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The Roads Less Traveled

I live in an environmental sponge. My county, and the adjoining 3 counties each have more than 25 percent of their lands under water year round. Only part of that is lakes and rivers; the balance are bogs, marshes, backwaters, peat lands, and flood plains. By mid-summer, the grasses, shrubs, and trees have overgrown the soggy areas. During normal years, when late fall hunting season rolls around the lands revert to vegetation trampled by hunting boots, blaze orange or camo, and gun fire. The top moisture has either dried up, or frozen.

With December snows a hush falls, temperatures drop, road crews barely manage to keep anything open. The wetlands will remain this way, sleeping, flooding with temperature increases. Gravel or potted, badly kept roads, little traveled become off limits. Only the hardy, very poor, or long settled families live down these quiet roads. GPS misdirects, a road atlas and a compass is still needed. For me a road atlas, magnifying glass and bifocals are necessities.The biggest problem is no paved shoulders on these roads. Each side is deeply ditched to allow for water to run off. A slide off means a long way for a tow truck, assuming the cell service gets through at all. Parking in the middle of the road and praying no other vehicle comes along is my best mode. I’ve learned photography in sniper mode – shoot and run.

In open flat landscapes there are rare opportunities to catch lovely shadows, long horizons, or OMG contrasts. My fibromyalgia, and my advancing age, make me a poor candidate for sneaking out and driving long distances for the off chance on a good sunrise or sunset lighting shot. I’m up past 1 am every night and rarely sleep past 7:30. It would seem to leave a lot of time, but most of that is spent in what is known among fibro patients as brain fog. I also have ADD and anxiety. When I do remember what I’m doing, I’m either anxious I’ll screw it up or trying to get three or four things corrected before it all goes blank again. My goal of being the Grandma Moses of photography probably isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, I’m still here at the end of my road … a few miles from John Muir’s Fountain Lake, and forty five minutes of really crappy road from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Shack.

My muses’ Eph and Muriel were with me this week during the fog. I love shooting in the fog. We don’t get much of it here, even with the wet environment. It takes a special combo of snow, followed by warm, then a layer of cold damp with no wind. On those days even if all I could do was crawl, I’d be up to my waist in chilly water shooting behind my home in the wetland down below. I didn’t have to do that. Here’s what I managed to get driving down roads less traveled in a three county area. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by the Road Less Paved.

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MISSING MUSES, JOHN MUIR, AND MYSTIFICATION

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ― Wendell Berry

…and so I have reached a wall I cannot find my way around. I’ve tried to write my way through it, dug deep beneath to unearth profound ideas, and called upon Muses to uplift my spirits so that I might see what lies beyond. Nothing produced any grand scheme. My mind used to open and place words faster than a beaver could fall a sampling. If a mystified mind is employed surely I’m working overtime without pay. A Muse of Perspiration has replaced my Muse of Inspiration.

It doesn’t matter if I work by light of day, or lamp, nothing shines forth. Late last night was the closest I came to hearing the faint whisper of my creative Muse. I was on the back porch, overcast, no light flickered from sky or woods. Nothing glowed from within the house. A free symphony of night sounds uplifted me – and mystified that this should happen while I was in total darkness, with only lean capability to recall the scale of the occasion. I couldn’t sit and write my cascading thoughts as they turned into articulate visions in the dark of Cicadas and Tree Frogs. A playful, short-seasoned chorus which only the night breeze hears. It was similar to,  ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, will it still make a sound?’

I’d been gifted with several minutes to absorb an experience I could bring forth at will during the remainder of my life. It was long enough to acknowledge my Muse of Realization – this is what John Muir listened to while awake in his loft bed a few miles away some 160 years or so ago. I’ll wrestle my stupefied Muses and give them a good cussing for kicking back and chugging good old Wisconsin brews while ignoring my pleas,  I’ve posted a short sideshow from the John Muir Memorial County Park in Marquette County, Wisconsin. The prairie restoration is on the acreage below the original boyhood of John Muir, surrounding Fountain Lake (now named Ennis Lake). The park is located on County Highway F, approximately halfway between Portage and Montello, Wisconsin.

Later in his life, John recalled his arrival on the farm in 1849 as, “To this charming hut, in the sunny woods, overlooking a flowery glacier meadow and a lake rimmed with water lilies, we were hauled by an ox-team across trackless Carex swamps and low rolling hills sparsely dotted with round-headed oaks. . .This sudden plash into pure wildness–baptism in Nature’s warm heart–how utterly happy it made us. . .Everything new and pure in the very prime of spring when Nature’s pulses were beating highest and mysteriously keeping time with our own. Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”  Obviously, John had no problem in his life with missing Muses or mystification.