Tag Archives: Spring

Finally, the Garden

Standard
the west (back) edge of the garden, with freshly planted tomatoes inside, and a healthy border of rhubarb outside the fence

Yes, it’s that time of year again: garden time! Actually, I’m late. I could have planted peas a month ago, and most of the greens would have appreciated a cooler start. Here it is, June already. And a very warm June, too. Even here in northern Michigan, where nighttime frosts are a danger well into the late spring, I should have had my seeds in the ground before this.

Spring – once again – got away from me. First it was cold. Cold enough for the furnace and, when I stubbornly decided I would not continue to use propane well into May and turned off the gas, cold enough that I had to bring the portable heater downstairs. Sixty degrees should not be too much to ask for! A month ago, I still had snow along the fringes of my yard.

Next came the rain, which washed out the last of the snow, freshened everything up, and caused the grass to grow. Oh, yes, and the mosquitoes hatched. So, first, in order to be able to work outside without being carried away by blood-thirsty insects, I had to mow the lawn. So the garden waited.

In hindsight, I always think I could have sped up the process, stuck to it longer each day, pushed myself harder, but at the time, it feels like I’m doing all that I can. With my little 18″ push mower, and whole swaths of long, tough quack grass, it took me four days to complete the job.

Finally, the garden. Which has taken a week. Though each evening I told myself I’d be able to finish up the next day, it hasn’t worked out that way. Mornings have been damp and chilly. Mosquitoes are voracious. By mid-day, the sun is beating down mercilessly. The dogs peek out with pathetic expressions from their bits of shade, pleading for a walk or a ride to the lake.

So, every day, I carry outside:

  • a tote of garden tools
  • my garden plan, sketched in pencil on graph paper
  • the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, on companion planting, which I use to plot out my planting arrangement, but also refer to when I’m squeezing something in
  • sun screen
  • mosquito repellent
  • my full-body, hooded, polyester net, hotter-than-hell-but-effective anti-insect suit, for when mosquito repellent is not enough

And I give it my best. And every evening, I carry it all back inside.

It’s coming along. I have planted thirteen tomato plants, all generous gifts from family and friends, and sixteen basil plants started by my cousin Bob. I have double-dug, spaded and raked nine garden beds, each roughly 36″ wide and twelve feet long. I’ve planted peas, bush beans, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk with the dogs, I gathered long branches that had fallen over the winter, and carried them home. Today, I’ll use them to make my pole bean tepees, and plant those seeds around the perimeter. Because I have run out of space, I’ll plant Swiss chard around and inside of those tepees, and hope for the best. The kale seeds are going in the asparagus bed, along the north wall of the garden, and the salad greens will be planted in my last canvas tub. That’s it! Finally, the garden will be done!

 

 

May Miscellany

Standard

IMG_0613

On this eighth day in May, out here on the Fox Lake Road, one big pile of snow remains in my yard. It is on the west side of the garden shed, so it misses the bright morning sun. A little more protection is contributed by the wild chokecherry tree on one side, and the field on the other. Unless we get a big rainstorm, I think it may last until June!

Not twenty feet away from the unseasonable snow mound, the forsythia is in bloom. Just across the side yard, at least four different types of narcissus are showing off their brightest yellows and oranges. Hyacinths perfume the air just outside the kitchen door. Snowdrops, which started flowering a month ago, right through the snow, are still putting forth their pale blue blossoms.

Last evening, I opened windows to let in some fresh air, along with the sounds and smells of spring. The air turned cool in the night, but I was toasty warm under the covers. This morning, I woke up when I heard the furnace come on. That drove me out of bed in a rush to close windows; I have no intention of trying to heat the outside!

The sun has come up bright and strong. The big dog is napping on the back porch, in a pool of sunshine. I stripped the bed first thing, with the intention of washing the sheets and hanging them outside on the clothesline to dry. Though it’s my day off, I have no other household projects planned for the day. There is plenty to do outside.

Through the last week, with so much yard work to catch up on, I’ve kept to a specific after-work ritual. I greet the dogs, and invite them outside. I stow my bags inside the door. I pick up my bucket and hand cultivator, then drop to my knees. Anywhere in the yard, as it all needs attention.

