A Book of Poems

One of my “to-do” projects this winter was to put together a collection of my poems. So I did it, and here it is:

Putting out my first collection into the world feels a bit risky.  Poetry forces a writer to find just the right word, so there’s a lot of soul searching involved when figuring out precisely what I think or feel about a person or place or event. (Am I perplexed or confounded? Is indigo or aqua a better word than blue? ) By the time one of my poems has been written, revised, and rearranged, well, there’s my soul as a splat on the page.

The poems in this collection have distilled many of my experiences; I write about the place where I live and some of the places I have been. There are poems about my marriage, about teaching, and about quarantine. I write about the injustices that move me and make me sad. And though my Christian faith is important to me, I will disappoint anyone looking for me to be religious-y.   

I titled it Drink In Sweet Rain. I live by water, swim in water, thirst for water, and like everyone else, need water to live. Rain comes to us from above and I’m grateful for it: pouring, misting, pelting, drenching, sprinkling, blizzarding, drizzling.  When we don’t have rain, we long for it. Without it, we become parched, thirsty, empty, dry.

But there are other things I long for as well. Though I live in a beautiful place, it is not a fair place. This year has revealed more than ever who has and who does not.  I have lived long enough to have known a lot of good people, but I also know racists, and bullies, and worse.  So just like we need rain to live, we need righteousness, justice, kindness, truth. Without them, we become equally as parched and as dry as those who live without water.  I hope my book reminds readers that it is good to thirst for all that is sweet and good.

No pressure, please.  But if you want to order a copy,  ($10)  click this link, and I’ll get one sent to you right away.

Election Night

            There were only a few nights of my childhood when I was allowed to stay up late, and election nights were among them.  My father taught political science at a university, and my parents hosted every-other-year, election-watch parties. The room would be full of political scientists who understood the intricacies of the precinct reporting and which tiny numbers on the small TV screen mattered more than others.  I remember the excited chatter, the discussions, the fervent anticipation, and the eyes never too disengaged from the TV.

They leaned both left and right. I remember my father registering some tight-lipped annoyance at an outspokenly republican colleague, but nonetheless my father was cordial, serving his colleague snacks and punch from the bowl that came out only on special occasions. These were the late sixties and seventies, and these profs had come out on the other side of the Civil Rights marches and the anti-Vietnam war protests. Universities had survived. Democracy had survived.  These academics studied the cogs of local and state and federal government. They watched regimes around the world, they understood political theory and political history, and truly, those nights felt nearly sacred.  Despite where these professors fell on the political spectrum, the one underlying current in those parties was excitement to watch the democratic process at work. There was wonder and awe at this beautiful process called voting.  

I realize that I am looking back with idealistic nostalgia.  There has always been voter suppression. Gerrymandering was a term my father explained to me when I was under ten. Just yesterday, this article reminded me that people in power have always been slow to allow certain groups to vote. Half of our population- our women- weren’t allowed to vote until late in our country’s history.

But it staggers me that this week we have leaders encouraging intimidation at the polling places and questioning the assumption that every single vote should be counted.  If we do not count votes, are we even a democracy?

I, like, many of you, struggle to find grounding in these gale force winds of political fervor and fear.  It was bad enough that friendships have been severed because of political differences. But walls around the White House?  Walmart banning gun sales on election day? Angry, armed people on the streets of small towns and big cities? Both sides seem to be convinced that if their side loses, the country is lost.

This might be the place where in the past I would have inserted a religious comment about the unshakeable God of the universe being in control.  Yes, I do believe that truth still, though I have found myself less able to stomach the churches that might remind me of that fact, quick as they have been to align themselves with politics I cannot condone.  

Layered over that big Godbelief though, is this one: the belief of my father. He has been gone for seven years, but I can imagine him talking to me. Look he would say: People are waiting eleven hours in a line to vote! They are coming in wheelchairs. They are driving across the country and flying on planes to their polling places. They are taking inordinate risks in a pandemic to vote. In every precinct, in every county, in every state, people fill in a bubble here or there, and in doing, say, our voices matter!  It is proof, he would say, that Democracy will survive.   

My father was an optimist. And I sure hope he was right.

Color and Ice

There has been no shortage of ice this winter.   Most of it is troublesome, making me wary to walk on paths, but occasionally it’s interesting.

IMG_4851

I’m glad to say the ice has begun to recede from the shores. Temperatures are rising, and the ice shelves are breaking up.

