Friday’s Passing Fancy/Photos: Hail the Clouds and Their Country

NC-MI trip 003

Now I am home, though still a little tired and saturated with images and thoughts of the last minute trip. Though we flew to North Carolina, a few days later we had a drive to make. The car trip to Michigan from North Carolina was 14 hours last Friday. The next day was spent with family and attending the memorial service for my sister-in-law. Then the third day: back another 14 hours on many roads and five states from N.Carolina to Virginia, W. Virginia, Ohio, MI., then reversed for return. I often passed the time–I read as well–staring out the window as my husband drove. (I’d have been happy to drive but he was caught “in the zone”, and refused my help. Next time it shall be different; he was too tired to endure this stretch of time behind the wheel. But when he makes his mind up…)

It recalled the road trips I’d taken with my parents and siblings as a child around our country, how excited I felt about each place we went. I gawked at the world, happy even though squashed between four siblings in the back seat. Each town was a story even then, every landscape a magnetic space. Everything crackling alive. And it still is, amid the dying…

NC-MI trip 010

Marc and I talked on the way there with some banter; we knew it would not be easy the next day. But we fell silent often, thinking of this second loss in two months. And our old lives in Michigan (several decades ago) and those places to which one cannot ever really return for long, not once grown up and gone. And yet those places and times cling like a tenacious aura of the Past, sometimes bright, sometimes dark.

NC-MI trip 019

Seeking relief, I filled myself up with natural scenarios beyond the window, sometimes letting out the dry chilled air-conditioned air and letting into the car little gusts that dripped with humidity and was deeply hot: upper-90 degrees It smelled good to me, as if rain that has been held back so long it has to sneak in, delicious-green and heady. And heavy.

I was struck, as I always am when traveling these areas, by the endless rise and fall of deciduous trees (far fewer conifers there) that took over foothills and parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Such abundance! The land rose up, split into graceful mounds, spread out in valleys and turned over this way and that, revealing  changing light dabbed that daubed the landscape. I watched and snapped pictures, mesmerized. The clouds were astonishing, utterly magical they are from place to place. We also got through a sudden, bombastic thunderstorm.

NC-MI trip 144

So this is what I have today: pictures of daring cloud formations, rolling hills amid such old mountains and fecund, open farmland (with “corn at least knee-high by 4th of July”, as they say). A few bugs may be smearing windows. Not the best pictures, I am sure. They are more half-dreaming images of my perceptions along the way. The land and sky were witness to my sorrows and wonderment. And I, a willing audience for their dramatic displays. This life. This earth. The curious existences everyone does lead. And ever-reluctant me, traveling here and there, anyway– and I’m not even done yet for July, two more trips to go!

If you want a variety of sustenance, travel a little bit, or even take a decent walk. And if you want to see where I went, come along…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Our Trip Ends: North Country Roads to Fishtown

Day 6 Interlochen, Leelenau 279
All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.




Heading Out, Despite My Questionable Confidence


Well, folks, I’m heading out again. Not to the Columbia Gorge you see above, nor even east of the Cascade Mountains, both favorite places. But there will be week-ends for that kind of moseying another month. Still, this view is spectacular and is my home territory. It is a comfort to look at. I thought it served this post well.

The situation is this: I have been cajoled and enticed once again by my oldest daughter, Naomi, to get on a couple of airplanes and meet her in upstate New York. From there we will be driving down to South Carolina with a few choice stops along the way. She is a real, not a pretend, traveler. I’m more the latter–I just say I love travel when mostly I read travel articles and watch National Geographic documentaries. And take a few week-end side trips, a family vacation a couple times a year for a whole seven days. Oh, in the past I have been more spontaneous and far flung. I don’t recall having such second thoughts in my second, third and fourth decades. And I feel I’d enjoy even more roaming….if I can better take myself in hand. But perhaps on foot or by car, bus, train, ferry or a yacht (yes, the last was as fun as imagined). Yes, that’s more how I like heading out.

I have written about this dilemma before, when I  flew out to help her move two years ago:
That post got surprisingly big views. I saw I was not alone in having issues–a sort of existential love-hate about taking off via planes and so on.

