Revitalize Your Vegetable Garden in August

This dry, hot summer has been hard on farmers. And it may have been hard on your own home vegetable garden. I, for one, planted a number of things that were just duds or else got the life sucked out of them by the sweltering sun.

But all is not lost for the Michigan home gardener. You can still plant many vegetables and harvest them in late fall if you are careful to keep everything watered during August and September.

Here’s what you can plant from seed: basil, beans, beets, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, summer squash, swiss chard, turnips, winter squash.

Here’s what you can plant as transplants (and these are all sold a big discounts this time of year as your nursery or supermarket is trying to clear their shelves): broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, as well as many of the crops mentioned above.

So get out to your local nursery or Meijer store and see what they have on sale. You could still reap a pretty good harvest yet this year!

The Most Pervasive Storyteller of Our Time (for better or worse)

It is so strange how the world goes on even when we remove ourselves from it. On the drive home from Camp Lake Louise Saturday, we stopped at a Burger King to grab a bite, use the restrooms, and let the dog stretch her legs a bit. And now even Burger King has flat screen TVs hanging all over the place like a sports bar. As I was filling some little paper cups with ketchup I caught my first bit of news in a week. Something about police and bomb squads and an apartment in Colorado and the new Batman movie. Details would filter in during the next few days, but all I had at that moment was one little snippet of a much larger story. An excerpt from a tragedy.

Really any news story we see is the same way, like reading one paragraph in the middle of a novel. We’ll probably get a character name or two, a sense of the conflict perhaps, maybe some dialogue we can quote. But the events leading up to that paragraph are not known to us.  We have to go back to get them, while at the same time, the story keeps stretching out in front of that one paragraph we’ve read.

News is reading backward and forward at the same time. It’s never starting at the beginning, because even though each story has a beginning, it’s not important to us until something happens that gets our attention. News starts in the middle, then fills us in as details are discovered, even as it keeps us abreast of the developing story. News is a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with less art and considerably less swearing.

In our media soaked world, we get near-constant updates about an almost infinite number of stories, as though we were standing in a great library and picking up books at random, reading a couple paragraphs, then putting them down again and picking up another, and so on and so on, never actually finishing any of them. (Because really, don’t you always find yourself wondering what ever happened to that so and so who did such and such and the news media is already on to the next thing and never revisits it?) And this is how we experience the larger world. In a scattered, random, and incomplete way.

Is this why human beings love to hear, read, and watch entire fictional stories in the form of spoken storytelling, novels, and movies? Is this why we read fiction? Is this why we shell out the kind of money we do at movie theaters for two hours (and usually less) of beginning to end storytelling that has cause, effect, conflict, and conclusion in their proper place?

When you read a good novel or short story, when you see a good movie, do you ever have that feeling at the end when you close the back cover or stand up from your seat and you have to reorient yourself to the real world? You get that satisfying feeling of closure (or sometimes that excited anticipation of a possible sequel), that bittersweet ache of separating of yourself from a story that completely engrossed you. You never, ever get that from the news. And yet, most of the stories that filter into your life come in those little, dissatisfying pieces.

That dissatisfaction, along with the sad reality that most news is bad news and most of it is outside my control or often even my realm of influence, is why I go through very purposeful seasons of news avoidance. I ignore, for a time, that kind of piecemeal, negative storytelling in favor of experiencing life and fiction as a whole.

On the Subject of Rocks and Gender-Based Marketing Ploys

Do you remember those pink and purple things called caboodles that were essentially just tackle boxes made all cutesy for girls? (Aside: I put this in the same condescending marketing category as the recent abomination that is “Legos for girls.” How insulting.) Well, sometime in the early 1990s, my sister and I got our very own caboodles. I’m fairly sure my sister kept things like hair ties, makeup, and jewelry in hers.

I kept rocks in mine.

I find that the compulsion to collect rocks does not wane as I age. Despite a large collection that has survived into my adult life, I find it very difficult to keep myself from filling my pockets with rocks, especially those found on lakeshores. And I still feel the need to organize them.

So I have a small bowl of rocks on the coffee table from Pt. Iroquois. And I have a giant pickle jar (like, we’re talking about a gallon here) of rocks gleaned from a particular fifteen or twenty foot stretch of Lake Louise. Not to mention the fossilized coral, which is kept separate. And various other rocks that find their way into an aquarium or on a shelf somewhere.

And despite the fact that my Lake Louise jar was full and I told myself in no uncertain terms that I did not need more rocks, I came home Saturday with 74 rocks and 25 fossils. Sunday night I scrubbed them all clean and laid them out on paper towels to dry. And now I’m in the market for another enormous pickle jar.