IMG_4884IMG_4861

Spring is still a long way off here, and I wish it were otherwise.   It will be a while before it’s warm enough to sit outside and bask in the bright yellows and pinks of spring or the green of summer.

IMG_4841

But there is color, even in winter. I hope you’ve all seen the videos this week of  Italians singing from balconies, or been reminded that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a quarantine of his own.  Whether you find it or create it, I hope you see color even now, in the bleakness of this winter.

IMG_4858

A New Beginning/A Happy Ending

Sometimes there are happy endings in this world.

David and I have left Wisconsin for this week to attend a wedding. I’m not a particularly mushy person, but watching joy for most of the two-day event made me constantly teary.

After we became friends with Kathy several years ago when she was in law school, she had some horrific years: she was tragically and suddenly widowed after a short but happy first marriage. She survived and plodded along, but more than that, she emerged from those years with a remarkable lack of bitterness or anger. She has a wonderful laugh. She is cheerful. She is generous. Oh, that we could all watch and learn how to live in such grace.

A few years ago she met Kurt, a very smart mathematician who is mild mannered, not flashy, and very kind. Here are two people in their late forties who would have been relatively fine on their own, but instead they have found a companion with whom to live life. They now have each other to have and hold.

The light streamed into the sunlit church, Scriptures spoke of love. The adorable niece and nephews in the bridal party who were barely more than toddlers proved to us, as children often do, that starting over, starting again, is a good thing. The pastor reminded us that there is hope in the love of God. A magnificent organ played, a simple worship song moved us.

All weddings are happy, but this one just felt like grace poured out.

kathykurt

Because I don’t want to shift the focus from the wedding to me, I am a bit reticent to add this next part, but a few people asked, so here is the poem that I wrote for the couple and then read at their wedding. I was so glad to be a part of this new beginning, happy ending for Kathy.

 
River Song

Your minds surge
but your hearts are quiet
 
Like stones by a river
            you have lain still on the banks     alone
 
Currents of sorrow
and eddies of waiting
            have worn your rough edges smooth
 
but now there is rain. Sweet summer rain.
The river rises and the river is warm and the river invites you in
 
Now your hearts are no longer heavy like stones
but light.
Now they are ripples
 
Now they are songs that you sing to each other
in the dancing green
in all the tomorrows that are yours

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.

IMG_0395

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.

IMG_0246

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_6382IMG_6400

 

Poem: Innkeepers

Living in a tourist area has given me a new appreciation for one little aspect of the Nativity account. I know innkeepers now, along with people who run gift shops and clean hotel rooms and serve in restaurants. Theirs are bi-polar lives: a manic pace in the summer, a dearth of activity in the winter.  My friends here are people who like people: they enjoy their visitors and customers;  they like the conversations and the interchanges with vacationers. But I can tell you that they get tired. Nearly two million people come here in the summer and fall, and it’s a grueling pace to keep.

For many years I’ve written a Christmas poem. Now that I know a few innkeepers, the words from Luke caught my eye this season as I read through the advent account.  Here’s imagining…

“..and everyone went to their own town to register…While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:3,7

 

Innkeepers

They grow weary of crowds, of laundry relentless
of chatter continual, the same questions again and again

When there are no rooms, there’s little to be done
The sty, with the stink of animals
at least was something
 
Who doesn’t know, he was surely thinking
that the town would be full, the hotels all arranged months ahead.
But here is a man, and here is a woman
so ready to burst, so weary.

A midwife had to be found
blood and muffled screams
the girl alone
laboring with strangers

and then shepherds with stories
searching for a baby
chiding the man for the stable
saying give them a better place
saying these people are better than they seem

 

 

 

IMG_8358

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.

IMG_9571

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.

IMG_2457

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,

IMG_2584

then Black Eyed Susans.

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

IMG_9541

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.

IMG_9565

 

Cherry Jam, Cherry Pies, Cherry Nostalgia

It’s cherry time in Door County.

IMG_3136

Orchards are abundant here, and we love watching the changes of these trees throughout the year. In late winter, when it still feels drab and hopelessly dreary, the trees begin to tinge red.

IMG_2080

And then, in late May the blossoms are worth a drive around the county just to see the spectacle.

 

And now, red fruit. Thousand upon thousands of cherries hang, ready for picking.

IMG_3146

Or, more accurately, ready for shaking. The growers have a machine that grabs the trunk, shakes off the cherries into a inverted-umbrella-type net and then collects them into the crates where they are taken for processing.