It is slow progress, but steady. One day it was the peony bed, another the long day lily bed. I spent several days weaving my fingers in between daffodils to pull out the grasses that have already moved in, and the fallen leaves that provided passage for them. At least one hour on my knees, every day, before I think about walking the dogs, making dinner, and all of the other things that fill an evening.

Today, with more time to at my disposal, I could tackle a bigger job. The lawn mower could be cleaned, oiled and put to good use in my yard, which never did get that last fall mowing before the snow came. Clearing the yard of leaves and windfall is another all-day job. I could plant peas and lettuce in the garden; they can stand the cool weather. Blackberry brambles need to be cut back from the side yard where I keep the compost bin. They moved in, and their sharp thorns have made emptying my bowl of kitchen scraps a hazardous affair. The garden shed still needs a coat of paint.

As I plot out all the things that need to be done, I waver. On the one hand, there is no time to waste: before I know it, the time for planting the garden will be past. It will only take one good rain to bring out the mosquitoes, and any work in my yard will be impossible without full armor of chemicals and netting. Soon, the summer season will be full upon us, and my energy will be sapped by the busy-ness of my work days. The time is now.

And yet…this is May. The forsythia is in bloom. The yard smells heavenly. This is the perfect time of year – before the bugs come out – to wander the woods with the dogs. There, the Dutchman’s Breeches, Spring Beauties and Trout Lilies are blooming. The wild ramps scent the air with the smell of onion, and will soon be ready to harvest. In moist areas, there is hope of finding morel mushrooms. If I’m going to take time to enjoy this season, the time is now.

So, what to do? For now, I think I’ll pour another cup of coffee and think about it.

 

Dogs (the April A~Z Challenge)

Standard

IMG_2705

On Friday, the 30th of March, weather reports predicted a big storm coming our way. High winds and cold temperatures were expected. Plus maybe several inches of wet, heavy snow. Maybe freezing rain. What did we expect? When this month had come in like a lamb, of course it was going to go out like a lion!

On Friday, though, it still looked like spring out here on the Fox Lake Road. The road itself was completely clear of snow and ice. The snow was melting away from the tree trunks, even in the deep woods, and my yard was more than halfway bare. Daily, the big dog was finding toys she’d left outside, that had been buried for months under the blanket of white. Daffodils were poking their first leaves out of the ground, and the rhododendrons were in bud. The temperature was in the 40s, and the sun was shining brightly when I got home from work.

“We’d better take advantage of this day,” I told the dogs, and they seemed to agree. The big dog, Darla, is always up for a walk. She headed right out, no need for coaxing. Even Rosa Parks, who often has to be begged or bribed to come along, was right on my heels. We crossed the road and took Cotter’s trail through the woods.

Sometimes the snow on the trail was firm enough to walk on; most of the time, though, every footfall broke through six inches of mush. That’s tiring, and hard on my knees. I hadn’t changed into boots; my cloth shoes were going to be soaked. On another day, I might have turned back. On Friday, though, the sun was shining, and both dogs were tail-wagging along beside me. We walked the whole distance in, then back out. We were all pretty proud of ourselves for it, too!

The storm did come through, as predicted, with about five inches of wet snow. Before it had time to melt away, another winter storm followed it. This morning, the dogs are barking up a storm inside as the young man that does my plowing clears almost of foot of snow from my driveway. I’m glad the dogs and I took advantage of spring weather when it made its brief appearance!

Walking with Dad

Standard

july2016 388

I was about half way to Hannigan Road yesterday, walking my dog down the Fox Lake Road, when I heard the low rumble of the County road truck. Darla does not chase cars, or even seem to notice them, most of the time. She barely gives them a glance as they go by. If I don’t grab her and pull her away, she won’t even yield her walkway, which is right down the middle of the road. We’re working on it.

However, all of my dogs have always hated the road trucks. Perhaps it’s the sound they make when scraping gravel or snow from the roads, or just the noise of the diesel engines. It might be because they pass by slowly, sometimes stop nearby, and often turn around in front of my house. I don’t know.

Maggie looked at cars as a means of meeting folks, and would run right up to them and jump on the door to greet the driver. She’d always want to attack the road truck, though. Clover was afraid of cars, and generally gave them a wide berth. Except for Randy’s car, which she would lay in wait for, and ambush as he drove by. And the road truck, her mortal enemy. She taught Rosa Parks everything she knew, so the little dog grew up hating the road trucks, too. Now Rosa has taught Darla, and my quiet household erupts in wild leaping and barking whenever one of them drives by.

