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.

 

In the Dead of Winter, Life Still Stirs

This is the view through my 75-year-old windows lately.

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Some of these patterns put me in mind of coral–appropriate in a part of the world that was once the bottom of an ocean. In summer we gather fossilized coral. In winter, it graces our living room window panes.

It has been a ferocious winter, one that still has the Great Lakes State firmly in its icy grip. But while the windows may be frosty and the ground still covered in snow, beneath it all the earth prepares for spring. Squirrels are fornicating in the back yard. Birds are twittering in the pile of sticks that has been stacked up by the side of the road since the ice storm a month ago. The buds of this year’s growth already grace the bare branches of trees and shrubs. In fact, looking at that last frost photo, I kind of see those bud-studded branches right there in the ice.

And within my mind is a steady running stream of story that my fingers are faithfully putting down into words.

A Poem upon Finding Myself Yearning for Snow

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Come, Winter!

Come, Winter!
The world tires of its verdant hue.

Come, Clouds!
Come blot out the heat of the sun.

Come, Darkness!
Come tell daylight its time is done.

Come, Wind!
Come rip the dying leaves away.

Come, Rot!
Come hasten the last year’s decay.

Come, Snow!
Come bury the garden in white.

Come, Ice!
Come visit my windows tonight.

Come, Winter!
My heart has been waiting for you.

A New Appreciation for August–Oh, and a New Story

Before I get to the post, just want to make you aware that…

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August’s Short Story Is Now Available!

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Kayaks, Lake Superior, bad weather, a mysterious woman…this story blends together elements of adventure on the open “seas” and psychological drama to create a time-bending tale that feels to me like the beginning of a much larger story waiting to be written. Hope you enjoy it! Click here to buy it for slightly less than $1 for your Kindle.

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Now, to the point…

It is the final day of August and, as I mentioned earlier in the week, I have just begun to develop a bit of a good feeling toward this month.

Since childhood, I have disliked the month of August, which I always thought of as just one more month of hot, humid, numbingly boring days before school finally started up (yeah, I was one of those kids who loved going back to school). Little League was over, the bloom of freedom I felt in June had withered, and I have always disliked very hot weather.

Into adulthood I have maintained this disdain for August. It is a month where you dress for the heat and then freeze inside every business because they set their air conditioning so insanely low. It is a month where wasps and bees, previously seen as happy-go-lucky and dopey, mindlessly buzzing about in the yard, become aggressive and swarmy as they start fretting about the impending winter. It is a month when lots of spiders and bats–BATS–start exploring your house (and your poor husband must get a painful and heart-stoppingly expensive series of eleven rabies shots after a close encounter, eight in just one sitting).

Still, there are a few perks, right?

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The farmer’s market is flush with fresh local produce. My backyard vegetable garden is busy working on a bumper crop of tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. Homemade tomato sauce is bubbling on the stove top. There are peaches and apricots and plums to can. 

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Ah, but the flower garden is in such disarray! It looks terrible! Besides those common little black-eyed susans, nothing at all is blooming! And the weeds! The weeds!

Still, there was that field of nodding sunflowers we saw as we drove home from our hiking trip.

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And the sound of cicadas. And the hints of fall. The gold carpet of dying ferns beneath the evergreens. The audacious red display of the sumac along my weekly commute. The precocious tree here and there that simply cannot wait to show off her red and orange autumnal gown.

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The rumblings of the thunderstorms that wake me in the wee hours of the morning. The shimmering clouds of blackbirds gathering for their fall migration.

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The dreamy quality of the light. The foggy mornings that burn off into brilliantly sunny days.

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Yes. Maybe…just maybe…August is getting a hold on me.

But I still hate March.

What’s the Weather Like in Your Story?

WindowviewartsyI feel a bit nervous saying this, as though by daring to utter it I might somehow invite another winter thrashing, but it truly does seem that spring may at last have won the epic battle it has been waging with winter for the past two months. It was finally dry enough and warm enough to spend the day outside, to feel the sun’s heat on my skin and hair, to remember what summer is like. I don’t know how dependable the change of the seasons is in the Middle East, but as a Michigander I feel greatly comforted when I read that God is more faithful than the changing of the seasons.

I think something in us as humans wants to have to contend with something. We want to contend with something and win, or at least endure. And that’s why when outsiders or transplants to Michigan bemoan the weather or are surprised by 50-degree temperature swings in a day or can’t believe it’s still snowing in late April we smugly shrug our shoulders and say “That’s Michigan!”

