I perused the Huffington Post on my phone.  Outlandish and incredulous titles 
get a click.  Playing right into their marketing ploy, I added a unique visit to that link.  It's a great illustration of what the right words can do.  The power they hold.  
I'm a sucker for them.  

The story said, "Panera Bread To Dump 130 Ingredients".  I'm a bit of a clean foodaholic. To think that clean eating and cooking with quality, easy recognizable and pronounceable ingredients being outlandish instead of normal is quite telling of our palates, our food sources, and our unbelievably ridiculous FDA!    That story shouldn't have even had to be if we had a better food governing standard in this country.  

The only redeeming part of the article was that Panera was taking steps to go against the norm.  Kudos to them.  But, the outlandish part of the story is beyond the restaurant.  It's that we need to lobby for cleaner farming techniques.  But that would ultimately swing  against the big chemical companies and the agri-farm industry that 
compromises our food supply for profits and yields. We pay again through the cost of 
health issues, both financial and physcial.

I buy organic whenever I can.  It costs me much.  Right now, the alternative though remarkably cheaper, is not something I'm willing to put in my body.  Eating clean, with the least amount of chemicals, processes and preservatives, eliminating as much interference in my body system as I can, is financially outlandish.  You would never believe what I spend on groceries.

It's almost as outlandish as what I saw at 5:30 a.m. one dark wintry morning
 just a few months back. 

If I were called to a witness stand, and asked to place my left hand on the Bible and raise my right hand, I could easily and with purity of conscience do so.  There is not one drop of made up, stretching the truth, or seeing incorrectly in my eye witness account of that morning. If I were a writer for the Huffington Post my story's title would be something like, "The Legendary Black Panther Strikes Again".  

I am thankful now that I didn't yet have my treadmill moved from my house in Illinois to where I recently had moved to. That fateful collision of sorts would have never happened as I might not have chosen to run in the dark with 18 inches or more of snow on the ground. Miles on a treadmill are far easier to run than miles in the great outdoors.  You miss the extra physical rewards and edge that outdoor running bring.  I would not have had the privilege to experience both thrilling amazement and utter fright simultaneously.

The darkness, wind, cold and snow on the road made that morning's run hard.  It had snowed the night before and continued to snow as I battled the last half mile toward home. The LED light strapped to my arm cast a small circle of light with each rhythmic swing.  

Not more than 25 feet in front of me I watched something large, sleek and black 
with muscular haunches and a long cat tail bolt across the road in a full boar sprint.  
It was smooth and effortless and faster than anything I'd ever seen with my own eyes in the wild. 
 It moved like the big cats I'd seen in zoos, on TVs "Planet Earth" and Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom", my favorite show growing up.

I sucked in air as my mind and heart separated their syncness. 
 [What did I just see!  It's Southern Michigan.  That was a black panther!  What the hell!  I just had a black panther pass literally in front of me!!!] 

I came to a complete stop in the road.  The panther was gone.  My heart was pounding. Mostly I stood still because I didn't know exactly what to do next; think, look for the panther in the field, or run like the dickens home!  My mind was sorting through what I had just seen, trying to order it, make sense of the visual. 

My daughter and I came up with an alternative definition to the phrase, displaced histology. We use that phrase in reference to things in movies that don't fit entirely with the era of the movie. Things that are out of history's order or relevance at its time in the timeline. Really though histology is the microscopic study of animal or plant tissues. And, displaced is when something is moved from its normal place or use.

What my eyes saw, where I lived, the time of day, my knowledge of what I saw and what I know it was all collided to outlandish incredulous overload.  Synapses firing rapid speed were bombarding my whole body!

I walked to the edge of road and tried desperately to shine my very limited spherical LED light into the snowy darkness. I peered, squinted and moved that light around.  It was futile. [That creature moved so fast it is long gone from my vision, let alone this poor excuse for a light.]  Still I stood there frantically processing and peering in the direction it raced away toward.  I wanted to see more.  I wanted to see it again.  I wanted it in slow motion this time - to really get to take it in.  I had been privy to something rarely seen.  

[No one will ever believe me!  Would I believe it if someone told me they had seen a panther on a cold, snowy, dark 5:30 a.m. run in Southern Michigan?  I had to tell someone.  No, I had to tell anyone and everyone about the panther I had seen.  Everyone that is, except my husband.  He would try to forbid me from running in the dark.  He would worry.  Maybe he would disbelieve me. OK, I'll tell everyone, except him.]

A bit of fear kicked in.  My overloaded mind all of sudden felt the sudden intrusion of fear.  I took off running - sprinting the half mile home.  Fear is irrational.  But so is a black panther 25 feet in front of me in Southern Michigan.

[P.S.  It was confirmed with DNR - a panther had been sighted on rare occasions in the area. 
 And, I have told random strangers and most of humanity that reside in my small world all about what I saw.  
Most have responded, "Are you sure it wasn't a deer!"  I eventually told my husband, last.]



There are oh so many reasons why winter is my least favorite season.  My dear friend Dawn has a totally different view of the gray, bleak, cumbersome, cold and snowy months of winter. She and my brother-in-law have a wild love affair with snow.  I love them in spite of their obvious mental deficiencies.

My clothing repertoire is relatively narrow in its colors.  One would think that someone who loves gray, white, black and tan would love the colorlessness of winter.  It's primary color scheme is the cool vibed color gray. The landscape and sky meld together in a dirty, monotonous swirl.   Day after day.  For months on end.  

