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.


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.


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,

IMG_9066pass through Death’s Door,


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


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.


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.


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.


The water changes. A lot.


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.



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







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


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.



There are about three thousand reasons to love this beautiful place where we live,  but we’ve spent a lot of this winter complaining about the one thing we DON’T love: ice on the streets and sidewalks.   When day after day the temperature climbed above freezing only to drop again each night, we had continuous ice  from the thaws and refreezing. We have both taken bad falls in our lives, so we are babies when it comes to walking cautiously, fearfully.  But when I haven’t been afraid of slipping, falling, I have had to admit that this nemesis of ours can be incredibly beautiful.

Here are some of my favorite photos of ice that I’ve accumulated this winter. ( And by the way, NONE of these have filters.  The colors really are true.)


The frozen water that gathers at the shore line changes constantly. One week there are thousands of broken crystals in shattered pieces, another week there are piles built up, added to by continual waves.


And up close, the beauty of ice!


And just yesterday, more snow, then ice, then more snow. But we were left with gorgeous scenes; gleaming trees, shining branches.



I won’t miss the ice under my feet when it is finally spring in way-too-many  months. But I am glad for the beauty of it, and for the eyes to see it.





I’ve been trying to keep my blog posts a-political. This might explain why I haven’t been posting much recently. ( You know the old adage? If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.)

But I will say that I’m heartbroken by the direction our new administration is taking on human rights, on health care, on immigration, on the environment, on education, on the arts, on free speech.   If you are like me and you don’t like these new policies, please speak up. Call your elected officials. Give money to organizations that will work against the damages of these new policies. March. Protest. Pray. And read a book or two.

Yes, read.

Solace has come for me recently in the rich discussions that have centered around books. For the past four weeks, I’ve taken a class at The Clearing

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with 25 bright, intelligent, interesting women to dissect and discuss four books written by African American women. ( Dessa Rose, Brown Girl, Brownstones, The Bluest Eye, The Women of Brewster Place.)


Each book took us into the lives of characters weighed down by racism, poverty, and oppression. The circumstances are grim; some characters survive and some do not. We feel heartbreak at their suffering, and the irony of this is not lost on any of us: there are no African Americans sitting among us. Door County is a place of mostly white skin where many of us can go days without seeing a person of color. Yet, every person in this class wanted to understand, wanted to learn, wanted to know how to address the needs of those in our country who have been hurt  because they are black.

We came to know the characters of these books.  We could see how we are different, and more importantly, how we are the same. We examined the issues of race, of white privilege, and we learned about the mistakes we ourselves have made. We listened to those among us who have taken action: one woman was a social worker in urban housing projects, another a principal in urban schools. On a neighborhood housing board, one woman forced banks to abandon their practices of redlining. Another adopted black sons.

So although we were heartbroken each week with the stories we read, we were also heart-healed by the knowledge that there are ways to bring about change. This all happened because we discussed books.

Better yet, just a few evenings ago, I was invited to a “book exchange.” We were encouraged to bring up to five books to exchange for that same number to take home. We drank a few glasses of wine, ate some good food, and then were asked (one-by-one around a circle) to share a title of a book that had affected us in our lives and a book that we have read recently that we liked.  (The hostess has subsequently compiled the list  WHICH I AM NOW Attaching 2017-book-swap-1 and emailed this list of everyone.  What a gift, right?)


And in that room of readers, a picture slowly emerged of thoughtful women who want a world that is a good and kind place for their children. Thinking is important to them. Love is important to them. Treating others with respect is important. The beauty of words and the beauty of places and the beauty of people are valuable and worth fighting for.

I was reminded once again what research has told us for years: people who read are more empathetic than those who do not. All the qualities that it takes to be our best selves? We can learn these things when we read: bravery, long-suffering, friendship, courage, sacrifice, perseverance, love.*

In a country that with each passing day seems less kind, the time that I have spent with readers this week has given me hope.

Reading will not save us.

But it can help.







*And on the flip side,  a society that does not read degenerates into people that are not good and not kind; they choose ease,  mindless entertainment,  and selfish pleasure over thought. They are  easily manipulated and swayed.   ( Think Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984.)


The Roads I Take

We have to drive quite a ways to run errands here in Door County.  The grocery store I like best is twenty miles away; my bank is eleven.   But this week, it is pure delight to make those drives.  I drive slowly down these roads that seem to be almost on fire with color.


road3-1Yesterday, it was grey and cloudy, but we drove anyway through the nearby state park to see colors, and those roads did not disappoint.



These are my roads, my neighborhood.




The leaves are quickly changing and falling, emptying the trees.  I find myself bracing, just a bit, for the coming cold and dark. But only a little bit. More, I am grateful to live in this place of color, of water, and views that make me slow down, exclaim, wonder, pray, and smile.

To play on a beach

My niece and her family came for a visit last weekend.

She and her husband have three small, adorable blonde-haired boys.

img_7669 Years ago, we, too, brought our three adorable blonde haired boys to this beach. (Twenty five years later, they still come, but they are not quite as small or blonde or adorable.)

As I watched those boys play in the water and on the sand, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic. I grew pensive about the repetitive cycles of life and of the timelessness of this beach where new generations return to do the same things over and over.

Here’s a picture of my boys playing, twenty five years ago.


Here are  a few of my niece’s  boys, two days ago.

And to prove the timelessness of this place, here are pictures of me with my siblings and grandfather.  ( Almost sixty years ago.)

We came each summer to dig trenches, toss stones, swim in the cold water.  In the simple, rustic cabin, we played all day with only a few toys, but we had all the time in the world and the rich attention of people who loved us.

We grew up, and then we brought our children here to do the same things we had done. Like my grandparents did,  my children’s grandparents delighted in them; their cousins, like mine, became best friends. And the beach and the water and the sky made us all into people that both need and appreciate the space to be contemplative.  It made us feel at home in anywhere that’s green. It made us people that know that the best things in life aren’t things that can be bought.

I love that new kids come here. I love that no matter how cold the lake, it’s still fun to dig in the sand with shovels and let water wash over your feet.

It’s good to come back to a place that is simple. It’s good to let an aunt hold you. It’s good to play on an ages-old beach beneath a blazing sun.

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