It turns out my head is still trying to be on vacation this shivery, rainy day in Oregon–one that will be repeated almost daily until spring’s reprise. I was perusing photos from the last leg of our northern Michigan jaunt and lo, there are more moments of rich color and curiosity to share with you.
Jutting north along the western side of Grand Traverse Bay (part of Lake Michigan), Leelanau Peninsula may seem a repeat of beauty that has been encountered before. It gave me pause to consider that about 10,000 years ago, three different lakes were tiered here and there, at different levels. Now they are an invisible part of this far reaching Great Lake, one among the five whose basins were carved out by glacial ice sheets 14.000 years ago. Leelanau Peninsula, then, was geologically layered by that powerful glacial activity.
These forested lands are part of widespread color tours in the U.S. each October–some say Michigan has the best, who knows for certain?– but this terrain is easy on the eyes with vibrant yet soothing vistas (did you know oaks turn color later than maples?). It had not quite peaked when we were there. This is a prime area for artists to congregate and thrive, as well as excellent earth in which orchards thrive and many vegetables flourish. Lots of migrating birds arrive or pass this way. Once again bodies of water beckon me beyond low-rolling hills to that vast undulating cobalt blue. The five interconnected Great Lakes comprise the largest body of freshwater on earth, six quadrillion gallons, and is the longest freshwater coastline, as well. Lake Michigan alone is 22,300 square miles of water. However, there are also over 11,000 inland lakes, as well.
This peninsula, a popular scenic area, gives rise to much tourism which calms down a bit as temperatures and leaves drop—but then ski season opens and hearty wintering folks head up north. It may not be the Cascade Range (so near where I live) or other majestic peaks, but downhill skiing in northern Michigan is nonetheless a big draw, as are snowmobiling and sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating and more. For there is nothing quite like the northern Michigan winter that will soon arrive–ferocious, pristine and also playful.
We stopped by Lake Leelanau to look for more good stones and admire the clarity of water. We cruised by tiny Suttons Bay and surrounding lands. Our intended destination was Leland, on the western shore. Northport is near the tip of the peninsula; the slideshow below offers a glimpse at that lovely village and farm land. We also paused to enjoy Lake Leelanau’s musical sloshing waves, water so clear you could see the bottom.
Relaxed and full of visual treasures, we drove contentedly along in the breezy, sunshiny day.
After perhaps 45 dreamy minutes, we entered Leland late afternoon. I has been long known for art galleries, higher end shops and the historic Fishtown. Leland has been an operating fishing community since the 1850s (far longer when considering the fact that Ottawa Indians resided there until Europeans arrived). It still has a distinctive culture and is considered one of the last working fishing districts on the peninsula. One can visit old fishing shanties, smokehouses, canneries and walk the weathered docks, note the fish tugs. I thoroughly enjoyed poking about. The shops were soon to close so I saved a good deal of money, I’m sure.
And so rounds out and ends the seven day tour of “up north” Michigan, a first trip after decades having been gone.
The mystique of many waters, and the pleasure boats and boats with fishing aficionados as well as working fisher persons…the delicate meat of tasty fish (planked whitefish, the best)…the great swaths of deciduous forest mixed with towering pines and the slim, short-lived birches and rustling poplars…the flattening land and open skies…the sweet tangy wind of the great and small lakes. It is an alchemy that makes me dream of cabins and night music and finding love and gliding in a canoe under a silvery, beneficent moon and tender-hot sun. It is all still there.
(Please note there are captions for the many Interlochen pictures; just hover with your mouse over photo.)
The symphony of winds rushing and skipping through acres of broad leaf and conifer trees, lake water slapping then gliding along a strip of shore: these sounds long ago saturated my brain and blood. The sonic tableau is further enhanced with human-created instruments and voices. The musical phenomena in which nature and people collaborate gifted me with a series of wonderment. My times spent attending internationally renowned Interlochen Summer Arts Camp (overshadowing all other camps) remain potent points of grace arising from a crucible of trying times.
I stay the impulse to write of my beloved father, how he taught and conducted orchestras there in the richness of summer’s glow. I might tell a bit about my four older siblings who studied, practiced and performed on their own respective instruments–cello( my oldest sister; also me), clarinet, viola, flute, bassoon and more as they changed preferences. And a couple of them later became summer counselors for the younger campers. Oh, wait, my oldest daughter taught art there for two summers. But they have their own stories.
