A Study in Contrasts

We’re spending a little time in Port Aransas, Texas. After three years of Wisconsin winters, we‘ve learned that winter lingers there into March (and April, to be honest.) As much as the snow is spectacularly beautiful in Door County, we weren’t eager to see more of it nor continue to dread walking the dog in the 10 degree morning air with the possibility of slipping on ice, so we searched the internet for places we could go with great birding spots (Dave), a beach to walk on (me) and a rental with a view of the water (both of us.)

In other words, we were ready to see a little less of this:

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and a little more of this.IMG_0653

It’s a long drive to southern Texas, but we stopped along the way to see a few attractions (Crystal Bridges in Arkansas) and cousins in Austin who were great tour guides.  Both of those visits were pretty great.

We’ve been in this little beach town for nearly a week. But we live in a beach town,too, so it’s a little hard not to draw contrasts.   Here’s a few of the most obvious differences:

1. Snakes. We’d never see this sign on our beach.IMG_0650

Yikes! If it weren’t about 50 degrees warmer here than at home, I might have been tempted to turn around and head back to Wisconsin. But the good news? We’ve been here a week, and haven’t seen one snake.

2. We have this lovely view from our condo balcony.IMG_0615

But guess what’s between this sand dune and the water? A beach with sand that is driveable, so there’s a beach road, with cars that drive back and forth all day long.IMG_06433. And not only do these cars come to drive, they come to park. They stay for the day, and sometimes they stay for several days and nights. Here, there’s great public access to the water. But it’s taking a little getting used to for me to share my beach space with thousands of strangers.IMG_0648

4. I have to say, though, that the wide, wide beaches here are a plus. They go on for miles and miles. I love to walk at the water’s edge, and I can do that for a long way. I think I could walk 18 miles here if I wanted to (which I don’t.) In contrast, Door County’s beaches are lovely, but they can be rocky in spots, sandy in others, turn to bluff along the water’s edge, or are just too overgrown with vegetation to walk. So despite the fact that there are more people than I’m used to, the walking here is pretty nice. (Especially in the morning, before the crowds come in.)

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5. Both places have ships. Port Aransas sits at the mouth of the canal where large freighters come and go to Corpus Christi. So we’ve been watching huge freighters, just like we do in Door County. IMG_0614The ships in both places are huge, and somehow it doesn’t get old for either of us to watch them up close. But on this score, Door County wins. Our canal is prettier than their canal. No oil rigs like these ruin the views in Door County..IMG_0622

6. Salt water. (yuck)  Give me the fresh clean water of Lake Michigan any day.

7. Hurricanes. This one’s just sad.  Natural disasters can happen anywhere, but I can’t imagine anything destroying Door County in the way this town was destroyed last August by Hurricane Harvey. Many stores and businesses were completely ruined, and many but certainly not all have reopened after months of heartache and hard work.   We’re not particularly big spenders, but every cup of coffee and trip to the grocery store or dinner out helps each business owner just a bit, and we’re glad to do it.

In this little study of contrasts, I’ve tried to be objective, to see the good in both places. But I’m afraid Door County has spoiled me for other places, as it is just too close to perfect. Its only problem is that it’s perfect for only part of the year.  For example, it snowed 7 inches this week in Baileys Harbor.  Unlike Texas, it’s going to be months before I can sit out on my beloved Wisconsin beach to get some color on my legs. So for now, I’ll be happy to be near water, to walk a beach, and to wear one layer of clothing instead of three or four. For the next week while we’re here, I’ll likely continue contrasting the two beach towns. And most certainly,  Door County will keep winning.

Sometimes getting away from home only makes me like home more.

Home for Christmas

We’ve had a delightful holiday. Our sons and wife and girlfriend came from far away so we could all be together at Christmas. On the day after, nieces and their families arrived, making us a perpetual party of 19.  For most of the summers of my sons’ lives, their cousins came to visit here in Door County, so it seemed right to gather again in this place, even if the water was not swimmable and the leaves  were not green.

We had been together in the summer, but like so many places in this country this week, the temperatures outside were subzero.  We had to scrap the plans for roasting s’mores in the firepit or even of building snowmen.  We did take one fairly long hike of over an hour,

and we ventured out to the local tubing hill on another day.

Three of our heartiest went fat tire biking. On our last day together we walked to our favorite lighthouse across an icy causeway that was beautiful but soooo cold.

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And so we spent most of our time inside. We played games and ate, played more games, and ate some more. We put together a puzzle, did a few crafts. Our adult children stayed up late with their cousins, just like they have done for most of their childhoods and teen years together, only this time the parents among them had to get up early.  These people I loved as children have grown into adults that I admire.

New people have been added to our family: spouses, girlfriends, children.IMG_0242

IMG_0111As I watched our family interacting, I realized that one of the best things a family can do is let more people in.  The women in my sons’ lives have made them better. My nieces’ children make us all happier.  Among the 19 of us, there were the occasional irritations, differences of opinion, some tears. ( Really, isn’t that to be expected?) Yet even those, I’m convinced, can save us from the curse of being too fixed, too set in our ways.

We did some looking back- remembering old times, holidays past. But the better part was the new and continuing interactions, the realization that we can be different today than we were in the past and still be loved.

People change us, if we let them. New people change us more than old ones, perhaps because there are no well-worn patterns in which to fall, perhaps because doing things the way “we’ve always done it” isn’t a good reason for doing anything.

My children, et al, are back to their own lives in their own states, far from here.  I’ve spent the day since they left soaking up the quiet and reading a book from start to finish.