It's a rarity on the east side of Lake Michigan to get many sunny blue-skied days period, let alone in the bleakish winter months.  I knew that living here, but having lived west and south of Lake Michigan at other points in my incredible journey, it is now glaringly clear.  There is a blue sky other places.  It doesn't hide, it just comes out blue and stays for extended periods.  There is a blue sky here too, it's just hidden under a canopy of overcast and gray clouds.  It waits to appear until your spirit is sucked dry of hope and vitamin D.  It's brilliance and scarcity appears fleetingly, almost unwillingly at times.  

I've thought and thought about this unique weather patterned part of the country.  Why would anyone want to live here?  Obviously there are times where the availability of a job takes us somewhere that we wouldn't live if it were not for the necessity of needing to earn a living. Other times we choose to leave behind small and known for big and unknown.  Life is a quest to figure out our path.  Sometimes we figure it out, what really matters, and we come home.

I find myself willingly back to the region of my roots. Away I am now from sun, blue skied winter days, and weather patterns that are not as harsh, or endlessly long.  I bitch and moan.  I did last night and this morning while shoveling 18 inches of snow.  I did as well when I ran in the snow storm yesterday and returned as though I had stepped from a shower.  The gray is like kryptonite to my very soul.  Like swimming with boots on.  

Though I am a hater of the clouds, the temps, and the snow, my heart feels at home with friends, family, and familiarity. They are the sun hidden by the gray.   And, they post to the walls of my soul - giving birth to the molecules that make up big pieces of me.  

Eating dinner at my daughter's favorite restaurant last week, she commented that she loves that we are back here living.  She loves that she can connect with me in the middle of the week whenever she wants.  She loves that Doug and I can be a connective tangible part of their lives again.  At that moment, there was no gray hanging low.  The sun of my heart and soul sparkled from the privilege to be in close proximity with those I love deeply.  It was a conscious confident know that we know choice we made, despite the difficulty of details not yet worked out.

Since being back home I've been able to see sisters and brother-in-laws, nieces and their boyfriends, parents, hold new great nieces, babysit a grand kid, see kids, spend time with friends.  The sun warms my always cold body, makes life simpler, allows me to participate in the great outdoors more.  Those things are all about me. The gray though has illuminated my heart with the presence of family and friends.

I understood why people choose to live here - she was sitting across from me.



The loons have been calling.  They seem to only call when it's sunny out though.  I try to imitate their call much like Katherine Hepburn did in the movie "On Golden Pond", minus the magnitude of vibrato she had in her voice.  There is something magical about hearing them. And, like all things in nature, they play right to my very soul.

My running route has changed greatly as of late.  No more city streets, city parks, the big cemetery, or the occasional ghetto neighborhood route.  No more paths illuminated by street lamps, front porch lights, or car headlights.  It is virtually totally dark here and still.   Gravel and country roads next to marshy bogs of cattails that lead to the lake, farm fields, wide open spaces, and views of the lakes mark my routes now.  You are not sheltered from winter's harshness by buildings and ambient light where I am.  

Most of my belongings are not here at the present time, including my treadmill.  Treadmills, for me at least, are used when the weather is inclement; icy, raining, or too much snow to maneuver even with Yaks. It's not my first choice to run on, but at the very least it gives me opportunity to continue running when I cannot outside.   But since I am  presently de-void of my treadmill, snow plows that keep the roads clear in the pre dawn hours, ambient or man made lights, and temperatures near or below 0 degrees, I've ventured out to run in the predawn hours before work.  It's a bit of WOman VS Wild.

I burned the inside of my right nostril and sinuses from near to below 0 temps [Google it if you will].  It was a miserable week of recovery from that.  It didn't stop me from running outside though.  It just added another crappy condition to the already crappy conditions I was running in/with.  Oh how I wished the loons called in the early morning darkness.  It would have made running in 4 inches of unplowed snow on the roads more melodic. Those loons would have taken my mind off the fact that, even with three pair of gloves on, I couldn't feel the tips of my fingers .  Their loud calling would have distracted me enough that I might have been able to go a couple more miles.

With all things moving and changing about my life as of late, I find great solace in routine - in running.  My mind was full of apprehensions about the timing of so many things still unsettled as I set out to run on a new road that I hadn't ventured down yet - a country road that ran perpendicular to the lake I lived on.  The weather conditions were windy. The road was splattered here and there with an occasional house or two and then followed by stretches of just fields and no houses.

As I tried to combat the wind, the spots of black ice and my doubting heart, I prayed to know that I know that I know.  That though the timing was longer than I wanted, it didn't change what I knew. I repeated the song and dance again and again in my head as I ran.  I knew.  I trusted.  I knew.  I trusted.  

There it was, on this country road on a windy wintry day - a dollar bill laying at the edge of the road.  It was crinkly and laid on top of a small puddle of half melted ice. I stopped, took my gloves off and picked up the wet dollar bill cramming it in my pocket.  Unmistakably there was God's confirmation of hearing and knowing the record I was playing in my head.  He heard me trying to combat the fear and the doubts.  And, He acknowledged it all.

God it seems, speaks to me in lost money from time to time.  He has for years and years.  It was God's voice of reassurance of His presence to me.  Of Him knowing my situation.  Of Him working it out.  

It was loud and crystal clear on that road in the midst of a windy wintry day.  No money would likely be found on a country road with little traffic in the dead of winter, let alone a dollar bill. That is, unless it was supposed to be there for me.

It was a road I had not traveled before on foot, and yet it was God's reoccurring touch that had met me time and time again over the years. It would be fine.  It would come into alignment.  It was being monitored by God himself. 

I thanked him for the loons, my new running routes, the complete darkness in the morning and the significance of that dollar bill.  All that on a bitter winter day.