The nature oblivious to the Coronavirus horrors is waking up from its winter’s sleep.
I enjoyed nature’s gifts during my first walk to the The Franciscan Life Process Center: daffodils getting ready to burst open, birds singing and frogs croaking in the swamp off the gravel road.
Just under two miles, the walk covers a variety of terrain and vegetation enhanced by the beautiful landscape at the Franciscan campus outside of Lowell.
The ornamental grasses were neatly trimmed and the colors of the meadow were changing from yellowish to green. I walked past the vacant parking lot to the St. Mary’s Rosary Walk.
On normal days, the center is busy with arts and music programming. People from far and near enjoy the Franciscans’ offerings: everything from painting au plain air, music instruction, community gardening, trails to retreats in the yurts or the San Pietro house.
The gardening team is usually busy with their landscaping tasks.
But today it was quiet as the silence pierced my ears and only an occasional robin broke the spell.
I spent some quiet time on St. Mary’s Plazza as one of the sisters, who was walking her mutt Pico, greeted me.
“What a beautiful day,” she said.
“Yes, it’s gorgeous.”
At that moment I realized how fortunate we were to enjoy the beautiful Friday afternoon far away from the nation’s Coronavirus hot spots.
“What is your name?” the sister asked.
“I am Emma,” I answered. “And yours?”
“I am sister Mary Paula,” she said.
There has never been a need for social distancing outside the buildings at the center surrounded by open space. I walked the way of the cross several times and I have never encountered a single soul. The same goes for the trails on the 230-acre campus, where you immerse yourself in serenity.
When I got home, my husband Ludek was cleaning up around the outdoors furnace after a long winter.
“Let’s go somewhere, it’s Friday afternoon,” I said.
“There’s nowhere to go,” he said.
There is still nature left and its bountiful gifts for us to enjoy in the times of the Coronavirus.
Tips: Consider the COVID-19 quarantine as your personal retreat away from the society’s hustle and bustle. Let it transform you.
Featured photo: the retreat yurts at the Franciscan Life Process Center.
Stay tuned for continued day by day coverage of the Coronavirus crisis.
Lowell, MI – Are you ready? It’s almost that time of year again. Some of you are already excited just by the photos on this page. Your eyes widen, your pulse quickens and you begin to find yourself constantly thinking about that elusive little mushroom that has the potential to drive many of us mad. Mad with a passion that burns from within.
Ah yes. It’s the morel mushroom.
The dreary winter blues and long, dark nights are a thing of the past. Soon the deep, dense floor of our Michigan forests will start to spring forth with life! Daffodils, tulips, and day lilies will soon begin emerging from the complex, rich soil beneath. Cardinals and robins will begin their quest searching for mates and gathering materials for their nests and their soon-to-be hatchlings.
And that my friend, is a sign of good things to come. Every year around this time, I become consumed, or somewhat obsessed with the hunt for the morel. My family and I take time away from work, school and the constant stir of busyness and technology to hit the woods in search of that tasty little morsel.
We will walk for miles on end without hesitation or a second thought about our diligent pursuit. All the while, we enjoy each other’s company and great conversation. Our eyes glued to the ground and rolling hills around us. We gaze out ahead of us looking for that peculiar looking protrusion springing up from the ground.
Sometimes they are very evident, ready and willing to be seen and picked. But many camouflage themselves, just below the blanket of a fallen leaf or a leaning stick. More often than not, you only catch a glimpse of the glistening dampness off their cap. Or maybe just the faintest little section of the light tan color of their stems. You’re more likely to only see a portion of the hunted, and not the whole thing at any given time. This is what drives me.
This is just one of the many things that brought our family back to Michigan after a two-year move to the Carolinas. The first to appear is the Black Morel. This is my family’s favorite. It has an almost beefy, meaty like taste. The Black Morel have a tendency to grow near poplar or aspen trees in the early spring.
We like to gather enough to have a few meals while they’re fresh and then dehydrate some for storage. We also share with those who are unable to get into the woods due to disabilities, or just lack of confidence in foraging for a wild mushroom.