And I will not be writing at length regarding the illustrious history of Interlochen Center for the Arts, both an arts camp (established in 1928) and soon a boarding fine arts high school school, other than to say it has offered programs for aspiring artists from grades 3 to 12 who have come from around the world. The place has expanded since I attended to include a College of Creative Arts, as well.
I’m not very interested in cataloging triumphs or failures (for example, I won first chair in the cello section of orchestra one summer only to lose it to my still good friend and far better cellist, Susan). Nor teachers’ strengths or weaknesses; the stress of competing against talented kids from all over the world; cramped yet lovely rustic cabin life; the regimen of getting up at the crack of dawn and flopping into bed exhausted, too tired to gossip or plan hijinks. And when allowed breaks, the best thing was to sit lakeside and sip a soda or dash off a letter home. And visualize a future in the arts, that shining life of work and inner rewards–and perhaps outer.
Maddy Administration Building
Sculpture outside of Visual Arts Bldg.
It was, in truth, not a time so much of great youthful fun as it was strictly scheduled and enforced hours as each worked at perfecting one’s capabilities as a young artist who was engaged in performing and visual arts. In short, it was intensive summer school for kids with many talents, but conducted in the midst of beautiful forested acreage by a lake. And it was heavenly regardless of the toil that came with it. I was thirteen and fourteen then fifteen and by then “excellence above all”was a main credo. It was the family’s, as well, as music and striving were seemingly what was needed; it felt natural.
My fingers ached, even bled at times despite thick calluses formed; my shoulders muscles bunched and sometimes spasmed after hours of practice in small field stone “huts”, side windows opened to a pungent, damp breeze. Still, sweat rolled down back and chest in high summer, my cello sticking to the bare spots of skin that hugged it. At night, it cooled enough. As I walked dirt paths through a bluish-lavender twilight, my cello snug at my side, music still swirled about as I passed Interlochen Bowl, an open air stage full of performers. It was as if music and other mysterious energies moved the very atmosphere I breathed. I felt, at times, as if I had walked through an opening to an idyllic garden of delights. Nothing was the same there as the outside world; all was finer, richer, sweeter. Tough but better. And at home I had plenty of creative engagement. This was just, well…Interlochen.
Practice room in fieldstone hut
An appropos saying above a practice hut
Enjoying memories of performing
Perhaps as I finished voice lessons (hoping I’d have a chance to ace the audition for a musical theater production) I’d slip into the dark, musky backstage at Grunow Theater, spellbound as chameleon actors rehearsed. My small notebook would soon be full of messy notes for future reference…for something, I was certain. I learned more about the arc of storytelling, of drama’s effect when leavened with humor. And witnessed again the enchantment of imagination’s constructs. How I longed to tell such stories: a heavy velvet curtain swinging open, revealing a saga of human loving, toiling and dreaming. I started to consider playwriting more seriously, a leap from silliness I made up as a kid.
I also learned the basics of playing a full-sized harp, a resonant and wondrous thing, and thought for a couple of years that would become my instrument, it was so amazing to me and felt not so unnatural to play. In the end it was not. Frankly, it seemed too big to deal with as well as complicated to ever master.
I had taken some dance classes as all female children did back then, at least those who liked to jump about or impress their mothers. But I hadn’t had years of strenuous ballet study like the lithe dancers at Interlochen. Nonetheless, I visited the Dance Building often, in awe of flexible, strong girls who laced up their pointe slippers. It was a favorite place to take a break. I had secretly loved to dance almost as much as making music and writing. I just hadn’t had time with so many musical activities and other pursuits, and it was not encouraged by my parents. So, one summer I decided to take an elective for fun, a beginning modern dance class. My heart pounded as I prepared. Self-conscious in my snug black leotard and very pink tights, new ballet shoes so constricting. I longed to fling them off, run and leap. Maybe I was too athletically inclined to hope to dance there.
(Please click this time on circles for captions.)
The practice room where I danced.
Such light from water and sky…
The other side of the building; I’d zip down to the lake at the far edge to cool off and rest.
The dance teacher whose name I’ve forgotten watched me as I perspired through exacting warm ups. The glimmering Green Lake was behind our building and there were so many windows that blessedly, swift gusts from open water helped cool the vast mirrored room and us. I worked as the piano accompanied our movements each class, and studied my teacher and the others. I was so afraid I’d be determined to be anything but even a beginning dancer, tossed out of class. But I was determined, kept at each difficult position or move and did learn. I felt exhilaration, discomfort, mystification, deep joy of the body being freed. I felt terribly strong, similar to when I ice skated, but dance was even more interesting.
