Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Smoke and Sails (for MWR)

Find your way back, take the long route that

sidles by the lake, blinding your troubles.

Every kind of wave flashes like stars

lining a long night of memories.

You had it then, a certainty of laughter

as you all circled at evening’s fire.

Spinning tunes or tales, one more, another,

tongues of smoke lassoing you. Such headiness.

And morning kissed your eyelids as

the bay curled around front porches

and boats rocked, impatient,

white sails slack as summered thinking,

until they came alive under your hands.

Nothing could be better,

you thought. And much after that

was not such an benign adventure.

You speak of that life as if it was

a kind of holiness in childhood and youth.

Go, find your way back,

take the long route that carries you

back to bright rustlings, sailing

into the wind, bronzed and lionhearted;

reawaken that appetite for joy and its mercy

An Up North Autumn: Lakes, Forests and Love

MI trip, day 5, TC 029
West Bay, Lake Michigan. All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2017 (Photos not re-touched)

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.)

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.

MI trip days 2-4 (none d. 1) 119
East view of Little Traverse Bay, part of Lake Michigan

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.

MI trip days 2-4 (none d. 1) 138
West view at sunset of Little Traverse Bay

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.


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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.

MI day 4-5, Bay View, Petoskey, TC 120


Sharing a Life…and a Desk, Table and Lamp


One of the basic skills we are taught at a young age is sharing. But I’m still learning, sometimes the hard way, to share. I am lately up against a “I want but he wants” dilemma in my home. I tell myself I ought to have greater adaptability. Even generally believe I do possess this attribute. But it is tested and I find it lacking. It is all about furniture, old versus newer, lighter versus darker. The look and feel of things. I recall how often and well I have compromised and shared throughout my life in order to gain better perspective.

I was raised in a family of seven, primarily in a not-too-large, two-storey, bungalow type house. Five kids shared two of the three bedrooms; for a brief time two sisters filled a double bed. And we all shared noise, food, information even if meant to be private, clothing, parental attention, musical instruments, pets, the tree swing, weekly chores, space on sofa and loveseat. And so on.

For example, it was routine to have to wait in line for the bathroom. I often sat on the top step of the stairway for that door to my immediate left to open. Often a long time, accompanied by moderate wailing toward the occupant to hurry it up. Then I dashed in before a bedroom door on the second floor cracked open, when a bigger sibling (all bigger as I was youngest) pushed me aside, yelling, “Dibs!” Same for showers and baths, of course. The parents were first, usually, and then it descended in birth order or importance of daily schedules. If there was any hot water left at the end of the line, you were incredibly lucky. I have a recollection of sharing bath water a few times as a small child, for that very reason–there was no more hot water to be had. My dad started to time bathing to ten minutes max. Complaining didn’t help a bit either way. I had to be savvier and faster to be close to front of line-up. More often than not I accepted things. But I was a bit envious of friends whose homes had two or even three bathrooms. It was not middle class fashion then to reside in such spacious homes, a bathroom on every floor, or more.

There was enough food, fortunately though we could act as if there wasn’t. Serving dishes were passed around as we helped ourselves, mindful of serving size. Still, someone might sneak an extra slice of meat or scoop of potatoes. Dessert was hardest; a pie or cake can only be cut into so many pieces and still be worth savoring. A half gallon of ice cream was emptied pronto. But we did understand all had to be divided by seven; we had to share. Except sometimes for my sister, who loved food greatly. She somehow managed to snag extra food and then made me hide it in my napkin to later give up to her. This kept her out of trouble.  My mother, if she caught me, was not to mad at me as I was often picky about food. But sometimes it seemed I deserved the “extra” just for hiding it. That sort of forced sharing did not end well. My sis saw it as theft, deserving of due punishment.

Sharing time and opportunity to practice violin, cello, bassoon, clarinet and/or piano was much harder. The living room and the den was often reserved for private students of our father’s. We sometimes had to use our bedrooms; other times, the recreation room finally created in the darker, somewhat dank basement. Or go to the back yard. We did have schedules to deal with musical pandemonium. We also practiced at school. But music was always playing or being played and we also simply adapted to the sound, even as we hoped for more quiet.

The beige telephone affixed to kitchen wall was another matter of “share and share alike”. It rang constantly for our parents and us. The long curly cord was stretched to its limit as we wound it around corners, behind closed doors. We had to call “dibs” again for its use but often just met up with friends or love interests to talk face-to face–it was easier than waiting for the darned phone. Or we waited until school or an event where we could see each other.