Not knowing how Darla would react when encountering the truck on the road, I hurried to grab her collar and lead her to the side of the road. We waited together until it passed by, then continued on our way. The truck was grading the road yesterday. With the big blade down but at a slight angle, it was scraping and leveling the gravel road, one half at a time. As it went down one side of the road, it pushed a mound of dirt and leaves into the center. It would do the same thing coming back down the other side of the road. A final pass would “crown” the road, smoothing the dirt mounded in the center.

As we continued our walk, my Dad had joined us. It was the smell that brought him to mind. In the same way that freshly cut grass transports me back to my childhood summer Sundays, when Dad would mow the lawn, worked earth brings thoughts of the spring of the year, and Dad in the garden. Dragging the plow behind his small tractor, he worked the clay soil every year, trying to soften and enrich it with additions of grass clippings, manure and mounds of seaweed.

I think Dad always had a garden. When we were tiny, he worked up a small plot of ground, and taught us to space the seeds by measuring the distance with our hands. He was always thrilled to see things grow. He would compete with any of his gardening friends for the earliest radishes, hottest peppers, tallest corn or largest squash. He was proud to carry in a harvest of peas or beans or tomatoes.

Though Dad was a smart man with good stories and many abilities, the garden is what I associate most closely with him. When I leaned close to give him a hug, for most of his life Dad smelled a little of smoke and tobacco; there was usually a hint of beer or something stronger; always, Dad smelled like the earth. It makes me happy that – as the old woman I am and almost twenty years after my Dad has left this earth – something as simple as the smell of freshly turned soil can bring him right back.

Quiet Morning

Standard

june2016 095

Suddenly, it’s over.

Yesterday, I stopped at the Holy Cross Hall after work to pick up my supper. Volunteers were manning the long outdoor grills, filling the air with the tempting aroma of roasted chicken. Others were hustling around the kitchen doing prep-work and clean-up. At the back of the hall, long tables were set up with the beverages, chicken, side dishes and desserts; ladies wielding large spoons or tongs waited to help each visitor fill their plate.  There were others at the front entry, selling raffle tickets and collecting the very reasonable fee of $14.00 for a half chicken, grilled, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, corn, bread and a lovely dessert. I chose not to eat there, at any of the long tables set up for diners, but to take my meal home to reheat after I’d walked the dogs and settled in. I paid for my ticket, then went around to the kitchen door to pick up my food, packaged for travel.

This is Beaver Island’s “Homecoming Dinner,” offered every year, the second weekend in August. It is a traditional reunion weekend, for all old islanders that have left their home here to live ad work elsewhere. It has changed over the years, but is constant in that it marks the end of our tourist season. Oh, we’ll continue to have vacationers, through Labor Day at least, then color tour visitors and those that come for hunting and fishing, but the huge influx of summer people is now, too quickly, over.

The last of my sisters left yesterday, too. The arrival of my family was divided into three ferry trips over two days last Saturday and Sunday. The week was filled with sunshine and laughter, beaches and games, food and wine. The days sped by! The departures were spread over several days. On Thursday, Nicole, Jim, Hannah, Kristen, John, Danielle, Lily and Cash left on the boat. The next day, it was Todd, Tammy, Cole, Cade and Chloe that boarded the ferry to go home. Saturday, it was Amy and Dennis, with their two little dogs. Yesterday, Keith, Brenda, Cheryl and Joel left on the morning  boat that was the busiest boat of the whole season, carrying people away.

Nicole cried when she was leaving. “I hate good-byes,” she told me. “Oh, Sweetheart, then you could never live here;” I told her. “on Beaver Island, in August, it seems like we’re constantly saying good-bye!” It’s true. Every boat carries people away. Many will be back in the spring, or in the heat of summer for their next vacation. There are always some that we will never see again. The hugs are always heartfelt; the final waves from the rail of the ferry are always sad. No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to say good-bye.

