Tag Archives: Michigan

This Tail-End of Winter

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Six days into March, we are seeing signs of the winter’s end here on Beaver Island. There’s still plenty of snow along the Fox Lake Road, which is in the woods, in the middle of this island. Still, the trees all have a ring of bare earth around them, where the snow has melted away. My back yard is clear past the wild cherry tree, and much of the ice has melted from the driveway.

Closer to the big lake that surrounds us, in those places where the sun, when it shines, can more easily reach, everything melts faster. In the downtown areas, where paved roads help the process, the snow is nearly gone. This is still winter, though.

At the hardware store, we brought the snow blowers – usually on display and for sale all winter – back down to the basement. I didn’t push them all the way to the back corner where we store them through the summer, though. I suspect we may want them back upstairs before the seasons change. Often, when spring promises to come early, with melting snow and warmer days, winter smiles and gives us a foot of snow on April Fool’s Day.

Two “ice-breakers” came through last week, to break up the ice in our harbor, so that the tug boat pulling the barge loaded with fuel could get in. That barge had been locked into the ice in Michigan’s upper peninsula since late last fall. Guys with ice drills and chain saws have been out working every day, to help them get all the way in to the dock. Even now, a week into March, that ice is thick.

I walked the dogs last evening down a snow-covered trail. Someone had tried to pull in with a car, which drew my interest. Though the trail goes a half-mile into the woods, it is actually a private drive, and I didn’t think any of the owners were here. The car tracks stopped a short way in, leaving ridges more than 12 inches deep. Boot prints in the snow suggested that the explorers continued on foot, in and then back out again.

Rosa Parks had been left at home on Sunday, so yesterday she was eager to show me she was up for a walk, too. Darla wagged her tail and watched as I put on boots and coat; Rosa Parks went right to the door to wait. She had no intention of being left behind again!

My big dog, Darla, loves a walk, and is a calm and steady companion. Her ears flap up and down like bird’s wings, in time to her footsteps. She keeps me in sight as we walk down the road and – while investigating the sights and smells – never strays too far from where I am.

Rosa Parks is often indecisive about the walk. She’ll pause at the end of the driveway, thinking. No matter how much I call, and coax, and beg, she will not come with us. Sometimes she turns, then, and goes back to wait on the porch. Other days, I’ll look back to see that she has ventured out onto the road, though she is making no effort to catch up with us. Then, we have to turn around and go back…in fear that a car would come along while I am far ahead. That behavior is what caused her to be left inside on Sunday.

When the little dog is in the mood for a good walk, she’s a joy to have along. She was in the spirit yesterday. She beat us to the door, and then she beat us to the end of the driveway. “What’s keeping you?” her gaze seemed to ask, as she looked back at us, tail wagging. All the way down the snowy drive, Rosa Parks zipped from one smell to another. She bounded ahead, then circled back to see what Darla was doing. She’d glance my way, then run off again with a grin, and a wag of her tail.

Though the sun – just above the treetops on the horizon – was bright, the day was cold. The surface of the snow was firm, so that I walked on top of it, rather than sinking in, yet it was not icy. It was an easy walk, and a good one, on a beautiful, cold winter day. I think I paid more attention, and was more appreciative of the season, knowing it is nearly at its end.

 

 

 

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I Didn’t Know

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When I first read Jim Harrison’s work, I didn’t know he lived in Michigan. I think Farmer was the first of his books that I read, but it might have been Sundog, or even some other. I know his words felt like home to me. The second book, I know, was Selected & New Poems. By then, I knew he lived in Michigan.

He was often compared to Hemingway, for his rugged character and somewhat decadent lifestyle as much as for his writing. I sense a touch of misogyny, though, in the works of Hemingway, coming through in his descriptions of female characters or in how other characters related to them. Harrison wrote as someone who knew and loved women. He wrote more than once, vividly, from the feminine perspective.

I was amazed at the gentleness of his words, and the humble way he presented them, as if each were a small token. That how I received them, too, like gifts to be savored. In looking through old notebooks and journals, I often come upon little quotes by Jim Harrison that I had jotted down, just for the delicious sound of the words.

Harrison’s name was always on my list of authors, along with Louise Erdrich, Richard Russo and Barbara Kingsolver, whose new work I would look for, should I find myself in a bookstore. I felt like he’s been a companion through my life, as I kept watch on his talent through his books, and on his life through news reports. He made movies. His children grew up. He moved away from northern Michigan to be closer to his family.

How was it, then, that I didn’t hear, until yesterday, of his death? I mentioned his name in my post. A friend responded with comments about her enjoyment of his work. “Sad to know there won’t be any more,” she wrote. What?? A little research confirmed that Jim Harrison died in March. of this year.