It was such a relief to give myself to movement, to not have to talk or sing or play cello–just let my body lead me, teach me. And I waited to learn a real choreographed dance, an event I considered my true reward. In a week we were making something good, and I followed each instruction, melded with others. Took my place with anticipation, made it past the run-throughs. In a short time, we would have a whole performance to offer.
The teacher beckoned to me at the end of a class. I felt breathless; was it good news or bad?
“How long have you been dancing?” she asked, her kind face betraying nothing.
“Oh, well.” I wasn’t sure what to say. If I told the truth, would she tell me I should not be there? “I had a few years of rhythmics classes as a kid, a little ballet…not so much.”
She put her hand lightly on my shoulder and sat me down.
“Do you want to dance? Is that why you took this class or to just have a lark?”
“Oh, I love dancing, it’s wonderful being in your class. I’m a music major, though.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Because you should dance more. You have such natural talent, I’m surprised you haven’t had training. In fact, I believe you could be a real dancer, make it a career eventually.”
“What?” I felt as though in a dream, the sort you must awaken from despite it being perfect.”But I’m already fifteen! I’d never be able to compete with other talented kids who’ve worked so hard–”
“But you could. You could go home and take dance lessons and work really hard, then study dance in college and do something good.” She smiled and gave me a quick hug. “I was like you, once. I followed my dream when it didn’t make sense. I began rigorous study in university and went on as a modern dancer, dancing all over the world. And I teach here. You have promise–modern dance suits you well. You dance from a very deep place. You should consider doing this, okay?”
I didn’t feel I could answer, as tears welled up. I nodded, smiling, and left.
Modern dancing that summer was the first time I’d fully discovered safety and exhilaration living within a body that had, as a child, endured years of sexual abuse. The first time someone had told me–beyond my figure skating (perhaps more a sport to me, not quite the art I longed for)–that I was acceptable physically, even valued in rarefied worlds defined by ideas and creative activity. Instead, my young being, my flesh and bones had long been burdened with self loathing and abandonment, the lurking, subterranean fear of vulnerability. Dancing that summer along with my teacher’s firm encouragement and appreciation sparked a change in self-perception, in my desire to do more than even survive capably, if possible. Or sometimes, stay alive. Just get by. The fine teacher never even knew it. Or maybe she suspected.
Although I did not become a dancer–there were other needs, trials and goals that took precedence–I yet do dance and experience relief and joy to do so.
Contemplating the lake’s beauty and music.
Such windows for a stage!
There was much more to those summers than dancing, singing and acting (I got a decent part in “Pirates of Penzance”; sang in concerts), playing my cello and a little harp, and learning more writing skills. There was hanging out in the dusty, smelly art studios, watching others make curious objects. And I realized I wanted to explore visual arts more, as well. There was sitting in an audience in the open air Kresge Auditorium, not just performing. Being moved far beyond my ability to verbalize my feelings as great, music was performed. The greens-to-blues lake within audience view shimmered and soothed. And there was time spent getting closer to new friends, some kindred spirits with whom I kept in touch for years, and setting out on a sailboat upon undulating waves, and gathering around campfires. It was the singing trees and the breath of sky like a scarf about me; the taste of summered water; the pulsing light and tantalizing shadow upon the paths that led me to more discovery. I was at home in the world where art was being made by many, where I, too, was following my passion to create.
Wha used to be art studio space is now for percussion and pianos
New Upton-Morley Pavilion, outdoor venue
Waterfron, more manicured than decades before
My times at Interlochen heralded healthier changes while strengthening my certainty that art can salvage lives, that a grand variety of arts created and shared is more fulfilling and exciting than anything else for many thousands. For me. I saw this in many others, how they came needing more and emerged from the time spent with something new. As I once wrote in a poem, there hopefully comes for many that “deepening at the seams”, those stitched together places where this human life tugs and even rips apart our yearning selves. We can heal those tears of the soul. Praise the ongoing design and redesign of greater moments. For me the result is a life full of empowering magic, lived with good love, and I get to be part of a worldwide community that loves to conjure something fresh, remake what is known. If only there was even more time to grab hold and give it away, tenfold.