The entire point being: sharing wasn’t and isn’t so hard. It can be annoying but is expected, even natural coexisting in a group. Communal living needs rules for the good of the whole; that’s how families and neighborhoods work and play best.

All this history is a long lead-in to my current situation. I want it clear I was trained correctly in the behavior of sharing. After all, simple courtesy works for social betterment. I was taught to extend an attitude of sharing, to defer to others if they were older, slower, younger, injured. There were also cases that one was to defer gratification on all counts. Say, the case of entering through doors: it might be a matter of two people arriving at once. The correct thing to do is offer the other person first entry.

My situation is not as simple, but requires not so different a sharing guideline. It has to do with furniture… really, it is about family matters. I try to share and share alike, to respond from strength of love, not personal preferences, base selfishness or greed. And I misstep plenty–but that is the marriage deal, to cooperate. And it’s just…furniture… right?

My mother-in-law, about whom I truly care, is in the process of changing home bases. To that end, she is sorting and tossing her belongings and she divided a few good items between two sons with old photographs and various mementos tossed in. She informed us a couple months ago she was shipping two pieces of furniture from Florida to Oregon; there was also a lamp. I was surprised she would go to such trouble but Marc, my husband, was ready and waiting.

“They’re really here!” he exclaimed.

This was the happy response upon returning home after a long work day. I’d left three immense boxes at the lower level. He lugged and pushed them up the stairs to our apartment, was huffing and puffing and yet would not stop until all pieces were unboxed–tall piles of packing materials littering the floor–and displayed in our living room.

I, too, suddenly recognized the pieces–and immediately considered their heavy shapes and darker wood, how much room they took up, how they didn’t conform to the rest of our furniture. The pieces we have are lighter wood, oak and pine, simple clean lines. The new arrivals are walnut, cherry, and something uncertain and also darker. The lamp? Well, that was a whole other story.

“From Bay View!” he enthused.

He circled them, examined each piece, put together the secretary and the rest, eyes wide, his face enlivened by warmth of joy. He was transported back, so many years back, to the white Victorian summer home his grandparents owned in northern Michigan, right off a beautiful Lake Michigan bay. Little Traverse Bay. Bay View was established in 1875 as part of a Methodist camp meeting site as well as the U.S. Chautauqua  movement for education and the arts. And it was a part of his family legacy, including these pieces his mother shipped. And so, a part of him.

Oval lamp table (in severe need of refinishing) with ornate lamp is soon pushed against the far end (drawing attention to the blasted mid-century paneling) of the living room. The elegant secretary is pressed against another wall near the front door. Ah, yes, Bay View is present in our own place.

I knew his Grandma Susie well (Grandfather was long passed when I joined them). I thought of her as a fearsome dowager until I knew her better. She welcomed me into her life, shared genuine good will and sternness in equal measure. A teacher, she had summers off. Her daughter, Beth (mother-in-law was also a teacher), Marc and his brother remained there most of each summer. There, my husband learned much of what he considered important–about family ties, sailing, taking art classes and enjoying classical concerts via a college-run arts program, camping, swimming, being a volleyball and badminton team player. Making close friends. Building and cooking over beach fires. Sneaking out at night–the enclave held 440 cottages and people reside there only in summer– and having fun. He felt this summer life, this family life, had helped mold him in the best way. I was inclined to agree, understood the mystique of northern Michigan.

The two story house with graceful yard and towering trees was enchanting. The interior was informed by streaming light and vaporous shadow. Not a huge, fancy house yet true to architectural type, it had two porches and much gingerbread trim, and inside were nooks and crannies our children also soon enjoyed. There were narrow back stairs off the kitchen, and secret hideaways in closets, a screened side porch, quaint cozy bedrooms. The furniture and decorative touches reflected older times and customs.

The lamp we unwrap was always called a Tiffany lamp but Marc is sure it isn’t a real one but made in the style. He recalls his grandmother having its metal work painted a cream color one year; he said he was disappointed and missed the original brass. As do I. But there it sits after he cleans it up a bit, in our living room corner, on a sturdy table that is do in need of help. Part of me balks just glancing at the ensemble here, so out of place. So I watch him examine the old desk–it has a piano-type lid that lifts up to open. He checks each narrow drawer and shelf in the Federalist secretary, pulls out and sits at the writing surface. The walnut and cherry fairly glow. I readily admire it, too.