The next variety in line to come forth are the Gray Morels. They have a nutty, buttery flavor to them and they are not only delicious, but beautiful. The Gray Morel is associated with ash, apple, elm and wild cherry trees.
If you are lucky enough to find a good haul of these, you’ll be in Morel heaven for some time. I know a great place right around the corner from my house that produces a ton. Just ask me for specific locations … I’ll be sure to share. On the other hand, a true Morel hunter will never show his hunting grounds.
Finally, you have the Yellow/White Morel. When you discover these, you’ll know the season is winding down. That still doesn’t break my heart to pick them. This particular species still has me stumped. I’ve found them under conifer, ash, cherry, apple and aspen trees, in open fields, and in green lawns. I’ve even found this species growing out of gravel in our driveway. Now that’s weird, but convenient.
Morel Mushroom hunting is a great experience for families. Parents don’t have to worry about a kid sitting still and being quiet like when hunting big or small game. There are no lines to untangle or hooks to be baited. Just a good old-fashioned walk in the woods with loved ones. And if your lucky… a delicious reward.
Lowell, MI – As the nature awakens, we celebrate Earth Day today. The first widely recognized Earth Day was held in 1970 when an environmental Teach-In group planned an event for April 22.
But every day is an Earth Day celebration to recognize the greatest resource of all, and that is our planet Earth.
To celebrate the Earth Week, I started my annual walk to the Franciscan Life Process Center (FLPC) on Monday. The 1.8 mile hike on a gravel road has been a staple of my mental and physical sanity since 1995 when we moved out into this northeast corner of Kent County in West Michigan.
I marveled at the untouched nature coming to life; plants vigorously emerging from the wet dirt from yesterday’s rains, robins hopping under the pine trees among the new ground cover.
Crisp morning air and dew covered the new grass and stems.
The area consists of preserved farmland thanks to late philanthropist Peter Wege, apple orchards, woods and streams. Wild flowers are now popping out in the woods, and morel mushrooms are around the corner, or should I say around the stumps.
I love the farm markets with the local produce starting soon with local asparagus.
Different trail systems like the Fred Meijer River Valley trails and Lowell Area trials meet here at the confluence of Grand River and Flat River. We’ve been blessed with an abundance of natural resources from the Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve in Lowell Township, Wege Wittenbach AgriScience center, Sessions Lake and Fallasburg Park. Hundreds of inland lakes dot the picturesque region.
The Midwest entices with its variety of seasons, landscapes, Great Lakes and diverse communities.
“Climats” in Burgundy present a cultural landscape, a 2015 UNESCO world heritage site
Note: After my third visit to the wine region of Burgundy in France, I consider it to be my annual summer writer’s retreat amidst vineyards, exceptional gastronomy and the “Climats.”
By Emma Palova
Fixin, FR- On an early Sunday morning, I woke up to the ringing of the church bells and a local gentleman shouting at his dog, a lot louder than the dog’s barking.
From my studio, I heard the cars rolling down the narrow Rue Magnien that leads into the tiny wine village of Fixin. The walls around the estates magnify the sounds and funnel them into endless echoes.
But, just before the light broke, I could hear the chirping of the birds in the mulberry tree. The mulberry tree is the only tree that grows between the bricks in the small courtyard in front of the house.
The stone house rises three stories with “lucarnes” or windows in the roof. Sources tell me that the house was a brasserie, before getting divided. After the division, the house lost the right wing, but none of its Burgundian charm or massiveness.
Surprisingly, the house does not have an adjacent vineyard behind it. New or old vineyards in Burgundy are hard to come by, according to my daughter Dr. Emma Palova-Chavent. However, a dream to get a vineyard sometime in the future may become a reality, knowing my daughter.
The journey from the corn and soy bean fields of Michigan, USA to the vineyards of Burgundy is about 4,000 miles long across the Atlantic Ocean. After an endless flight to Paris, we took a reasonable Uber ride for 45 euros to the Gare Percy train station near the famous Lyon Station, one of seven train stations in Paris.
