Lake Michigan, Harbor Springs

_DSC0074We went “up north” last weekend camping with friends. This wasn’t a new location to us, with lots of new areas to explore. No, we have been here before, many times so it was more like going “home” to the “up north” that includes anywhere above the midpoint of the Lower Peninsula into the far west end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have vacationed at different places throughout this large area for close to 50 years so we can engage in many “remember when…” conversations. Conversations like; “Did we come here with … or …? Wasn’t this the place where Mike… or Sharon… or Carol …? Didn’t we have the …. camper when we camped here, was it in 1976? This sure has changed a lot – its not as I remember it.

It was a beautiful weekend in Petoskey, on the shore of Lake Michigan almost to the tip of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula. The temp was in the low 70’s with a cool breeze to complement the warm sun traversing a very deep blue sky. On Friday we drove north along the Lake Michigan shore making our first stop at Harbor Springs. I did a little shopping but mostly tried to capture the spirit of the small towns that cater to tourists who are discovering the beauty of our Great Lakes for the first time or the people like us who have been going “up north” for decades. Many of the people were young families with strollers and young adults in small groups.

Harbor Springs was just waking up to summer, enjoying the laid back quiet before the throngs of summer visitors arrive. The planters were newly planted with bright summer flowers and spring iris and daffodils were blooming. There weren’t many boats in the harbor marina and hardly any people walking the streets or shopping in stores. A couple of shop owners told us this was the first week of being open, probably recently returning from their winter of managing stores in southern Florida.

The most obvious sign that we are in northern Michigan is the presence of fudge shops – lots of fudge shops. It appears that this shop is stocking up for the 4th of July week-end.

I resisted, although Lynn and Gary confessed to indulging in something decedent and very tasty. I am convinced, however, that I gained about a half a pound smelling the wonderful aroma coming through the door that was propped open to the morning breeze.

I really enjoyed meandering through the gift shops looking for things that I normally don’t shop for. I only bought a few little things but was reminded that this is a shopping area with a short season evidenced by their simple way of writing up an order. No fancy technology here – the clerk is getting my change from a small metal money box under the counter.

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As my purchase was being bagged the clerk said that if I liked cookies I should go to the next corner, turn right and cross the street. And of course we did.

We bought enough to split one now and another later, and some to share with our friends. The ones with chocolate were the best, but I didn’t need to tell you that.

Our friends were exploring somewhere that Hemingway is said to have frequented when he visited upper Michigan. While they were doing that, I was admiring a bronze statue of Hemingway that was for sale in front of an art gallery. The owner of this gallery had an eye for talent that resonated with my taste. Fate intervened to require that our credit card be cancelled and a new one issued the day before we left and Jim had the single other card we have as backup. Sometimes life just works out like it should.

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Funny how certain tiny events can evoke big and beautiful memories. We had crossed over to the shady side of the street and I had sat down on a bench to enjoy being who I am in that moment in time. As we sat, two boys passed in front of us, one a little older was striding with purpose, with a dollar bill in his hand. The second boy was younger, full of excitement, and bouncing down the street sideways. I overheard the younger ask if maybe they could get some ice cream at the general store that was their destination. The older replied with the authority of age that they would have to check the price.

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Those boys were me 60-some years ago. I remember the power of having money in my hand, especially money I had earned, heading for the corner market to make my decisions about what penny candy to buy – without adult supervision. I remember hopping along beside an older cousin I trusted and admired as we went down the street to the dry cleaners that also sold stamps for our stamp collections. Yes I remember this summer day from the being of a child, from the being of a young mother responsible for the fun and earned privileges of her children. And best of all, I experienced this summer day from the being of an old person with time and money to spend for small pleasures.

The Joy of Aging

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The second cup of coffee sipped quietly as the morning light strengthens
and we stretch out the stiffness.

A leisurely decision about how to spend the day in creative pursuits
nary a worrying about time-clocks and meetings.

Freedom to choose when mundane tasks are done
anytime between now and never.

Shared memories with loved ones only to discover that we lived different
lives together at the same time and place.

Comfort within ourselves as days flow from solitude to companionship
with friends who fill us for more solitude.

Laughter over things gone wrong when once
we were filled with blame and shame.

