The drumroll of a roaring fire keeps me company. I just closed all the windows and the door is cracked so the Union River’s cascades, my constant companion so far, are barely heard.
I have good reason to break down and build a fire this morning. It dropped to 33 last night in my wee hemlock hollow, chilly enough to see my breath.
But that might very well be a good thing since I brought the gear I’ll use in Maine on the Appalachian Trail in a few weeks. I got to test things out overnight in similar conditions before committing.
The verdict? I was toasty warm last night and shedding clothes. All systems go!
It’s odd to be bundled up now as the last of the snow disappears. When I arrived at Dan’s Cabin three days ago, it was hot. I was soaked with sweat hauling groceries and gear up a steep hill to what would be my home for the next ten days as an Artist in Residence at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The cabin is meant just for us artists and was built in the early 2000’s by the Friends of the Porkies. It honors the late nature photographer, Dan Urbanski and serves a dual purpose – to place us within inspiring beauty and as the opening act for the Porkies Folk School where the inaugural class would be constructing a timber-frame structure by hand with traditional tools.
There’s no electricity or running water in this stunningly beautiful and cozy space (part of my haul was six gallons of potable water) but it’s a far cry from backpacking. I just cooked a hearty meal on the propane fueled range and am consuming it on a swing gazing at a set of falls.
I slept in a comfy bed that was also handmade including a funky driftwood head board. My laptop, books and flute are spread out on a hand-built table next to the elaborate cast iron stove. It’s Wednesday so I have a few chores before hiking including splitting wood with an ingenious wighted guillotine, collecting water from the river to wash dishes and stirring up the composting toilet, aptly named the Artist’s Outpost, “where you cane leave your legacy.”
It’s luxury and a pretty sweet deal to just stop and exist and let the days ‘unfold.’ My art is capturing sound and telling the story of this moment of early spring between snow and bugs. Being still, though, does not come naturally to me. Neither does listening for what this place tells me rather than running with my own interpretation.
But I try as light filters in through a forest of hemlock, tall but graceful conifers with long, fanning arms as if gently caressing all beneath them. Hemlocks thrive in this hilly environment, clinging to shallow soils above ancient trap rock or basalt exposed by the ever-tumbling river.
A Black Throated Green Warbler claims his terrtory with preening confidence and a fulsome ch’chee-chee-choo-chee! I wander along the river noticing the change in timbre as it falls, rushes, churns and tumbles. Last fall’s brilliance is a bleached mat crunching under my feet. The wind sets hemlock arms shimmying with a whoosh before I feel an icy chill on my cheek.
As the sun warms the air, others join in the chorus, the whiny mo-om! of a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker and a set of chips from his downy cousin. A Blue Headed Vireo lazily tweets in a sort a bird-like surfer-talk – what? oh yeah, uh, oh? ok, hows that? sure, well? yup – as an Ovenbird rattles the air like a dog shaking a collar full of dog-tags.
It’s 45 now and the sun is full, no leaves yet to stop it reaching me. Yesterday I hiked up to the escarpment through a forest thick with Trillium, Trout Lilies, and Dutchman’s Breeches. The view is to the Lake of the Clouds, a shallow depression fed by the winding Carp River full of Spring Peepers loudly singing and reaching me hundreds of feet above.
It will be cold on bare rock, but it’s the best signal in the park and I can send this note to you. The climb will warm me up and maybe I’ll meet my falcon friends again, the one who called out to me before flying off on magnificent wings, soaring, soaring over the treetops, fuzzy with just the hint of spring green.