The memories attached to this furniture are powerful, happy ones. For us both. But none of it fits in our home.

My eyes rest on our old oak dining room table beyond, then the hand crafted oak and tile lamp tables between chairs and by sofa. There is a mishmash, I admit, and the pieces aren’t precious but have been our casual taste for years. Found pieces as well as searched for and bought. Things work together just fine. My resistance returns, grows stronger.

“Maybe they will fit in the second bedroom,” I suggest. “You can use the secretary for your own writing or business.” I half covet this piece for its interesting features.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to rearrange things in there.”

“We could just…store them.”

“Hmm,” he says.

He turns in his hands a hand carved horse  with rider and a wolf his great uncle once fashioned. And a tall ship model. I take a look at that.

“We might get rid of this filthy ship, for one.”

“No, not that, it just needs a good dusting, cleaning. Look at these sails! I loves boats and ships, you know.”

“I love this furniture…” he says. He hums to himself as he sorts things.

I take a deep breath and offer my thoughts. “I really don’t want it in here for long. It doesn’t match anything! But… just for now. It will take awhile to figure out what to do with them.”

It’s still hard to say much as he’s clearly enjoying his mother’s offerings. I mainly want my living room back so start to clean up packaging. But I say nothing more for a few days.

I purchase new light bulbs for the ornate lamp. There are a couple of old side chairs I notice have a darker finish so I gather and place those by the desk. I realize the cabinet that upholds the stereo is also darker…Well, the room definitely has a two-toned look now. I am distracted and even bothered whenever I enter but let it be.

One early evening after placing beneath it a lace dust cloth that was sent with, I turn the lamp on. Rich blue glass wedges behind the metalwork illuminates beautifully. It’s a scene of a turquoise lake, with sunset or sunrise of peach, ivory, rose and gold. The metalwork is of trees and bushes. I feel an appreciation for the archaic loveliness. I wouldn’t ever buy it and still am not comfortable with it here. But it’s oddness nearly attracts me.

Marc is thrilled to see it all lit up, so I turn it before he comes home from work each night. His stance visibly relaxes as he eyes the furniture his mother and grandmother passed on to him.

I enjoy purging excess material items and don’t like much clutter. He is a hunter and gather of  things, some of which I can’t relate to, at all. And what he ascribes value to, he will keep a very long time. Sometimes it can become a contentious matter. But this time I feel myself relenting.

Bay View as a home was so meaningful to him. And I understand the love of his grandparents and his mother, now 89, even though he doesn’t speak at length about the past, nor are we able to see his mother much. I have been with this man a long time; I know much of what it all means. That span of time spent summering at the Bay View house is a hallowed thing in his memory, in his deep and tenderest heart it helped shape him into who he is. It also contributed to enduring happiness for myself and our children. I am filled with gratitude for those visits.

I think, too, about Beth, how she chose these things for her son. About it being taxing, even sad, to have to sift through so much life and revisit the past. To have to address such changes and an uncertain future. We hope to visit her soon and help.

So this is what I mean about the many ways we learn to share. My failures and ineptitude, at times. It’s something we’re taught for good reason. It makes room for others’ needs and wants. It offers opportunity where there may have been none before. Sharing is an action we take for those we love on a more critical level. We’re in the same home, occupy a life together. I am certain there are items of mine my husband could well do without, too. But we make room for one another.

I take a couple pictures to study, view the pieces from different angles, in daylight and lamp light. They aren’t all that hard on the eyes, I guess, despite being so unlike the feel of our rooms. I don’t know what will ultimately happen with three gifted items that were not here for years. But for now they stay, and will gradually make themselves at home with us, no doubt.

Bay View lamp, desk, Marc and me


A Hesitant Adieu to Summer

A pathway at Elk Rock, Bishop’s Close

It has long been noted that nature’s cycles of life appear to mimic human passages: birth/creation-recreation; youthful abundance and verve; hearty richness of maturity; and a gradual slowing down, a blurring of many sorts of acuity, contemplative and completed before shedding sentience. But we all, despite our years on earth, feel and respond to the ancient power of nature’s comings and goings, its surprises, cataclysms and miracles.

What is it about the turning of leaves that stirs us with creeping gold, rust and persimmon, that slow descent of sways and dips and lifts, landing again on earth? I am overcome with such beauty, its poignancy woven with liveliness. Though I do find I want to somehow hold off the dimming of summer’s sunlight.  I’m not ready, I think, while the tug of autumnal ways pulls me a little more. It is not far off, peeking around the greenery.

