Northern Michigan

A Bountiful Existence

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Early Summer mornings were mine. Looking back, my family’s acreage was modest but charming. A hat-tip to childlike innocence, though. To my way of thinking back then it was expansive and idyllic, just like the hot days and cool nights of Northern Michigan.

My Dad, a pharmacist and my Mother, an artist-turned-shopkeeper, owned a pharmacy and gift shop in town. When we were not pulled into the rigors of a family business, we were all about life on 30 acres of woodsy countryside, and the lake nearby.

There was so much to discover and explore, and my favorite time  was just after sunrise. The morning glories and hollyhocks would nod their greetings as I would venture out in my sleep clothes, ever curious what the new day held. Time would hold its breath while I picked lilacs and bury my face in their heady scent. Lilies of the valley and violets would poke their noses out from the beds along the edge of the house. There was always an abundance of beauty, if you watched for it.

Situated at the corner of the mowed grass, just before the stand of stately pine trees, was an old apple tree. It was perfect in every way; it’s long, low branches beckoned me to climb. My doll would join me at times. Oft’ recovering from her countless concussions from being waggled through my girly-girl-gone-tomboy-and-back-again existence, she was a quiet friend. I’m not sure she could get a word in edgewise anyway.

A rural life fostered creativity. The raw materials were so plentiful – whether berries or flowers, antique tools or something as simple hay baling twine – inquisitiveness was constant, the mystery of, “What’s next?” And what child would not be enthralled with an old phonograph, complete with records? Perhaps it belonged to my Dad’s grandparents. Nevertheless, we would wind it and listen to old music and climb the rafters of the old barn.

Of course we had horses. Some of us were more involved than others, with their livelihood. (And, by involved, I do mean hauling water from the house to the barn in the dead of winter.) There were the loads of hay that we hauled into the barn. Bales. I doubt I was 10 yet but I could hold my own. Once the hay was in, though, we had great fun making forts in the barn and being everywhere that our curiosity took us.

John Denver’s song, On The Road so aptly depicts our lives, however simple yet magical:

Back in 1958 we drove an old V8 and when it’d gone a hundred thou’ we got out and pushed it a mile
We didn’t know who we were, we didn’t know what we did
We were just on the road
Headin’ down from Canada on a gravel road a mile from Montana
Then my Daddy read a sign and took us in the wrong direction
I asked my Daddy where are we goin’, he said we’ll just follow
Our nose, so I looked out the window and dreamed I was a cowboy
We didn’t know who we were, we didn’t know what we did
We were just on the road
I met a girl in a truck cafe, fell in love almost right away
Then the Mercury was ready to go and I had to leave her
Go home said the man in the moon go home
Go home
— On The Road, John Denver


While we didn’t push an old V8 anywhere, we most definitely followed our nose in car rides deep into the woods where we’d stop to pick berries, or watch the elk.

Nowadays, few mornings go by, that I do not sit outside and watch the sun come up. Even in wintertime, I’ll step out for a minute, fend off the drifts and catch a breath of winter-y silence. It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves, our lives are replete with the ingredients to live a bountiful existence. It’s about being enchanted by the simple things, the old phonograph, a fort in the hay barn, or the violets at the edge of the house.

~ Ciao!

Nature’s Symphony: A score of four seasons

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When I was young, I had a lot of freedom to roam our property. Though I usually explored with a friend, I often kept my Dad company. Together, or as a trio with my Mom, we would trek to the creek, to our cabin nestled in the woods. Dad would always have some reason but truthfully he just wanted us to be outdoors. My parents taught me to notice things. We would be intent on finding morels or Mom would crave a bit of bittersweet for the table.

Copyright (c) 2017 Penhale Consulting All Rights Reserved

The creek flowed at the edges of the property, and I learned to respect it’s changes from season to season. In early Springtime, it’s current could be fierce for a little-known brook trout stream in Northern Michigan. Some years water seemed to come from every direction, rushing, roiling, banking first this way and then that, roaring it’s pleasure at being free to tumble into nearby Black Lake. In other years it would just chortle and chuckle it’s way down to the lake. No matter what Springtime is a glorious season for the Stoney Creek.