Let’s just say I drag my heels until I absolutely must face the reality and get ready. I leave in a bit over 48 hours. I have a ton to get done before then, including readying things for a visit to our place by another daughter and her husband upon return. I may need to persuade my spouse to scrub floors, do laundry, make as little mess as possible. But housework is hardly a decent reason to lag behind.

I adore Naomi  and we’ll have a good time on the road so I just have to gather the momentum and go. I’m also pretty good at acting as if I am confident even if I am a quaking mass of pudding inside. So that’s a plus. I picture myself striding through airports like an old hand. I will not take sedation; I will be alert and lively.

This is the same kind of circumstance as last time: she is leaving one university for another. The moving company will do their part–I’m not quite up to that much heavy lifting or hauling. We are then driving down to her new habitat by the Southern institution. An artist (primarily sculptor) and professor, she garnered a position that bodes well for long term employment and deeper roots. I am excited for her movement forward and pleased she asked me once more to go along for the ride. Maybe I wasn’t too neurotic after all.

At first, I even had good reasons to not go this year, things that could have stood firmly between me and 2800 miles to her spot on the map. She is persistent, congenially so. Anyone born two and half months early and not only survives but flourishes must have a will of iron. Intrepid, at times. This is a woman who just returned from a six week sojourn around/within the Faroe Islands. And Scotland and England. Much of that time was spent on an aging but apparently seaworthy sloop. I didn’t have the vaguest idea where those islands were, and when I found out I wanted to yank her away from the notion and airport by the ankles. On a creaky, leaky boat in the powerful Atlantic Ocean? She loved it there.

A couple days ago she told me–sent a picture, actually, too–about something unexpected even for her. When she got back from a car-trip through several states following her Faroe Islands trip (she got back three weeks ago–isn’t she exhausted yet?–and she packed before and after…), she was greeted by a bat in her bathroom. Yes, a small bat was lying in her tub. She was concerned for its welfare. I immediately did risk assessment: did it drool even a tiny bit on her? Did it try to nibble her? Was there foam coming out its mouth?

“I just got a big baggie and nudged him in there and then took it outdoors. Never touched him, Mom. Poor guy, I think he’s not doing too well.”

I talked to her today at length. I was thinking of taking my tick repellent, since there are plenty of those out East. She assured me that as long as we are in her vehicle and on asphalt all will be well. I thought I heard her wrong. It’s not like we will be living 24-7 in her SUV. We will have to eat and use the restroom and stretch our legs. She wants to visit friends along the way, and then there are sightseeing moments. I want to walk, even hike some, too.

“Well, buy some lightweight quick-dry pants and we’ll stuff your pant legs into your socks and cover your arms and I’ll dose you with bug spray, and myself. You’ll be as safe, I guess, as anyone can hope to be. Do NOT bring your own supply of bug sprays–I have what we need. In fact, don’t need to pack shampoo and other hair products–I am sure I have it all.”

But that wasn’t all. I am supposed to pack light. There won’t be extra space for much else in her gas hog by the time she piles the last stuff in the cargo area and back seat. And we’ll be pulling a trailer, too, I might add–her gallery on wheels, how she stores all her art (rather large, mostly) and miscellaneous art-making supplies. But packing light is very hard for me. Is that a small or medium bag?

“You know, carry-on. Best to keep it simple and compact and not check luggage, you know.”

“But I know what I need and what I want to have with me,” I remind her. “In case.”

“And it is usually too much. I just got through six weeks with three of each vital pieces, a few pair of foot-saving socks and a warm, waterproof jacket. You’ll be gone for ten days. If I can live out of a backpack…”

“Ugh.” (Alright, I didn’t say that but I thought it regarding the “three of each” part.) “Well, you’re a veteran. I’ll consider your advice.”

And I do accept her tips as reasonable, smart. I don’t always use them. How many earrings can I fit in, what number of shoes? Face lotion, mix and match outfits? Rain coat? It can be rainstorm weather there this time of year, have to be prepared. So unlike the Pacific NW in summer, where sunshine is strong, free of clingy humidity and most clouds evaporate by noon. The SE portion of the country requires air conditioning or one risks a full melt if left in the outdoors too long.