Why collect rocks? They are common. They are everywhere. I can see a rock on almost any trip to a natural area. I’m not expecting to find anything spectacular or rare, though perhaps one day I’ll stumble on an agate or a Petoskey stone. Why bring them home?

I don’t really have the answer to this. Just as I don’t really have the answer to the question of why everything marketed to girls must be pink or purple.

Readying Ourselves for Bliss

Each summer we head up to our favorite place in the world for some rest, relaxation, and religion. Camp Lake Louise (formerly Lake Louise Baptist Camp) is really on Thumb Lake, but our camp and the Methodists across the lake all call it Lake Louise and apparently have for generations. For our purposes, we’ll call it Lake Louise.

Lake Louise is a 150-foot deep spring fed kettle lake, probably formed by retreating glaciers, not too far from Boyne Falls, Michigan, off C-48. Since there’s little run-off and it is not fed by rivers or streams, the water is always crystal clear. Much of the land surrounding the lake is owned by the Methodist church and used as a camp and retreat center, some is owned by the Baptists, there’s a small public access beach, and the rest is residential and forms the Lake Louise Christian Community.

But beyond the technicalities is the true spirit of this place. Most of us who go up year after year–many of whom have gone up since they were children, with parents who went when they were children, and so on back to 1930–find that no place on earth has so tight a hold on our hearts as Camp Lake Louise. The interiors of the little brown cabins that have sat upon their stone foundations since the 1930s are completely tattooed with names and dates of the thousands of people who have slept, worked, played, and prayed there. And round about March or April I start thinking about Lake Louise.

Not being a Baptist (do Lutherans have summer camps?), I was first introduced to this place as a teenager. My then boyfriend, now husband, had gone most of his life, as a camper, a cabin leader, a bass player in his old band, and would eventually go as a pastor. But I went at the behest of one Pat Ankney, a women who pulled all the levers and switches behind the scenes back in my little hometown of Essexville, Michigan. This imposing woman (and I mean that in appearance and in personality) came to the Kmart I was working in early in the summer of 1998 and told me she had somewhere she needed me to be that summer. And when Miss Pat tells you where to go, you go.

As you can imagine, I was not upset to trade the flourescent lights and mind-numbingly boring days of the discount retail world for water, woods, sunshine, and more stars than I’d ever seen. So I worked–hard–for $25 a day doing dishes, cleaning the girls’ bathhouse, and keeping an eye on all the kids on the waterfront. Getting a tan is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Since that time, many momentous events have happened at Camp Lake Louise. My husband proposed to me on the beach in the middle of the night. I was baptized as an adult in the clear waters of the lake. Our son laughed for the first time in our room in the Administration Building when he was just six weeks old. A year later he took his first steps beside the outdoor basketball court. Dear friends are made there.

And on Saturday we will be packed in the Explorer on our way to parts northward, dropping the dog off at my sister’s house north of Elk Rapids and then heading east to our favorite place on earth.

Lessons Learned While Overdoing It #3: I’m Lucky I Wised Up When I Did

I don’t know how you get along with your siblings, but I would say that odds are fairly decent that it’s not exactly the same at every age. I would imagine that most siblings go through periods of being best friends, worst enemies, and various other relationships in between those extremes.

My sister, Alison, and I are no exception. Had you told me as a child that I would get my sister out on a four-day, three-night, 27-mile hike (and that I would somehow convince her to carry her own food, clothing, and shelter on her back) I would have laughed in your face. Growing up, I was the one to be found in the tree, in the dirt, in the neighbor’s snowdrift. Alison would usually be inside. Playing with Barbies (yag–that’s “yawn” and “gag” put together, folks). As a child, she would not have struck me as the hiking type.

Had you told me as a high schooler that she would look forward to spending that much quality time with her little sister, I’d have sneered and rolled my eyes. I have no hard evidence, but I’m convinced that when my big sister saw me walking down the illustrious halls of Garber High School she hid behind other people, avoided eye contact at all costs, and perhaps even stuck out her leg to trip me. As a teenager, she would not have struck me as the bonding type.

Had you told me even ten years ago that we would even be speaking to each other much at this point in life, I would have been pleasantly surprised. It’s not that we so vehemently disliked one another, but that we didn’t communicate very well. At the time I thought this was her fault. (I, after all, was most certainly perfect.) But in 2003 or 2004 I realized that a very huge chunk of our rocky relationship was my fault. Solidly my fault.

