Places, People, Poetry

Tahquamenon Falls October 16

But the water I give them shall be a well springing up into everlasting life.  John 4:14

Dad drove our family from Warren to Kentucky every summer for vacation. We came home with a trunk full of canned green beans and corn from Granny’s garden.
Our neighbor Bill Rowe drove his family to destinations such as Yosemite and Disneyland. They returned with more stickers on the back window of their station wagon. When time came to sell their car, his wife Marion stopped by our house and asked Mom if she had a single-edged razor blade to remove the decals.
“No one will buy our car if they know where we’ve traveled,” she said.
I wasn’t envious. The McCoy Bottom and The Breaks Interstate Park with my cousins satisfied my childhood thirst for adventure. I didn’t need Mackinac Island or Old Faithful. I needed kinfolk.
After my parents’ divorce, Mom reestablished her household in the McCoy Bottom. Envisioning a brood of grandchildren, she built a new home with an upstairs roost. The ideal Nana, she fed her grandkids Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast. They swam with their cousins in Aunt Kat’s built-in pool. Mom cooked a mess of green beans and corn bread for supper.
Mel and I walk up Tahquamenon Fall's 94 steps

Although my husband and I camped once with our girls in Michigan’s Wilderness State Park and spent a day on Mackinac Island, I preferred the comfort and company of my mother’s home.
Furthermore, my family moaned the only time I insisted we exit at the Natural Bridge Park off Kentucky’s Mountain Parkway. 
“Mom! Let’s just go to Nana’s,” they pleaded.
Forty years later, there is no gathering of generations in the McCoy Bottom, for most matriarchs and patriarchs are buried on a mountainside and in Lexington Cemetery. Children and grandchildren have grown and gone their separate ways. Aunt Kat’s pool stands stagnant.
Within this gradual and pervasive emptiness, I’ve come to need places and their stickers on my car’s windows. In no certain order, I’ve checked off the following on my bucket list: Yosemite. Muir Woods. Olympic National Park.  Washington D.C. Gettysburg. The Greenbrier. The Biltmore Estate.
Without exception, the places call unsolicited. Most recently, in my Monday night writing group, a friend read a beautiful poem she composed in honor of a childhood visit to Tahquamenon Falls.
I reserved our critter sitter for three days and a room for two nights in the MacCleod House B&B in Newberry. My husband drove us north with my friend’s poem on my mind—94 steps down to Tahquamenon Falls, then upward. I heard the thundering waters as we sped through the golden passage of I75 to the Mackinac Bridge.
On the road to Munising

Suspended above the indivisible space where Huron and Superior merge, I considered both bridge and lakes with awe and praise. For the Straights of Mackinac speak of the constant joining of springs and rivers that endures the winds of time.
And the Tahquamenon Falls, dear Reader, those maple syrup colored waters that submit to perpetual plunges, turn to foam, and flow to Superior?

“Come, drink,” they say. “Buy another sticker.”

Heirlooms of Hope & History

Granny, Uncle Jim, and my mother before WWII

Granny kept her honey-colored cedar chest by a window in the front bedroom. She laid crisp white doilies on top to protect her treasure from scratches. There she displayed framed portraits, always the same until her grandchildren began to graduate from high school.
            She chose a tiered shelf of dark mahogany to place my graduation picture. “Your Uncle Jimmy made the frame when he was stationed in Hawaii and shipped it all the way here to Phelps,” Granny once said.
We both felt special.
           I have Uncle Jimmy’s frame and my younger likeness overlooking me as I write. Various china teacups fill Granny’s shelf in my dining room. I think my grandmother would smile upon the lovely table they set.
An Appalachian farmwoman who buried two babies, one teenager, and her husband, Granny cherished her dining room cabinet that chinked with fine china when her heavy feet passed.
           I don’t possess Granny’s Lane hope chest that neither dust nor moth corrupted. In her old age, she sewed her burial dress of white polyester and placed it inside the cedar with instructions to style her hair.
Granny’s mortal body had suffered too great a decline for either request to be honored. Aunt Eloise inherited and refinished Granny’s Lane masterpiece. My aunt stored mementos of her five children inside.

My mother kept her hope chest in our basement’s furnace room. I can only surmise it’s because our three bedrooms were too small to accommodate the case. Twin to Granny’s, the poor thing never saw light of day, companion of castaways and winter coats preserved in mothballs. If I hadn’t been afraid of the dark, I probably would’ve stolen the chance to rummage through its contents.
By the time of my wedding engagement, my parents had divorced. Preoccupied with the joy and burdens of hosting my reception, the tradition of the bridal hope chest fell by the wayside. 
Five yeas later, Mom resurrected her bequest from the bowels of the house and moved it to the basement in her new Kentucky home. Perhaps dashed hopes belong forgotten in basements.
Because two cedar chests abandoned by two daughters occupy our two bedrooms upstairs, Mom’s Lane remains in my basement, covered with a polyester quilt. Guess who sewed it.
Inside, on the upper left shelf, there’s a yellow hand-knitted baby sweater with matching beret Mom claimed mine—and my wedding gown, badly abused when I portrayed the bride of Frankenstein for Halloween over a decade ago.
Mom never said and I never asked who purchased her Lane heirloom—who invested hope in her marriage vows. Was it Grandpa, the man she adored, or Granny, the mother she left?
And how did my great-grandparents have the means to purchase Granny’s cedar chest in 1920?
Dear Reader, I’m resolved. Mom’s Lane has suffered enough neglect. It’s time to restore the honeyed glow on her keepsake and give it a sunny window.
Let the light shine on hope and history.

