My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Am I taking this solo thing too far?

It is getting toward the end of February as I write this, and already for the last couple of weeks, I have been looking forward to another great spring, summer, and fall, alone. I am beginning to wonder if I spend so much time by myself, that I am losing touch with reality.

I was out for my daily walk around the apartment complex the other day, it was gorgeous out, in the 50’s with a bluebird sky. As I turned a corner, I saw a beautiful young woman in her early 20’s, with shoulder length honey blond hair, teaching a baby to walk. I stopped dead in my tracks as if I had been whacked with a 2 by 4, “Oh my God, it’s Lynne and Jeremy!” I thought to myself, but then, just as quickly, I thought “It can’t be them, that was 35 years ago”.

That got me to searching through some of the old memories that I have, and it struck me as to how hazy they were, to the point where I began to wonder if those memories were real, or if they were figments of my imagination. One thing led to another, and soon I was wondering if I spend too much time by myself.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a truck driver these days, I started driving over the road in 2005. When you are an OTR (over the road) driver, you seldom speak to any one, except during the short time when you are making a pick up or delivery, or stopping for fuel at a truck stop. On a really long run, it is possible to go an entire day without ever talking to any one. I suppose that’s why CB radios became so popular with truck drivers, a way to talk to other drivers at least. I had a CB in my truck, but I seldom turned it on, the amount of hate speech and utter filth that has taken over the air waves was quite astonishing to me. It isn’t much better in the truck stops, I stayed to myself most of the time rather than get dragged down into the gutter.

At first, it was different on my day and a half to two days off, then Larri and I were still a couple and often we were with groups of her friends, so I wasn’t alone then. But, that changed when she and I broke up, since then, I live by myself, and even though I drive what’s considered to be a local route now, I work by myself. I go into work, drop my paperwork off with my boss, see if there is anything special about that night’s run, then I climb in the truck, by myself. 99% of the time, there is no one at either of the branches when I get to them, I do my thing and leave. During the winter, my weekends are pretty much the same, me, by myself, out walking or hiking somewhere.

After Larri and I broke up, I learned of an online social networking site called Meetup.com, and since it was recommended by a friend whom I trust, I thought I would give it a try. It isn’t a dating site per say, although some people use that way. It is built around local groups that get together based on a shared interest or activity, using the Internet to stay in touch with the group between get togethers. I joined a couple of them, and met a lot of very nice people, then I got the great idea to start a kayaking group, as there wasn’t one at the time.

The first summer was great! We had close to 200 members by the end of the summer, and we usually had between 20 and 30 members show up when we kayaked a river. We got together several times between kayaking trips just to stay in touch. Over the first winter, we had many new members sign up, and it looked like it was going to be a great year. The first trip that spring was a disaster, some of that was my fault for not communicating with the group better, but most of the problems came from the newer members, and people not paying attention to what I was saying.

To top it off, I was getting Emails from two of the female members who were both dating the same guy, each asking about the other, and making life difficult for me. It also came to light that the guy they were both dating was also beating on both of them, so I threw them all out of the group thinking that would end my troubles, wrong. He protested to Meetup that he was thrown out of the group, and Meetup took his side, to the point that they were threatening to take his side in a lawsuit if he filed one, which he was threatening to do. I didn’t need that kind of hassle, I just wanted to go kayaking with a few people. So, I left the group, and left Meetup, for good. I know, I should have caved and let them back in, but I’m not built that way. I don’t believe in rewarding people for bad behavior.

Actually, kayaking with a group as large as the Meetup group was required a major adjustment on my part. I wasn’t used to kayaking with a group anywhere near that size. In fact, I had never really kayaked before I met Larri, I had run rivers in canoes, rafts, or a rowboat, although we did have an inflatable kayak when I was a kid, but that was about worthless and didn’t last long. Until I met Larri, I had also never run a river with a group larger than four people, most of the time it was just me, or one other person, a few times it was two couples that went canoeing together. Typically it would be me and maybe one other person, and I would do a relatively short section of a river, then walk the 5 miles or so back to my vehicle, then drive back to pick up whatever boat I was using. Just this last fall, I found out I had been doing it backwards all these years. It is a lot easier to drop off your boat, drive downstream, hike to the boat, and kayak back downstream. I figured that out when I did the November DeLorme Challenge, and hiked the North Country Trail along the Flat River, then kayaked back to my car. Occasionally, I would use a livery service from one of the places that rents canoes for vehicle spotting in order to run a longer stretch of river, but they charge an arm and a leg for that these days.