Later the steamy Summertime would find that same stream yawning to catch it’s breath. So hot were the dog days of Summer that it would be reduced to a trickle. I’d roll up my pant legs and slog through the rocky beds, clearing natural dams. It was gratifying to ease the agony of the dried up creek. What little water flowed was less impeded through my efforts. I spent many nights in our tiny cabin at the edge of the creek. The crickets chattering all at once, spreading the news of my stay.

Copyright (c) 2017 Penhale Consulting All Rights ReservedAs Summer eased into Fall, the stream’s current would pick up again. Beech and Black Walnut trees would begin pimping their yellowy wares with a sultry, “Follow me!” Silvery birches follow suit, punctuating the horizon like so many drumsticks. Copyright (c) 2017 Penhale Consulting All Rights ReservedSumac gives a nod, and flings it’s red wings, a gesture to the first frost. Burnt oranges lean into the harmony, and then, as if in a grand chorus, the Maples bellow out their fiery red feelings; nothing is ever left unsaid by the hardwoods of Northern Michigan in the Fall. Indian Paintbrush join in the chorus, flagrantly picketing in the open fields. Queen Anne’s Lace pull their white, crocheted sweaters

close at night signaling the start of the shush. The shorter days reduce the cacophony of color to a gentle hum, next a lullaby, and then a whisper, as the first snows fall. (See for yourself on Instagram with #PureMichiganScenicRoute!)

Copyright (c) 2017 Penhale Consulting All Rights ReservedDeep Winter would find me flogging the snow banks at its edges of the creek, with my standard-issue Ski-Doo snowmobile boots. I’d watch the snow tumble into the freezing waters that trickled below. Sheer, glassy ice sheets remain as Winter’s secret; Springtime would be along soon! The first mud and ruts would be covered over with that thin ice just begging for a good, crunch! By afternoon all would melt beneath the sun’s gaze. As if starting at the top of the symphony’s score, a trickle of water would flow down in rivulets, halting at first, and then a rush. Water everywhere. It was Springtime again.

Winter’s First Thaw: Our Hearts at Stoney Creek

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Many of the tools in my life’s toolkit are gleaned from my childhood in the rural, Northern countryside where I grew up. The woods were a wonderful playground but they are also rich with metaphors for life, that I draw on continually.

There was a magnificent trout stream that bordered our property. The creek ran dry in the hot summers and would overflow the roads in Springtime. It boasted enormous steel culverts in two different places where the water crossed the roads. The metal tunnels allowed for the free-flow of water when the creek ran high. In many cases the creek would swell to several feet deep, and threaten to wash out the road during flood seasons. The water flows fierce and cold in Michigan. And yet there is a profound beauty, even an explosion of delight when Springtime edges its way North.

It’s difficult to aptly describe how well our family knew the creek and those woods, and the way in which they were our home as much as our house was. The trees were friends. Maple leaves rustling in the Fall. Deep snow crunching beneath our feet. The symphony of starlight that ushered many a midnight walk through woods. These were the background music we learned to love.

After I’d moved to the southeastern states, there was one season in particular when I’d lost my way, emotionally, spiritually. The path was dark, and my emotions were raw. My was heart ransacked. As a girl who had grown up knowing True North instinctively, I’d lost my bearings. In that season the Lord reminded me of being at the creek, of walking through the culvert. Every ridge and root. The rock formations that had shifted from winter’s enormous beds of ice. The trees that leaned over the water. New Adder Tongue and Jack in the Pulpit poking their way up through the frozen earth. The pungent earth yawning it’s solidarity with the trees.

Yet my heart was reminded of the way the sun glinted against the shards of ice. There was a mountain of ice and the blazing sun creating a cacophony of brightness. The silence in my heart thrummed with nature’s symphony once again. I could feel the dormant winter earth longing for Springtime, just as my heart ached to be whole again.

When Springtime comes at the culvert the energy and direction are unspoken and vivid. Before long, the water would rush through and fiercely demand passage out into the fields and the creek bed would press it’s way into the mighty Black. Fierce and full and without reserve. The pain of growth and transformation are memories left with Winter’s crunching snow beneath the icy moon. I would find my traction, and True North would expose itself to my spirit again.

