My Backyard

I have been having so much fun exploring all the amazing places within a two- hour- radius of our house on our weekend outings. However, one of the things I enjoy most about living in Ely is that I am able to go for a hike right from my doorstep. Just a five minute walk from my house is a vast network of ATV trails that wind their way up into the mountains. Roland, Copper and I head out there almost every day. It provides great exercise, great mountain views, and I could not ask for anything more convenient. I love being able to get my daily dose of fresh air, sunshine, and mountains without driving an hour to do so.

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Roland, my budding geologist. He never takes a step outside without a rock in his hand. It does get a bit annoying, though, when I am trying to make some distance on our walk and he stops to look at every single rock, flower, and tree. However, one of the best gifts my parents gave me is my deep appreciation for nature and it makes me glad to see some of that may be rubbing off on my son, too.

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As Easter approaches it is timely to be mindful of God’s sacrifice, forgiveness and everlasting love for us. The signs of Spring all around us are symbols of hope and new life. My family has been in a state of flux for the past several years due to the adoption, health issues, job changes, and frequent moves. We have lived through the good and the bad and through it all I have learned the importance of being thankful for what I have. I am choosing to celebrate Easter this year with a grateful heart so I am taking this opportunity to reflect on the many other blessings in my life:

*My family is healthy and relatively happy (we still have some difficult times with Roland, but we are making it through).

*I live in a place where I am continually in awe of God’s majesty through His Creation.

* We are settling in nicely to our new home and we are excited to see what the future holds with Matt’s new career and our new lives in Nevada.

I wish you all a Joyful Easter and some beautiful, quiet moments outside this Spring.

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And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 21: 3-7

Ovens & Pronghorn

We live in a small town in Middle of Nowhere Nevada. Maybe some people would get bored here, but this area fills me with excitement every time I step outside. Our town is completely surrounded by national forest, state parks and BLM land comprised of such diverse landscapes that I could never get bored. With millions of acres of unique and varied public land, Nevada really is one big playground.

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On our latest family outing we visited Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park. It is an area set aside to preserve six  30- foot- high beehive- shaped ovens. They were in operation for only three years in the 1870’s to create charcoal from the local pinyon pine and juniper trees. After the silver boom ended, these abandoned, but large and sturdy ovens became shelters for travelers and hideouts for bandits. (We also discovered they are fun to holler in to as their shape makes for a great echo.)

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Even though the main purpose of the park is to highlight the history of the area, the scenery was also stunning. We meandered through sagebrush lowlands before hiking up a ridge to the pinyon and juniper forest. Just a month ago we were living in northern Minnesota where we were completely enveloped by large trees, but after spending some time in the desert, walking amongst these almost full- sized trees was a pleasant treat. After making our way through the forest, we descended to a pretty and lively riparian area that was home to many birds and mule deer. The stream was flowing with fresh snow melt, the spring flowers were just blooming and everything was brimming with beauty and life.  Just another gorgeous day out in God’s Creation.

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On the way to and from the park we passed a herd of pronghorn. They are the fastest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, but their impressive speed is now unnecessary as their historical predators are long extinct.  They are often (and incorrectly) called antelope, but the mistake is easy to understand. Even though they are native to America, their closest relatives are giraffes and okapi and they do look like they belong on the African Savanna. We frequently spot them as we whiz by in our car, but this time we had the opportunity to slow down and admire these sleek and elegant creatures.

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“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.”

~Marie Curie

Living Waters

When scientists are collecting data on other planets, one of the factors they are most interested in is the presence of water. Where water is present, the potential for life is also present. This truth is also especially evident in a desert landscape.

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On a cool and breezy spring day we visited the W. E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area, which is comprised of small lakes and marshes. It is a pleasant oasis surrounded by  miles of dry sagebrush desert and it was teeming with life.

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We saw hawks, cranes, geese, ducks, and many other smaller birds that are harder to identify. On the drive into the park we even witnessed a coyote darting through a maze of sagebrush. My favorite moments, though, were spent watching a hawk expertly gliding through the wind, swooping low and high looking for a meal.

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Animals will travel vast distances to reach sources of water because they know it’s life- giving power. It is no wonder that water imagery and metaphors are used numerous times throughout the Bible.  Life can feel very akin to wandering through the desert, but it is not just our mouths that get dry- our souls also become parched. Disappointments and just the daily grind wear us down and there is nothing on this planet that will fully satisfy us. Water is essential for our earthly existence, but we need Jesus for eternal life. Being in nature and watching animals thrive near cool, clear water is a beautiful reminder of how our souls should be ever longing for Jesus and our heavenly home.

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John 4: 13- 14

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Cathedral in the Desert

Historically, great time and expense were spent in constructing cathedrals, with the purpose of bringing glory and honor to God. While attempting to reflect God’s magnificence, intricate artwork and architecture were painstakingly created  over hundreds of years.