I have a great affinity to train travel that originates in my homeland in Czech Republic.
The local train took us swiftly into Dijon, the capital city of Burgundy, a principal wine-producing area. Travelling by train in France is a great alternative to the automobile due to the efficiency of the entire transit network.
Fixin sits on the Grands Crus Route which winds from the northernmost Chenove to Remigny in the south for a total of 57.8 kilometers.
You can ride it, bike it or walk it for a unique experience of a lifetime. Whichever you choose to do, there are accommodating facilities along the way like Hotel les Grands Crus in Gevrey-Chambertin sitting directly on the wine trail.
The “Balades en Bourgogne” app offers e-guided tours highlighting off the trail locations with châteaux, churches and wineries.
I’ve experienced the magic of this wine route during my three distinct visits to Burgundy. In 2009 with a base in Nuits-Saint-Georges, then in 2013 in Dijon and now I stay in Fixin in the north part of the Grands Crus Route.
The vineyards in the heat of the day are just as peaceful as they were a century ago when the monks established them. Perfect rows of wines in small plots that hug the slopes, are sometimes divided by stone walls, stone arches or by stone shelters known as “cabottes.” An occasional walnut tree oasis with a bench serves as an observation platform.
The UNESCO has recognized this complex magic in designating the vineyards of Burgundy as the “Climats,” a world heritage site in 2015 to be preserved for all mankind.
This small plot viticulture of vineyards that are terrain based create an impressive mosaic of more than 1,000 Climats lined up from Dijon to the Maranges.
“In Burgundy, when we speak about a Climat, we don’t look to the sky, we keep our eyes to the ground,” said Bernard Pivot, writer and president of the support committee for the Climats.
As I walk the winding path through the Climats, in the distance a church steeple in Couchey shimmers with yellow and blue tiles. Only the bell tolls the time. The time has stopped here in the vineyards and the watch seems unnecessary.
I bend down to pick a bluish purple small grape, the Pinot noir grape variety of the region of Burgundy deeply embedded in the red soil. As the sweet juices touch the palate, I realize that thousands of years of hard work have gone into this one grape to bring it to perfection.
And that this second is the same as it was one thousand years ago when the monks established the vineyards.
The monks, the Valois Dukes of Burgundy, the wine merchants and wine growers, have all carried the wine tradition over the centuries.
On the horizon to the left, I see the magnificent seat of Dijon nestling in a valley with all its museums, archaeological abbey, the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and the gourmet restaurants.
Walking from one wine village to the next, is like being born again with a new view on the world.
During my different stays in Burgundy, I noticed that some little things have changed, while the most remain the same. It’s that same stability that we constantly seek around us, no matter where we are.
Among the changes are: more bilingual tourist stations and chambers in the villages, greater use of the wine trails via bike tours, walking and hiking.
However, the steady constant vibrates in the romantic wine villages with stone architecture, in the gastronomy and in the exceptional Crus wines.
The Climats have given us the high quality wines sought after around the world. These include: Montrachet, Romanee-Conti, Clos de Vougeout, Corton, Musigny, Chevalier-Montrachet, Chambertin and more.
Unique and fragile, the Climats, vineyards of Burgundy, are our heritage, one that must be protected and passed on. Their inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a “cultural landscape” is part of this objective. This is a commitment that has been undertaken, and witnessed by the community of nations, to respect and to preserve the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the Climats, as “combined works of nature and man.”
[Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Convention of World Heritage]
Note: This is the fourth installment in a feature series about Inspiring Women. It is dedicated to all women who are trying to make a difference and better other people’s lives, as well as their own. In putting together this feature series, I was inspired by several moments in life that in particular stand out.
No.1 A dedication of a Relax, mind, body & soul book by Barbara Heller from my son Jake: “I dedicate this to my inspiring and motivational mother.” Kuba
No. 2 While on a story before Mother’s Day, I dropped in at Ace Bernard Hardware to talk about the prizes with owner Charlie Bernard. We talked also about the Lowell Area Chamber and its director Liz Baker.
“You know what I like about Liz, she keeps re-inventing herself,” Bernard said.