This group of photos was taken by CJ’s cafe (my old family nickname, ha!) and
The next place on our Michigan trip is along Old Mission Peninsula. It is a countryside that romances. There are graceful hills, winding roads, vineyards and orchards, with glimpses of the East and West Bay, part of Lake Michigan. It carries travelers for 18 miles and in spots is only a mile across. The final destination are the tiny village of Old Mission and Mission Point Lighthouse. Since the road meanders above the surrounding coastline and farmland, the views of the water are superior. I admit I kept looking for mountains since I’m from Oregon, but the landscape was pleasingly peaceful.
Many people take this trip to enjoy wine tasting. Though we don’t drink, we enjoyed seeing the luscious grapes, getting glimpses of wineries/estates and were quite taken with tasting rooms, as pictured below. You’ll notice hops in on photo. I didn’t see the name of the vineyard associated, oddly; it must have been down another side road. It appears to have been a schoolhouse once upon a time; now the bell likely remains silenced due to lack of opportunity.
The village of Old Mission was about missed but the general Store was a good place to browse. I was desperate for a fresh pack of AA batteries to take more photos. They had a couple left–and cost more than expected. But it was fun to look around and the sales persons were dressed to match the old-time theme. (I regret not asking to “snap” them now!)
Along the way we got out to better see the lovely Old Mission Congregational Church, built 1891. It is apparently popular for weddings and other events, and I can see why; it is an exceptional spot. We also noted down the road was a log-built replica of Old Mission Church/School, first erected in 1840.
Then it was on to the Old Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. It was a windy, chilly day, brilliant with sunshine. The wooded trails were easy traversing for three or so miles. Not many were hiking, to our surprise; it was so peaceful with such quiet, colorful trees all about, birds trilling, black squirrels scampering. We also availed ourselves of more shoreline, where Marc searched for good rocks and I walked and took more photos. I love birch trees but found fewer than hoped, noting so many had fallen. Someone told me birch trees only live about 20-25 years and then they just fall to the ground. I was always in search of more on our trip!
Before we left we stopped by the original Hessler Log Home from 1854, all deconstructed and reassembled. A far simpler life but plenty of backbreaking labor each day! I don’t know if I could have lived that life successfully, as much as I am enamored of the outdoors and a country lifestyle. Those pioneer women and men were made of stronger stuff.
We headed toward Traverse City, on the way enjoying the country rolling by and the many beautiful old barns. Several so-called “Quilt Barns” are decorated with painted single quilt squares, chosen by barn owners for historical and personal significance. I managed to shoot only a couple in passing as we rambled along. But I’m certain quilt lovers can find these online, as this newer tradition is well known.
We were in a hurry to get to Traverse City due to rumbling stomachs and sun sinking lower hour by hour. The “TC” (as Michiganders calls it) area is the largest producer of tart cherries in the U.S. and it also generates primary income from tourism. Ski resorts are not far away (and many go cross country skiing (I tried the former many times and the latter once–fun but the latter quite hard work) and water sports, of course, are popular.
Before checking into our hotel there was still time to roam along waterfront of Grand Traverse Bay, where Lake Michigan begins to feel again like an ocean at moments, then the pedestrian friendly downtown. And we did eat very good, down-home food at Traverse City Pie Community (the meat and fruit pies are truly delicious; also sandwiches and soups and more); we dined there once more before trip’s end. Can you spot Charlie Chaplin dangling above a downtown portion of the 28 mile long Boardman River? Click on picture #5.
Well, TC is only 14 miles from Interlochen, the place I have been waiting to show you, but it is better to leave that more personal tale to another photo story. Until next week, happy First of November to you!
To any outsider and according to ordinary appearances, my husband, Marc, and I were going “back home” to Michigan for a week’s visit/vacation. That is, we were on the proverbial journey that leads to one’s old stomping grounds, a destination deemed “hometown” (seeming more a mirage than actuality). What I discovered anew is that my old home base (as well as my husband’s) was not where or what makes most sense at first glance. It should have been more obvious to us from the start; we did plan the trip together. And it is people whose presence means “home” as well as places. Both might be different from one’s original hometown.
