Snow Day & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Snow day comfort food: Hot Cocoa with Lavender Whipping Cream & Chocolate Chip Cookies

The sky is thick as buttermilk. This is January, after all. Forecasters predict two to four inches of snowfall tomorrow. I hope so. Our dusty dirt roads need a snow day.
           Ah…what history and memories those two words signify. The expression meant exactly that when I was a youngster in the 1950’s and 60’s. “Snow day” wasn’t yet connected to school closings. I can’t remember one time Van Dyke Public Schools canceled classes due to a blizzard.
I do remember bitter, windy days ill dressed for walking almost a mile in a snowstorm. My sisters and I wished we were home in our pajamas. We passed winters well enough with occasional absences to nurse earaches and colds—a price we paid for our outstanding public education.  
Busses came to our rescue when we graduated to Lincoln High. I seldom hiked the 2.8 miles to and from Lincoln. Yet, with two cars in our household of seven, at times my feet were the most reliable transportation available.
This exercise trained me for brisk walks across Central Michigan’s wide-open campus the winters of 1968 and 69. Young women wore short dresses and skirts in those days, decades before skinny jeans, high boots, and down jackets became popular fashion.
Much later, a mother of three girls, I had no experience with snow days when we enrolled them in a private school. Since we carpooled our children, the principal prided himself in never canceling school for inclement weather.
“Only when the snow covers my bedroom window on the second floor,” he said.
Well, that never happened.
This school policy changed for our family when we moved north to Addison Township in 1989. We learned Romeo Public Schools didn’t risk bussing students on icy roads. What a relief.
So, what did my daughters do when they at last woke to a cancelled school day?
In snow knee deep, our youngest daughter darted next door and asked if our neighbor’s little girls could come out and play. For hours they pretended “Survival & Rescue” along our lot line and hills. They built forts, tunnels, and mountains. They escaped avalanches.
“Think positive and stay alive,” Ruthie coached.
Meanwhile, her older sister chose to sleep in and study the morning away. Eventually, Kelly pulled on her ski clothes and joined the fun outdoors.
And what did I do on our first snow day?
I opened the door and listened to the laughter of fort builders and champions over the elements—baked chocolate chip cookies and stirred hot cocoa for my courageous make-believers. I invited their joy and imagination inside while I may, warmed them with the scent and flavor of chocolate.
Consequently, dear Reader, there’s a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips in my kitchen’s Lazy Susan, reserved to celebrate bygone times of play, cookies, and hot cocoa.

If the weathermen are incorrect, I’ll pretend there’s a blizzard outside and bake a batch of cookies regardless. Either way, I will pay tribute to another “snow day.”

The Bent Tree Mystery

I make friends with the Trail Marker Tree on Polly Ann Trail
When we first moved to the Lakeville area thirty years ago, a strange tree caught my eye along Townsend Road. The trunk grew upward a few feet, made a sharp 45-degree turn for a yard, then pointed straight up. In all my treks in the Michigan and Appalachian great outdoors, I’d never seen anything like that bent tree.
Nearby, Stony Creek meandered in hairpin turns under Townsend and Brewer Roads. I’d look for the crooked tree in Townsend’s understory when I slowed to stop at the intersection. I seldom failed to wonder what deformed that tree.  
Several years later, I interviewed Mildred Schmidt, then Director of the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum. A charming octogenarian with a mind sharp as an ice pick, she told stories about Native Americans in our community.
            “When I was a girl, I’d ride my horse from my grandparents farm on Mack to the Brewer Farm. Sometimes I’d see an Indian in the creek. It was really something. I was scared, but he disappeared as quickly as I saw him,” Mildred said. “The Indians used trail markers to navigate the creek where they fished.”
            “Trail markers?”
My favorite local historian solved my bent tree mystery. Natives bowed the trunk of a hardwood sapling and secured it with a band staked in the earth. At the band, they trained the trunk to grow upward.
“Have you seen the trail marker on Townsend near Brewer?” Mildred asked.
“That bent tree is a trail marker?”
Mildred laughed. “Yes.”
For years afterward I drove by Townsend’s trail tree and observed its decline and collapse. Out of sight, out of mind until my husband and I walked Leonard’s Polly Ann Trail last summer. Along the west side of the path, just north of Gerst Road, a huge bent tree pointed west. What a splendid reminder of Mildred’s lesson.
Tree Horse Trail Marker
After the leaves fell I asked Mel to hoist me up onto the horizontal trunk. I leaned against the oak and paid homage to Mildred—the woman who shared what she knew of the tribal people who left their mark on the land I’ve grown to love.
I recalled my uncles’ stories about Daniel Boone passing through our Appalachian mountains, home of the Cherokee. I imagined Daniel followed the Cherokee’s bent oaks, maples, and elms from one hunting ground to another.

Now I’m on a hunt for other Michigan trail markers. Daryl Bernard, Executive Director of Seven Ponds Nature Center, pointed me to a small, unmarked park of preserved oaks located off Lake Nepessing Road, north of Highway 69. Mel and I followed signs to the “Tree Horse”, the size of the former Townsend bent tree.
Dear Reader, I talked with the Traverse City Welcome Center today. Two protected trail marker trees stand within their city limits. I’d like to visit with my new cross-country skis and check off two more trail trees from my “Things to See in 2019” list.
Go from one hunting ground to another.                  

