A 90-Degree Walk in the Marshlands

Not far from downtown Bay City, Michigan, is the body of water from which it derives its name: the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron.

A low, marshy area, it has a strip of sandy beach that in many places is only reachable by boardwalk.

On the horizon lies the power plant that supplies the area with electricity.

There’s something about this sight that feels quintessentially Bay City, but I’m not sure I can articulate why.

Perhaps it’s because so much of the natural environment was so fundamentally changed when white people finally settled here. When the area was first surveyed it was determined unfit for human habitation. Nothing but swamps and unbearable swarms of mosquitoes.

The story goes that much of lower Michigan was settled only after East Coasters were essentially tricked by unscrupulous land agents into buying land they hadn’t seen in person when what they were actually buying was swamp.

You can’t build or farm on a swamp, of course. So you drain it. And you start a mosquito control program.

And the land becomes something it was never meant to be. It becomes farms and shipyards and sawmills and factories.

But it still wants to be a swamp.

It wants to be a place where water is slowly filtered through a network of soils and plants and microscopic creatures.

It wants to feels the wriggling tadpoles in the warm shallows and the sliding fish in the deep places.

It wants to feed the roots of poplars and birches and the cottonwoods that were sending their confetti down all around me as I strolled along the margins of the marsh.

It wants frogs and toads, red-eared sliders and snapping turtles.

It wants to sustain little forests of lily pads that, as the mother of an eight-year-old son, I can’t help but see as a colony of green Pac-Mans.

Even during this incredibly hot day, the breeze from the bay tickled the leaves on the trees and bid them send their shade upon Earth’s weary creatures.

Between horizons on either side, I could believe that I was in a very wild place.

But a glance to the left revealed dozens of waterfront houses. And a glance to the right…

That power plant that I never knew I’d depended on when I lived in the Essexville/Bay City area as a child.

Still, if I looked in the right place…

I could see something beautiful and quiet and wild.

And that’s what I’m always looking for.

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Books

You’ll find books on every floor of our house, and in nearly every room (bathrooms and laundry room excluded — reading on the john is anathema in our household). You’ll even find books in the hallway and on the landing.

Were I asked to estimate how many books the three of us own, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a number (especially since when you add in Zach’s books that are housed at his office in the church, the number likely doubles!). I can say that when we moved from Grand Rapids to Lansing more than ten years ago, the estimator for the moving company did not take seriously our warnings about the literal wall of boxes in our apartment when he was blithely counting them up to add them to his sheet.

“Those are all books, so they’re going to add a lot of weight.”

“Yeah, got it.”

No, guy, you didn’t. And when we moved, the movers had to check in the weight of the truck before they left…and had to get another truck…which they wanted us to pay for despite their mistake.

I digress.

In the decade since our move to Michigan’s capital city, we’ve accumulated more books. A lot more.

Now, I tend to be a person who likes to get rid of things that are not being used or haven’t been used in the past few years. I don’t like clutter and I (along with the two little pack rats I live with) am prone to it, so it’s a constant battle to keep my environment under control. I revel in throwing away expired food and giving away unloved clothes and even abandoning those “projects” I kept meaning to get to but never did. Get it all out of the house! Give me some breathing room.

But I have no problem with books. Books we mean to read someday, books we haven’t read for years, and everything in between. They are all welcome to stay. They just need an inch or less on a shelf somewhere.

“Why not just use a Kindle? Then you don’t have to store all those books.”

We do. Both of us. And we can read on our phones. And we also keep buying printed books. Because printed books are (I’m just going to say it) better for so many reasons. One being, hey, now we don’t have to figure out what to put on that wall for decoration; the answer is always bookshelves.

Books are not only wonderful for what lay between the covers, they’re also lovely as objects in and of themselves.

Especially old books, because back when books were not oozing out of every pore of the Internet, they were made differently.

They were sewn rather than just glued. They were bound in leather or fabric. They were gilded and embossed.

Those things still happen today, of course, and there are many beautiful books. But there is something about the old ones that is especially enchanting. Even when they’re a little worse for wear.

Maybe especially then.

