There is Fungus Among Us

One thing I have noticed while walking around the forests in Minnesota is that there are A LOT of mushrooms. There are mushrooms everywhere: on the ground, on dead trees, on live trees, in dense forests, in my backyard. I have seen them in so many colors: red, bright orange, yellow, brown, white and also in just as many shapes. We never saw such a multitude and variety of mushrooms when we lived in Idaho. I suppose the moist soil of Minnesota provides an ideal environment for them to flourish.

Mushrooms are not only interesting to look at, but they also have a key role to play in the ecosystem. When they have a symbiotic relationship with trees, mushrooms help the trees glean minerals and water from the soil while trees provide the mushrooms with necessary carbohydrates. When mushrooms feed on rotting wood (Saprophytism), they aid in decomposition, which returns nutrients back to the soil.

Nature does nothing uselessly. 

-Aristotle 

Roland excitedly pointing to a pretty, bright red mushroom.

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Mushrooms, at once both lowly and mysterious, add their share of intrigue to the quiet forest floor.

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These shelf mushrooms looked like they would be perfect handholds for climbing the tree. They were surprisingly sturdy, too. We wiggled one, expecting it to tear off or crumble, but it held on tight and kept it’s form. I was pretty impressed with their resilience.

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On this outing we hiked a small segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile trail that traverses seven states as it connects North Dakota to New York. It is the longest of the 11  National Scenic Trails, but probably one of the least well- known.

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This was our first hike of the season that really felt like fall. The leaves were still mostly green, but it was chilly enough to bundle up in sweatshirts. Fall is in the air and it excites me! Autumn is by far my favorite season and this one will be the first Roland is home with us. I can not wait for him to experience the wonder of the world changing into this most beautiful and magical of seasons.

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The ever quiet and peaceful Lake Erin.

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Green Pastures and Still Waters

Schoolcraft State Park is a secluded, quiet place and it actually became the inspiration for this blog. The scenery was not particularly spectacular, but the peace I felt there is unmatched. We hiked an easy two miles through 300- year- old pine trees and along the Mississippi River, without ever meeting another person on the trail.

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On this outing, we were unusually lucky with wildlife sightings. We typically do not see much in the way of wildlife when we go out hiking. We don’t start our hikes until the afternoon, which is not when animals are most active and, with our three- year- old son, we are definitely not in sleuth- mode. However, on this day we managed a glimpse of a porcupine high up in a tree. Porcupines are adept tree- climbers and actually use their stiff quills to help them climb. Before moving to Minnesota, I had never seen a wild porcupine, but I have already seen three in the five months I have lived here. Now whenever I am walking around in the woods I am constantly scanning the tree branches for a moving ball of spikes. I think their natural defenses must make them less skittish than some other animals. Once you spot one, they don’t run away immediately, giving you a chance to enjoy watching them a bit.

Roland found this baby snapping turtle all by himself. I did not realize Minnesota even had snapping turtles and this one seemed especially out of place on the forest floor.

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Roland took this opportunity to practice his letters on the hiking sign.

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On the banks of the Mississippi River we spotted numerous frogs hopping around. That is one of the great things about nature- you never know what you will find. Some days all you get are trees and fresh air and other days you come face to face with some of the critters God created to share this world with us. sep-7-schoolcraft-sp-12

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The serenity of this park was like a breath of fresh air for my soul and brought to mind Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

A Serene Evening Stroll

After our camping trip, life fell back into it’s normal routine, but that does not mean there is no time to appreciate nature. Even when we are not taking a weekend hiking trip, we can still set aside some time to enjoy being together outside. That is actually one of the best things about being outside- the togetherness. There is no television or computer screen to distract us and pull our attentions in separate directions.

After Roland’s gymnastics class we took an evening stroll by Lake Bemidji. We watched the geese waddling by the lake and the changing colors of the sky as sunset came and went. It was a perfectly serene evening. It is always so soothing to just be outside and take in the world at a slower pace.

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The legend of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Oxe was born in the Bemidji area. These statues were built in 1937 and are now considered the 2nd most photographed roadside attraction in the nation. When we first moved here in the spring, Roland would not get anywhere near these massive statues without crying. On this evening, he walked right up to them by himself and asked me to take a picture. My brave little boy.

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Over the summer Bemidji built a new Northwoods- themed playground. We never got around to checking it out, so on the way back from our walk we made a short visit. It is now officially Roland- approved.

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First Camping Trip, Part 2

Even though Tettegouche State Park was beautifully rugged, I enjoyed the views on the second day of our trip even more. Our destinations were more easily accessible, so it made the whole pace of the day more leisurely. Even though we visited two different parks, our walks were shorter and easier, giving us more time and energy to just soak up all the beauty of the area.

Our first stop was Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The lighthouse was built in 1909 and protected sailors from the rocky shoreline for 59 years. It is now one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country.

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The lighthouse sits on the edge of the rocky bluff in the picture above. It cost an extra $10/ adult to get anywhere near the lighthouse so we contented ourselves with the distant views. Besides, we were a bit distracted by Lake Superior’s almost vacant and absolutely gorgeous rocky beaches.

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Roland put his crazy three- year- old energy to use and spent his time running away from the waves (although, his timing was not perfect and he ended up pretty wet by the time he was done). I on the other hand, seated myself down on the rocks, basked in the warm sunshine and lost myself in the sounds of the lake. I decided that there are few things in this world that will take your cares away more than the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on the shore and then receding back over the rocks.

