Tag Archives: Michigan

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.

 

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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!

A Day on the Mainland

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The day before yesterday, I traveled with my aunt to the mainland.

Aunt Katie had medical tests scheduled, an appointment with her lawyer, and plans to do some visiting and shopping. She can still drive, but prefers not to when off the island. She invited me along to be her driver.

She mentioned it first a few weeks ago.

“I’ll bet you’d like a trip to the mainland!” was how she worded it.

It’s not easy for her to ask for help.

“I’d love it!” was my reply.

The “mainland” is thirty-two miles away by ferry boat or small plane, to Charlevoix (the Beautiful), in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Two hours by boat, twenty minutes by plane. When I came to Beaver Island on vacation, I always took the boat; since I’ve lived here, the plane is the most practical means of transportation. From Charlevoix, it is a half-hour drive north to Petoskey, to the clinic where Aunt’s medical tests were taking place. Her friend, Rose, is in Petoskey, too; the lawyer, in Charlevoix. She had a list to fill at the grocery store, and another for the pharmacy, based on sales she had found advertised in the paper.

I made arrangements to have the day off work.

I started thinking of all the things I’d love to do, with a little spare time on the mainland.

Maybe, since our flight was early, we could drive through McDonald’s for breakfast.

I know it’s not healthy, but it’s a rare treat. When I’m on the mainland, I allow myself the indulgence of a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. If I’m traveling downstate to see my family, I also allow myself a large bag of Mesquite Barbecue “Krunchers” Potato Chips…but that’s another story.

A quick run into the second-hand store would be fun.

I’ve been watching for clothes suitable for work. We have a nice re-sale shop here on the island, but the one in Charlevoix is good, too. My daughters (who would have scorned the idea back when I was buying their clothing) discovered second-hand shopping when they realized their children grew faster than the cost-of-living, and they’ve turned it into an art! “Look at the labels first,” they tell me. There is no sense spending two dollars on something you could buy brand new for ten. The goal is to find good labels that speak of excellent quality and high prices…then you know you have a “steal” at two dollars. There are rules about checking for working zippers, missing buttons, split seams and stains. Of course, things like size and style come into play, too, and the best things won’t last, which makes the last rule very important: “Go often!”

What a treat to find time to visit a bookstore!

We used to have a nice bookstore here on Beaver Island, run by my friend, Mary Blocksma. She offered wonderful books and art, yoga classes, writing groups and great conversation in a room attached to her little home (where she often fed me lovely meals based on her knowledge of Indian cuisine or local mushrooms). She found self-publishing and book tours too costly to run from the island, and moved to a city down-state. I was broken-hearted when she left. We have an excellent library, but I love a good bookstore. When I get to the mainland, I like to stop at Book World in Charlevoix, Horizon Books or – my favorite – McLean & Eakin in Petoskey.

A quick run into Cherry Republic for their (absolutely wonderful) Cherry Scone Mix, and a dash into American Spoon Foods for a couple jars of salsa and their Cherry-Berry Conserve would be fantastic. If time allowed for a trip to The Grain Train in Petoskey, I could replenish my supply of rice, barley and beans for winter.

I’d check the grocery store for sales while Aunt Katie shopped. There were a couple personal care items I needed from the pharmacy, too.

I arrived at Aunt’s house at 8:25, with my first cup of coffee in hand. It is suggested that passengers be at the airport a half hour before the flight. Ours was scheduled for 9AM, so we were already rushing.

A few big raindrops started coming down as we drove to the airport, but the winds were calm.

The plane left on time and the ride was smooth.

I picked up the key at the desk, and wandered through the parking lot to get Aunt’s car. We – those of us that use her “mainland vehicle” – are always instructed to park as close to the terminal building as possible, in the long-term parking. For some reason, this day it was parked in the farthest space, in the most distant lot. By the time I found it, and drove around to the terminal to pick up my aunt, she was more than anxious to get underway.

Scratch McDonald’s, on to Petoskey.

First stop, the clinic. We were almost an hour early for Aunt’s appointment, but she checked in at the desk, and the receptionist said she might be able to get in early.

“This will take at least two hours,” Aunt Katie said, “Don’t you have some running around you’d like to do?”

She’d said that same thing to me the last time I brought her to this clinic. I’d headed for the gas-light district, went to my favorite bookstore, brought my purchases next door to the “Roast ‘n Toast” for a cafe mocha and a croissant, and got back to the clinic in a little over an hour. My 83 year old aunt was standing outside on her poor, wobbly legs waiting for me. “You’re late!” was the greeting I got.

Aunt Katie was the one that taught me how to handle disagreements with “stubborn Germans” like my father. “Don’t argue,” was her advice, “You’ll never win. Lower your eyes, bow your head, say ‘you are absolutely right’, then go on and think however you want to.”

Turns out, it was great advice.

Recognizing Aunt Katie as another “stubborn German”, I just said, “Sorry, Aunt Katie, I missed the turn.”

Not wanting to find myself in the same position this time, I said, “Thanks, Aunt Katie, but I think I’m just going to catch up on my magazine reading.”

This time, her tests took over two and a half hours.

Probably especially true in an election year, but Time and Newsweek magazines are pretty worthless if they’re more than two months old. People magazine is not much better.

By the time we got out of there, we had directions to Rose’s new home, but no time to go there. Aunt Katie was hungry. So was I, but I’d have happily settled for just another cup of coffee. No time for any of that, we had to get back to Charlevoix for the appointment with the lawyer.

Paperwork reviewed, signed and notarized, copies made, instructions given, pleasantries exchanged and we were off to get some lunch.

One bowl of soup, each: navy bean with ham. A beer for Aunt Katie; coffee for the driver.

Back to Petoskey, then, to see Rose. We found the place without incident, and had a good visit.

Aunt Katie’s legs were bothering her quite a bit by the time we left, so it was decided I’d do the shopping and she’d wait in the car. The pharmacy first, as it was right on the corner. I managed to work through her – very specific – list, in that – totally unfamiliar to me – store in what I thought was record time. “We’re running out of time!” was the greeting I received as she opened the back door for me to deposit the armload of boxes and bags. “We’re doing okay,” I told her. “A half hour to get back to Charlevoix will leave twenty minutes for me to run through the grocery store, and we can still get to the airport by five o’clock, with plenty of time to park before our 5:30 flight.”

“But you had stops you wanted to make!”

“No, Aunt Katie, nothing specific. I’m good.”

“The re-sale shop!”

“I think they closed at four o’clock. That was only if we had extra time.”

“You wanted to go to the bookstore. Well, you have too many books already.”

“You’re right, there!”

So, on to the grocery store with another list, and on to the airport (where I found a nice, close-to-the-terminal parking spot) and on to the small plane for a nice flight home.

A LOVELY day on the mainland!