the rushing life source was capped and blanketed with snowy-white curved and smooth drifts creating a beautiful landscape only seen in paintings.  I took another picture.  The air was fresh and pure, nourishing my olfactory senses as I proceeded upstream along the picturesque banks.

Navigating a steep climb, I maneuvered myself to the top of the first of a series of waterfalls.  I sat there quite a while, taking in all the splendor of the moment.  After snapping several more photos, I continued my uplifting journey in this postcard-worthy adventure, reaching another series of iced-over falls whose gurgling, powerful, fast-moving liquid is only visible here and there at the very bottom, where openings from windblown snow hadn’t yet created the ice shelves that encased the rest.

Wanting to get closer but not being able to judge clearly where water and land divide, given all the drifting and covered surfaces, I slowly, cautiously, followed others’ footsteps on the trail   I sat and listened to the winter birds busy above in the treetops.  Soaking in this fine day, I continue a little further before deciding it was time to turn back and retrace my steps as the sun began slowly to sink and a chill that wasn’t around at the start of this local thrill became a noticeable temperature drop.

Heading in the opposite direction brought new perspectives on this endeavor so I had to stop to take more photos.  This popular summer haven for locals is now deserted, offering me this entire cornucopia of delight all to myself.  I exited fully nourished, inspiration flowing through my veins like the water rushing over the hidden stones below.

Kevin McGrath seeks inspiration wherever it is calling from, but particularly enjoys receiving it from nature.

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Filed under Gifts from Nature, Hiking, Kevin McGrath