I am grateful for the time we had together as a smaller family and then a bigger, extended one. Traditions are well and good, but nothing stays the same, and today, I’m very glad that’s true.

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Filling up October

It’s been a month since I’ve last written here. Nothing particularly eventful happened in our lives here, so I was a little short on ideas to write about.  A few years ago, I wondered if retired life would feel boring and unsatisfying. But no, it never feels boring. Our month was plenty full, and we are content.

Here are a few of the “ordinary” happenings that filled up October.

I’ve said it before here, and I’m sure I am not finished repeating it: living in a pretty place is constant entertainment, a perpetual gift.   We take walks in the changing woods, exclaim at the colors.

 

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We drive out of our way when we run errands to see if the water is choppy or calm in the harbor, if it is still or wavy on the bay.

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It is pretty driving to the grocery store or library.

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The sunsets and sunrises make us get out; often when we see the clouds full of color, we stop what we are doing to go outside to watch. The beauty all around us makes us pause, makes us linger, and in so doing we remind ourselves of what’s good and lovely and true and wonderful in this world.

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IMG_9897Land to table    We live two miles from an apple orchard. We love their honeycrisps, and when they were selling a bushel of their Cortland “seconds” for only $9, it seemed right to buy them and make applesauce from scratch. But that was an all day project.

Books. I’m in two book clubs. Here are my top three favorite books from the past few months.

            The Sparrow. This book has haunted me. I’m not a particular fan of science fiction, but when a team of Jesuits befriends creatures on a new planet and are martyred as a result, well, it’s just sad. Within a few days of finishing the book, I watched “Silence,” a recent (and moving) film about Christians who are persecuted in 17th century Japan. As a person of faith myself, both of these made me think a lot about the ways we share our beliefs with others and  what sacrifices I would make to hold on to faith.

       A Gentleman in Moscow. Much lighter than the previous book, this fictional account follows the life of a Russian count who loses his freedom and his way of life in the Russian revolution. I knew very little about this time and place in history, and it was a good way to find out about it.

            Gilead. This was my third time reading this one. Ten times more would not be too many. Marilynne Robinson makes ordinary lives beautiful. She helps us see that loving the people we know well is about the best possible thing we can do in this life.

Closing up the cabin. There’s a lot to do to shut down a place for eight months. When lots of people have cooked and eaten, played, bathed, and slept in a place, there are signs of their fun. And though we are good about cleaning as we go, the cupboards and the oven had crumbs by the end of the summer that needed attention. Despite the continual vacuuming, there was still sand just about everywhere. The refrigerator door was full of condiments, kindly left for the “next” person, but it’s time to dispose of them. The winter curtains need to replace the summer ones. We’ve already carried up the kayaks and the beach umbrella and the deck chairs. Today we brought in the lawn mower and trash cans; we put away hoses.  I’ll be sad to close it down for the winter, but October was full of cabin chores.

Writing. I’ve finally joined a novel critique group. We meet every other week and send things for review the alternate weeks, so, guess what? I actually have a reason to make myself get over the obstacles and just get working on this novel of mine that’s been in process for about ten years. Yes, I’ve got to rewrite parts. Yes, I need to work out some plot inconsistencies. I’ve even had to change my main character. What I liked eight years ago I don’t like as much now. But meeting with four other authors who are also in process with their novels means I’ve committed to at least making progress. Although that’s a bit scary, it’s also a very important thing I did this October.

The Usual. There’s a lot more: church once a week, a Bible study once a week. Several meetings throughout the month with my favorite non-profit, Write On, Door County. Exercise. A friend needs some help learning to use her new laptop. A dinner out here or there. The demands of a dog who needs way more attention and exercise than we usually want to give. ( It’s a good thing he’s adorable.) Working a little bit in my little consulting/publishing company called Sand Beach Press.   The list of little daily events could go on.

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We are heading into our third winter in Wisconsin, and besides the people that we left in St. Louis, there’s very little that we miss about our old life.   Yes, our lives are slower-paced here, compared to when we worked at jobs and lived in a city. A little less busy, perhaps, but certainly not empty.

All in all, October was a pretty great month.

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Enough

Our latest guests were delightfully happy to chill and relax.

I was a little antsy staying in for so much of the time. I  felt  I should be a better tour guide. There is so much beauty here in this county, and so much to do, so I found myself repeatedly asking questions:  “Wouldn’t you like to go a gallery? See a play? Walk a hiking trail in a state park ? Drive to an overlook? Shall we visit the farmer’s market? Do you want to make a picnic and go to the bluffs?  Should we go out in our kayaks?

But no, they were happy to stay put. And really, the weather was uncharacteristically warm. We could read on the beach, listen to waves. We could sip coffee in our beach chairs to watch the sunrise, sit on the deck for “happy hour” before dinner. We put together jigsaw puzzles; we watched movies at night. We listened to the stories of the ups and downs of each others’ lives. But I kept wondering if that was enough.

Finally, my friend reminded me of something important. “You forget, Ann, that we don’t get to see this all the time,” my friend rightly told me. “We are perfectly happy being right here, doing nothing except enjoying this beautiful place.”

And of course, she was right. I do see this water every day of the year.  I routinely watch cranes and hummingbirds, pick wildflowers and berries, gaze at clouds, stars, the moon. There is never a day without breathtaking beauty.

Last week’s sunset for example.

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Or this scene, earlier this summer, from a friend’s dock.

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And, oh, you know, just driving to a concert on the other side of the peninsula.

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Or this swale, only a few minutes from our house, whose quiet always mesmerizes.

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May it never be that my reaction to beauty turns ho hum- or that these scenes I see before me every day are not enough to satisfy.

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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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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.