No. 3 Again on a story for the International Women’s Day I talked to Sow Hope president Mary Dailey Brown.
“If you want to make a difference in this world, seriously consider helping impoverished women. Helping women is the key to unlocking poverty.”
No. 4 At a parents teacher conference at Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell in mid 1990s: “Mrs. Pala, we do not give up,” teacher Karen Latva said.
Lowell woman completes North Country Trail to memorialize daughter
Name: Gail Lowe
Occupation: retired intensive care nurse
Hobbies & Interests: hiking, reading, writing
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI – It’s never easy to lose a parent, but to lose a child is a traumatic event beyond imagination.
Gail Lowe calls herself “Hiker Babe”, and she truly is a veteran hiker of 10,000 miles with just one fear left. And that is she won’t be able to hike anymore because of aging and related health reasons.
On Thanksgiving of last year, Lowe completed the most difficult hike of her life. It was “Becka’s Hike” to memorialize her daughter Rebecca Carrie Lyons, 46, who died of breast cancer in May of 2013.
Lowe is working on a book “My Best for Becka” about the end of her daughter’s life.
“It’s like opening a scar and an old wound,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
It is Lowe’s hope, that the book will help the grieving process and foster personal growth.
“Becka’s biggest fear was that she would be forgotten,” Lowe said. “I wanted to make sure that would never come true.”
So, Lowe embarked on a 4,600-mile long hike of the North Country Trail (NCT) on March 18, 2014. She wanted to complete it as a thru hike which means in one season.
“It was a hike with a mission,” she said.
Lowe had previously hiked twice the Appalachian Trail which is only half as long as the NCT.
One of the most difficult parts of the hike was in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, where the trail was overgrown.
“I had to do a lot of bushwhacking,” she said. “I was attacked by a raptor. I saw two wolves and bears.”
Lowe who has also hiked in Alaska, said, the UP part of the trail was much more remote than the one in Alaska.
On the other hand, probably the easiest part of the hike was through North Dakota.
“People welcomed me immediately,” she said. “I was dreading hiking there, but it was easy and it is a beautiful state.”
But, what was even more difficult than the length of the hike, was the extreme solitude. Lowe said that on the other trails people camp at night and share shelters together.
“I was it, there were no other hikers,” she said. “The loneliness was overwhelming.”
To fight the loneliness, Lowe went to as many towns as she could to meet with the locals and to reach out to them.
And that was mutual, because Lowe had the help of more than 100 “trail angels.” Trail angels are people who help hikers either with shelter, food or transportation from the trail to towns and back.
“The hike was truly blessed. People took me in for the night,” she said. “It was mind-boggling. Sometimes they did meet me along the way.”
Staying in a tent at 20 F would have been hard, if it wasn’t for the Methodists who opened their doors to Lowe.
“They truly practice their faith,” she said.
Lowe had planned her hike to start and to finish in Ohio. Three couples helped her by taking her back and forth between the trail and the town, so Lowe didn’t have to carry the “rock” or the big backpack.
“I could just use the day pack for four to five days,” she said.
Even though by now after thousands of miles of hiking, Lowe has it down to a science. She carries 26 to 28 pounds on her back.
She averaged 30 to 35 miles a day, before her health became an issue. Lowe came down with mononucleosis and had to make three trips to three different emergency rooms. Her average mileage was down to 15 miles.
“I was exhausted with respiratory infections,” she said. “There really is no treatment for it. I took massive doses of vitamin c.”
Against all odds including the nasty 2014 weather, Lowe finished the thru hike in one year as the only woman in the USA. She received major publicity including TV, NPR radio and 40 to 50 articles.
“It was a combination of being the first woman to do it in one hiking season and in memory of my daughter,” Lowe said. “I asked myself how do I want to finish this hike.”
Lowe wanted a quiet finish just between her and Becka. That’s why she planned the last two miles on Thanksgiving Day.
“I could sneak in under the radar and have the type of finish I wanted,” she said.
But, Lowe also wanted to know that Becka was with her all along.
