Sixty-six degrees at eight in the morning on July 4 in Door County. My hands smell of lavender from making bouquets and the harvest piles up in an old, rusty green Suburban Garden wagon. The cold spring delayed sprigs maturing, but the first varieties are now ready. These mornings of working at a table with a sweeping view of blooming lavender rows, friends bent over the bushy plants, and collies running offer a respite from news and worries.
Yes, the world is dipping and swaying for huge reasons, and it is hard to be proud of the state of our nation. I couldn’t get into the goofy happiness of a small town 4th of July parade and snapping pictures of kids on decorated tractor wagons and the grocery store staff pushing decorated shopping carts. I haven’t absorbed the sickening news of another mass shooter at a different parade. National discord and gun violence keep Americans in an uncomfortable state of anxiety so I’m looking for moments of simple pleasure to build personal peace of mind. I’m talking really simple pleasures:
Fresh peas, shelled by someone else.
Sunshine and cool air this morning.
Two fawns playing in a neighbors’ yard.
Straight from the field strawberries.
Farmers market greens and cherry tomatoes.
Giggles of a happy infant granddaughter.
Our eight-year-old granddaughter singing.
Music while working.
A short pile of books.
Family and good friends a call or text away.
Some days you must restore your own core to keep pushing through your role in the bigger world. Here’s hoping you can create a list of simple pleasures to support minutes of personal peace.
Sunrise is later and setting earlier. In the country farmers are busy harvesting, leaving enough behind to keep the blackbirds, sand cranes, seagulls, geese, and other birds picking through the stubble for food.
On the way to our neighbor’s farm stand to check on supplies and empty the cash box, I check on how red peppers have turned since picking ripe ones two days ago. A few butterflies twirl past, bees still visit the hydrangea at field’s edge and the Black-eyed Susan hold their own.
September is buzzing away as sprays of golden or red leaves announce. Seventy-five today feels warmer than a month ago, but we’re wearing shoes and long pants or shorts and sweatshirts in the mornings. The air feels quiet, not packed with potential. It is easier to look back at the good times of summer than forward at the diminishing weeks until winter.
Covid doesn’t help the slide. What seemed like the summer of returning normal has been anything but that. The reality that one in 500 Americans have died of Covid lays particularly heavy as the rules are tweaked, stubborn people hold on to their right to defy the scientists, doctors, and leaders. Do you see your grandchildren? Is the fall festival safe? And how will the holidays play out this year? How will we keep our family members alive and healthy? How far do washed hands and masks take us in protecting the young.
Arranging the stand’s products, remembering harvesting some of it during late June, and breathing in the September morning air makes for a good start. In a month we’ll be walking in fallen leaves. Please live today with care for each other.
This was the summer we were going to explore the Brabant Walloon Province of Belgium where the majority of my ancestors once lived. Our son and daughter-in-law proposed the trip and a second planning meeting was about to be held when COVID-19 erupted outside China.
As plans fell apart in February for a special Easter vacation with my husband’s family and I cancelled a flight to Wisconsin a few weeks later, we wondered how summer travel might be impacted. Italy’s struggle with the immensity of COVID-19 gave the Western world a dose of reality.
We are fortunate to have a second home close to the Wisconsin Belgian community where both my maternal and paternal ancestors settled. Spring through fall planning for visits of family, friends, and fellow writers is usually complete by now. Changes happen, but certain events are written in permanent marker on our calendars before Easter. Until this year. A rough schedule is on my desk with April and May crossed off. The calendar remains blank.
May and June would already be different because the release of 40 Thieves on Saipanowns that time. The regular events to launch a book won’t happen in a shelter in place nation. No launch parties. No bookstore signings. Joseph Tachovsky, my co-author, and I are offering signed bookplates to those who are interested and pre-order the book. We’ll be virtual guests at book club meetings if invited. We’ll be visible on social media and he will be interviewed remotely on radio and television stations. Our publisher is confident and so are we.
Kids and young people are missing irreplaceable milestones like graduations, proms, new jobs, gathering for weddings. The dates circled with permanent marker during normal times. We mourn our lost isolated in quiet homes or viewing small screens. We celebrate births with no idea of when we’ll hold the newborn or hug the parents. We cannot fly to be with those needing physical care. It is what we do so that more of us will be here when this fight is over.
Plowed snow covers a neighbor’s stonewall. Deer follow each other’s tracks leaving pathways through the woods. Ermine patrol exterior of houses in search of mice. Squirrels catapult between bare tree branches.
