Take advantage of the season; get outside to do everything

John Pepin

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” – Bob Dylan

Somewhere I hope there still exists a summer day I knew one time that since has blown away.

Drifting on a thunderstorm, I watched it disappear over a purple-blue horizon into another yesterday.

It appeared when I was younger, at a time I didn’t understand the importance of those shimmering days that I now know as a man.

Maybe I could have grabbed a fishing net or caught it in a jar or held it in a chipmunk trap out there in our backyard.

But I couldn’t and I didn’t, and it slipped out through my hands.

How I could have been so unaware is hard to understand.

As I think back now, there were many days like that – halcyon days of youth and wonder.

Halcyon indeed. As an adjective the word means “denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.”

The word is also a noun with just as pleasant connotations.

A halcyon is “a tropical Asian and African kingfisher with brightly colored plumage,” and is also “A mythical bird said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and waves into calm.”

In those old days I would drink sugar-laden red Kool-Aid and eat untoasted Pop Tarts and bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches. I chewed pink bubble gum, played with a yo-yo on my way to and from school, collected baseball and football cards and was so enamored with my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars it was as though they were my personal vehicles that I drove.

Doing anything outside, even just lying on my back in the grass looking up at the sky, was an incredible experience. It was outdoors where everything seemed to be happening, no matter the season.

Even when I was reading my Spiderman or Fantastic Four comic books or real books I had borrowed from the library down the street, I liked to read outside.

I guess I was like an old barn cat. You could bring me in the house and feed me, but then I wanted to get back outside again.

In general, those old days have a feel, one that is very warm and endearing to me.

I struggle with trying to recapture those feelings nowadays.

I know the world has changed and so have I, but isn’t there enough left of both of us to make those kinds of days happen all over again?

I keep hoping so and believing so, but so far, it hasn’t really materialized in a long time. The best experience I’ve had recently reliving past pleasures was through an unlikely means – social media.

I found some old football games on YouTube from the 1960s and 1970s. In many cases, these were full games, with the old commercials still embedded in them.

To watch these games was an incredible thrill!

It felt like I went backwards in a time machine.

All the names and faces from my old football cards were not only there but they were playing just like they did when I still wore football pajamas and had an electric football game and a spirograph.

The old master sportscasters were there too – serious and polished. Exactly as I remembered them. The names came immediately to my lips.

I shut off all the lights and fell headlong into the video screen, soaking up every second of this that I could.

Unlike other experiences I have had like returning to my childhood home, room and school to find they had shrunk to a size that made it unimaginable that all those life experiences had occurred within the tiny confines of those spaces and places, watching those football players come to life before my eyes made them appear every bit the giants that they were in my kid mind’s eyes.

It truly was astonishing to see.

Much like those old days have a feel, this time of the year has a very special feel for me. It’s a great time to be outside.

There is so much blooming to see and unfolding and unwrapping and new and wild and changing and growing and moving, it’s all so fantastic.

When trying to pick a time of the year to take a vacation, when the weather and woods would be predictably pleasant and welcoming, I often decide on the week leading up to Memorial Day.

It’s a time of orioles and hummingbirds at backyard bird feeders, the tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers drumming on telephone poles, tree limbs and drainpipes.

Chimney swifts and nighthawks in the skies, a good mix of sun and rain and warm and cool. Take a jacket, but you might not need it.

The blooming of spring wildflowers, including the solemn and regal white trilliums, spring beauties and signs of more blooming to come with lupine plants springing up with their showy and sprawling green leaves – all fantastic.

Even in the towns, with the dirty streets and noise, the blooming of the domesticated crabapple, cherry and lilac trees is either in full, fragrant pageant or is well on its way.

The deer are still around, but they’ve sunk back farther into the forest now with a far greater availability of greening food stuffs for them to eat.

Black bears have their cubs and everything from racoons and groundhogs to chipmunks, skunks and porcupines have all left their wintertime hiding or resting places.

They are out walking around, looking for food and feeling their legs moving underneath them – just like me, heading from here to there and everywhere in between – just rambling.

Of course, one of the prominent occasions during these last days of May is what used to be called Decoration Day, now Memorial Day – a time when people travel to cemeteries to decorate the graves of war dead soldiers, to mourn their absence and honor their sacrifices.

To me, it’s one of the very few times of the year when noise seems acceptable there. It’s feels OK if a Memorial Day service were to wake the war dead from their eternal slumbers if only to realize that they are remembered and cared for as such.

This time of year, is also when the bell chimes to announce the unofficial beginning of the summer camping, boating, fishing, adventure season, which lasts unofficially until after Labor Day weekend.

For some people, this is the time of year they have waited all the other months for to enjoy being outside. Some have even flown away and been gone from these shores for all that time, basking under southern skies, returning now to eat up those hometown pasties, enjoy the especially long days and drink in the magnificent summertime that is like no other.

In my fashion, I will be out there somewhere too, trying to avoid all the hulla-balub to find a quiet corner of green woodlands and cool, sky-blue waters to enjoy.

Like all the days now, I expect the summer days will be here and gone in a flash.

So, of course, this means that the time to get outside to do everything late spring and early summer related is now.

I want to ride my bike, enjoy our hammock and my rocking chair, go for hikes, fish and camp and just sit and listen. I want to travel around to see some places I haven’t seen in a long time and visit others I have never been to before.

I want to walk beaches and backcountry trails, watch the sun go down and come up, plant, water and harvest a vegetable garden, listen to some summertime concerts, do some more outdoor reading and most of all – simply try to enjoy life.

For me, a key to my happiness is enriching myself with new learning experiences, especially those related to the outdoors. There is always something new to learn about nature and our connections or disconnections to it.

Look forward, look back, look up and down and all around.

There is so much to see and do and learn.

Meanwhile, time stalks the backwoods, skulking amid the shadows of trees in the dark swamps searching for ways to move faster and more efficiently, like water constantly seeking its level.

Today, the skies are cloudy and might hold some rain. A sweet, cool breeze occasionally rises and falls, while an American redstart sings from a cedar tree.

No matter the long list of things I have to do today, I need to remember to carve out at least a few moments to stop to draw in my surroundings and let them wash over me.

It sounds like an obvious statement of fact, but if you focus on the phrase and think about the full effect of its meaning, it’s a call to action, a challenge, an opportunity – tomorrow today will be gone.

The rain is now falling, and the cool breeze has picked up a little bit. The birds have continued to sing even in the rain – that’s another phrase to consider closely.

The door shuts behind me. I’m gone again.

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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