Erika D. Lee Posts

Painting Moments with Words

I’m driving north on Interstate 35 after a day spent in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. The sun is gone. Winter clouds have parted, exposing a well-missed speckled dome. White lights from vehicles traveling south dart passed on my left. Amber tail lights and yellow blinkers dot the lanes in front of me. The rear-view mirror reflects what is behind. From above the treeline north of the Finlayson/Askov exit, radio antenna towers flash red warning lights while others remain constant. My direction is a meandering north-by-northeast heading, but my aim is home, my aim is to return the woods.

I look to the sky, and poised stoically in the Northern hemisphere is the Big Dipper. The constellation is tipped so perfectly I can’t help but send a smile back. A small smile with a slight nod that says, “Yes, I agree.” I lean forward in the seat, wrap my arms around the top of the steering wheel, and lay one hand over the other, the common driving pose one assumes for meditative and ponderous thought. My eyes trace the stars that make up the handle of the constellation, and maybe I’m projecting, or want a physical message from the grand galaxy, but the handle, low and clear arched toward the earth, points directly at home.

Lost in the Woods

Under cozy plush sheets and a thick comforter, I wait for heat from a newly lit fire to reach me. Chilly mornings in Lakewood Township, and by chilly I mean winter cold, have a different meaning to me than to most. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to this way of life until a visitor asked why I get ready for bed with a light winter hat nearby. I show my guests how to start and feed the fire. I tell them the alternative to rising from their warm cocoon is to simply yell through the blanket, “My head is cold,” and I will resolve the situation.

Mornings aren’t tough here. There are no winter boots that get put on to tend to livestock or sled dogs. I do not crawl into a chicken coop to gather breakfast. There is running water, but I don’t drink it. Instead I fetch water from the natural spring off Highway 35 and Midway Road. There is electricity, but no Wi-Fi or television. Life here is a little, alternative, I shall say. Alternative in a slightly archaic fashion, but by no means, difficult. I only notice my gradual slip into this alternativeness when I open the door to the outside world and along with it comes a want for “normalcy” that has become unfamiliar to me.

Heat and Humidity, Fences and Dogs

Shilo is lethargic in this Duluth heat. Curiosity that once jetted her off the ground at the potential of capturing what made the random noise in the brush has quelled. She has become a passive witness. Her eyes dart in interest, maybe a quick turn of the head, but nothing is important enough to coax her legs into a sprint. Not on August days when temperatures are 80 to 90 degrees and she can only expire heat while sweating through paw pads or panting.

I brush her almost daily. Removing at least a little of her hair layer may help some trapped heat escape. She has taken to lying on the cement slab in the garage, two large doors remain open letting what exists of the midday breeze wave in, a welcomed visitor.

The other loyal companion, Bear, aka Mr. Bearington, a newfoundland mixed with lab, is still on constant guard. Heat does not deter him from his mission. He remains focused on what happens on the other side of the fence. He must protect us from intruders that might sneak through the boundary. Most of the time it’s another dog, sometimes it’s a skater, a horse, a biker, or the most ferocious intruder this summer, a snapping turtle so small it could fit in the palm of my hand. Still, a snapper is a snapper. Once I realized we were being invaded by such a fearsome beast, I scooped it into a bucket and escorted it to the pond on the back 15.

Cabin Fever: Reconciling with -2

I’ve spent the past few weeks obsessively feeding the fire, clearing out ashes, hauling more wood in, and worrying the dogs might have cabin fever. I know they crave the chase of scents that waft over tracks in the snow. They crave the adrenaline rush during the run, the explosion of speed after paws dig into resistance, and the freedom of the wilds. Fifteen acres of land in Lakewood, just north of Duluth, awaits them, they know this. Two fenced in acres seems like a prison in comparison. But they don’t think about frozen paws and hidden sticks looming under the snowline.

I however, with extreme abnormality, do not desire my usual trek amongst the trees where I walk into peace, clarity, and the calmness that mingles between the earth and stars. My feet are solid on the hardwood floor that covers a cold cement slab over frozen ground. It’s been cold for too long. A cold not worthy of dressing in layers: wicking socks, Smartwool socks, fleece leggings … only to capture a fractional moment of meditative silence amongst the freeze.

I admit it, I’m tired. I’m tired of putting on my left glove, tucking it into the jacket cuff, then attempting to do the same to the right with a thick awkward moving gloved hand. Only to unglove when I figure out I forgot to start the zip of the jacket and can’t achieve the initial detailed alignment of zippered teeth. Try and try again, the glove inevitably will be poutingly removed, zipper aligned, and the uncoordinated procedure of glove replacement aggressively completed, again.