Summer, oh summer.

It was not a long-enough summer.

Yesterday, the Monday of Labor Day, there was a steady line of cars heading south, leaving the peninsula. There were literally hundreds of cars in a line as far as the eye could see. Not all, of course, but many of the “summer people” took with them their boats and their trailers, their suitcases full of souvenirs and happy memories and went home. Schools in Wisconsin start this week, so it’s not surprising that the exodus occurred. Most of my teacher friends in other states have been back in their classroom already two weeks.

So I should not be so surprised that we are on the verge of fall. But I am still not ready for the air to turn chill, for the leaves to drop, for the sun to rise later.

Because summers here are pretty much perfect.

Here’s a few things I love about summer in this place of beauty where we live. Here’s what I will miss.

  1. Water warm enough to swim.

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2. A beach where my family gathers year after year.

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3. Getting onto the water in boats: a fishing boat, kayaks, a stand-up paddleboard.

4. Eating outside.

5. Conversations with people I love who come to visit.

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6. Children at play on the beach.

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7. The influx of creative people who flood here in the summer. Art galleries are stocked with beauty on walls. Three theatre companies perform.  Musicians play concerts in parks, in homes, in auditoriums. Writers and scholars teach classes.

 

8. Sunrises that are early, sunsets that are late. (Lots of daylight, in other words.)

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9. Summer evenings warm enough to lie on the sand and watch falling stars.

10. Flowers.

11. Reading in the sun on the beach.

12. Pretty much perfect temperatures. We had one day over 90; the average daytime temp in July and August was 78 degrees.

13. The most beautiful and delicious food, right from our garden or farm stands or farm markets.

14. Gulls whose wings catch the setting sun as they fly over the water.

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IMG_3131The autumn will be gorgeous; I am sure of it. The winter will be cold and dark, but we have friends who cheer us, and we have projects to keep us creative and happy. We have made plans to travel and break up the months that are not summer.   I have no right to be sad – one day in this glorious summer is a gift- and I have had thirty or forty of them.

And summer may linger a bit- I will likely swim a bit more, and we can still eat outside. We have friends arriving still ( yay!) so we aren’t in our “recluse mode” yet.

But I nonetheless feel a sense of loss as I see the leaves turning yellow and red. Will heaven have seasons? If so, I‘m in favor of a Door County summer. All of the time.

 

 

Walking the Land

The owners of the vacant land behind us allow us to walk on their property for most of the year.IMG_9546

Others who also have permission think it best that we are not there in the fall- for the months leading up to the ten days of deer hunting season. They think we might scare off the deer, although I think the deer are hardly bothered by us, evidenced by the fact that this morning, three were in our yard just feet from our house, eating apples from our trees.

But that is another story, another topic. In spring and summer and winter I delight in walking on those forty acres behind us. I walk the land almost every day.

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Besides deer, there are turkey. Sand hill cranes come in the spring and mostly stay close. We’ve seen a fisher. We occasionally hear coyotes howling, yelping at night. We’ve put up birdhouses, hoping to attract bluebirds. ( It hasn’t worked.)

IMG_9554Turtles lay eggs in the spring.

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It’s rocky, not particularly fertile, and definitely not arable, so the plants are mostly scrubby- cedars and junipers, barberry and weedy shrubs.

But there are flowers. In the summer, it turns to meadow, and I watch the progression: first daisies,

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then Black Eyed Susans.

Now, we’ve had about three weeks of Queen Ann’s lace.

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The solidago and bergamot are also plentiful.

 

A few weeks ago, a for sale sign went up on the property. Yikes!  Or, more accurately,  Sh*t!

I shudder to think of condos, or a subdivision, or just about anything that will come into this lovely view.

Of course, we don’t own the land, so there is little we can do.  Of course we’ll have to adjust to change, if it comes. Until then, we’ll appreciate the beauty. For now, I’ll walk the land, grateful for what it gives.

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Cherry Jam, Cherry Pies, Cherry Nostalgia

It’s cherry time in Door County.

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Orchards are abundant here, and we love watching the changes of these trees throughout the year. In late winter, when it still feels drab and hopelessly dreary, the trees begin to tinge red.

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And then, in late May the blossoms are worth a drive around the county just to see the spectacle.

 

And now, red fruit. Thousand upon thousands of cherries hang, ready for picking.

