Thoughts of Snow


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.


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.


Living Different Lives Together

We frequently laugh with our friends, Lynn and Gary, because every time they talk about somewhere they went or something they did, they disagree about details. We laugh that they went on different vacations together. Maybe we laugh because Jim and I see ourselves in the mirror they are holding up.

We have always been very close, enjoying doing things together. Someone in our past complained that we were too close, we spent too much time together. Fifty-nine years doesn’t feel like too much togetherness because now we fear that we don’t have enough years left. Its not that we have big goals like starting a new family or building new careers. No, we just hope we have a few more years for camping in the Upper Peninsula, working in the flower beds on warm Spring days, eating eggs and pecan pancakes at the counter at Blueberries, and running over to the grocery for some milk and carrots. We want more time for laughing with family and friends, or talking, just the two of us.

I’ve noticed that our conversations, as we are doing and going, are lit by little jolts of memory, flashbacks to earlier experiences. Flashbacks of things our children said or did, vacations we took, people we knew during all those growing-up-together years, things we both remember, usually. What differs are the details. He remembers my father telling about Grandpa building his house and I remember being in my parent’s kitchen. He remembers changing the flat tire on the trailer and I remember fixing peanut butter sandwiches and grapes for the kids to eat while sitting on the grass along the side of the road. Maybe when the pieces of our differing memories are put together, they create an accurate picture. Maybe they make up an interesting fairy tale.

Who cares. What I treasure is the joy I experience as new days together with Jim and new observations we share with each other are enriched by the intertwining of memories of the different lives we lived together.

Let Her Be

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Grandma said, “Let her be.” I heard this, from the time I was very small, it gave me permission. The messages to be good, to be quiet, to settle down, to stop it, and to not do that were also heard but the most important message was to let her be. This message was directed at parents who were working hard to raise me to be a responsible and good person, and mostly I have been. But I seem to be listening mostly to Grandma these days.

Let her be. What a strong message. Be. Feels as strong as God telling us “I am.” These messages can’t be more concise or clearer. They ring like crystal.

I spent some time reading Freeman Patterson last night, his book Embracing Creation about the art of photography. I am intrigued with his thoughts about how what we choose to photograph can be used to better understand who we are and what we desire from our lives. He writes about those special places that feel like home – not structures but places in the world where we feel ageless. Where we are a child, an adult, and also very old. Places that are timeless.

Docks on small inland lakes have made their way into many of my photographs. This dock was taken yesterday morning, at the boat launch at Portage Lake; Grandma lived on the other side of this small lake. My favorite place to be was lying on my tummy on the dock in early morning. The diamonds sparkling on the calm water as minnows tickled my fingers that dangle oh-so-still in the water. The warmth of the sun is welcome in the lingering coolness of the night. In these minutes my eight-year-old body is ageless, I have the curiosity and innocence of childhood and the wisdom of age. I am one with the world, and the world is good. My 70-year-old body is still ageless as I feel myself on this dock. I can be.

Aging is strange. I know I don’t have long to live, maybe 10 to 15 years. This length of time felt so long when my body was young and I was growing, developing. Now that my body is declining I don’t long for the future, at least not the future as we measure time in years. I wonder if my activities of today could be my best moments? I realize that my future is uncertain.

Does choosing to photograph this dock, does the echo of Grandma’s words in the shadows of my mind mean that I am yearning for something?  Maybe I am yearning to be. Maybe I am yearning to be as I am, as I am 70, instead of as I was in some past time. Lately I have been finding joy in being as I fold laundry, make the bed, can tomatoes, read, blog, garden. How wonderful it is to savor what I am doing instead of fretting about all there is to do and whether my body will let me do it. What joy it is to be, alive in this moment. Yes, Let Her Be.

Pure Michigan – Pure Summer

I’ve been wondering if my enjoyment of the Michigan summer is because it is such a great place to live, or whether my love is based on years of joyous memories. Probably both.

Memories of spending summers with Grandma on a small lake, of my parents bringing in a string of big bluegills for our supper.

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Driving country roads, the ever-changing beauty of the farmers’ fields

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and hearing corn grow on a still evening.

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The joys of camping when our children were young, exploring the wonders of the woods and lakes.


eating lunch on a Lake Michigan beach, feeling soft sand between our toes,


swinging so high, our toes touched the sky.


Buying fresh produce for a summer supper, and preserving for winter’s cold.

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And my greatest summer joy is sitting on my purple porch swing, remembering summers past, drinking my morning coffee,


and enjoying my summer flowers.

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Pure summer, pure joy. The best part of growing old is having a life-time of wonderful memories plus all the current pleasures.

This is in response to Krista’s Daily Post challenge of “Summer Lovin'”


Treasured Letters

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In that drawer in the bedroom where we put things that are dear to us, we have three stacks of letters. One stack is from our oldest daughter, our second child, written when she was 17 and living in Switzerland for a year. It was so very hard having her so very far away, before Skype, internet, and inexpensive overseas calls – or was it before we could afford overseas calls. We missed her and looked forward to her long letters describing her experiences in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language, and going to school. Through her letters and photos she introduced us to her new family, the one she still visits yearly. I haven’t read these letters since she returned home and then left again, and again, and many times again. I started reading them today, and couldn’t stop. What a treasure they are. She hasn’t read them since she mailed them – maybe she will soon, or someday.

The other two stacks were written by J’s mother and father in 1936-37. Bill was an immigrant from Canada, living and working in Jackson. Mary was a widow in her early 20’s, dirt poor (this was before there was government help for widows or children living in poverty), with three very young children, trying to survive the depression. She lived 35 miles away in Marshall. They met, fell in love, and until they married a year later, they communicated with letters during the week, eagerly waiting for Bill’s visits on week-ends.

After they married, they continued to live apart while Bill looked for a home for his new family. After they were united in Jackson, Bill adopted the three children and loved them as his own. Six years later, Mary was surprised to find she was pregnant; and J was born to them.

I grew to love them for many reasons. but it was Bill’s willingness to love and provide for the three children that touches me most. They continued to live apart after they married because it took Bill several months to find a house for his new family. In those months apart, they didn’t pick up the phone for a long-distance chit-chat, they wrote a letter.

April 6/37

Dearest Mary:

Just now got home from work and am going to write to you before I sit down to supper.

It sure did rain Sunday night on the way to Jackson and all day Monday. I had a flat tire Monday, it is a wonder that it did not go flat on the way back Sunday night.

I see where you have a new mayor in Marshall!

I went over to see that lady last night, and she said that she was going to give these people that live in the house a chance to pay up the rent or else she would get them out. I asked her how long it would be, and she said she did not know to be exact; so I’m going to look around some more and see if I cannot find something else. She wants $25.00 a month for that house and the kitchen is small, I told her I would let her know later.

How is your Dad? I hope he feels a lot better than he did. How are our kids? Tell them I will see them Friday and to be good.

Well Dear I have about run out of news, so I will mail this so as you can get it Wednesday. Will see you Friday night. Lots of love to you and the children.

Your husband,


Will our internet communication provide us with the same sense of intimacy that these types of letter provide? As I was reading the letters written by Bill & Mary, I felt like I was intruding into something very special and private – even though they have been dead many years. They were written in their handwriting with unique phrasing that helped me remember their personalities. These stacks of letters will be saved as an important window into our family’s story.

You can see of all kinds of letters by visiting: