Sweet September

In September, the house is sheathed with spiderwebs. At every corner of every window they build their deadly, gossamer castles and lie in wait, bloated and insatiable.

Crane flies perch and hover at windows and doors. Fledglings pick at the seeds of weeds I’ve left to grow unchecked all the hot summer long.

Grasshoppers munch, leap, munch, leap, fly.

Some flowers are spent.

Others are just beginning to bloom.

Others send out a few last blooms as an encore to June’s performance.

The nights are growing longer minute by minute.

Everything that flies or crawls or hops is preparing for the harder, colder season ahead.

 

Even me.

I finally trim back the overgrown and uproot the unwanted.

I remember how much I like tea.

I go on a real grocery shopping trip.

School has begun. Summer, for all intents and purposes, has ended.

And I am not sorry to see it go.

I never am.

Spring Fever, Satisfied

We are reveling in spring here in Michigan.

It feels like such a blessing after a very long winter that reached its grasping, scraping fingernails into April and was reluctant to let go.

But now, our spring flowers are in bloom.

Our foliage is stretching out to greet the sun.

And our feeders are being visited by exciting birds I rarely get to see, like orioles…

…and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Along with our more common visitors: cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, house finches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches.

We even get to see quite a lot of the neighborhood turkey, who likes hanging out in our back yard and our neighbor’s in the morning.

The poor thing is rather frightened of my little chihuahua mix (all seven pounds of her) and seems utterly dumbfounded by fences.

The view out of my upstairs office window is improving day by day as the trees leaf out.

Even the rainy days are rather warm. The daffodils and scilla and crocuses are all gone now, but tulips and grape hyacinth are hanging on, and the flowering trees are just past peak. Rivers and creeks are running high with much rain. My thoughts turn outward, toward summer travel plans, as they always do this time of year.

In about five weeks or so, my sister and I will be hiking the Porcupine Mountains, one of the stops my son and I made on our epic UP Road Trip last June. Our chosen path will take us along rushing rivers, past seven waterfalls, along the shore of Lake Superior, along escarpments, and through forests that will be weeks behind in terms of new growth (which means we’ll get to experience this marvelous spring a second time). Our campsites will have us sleeping alongside the Little Carp River, on Lake Superior at the mouth of Toledo Creek, and up on the escarpment not far from the Lake of the Clouds.

Rocks and rivers, woods and waterfalls. 60,000 acres of wilderness. Time to reflect, to rest our minds and busy our feet. Alison and I look forward to our hiking trip each year. We’ve been lots of places. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Sable Dunes, Tahquamenon Falls, the Manistee River, the Jordan River Valley.

The Porkies have been on our Someday List. It takes a long time to drive there (nearly 9 hours drive time from my house in the state capital, plus time for rest stops and meals) so you need two extra days built in just to get there and back. Thankfully, timing seems to have worked out in our favor this year.

I guess after this, we may have to start saving our money to fly to more trails further away!

We May Be Done with Winter…but Winter Is Not Done with Us

Yesterday after church, the Rev. and the boy and I watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again.

It seemed somehow appropriate to our current situation.

Stuck in what feels like an unending winter.

Encased in ice.

Under a flat gray sky.

We’re halfway through April, if you can believe it.

These poor quince buds have been waiting and waiting to bloom.

The trees have been waiting to sprout new growth.

Even the evergreens seem tired of it all.

We wait eagerly for the next season.

And comfort ourselves with what we hope is one last fire.

These Changeable Days

It is a cloudy morning, but a springish light is in the air. Despite it being January. We’re all discombobulated by the weather, bouncing between thaw and freeze, rain and snow, sun and clouds. In the words of They Might Be Giants, “Everyone’s excited and confused.”

Lonely piles of snow still linger in the cold and sheltered places, but much of my world is a dull wash of brown and faded green. One day I walk our little chihuahua mix with her plaid coat on and worry about her little paws and ears freezing. The next she goes out naked, splashing through puddles of meltwater, going ballistic when she sees a squirrel.

This is January?