Comfort in being mortal as faith promises that a worn out body will be
replaced with a new non-titanium being.

Favorite places and times indexed in our brain to visit when current
place and time become too complicated.

Bitter-sweet memories of people who influenced our minds and our lives
but who are no longer walking the earth.

Being who we always have been even as we are different in so many ways.

I’ve been a bit morose as of late. Maybe the noise from the condo above has rattled loose my brighter side. Whatever is going on, I’ve been fretting about roads I wasn’t able to travel, opportunities I couldn’t seek out… and time has run out. Last Sunday in church, the phrase that stuck from our public prayer of confession was, “We look back with regret, rather than with gratitude.” I tried writing an essay from the depth of my morose — hoping to write my way out. It didn’t work. This is my attempt at gratitude because I really do enjoy who I am and where I’m at. If I like where I’m at, the path here couldn’t have been that bad.

Thoughts of Snow

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My aging mental life fascinates me a whole lot. I thought that by studying life transitions and aging I would be prepared – but I’m surprised at what is taking place between my two ears in my 80th decade. I am intrigued by the work of transitioning to a meaningful life in my aging body.

I have been watching a lot of episodes of “The Last Alaskans” on the cable channel Animal Planet. Maybe its more accurate, and more telling, that I’ve been watching a few episodes repeatedly. This show is about a few families living in cabins in the north-eastern corner of Alaska whose lives are centered around winter – preparing for and surviving the 9 months of deep, cold (-40 degrees) winter. All of their activities seem to revolve around making sure they have enough meat, wood, clothing and water to survive. They are isolated and living on the edge.

As I watch these episodes, the beauty of the snow covered landscape excites me. My soul is touched by the Alaskans’ excitement and thrill of living in this wilderness. It triggers memories of when I was drawn to dreaming about making curtains for a mud hut on the American Plains. Of making a home in the wilderness for my husband and future children. And as I watch each episode, I smile at the thought of living in their small log cabins in that winter landscape.

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You have probably observed the disconnect of my spirit longing for the challenge of surviving winter landscapes at -40 degrees while my body enjoys the subtropic southern Florida winter. It wasn’t lost on me for even a second. Instead of it being a problem, I bridged this integrity gap with mind travel. The advantage of having a healthy brain that has processed 75 years of living is that we have memories – lots of them.

Jim and I talked (or I talked to him) about our memories of snow and cold. How exciting it was as a young adult to bundle up and brave the elements. I thought about the fun of taking my small children sledding and being a teen skating with friends on small neighborhood ponds that the boys shoveled clean. Most of all I remember the excitement and anticipation of knowing a big winter storm was close, looking out the window as we headed for bed to see if it had started to snow, waking a little earlier than normal to see how much snow had fallen and turning on the radio to listen for school closings. Along with the excitement came the calm of knowing we had food to eat and were freed of all commitments. My world slowed down when twelve inches of snow fell.

When the people living in northern Alaska talk about the quiet of walking trapping trails through the snow, I knew what they mean. I remember the quiet of snow-covered neighborhoods. I know the cold that freezes nose hairs and eye balls. I know the blue-purple drifts of snow from the sun being low on the horizon at dusk, but also know the brilliant sparkle of snow crystals at noontime when the sun is higher in the southern sky. Does anyone else believe that snow has a special smell, can we smell cold?

No, I don’t want to experience the cold and snow of winter at this stage in my life. Winter in the north makes life too painful and precarious. I no longer have the energy to dress for the cold, and my body isn’t made for shoveling snow. Once it was and once upon a long-ago time I enjoyed it. I have the memory of catching big flakes of snow on my tongue and feeling the comforting warmth of being inside a snow fort. I remember lying in the snow and listening to the silence. And I am thankful for these memories. Yes, I am thankful.

 

The Golden Spring

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Golden tree of early spring, at sunset.

I read Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay way back in my first or second year of college – 53 years ago or so. I’m a bit amazed that I remember it, though vaguely, because I don’t have clear memories of many things that I learned way back then.

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold…

The impact of this poem has been that I’ve marveled at the golden hue of buds on trees, that haze of gold in very early spring that tells me green is soon to come. The golden mist on the horizon that in a day or two turns to a bright green. Frost was right that the gold of early spring doesn’t stay. But as I reread the poem, now that I’m in my 70’s, I hear a meaning that my 20-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend – at least not emotionally.