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Or, more accurately, ready for shaking. The growers have a machine that grabs the trunk, shakes off the cherries into a inverted-umbrella-type net and then collects them into the crates where they are taken for processing.

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For most of the years of my life, we came here in summer, in cherry season. And though most of our days were spent on the beach and in that blue big Great Lake, for at least one afternoon we would put on old shirts and shoes and head off to a pick-your-own-cherry orchard. In less than an hour, our hands would be stained with cherry juice as our pails would fill. The ladders were fun to climb. We’d work side by side in a tree or compete for whose pail could fill faster from opposing trees. And always, it seems, we’d comment on the sight of those bright red cherries and deep green leaves against a backdrop of indigo blue sky.

And then, all those years of my childhood were repeated when I took my children back to the orchards each August to do exactly the same thing.

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Then it was home to the cabin at the beach where we’d set up tables on the porch and begin pitting. All those hundreds of cherries! We’d rinse them, then one by one stab out the pit from each one with a toothpick. There are cherry pitting gadgets, but toothpicks work the best.

 

But this task, too, became a game, or at least a not-unpleasant activity. Because we’d chat. Sometimes grandpa would help. Sometimes an aunt would be there, or a parent’s friend, or our friends. To them, it was all new, so we’d see it through their eyes. And how bad could any chore be when the waves of Lake Michigan were the background noise, the lake breezes our fan?

The picking and the pitting culminated into something expected but nonetheless wonderful: cherry pie. My grandmother first, and then my mother, and now me: there is no question that we make them and serve them to anyone who is here during cherry time.

 

And beyond the pies, there was jam to be made. The next day or even later on that evening, we’d make jam. I can see them now in my mind’s eye; the particular pots my mom would use to boil jam, heat jars. I can hear her voice asking my dad to be ready with his watch to time that crucial one minute when the jam must boil ( full rolling.) I’d help her ladle hot jam, wipe rims, screw on lids. I’d help her dunk the jars into the boiling water, remove them a few minutes later, turn them upside down. Turn them right side up, and listen for the oh-so-welcome “pop” which let us know the lid had sealed.

I have lived in other places where fresh fruit grows, and I have made pies from that bounty, too; the occasional peach or apple cake or cobbler. But there is nothing in my life quite so steeped in memory and nostalgia and tradition as these cherries.

Was it that, on vacation, we had time to bake and process jam- time we didn’t have the rest of the year? Was it that the beauty of those cherry trees all around us was irresistible? Was it that the tradition of families working together in a kitchen to “put up” food was every bit as integral to vacation as those card games at night or the beach fire to watch the falling stars?

Today, I live four miles from a processing plant. For the past three years I’ve stopped by and picked up tubs of cherries as they’ve come right in from the orchards and straight from the pitting machines. Yep, already picked and pitted. So I’ve skipped a few of the traditional steps.

But today, as my hands are slightly stained from cherry juice that came as I was cutting cherries for jam and freezing cherries for the pies that we will serve all year round, I find myself nostalgic for my mother, gone now four years. She would be happy that I’m making jam, making cherry pies. She would be glad, I know, that I’m living all year round in this place of cherries.

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The difference a day can make

All of Door County is spectacularly beautiful: blue water all around, the lush green of woods and shorelines, meadows of wildflowers, the fertile grounds of cherry orchards and the growing crops of the inland.

So it’s hard to pick favorite spots. Despite that, I have a particular fondness for one especially beautiful place: Rock Island. Door County juts far into Lake Michigan, and then a chain of islands extends even farther north beyond this peninsula. Rock Island is about five miles in circumference, and is the second island north of the peninsula.

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Rock Island is entirely a state park. There are no roads, no services, no amenities. There is a pump with water and the welcome addition, installed a few years ago, of flush toilets. All of the forty campsites are walk-in and primitive, which means you carry in your tent and your sleeping bag and your food and water.

The usual way to get to Rock Island is to take two ferries. The first is a car ferry that crosses Death’s Door and takes you to Washington Island. Then, after driving across that island and parking your car at Jackson Harbor, a second ferry crosses the strait of water to Rock Island. Most people come for the day to walk the trails, see the restored lighthouse and hang out near the iconic boat house, built in the early 1930’s by a wealthy inventor who owned much of the island.  Some people come prepared to camp for a day or two.

