Walking on (Frozen) Water

It’s been a cold winter.  I’ve complained about the long stretches of single digit temps and the brutal winds that blow across the lake and the bay.  But here’s one advantage: the harbors and bays and inland lakes are frozen in. There are icefishing shanties and snowmobilers out on the ice, and it is apparently safe to walk across the frozen water where in the same place we boat and swim in summer.

I’m grateful to the ladies who invited me along for a walk yesterday, this week taking to frozen water. The setting was spectacular, but the sun on our faces as we basked on the ice? Here’s a poem to celebrate the morning.

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Walking on 24 Inches of Ice

Snowshoes latched
we intended to walk
to the island

but talk of currents underneath
made us stay close
cracks possible
and the mention of Johnny D
who went down, went under

instead of across
we followed the shoreline
chattered
while winds bullied
remembering
summer water open and blue

out around the point
we reached the warmth of the sun
lay down in the light, faces up
backs cold in the snow

saying
here I am

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Water, Not Everywhere

I live near water. We luxuriate in the beauty of this great lake that surrounds us. We swim and boat and walk its shorelines, we skip pebbles and wade in the waves on sandy beaches. Even now, in the winter when we are not delighting in the blue beauty, we talk of “lake effect snow” and gaze at the ice-shoves and crystals that shine in the winter sun. We sometimes complain of the pervasive dampness, the humidity that persists in each season. Water in every way affects our lives.

In contrast, I have been reminiscing this week about a place where water was sparse. Northern Uganda had fertile soil and plenty of rain, but that did not translate into enough water for everyday living. In the house where we American teachers stayed, there was running water most of the time, but we needed to conserve. This meant hair washing every third or fourth day, showers (cold) every other day and only for a minute or two.

But for most Ugandans, water needed to be carried. One teacher friend lined up at the well each morning about ½ mile away from her house to carry home her 5 gallons before school. Most days this would be barely enough to wash and drink and cook and clean. Every other Saturday she would wash clothes, and she dreaded it- the long walk twice or even three times in a day- the heavy hauling, the time.

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We can hardly imagine it- every drop precious because every drop means hard work, means time spent. No faucets flowing freely to wash hands, wash dishes, wash hair, wash sheets or towels. No sprinklers for our lawns, no hoses to water our tomatoes or wash our cars. The high school where I taught had one working well in a far-off corner of the campus. That’s six hundred kids who not only learned at the school but also lived in dorms on the property with no drinking fountain, no water for toilets, no working faucets in their science labs or their cafeteria or kitchen. There were no showers. To wash themselves, the students took sponge baths from small plastic washtubs. They got used to being thirsty.

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The thing I most remember feeling in Gulu was dusty. There was dust in my shoes, the grit rubbing blisters between my toes. Dust under the straps of my backpack. Dust on my schoolbooks. Dust in my eyebrows. There was never enough water to wash it away.

Shortly before we left after spending a summer in Gulu, we invited all our Ugandan teacher-partners and their families to a celebration. We planned to play games, eat food; there would be dancing. One of our program leaders schemed a special treat for the kids: he first borrowed tarps from the World Food Program (which was literally keeping people alive with twice weekly distributions of rice.) Then, with buckets and a gerry-rigged hose, he let water flow freely down those tarps in a make-shift “slip ‘n slide” for the children.

Shy at first, the children held back. And then, one child ran, slid on the slippery tarp, laughed, came back for another run. And then another, and another, until all of them were running, sliding, drenched with water and dripping in the sun. There was laughter and shrieking, giggling and glee.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I suppose some might think that poured-out water was a frivolous waste. But every single person I met in Northern Uganda had seen atrocities of war, suffered the sadness of loss or the guilt of surviving it. The weight of that war was heavy on the adults, and their children felt it, too. If an instant can traumatize a person, can one instant heal? For these beautiful children whose life was regularly one of parched landscape, thirst, and sorrow, I am glad that we gave them this glorious gift of a slide in a river of water, temporary though it was.

I have loved traveling, but one problem is this: it painfully illuminates the inequalities of our human experiences. I live in a country of swimming pools and flowing fountains and beaches while other people I have known trudge through their lives without luxury in a dusty and parched land. In Northern Uganda for a time, there were years of slaughter in the middle of the night: machetes, abductions, horror. I have never feared such a war in my own backyard.

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Such questions lead me two places in my Christian faith: 1) to want to work against injustice and 2) to believe, sometimes waveringly, in the promises of God that say He will bring about justice on this earth.

Regarding the first, there are all kinds of sorrows on the earth, and all kinds of ways to work to alleviate them.  In a hundred ways we can make differences. If you, like me, think about water, you might investigate these three organizations.

Regarding the latter, the place of faith that helps me answer deep questions, I take some comfort in these words from the last book of the Bible.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal… on either side of the river, the tree of life….and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelations 22:2)

The inequities on this earth are too big and the contrasts are too enormous for me to understand or fix. We can play a little part in addressing them, but all that we do will not be enough. God, however, says He will make things right in the end. He will inexplicably make this earth into heaven. And thankfully, in that place there will be water — apparently clear and clean and plentiful enough for everyone.

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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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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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