Visit to learn more about Native American trail marker trees.

Never Alone

Blacky, Flopsy, Oreo, and Lacy roost for a winter night's dream
I zip up my jacket and pull on my boots. The patio slate and grass are slick with ice—the sky black as pitch. Even Mars and my flashlight can’t penetrate the frigid, thick atmosphere. When will I see the Big Dipper and Orion again?
Watch your step, I coach myself. Home alone, I take no risks as my eyes adjust to consuming darkness. I know the lay of the land, every dip and rise. Still, walking downhill to the henhouse is dodgy, more so than uphill.
Midway, I pause and gaze into heaven’s vault with a sense of awe. I am tempted to fear the unknown, feel miniscule in the whelming silence. The only sound is my breath. 
How many billions of people inhabit this blessed Earth, breathe in oxygen, exhale carbon dioxide? What malevolent and merciful creatures occupy God’s firmament?
Here I stand, yards away from our humble henhouse and four girls who depend upon me for their food, water, and shelter. If I were to fall, struck down in the night, no one would know. What help is a cell phone if you can’t pull it from your pocket?
A loving presence comforts me with a kiss of wind upon my face. “You are never alone.”
I know that voice.
Since my retired husband usually opens and closes the chicken chute, I had forgotten this divine visitation in winter’s deep cold.  
I look our hens in the eye and tell them about God’s kiss. They don’t seem interested, squawking and cocking their heads this way and that. “Where’s Mel?” they ask.
A storyteller should better know her audience.
When Mel calls from the road after seven, I relay my experience.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “there’s something about walking alone in a winter night that makes you tremble. Did you take your cell phone with you?”
“Yes. Don’t worry. A winter night is different from summer, don’t you think?”
“Hmmm,” Mel replies.
I don’t press. He’s probably tired from driving.
“Come to think of it, yes.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It’s just more… profound.”
“That’s the word.”
“I’ll call same time tomorrow,” he says.
He’s scouting northern Michigan and the U.P. for summer vacation destinations, glad for coffee breaks and every minute of his independence.
He calls again as promised. “You’ve got see Harbor Springs and the drive to Marquette. It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That’s what I’ve heard. Are you going up to Keweenaw tomorrow?”
“Oh yes. I want to see the Monastery in Eagle Harbor. I hope the weather holds out. It was 42 degrees today. They’re in a thaw up here.”
“We reached 50 degrees. I couldn’t believe all the stars out tonight.”
Mel asks about the kittens and hens.
“They want to know when you’re coming home.”
“Tuesday as planned.”
Dear Reader, I’m relieved. That’s three more days and nights alone to write and do as I please.
Well, no one’s ever all alone. But you know what I mean.

What Life Is Like

Browsing through Borders Books twenty years ago, I chanced upon a writer’s delight. Famous faces appeared on cards with a quote and their signature. The words captured life unique to the luminary.
      Did these folk the likes of Alert Einstein and Jane Austen know their convictions would influence future hungry minds? I recall Austen’s lines most intriguing. “Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?”
      It struck me odd, for I don’t perceive Austen’s female heroines as impulsive pleasure seekers. Austen’s novels develop patient women, Elizabeth Bennett for one. She waits with self-control and integrity for her true love. Just what does Austen imply by “seize the pleasure?”
      Let’s suppose the author penned this thought toward the end of her brief walk on Earth. Perhaps she reached the vantage point to see both sides of life, and the sunset view scribed carpe diem across the horizon.
      On the sunrise side of life we must exchange childhood spontaneity for planning and discipline to achieve their benefits, be it short or long-range goals. Einstein didn’t win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 by hanging out with the good ole boys at the local tavern.
      Yet, he claimed, “Life is like riding a bicycle."
      Riding a bike is fun. Just what did Einstein infer? 
     To keep your balance you must keep moving, says popular opinion. I’ve read the scientist put more stock in imagination than knowledge.
      To “seize the pleasure at once” means to leave my kitchen sink to join the three little girls next door when they sledded on my hillside. Their laughter beckoned I join them. But I did not. Now they are grown and married with children of their own, and I cannot remember what chore was so important that wintry day.
     It’s tough for a recovering perfectionist to change her habits. But I must because my life is on the downside. Preparation has its place, yet to forsake spontaneity for foiled plans is a bitter result. It does no good to whine and throw myself into fits of anger and discouragement.
There’s nothing more blinding to the creative eye than “foolish preparation.” Therefore, I aim to seize the alternate option.
     Personal responsibility is a necessary function to freedom and successful living, yet goals and plans spring forth from the well of dreams and visions. Just try to plan your dreams, those unannounced, marvelous gifts of the subconscious.
     We’re wise to welcome them. Play with them like a child—throw them up in the air and catch them. Days will turn into weeks, weeks into months. Before we realize it, we’ll find ourselves planning and realizing a creative life.
     Dear Reader, what proverb do you stand upon this New Year?
     Perhaps ponder this at your kitchen sink and listen. Settle into your favorite hiding place or stroll your local library or bookstore.  Words of life will come to you. Promise.
     Thanks for the idea, Einstein. Life is like riding a bicycle.