Though I knew him only from what he wrote, and what was written about him, I feel like I’ve lost a friend. His words are still here with us, and thanks for that, but his presence was greater than just his writing, and I feel that loss.

 

Getting Away and Settling In

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The older I get, the more nervous I get about driving.

The longer I live here on Beaver Island, the more I am intimidated by traffic and speed.

It’s not road conditions.

We, here in northern Michigan, are well aware of ice and snow.

I have driven to work before the plow truck came through, making the first tracks through deep snow.

I have made it home on roads slick with ice.

I’ve had my share of scary sliding, fish-tailing and spinning events that make my heart pound and my hands shake.

The differences are this:

  1. On Beaver Island, I rarely contend with other vehicles. My car, for most of my trip, is the only one on the road.
  2. I can pick my speed, based on the conditions. If worn out tires and slippery roads dictate a speed of 15 miles per hour, I can pretty much guarantee there won’t be an angry four-wheel-drive pick-up driver tearing up from behind and zipping around me.
  3. If an accident happens, it is usually car-to-snowbank, car-to-ditch or car-to-tree…not car-to-madly-careening-down-the-icy-freeway-sideways-semi-truck.

I drove down-state this last weekend, for a Christmas party and a pre-Christmas visit with family and friends.

I watched the weather predictions closely, and with trepidation. It was a fickle forecast, changing almost daily from “not bad” to the terror inducing “winter storm watch.” By the time my departure day on Friday came around, it looked like the most I’d have to contend with was a little “lake-effect” snow around the Kalkaska area.

That held true, and my drive down was an easy trip.

In Ionia, I met my daughter, Jen, and my grandson, Patrick, for dinner and presents, conversation and games.

The next day, Jen took the wheel. We brought Patrick to his Dad’s house, then headed for Saugatuck.

More talk and laughter, more family and friends and the thirty-fourth annual Pine & Pasta Party.

The party had its start when my friend Bob, newly divorced, decided that decorating for Christmas would be more fun with a few friends. It has evolved over the years into a much anticipated holiday tradition. Bob makes a big pot of his famously good spaghetti sauce and cooks up pasta to go with it. Guests bring breads and salads and munchies. Bob and his brother Gary – AKA “The Bare-Chested Christmas Tree Wrestlers” – bring in the tree, set it up and string the lights. Some visitors add the ornaments while others advise and dictate placement from the comfort of the sofa. Many of the decorations were contributed by guests over the years and reflect the times past. One of my favorites is a garland of hand-sewn silver alewives, presented in the year our beaches were smelly with that fish. Drawings are held, and gifts distributed. My sister, Brenda, was the proud winner of a box of miniature hotel soaps from all over the country…collected by Bob in his travels with the Red Cross. Others were lucky enough to receive prizes retrieved from cereal boxes or earned with box tops or coupons. Every guest was given a commemorative ornament, inscribed by Bob with the event and year. I don’t make it to his party every year, but have a nice collection of ornaments reminding me of when I attended. It was a great group this year, and I’m glad I was there.

Sunday morning, up early and on the road.

First east, to pick up Patrick and bring him and Jen home. After that, I was on my own.

North, to Charlevoix, where I’d get on the small plane that would take me back to the island.

The roads were clear and the trip was without complications. I had allowed enough time so that when I came into wet, snowy conditions less than a hundred miles from my destination, I was able to slow down without worrying about missing my flight.

I arrived early at the airport, and – with inclement weather threatening – my flight left shortly after.

A smooth flight and a perfect landing on the island, then retrieve the car and load my bags, a quick visit with my aunt, to the boarders to pick up my dogs…then home!

It has hardly stopped snowing since I got here, day before yesterday!

I was ready for a trip, and happy to get away. It was a great chance to reconnect and visit and play.

I was happy to get back home, too, to my cozy house in the snow.

I’m ready, now, to settle in for a while.

Second of June, Beaver Island, Michigan

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The weather is doing strange and unpredictable things this Spring.

More than usual, I think.

After several cool days, I stepped outside one morning last week to the kind of heat and high humidity – already at 9 A.M. – that we wouldn’t normally see for a month yet. The scent of lilacs wafted along in that heavy air from trees and bushes that were miles away.

I felt blessed that day, walking in that warm, perfumed breeze.

The next day was warm and sunny, but the winds increased.

Rains came in next, and the temperatures dropped.

Today feels downright cold!

Business is following the weather, in its unpredictability.