And let’s not talk about bed and breakfasts or hotels, the widely variable food on the road. I know, be flexible, try to not have expectations–and be surprised! That exclamation mark makes me feel more cheerful about possibilities already.

I realize I’m edging toward whining already and I haven’t even thought consciously, deeply, about flying. And going through Customs, since I am flying through Canada to get to New York. (Note to self: must research this online, then write down their expectations.) Talk to husband, who has flown internationally often enough.

His advice?

“Follow along in the packed lines after exiting plane, you cannot escape it. Or ask other people.” He adds sympathetically: “Call me if desperate.”

I do, thankfully, still hold a valid passport from our other forays into Canada. (Memo: find passport tonight and put it by suitcase. Which one? No, in purse. Which purse shall I take…? Not too bulky. But there is the shoulder bag I must carry for books, tablet and camera….)

I’m in trouble already. I know–just think of it as an extended week-end at the Oregon beach. No big deal. Keep it simple, that’s the way.

You can see I am preparing for this–I’m working on a plan. It’s not a big time away, true, more like short-to-sort-of medium length in miles and time, not even close to epic. But it feels substantial. I’m seeing my daughter, entering the rippling and surging stream of her life, which is radically different from mine in most ways. And I only get to have her once or twice a year. How generous that she gave me the ticket that’s allowing me to talk with her face-to-face soon, to just hang out.

I have to finish this up–there is dinner, checking my lists and then a scan and tally of clothing options and accouterments. I have little clue what can be squashed into that blasted carry-on. Husband says to roll my clothes, an old trick. A suitable challenge. Minimalist living is supposed to be good for you. Ah, a decent spiritual challenge! As all life is for me, ultimately.

I’ll be back to these pages in two weeks, ready to scribble more odds and ends. Not writing more than a few stolen moments will be a hurdle to jump over. (Note: must make room for notebook to gather any epiphanies and random jottings; do not forget good pen.) I do look forward to discovering what new stories get stirred up. Until then, fare thee well–go out there and make your own beautiful fun!


Meeting with Ghosts and God at Roadside


From the car window, travelling at forty-five miles an hour on a lonely country road, the building appears plain. As in plain-spoken, plainly designed, devoid of flourish, uniqueness. Gravestones are glimpsed between trees. It captures my attention instantly but we go on.

“Turn around,” I say to Marc, who is intent on getting to the Oregon coast.

He frowns. I often ask him to slow down or stop and let me get out. My cameras are in my lap, readied.

“What now?”

“That old cemetery back there.”


“Didn’t you see it? A white building with a tidy graveyard. I feel pulled to stop there and take pictures.”

“Tidy graveyard. Really?”

He turns the car around and we pull into a narrow gravel road. Two other vehicles are there, a black truck and a Washington vehicle, an ivory Cadillac. Our car idles, half-off the road.

“I don’t think we should be here… maybe there was a funeral. These people look like they’re here for very private reasons.”

“I suppose so but no funeral from what I can see. I’m getting out.”

Marc sighs heavily, sits back as I open my door and step out. I sense he doesn’t care for graveyards. I’m not one to make a habit of routinely roaming burial grounds, either, but they are what they are. Purposeful. And I am so drawn to this country acreage full of lemony light and mammoth, arching trees, and places marking lives of those passed. To this church with no cross.

I notice a sign but continue. There are voices coming from the unadorned building so I enter quietly, not wanting to interrupt. Inside there is a large rectangular space filled with wooden pews. At front there is a raised platform where one might hold forth on the one who has departed or everlasting life. But there is no pulpit, altar, cross here. Instead, a little girl of about four in a pretty spring dress and matching shoes is sitting there. She is asking an older woman, likely her grandmother, about water in a big jug.

“Is this water for Jesus? For the children he loves?”

“No, for flowers outside by the markers. I suppose Jesus, too. Don’t drink it, dear! Let’s go now.”

“Amen!” The child shouts enthusiastically. “Say amen!”

“Amen!” I respond and she laughs, waving the rose in her small fist at me.