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A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our second stop for the day was Gooseberry Falls State Park. This park was not only very pretty, but it was also much more fun to explore than I was expecting. A network of stairs takes you by Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. At the bottom of each waterfall there are large areas of flat rocks and shallow streams of water that were perfect for playing. The landscape was so interesting; the water had carved out little arches and caves in the rocks so you never knew what unique feature you were going to come across next. Gooseberry Falls is the closest state park on Lake Superior to Duluth so there was a large number of visitors there, but there were enough nooks and crannies for everybody to find their own little spot to explore.

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The photo below gives a good overview of the area’s landscape. You can see people playing on the rocks and shallow water between the waterfalls. The blue in the background is Lake Superior.

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We were able to finish our day’s activities early enough to get back to our campsite and have a campfire. A little bit after the mandatory s’mores eating was done, I looked up into the clear night sky and saw that the northern lights were hovering right above us. We watched the dancing white streaks in the sky until our necks were sore. They weren’t as amazing as the ones we have witnessed while living in Alaska, but it was special all the same. Maybe even more special since seeing the aurora borealis outside of Alaska is more rare and this was the first time Matt, Roland and I have watched one together. It felt like a special little blessing from God, just for our family. It was a perfect end to our first camping trip together.

First Camping Trip, Part 1

I grew up camping. Every break from school my parents would hook up the pop- up camper and we would hit the road. We lived in Miami, but I ended up seeing and appreciating many places throughout the country that my classmates knew very little about. Camping and travelling with my family are my happiest childhood memories. Ever since I became an adult and got married, I longed to share those experiences with my children. It has been a long wait (many years of infertility issues and then a 3.5 year long adoption), but my husband and I finally took our son, Roland, on his first camping trip.

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We took our maiden trip as a family of three to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. Most of Minnesota is city, farmland, or forest (and lakes) and the scenery does not change very quickly. It was nice to leave the flat, boggy forests of the Bemidji area for a couple days and enjoy views of some vast open water.

We camped at Jay Cooke State Park, which is just south of Duluth, and worked our way up the first 60 miles of the North Shore. It is 150 miles from Duluth to Canada and 1,300 miles if you want to drive the whole perimeter of Lake Superior, which happens to be the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. We did cram a lot into our two day trip, including four different state parks, but we saw only a small section of this impressively large lake.

Jay Cooke State Park turned out to be not only a convenient, but also a scenic base camp for us. The St. Louis River, Lake Superior’s largest U.S. tributary, runs through the park. As we walked over the suspension bridge, we enjoyed views of rugged rocks and rapids.

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On our first day we drove to Tettegouche State Park and “oohed and aahed” over the views of Lake Superior along the way. We only had one day to enjoy this large and diverse park so we focused on the highlights: views of the lake and Minnesota’s highest waterfall. First, we trudged up the many stairs to Shovel Point and we were rewarded with a view of Lake Superior’s intricately jagged shoreline.

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On the way back down the stairs, we decided to go down even more stairs to reach the lake shore. We found a pretty little cove and enjoyed it all to ourselves.

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By this point we were already getting a little tired of stairs so we were less than thrilled that our next hike also consisted of mostly stairs. The lure of High Falls kept us motivated, though. There was no way we were going to miss the highest falls in the state. The lovely High Falls drops 60 feet before flowing into the Baptism River, which eventually makes its way to Lake Superior.

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We ended up walking around 4.5 miles, most of which was going up and down stairs. We got plenty of exercise, fresh air, and beautiful views (and our 3- year- old son did very little whining on the longest hiking day of his life!). Challenging your body to see something new and wonderful is always satisfying. We thoroughly enjoyed Tettegouche and we were thoroughly worn out by the end of the day, but we were excited about what adventures lay ahead on our last day on Lake Superior.

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

-Anonymous

The Meeting Place

In the Garden of Eden, God created an idyllic place for mankind to live. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in this exquisite garden of paradise. What perfection that must have been- to have such an intimate relationship with God in a place exhibiting the purest form of beauty.

Living in Eden is no longer an option for us, but we are still drawn to beautiful and peaceful places in nature. I always feel closest to God when I am outside, away from buildings and pavement. After all, humans built churches, but God built all of nature. I would rather be in His house.*

God created this earth not only to provide us with resources for food and housing, but He also made places to rest and to play and to experience beauty and awe. Is there a better place to experience God’s majesty than on a mountaintop; or to appreciate God’s gift of peace than beside the still waters of a lake; or to wonder at God’s creativity than spotting a wild animal in its natural habitat?

There is more luring us to the outdoors than just pretty scenery and thrills of adventure. The gentle and delicate way light filters through the green leaves of a forest, and the thundering crash of waves against a rocky shore all hint there is something bigger, something more meaningful and powerful in our midst.

As we leave our homes and daily routine behind and step into these quiet and awe- inspiring places, we can hear whispers of Eden echoing in our souls. Perhaps nature has always meant to be the meeting place of God and man. Eden’s whispers ripple through the ages and beckon us back to those places God has created for us, keeping us searching for what was lost and what we know will come again.

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Psalm 96: 11-13

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,

    he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

*I just want to clarify: I am an advocate of attending church services with other believers. My point is that church buildings offer no special powers or direct avenues to God.