It doesn’t seem to matter if folks are traveling one thousand miles to spend their summer vacation here…when the cold weather lingers, they seem to know it. If the weather is bad, the visitors don’t come. In addition, severe Winter storms caused school districts to take “snow days” that they have to make up at the end of the year. Many schools are still in session.

There are other factors.

Seasonal shops and restaurants are just now opening up for the Summer here on Beaver Island. Suddenly, there are more choices of where to go for lunch, dinner or “happy hour.”

A busy day leaves me feeling hopeful and encouraged…and a little bit scared. This long, spare Winter has been hard on my budget; I’m anxious to get some money coming in again. I look forward to the busy-ness of Summer. Still, it has been close to fourteen years since I last worked as a server in this harbor-front establishment. My bosses were kind enough to accommodate my requests for location and hours; I would hate to let them down. Every busy day that I manage to keep the pace, I congratulate myself a little bit…but I know it’s going to pick up. I haven’t really been tested, yet.

A slow day…or two or three of them in a row…makes me even more afraid. Will this be the year, finally, when the poor economy or the price of travel will keep people away? Will we get enough visitors this Summer? In this tourist-based industry, these are annual, underlying fears. Most of our income for the whole year is dependent on a few short weeks when the sun is bright and the sands are warm. June is always a slow month, I remind myself; things will get better.

My own fortunes…and my moods…are as up and down as the weather.

An income tax refund allowed me to catch up a little bit, and pay one large bill that has been hanging over my head all Winter.

My little dog ran into the road, was bowled over and badly bruised by a car. That demanded an emergency visit to the veterinarian (a godsend at times like that!) for a thorough examination, x-rays,  a shot of cortisone and pain medicine for the following seven days.

I sold two paintings through Livingstone Studio – the summer gallery that carries my work here – in the first week that they were open.

I broke a tooth, eating rice cereal one morning. The order of that day was two hours in the dental chair, a temporary crown and a well-used credit card.

I hired a man to take out three trees that have been encroaching on and shading my garden. That’s a bigger deal than what it sounds like. It is amazingly hard to find someone on this island to tackle small jobs. Everyone is too busy; many don’t want to mess with things like that. The few times that we’ve had someone willing to work exclusively at odd jobs and repairs, they’ve had more work than they can handle. I was thrilled to find someone to do the job for a fair price, in a timely fashion. I’m still pleased about it, even though…

I came home last night to find that the last tree had fallen in the wrong direction, poking a hole in the roof of my old shed and taking down a good portion of the back of my garden fence.

That’s the way it’s been…highs and lows.

My dog survived…things broken are repairable…so in the end, more good than bad.

As the weather warms up, the tourists will come.

It’s cold today, but Summer is on the way.

That’s how it is, for me, here on Beaver Island, this second day of June.

The Facts

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It seems that rumors are swirling around, here on Beaver Island.

Just coming out of a long winter, that’s not surprising.

It does surprise me when the talk is about me.

That is rare. I keep a low profile.

Rumors suggest that I am planning to leave Beaver Island; fed up, disappointed, I am moving away.

I worry about how that makes people feel.

Those people who have supported my endeavors, employed me, helped me when I’ve needed it. Those who’ve made sure I had heat, or transportation, or wine as the situation warranted it. Those who have been my friends.

Let me set the record straight.

Beaver Island and its people have not disappointed me.

This place has always felt like home to me; that has not changed.

I love almost everything about my life here.

However, I have been sending out resumes.

Well, more accurately, I sent out one resume…which led to a quick trip downstate for an interview, a nice chat with a group of hard-working administrators, and a kind letter of rejection.

And that’s okay.

I may send out more. I am looking into possibilities.

Over the years, I’ve come to many forks in the road, and made decisions based on what seemed most sensible at the time. Sometimes, the options were limited. It often seemed like other, outside, circumstances played a large role in the choices I made. There were always reasons.

But when are reasons only excuses?

How often did fear dictate my choice?

Or a desire to not move out of my comfort zone?

Recently, faced with the possibility of working in a career that would enable me to use my skills, education and capabilities in a creative manner, I realized how much I wanted to do that.

I also realized how weary I am of working without ever getting ahead. I’ve had some good jobs that allowed me to pay the bills, which is grand, and a big source of pride for me. But even in a job that kept me inside from dawn to dusk much of the year, I couldn’t actually afford to finish my house or take on a car payment. A roof repair, broken appliance or sick dog would throw my budget off for a year.

I’ve also been thinking that I would like to retire someday. I have done nothing to prepare for that.

So, I’ve been thinking of making a terrifying leap into a real career at this late stage.