The woman turns to me, embarrassed and impatient. “She’s picked up some things at her pre-school, their chapel.”

“Seems so,” I agree, smiling at her but she turns away.

The little girl loudly dissents as her grandmother picks her up and exits the building. I can hear her screaming and the grandmother being very stern. Then, after a car door opening and closing, quietness.

I am alone.

Or am I?








I take a seat on a back pew. There is a wafting of breath from one end to the other, time heavily woven from past to present with people stung by grief and connected to lives made, then unmade. Such agedness in these walls, on this hill. The place is made of history, pioneers who huddled and prayed in the dark of winter in  this space, then buried those who could not survive. The centuries passed and more arrived with those long-lost, abandoned, taken by illness and age. The perished. Yet the large room vibrates with life. Light scours hardwood floors, warms the bare wooden pews. I can see gravestones through smeary windows. Yet there is something left of themselves, collective energies that linger.

How much resilience does it take to return home without child, wife, a dear neighbor whose company and skills were valued? To adapt to a wild land that demanded as much as it shared? Then the twentieth century dawned. Life kept moving on: big and smaller wars, civil rights marches, asssinations, famine and pestilence, free love, “God is Dead”. Terrorism. Inventions and equal rights, moon landings and holograms and life-saving discoveries. Virtual love. Such changes, yet so much sameness. The devastation and also progress people must endure! We are as fragile as we are mighty. The brevity of life is a flame, powerful enough to instigate shattering change, brilliant enough to illuminate the mysterious dark. But always flickering, finite on this earth.

My mind stills. I am breathing in words spoken by others, sitting where tears have freely fallen and hands were tightly held. I am moved, one more to tarry in this place.



I have not sung in ages, not in a large open space, not with intention and from a place of raw need; I am a singer who lost much of her voice long ago. But I begin to sing. The old chorus wells up in me, a force that must be released.

I can almost see the lights of the City,
shining down over me…
Well, you know when I see
those lights of the City,
Well, then, I shall be free…
yes, then I shall be free!

The room echoes, resonant with a power I have not experienced vocally in many years, as though my voice and that song were waiting to find this room. Tears spring from my eyes.

I understand I am meant to meditate here, open my heart and soul further. Be in peace. Honor living and the dead. This life I am given is just one more life, but it needs to be shared without fear, generously, before my own time runs out. I register this without sound or language; God’s presence lights me up within. Vibrates in the room.

I seek out Marc. He is reluctant until we read the plaque and then he is impressed. The site of Miller Church and Cemetery is on the National Historic Register. The land for the cemetery was given to the Abiqua community in 1860 by Richard Miller in “love and consideration” for a public burying ground. The structure was built in 1882, and is a good example of a pioneer burying church. We like that it has been a democratic cemetery, not just for those of note or wealth.

Inside we move and speak softly and then I again sing the gospel tune, his tenor harmonizing. It is recorded and catches a subtle tearfulness that is not born of grief so much as tenderness. Some day I may share it with my children and grandchildren, this space, the song and feeling. That God hears seems clear as my flesh and being are touched by gentlest sorrow and undercurrents of ecstasy that linger the whole day.

Outdoors we find notation of abbreviated lives on many tombstones from long ago to the present. I stop before Jane Jett, who died Dec. 31, 1876 at 49 years. I feel a poem for her coming on and want to write. It is time to leave. We listen to the wind in treetops and ponder lives once endowed with weakness or vigor. Which ones were shaped by pain, perhaps revenge or the persistence of hope? How many were altered by profound longings, love and wonder?

Someone comes near. Edna Kelly. My mother. My breath catches in my chest. On this day thirteen years ago she left our worldly realm for God’s other places. I close my eyes until she passes on once more. The intensity of my recognition must also slip away before I go forward with my day.

I watch church and graveyard recede from my car window. I feel myself deepen. Become a little freer. Humbled. Glad to have made another seemingly random stop along the road.




(Note: All photographs are mine. Feel free to share but please note I am the photographer, or kindly direct others back to this post.  And “Poem for Jane Jett” can be found via the link on this blog to my poetry blog, poetryfortheliving.)