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.




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.


It is pretty driving to the grocery store or library.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


6. Children at play on the beach.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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,


then Black Eyed Susans.

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


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.



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.