I was compelled to write Alison a letter of apology. Which is what you do when you don’t communicate well, right? I have a bit of a tendency to say things I regret (or don’t even mean) when I try to work out conflict face to face out loud, so writing (and editing) is a very important process for me. In this letter I owned up to some serious miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misinformation on my part. I asked for forgiveness, and my gracious sister gave it to me.

And then we began to develop a real relationship.

Had you told me any time before my mid- to late-twenties that my sister and I would be close friends who went on hiking trips together, I would have gotten a wistful look in my eyes. Because I wouldn’t have believed it. But I would have wanted so badly for it to be true.

Today it is.

And when Alison and I took step after step after blessed step on that little section of the 4,600 mile North Country Trail, it felt like we had started down a long and happy path of true friendship that would only get stronger as we walked it.

4,573 miles to go, Alison. Are you ready?

Lessons Learned While Overdoing It #2: Small Graces

A landscape like that of Pictured Rocks is one of immensity. Lake Superior stretches on past the horizon in varying shades of green, turquoise, blue, and violet. The pristine blue sky arches to space. The faces of the cliffs explode from the waves. The soaring canopy of green rustles overhead.

But throughout our weekend hike at Pictured Rocks, my sister and I were careful to take note of the small things set in our path. I’m a “noticer.” My sister joked that while I was busy noticing a miniscule red and yellow fungus in the undergrowth I would be eaten by a bear. Sadly, we saw no bears, but we did see flowers, ferns, stones, fungus, insects, squirrels, snakes, rabbits, deer, and chipmunks. Always chipmunks.

Here are some of the small graces we experienced as we were pushing through the pain.

Beyond the sights, we heard eerie and thrilling bird calls we had never heard before and smelled the freshness of Lake Superior and pine forests. When you are exerting the kind of effort we were, you also appreciate with true gratitude the small graces of cool breezes off the lake, cold water from the rivers, and the frigid waves of Superior. That’s probably why so many of my photos are of our feet in the water.

It’s focusing on these gifts of comfort and beauty from God that makes it possible to overdo it without complaint. Sure our feet hurt, our shoulders were sore, our joints were aching, we were thirsty and rationing water. But that’s just hiking. Complaining doesn’t change it, and, in fact, it makes it no fun. I’ve been on hikes and nature walks and tours with complainers young and old and I have to tell you, there is little that grates on me quite like someone who is whining about heat or cold or bugs or boredom and not appreciating the beauty of a place.

And that’s how it is in the rest of life, too. You can focus on the negative  and moan about the things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy and bring everyone around you down with your constant discontent and never notice that all around you are small graces. All it takes is a shift in focus. All it takes is taking your eyes off yourself and looking instead to the gifts that have been lavished upon us by a generous hand.

Lessons Learned While Overdoing It #1: Perseverance

For some people, hiking 12 miles whilst carrying approximately 75 lbs (Is that an exaggeration? I’m not sure.) on your back is not difficult. I know this, because a few of you passed us on the trail last weekend. You were cordial and saved for later any eye-rolling or disparaging comments about our slow progress at the end there. And my sister and I appreciate that.

During the four mile span from Chapel Beach to Coves Campsite, I asked myself a number of times why, exactly, I had decided on 12 miles for our first big day on the Pictured Rocks trail. After all, neither of us is in stellar shape. I hadn’t been hiking in probably ten years. My job entails sitting, reading, typing, and, very occasionally, talking out loud. My sister also sits a lot in her job, though she has certainly been to the gym more recently than me. Still, why 12 miles?

I kept coming back to the inevitable: we had to end our hike where we began it because we didn’t have anyone picking us up. We had to get back to the parking lot at Miner’s Beach. So in order to make the 7+ hours drive to Pictured Rocks from Lansing (via Elk Rapids) worth it, we had to camp more than just one or two nights. And so we needed to get as far away from the car as possible that first day so we could make our way back at a more reasonable pace. This makes sense, right? Right?

In my infinite wisdom, I figured that doing 12 miles the first day, rather than leaving the big hike for the last day, would be smarter. We’d be more energetic, fresher, more excited about hiking. Also, we would be without injury, pains, blisters, bug bites, etc. that might slow us down near the end of the hike.

So it was that I found myself trudging (it can’t really be called walking at that point) through the hardest terrain of the entire hike, glancing about now and then for a clearing we might collapse in should we fail to reach the campsite before sunset (or before one of us expired). During these four miles, which felt to both of us like far more than four miles and I’m simply trusting that the National Park Service isn’t lying outright to us all about the distances between sites, I had a little talk with God.