When I met Larri and found that she loved kayaking and had her own boat, my first inclination was to buy a canoe, since I was used to them, but she talked me into purchasing a kayak instead. I’m glad she did, even though I have since bought a canoe as well. When she and I went kayaking, it was normally with six to eight other friends of hers, and that was an adjustment for me in a big way. I was used to going at my own pace, depending on my mood, the river, and the type of river it was.

There are two big reasons I love running rivers, one is the challenge of negotiating a fast river filled with obstructions, think whitewater rafting here. Even though Michigan doesn’t have any real whitewater as they do out west, there are still rivers here that are a challenge, like the Little Manistee or the Pine. The other reason I love running rivers is to float along at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and sounds of nature as I go along. Seeing the wildflowers and wildlife along the banks, hearing and seeing the birds in the brush on the river banks. I fish at two different speeds as well. Some days, I poke along in no great hurry, often times casting where I know there’s no chance of catching a fish, I am out there to enjoy the day and all nature has to offer, and hooking a fish is an interruption of sorts. There are other days when I go fishing to catch fish, and I move at a faster pace, only casting to spots that offer a good chance of hooking a fish, it all depends on the weather and my mood of the day.

So, when I started kayaking with Larri and her friends, it was an adjustment to say the least. We more or less had to go at “Bill speed”. You couldn’t pass Bill if he was going slow, he had to be in front. The claim was that it upset his dog, which he always took with him, if there was any one ahead of them. I think it was just an excuse for him to always be out in front. On the other hand, if you hung back too far, Bill would be complaining about that, too, on the grounds that the group had to stick together somewhat for safety. The adjustment for me is that I didn’t want to go at “Bill speed” all the time. If the section of river was fast and challenging, I would want to go through it fast, as that’s the best way in a kayak, but Bill had a canoe, and you slow down in challenging water in a canoe. On the other hand, with Bill always in the lead, he would see, and spook, any wildlife on the banks, long before it was in camera range, or even with in sight to those of us following him.

It was that way with the Meetup group as well, although I tended to stay near the rear of the group to assist if any one had problems. As the organizer of the group, I felt I had a responsibility for the safety of every one in the group. I looked at the group trips as a social event, rather than a nature outing. Something to keep me connected to the human race, which I am all too good at avoiding most of the time.

After I left the Meetup group, a few members and I stayed in touch and went kayaking together last summer. It was still more of a social event than nature outing, but it was fun. A couple of things happened of the course of the summer that reminded me of how much I love running a river with a very small group, or alone. The first was the great weekend of kayaking, Saturday the group did the upper Pine River, but then Sunday, Mike, Connie, and I did the upper Rogue River, just the three of us. It was a great day, and it was really nice to be able to take our time and take in all there was to see. Like when Connie and I paddled up a little feeder stream to get good pictures of all the Cardinal flowers growing there, or the pictures I got of the waterfowl as we approached the dam in Rockford. It was a calm, peaceful trip, we were in no hurry at all to finish up.

Another trip that got me to thinking about paddling with a group, and the size of the group, was the weekend on the Jordan River, and it was the complete opposite of the float down the Rogue. I was pumped that day, and I got out ahead of the rest of the group and paddled the Jordan the way it should be paddled. I was completely focused on the river, my kayak, and my paddling, it was if I were there by myself for the most part. I really wasn’t in a hurry, but I was going at a good clip to match the river, not just to go fast. Like most people, I take pleasure in doing something really well, and how well I paddled on that day certainly was pleasurable. But, I may have had to prove something to myself as well. It was on the trip before the Jordan that Mike and I managed to sink my canoe, the first time that I have ever done that, so I guess I was out to prove to myself that I could still paddle with the best of them.