Our main purpose for flying half the day (really entire day due to a six hour layover in Chicago) was to visit my elderly mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and his wife at a new home they now all share. Our second intention was to go on a “color tour,” i.e., to witness northern Michigan’s palette of autumnal forest hues. The drive from the Detroit airport was a wake-up call that clarified we were no longer in Oregon: hulking grey industrial complexes, drivers darting in and out of lanes without warning and blaring horns as if making a chase movie. The essential flatness, the geometry of everything. That cumulus cloud-laden sky tussling with windy rainfall. (Later, weather became, then remained weirdly balmy–why did I pack my fleeces? Oh, so-called Indian Summer was upon the state….) Here and there were scattered fall-bright trees among cityscapes and burdened highways. However, in time the city scenes were fewer as we neared our destination.
Their house was perhaps an hour and a half from the Detroit airport, and found set back from the tidy, tree-studded street, one nearly empty of any Sunday morning bustle as we glided toward the house with our rental car–a new Chevy Malibu, a fine “Motor City” auto industry-worthy sedan, I have to say. Marc had grown up in Flint and Lansing, cities other than the one we were visiting but we might have swung by his old homes if he’d wanted that. He did not mention it. So, we arrived to visit with his mother and brother. To share and discover what it meant for him–for us both.
Beth, my mother-in-law, is 89 years old; she is lovely despite worsening issues with eyesight and hearing, a slowness of gait. Her gentle face and searching eyes couple with the sharp inquisitiveness of a theological scholar (amateur but believe me, she knows the most arcane things) and longtime teacher, as well as traces of tension around eyes and mouth which stresses of life deposited. I find her smile beautiful and her laugh tender. But everyone has family history that is complicated; being human must mandate that to some degree. Visiting, I am more a semi-outsider looking in, only know parts of what makes the family tick so I observed. A pleasant occupation.
(You may need to click on some photos for captions.)
Beth, still smiling at 89
A small graceful grove
Long empty roads north
My husband embraced his only sibling, two years younger, and they began to catch up bit by bit. They’ve not been so close as I have with my four (now three) siblings; this visit was important. We found my sister-in-law yet unwell from a medical ordeal but we gabbed as we could. Beth was more the focal point. How endearing she could yet be–eloquent with such precise grammar, curious about people and events, opinions well delineated. Pleased as she could be to once more be with her older son and even me. To be able spend days and evenings with both her children held such import. It had been 6 years since we were all face-to-face. Too long. The three days zoomed by. My husband and his brother became more reconnected. Beth was pleased with the mini-family reunion as other members shared dinner twice. There was a more intimate confab here and there that I respectfully avoided, exploring the pretty back yard leading to woods. Or I chatted with my sister-in-law. I came to better realize the depth of her weariness and bravery, even as we also shared a little laughter. Her deep eyes were hard with pain, softened by a good heart.
When Marc and I were closer to leaving, Beth asked me, “Are you going to visit your parents’ graves in Midland, your hometown? Tend to the sites?”
I shifted into startled silence. No, not on this charted course.
“Well, no, the plan is to continue on up north to Petoskey and Traverse City areas. I guess I could have but…not this time.”
Beth was politely surprised. I said something reasonable about our schedule and conversation moved on. I felt a bit stung by my inability to say “yes” to her, but it vanished soon.
Such an act is considered a duty, a tradition for adult children yet it has rung empty for me. I have not visited my parents’ graves since my mother died ten years after my father. I may never do so. Because I believe in ongoing life beyond death, I don’t feel their presences in a greenly-pruned cemetery. Because I can sense their spirits in my dreams and daily living, I don’t have undue desire to talk to them at the spots where their bodies were buried. To leave flowers that will fade and die, too.
And the fact is, I have little interest in revisiting the small city where I spent my childhood and youth. It is an attractive, even privileged place but not so much a fuzzy embrace of warmth, security and joy as a series of chain links, of strife bound together with various sorts of love, unusual experiences. And many if not most of the links became weakened or rusted through. I admire its bounties and appreciate much of what was learned there. But all those I loved the truest do not live there, anymore. In my memory files of “hometown” it is like looking at colorful pictures but also seeing mysterious muted tones of shadowy negatives, primary scenes before the final images. I did have interesting adventures, some dangerous, others tattooed with sadness. And there are those that shine within, still. Peace enough has been made and I have written much about good times, far less of wounding ones. We all are wounded here and there, in this way or that.
So when I think of growing up, I often consider other places, including what downstate Michiganders call “Up North.” Marc and I–both grateful to have shared the time with his mother, brother and the others– took to the road again. We were seeking the destinations where we each found stability or rich happiness or inspiration long ago, and from which we continue to draw strength and peace.