Your Springtime will come again. But for now, take a deep breath. Rest well, my friend. Unravel panic and trauma, and Winter’s yawning ways. As you rest, the warmth of sunshine will melt the shards of ice that have clung to your soul, and you will laugh again. You are worthy. You are loved.

Be at peace.


Leaving a Legacy

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I remember when I was growing up, my Dad would show us stuff. He was intent on teaching us to identify trees and plants, like Morrel mushrooms, Bittersweet and Sumac. Of course he taught us useful stuff too, how to back up a truck with a trailer; how to drive a boat; how to collect sap and make Maple Syrup and, best of all, how to fish. Although my growing up years are mostly wrapped in nostalgia and I have few opportunities to exercise those skills, what I actually learned was this: I am limitless in my ability to learn a skill and do it. Dad taught us to be learners, and to not be afraid to try new things.

One year Dad decided to build a cabin on the back edge of our property. Dad was neither a builder nor an architect but he and my lovely, artist-in-residence Mom put their skills together. With the help of generous builder-type friends, the tiny, humble building came together. At the time the cabin served as the best fort and doll house a girl could ask for! We loved it! With it’s steeply-sloped corrugated roof, woodstove and dry sink, the cabin stood on stilts and overlooked the trout stream that ran through our property. My friends and I would traipse around in the woods and slosh in the creek for hours at a time.

It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I learned the strain that building the cabin placed on our family. Apparently it wasn’t the most fiscally responsible undertaking, nor was the building designed to withstand 25 years of rugged weather. My Dad has been gone for some time now, and yet the cabin stands perhaps as a tribute to his tremendous influence on our lives.

Talk is cheap and we spout ideas of who we are and what we’ll one day become. The fact is, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do.

Dad didn’t leave behind a cabin. He left behind a legacy of attempts to show us how important we were to him, how deeply he cared and how much he wanted us to love the things he loved.

Plain and simple, Dad wasn’t great at communicating. I still wonder about who he really was, and why he called me Scout.

But I know he loved me.

And I’m not afraid to try stuff.

The Winding Road

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I’m ready for Spring. I’m ready for some packed dirt trails, some single-track goodness. I am mildly amused at this stirring of skeletons (or bikes) in my closet. Padded shorts and jerseys and helmets galore. Bike tubes of all sizes, computers, hex wrenches … Say no more!

Recently friends decided to ride the RAGBRAI, a 400-600 mile bicycle ride across Iowa, and borrowed my road bike in order to do so. What a delight to see my good buddy, a Cannondale R3, put in a few more miles! It was with terrific enthusiasm that I pulled out all kinds of gear for my friends to put to use. Road riding doesn’t appeal to me like it used to. After about six years of rather aggressive riding in Michigan, I reached my personal best. I put my road bike on the rack several years ago. Single track still interests me a great deal, and I’ll likely pursue that, however humbly, for the rest of my life.

Though I’m a new cyclist to this area, I’m going to look into the Midwest Cycling Community in the next couple of months. I had some work done by High Gear in August, and they did a great job rehabbing my knobby kneed mountain bike. That ride simply needs to be replaced. But, if you have a minute, check out the work being done by THOR and some of the trails they highlight! They are much more difficult than any I’ve ridden but they’re beautiful, and their work is a credit toward maintaining our natural resources.

Anyone who encountered me during my road riding years knows how passionate I was about riding. I loved it! I loved being outdoors and always came away refreshed, if I hadn’t put myself in the ER as a result of forgetting to hydrate! I loved being so physically disciplined, and able to push myself to reach different goals. I didn’t mind having a rock solid physique either, but there were always people who were thinner, more disciplined, more energetic. I never competed with other people. My fierce competition was to ride more efficiently, go further faster than I did the last ride.