Then came two trips that were supposed to be group outings, but no one else showed up, the North Country trail hike/kayak trip, and the ledges of Grand Ledge. Both of those trips were on larger rivers with not much current, more like lakes than rivers, but both days were a lot of fun for me, even if no one else showed. By myself, I had all the time in the world to investigate every little thing that struck my fancy, from a chipmunk swimming across the Grand River, to the eagle soaring over the Flat River Valley.

I thought I was adjusting fairly well to paddling with a group, but the events of last year, and my thoughts over the winter, make me wonder if I really have. I have the entire upcoming year scheduled for the kayaking group, but, I have also been thinking a lot about kayak trips I would like to do that I know very few, if any, of the group would want to do. One place I have wanted to explore for a long time is Muskegon Lake and the Muskegon River delta where it empties into the lake, for example. I would love to poke around in that area and check out all the waterfowl that make that area their home in the spring and summer, but I doubt if any one in the group would like it, and paddling with a group lowers the chances of getting up close and personal with the wildlife there. You could say that it is just one trip and that I could find the time to do that one by myself, but that is just one of many.

I am already planning my yearly solo expedition to the Pigeon River Country the first of May. Yes, I know it will be chilly at night, and there may be frost in the morning, maybe even a layer of ice in the coffee pot when I wake up in the morning. But, there won’t be any bugs, no mosquitos, black flies, or deer flies, and no need for insect repellent. That is also the time of the year when the thick, green, lushness of spring really takes off, and when does drop their fawns, so I love being in the woods that time of year. The trees are alive with the songs of birds, and the entire animal world is going at full tilt, taking advantage of the one time of the year when food is plentiful, and life is easy.

I also have plans for every long weekend over the summer months, like a trip to Saint Helena Island, and others, but the weather will dictate which trip I do on each weekend. I do know that Labor Day weekend will be spent in the Pigeon River Country again, hoping for some good pictures of elk and deer with antlers.

By now you may be wondering if there is a point to all this, and what it has to do with a young woman with honey blond hair, and it is this. When you begin to doubt your own memories, and your own sanity, then I think it is time for some serious self-examination. Between my job and my outdoor activities, I spend nearly all my time by myself. There are days when I don’t talk to anyone, although most days I do at least exchange pleasantries with a few people. I am not sure that it is a healthy thing to spend so much time alone, but I’m not sure how I would change my life, or if I even want to.

I know I’m an odd ball, I don’t watch TV, I’m not into stick and ball sports, and I have been to one movie in the last 20 years, and only because some one twisted my arm and made me go. At home, I am either reading, or online, trying to learn something that I didn’t know. When I talk to people, the conversation soon turns to one of those three activities, and I use the term loosely, that I am not into, so I have nothing to add to any conversation, and most people look at me as odd when they find out that I don’t watch TV in the first place. If you want a real eye-opening experience, turn your TV off for a month, then watch one of the shows you just couldn’t miss before that, and you’ll wonder why you ever watched it in the first place. At least that’s what happened to me, I found out that life was so much better with out TV that I don’t miss it at all.

Some people have told me that I am crazy, and live in my own little fantasy world, and when I start to question my own sanity, I begin to think that maybe they are right. After all, my little fantasy world consists of the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the sky, the trees, the flowers, the birds and their songs, the animals, the fish, what makes them all tick, and all the beauty they have to offer. Their world is what overpaid sports star stubbed his toe and won’t be able to play this weekend, what dress so and so is wearing to the latest awards ceremony, the sex life of a golfer, and whether a jerk who abuses women should continue working for his paltry salary of 1.8 million dollars per episode. I think I’ll stick with my little fantasy world, thank you very much.

