The Next Thing

Minute by minute, another August is ending. September whispers at the edges of leaves. It’s time for bats in the house and flocks of blackbirds lifting as one from fields and lighting like raindrops on telephone wires. Young woodpeckers sit on my windowsill and peck at their reflections. Hummingbirds hover at my morning glories and anise hyssop. The bees and wasps get more aggressive, the chipmunks get cheekier, and my pantry shelves fill up with jars to see us through another year of toast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

It’s the time of big clouds and dramatic sunsets and morning rain. It’s the time when the squirrels steal my almost-ripe tomatoes and I vow yet again not to plant them next year. The weeds I should have pulled are spreading their seeds all over the garden to be sure I’ll have weeds to pull next year as well. I did manage one big day in the dirt recently when the humidity dropped a bit and the temperature was only in the low 80s. But by and large I’ve been a neglectful gardener this year.

And as others finish up their trips and put away their luggage, we find that there are still places to go. San Antonio for him, Albuquerque for me, and smaller jaunts around the state for conferences and book events and hiking trips. There are books to write and books to revise. In the evenings after the boy goes to bed, we sit in the Cigar Room pursuing our shared passion.

Soon the goldfinches will be lending their color to the trees and the nights will be cool enough for fires in the fire pit outside. Soon we’ll be able to give our poor overworked air conditioner a nice long break. They’re predicting a snowy winter for the Great Lakes Region this year. I hope they’re right. In the meantime, I look forward to fall and bid this summer a fond farewell. It’s been marvelous. But I’m ready for the next thing.

First Frost

Sunday morning we finally had our first frost. Cold weather’s been slow in coming this year. Nearly a week of bright, sunny days in the mid-70s preceded this frost. But most of the leaves are finally down.

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As they sometimes do, my irises bloomed a second time this year. They tend to put out one last effort before winter if we get a stretch of warm days. But time is short for what still remains in the garden. The burning bush holds to a few last leaves. The hostas have all turned yellow and collapsed. Another day of working out in the yard will erase it all. Then the snows.

The Joy of a Good Writers Conference

This weekend I spent a couple days in the company of other writers at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. It was my third year attending, my second year leading a workshop, this time on taking our writing to the next level through rewriting and revision. We had a fantastic keynote speaker, Julie Cantrell, and I’m looking forward to reading her book, Into the Free. And we enjoyed inspiring words and a charge to write the truth and write at the highest level of excellence we can from Dr. Michael Wittmer, a professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and a friend.

Besides those entertaining and encouraging presentations, I was able to attend workshops led by several talented writers, professors, and professionals, including

-Dave Beach, a psychologist who turns his expertise toward creating characters that are highly developed and nuanced by examining them through various psychological lenses. Check out his website, characterdoctor.com to try it out!

Zachary Bartels and Ted Kluck, who took us through all the pluses and pitfalls of indie and traditional publishing, highlighting their own successes and failures in both arenas, and teaching us how to read between the lines while working with editors and big publishing houses. Check out their indie micropress, Gut Check Press.

Dr. Michael Stevens and Dr. Matt Bonzo, who gave us insight into the life’s work of Wendell Berry, who spent fifty years writing about one small locality and made the people and the events in this little rural Kentucky town speak to readers on a universal level. I’m very interested to read their book after dipping into Wendell Berry ‘s work.

I was also privileged to spend time in the company of writers like Tracy Groot, Suzanne Burden, Alison Hodgson, Andy Rogers, Josh Mosey, and others. Breathe is an intimate, noncompetitive group–far more intimate than the huge ACFW Conference we went to in St. Louis this year–and I appreciate the camaraderie there.

The whole affair has me even more excited for the second annual Write on the Red Cedar Conference that my own writing group, Capital City Writers Association, is holding January 16-17 in East Lansing, Michigan. We’re ecstatic to welcome literary agent and author Donald Maass as our keynote, along with other writers, journalists, editors, and agents from around the country. If you’re a writer in the Midwest, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business for a very reasonable price.

You’ll be hearing more about that conference in the months to come. In the meantime, our very busy season at home is hopefully slowing down a little bit. Around here there are gardens to ready for the winter, desks to clean off and organize, quilts and crochet throws to make, rooms to clean…and a new novel brewing in my mind.

October is half over. I want to really live intentionally during the second half. How about you?

October Is Almost Half Over–Don’t Miss It

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Along the drive to my son’s school is a block of city land devoted to nature. Surrounded on four sides by homes, a highway, and a golf course, it is nevertheless a patch of peaceful ground. This little enclave of trees and cattails and wildflowers is the haunt of ducks, herons, songbirds, rabbits, muskrats, turtles, and frogs, as well as senior citizens out on walks and health nuts getting in a run. It is lovely much of the year, but like all wooded areas in temperate zones, never so lovely as in fall.

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During our frenetic and emotionally taxing week last week, I stopped for twenty minutes one morning after dropping the boy off at school to take some pictures and breathe the cool October air. I took the photos you see in this post of Great White and Blue Herons, colorful sumac leaves, mist dancing above the water, and reflections of trees in the ponds.

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When I picked my son up that afternoon, I convinced him that visiting the ducks at the park would be far preferable to playing a video game or watching a TV show. We had a grand time greeting the ducks we knew (like Tucky, who is any female Mallard we encounter anywhere in the city) and naming those we were meeting for the first time (Caramel, Buttercup, Oreo, Splashy, Ducky, Woody, Shaky, etc.). We saw two muskrats and chipmunks with cheeks stuffed full of seeds.

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These two stops at the park took up less than an hour of my day. But that hour did so much good to my spirit. I saw so many different species of plants and animals living in such a small space. A compact and yet complex ecosystem.

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So much is packed into our lives. So many people, activities, responsibilities, diversions–all vying for attention. But in this little park nothing vied for attention. Everything waited quietly to be noticed.

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The silent rabbit I saw retreating ahead of me on the path did not need to be checked off my to-do list. Berries of every hue waited patiently on the bushes for me to note their presence or to pass them by without a glance. And while it’s fun to know the species of the trees or the birds or the flowers, it’s not necessary in order to enjoy looking at them.

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Surely there were creatures attempting to escape my notice entirely, like the cautious wading birds or whatever creature ducked underwater at my approach and created ringlets of tiny ripples retreating out into the pond.

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I try to make it a practice to notice nature. But when life gets so terribly busy it is easy to forget that there is a world out there that is unconcerned with deadlines or what happens on the next episode of insert-show-you-obsessively-watch. A bird is only concerned with eating. A plant is not concerned about anything at all! And while I wouldn’t want to be a heron or a maple tree, no matter how carefree their existence might be, I don’t want to miss what they have to teach me about patience, silence, and stillness.

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I hope you take the time for a little stroll in the woods or along a shore or in a nature center this week. The leaves are falling and this season will not last. Your project will be there tomorrow. Go take a walk.