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‘Introspection, discovery and inspiration in nature’

John Pepin

The early morning sky was painted across the horizon line with a soft shade of orange I’d seen in push-up sherbet confections or the bands along the lower sides of autumn brook trout.

Above the band of orange was a layer of almost white, trending to light blue and then darkening progressively to a deep royal shade I’d associate with twilight or the Alaska state flag.

The lake remained dark and without distinction of waves or colors or other characteristics. It was too early in the morning for that.

Along the highway, which skirted the lakeshore, pairs of headlights and taillights passed each other headed in opposite directions.

In observing these things, I was soon to be headed out on that road myself.

My destination would be one without other cars and highways, but rather, a place deep in the woods where a muddy trail leads down to a lake hidden from view, obscured by trees.

The surface of the water when I found it was as placid as a mirror.

It clearly reflected the dark forest green color of the cedars and hemlocks here, along with shadows that showed up as jet black forms of varying shapes, especially in contrast to more than a dusting of soft, white snow on the ground.

Bending down, I slowly penetrated the water’s surface with my hand.

I wanted to feel how cold the water was. It was very frigid, letting me know it wouldn’t be long before this small inland water body would be freezing over until springtime.

In these kinds of moments, I am aching for solitude and that is why I seek out these places tucked into the quiet corners and the empty spaces of this rugged and ancient landscape.

Today, I am reminded by this setting that I share a companionship of sorts with a man I’ve never met.

His name is John I. Bellaire. He is known most prominently for working to protect the Big Spring (Kitch-iti-kipi) from its continued use as a lumber company dumpsite.

The beautiful clear waters of the spring enchanted Bellaire.

He is said to have visited the spring almost every day, where he would sit and stare at the water and the surrounding scenery.

I appreciate Bellaire greatly and have developed this spiritual kinship with him and his pursuit of beauty, solace and mystery in the wilds of nature.

It seems odd to feel a connection to someone who died two years before I was born.

Nonetheless.

Among other things, Bellaire called the Big Spring “The Mirror of Heaven.”

This small lake that I’m at might just as easily been nicknamed the same thing.

Like Bellaire, I could enjoy just sitting here silently reflecting on a regular basis were this place not so far from my home.

Bellaire claimed the waters of the Big Spring held medicinal qualities. He sold bottles of magic water in his store in Manistique.

I would suggest the spring and my little lake here both hold medicinal qualities, but not from drinking the water, but from just being close to them.

Taking in the sight of the clear and cold waters, smelling, tasting and breathing the clean air under blue skies over the still waters truly holds a magic and mystery that I never tire of experiencing.

At the bottom of this little lake, I can see where now-browned maple leaves have come to rest, fully unfurled, on a bed of lighter-colored sands.

Submerged branches from trees reach far into the depths of this lake, like long, narrow and withered fingers pointing forward.

In these instances of outward and inward reflection, the presence of anyone else -even Bellaire himself – would immediately break the spell and spoil the moment.

I’m sure the same would have been true for Bellaire had I shown up during one of his reveries along the shore of the green- and blue-tinged waters of the spring.

You become transfixed and enchanted.

It’s not a time for conversation, camaraderie or interaction. No story or joke telling, no mundane conversation about the weather, sports of current affairs.

Nothing.

Not a single word.

It’s kind of strange, but it’s about listening to the nothingness, except whatever nature decides to provide. Though it is a trite expression, “silence is golden.”

Meanwhile, there is a great deal of inner renewal taking place that I don’t fully understand, though I certainly can attest to its power though, along with its reliability.

The walk from the lake to my vehicle isn’t far.

I drive to another place I like to visit.

This place is an incredible wide-open space that is home to a small creek that meanders along its bottom. The rushes, grasses and cattails have all turned brown, beige and yellow by the time I arrive.

The stream here is crossed by a narrow two-lane blacktop road, the same one I drove on to get here. I see a gray jay floating like a forest sprite or angel out over part of the open expanse.

I stop here for a short time, but I don’t stay long because I presume the possibility of other vehicles to drive past along the road is relatively high – or at least too high for my liking today.

Instead, I stop for a longer time at a country bridge situated along a gray graveled road over a small and quiet creek that like the lake earlier appears black and reflects the skies above.

The skies now are threatening rain and snow. The clouds are grayish-white and balled up like dirty cotton.

I have often stopped at this place to admire the form of the creek as it turns in a big bend toward the horizon. Evergreens stand tall along the riverbanks and the watercourse is wide and breathy.

I have photographed this place in all four seasons. I thought about snapping a few pictures today, but the scene isn’t especially interesting and the bare trees message sadness and loss to me today.

I don’t particularly want any more pictures right now of things connotating those sensations. I am very tired.

I would say if you’re sad be sad, but if you’re depressed, be careful.

The black water can pull you down – all the way under.

In a little while, I’m back in my Jeep and nearing the intersection of this gravel backroad and the highway I rode out here on.

I see the roadside parks are closed for the coming wintertime. An out-of-state driver is parked along the barricades at one of them.

A few minutes later, he passes me doing about 80 miles an hour.

The retractable roof on his little sport convertible is shut tight, the cold wind whipping over the top of the car, trailing back behind like long, wavy hair.

I feel the backdraft hit and flow over my vehicle.

I don’t care. I’m not speeding up or doing anything different.

I’m happy to take it slower, to make my time out here last as long as it can.

I will enjoy the sights, some stereo music on my in-dash player and what’s left of a can of cold pop.

There’s a little bit of heat coming out of the vents and I’m comfortable.

For me, I think the number of peaceful, reflective and simple moments is out of balance with those filled with noise, details, confusion and never-ending struggles.

The last time I recall thinking about this I was getting ready to make a resolution to do more to tip that balance in a positive direction in the coming year.

Now, the time for resolving to do things is again just around the corner.

In typing this, I realize that I guess I haven’t fulfilled my 2023 resolution.

Thinking more about that, I think that resolution could fit any year I’ve ever lived past those first few when I was a young kid.

I can’t complain. I greatly appreciate the time I do have for introspection, discovery and inspiration in nature.

I do the best I can, and I will hope to continue to do even better.

I turn down the music and remind myself that the holidays ahead will be times that I will need to reserve opportunities to escape the hub bub and get out into the woods to become enveloped in nature.

Maybe I will one day encounter the ghost of John I. Bellaire.

I’d love to sit or walk with him, neither one of us uttering a single word.

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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