This morning, I woke up slowly. I have no place that I have to go. The dogs watch me suspiciously, still not sure that I won’t run off again, to come back hours later smelling like the water, and whatever my sisters gave me to eat and drink. Today, I’m staying home. I’m going easy on myself, and not worrying about my long “To-Do” list. I’m munching pistachio nuts – a gift from Brenda – for breakfast, and drinking my third cup of coffee. I haven’t yet moved far from this desk chair. Some days, a quiet start is best.

 

 

Turning

Standard

may2016 046

A little rain, a little snow…just enough moisture, in combination, to set things in motion this May. This is my favorite time of the year!

In the woods, the trillium are showing off their bright white three-petal blossoms. Wild ramps scent the air with the smell of onion, trout lilies bow their little yellow heads over crowds of their speckled leaves. Tiny yellow pantaloons are showing up among the airy foliage of the Dutchman’s Breeches. Spring Beauties display their little flowers on top of  wispy green stems.  Those who know where to look – and have time to gather – are finding morel mushrooms.

The trees, which will settle in to a fairly regular color of green before the end of the month, are now just unfurling their leaves in a riot of different shades. The serviceberry bush at the front of the house is covered with white blossoms. Lilacs and snowball bush will be next. The forsythia in the side yard offers a bright pop of color in front of the grapevines. By the time it’s done blooming, the spirea will have taken over.

Around and under the bushes, jonquils, daffodils and narcissus are playing a relay to keep their many shades of yellow  as long as possible. When one group is ready to hang their heads, the next one takes over. Among them, clusters of tulips add shades of red and pink. Hundreds of grape hyacinth around the yard and through the flower beds add the perfect contrast with their regal blue.

Looking ahead, iris and peonies are showing their foliage, and will be ready to flower just when the earlier blooms are finished for the season. The stalwart daylilies are getting  ready to take over later, and will last until the first frost in the fall.

Asparagus us coming slowly this year, probably due to the dry weather. I pulled enough rhubarb yesterday to make one pan of rhubarb crisp; if we don’t get rain soon, that may be it for the season. Strawberries are covering their bed with white blossoms that offer the promise of fruit.

This year is like every other: spring comes in, filled with hope, and hints of the good days ahead. Always, I trust in the promises of spring.

 

Back to North Branch

Standard

november2013 092

I didn’t ever plan on getting divorced. That wasn’t how I’d intended for things to go. I didn’t know what to expect, from myself or others. “Divorcee” had never seemed like a particularly flattering term, and I was uncomfortable with it. That first winter, my girls and I lived in two rooms at the Erin Motel. They walked to school, came home, did homework and chores, and struggled with the state of our family. They missed their Dad. I walked back and forth across the street, from home to work. Sometimes, after my morning coffee drinkers left for their jobs, I’d weep in the empty restaurant until it was time to pull myself together to serve the lunch crowd. I was constantly worried, always broke, often lonely. We just kept going through the motions…until we couldn’t stand it any longer.

In the middle of  February, we moved off the island, and back to North Branch. My in-laws had helped me find a house to rent there, and they would put me to work in their restaurant. Though they weren’t happy about the situation between me and their son, they never abandoned me. They were always helpful, always supportive. The house I rented, on Huron Street in the town of North Branch, was listed for sale; it was only available for rent until a buyer came along.  Before I left the island, my in-laws bought it, so I’d be renting from them and wouldn’t have to worry about losing my home if it were to sell.

The house was an older structure on the sidewalk lined main street, just a few blocks from the shops and restaurants downtown. It was not far from the railroad tracks, and across from a small park. The front door led into a small foyer that opened into the living room. There were windows on the left, that looked out onto a driveway, alley or side street (I can’t remember!). On the right were two doors leading into bedrooms. A doorway at the back led into the kitchen. I believe there was a back porch, possibly screened in, and a basement, too, though I don’t think i ever used either one. We only stayed until spring.

The girls were able to see their Dad on a regular basis. It did them good to be closer to grandparents and other family, too, to ease the transition. My in-laws owned a restaurant that specialized in pizza, but served three meals a day. My mother-in-law ran the business. She put me right to work, and was a great boss. I walked to and from work. When I had a dollar or two to spend, I’d stop at the flower shop on the corner and buy a single carnation to brighten my day. When I could get a ride, we’d go to my Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner. That winter, I completed registration and other paperwork to start at Michigan State University. My plan was this: we’d spend the summer back on Beaver Island, getting things in order there, then move to a family housing apartment on campus in the fall. “That will be our last move,” I told my daughters, “we’ll stay there until you finish school.”