Three days of bright sun makes a friend’s installation of solar panels look like a good investment. Melting ice sparkles down the rain chain. The back porch is clear of Friday’s slippery melt and freeze mess. XC skies, snowshoes and sleds drip dry in the garage. Snow polished dangerously on roadways two nights ago has been forgotten.
Weekend visitors have drifted through stores with clearance sales, cruised snow mobile trails closed much of an unpredictable winter, brought a much needed dinner crowd to restaurants and bars. Better to have people late in the season when businesses have been down too long.
Maybe there’s a tease of spring in the breeze. Maybe that’s a foolish dream with more windy days and possible snow predicted midweek. Still time to buy winter gear priced at fifty percent to wear during the duration. The biggest storms often come after chili dinners with friends followed by board games are not quite as fun, jigsaw puzzles fill too many evenings, and the good fireplace wood pile is low. It would be better if football hadn’t finished so early in the season. Catchers and batters camp feels disconnected from this reality. But everyone daydreams about t-shirts and sandals.
County baseball league guys hold their initial season meetings in bars as the high school kids earn their way to winter sports state competitions and those fortunate to have plans pack suitcases for a few weeks in places where palm trees offer shade at the side of a pool. With Easter early this year the little girls could be wearing winter jackets over pretty dresses and searching for eggs will definitely happen inside the house.
There’s still corn in the fields as seed catalogues fill mailboxes. It’s hard to leave the house without slipping feet into boots, jamming gloves in pockets of a warm coat and pulling on a hat. Survival habits for at least another month. The snow that is still to come will clog the driveway for a shorter misery factor. But winter has a way of staying relevant as long as it wants. Put on another pot of chili.
Queen Anne’s Lace plants too late to blossom wave dried pods in meadows and along roads. More Goldenrod become dull amid remaining greenery. Creeping vine leaves are tinged with brown, exposing dead their host trees and stubs to the elements. An occasional Monarch butterfly flutters where hundreds gathered. Picked of most of its fruit, the last viable tree in the orchard offers rotting pears to squirrels and deer. Birds form back into flocks after months of carefree exploration
In a week the garden changed from generous colorful blossoms to petals dotted with brown specks, stalks of poppies, empty rose stems, leaves without flowers. Too tall decorative grasses or plants tower over shriveled annuals in pots around the porch. Acorns drop with abrupt, gently violent, sounds. Mushrooms claim their day of show.
Farmers markets offer piles of kale, squash, boxes of potatoes, onions and carrots. Remaining tomatoes have fewer days to be used atop store bought lettuce or spinach. Apples replace cherries, blueberries, raspberries. Pumpkins appear piled on wagons.
Summer left the land dragging with it a sense of promise and surplus. Fall took over acting all pragmatic, a combination of awesome color-splotched trees and clearing the earth of produce that can be preserved for the months when nothing will grow. When icy tree branches and drifted snow will be called nature’s beauty.
Under my desk a hardbound copy of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity acts as the perfect footrest. The first two volumes of The Century Trilogy were placed in the hands of other readers, but the Edge of Eternity replaced Bill Clinton’s My Life when a friend asked for that biography.
Jodi Picoult dominated one of the seven shelves of books in my office until some of her titles were rotated to guest rooms or the basement bookcase. Phillipa Gregory had been sent to my mother-in-law to be shared among her Indiana reading group.
Some authors are like Facebook friends who post about a puppy, a grandchild, a new writing project, a spectacular vacation then disappear for months. I trust a short list of these writers with my time and attention without a lot more expectations. When they have a new release I’ll invest in the real thing, a hardcover or paperback, not an e-book. If I’m disappointed I’ll give them another chance to regain their favorite reads position. And if one of them passes, I feel sad that their voice is gone.
At this time of the year when purging season is high I admit that books by these three have been shuffled into a bag for recycling at The Peninsula Bookman. Peter Sloma has customers who look for these popular names. It’s a fair trade. I get store credit to shop and my books go home with happy readers.
Except for Edge of Eternity, which is just the right height for when I’m sitting up straight and working on my own writing. It might be time for Fall of Giants to give up its shelf space, but not its nice hardbound friend under my feet.
On a sunny, genuine Door County fall morning the house is filled with six writers on retreat. Outside trees are rustling in a definite breeze while inside the furnace and the dog provide the noise. It is a wonderful gift to be surrounded by writers and given two solid days to work.