Autumn. For some of us, a turning inward is initiated, perhaps a hint of melancholy shadowing thoughts. For others, a quickening deep within bones and blood gives rise to renewed movement, a good rousing. And still others grimly prepare for the chill that will define the air taken in,  sharp and tingling, while winds haul their loads of precipitation: driven rain, ice, snow. The cold even determines daily decisions as we readapt. For doesn’t summer greet us with open arms? Such brazen light, heat slathering us with dampness, a glow arising from once protected, now tender length and breadth of skin. The hours of sunshine that elicit sharp shadows, vivid and sheer, now thin as a more variable light occurs, presaging a shift in season. Is nature withholding light, storing it away for another time and place? We may become ravenous for it during winter’s monochromatic scenes.

Whatever we are doing and wherever we live, if autumn visits our geography, it provokes alterations in feeling and activity.

I am just beginning to think about saying goodbye to summer, even though Oregon can tease us with bright skies for another month or so. But the neighborhoods are quieter as I take my daily walk; the children are back in school. There have been spatterings of freshening rain, foretelling deluges to come. Summer will hang on by a thread. Speaking of which, the spiders are busy spinning huge, extravagant webs while many are finding their way indoors. I found two in the bathroom and one on my bed’s quilt the past week…a sure sign.

Fall was usually my favorite time of year as a child in Michigan. Then came winter, that kind of holy mess and celebration of wildness deep snows brought. Spring was moody and fickle, often hard to count on or manage. But summers were hot, cloyingly so, the endless days filled with water activities and yard games with neighbor kids. There was a languor to it that didn’t occur at any other time, and it didn’t always well suit me. Sluggish in the morning, I’d tend to trick myself into getting out of bed. Sometimes the mouth-watering smells of breakfast were enough to move me but more often I’d have to remind myself: afternoon swimming, maybe early roller skating or biking before the blazing sun wants to kill me, but for sure kick-the-can after sundown. Oh, and a walk in the birch woods. And reading and writing in the maple tree after I eat. That brought me back to the edge of my bed; my list of options set legs in motion. I just had to plow through the heaviness left from yesterday’s heat and again gathering. Ignore, too, the uneven traces of sunburn increasing body warmth a notch. (Who wore sunblock then? We used baby oil to attract the sun’s shine.)

Some people seem built for more heat and the languid pace it instills. It’s like they’re supercharged with overamped solar energy. Though dense moisture of Midwestern heat is absent here, I’ll yet stretch myself to embrace midday outdoor activities. There’s only so much sun that can fall upon me before I yearn to fall asleep–unless I move faster. Lengthy exposure to temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, however, makes my repaired, regulated heart beat heavily. But I also luxuriate in being less swaddled in clothing, and count on dry paths rather than muddy as feet pound woodland trails. I relish sitting on our balcony in morning with mug of tea and a good book, feet bare. And in evening, air a silken coolness, the stars a bright mystical map. I know this will be harder to embrace after autumn arrives, as winter’s long rains tail close behind.

Summer time lake living is a whole other state of being, rife with such choices there is barely time to enjoy them all. I do miss that experience. My family didn’t own a cottage–I stayed at friends’ and attended many lakeside summer camps and also enjoyed family camping on wooded lake shores. But my husband, Marc, was privileged to visit his grandparents each summer at Bay View, started by Methodists in northern Michigan in 1875. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, on Little Traverse Bay. It was planned as a part of the Chautauqua movement which has continued to spread across the country, fostering cultural and educational experiences for lifelong learning. Operated from May until October–a usual “high season” for Michiganders–the Bay View community has four hundred-fifty cottages and two inns. It has the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark community. To say that it’s “pretty as a postcard” does not do it justice.

Sweet-with-a-dab-of-sour, Grandma Susie presided over a two-story white Victorian house with ease, efficiency and more than a little happiness. It stood on a quiet tree-lined street, three blocks from the bay. I visited many times after marrying Marc. Our children loved going as much as did we. Marc and his grandmother regaled us with stories of his youth, the daily sailing and swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, tennis playing, bonfires, dances, and the occasional fixes and scrapes he got into. He grew up there, he’s always said, and it made an imprint on him, is yet a vision of life he holds dear. Grandma Susie made certain he attended Sunday church services and community picnics as well as many classical concerts. (The music programming remains a whole other excellent aspect for Bay View homeowners and public, alike.) The village air was swamped with scent of pine and the musky smell of water and earth, the usual emanations of life up north. The great body of water of Lake Michigan is so vast it is like a fresh water sea, dangerous deep sooner than later and at some point a numbing cold. This stopped no one. Summers were Marc’s heaven-on-earth, as he tells it, and I am certain that is true. When they were over, the locking up and battening down for the upcoming snowy onslaught was a ritual everyone knew well, not completed without a bittersweet sigh.