 

Unexpected

Standard

may2016 147

Have I become too predictable?

Me, the most inconsistent person on the planet?

My friend, Kathy, is cultivating the unexpected in her life. If she thinks to herself, “I can’t go for a run, it’s pouring down rain,” she will gear up and head outside for a run, just to surprise herself. Whether an experience she never imagined she’d like or an activity she isn’t drawn to, she’ll try it because it’s unexpected. She’s an inspiration! Doing things that our psyches are not prepared for gets the nerves tingling, the heart racing and – in the fairly safe and predictable world we live in – that’s a rare and good feeling.

Inconsistent is a little different. It means that even though I know I do better if I avoid coffee in the afternoon, I may drink it anyway, just for sport. It means that I can’t be counted on to be at my job at the same time each day: sometimes I’m there on time; most days I’m late. Sometimes I skip lunch to make up for it; sometimes not. I’m supposed to go to Aunt Katie’s to clean on a particular day and time. I play fast and loose with that, too. Sometimes I respond to letters and phone calls; sometimes I don’t. Inconsistent, in my case, means unreliable.

Yet, amazing to me, I have been very consistent in my writing. This year, I’ve been posting a blog every day, usually first thing in the morning. Even the subject matter has become predictable, with “the 52 lists project” on Sundays, “timeout for art” on Thursdays, and moving from one past address to another on the days in between.

Today, my day off, I had a ten o’clock meeting in town. I had bookkeeping to do before I left the house, so that I could go to the bank. It was my day to clean at Aunt Katie’s, so I scheduled that in, too.

The breakfast meeting was thoroughly enjoyable as my friend and I caught up on business and other things. Other friends joined us and the conversation broadened to many topics of interest. I stayed longer than I’d planned. Still, I made it to the bank before they closed, to the post office and then the hardware store, to take care of a couple matters. Next, my aunt’s house, for my duties there. She has five newly hatched baby chicks in the back room off the kitchen, and I took time to snap a few pictures. Home, I had to make a couple calls, and do a few household chores. Before settling in for the evening, Rosa Parks and I took a drive down to Fox Lake.

It was after I returned from that outing that I noticed the light on the answering machine blinking. Two messages, from two different individuals, making sure I was okay…as they hadn’t yet seen my blog today! Maybe I need to shake things up a bit, so folks don’t worry if I’m not on schedule. “Unexpected” may be the order of the day!

A Change in Attitude

Standard

may2016 120

I’ve been neglecting writing about addresses lately. I wrote myself right into one of the most difficult times in my life, and then just settled there, mired in the sadness of endings. I have other locations to write about: places filled with hope and laughter and promise, where I learned about moving forward even when the path isn’t there. I needed to rest a bit, in the space where I learned about letting go. I’ll be moving on to the next address soon.

I finished the book, Helter Skelter, that I was re-reading after forty years. I learned things that I didn’t know or had forgotten, both about the crime and the trial. I’d forgotten, for instance, that President Nixon had made a statement about Manson’s guilt while the trial was still underway. It made headlines, and could have unhinged the entire trial, but for some quick back-stepping. I didn’t remember the plot to hijack a 747, in an attempt to free Manson. I had forgotten that he had children. The author seemed a bit self-aggrandizing; I didn’t notice that the first time I read the book. He was extremely critical of the officers investigating one of the crimes. I’m interested in how that assessment was received at the time. Mostly, though, the questions that had caused me to pick up the book again were answered. The reading of it has disrupted my thoughts and disturbed my sleep. I’m happy to put it to rest.

I have a few hours of writing, editing and office work to do, but if I just hunker down and get it out of the way, I should be done for a few days. It seems like I’ve been strapped to this computer whenever I’m at home. In the spring of the year, when I’m being pulled in so many other directions, that is not a good feeling. The idea of being able to step away from it is greatly improving my mood!