Photos from along the drive north:
The undulating roads into northern Michigan are lonely as large cities are left behind, but lonely in a way both freeing and calming. Hills appeared here and there, at last. The speed limit is 70 mph so we zipped along straight then curvier highways and byways, past subtly rolling land steeped in shades of green, tan and brown, the trees tending more toward gold, orange and red mile by mile. This was what we’d hoped for: Michigan’s spectrum of autumnal colors. It was a more silent drive as we feasted our eyes.
It was early evening as we arrived at Bay View, once the summer home locale of Marc’s grandparents and, thus, his whole family. We had booked a room for one night in Stafford’s Bay View Inn, which is on the National Historical Register. All the buildings in Bay View, a community that requires membership, were constructed at the turn of the twentieth century and are Victorian. This lends a sense of being transported into that long ago time. The charm of the inn’s rooms was matched by the gentile, good humored spirit of the staff. Begun primarily as a Chautauqua community, Bay View residents did and still does devotedly champion the arts and greater education. But the star to me is the land with its waterscapes.
This was the backdrop of our northern childhoods, those pines, birches, maples, oaks, elms and poplars. The Great Lakes Huron and Michigan that flow into one another. They are so huge that when we were children we thought they were much like the ocean; the horizon above the deep, clear cobalt waters was so distant and magical we could barely imagine what was beyond it. We ran down to the rocky shore where Marc started his rock hunting in earnest; he soon found a couple of agates and beloved Petoskey stones. These unique stones are fossilized rock, made of rugose coral, from glacial times. They are named after an Ottawa Chief Pe-to-se-ga (Rising Sun); their fossil markings look a bit like small suns with rays spreading outward. We found a few to take back with us.
I breathed in the bright edge of a Lake Michigan wind, hair streaming, eyes watering. The powerful scent of fresh water and wet earth provoked a tingling shiver as I scanned and took it all in, hungering for beauty. The rhythm of waves excited and calmed me at once. This ancient canvas, no longer mirage or memory but real as could be–north country’s fresh water and big sky wonders, a swaying of great treetops by lake’s edge, a hardness of stones under feet–yet moved me.
Front of inn
Marc and me on lovely front porch
The lake water is very clear and blues of all huess
The next day Marc and I wandered on foot about sunlit Bay View streets and found his grandmother’s house still kept yellow and white and crisscrossing tree branches even more generous and luminous: the stillness of streets caught in a spell of life and times long past yet gently present. Each house there is beautifully rendered in the style of those times. Now many appear to be year ’round homes, winterized for the brutal winters–not allowed when Marc’s family lived there only in summer. We visited the youth clubhouse and boat house where he swam and sailed his Sunfish each day, a treat he still recalls as thrilling. We saw the stark white chapel, though closed. He was brimming with memories. I was, too, from the summers we brought our boisterous five children. It is an idyllic place and it is his “home place”, the one that shaped and educated him in untold ways he was grateful to experience. Soon, I saw a profound ease imbue and cheer him, displacing tensions of his jam-packed work life. Later we also enjoyed shopping and eating (great coffee and tea, too) in charming downtown Petoskey, the city to which Bay View utilities/services are connected. We also visited nearby, more upscale Harbor Springs; I will share those pictures another blog post.
There are two shots, a front and side view, of my husband’s grandparents’ beloved yellow and white summer house, no longer in the family. The rest is a sampling of other homes, some more modest than others, all lovely and in great shape for over 100 years. The chapel and boat club gazebo are also shown.
As we drove away, Marc said: “Next year if we can return, let’s stay two or three nights at the inn.” I agreed. The first days of our trip had been nearly perfect. (I was ill one day with a chronic malady, so had to miss out on a fabulous Cessna Comanche plane ride. Marc got on board with his niece’s husband, the Comanche pilot.) Only two more days left before we had to fly back to Oregon. How could it get any better than this?
Next Wednesday I’ll take you to a North Country jewel, Traverse City, as well as tiny Interlochen where big things happen– and where my own history sent out deep roots. We’ll also visit wine and cherry country around Old Mission Peninsula and the attractive, touristy Leelenau Peninsula. We’ll find colorful trees galore! Those parts also welcomed us. I had nearly forgotten: Michigan, for all its blustery, sometimes rougher can-do attitude, is also open, friendly and gracious in a refreshing down-to-earth way.