The beloved house was sold at his grandmother’s death–the taxes had gotten so high, no one lived in Michigan, anymore–but the memories of those splendid times give us joy, even helped shape who we all are. What Bay View was for Marc, my time at Interlochen Arts Camp was for me, so I understand. It’s not surprising that our old northern landscape may yet nab the prize for summer season–it is strewn with 11,000 inland lakes and over 300 named rivers and is heavily forested. The next best thing is Oregon, we think, with over 6,ooo lakes and many wild and scenic rivers. And no humidity, at least where we live.

It’s been a rewarding time, this summer, compared with the last one. I had to stay off then hobble about on a bad foot for three months. I’ve made up for it in 2016, hiking and walking every week-end in a variety of places including Columbia Gorge, coastal forests or oceanside trails, wildlife refuges in Washington and Oregon, as well as tamer urban greenways. My gratitude is abundant, that I can climb (jump if needed), push myself, experience discomfort yet trudge on to that rewarding “zone” where life seems well aligned, deeply harmonious within and without. I would be thrilled to be even heartier; I’m not the wilderness backpacker I was in much younger years. I haven’t even been camping, sleeping on rocky ground in a tiny two person tent, for about five years. Maybe I should try again–you can’t beat coffee perked over an open fire and storytelling as the moon rises. Or am I romanticizing? Never mind, I suspect all wonderment has a few hidden flaws.

Ah, well, it seems I’m still caught by the distracting if waning spell of summer–while enchantments of autumn beckon me. The temperature slips downward bit by bit. I am wearing socks sometimes with tennis shoes rather than bare or sandaled feet.  I sported a flowery scarf the other day just in case I got chilly. And–this is a real clue–drinking hot tea more, instead of iced. My soft yellow rose blanket is at the foot of the bed, readied.

On Labor Day we took one of our seasonal tours of Elk Rock at Bishop’s Close. I toted along my hoodie in case coolness lasted. There were clear signs of change-in-progress. Some grassy areas were now golden, partly due to lack of rain, but also because it is time. Leaves twirled down, laced pathways with lovely shapes and a hint of ripening colors. The trees shook their branches in the breeze; the sound was like rattles full of seeds, twigs or plant matter being shaken by unseen hands. There was a bright hush, silence filled with soughing. Scurrying feet and sudden cries of jays and crows marked our passage as other birds chirped and nattered. I could see from a hilly perch above the river the boaters, even a water skier and folks sunning on a rocky peninsula. The wind left a light chill and then sun managed to overcome it. We went on. Many flowers had seen their end with some replaced by different ones.

And then: a banded woolly bear caterpillar! I look for them each fall and there it was, hanging onto a thin stem above an algae-covered pond. This attractive black and rust-orange banded critter winters in its caterpillar form and pupates into an Isabella tiger moth. It is said that the wider or more black bands, the harsher the winter. This one was a typical specimen, auguring our usual temperate winter, if the lore is true-which it tends to be. It’s a delight to see them; it is that moment that it starts to feel that autumn is imminent.

I wait for it’s coming, for the slice and dazzle of wind, the sun rays blazing through fisted or galloping clouds before dimming again, the raindrops that will first mist, then inundate days and thrum the nights. The hours with knees pulled up in the Lazy-Boy chair, turquoise afghan my mother made draped about. Walks with rain parka hood covering most of my face, rain drumming my body, streaming over all not well shielded. That deep sky like a cup of grey and ebony that is a comfort so often, heralding time to retreat a bit more, to seek quieter moments between the moments I may have been missing. There are many virtues to extol regarding autumn. Getting cozier is only one.

But first, let the summer sun fade as might a bedazzling debutante and her elegant beau at the end of the party. I shall put on my mantle of age, marvel, hum and dance under blue skies or rainy. And God will commend to us this last spark and sizzle, then restfulness again.

Banded woolly bear caterpillar
Banded woolly bear caterpillar