IMG_3172

For most of the years of my life, we came here in summer, in cherry season. And though most of our days were spent on the beach and in that blue big Great Lake, for at least one afternoon we would put on old shirts and shoes and head off to a pick-your-own-cherry orchard. In less than an hour, our hands would be stained with cherry juice as our pails would fill. The ladders were fun to climb. We’d work side by side in a tree or compete for whose pail could fill faster from opposing trees. And always, it seems, we’d comment on the sight of those bright red cherries and deep green leaves against a backdrop of indigo blue sky.

And then, all those years of my childhood were repeated when I took my children back to the orchards each August to do exactly the same thing.

cherries

Then it was home to the cabin at the beach where we’d set up tables on the porch and begin pitting. All those hundreds of cherries! We’d rinse them, then one by one stab out the pit from each one with a toothpick. There are cherry pitting gadgets, but toothpicks work the best.

 

But this task, too, became a game, or at least a not-unpleasant activity. Because we’d chat. Sometimes grandpa would help. Sometimes an aunt would be there, or a parent’s friend, or our friends. To them, it was all new, so we’d see it through their eyes. And how bad could any chore be when the waves of Lake Michigan were the background noise, the lake breezes our fan?

The picking and the pitting culminated into something expected but nonetheless wonderful: cherry pie. My grandmother first, and then my mother, and now me: there is no question that we make them and serve them to anyone who is here during cherry time.

 

And beyond the pies, there was jam to be made. The next day or even later on that evening, we’d make jam. I can see them now in my mind’s eye; the particular pots my mom would use to boil jam, heat jars. I can hear her voice asking my dad to be ready with his watch to time that crucial one minute when the jam must boil ( full rolling.) I’d help her ladle hot jam, wipe rims, screw on lids. I’d help her dunk the jars into the boiling water, remove them a few minutes later, turn them upside down. Turn them right side up, and listen for the oh-so-welcome “pop” which let us know the lid had sealed.

I have lived in other places where fresh fruit grows, and I have made pies from that bounty, too; the occasional peach or apple cake or cobbler. But there is nothing in my life quite so steeped in memory and nostalgia and tradition as these cherries.

Was it that, on vacation, we had time to bake and process jam- time we didn’t have the rest of the year? Was it that the beauty of those cherry trees all around us was irresistible? Was it that the tradition of families working together in a kitchen to “put up” food was every bit as integral to vacation as those card games at night or the beach fire to watch the falling stars?

Today, I live four miles from a processing plant. For the past three years I’ve stopped by and picked up tubs of cherries as they’ve come right in from the orchards and straight from the pitting machines. Yep, already picked and pitted. So I’ve skipped a few of the traditional steps.

But today, as my hands are slightly stained from cherry juice that came as I was cutting cherries for jam and freezing cherries for the pies that we will serve all year round, I find myself nostalgic for my mother, gone now four years. She would be happy that I’m making jam, making cherry pies. She would be glad, I know, that I’m living all year round in this place of cherries.

IMG_9138 (1)

 

 

 

Almost

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

IMG_8439

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.

IMG_2234IMG_6721

Waiting for Spring

Spring is waiting to arrive. I vacillate between contentment and disgust, between giving-myself-a-good-scolding-for-being-whiny-as-I-wait and looking for beauty anyway.

I wore mittens on my walk today, and the forecast this weekend is for dismal rain and temperatures in the low 40s. Yet, there have been a few crocuses in my yard, and daffodils are blooming, now, on the roads.

I have had a few delightful walks with friends in the woods, and I’ve met with some friends about writing projects. On one lovely morning last week, I did both: we talked about our writing projects while we walked, occasionally stopping to listen to each other read from the pages we had stuffed in our pockets.

IMG_8899IMG_8898

And, the gulls are back in the fields and at the shore.

IMG_8886

Despite the cold, we took a drive and then walked a very short path to see this always-spectacular view of the Sturgeon Bay Canal Light.

IMG_8904

Yes, spring is tarrying. ( What a great word, right? And when is the last time any of us have used it?) We are going into our third year here in Door County, and I don’t remember the wait for color and warmth being so hard on me in our first two years.

Soon, I’m sure, I’ll be happily spending all of my days outside. I will have forgotten this feeling of being parched and famished for color and spring.

Having waited long, perhaps I’ll be more grateful when it finally arrives. I’ll count on that, and until then, I’ll look for the graces given in this not-yet spring.

IMG_8902

I