You don’t like weather? Start packing your bags.

And yet, even I will admit that enough is enough. I knew winter had gone on far too long when I was driving home from Grand Rapids earlier this week and I noticed a farmer’s field covered in bright green and my very first thought was, “What the heck is that?” Two days later I drove back to Grand Rapids in a snow storm.

My own modest gardens have come alive as well. And I saw the first bug smash against my windshield this week, so it is spring for real. Isn’t it?

Maybe because I’ve grown up with schizophrenic weather I love reading stories where weather plays a part or sets a mood. I like to know if it’s sunny or cloudy, humid or parched, burning or icy. Should I be sweating as I read this scene or shivering? If it’s raining, what kind of rain is it? A steady cold spring rain? Drizzle? The fat, merciless raindrops of a storm? Is it falling straight down or sideways? Does it soak me or sting me? Am I managing to stay dry or is my face wet?

Do you make the best use of weather in your writing? Or is that a literary tool you’ve left in your toolbox?

11 Compelling Reasons February Should Just Be Skipped

Blandford Nature Center in SpringWhat if we could go right from January to March? Right from the beautiful snowy newness of the first month of the year to the month when crocuses and daffodils start pushing through the soil? Here are 11 good reasons February should just be skipped altogether.

1. Too cloudy. I have no proof for this, but February seems a lot cloudier than January. If it’s going to be 20 degrees, shouldn’t the sun at least be out? White ground and blue sky look great together. Gray skies just make the snow look kind of dirty.

2. SAD. A large percentage of the population hits the Seasonal Affective Disorder wall in February. See earlier point about clouds. In Michigan we all get even more mopey and downtrodden than normal and the littlest things can drive us to despair. What? The timer on the coffee didn’t go off? I may as well go back to bed for a week.

3. No good holidays. Groundhog Day? Seriously? You do realize that if it just happens to be cloudy on February 2 (see earlier point about clouds) that there will be no shadow–and then spring will still come on the spring equinox. Valentine’s Day? Too much pressure and too much pink. Also, hearts are so ’80s. President’s Day? Just another reason for Art Van Furniture to make irritating commercials.

4. A culinary wasteland. All the indulgent feasting of the holidays (the real holidays) is done. The sudden desire in January for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to start the year off right by eating healthier has worn off, but it’s still too snowy for grilling and eating outside.

5. $$$. You get the heating bill for January and realize that you will now have to set the thermostat at 56 degrees in order to pay your bills.

6. Cabin fever is spreading. Forget the flu; cabin fever is as harmful to the mind as H3N2 is to the body. We’re all getting a little stir-crazy in the north. It’s that time of year people plan vacations they can’t afford and spend untold hours trolling the interwebs for time shares in Florida. We just want to see some green foliage and eat outside again. Is that too much to ask?

7. Supplies are running low. We’re running out of firewood up here. There’s that unsettling feeling in the back of our minds that soon things will get a bit desperate and we’ll be twisting straw together until our hands are raw in order to feed the cookstove like Laura Ingalls in The Long Winter. Okay, maybe we don’t have cookstoves, but we have been forced to buy wood because we’re down to the half rotted wood at the bottom of the pile.

8. We’re getting fatter. Yes, there are treadmills and gyms in Michigan, but what we need is good old-fashioned yard work and ice-free sidewalks so we can get off our big butts and get some exercise. We need to build sheds and trim our trees and mow our lawns and dig in the dirt. We need to take the dog for a walk without fearing that the sight of a squirrel will set off a chain of events that ends with us flat on our backs and in need of weekly chiropractic adjustment for the foreseeable future.

9. We’re desperate for fresh local produce. February just adds yet another month that we have to wait before we can eat real strawberries that taste like strawberries rather than the pitiful excuse for strawberries they ship up from Mexico.

10. It’s getting stuffy in here. Our windows have been closed way too long and despite the fact that we’re keeping up with the laundry and vacuuming regularly, the whole house is starting to smell vaguely of an evil mixture of wet dog, old pillow, and potato skins.

11. Seriously, it’s way too cloudy. I just can’t say that enough.

There you have it, folks–all the valid and compelling reasons we should skip over February entirely and get on to March. So, how can we get this done?