 And it isn’t as if my entire life revolves around outdoor activities, I try to go to at least a couple of concerts by our local symphony each year, hit the art museum a couple of times a year, and make it out to Frederick Meijer Gardens at least once a year. I know, none of those are real popular either, so be it, it’s my life, and I like it just fine. It isn’t as if I shun the rest of the world, it is more that the rest of the world shuns me.

 In my life I have met three people whom I get along with really well with in the outdoors, Spud, Diane, and Larri. Most people either don’t care that much about all things nature, or they are one of the  phony environmentalists who care about nature only because they think it is the right thing to do. I can handle the first type well enough, I understand that not every one is going to get excited about seeing a pink toadstool, or a new type of bug, that’s OK. But the fake environmentalists drive me up the wall. I have been out and about with more than a few of them, and for the most part, they know nothing about nature, other than what they have been brainwashed into believing. I’ve been called a tree hugger, and the people who called me that were right, I will hug a tree now and then, just before I fire up the chainsaw to turn it into firewood, or lumber to make furniture out of. Unless it is one of the old growth majestic trees that managed to survive until now, I will protect them with my life if need be. Before I get too far off on a rant here, I’ll just say that most of the people I’ve met who call themselves environmentalists don’t spend very much time out-of-doors, and know very little about the real world of nature.

 The reason I got on so long with Spud, Diane, and Larri is that we all had this driving curiosity about just virtually everything when it comes to nature, Spud and Larri especially. It would be normal to see either of them poking around in the leaf litter on the forest floor trying to identify an insect or a mushroom one minute, then gazing at the treetops a few minutes later. I would ask “Whatcha looking at?”, and their reply would be along the lines of “Oh, the trees, the sky, the puffy white clouds, you know”, and indeed I did, and still do. Diane wasn’t quite as curious, but close, but she understood my curiosity and was curious enough herself to be interested in whatever was drawing my interest.

If you point out a brightly colored insect to most people, their curiosity ends at whether or not it will bite them, they can’t see past the fact that it’s a bug to see the beauty in the way the bug is colored.  Or, their curiosity ends once they have seen something for the first time, after that, it is old hat and not worth spending any time on. It doesn’t matter how many eagles, deer, or any other wild thing I see, they still hold my interest, and I am always learning new things about them, and the way they live. Take the lowly muskrat for example, I’ve seen many of them in my life. But, I’ll still watch them, especially in the winter. I’ll see one that has just climbed out of the 33 degree water it has to swim in to find food, and watch it eat, as ice crystals form on the tips of its fur from the cold air, and I think to myself how well off we human beings are that we no longer have to fight for survival the way animals do. I guess I don’t take our creature comforts for granted the way most people do. Because, as I watch that poor muskrat do what it takes to survive, I’ll think about what humans had to do to survive not all that many generations ago. It puts life into perspective for me, and makes me much more appreciative of what I have. I may not be well off, or have a lot, but I don’t have to slip into a nearly frozen stream to dig up some roots from the bottom, then crawl out on the ice to eat the roots while the water freezes in my fur, as I watch for some predator that would like to make a meal out of me, either. We humans forget just how good we have it, spending a lot of time in the woods reminds me of how good I have it.

 Our human world operates at a breakneck speed compared to the natural world, and most people can’t slow down enough to fit into the natural world anymore. There is no time in nature, other than the seasons, but even the seasons don’t really change what goes on in nature, it is still an everyday struggle just to survive. You could try to break it down into night-time and day time, but that is still a human thing, not a natural thing. Most animals are active as night changes to day, and day changes to night. The only real times in nature are full stomach and empty stomach. Full stomach means it is time to relax, to sleep, maybe even play. Empty stomach means the quest for food continues, those are the only two times there are in nature, all other ways of judging time are human creations.

Since most people like to drag as much of the human world into nature as they can, I would just as soon go off by myself in nature, since I go there to escape the human world in the first place. Whether that means I am crazy or not, I don’t care anymore. The more time I spend alone in the out-of-doors, the less I can handle the trivial, meaningless human world. Case in point, as I was taking a break from writing this, I saw an online ad that read Justin Bieber’s new haircut, gay or not? Vote here now!”. And I question my sanity???

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