It was a lot to take in: cobalt to powdery blue waters; Olympic Mountains’ jagged and graceful peaks and the Cascade Range with Mt. Baker pointing heavenward; air so crystalline that it seemed to infuse each breath with a rare bliss. Blues permeated the landscape’s textures and forms, bringing me peace.
And the reason I was even there was to avail myself of expert advice during a writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington. Each presentation was a study in the craft of writing, a series of stories about progress, failure and success. The past two days memories of the beauty have deepened as well the lessons offered during “Write on the Sound.”
During hours spent sitting in chairs that challenged pain-free posture, I kept voluminous notes. I am a dedicated note taker and have attended many writers conferences. I read the rapid penciled scribbling upon return. But there are moving pictures in my mind of the authors and editors. I recall their cheerful energy or lack of it, their enthusiastic or monotonous voices, their belief that writing is an art worthy of our passion–or a business that requires guts, thick skin and acumen. To such experienced and well-published authors, it likely is both. To those listening and questioning, it can appear more complicated than all they tell us.
One hard-bitten editor, Barrett (one name only), rapidly expounded on the importance of surprise, a writer’s “voice”, memorable characterization and the power of details. Nothing too new. But then I was riveted by her love of writing and her emotional reading aloud of excerpts of fine examples of prose. She offered us her own faith in writing, her own passionate hope in the craft and art of it. Though she had thirty-some years experience editing, she still could be deeply moved and wanted that moment to come.
Kristin Hannah has written 26 novels and stated she works and reworks plots and characters hard. Yet when she takes it to her editor she is told she must revise three or four times more. No one, not even someone like Ms. Hannah, can take their writing skills for granted; no one finds the artful craft of writing a breeze to accomplish. And she fell into writing, to her surprise, after becoming a lawyer and following her mother’s death. Her quick but methodical mind apparently keeps all things pertinent in check and moving forward year after year.
A nonfiction articles author for eighteen years named Kerrie Flanagan shared many interesting experiences about discovering ideas, such as choosing topics she knows nothing about but has always wanted to, then executing them in unique ways for magazines. That intrigued me. Her quiet, no-nonsense style reflected a commitment to dispensing support as well as data. Essayist and fiction author Windy Lynn Harris started her presentation with such excitement I wondered how she could sustain it. But she did, happy to share useful insights as well as her faith in our talents when woven well with hard work and good skills. She was encouraging of our submitting short stories and personal essays, stating there is a plethora of publishing opportunities.
I often take workshops on fiction and poetry. This time I primarily chose those about nonfiction. I began to write nonfiction regularly for this blog though I already had a few pieces published. Personal essays and articles have a directness and compressed style that is potent when done well. As a kid I pretended to be a roving newspaper reporter (I guess it is an old dream of mine) and the basics of journalism are applied to all types of nonfiction. I gathered more information on genres, newer submission requirements and markets (different from fiction or poetry). And I have heard it forever, this week-end heard it again: there can be no price put on the value of a disciplined practice of writing and a neutral persistence when submitting work. And first and last: revision is both the guts and heart of the writing life.
There were many opportunities to hand out my new writer business cards, shy as I am about it. After all, that is my job the past few years, and it’s helpful to be able to offer further information via an attractive card. I met people from all over the country. To share such love of language and storytelling is a regenerative experience. We each came looking for greater knowledge and camaraderie; writing is notoriously solitary so we forget how many out there have the same dilemmas and needs. It may be time for me to find yet another writers’ critique group and writing partner. I will take care in the search; thinly skilled or disorganized writing groups does more harm than none at all.
It was a very good conference so I may return next year. I am a teachable person (even if I fuss defensively at first about what I imagined I already knew) and it’s a fine opportunity to partake of such wealth of knowledge. But the bottom line is that I have to apply what I’ve learned, more assiduously explore my publishable options. I have a strong suspicion it’s time for more change regarding my goals and practice.
A huge draw was the geographic area in which it was presented. Each time there was a good break I’d rush outside to a flower-rimmed plaza on the second level floor and lean over the railing. I’d take in the rich, varied blues and textures of the Olympic Mountains and glass-smooth Puget Sound, ogle the attractive small town edging up to water’s edge. I looked forward to shooting photographs as my spouse (who worked on a business writing project at the hotel) and I roamed the area. I snapped over three hundred and have kept many of those. A couple of handfuls are offered below. Colors have not been altered. It is easy to be inspired by this Washington scenery, here a bit wilder and more open than my home area in Oregon.
Nature and Art: grand teachers, smitten companions.