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As I write this, I am also doing another favorite thing at the same time: running white pine needles, from an obliging fallen twig, between my fingers. I have these twigs stashed all over the place: forgotten in pockets, on the kitchen counter, on my bedside table. I can hardly avoid picking one up, coming to an abrupt halt on my bike ride through Potawatomi State Park to lean over and scoop one up. They are long and soft and cool-to-the-touch. Silking them, I call it a habit from toddlerhood, from running the satin edges of my baby blankie against my fingers, now upgraded to the bonus treasure of white pine needles.
I might also stop along a trail, pull a yielding needle bundle low, to caress my cheek with, or let one graze the top of my head, baptizing me, as I ski underneath an overhanging branch. Check under groves of white pine for miles of piles of pliant, dropped, rusty needles, excellent for nest building. Needles are supposed to make a warm blanket, in a pinch, as well as a fragrant one. Baby white pines out at Crossroads have satiny, gray bark that also feels cool-to-the-touch. Granddaddy white pines at The Ridges Sanctuary, however, and I hug them nevertheless, are craggy with deep furrows, almost impossible to cozy up against them for a proper hug. I place my palm flat against an upraised crust, sliding it down. Hug for courage. Hug for bonding with 50, 100, 200-year-old wise elder-trees. Whatever the world throws at you, you can face it easier after hugging a tree.
Same with cedars. Hug cedar to cedar all along the woodsy shore trail at Whitefish Dunes, NE from the shelter building. Petting a cedar is as if you are petting velvet, their furrows only tiny rivulets, their raised crags flat. Trace a gentle vertical track with fingertip and feel the amazement beneath.
On a sunny (the sun being rather imperative for these maneuvers), sizzling, hot day, bake on warm dune sand. I wiggle my backside to comfortably sink into a custom-made groove. Reach arms out, fingers slowly raking through the refreshing sand under the burning surface. Like heavy water, the cooling grains part, then refill, as fingers move through.
As soon as I’m good and cooked, I make myself jump up and race, pumping legs high, into the rather exhilarating, clear waters of the Big Lake of Michigan, splashing it onto my shins. I gasp as the chilly, veritable, liquid ice pack reaches my hips. I slice the water with the side of my hand, whirling around to create a droplet wall that sprays, twinkling back onto the rising and falling, glassy surface. Slicing through water, takes a surprising bit of muscle. I give in, give up and submerge, letting out a war whoop. Goose pimples take over, sending me back to the towel and back to baking, as mini streams of icy drops trickle down my sides, the heat of the sun stealing away the frostiness.
Before church choir, I treat myself to the best worry-free rock rubbing zone around: along little lanes, up shore a ways from the canal light station. Glistening wet stones, washed by a relentless surf, beckon. Oblivious, now, to all else, I must pick up that shiny reddish one, then a liquid black one. They are for the most part, smooth, slick, albeit with a bit of sand sticking to them. Rub them between thumb and forefinger. Presto, calm descends. I must, also, touch the surf—stick in a finger or a toe, minimum. The rolling water either leaves mountain-shaped pictures in the sand as it glides in and out: slim ridges barely able to be felt under a fingertip, or throws tiny water holes into it, as it crashes in.
Fuzzy soft, thimbleberry leaves, the tiniest bit waxy underneath their furry down, adorn bushes all down wild shore roads on the east side of the peninsula. They may belong to the raspberry family, but they have lost any spikiness. Sometimes it is possible to actually wade into the gloom under an ambitious thimbleberry patch, into a Door County jungle, parting the stalks and brushing aside feathery spider webs. Reach up high, feel for a nubby, easily squished, bright red berry. Uncap it, bring it to your mouth, release its tart juice.
Ticklegrass, that funny-sounding weed, is actually lighter than a tickly feather. So light, it is barely felt, producing only a whispery touch, not exactly enough for a bona-fide tickle. The water level is up at Bues Point, a boat launch near Cana Island; it may have obscured some ticklegrass patches: wispy stalks with dainty firework tops.
There is nothing so scintillating, at the end of all this nature exploration, as the cooling creaminess of a flavor-burst gelato melting onto the flat of the tongue, then sliding away to the back of the throat.
Sigh. Bring it on. Bring it all on. Over and over again.
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