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We recently visited a cathedral of a different sort. It was created by volcanic explosions and erosion over the course of millions of years, but the end result was the same- viewing it nudged our minds, hearts, and souls upward toward God (and in my opinion, even more effectively than any man- made structure could).

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As we hiked through Cathedral Gorge State Park, we were entranced by the endless spires, cliffs, and caves. The trail began with a network of steep stairs descending into the canyon. Once on the canyon floor, the path was level and every couple steps brought us a new rock formation to admire or an alcove to explore. It was a beautiful sunny and breezy day, with warmer- than- average spring weather. Roland happily split his time between running through the desert canyon and stopping to play with the rocks and sand (what more does a little boy need?).

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Experiencing such a unique landscape truly reminds me of the extraordinary workmanship of God. What we see today has taken millions of years to accomplish, and it is still a work in progress. The natural world is a gift to us from the Divine Creator and it is filled with opulent variety. It is humbling that these exquisite places were created for us to use and enjoy, and I am forever grateful.

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Job 38:4-7, 25-27

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?”

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Hello Nevada

As we made our six day drive from Minnesota to Nevada we saw some awesome landscapes. We were itching to get out and explore each state we drove through, but this was not a pleasure trip; it was a move with time and financial constraints. We contented ourselves with making mental notes of places to go back and visit while we continued our journey into the Southwest. When we finally arrived in Ely we had some unexpected stresses we had to deal with, but we made sure to set aside a day to get out and explore our new territory before Matt had to start work.

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Nevada means “snow covered” in Spanish and the state is aptly named. We are surrounded by snowy peaks in every direction. After spending the past 11 months in the flat forests of Minnesota, I am soaking up every ounce of awe- inspiring scenery (and I don’t get very far without having to stop to take another picture).

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Our first Nevada outing was at Cave Lake State Park, just a 30 minute drive from Ely. At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the trail was a mix of dry sand, mud, and deep snow. It was slow going, but that just gave us more time to enjoy  the mountains, rock formations, and rolling sagebrush desert (and glorious sunshine!).

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It was a beautiful introduction to Nevada and I am eager to explore all the nooks and crannies of this intriguing state.

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Home means Nevada (Nevada’s State Song)

Written & Music by Bertha Raffetto

Way out in the land of the setting sun,
Where the wind blows wild and free,
There’s a lovely spot, just the only one
That means home sweet home to me.
If you follow the old Kit Carson trail,
Until desert meets the hills,
Oh you certainly will agree with me,
It’s the place of a thousand thrills.

Venturing Outside

Venturing outside the warm comfort of my home to take a short hike during the long winter months is no easy task, but it is vital to my sanity. I first have to figure out which areas of the forest are accessible or completely snowed in. Then comes the hour long process of getting the three of us in our winter gear and actually out of the house. It requires some extra effort, but the fresh air and the quiet beauty are worth the trouble.

We paid a visit to the very large and completely frozen Cass Lake.

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To get to the lake we first had to climb over a large snow dune.

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We admired the vast snowy landscape, but it was about 16 degrees and extremely windy out on the lake and I couldn’t feel my cheeks so we headed back into the protection of the woods.

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The winter landscape is mostly made up of varying shades of white and gray. Without the flowers and foliage that adorn the other seasons, things can get monotonous. That is why I got pretty excited about this area of the forest. The mix of green, red, and white tree trunks added color that could only really be appreciated in the winter.

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After a week of above- freezing temperatures the snow became crunchy, compacted, and unstable. It made taking a casual walk a bit nerve- wracking. We would take one step and sink in only an inch and then the next step we would sink up to our knees. And then every once in a while there were the hidden snowdrifts that would engulf us even more and we just about had to climb out. It kept things interesting.

Getting outdoors in the winter can be more difficult, but spending time in nature is rejuvenating, regardless of the season (and trudging around through deep snow is great exercise!).

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

~Robert Frost

 

A View from Above

The peak of autumn foliage is such a fleeting thing. It seems that every year, right when the colors are getting really good, the wind and rain decide to pay a visit and before you know it, all those gold and amber leaves are falling to the ground. It makes it difficult to plan an outing specifically to enjoy the peak of fall color. Between work schedules and weather conditions, we ended up visiting Itasca State Park just a little after the peak started to fade away. Some of the trees were already bare, but it made for pretty leaf- covered paths.

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We took a short walk to the 100- foot- high fire tower. It was a chilly and blustery day so my hands went numb gripping the metal rails as I trudged up the stairs. The height did not really bother me, but the sensation of a strong gust of wind blowing me off the tower was a little unsettling. Roland, our brave boy, did just fine with his daddy’s help.

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We were rewarded with this view from the top of the fire tower.The forest and lakes extended as far as we could see. I thank God that I am able to live near such a great expanse of undeveloped, beautiful land.

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

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The wind was really beginning to blow so we quickly descended the tower and hiked down a nearby trail. We came across this picturesque lake and thought it would be a good spot for an autumn family picture.

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Roland and his daddy, enjoying being outdoors together on a lovely autumn day.

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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.

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.