I started my day off this morning with a walk around the yard and garden. In my mind, I ticked off a list of things to do. The grass is getting long: I’ll have to fill the gas can and get the mower fired up. Though I’ve been steadily working at clearing the flower beds of leaves and grasses, there is still much to be done there. If I’m going to plant vegetables, the garden needs to be worked up. The poppies – which I erroneously reported yesterday were not up yet – are definitely ready for transplanting. I’ll have to call the friends who are taking my excess this year. I’ve got to get some straw for weed control in the garden paths. I have to finish moving the mound of pine chips to the front walkway.

I picked a fragrant bouquet of hyacinth before I came back inside. Now, with the scent of spring filling the room, and a hot cup of coffee beside me, I’m ready to take on this day!

 

 

The Erin Motel

Standard

april2016 144

Before I gave up on the idea of braving the winter – with my daughters – in the unfinished house on Fox Lake Road, we had nearly run out of wood. I was scrambling for a source, and trying to figure out how I’d pay for it. The house was insulated, but still drafty. It was getting cold. I stapled black plastic to the exposed support beams to cover the insulation. I hung blankets over the windows.

The line bringing water to our house from the neighbor’s well froze solid. Then I  begged a $500.00 cash advance from work, in order to hire Bud Martin to put a submersible pump in my own well and complete the hookups to the house. During that time, I hauled water each day in five gallon containers (4) from the public faucet at the township airport, for washing up, cleaning and flushing the toilet. I carried two single gallons home from town for cooking and drinking. Bud tried to hook up the pump, but said it would only draw sand, so he had to pull it back out. He said Mr. Goller must have cracked the screen when he set it.

That’s when I gave up.

Then, it was too late to move into McCafferty’s Hotel: it was already rented for the winter. I talked to my friend Roy, who owned the Erin Motel. He was one of my regular morning coffee drinkers, and also often used the Shamrock to conduct his real estate business. He was an avid hunter, which he knew I didn’t like. Our friendship was based on me serving him coffee, and him teasing me. I told him we needed to find a place to live, and that I’d like to move in to the Erin. I explained that it would take me most of the winter to pay back the cash advance from work, so I was working just for tips. If my [estranged] husband sent money, I’d be able to pay rent; if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to pay until spring.

“That will be fine,” he said.

I told him two adjoining motel rooms would be best, as they were small. That way we could use one for sleeping, one for meals and general living space.

“Okay,” he said, “that will be alright.”

I told him our beagle, Joe, would have to come with us.

“Sure, I accept dogs there.”

“…And the two cats,” I said.

Roy shook his head. His voice was firm.

“Nope, sorry, no cats. I don’t allow cats in the motel,”

I stomped my foot.

“Roy,” I said, “my girls have been through enough already! I’m not going to argue with you about this!”

“Alright,” he wavered,”I’ll make an exception for the cats.”

So it was that my dog, two cats, my two daughters and I all moved – with a few pots and pans, some dishes, one piece of art, a few books and three suitcases of clothing –  in to two adjoining rooms at the Erin Motel. The building is right on the harbor – though our rooms didn’t have a harbor view – so we could walk to wherever we needed to go. The school was two blocks up the hill; the Shamrock was right across the street.

Our rooms were standard motel rooms: square, large enough for a double bed, dresser and chair, with a bathroom and a small alcove for hanging coats. A door near the entry doors linked the two rooms. Roy had two twin beds and a double bed moved into one room. In the other, we had a roll-away bed that we used as a sofa, a couple chairs, a card table with folding chairs, and a make-shift kitchen that consisted of a dorm sized refrigerator and a two-burner range. Each room had a large window in front that looked out onto the main street.

In order to make ends meet, and keep working after the busy season, I was working six days a week: two morning (7AM to 2PM), two afternoon (2PM to 8PM) and two night shifts (8PM to closing time). Business was slow, so it was always okay for the girls to come over after school, once they had walked the dog and taken care of the cats. They could practice piano at the Shamrock, do their homework and watch television. On days when I was home in the evenings, I cooked on the little two-burner stove, and we’d play games or cards after dinner around the card table. Though it was a rough time for all three of us, I remember laughing ’til we nearly lost control, crowded into those small rooms.

The following spring, when I was finally able to pay Roy for our stay there, I also presented him with a framed drawing I had done for him, of an elderly woman fishing off a dock, her large cat dozing in the sunshine beside her. It hangs in his office to this day.