There is a tall and slender dead ash tree in the back yard that is listing northwest, aiming for the garage. It looks like a rope and a couple of determined guys could pull it the rest of the way down. Part of me worries about it and part of me is rooting for it. But it’s not big enough to do enough damage so that we’d have to replace the garage and might be able to claim some insurance money to get the job done. 

I worry about the fence as well. Katy is small enough to fit through the spaces between pickets. The fence needs to be replaced — it is rotting in spots, pulling away from the posts. But on one side the neighbors have a new metal fence Katy can get under and through with little effort. A tie-out is one solution, though it’s apt to get tangled up in bushes. A mostly invisible wire fence along the neighbor’s metal fence is another. For now, we take her out on a leash.

There’s a strange, unsettledness to life right now. We have more orphaned socks in our sock bag than ever before. I’ve been washing dishes by hand every day as we figure out a solution to a dishwasher problem. The workroom is clean, yet there’s sawdust being tracked through the house. The outdoor Christmas lights lie in a pile by the door, drying out before we can put them away in the attic. The far end of the dining room table is gathering an assortment of papers and Legos and headphones and items with no home. Desks are almost clean. Laundry is mostly done. Books are all half read.

And I have started writing a new novel. A story about sisters and identity and a hiking trip that will go very bad, but ultimately be good.

I don’t know yet how 2018 feels to me. I do know that eventually the seasons will figure themselves out. Eventually that dead tree will come down, one way or another. Eventually the fencing issue will be resolved.

Ultimately, it will be good.

A New Literary Challenge for 2017

In 2013, I challenged myself to write one short story each month, format it for Kindle, create a beautiful cover image, and make it available to readers for 99 cents a pop. It was a fun year that stretched me and, in the end, resulted in one of those stories (“This Elegant Ruin”) being a finalist for the Saturday Evening Post‘s 2014 Great American Fiction Contest, and in the beautiful printed collection which you see on the side bar and on my Books page.

What was great about that venture is that it was completely self-directed and completely within my control. I would succeed or not succeed commensurate with my own effort and I could do everything on my own timetable.

In my writing life now, I do a lot of waiting. The submission process is out of my direct control and there is nothing I can to do speed it up. I know this, but the knowing doesn’t make it any easier to sit and wait. So I continue to write more novels in the meantime, working hard to have options should the first attempt to sell not pan out. But novels are gargantuan projects. And when they are done, they’re just going to get into line to wait behind the rest of their long-form kin.

So I’ve decided it’s time for another personal challenge that I can complete all by myself. This year I will be focusing on poetry, both writing new poems and gathering and editing old ones for a chapbook which I’ll produce myself. I believe I’ll organize it around the four seasons, since so many of my poems reflect themes of nature and the passage of time. I may intersperse some line drawings in there as well. My goal will be to have it completed and ready for purchase in late November. Chapbooks make great stocking stuffers, after all.

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.

First Frost

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.

Late-Summer Love

It’s been hot and humid in the Great Lakes State.

We’re canning peaches, plums, and apricots and seeing the first apples harvested.

Birds, bees, and butterflies are at their busiest, storing away food and fat reserves for the coming cold.

It’s the time of yellow flowers.

And purple.

It’s the time of frogs.

And this year it also happens to be the time of floods.

The pond at Fenner Nature Center looks to be a foot higher than the last time I was there, and on our trip there Friday, the boy and I spied little schools of minnows swimming across the deck.

Frogs have taken to floating lazily at the surface rather than sitting on their customary rocks, which are now submerged.

In a few months the teasel will be brown and far less forgiving to the touch. Leaves that are currently melting will be crispy and skipping along the ground.

Already the international students are moving in at Michigan State University (and disregarding stop signs in the Meijer parking lot while I walk across with my seven-year-old). The rest of the college students will be back by next week. You know how people in the South blitz their grocery stores when the forecast is predicting an inch of snow? I kind of feel like I should be prepping before the U-Hauls start arriving in town.

As always, by this time I’m largely done with summer. But we have a couple very busy months coming up, so I’m trying to relish what’s left of it.