Now, I’m of the belief, first of all, that there is a God, that he can and does hear prayer, and that he is all-powerful. I reasoned with myself that God could, if he so desired, physically move the Coves campsite so that it was closer. He could make it appear around the next bend or up the next cursed flight of “stairs.” (Is it just me, or is it way easier to climb those inclines without the aid of stairs?) However, if some other person was hiking toward Coves from the east, and if that person was praying that God would move the Coves campsite closer to them, who would God answer?

God could move the Coves campsite, but I knew that he wouldn’t. What purpose would it serve? Nothing but my own comfort. And I don’t think that God is particularly interested in my own personal comfort. I know he is loving, but so is my father, and I can tell you there were times when Dad wasn’t terribly interested in my own personal comfort. (For instance, I would have been comfortable with a later curfew but I think he disagreed.)

So, I knew that, despite his love for me, God would not move the campsite. What then, might I say to God as I stumbled over roots and leaned away from the edges of sandy cliffs?  Between my heavy breaths and occasional grunts I asked for endurance. I asked for the strength to make it as far as I knew I had to go that night. I asked that my sister, whose hip and heel were obviously in pain, would not be injured and would feel well enough the next day to hike again. I asked that he help us keep pace to make it there before dark.

You see, there are many struggles we cannot escape in life. God does not promise us a life of happiness and comfort. We do not deserve a certain level of prosperity simply because we are on this planet. We are not entitled to a certain level of education. We were not all born for great things. Most of us are just normal. Some of us will have health problems. Some of us will have trouble finding work. Some of us will do worse than our parents. Some of us will fail. But God doesn’t move the goals closer to us simply because we are weak and tired and in pain.

My husband and I recently had to explain to our four-year-old son that we will not let him win games simply because he wants to. We’ve been playing Sorry!, a game that is almost entirely determined by chance rather than skill or wit, and when the boy finally lost his first game, there were lots of tears. We had to explain to him that when people let you win, either by letting you cheat or making the game easier somehow, it doesn’t feel as good as you think it will. Winning because someone feels sorry for you is no victory.

In the same way, God does not make the game easier. He doesn’t move the campsite. But, if we ask, he may help us become a more graceful loser. He may give us the mental push we need to push through the pain and make it to Coves after all. We don’t grow when the bar is lowered. We grow when there’s no choice but to reach the goal as it stands.

We did reach Coves campsite before sunset. We pitched our tent, lurched down to Lake Superior to filter water, ate up some of the weight from our packs, and went to sleep. And the next day, though we were both very stiff, we started out. And you know, once you start walking again, you find that you really can do it. Your muscles stretch back out, your joints aren’t so angry with you anymore, and you can finally enjoy the scenery that you were silently cursing the night before. You can even laugh at the “stairs” which you must now traverse a second time.

2 Women, 3 Days, 27 Miles, and an Entire Can of 40% DEET Bug Spray

What sort of weekend excursion should two 30-something, slightly overweight women with desk jobs take? If you said “Hike 27 miles of the rugged backcountry terrain at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore” you’d be right. We might not be the most fit people in the world, but my sister and I are rabid lovers of the outdoors and luckily don’t mind taking on a challenge in our down time.

Our reward for this was great conversation (sans interruptions by children or commentary from anyone else), fantastic scenery, and true appreciation for things like cold water, cool breezes, food in non-bar form, and soft beds and pillows. Oh, and showers.

Here are some things I learned whilst on the trail.

1. 12 miles is really about 4 miles too long for the first day.

2. If you get 40% DEET bug spray on your lip, it will start to go numb.

3. I now fully appreciate John the Baptist’s cry in the wilderness to “make His paths straight.”

4. My sister is really awesome at her very stressful job.

5. When you know you have to climb yet more inclines, you can somehow make yourself do it.

6. Michiganders are blessed with some of the most stunning scenery around, yet too few of us take the time to get out and appreciate it.

7. During the past 46 years of national park status and funding, the National Park Service has failed (or hasn’t seen the need) to put mile markers on any of the trails at Pictured Rocks. This would be helpful.

8. The ubiquitous Nanny State has yet to extend its reach to Pictured Rocks, where one can stumble around on the very edge of sandy, unstable cliffs (and, in fact, must do this in order to reach many campsites) without a railing in sight and without signing any sort of waiver. (The only rails are in place only to protect a few choice natural features from erosion. Human beings are left to their own devices or stupidity.)

9. There’s nothing quite like standing completely alone on an empty rocky shore after sunset and contemplating the vast darkness of Lake Superior.

10. When my little son is old enough, I will bring him to this amazing place.

To see more pictures from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, click here.