Everyone in this group is in a committed relationship and our spouses or partners are supportive of our creative work. But here we can indulge in a twenty-minute discussion of word count without feeling kind of dorky. And we can be supportive of a writer who is so eager to finish a work that he started before six this morning. Sitting right in the middle of people making coffee, getting a little breakfast, watching an amazing sunrise, he kept his fingers on the keys and his eyes on the screen as the words flowed. Awesome.
There is a smooth energy under the quiet like the subtle chocolate hints in Door County Brewing’s Polka King Porter. One or two of those were consumed last night while watching The Packers beat the Bears. That’s rowdy behavior for a mature group of creative introverts.
I’ve put Inky aside this morning to concentrate on a final review of a short story bound for competition. In the arts rejection is the norm and one came in via email as I began working. A handful of successful writers I consider mentors have told me that they do over one hundred submissions a quarter for a handful of published stories. My counts are puny on that scale.
Today or tomorrow I’ll begin working my novel’s revision plan. Wednesday I shared the work’s graphic and background information produced in the first days of work to a person interested in starting his first novel. Being a part of Write On, Door County has opened the gates for these kind of discussions at the most unexpected times.
This is community. Six writers working on an unknown number of stories in the parts of a house made for this kind of gathering.
The Autumn Equinox began in Door County with high temperatures. One month ago eighty-five degrees would have lured us to a beach, a farmers’ market, a family outing. Sunday I carried cold water and a first draft of the new book to the deck and began reading and making notes. Revision launched.
I like my protagonist. A new working title is needed, but her name is fine. With that done there is no reason to delete subtle references that generated the existing title. A new working title is brewing.
The read through is going well and the next steps are coming into vision. By end of today clean manuscript needs to be produced with prior revisions inserted, a few sections moved and basic fixes handled like correcting names or locations. When that is done, a twenty-word blurb about why this book is important is the next key assignment.
Heading back to the deck. As the last day of heat makes work outside possible that is where I’ll be. What’s the big deal about working outside? For many years I felt tethered to my desk. I couldn’t write without music, without a footrest, without a whole lot of false comforts. It’s great to be beyond that set of restrictions.
Leaves are falling, the breeze is increasing and wasps come out in the afternoon. No time to goof off. Four days remaining in solo time.
March 4, 2017, sixty-nine years after Aldo Leopold penned his final contribution to A Sand County Almanac, a marathon reading of his work begins in a small building called The Schoolhouse in the Clearings Folk School in Door County, Wisconsin. Pine trees can be seen through every window. A few birds flitter past during the ninety minutes. Eight inches of snow dumped during a nasty storm earlier in the week glistens outside with puddles beginning to form where the day’s sun and temps clear out cold stuff one more time. Leopold, the man known as the father of wildlife ecology, would appreciate the setting for this local event celebrating Aldo Leopold Weekend.
Young and old, writers and environmentalists, students and philanthropic retirees, wait their turn to read selected pieces. Everyone willingly hands their attention and time to listening one more time to Leopold’s insights about the ways of nature as highways and manufacturing were changing America in the 1930s and 40s. No one checks cell phones or watches. Stories about fishing, about birds, about snow melt, about prairie flowers lost to road construction written near The Shack in Baraboo, Wisconsin by a wise man. Humor, detailed description, a few lessons tucked into each about caring for the land because it is ours communally.
A Sand County Almanac would be a good read for any person who thinks about the land, or to nurture awareness of our environment. It could be a nice present for Ryan Zinke or even Mr. Trump, who might prefer the audio format.
One year ago we gathered at the wedding of my husband’s nephew. My mother-in-law danced with her two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter under a white tent on a very warm September night. Ninety plus years old, she wore a pastel outfit purchased for this occasion including matching shoes.
The young women moved around her gently, swaying on tall heels, holding hands, smiling at the joy of being together for the first time in decades and sharing this experience. The little, white-haired, woman with large glasses was no longer the strong single mother who shepherded three children through college on a teacher’s salary. Her health was failing, her feet not always steady, her heart working as hard as it could.
Adult children and their spouses watched from the side, each of us quiet with our own thoughts. The youngest grandson would be marrying in twelve months and she wanted to there, to dance at his wedding and welcome his bride to the family. There were so many reasons to think that was not going to happen in spite of incredible drive in that tiny woman’s body. She passed away weeks later.
The circle turns and we are here on another September evening, for another gathering of generations around another loving young couple. There is so much joy during the ceremony that it is natural to expect the grandparents, who gave their blessings to these two years earlier, to be in the room. The future promises only its best on this night and the past reminds us of what was good. There is joy.