Dave and I decided to get to the island in a less traditional way; we put our camping gear into our fishing boat and decided to make the journey. All around us there are more experienced boaters than we; they’ve sailed the great lakes often, they read clouds and winds and know harbors, currents. Our boat isn’t big or even designed for pleasure outings. But we kept a close eye on the weather forecast and headed north.

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It is fun seeing the land from the water. The water was calm. We took our time. The water was blue, the sun warm, the temperature balmy. It took us about three hours of motoring to leave Sister Bay,

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get close to Pilot Island which is pretty much destroyed by cormorants,

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skirt the east side of Washington Island before we rounded the north side of Rock Island to enter the harbor from the west to approach the spectacular boat house.

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In the early afternoon we tied up to the dock and found our campsite (which we had reserved in advance.)  There was still time to walk to the lighthouse on the other side of the island to see the keeper’s house and to climb the stairs inside to look out northward to the traverse island chain. (Beautiful.)

And then back to the green lawn by the dock to eat dinner, fish from the pier and watch the sunset before walking back to our tent and climbing inside to end a pretty much perfect day.

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But the winds came up at night. Despite our really good self-inflating air mattresses and nice fluffy sleeping bags, we were after all, still sleeping on the ground. (And we’re not particularly young anymore.) So we tossed and turned a bit more than usual, and each time we woke up, the growing gusts were a bit unsettling, troubling.  I had packed cans of soup and extra peanut butter and crackers, so we would not starve if we needed to stay a second night, but we preferred to get home the next morning. And yes, we had Death’s Door to think about. The passage between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island earned its name because of the many shipwrecks in the passage. The currents and the winds from Green Bay meet the currents and the winds from Lake Michigan and in that narrow channel of water, those waters churn.  We knew enough to be wary.

No cell phone service on the island meant no checking forecasts, marine reports. And though the winds were strong, the waves were not huge- we decided to pack quickly and leave. (Well, not before a cup of coffee on a gorgeous beach to greet the morning.)

We headed south towards home, and as soon as we came out from the protection of land, the winds in fact were colliding. The waves from the east and the waves from the west made our boat ride not horribly unsafe but disconcertingly bumpy. No regular pattern of waves meant lots of hard hits as our boat was jostled in the ups and downs.   We got banged around.  ( Hence no pictures of the event.) But it was only an hour or so of really rough waters- about ten miles where we wished for better conditions. And then we found protected harbors and took our time hugging the shoreline until we were safely out and onto land.

Worth it? Yes. Would I do it again, probably not.

Yes, it’s still one of my favorite places ever. From now on, though I’ll let the ferries take me back and forth to Rock Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Everywhere

When a person lives near water, it’s easy to spend a lot of time looking at it.

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The water changes. A lot.

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IMG_7571When this area was full of sailing ships in the 19th century, sailors were rightly wary of the changing lake. They knew storms could rage in a matter of hours; that a calm morning meant nothing as there could be eight foot waves by afternoon.

But I love the changes. From still, to choppy, to calm again- all in a day.

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And the colors? There are not enough names for them.

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Finally, it is summer. The tourists are here in full force. Today there was a parade which we attended, and there are bands playing, food stands, and craft vendors. There will be fireworks tonight, and we will be glad to go. But the best part of our life here in this place of so much that is good? For me, it’s the water- the always changing, always beautiful water.

The Communion of Saints

The language in this post’s title may be a bit off-putting for some of you.  It’s a Christian term used in the Apostle’s Creed and in other churchy places.   Many of my readers, I know, have bad associations with “churchy things,” but please, read on.

I flew to St. Louis two weeks ago to attend the memorial service of a friend. She was 51, and for 29 months after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she tried really hard to live.

For most of those 29 months, I was away from her. She and her husband came to visit us twice here in Wisconsin, and I was not as good as I would like to have been about keeping in touch while she fought through first one surgery and then another one, through chemotherapy treatments and drug trials and then hospice.

But here is what I do know. For those 2 1/3 years, people loved her and her husband and her children well. Hella and her family were part of a church that helped them. Warren, Hella’s husband, taught at a Christian high school where he coached soccer and taught Biology. (The same school where I used to teach.) Many of his students, even the ones that weren’t necessarily the best and brightest, sent cards, reached out on FaceBook, came to events on Hella’s behalf. There was financial help when medical bills piled up. There were countless meals. Hella was able to take a few trips with her daughter. The school gave Warren time off so he could care for his wife..