Kicking and Screaming My Way into the 21st Century

My husband and I have been longtime holdouts in the cell phone world, dragging our heels and hanging onto phones that do little more than call or text. We’ve had good reasons — the cost seems ridiculous, we’re Luddites at heart, they can become a colossal time-suck in people’s lives. But mainly it’s been that we don’t want to become pointless-amusement-obsessed zombies who can’t even be fully in a conversation with another person without itching to check (or actually checking) our phones. Is anything more frustrating that being in a room of people who are pretty much ignoring you as they work on developing their “iPhone chins” by constantly checking Facebook or playing Words with Friends on their phones? (Probably there’s lots of more frustrating situations, but for the sake of this post, these are the most insufferable people in the world, and I don’t want to become one.)

I am definitely a late adopter in most cases of technology development (though for some reason I got on Facebook relatively early). But there have always been several features about smartphones I’ve been keenly interested in using. MyFitnessPal, instantly posting photos to Facebook, easily finding restaurants near you in an unfamiliar town, instantly finding out what awesome song was playing on the speakers at the coffee shop and being able to buy that song right then and there…. And Instagram. Not necessarily to send photos of my food out into the world (though if it looks amazing, why not?) but to get beautiful photos fed to me and to share the occasional beautiful photo myself. Plus there’s just a really fun kind of Polaroid vibe on Instagram I’ve kind of felt left out of.

Zach (who still proudly uses a c. 2003 Palm Pilot daily, mind you) had to get out of his old but beloved phone’s grip (cost benefit ratio did not add up) and found a very inexpensive Android phone that wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money each month (thus satisfying his cheap Dutchman’s heart) but would also interact with his Palm platform, thus not rendering his Palm obsolete, the specter of which I’m sure kept him up nights. And every time he told me something else very practical he could now do, I coveted that new phone. So, now we have his and hers.

And now I’m on Instagram, just in time for gorgeous summer travel Up North and another trip to the Southwest come September. If you want to follow me there, you can by clicking here. At the moment my photo stream is sparse and lacking in variety (hey, I haven’t left the house since I started it — give a girl a break) but I’m hoping to remedy that in the coming weeks. I’d love to see you over there. 🙂

 

Time: The Great Motivator

At some point over the long weekend, this blog surpassed 2,000 followers, so I want to take a moment to thank all of the new readers who’ve come on board. And I want to encourage you to look through some old posts in the category that brought you here. You can find broad categories on the sidebar or click on tags on individual posts to find more that may interest you. You may also enjoy my photography page, which I have plans to add to during yet another summer of exploring parts north. Take some time to wander around.

I think about time a lot. Not having enough of it. Watching it whiz by. It’s June? Really? Why do the months keep surprising me? My son turned eight this weekend and it kind of floored me.

Eight

Back in 1968 (not December — that’s just when the film was finally developed) someone took this picture of my parents at the Detroit Zoo when they were dating.

DaleDonnaZoo copy

Nearly forty years later, I took this photo of Zach and the boy in about the same spot.

I’m willing to believe my parents can’t believe it’s been practically four decades since they leaned against that railing for that first photo. And I bet in forty years I’ll be in a state of disbelieving shock that the second photo is that old.

At home I see time reflected in the growth of trees and bushes in my yard, the amount of chipping paint on the windowsills, and the number of new cracks in the driveway. I look at photos of long-dead relatives and touch some of the objects they touched — a pocket watch, a quilt, a silver serving spoon — and realize that the things we create as humans tend to outlive us. That railing around the fountain at the zoo was erected in 1939. Thousands of people have been photographed by it. Many of them are gone now, but the railing remains.

That’s part of the reason I’m compelled to write: to outlive myself in some small way.

Another part is to capture time.

During the past month I have been trying to get a catalog to press at work, doing ghostwriting work for a ministry, freelance editing a novel, celebrating my son’s birthday, visiting friends from Kenya, planting the garden, prepping and leading a workshop, and, when I can find a few minutes, working on my own fiction. When we get busy, time slips along like water down a storm drain.

Yet, when we write, we capture moments in time, hold them, and make them available to other people at a later date. Those bits of time wait patiently, encased in paper and ink, and begin all over again when someone starts to read. And as long as a copy of a book or letter or journal exists, those moments cannot be lost to busyness. And, graciously, they allow us to take time out of our own busyness when we settle down to read.

The problem is, there’s only so much time to capture time. (Does your head hurt yet?) And the fact that every moment that passes is a moment that will never come again is a great motivator to prioritize our lives, to make time for the things that invigorate us and makes us feel most like ourselves. Family, friends, and our special contribution to this world, whether its writing or cooking or encouragement or serving or sewing or photography or woodworking.

Summer is upon us. We have lots of daylight to use. May we use it well.