…So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

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I’ve been thinking of the aging process, triggered by the 5-day stay of our grandson and his family. They brought with them a 4 year old very active son and a 2 year old daughter. Zachary is turning 30 this year and they seem to have the same response as I had as I was approaching my 30th birthday – “Boy that seems old.” Allison is a few years behind him.

They have energy and take raising their children very seriously. This makes me very happy because I am the biological great-grandparent of the two year old and love the 4 year old as if he were a biological descendant. We are great-grandparents and we are emotionally invested in our young people and also all the parents and babies in all places.

Having our grandchildren and great-grandchildren in our home really tired us out, but I remember the energy I had as a young parent, to work and to play and to love. I also remember the worry and stress, and the numbing tiredness at the end of the day. Yes, those may have been golden days that quickly passed away, but they weren’t perfect days. There were times when I was eager to have a stage of family life move on into a new one.

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The kids left at noon on Monday to visit Zachary’s maternal grandparents. It didn’t take long for us to ease back into our retirement routine of quietly greeting the morning with a cup of coffee on my purple porch swing, of coming and going as I please. Days of mixing up housework and quilting, reading and knitting, gardening and friends so my body is happy and my soul finds meaning.

Daughter, Carol, asked me when it was that I was able to become “great,” as in great-grandparent. Yes, I do feel great, and I have a lifetime of memories of great times. Maybe Robert Frost was right that nothing gold can last – but maybe he should have added another stanza that addresses the fact that the green of summer that spring gold moves into is just as wonderful.

I wonder what the golden days of my today will evolve into as I continue my spring and summer, fall and winter days. There is a darkness in this poem,

So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

Yes I have grieved the loss of those golden days of young adulthood, but an advantage of having an aged brain is that I am better able to hold the totality of life, the vast continuum of good and bad, within my heart and know that it was what it had to be and I did the best I could with what I was given.

Coping with Change

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Delphinium planted in the Naples Botanical Garden reminds me to buy some for my Northern garden.

It’s that time of year when things are a-changing for me. It’s that time of year when I move from my winter home in sub-tropical Florida to very early Spring in Michigan. This isn’t the first time I’ve made this change and probably not the last time I’ll write about it. I’m at the point in the process where I have to stop to think where I keep the sharp knives, the spoons for my morning cereal, my favorite spatula, and my whisk. It is the time when I turn on the bathroom faucet to a harder flow instead of turning it off because the faucets work in different directions at each place. It’s a time of achy body and exhaustion – for a little while until I adjust or the weather gets warmer.

And it is the time of shifting friendships. Most of the migratory condo residents had left before we did so I had to give good-bye hugs and feel the sadness of loosing them for a few months. We have lived there long enough to become close and really care about each other. We left a few behind who won’t be leaving until May and I worry about them becoming lonely – like I was becoming without everyone being there. I really appreciate that we have made close friends who will be excited when they see us next October or January. There is a bond that has formed and with that bond is also the price of having to say good-bye – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is also the time of making connections with friends and family in Michigan. I want to see them all right away and that feels overwhelming but it must be worth it because I am starting to contact people and set up dates. Because people are so much more important than a clean house, my housekeeping will be done in little spurts. We are still getting things put away from the car – maybe next year we won’t take as much back and forth.

This year was complicated by my computer motherboard crapping out the end of March. What a pain! It seems like everything I need is on my computer and I had to wait until I came north to get a new one because the disks for my most used programs are in Michigan. I think that almost everything is loaded and working well, and I am once again feeling calm. I am also finally able to see and process the photos from my last two visits to the Botanical Garden.

The hardest part of not having a computer for three weeks was the loss of connection with people – some blogging buddies and some friends/relatives who are best connected with through social media. I wasn’t able to write any posts and missed reading what the people I follow are writing about. I have some catching up to do.

My take-away is that, even though I get stressed about the state of our government, the amount of violence in the US, conflict and migration around the world, and global warming, what is going on in my personal worlds seem to demand my full attention when there is unsettling change. Family/Friends and security seem to be getting more important, maybe even critical to my well-being. Something for me to contemplate.