“I told myself if I find a quarter on the ground I would know Becka was with me,” she said.
On the last two miles of the last day, Lowe looked down and found a quarter.
“That was a message she was with me,” Lowe said. “The outcome of the hike is that the entire nation is aware of Becka. The mission was accomplished.”
Her major motivation for a hike that took 8.5 months to complete remained Becka.
“I consider myself a bad ass in hiking,” Lowe said. “I almost drowned, had a surgery and encountered a man with a gun. But knowing that it was in Becka’s memory carried me all along.”
Lowe’s advice to those thinking about hiking the trail is not to tackle it in one season.
“The mileage is daunting,” she said. “There are unmarked areas and the solitude, it can be overwhelming. Give it at least two years.”
Because northern Michigan still had snow in May, Lowe had to turn back to Ohio and hike east and wait for Michigan to thaw.
How did Lowe succeed in spite of all the challenges?
She trained for two months before the hike walking 10 miles a day with an over weighted backpack.
Lowe turned 65 on the NCT hike on Sept. 4th, and she still wants to hike the Continental Divide trail to be the first woman with a quintuple crown award.
“Hiking is my passion, my church,” she said. “I feel closer to higher power. It has given me strength, freedom and confidence. It has come with tears, sorrow and joy. My trail name is Chosen. I am living out my destiny.”
Lowe said she will do the Continental Divide trail ASAP, before the aging process takes over and makes it impossible.
“My hiking days are numbered,” she said. “I have learned that it’s not the best motivator just pounding out miles, but the most inspirational was the kindness of the people and making lifelong friends. I could feel love coming over me like an ocean of love washing over me.”
Lowe says about herself that she is not religious, but she is spiritual.
“None of us does a hike like this alone,” she said. “I can picture a chain of people holding hands and those are the people who came out. I didn’t do it alone.”
Lowe calls her hikes pilgrimages.
“It’s a time to reflect, it gives insight and introspection,” she said. “The greatest fun is succeeding at your goal, finishing what you start. It gives me incredible accomplishment and confidence.”
Lowe ignores negative people in order to accomplish her goals.
“It’s my responsibility to step over them and keeping my eye on the goal and not let them affect my ability of moving forward,” she said. “I’ve become strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Lowe’s final advice:
“Don’t quit, no matter what.”
However, as far as the grieving process itself, Lowe says there is no closure on grieving, ever.
“Becka was my best friend, and when all was said and done, we both forgave each other everything and loved each other dearly,” Lowe said. “I miss being able to do the simple things with her like talking on the phone, going out to eat together, going “thrifting” at thrift shops, travelling together, and listening to her sing at karaoke. She lived for music and had an amazing voice! I miss being able to touch her and kiss her face.”
Since the establishment of NCT in 1980, only five men have completed a thru hike of the trail and Lowe was the sixth person, and the only woman in the USA.
NCTA executive director Bruce Matthews said Lowe’s hike elevates the awareness of the North Country Trail.
“It fires people’s imagination and makes the trail more accessible to women,” he said. “It expands the horizon. It is unusual to complete it in one season.”
Matthews hopes that the experience Lowe has had will inspire other people to follow in her footsteps.
“You have to be prepared,” he said. “NCT is different from the Appalachian or the Pacific trails.”
What distinguishes NCT from the other trails is that it runs through different environments, and it does not follow a mountain range.
“Trail angels will be looking for you ready to help,” he said. “You can share experiences and volunteers make the routes more scenic.
On the theme of the extreme solitude on the trail, Matthews said:
“Solitude is part of the NCT experience,” he said.
On the psychology aspect of the strenuous hike, Dr. Daniel Ehnis, professor at Cornerstone University, said that taking on this challenge aids the healing process in a few ways:
“First of all, it helps the mother to do something extreme and distracting, rather than sitting by helplessly.
Second, the mother’s agony and suffering helps her transfer her psychological pain into physical pain. The physical discomfort can be easier to manage than the emotional turmoil from the loss.
Finally, her daughter’s wish to not be forgotten would take something extraordinary to honor that request.”