It was a beautiful Spring day here in Michigan in early May and we decided to explore the Meridian Baseline State Park, just a few miles from where we live. Our goal was to see the state baseline and meridian survey marker. I was eager because the survey witness markers that Julie and I see as we travel dirt roads fascinate me and this felt like going to the beginning – the starting point.
What I was expecting was a parking lot on the corner of Baseline and Meridian Roads, and not far from the parking lot there would be a concrete post, maybe a little bit bigger than the ones I see at other country road corners, with some markings that designate it as special – the beginning point of all surveyed plots in this part of the state.
I was wrong. What we found was a trail about 3/4 of a mile long through an early Spring woods. The markers were not anything like I expected and the stroll through the woods made me smile deep down in my soul. It brought back so many memories of Spring erupting after long dead winters. I experienced my own sense of revival as I witnessed the earth’s revival. The spark of excitement is still there when I see the gentle green undergrowth in the woods that yesterday looked so dead. Come along with me on our stroll through the woods so you can feel that excitement, too.
The sun was warm and the air was cool and I could smell the moist soil that had been frozen not too long ago. There is a special scent to soil and plants that are coming alive after a long dormancy – those who grew up with it have it as part of their DNA. It is the scent of hope and faith; it quickens the spirit. And muddies our shoes.
Lynn warned us to wear old shoes because the path could be muddy and she was right. There were places where we had to jump small streams at low spots in the trail and places where I was afraid I was going to have my shoes sucked off by the mud. It is this type of adventure that excites my spirit but panics my aging joints and muscles.
Gary and JB marched along at a good pace, but Lynn and I just strolled – stopping to look at wild flowers and critter holes and interesting bits of nature. Lynn even kicked over a dead stump to help it in it’s quest to return to the soil. Actually she wasn’t really being so noble – she did it because she could and it was fun.
I stopped frequently to take photos of this and that – everything that was beautiful and excited my senses. Not all of my photos were sharp and perfectly focused – but they are beautiful because of the memories they evoke and the intellect they stimulate. This is the joy of being a hobbyist photographer.
When we came to the end of the westward path we had to decide to go right or left – we chose right, the wetter of the two paths. The marker was not far away and I was surprised to see how big it was and that it was horizontal instead of vertical.
Joseph Wampler was the one who completed the surveys to intersect the meridian and baseline so roads and land plots could be mapped out. The survey of lower Michigan had been started in the early 1800’s but abandoned because the land was so poor and difficult that the surveyor didn’t think it was worth enough to spend money on. Lower Michigan was a mosquito infested swamp. When Wampler finished the project in 1824, this marker was raised up because the water rose and fell according to season and rainfall.
For unknown reason, Wampler did a second survey and placed another marker almost a thousand feet south of the original marker (at the end of the left path) – in a dryer location.
Because land had already been sold using the first marker, it was decided that both would be used. The Michigan survey continued through 1856 using the northern marker for land east of the meridian and the southern marker for land to the west. I had always wondered why the roads going east and west make a jog of about a thousand feet. Now I know the rest of the story.
Spring seems different now…now that I’m in the fall of my life. Or am I in the winter of my life? That seems so bleak. I don’t think I’ve heard any lyrics about being in the winter of our lives – must be song writers know it would be a tough sell.
I remember other springs – when my body wakened with new energy. There was excitement in hanging freshly washed diapers on that early spring clothes line. I knew my babies would be healthier when pinned into outdoors dried diapers.They smelled so clean and fresh. Spring was a time when I eagerly washed the windows and put in screens. I can remember clearly the joy of the fresh spring scent carried through the window on a cool breeze, pushing out the staleness of a long winter.
But spring is different now that I am knowing it through an aged body. I feel gentleness when looking into the woods as undergrowth starts to sprout new green leaves.
Not having a lot of energy seems to be my normal now – although I sometimes slip into pretending that I have that ability to work hard and long. Spring has reminded me that life has changed; is gently teaching me a new excitement – of the spirit instead of the body. I still get excited when I smell spring and see those first signs but I’m learning how to enjoy it more slowly, with contemplation instead of work.
I probably always enjoyed the beauty of a northern spring, but now I seem to know the beauty and that brings me a different kind of joy. It is now like going down a road I’ve been down before and smiling because of the familiar. The earth has become an old friend that I cherish and look forward to seeing again and again. I take pleasure in the familiar, like seeing Trillium growing in the woods.
Or an especially dense bed of dandelions.
Now that is an overload of spring!
My ancestors came from the woods; I’m sure of this. Could it be what Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious,” where my body and mind and soul was born ‘knowing’ the experiences of billions of people who lived in the woods of the Northern Hemisphere before me?
I grew up with trees and my favorite memories involve trees – making outlines of houses with oak leaves we raked at Grandma’s cottage on Portage Lake, swinging for hours in the swing under the sprawling oak tree at her home in the city, watching our children collect and chop fallen birch branches for a campfire in the state forest near Harrison Michigan.
I am most drawn to deciduous trees. I have been with a lover in the cool shade of a large, dense green canopy, then marveled when these same leaves loose their green to brilliant colors of red, yellow and orange. I have a lifetime of smiles from showers of falling leaves, while rustling through layers of leaves on my path. I have admired the strong, unique skeletal outlines of winter trees, standing firm against raging winds or gently catching falling snow.
My most exciting moments have been in Spring, when the trees that appear dead burst forth in brilliant shades of golden green and blossoms of white and pink.
This is my interpretation of Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Trees. I couldn’t resist.