As the tumor grew, it increasingly affected Hella’s ability to speak, to form words. For the last few months she could respond but not talk. And though most of us would prefer two-way conversations, people kept coming in; people kept helping out. Church members, work friends, and family members visited her, sat with her. They affirmed that she mattered, voice or no voice, words or no words.

Hella was a servant kind of person- a quiet person who preferred more to listen than to assert herself. She preferred to help others rather than be helped, and I can imagine this was difficult for her to let others care for her in her long decline. But she did it, and in so doing she let the compassion of a community encircle her and her family. In doing this, she also showed to the watching world something that mattered to her: there is value in the church, there is beauty in what people of faith can do.

The night she died, the word got out that she was near the end. Students and teachers and friends came with guitars and with candles to stand on the front lawn of Hella’s house to sing, to pray. Seventy-five people gathered on the grass to sing her out of this life and into the next one. Warren told me: “the juxtaposition of that moment was striking: it was all that is wrong with the world right next to all that is right in the world.”

Churches and Christian communities are often filled with wacky people, and though I am a Christian, I shudder sometimes at what some of my fellow believers do and say and believe. Really, we shouldn’t be surprised: Jesus reminded us that it is the sick people who need a physician, not the well ones. I’ve always thought the best analogy for a church community is a hospital.

For a Catholic, the term “saint” is associated with those special people that have been canonized for their miracles or extraordinary spiritual acts, but in my protestant church, I always associated the term “saint” with ordinary Christians who have somehow managed to live their faith well: to love, to do justice, to be humble, to serve.

So back to my title: The Communion of Saints. It refers to the gathering together, or the union of members of the Christian church, both living and dead. Some of you readers are in a church community; some are not. If you are in the former group, I hope you can see the value of staying. If you’re in the camp of those who are not, please read this as a reminder that despite the bad press that Christians get, despite the many mistakes we make, sometimes we get a few things right. Hella believed in Jesus, and this belief bound her together with other believers, and the communion between them was sweet. People will miss her. I will miss her. But the communion of saints makes the grieving easier.

Almost

The temperature of Lake Michigan in front of our cabin was 43 degrees this morning.

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Despite the fact that our summer cabin is just that — a summer cabin– we have decided to open it up. Yes, the temperature dropped into the 30’s the last few nights, but the pipes won’t freeze now. We have an electric blanket we can sleep under, and when the sun hits the roof in the middle of the day, the cabin heats up enough to take off our gloves.

By this time of year, I long for the water.   It is why we moved to Door County: this place of blue water all around and sand beach that I have loved since my childhood. In the winter, we are close to the water, but not right there. I drive to it or walk to it almost every day, but our little house is inland, and by now I am hankering for the sound of waves.

So, a few days ago, it was time to wash windows. It was time to vacuum up the flies and the ladybugs that somehow made it through the screens and died over the winter in that closed up house. Dave turned on the water, let the water flush out the antifreeze that we put in to keep the pipes safe through the cold. We spent the hours that it takes to change over the winter curtains to the summer ones. We hung the hummingbird feeders, carried the beach chairs down to the deck.

We’ll slowly begin stocking the cabinets again: canned soups and peanut butter so there will be something there when we come by for a few hours or decide to spend the night.

Soon, people will be arriving in full force. We’ve bought new toothpaste and cleaning supplies- those things that won’t keep over winter. We have unfolded blankets and bedspreads and put them on the beds so they are ready for the people that will come and go. Once it’s full-on summer, we’ll take our turn. It is not ours alone, so we’ll go back and forth, grateful for the weeks when we can be there.

And yes, it’s a lot of work. Having two houses in very close proximity gets confusing, and sometimes a bit overwhelming.  Should we really try to plant flowers at both houses?   Should we take things back and forth or buy one for each house? These are the things we are figuring out as we are on the cusp of another summer in Door County.  But until guests and family start arriving, the cabin is ready for us when the mood strikes and the weather cooperates.

And, oh, the lake. I sat down at the beach yesterday and felt the sun on me. ( Ok, full disclosure: I was wearing a winter coat and gloves, and the temperature was barely 50 degrees and the cold wind blew off the Lake, BUT I was on the beach again. Waves came in and out. It’s not summer yet, when I can sit all afternoon with a book. But the cabin is open. And the lake is already a very blue blue.

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