In many ways, moving to this new place feels like moving to an old place. Moving home.
The best part of my childhood was spent here in Door County. My grandparents acquired their beachfront land during the Depression, in the 1930’s. When they constructed this simple log cabin, my mother was in her teens.
She loved this place, so for all the years of her adult life she came back, with us along, every summer. What child could be happier? Cousins, grandparents, a beach with golden sand, flying gulls, shining blue water. It was safe. It was simple. It was here I learned to spend my days reading books, playing board games, creating obstacle courses and treasure hunts with cousins. Later, I sewed, picked raspberries and learned to make jam. When the lake was calm, we floated and lounged; when storms raged, we body-surfed and jumped the waves until our lips were blue from the cold. Unlike more wealthy vacationers, we did not boat or frequent fancy restaurants. Our toys were sand pails, not 20-foot sailboats. Our entertainment was a beach fire and a night full of falling stars.
My grandfather, a chemistry professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was officially retired by the time we visited him, but he never stopped working. I have vivid memories of his experiments: solar stills to purify water, acid to expose coral in stones, the implications of algae growth on the rocky point near our beach.
My grandmother matched his intellectual pursuits with her artistic ones; she painted, wrote books about my ancestors, and appreciated wildflowers. In fact, even in her eighties, she and a group of her Madison friends would travel here in the spring for a week-long house party which included daily hunts for wildflowers. Picture this: five or six white-haired, grandmotherly-types walking trails in the nearby parks or gallivanting through woods by inland creeks in search of Purple Gentians, Trout Lilies, or Painted Lady Slippers. Best of all, they called themselves The Wild Women.
Of course as a child, I could have cared less that my grandmother could identify and name nearly one hundred different wildflowers in a week of Wisconsin spring. Now, I wish I had paid closer attention. Instead, I must mimic her, all these decades later, by taking my own guide book on my walks through the woods to learn the names of these plentiful lovely flowers. Like her, I want to document my finds. I take pictures; she recorded them all those years ago on birch bark that still hangs in the cabin bedroom.
My grandmother was formal, staid, not forthright with emotion. I never thought I was like her. However, as I find myself enamored with these wildflowers of spring, I am reconsidering.