One of my favorite stretches of road is up in northern Michigan, near Harbor Springs. It’s along Route M-119. It’s known to cyclists and tourists as The Tunnel of Trees. It’s a winding, hilly, breathtakingly beautiful single-lane highway that overlooks Lake Michigan. Year after year, I would join a thousand or so riders for the DALMAC, a 400 mile ride which occurs on Labor Day weekend. That stretch of road has curvy hills which spiral downward and, if ridden well, a decent cyclist can reach 40-44 mph. All I remember thinking was that there was nothing between my face, the gravelly pavement, and an oncoming car, should I miscalculate. And yet, I never did wipe out …not there, at least. Part of the beauty had to be in the realization that I’d just ridden 350 miles and I was on the homeward stretch to the Mackinac Bridge. There’s been no substitute for salty sweat running into my eyes, the rain hitting my face, oftentimes blistering heat and a few tears all swirling beneath my Raybans nearly blinding my ride…and then realizing that all is right with the world. That’s a passion! It’s also contentment amid the most trying of circumstances. It’s being able to rest, even though you are exhausted, usually soaking wet from the rain. When you ride you are either on fire, cold or freezing but never, ever just right.

I’ve reserved some of my more earthy stories for another day. But remember this… find something that you are passionate about, and do it. Find a stretch of road that takes your breath away, and ride it. Give yourself fully to your sport, your craft. Don’t be afraid to shed a few tears or a few gallons of sweat in order to see your dream come true!

Watery Glory

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One of my favorite activities as a kid was to traipse around in the woods on the back part of our property. We didn’t have a lot of land, a small acreage, but it was plenty for us. There was a nice deep woods that outlined a good-sized field. There was a terrific trout stream that followed the property line, and my Dad used to say that it was the finest Brook Trout stream in Northern Michigan. That’s debatable, I’m sure, but the water always ran clear, and cold. A beautiful golden color.

I was just in Northern Michigan this summer, and had a chance to bound around my old tromping grounds in my Jeep. There was no hurry, really. In the early morning hours, I sat at the edge of the deep Black Lake and listened to the waves lapping the shoreline. Just like the streams that fill it, the lake water has always been a brilliant gold.

When I was young, my parents would take my family for Sunday drives out to different points of interest along the shores of the Great Lakes. We’d make a summer day trip up to the dunes on US-1, along the lower portion of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other times we’d head further up into the UP, to Neebish Island, or to locks at Sault Ste. Marie. No matter where we went, each destination was packed with different meaning. Sometimes we’d picnic on the sand dunes. The sun was so close and hot that we’d burn like bugs on a windshield. Wave after pounding wave, we’d dash into the frigid cold water and then dance around in the piping hot sand, burning our feet. Later we’d eat the fabulous meat pies for which that region is known. Wrapped in sandy blankets and still sticky in our swimsuits we’d tuck into the truck and head for home.

A girl raised in Kansas might not be able to explain the way a Kansas wheat field is an inextricable part of her. It’s in this way that water is truly a part of who I am. It’s also a part of how I perceive God’s glory. God’s creation is a way in which He expresses His glory. He shows us who He is. There is nothing quite like watching a strawberry sunset on the rolling hills of Nebraska. It’s like He’s saying, “Ask Me to tell you who I Am, Samantha.” And so I respond, “Well, Father. Who are You, and what do You want me to know about You today?” And He says, “Watch this.” And without delay, He unfurls this array of colors in the sky, and the naked branches of the trees dare to impose themselves on the horizon. And I am overwhelmed.

And so it is with the lakes and the Great Lakes, and the seas…

God spoke to Job after he’d been through much trial and terrific suffering at the hand of satan. It’s the most prolific conversation between God and man, that we see in Scripture, aside from the Son’s 33 years here. And, even though Job was generally found to be righteous, he made the mistake of minimizing God’s holiness. God is like no other. That’s what holy means, set apart. It’s in this conversation that God chooses to tell Job about Himself through a series of questions. Part of it goes like this..

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
… Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?”     Job 38

And then I read it as though the Father is asking me the same questions. “Where were you, Samantha, when I laid the foundation of the earth?” I think about the magnificent creative expression God has given with just the shoreline alone… “Or, who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth it went out from the womb…”

Oh we’ve so much to learn about God and to let Him be God.

Our God.

You see, when you are in relationship with this God who longs to know you personally, it’s okay that He’s big. And magnificent. And that you’re small. I am small. I love to be small, and to show you my giant God. He’s huge! Ask Him to show you who He is. Then stand back and be amazed as He unfurls a sunset, or a captivates you with the wonder of a single snowflake as it lands on your nose. Allow yourself to be amazed at His glory.