I’m sixty years old. If I’m going to do something, the time is now.

But, the job market is not great, there are still limitations beyond my control, and I’m pretty old. The possibility is real that my endeavors will be met with other letters of rejection.

That’s okay, too.

I am not unhappy here. Not fed up with Beaver Island, not disappointed in its people.

I am happy to have a job, happy to serve, happy on Beaver Island.

Signs of the Season

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ImageLast week I photographed snow in the woods here on Beaver Island.

The snow was soft and definitely on its way out, but still mounded impressively. I showed the photos around when I went downstate last weekend. They weren’t as shocking as I thought they’d be, as it seems Winter lingered long all through the state of Michigan.

Today, the first of May, I think the snow is finally all gone on Beaver Island.

It was a shirtsleeves kind of day, with a nice breeze and warm sunshine. .

Walking the dogs today, I went looking for signs of Spring.

In my yard, the daffodils have burst into bloom by the kitchen door. Crocus are up in clusters, scattered through the front yard. The Siberian Squill has been blooming for a week or more, in amongst the drifts of snow. Hyacinths opened today!

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The woods, from the trail, look pretty bland. You have to look carefully to see the hint of green through the dead leaves blanketing the forest floor.

So, today it was off the path and through the woods, to get a close-up view of the changing season.

The wild leeks, called ramps, are the brightest and most visible color. Though they won’t be ready to harvest for a few weeks yet, their onion-like scent already perfumes the air.

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The feathery foliage of the Dutchman’s Breeches are poking up along the edges of the tree line. Soon their flowers, each like a pair of yellow pantaloons, will hang in the shade of the lacy green leaves.

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Spring Beauties, the tiny little flowers whose color is determined by the soil, are palest purple in my woods. In other areas they are pink, white or blue. The flower is not even an inch in diameter. The stem is as fine as thread. According to my aunt, now in her eighties, when she was a child, they picked Spring Beauties by the basketful. They wove them into a crown for the statue of the Blessed Mother, for the May celebration. They made them into floral swags for the children making First Communion to carry.

“You can’t do that anymore,” she told me, “now they’re endangered.”

“No wonder” I replied.

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Trout Lilies will eventually have a small, lily-like flower. Now, in early Spring, they show only the leaves that, in shape and color, resemble a speckled trout.

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Wild Strawberries are up!

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And, finally, the Princess Pine. It used to be harvested by the peck at Christmastime, to make pretty, long-lasting wreaths. Though it’s still plentiful here on Beaver Island, it is protected in this state.

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As one additional mark of the season, though I didn’t get a photo to document it, the Sandhill Cranes have returned to the pond.

This must be Spring!

Tommy

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When I was a child, an envelope would arrive a few days before my birthday, from my grandparents. It contained a birthday card, of course, but also a long, newsy letter, and usually a gift of money, to enable me to pick out my own present.

For most of my childhood my grandparents were in Chicago on my birthday, both working in the city. But sometimes they were on vacation at that time, here on Beaver Island or elsewhere.  Sometimes they were in good health, other times they had issues. Always, they were busy. My Grandmother had a large family in the city, of brothers and sisters and cousins and all of their children. My grandfather had six grown children scattered around Michigan (one in New Jersey!) and twenty five grandchildren.

Yet, never-failing, that card always arrived in time for my birthday.

My grandson, Tommy, turns eleven tomorrow.

I’ve been carrying his card around for a week.

One day, I had the card, but forgot the address. The next day I addressed the envelope but then left it sitting on the dining room table. Two days I missed the post office. Another two days I ran in for my mail before going to work, but forgot to bring the envelope in to post. Tomorrow I will mail Tommy’s birthday card, without any hope that it will reach him on time.

So, today I’ve been trying to call, so far without success.  To wish Tommy a very happy birthday. To tell him that I love him. And to explain that his card will be late.

This isn’t the first time.

Though I have only five grandchildren, and I know all of their birthdays by heart, I am often late getting cards and letters in the mail.

It has happened often enough that I know the response I’ll get.

First my daughter, Kate, will say, “No problem.” She’ll have some assurance that it will be here in time for the party, which is on the following weekend, or that he has so many cards and gifts to open, better that it come later when he can give it his full attention. She’s very good at it.

Then Tommy. He’ll be happy for the call, glad to talk to his Grandma Cindy, and will mimic his mother’s “No problem.”

He’s a good, kind boy!

He deserves a more thoughtful, punctual grandmother!

Unfortunately, he’s stuck with me.

Which is very fortunate for me; I’m lucky to have this sweet young man for a grandson!

Happy Birthday, Tommy!