Autumn's Cornucopia

Mel and Mo enjoy summer's scenery on the farm
When we extracted honey two years ago it flowed into jars light, sun-drenched, summer blonde and floral to taste,” my friend Jack emailed. “Yesterday brought dark, dark, heavy orangish jars of flavorful anti-oxidant fighting goodness. Same hive.”
On the other hand, my bees disappeared again—another year without our raw honey in my pantry. After investing time and finances, I could be disappointed.
For what profit? As farmer and poet Wendell Berry says, “We live the given life.”
In my mother-in-law’s vernacular, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
On the brink of seventy years, I look on the bright side more than ever. I consider what our land has yielded, regardless of drought, fruits and vegetables to nourish us. There’s plenty left to consume with great pleasure until springtime.
Plenty to give away.
As I sliced one of our last watermelons into a bowl, I considered Michigan’s motto, Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice. Yes, if we seek a pleasant peninsula, if we open our eyes and rest them upon our lands and waters, we’ll see what abundance they give.
If we pause and lift our heads, perhaps we’ll notice our neighbor, risk a wave hello. If we slow down we might see what natural and human resources await our health and pleasure within our own community.
For heaven’s sake, there’s ample raw honey available in these parts of north Oakland and south Lapeer counties. I’ll buy what was given to another beekeeper.
Good economy.
I may not have bees to overwinter, but we do have five new chickens and their eggs to collect daily. Rain or shine. Those silly girls toured the greenhouse yesterday while I tidied apiary equipment. Like kids in Disneyland, the hens cocked their heads this way and that and chased crickets.
This is goodness from autumn’s honeyed mouth, October’s cornucopia spilling earth’s gifts upon our table and into our souls.

Mo sleeps on our chicken chair 

All our place wants is our cat Mo. After eighteen years, we’re lonely for our black and white friend. Although we buried him next to Goldie, our protective hen, we still expect to find Mozart sleeping under the lilac bushes or sunning on the patio’s pea gravel. We listen for his voice. Mo said “Me-el” like nobody else.
Now we wait for our next mouser to show up. PJ, our first cat, and Mo both came to us when least expected. Two cats in twenty-six years. We may not know how to keep bees, but somehow our tomcats settled in and abided a long lifetime.

I know dear Reader, bees and tomcats are entirely different creatures not to be compared. However, I must say it’s a wonderful feeling to love and be loved by a living thing. And it hurts when they leave, bees or cat.
On this rainy October day, I turn to my study window from habit, remember Mo on the sill outside, talking to me. He couldn’t tolerate muddy paws. I appreciated that.
Oh yes, this place flows with more than enough goodness.

Autumnal Rites

Variegated Porcelain Vine berries, an autumnal beauty
However busy you are these days in physical labor, spare a few moments to enjoy the beauty of the flowers that remain. Richardson Wright, The Gardener’s Bed-Book 1929

According to an entry in Mr. Wright’s Bed-Book, I should’ve divided my irises in August to share with other growers. It’s not that I’m stingy. Years ago, I carried a basket of iris rhizomes everywhere until they were no more. I wrapped the gnarly things in tissue tied with a bow.
In Mr. Wright’s day, the landscape in view from his Connecticut hilltop flourished with his iris offspring. He kept a bucket of tubers on hand for conspirators who dropped by in hopes of securing a cutting from a prized rose. Wise man.
On this hilltop come August, flowers play second fiddle to food. Have to harvest and freeze raspberries and green beans. Can tomatoes, hang onions and garlic.
It’s tough, but I’ve learned to suffer the sight of seed heads for a pantry and freezer full of homegrown vegetables and fruit. What a glorious feeling when the last butternut squash is baked and frozen for winter soup.
Mr. Wright is on the money when he says, “By the end of September, one becomes surfeited with garden beauty.”
It’s the physical, emotional, and financial cost to sustain succession of color that leaves me wishy-washy about buying mums pumped with Miracle Grow. If deer don’t destroy them, winter will. Oh, but it’s tempting to pull into a nursery and walk amongst the scent of blooming chrysanthemums. An autumnal rite.
An alternative is to meander along our country roads and the Polly Ann Trail and harvest a handful of asters. Their dark purple, lavender, and white starry blooms make a darling and long-lasting bouquet.
There’s one on my kitchen table, a gift of nature’s cultivation. If only asters thrived on our little estate. I cannot tell you the number I’ve planted and lost the past thirty years.
Asters appear with apple cider and cinnamon donuts. Michigan’s comfort food at its best! A perfect way to celebrate summer’s end in the tang of coloring leaves.
“At such time we should not expect too much of the garden,” says Mr. Wright. “Let us turn our eyes to the rich panoply the trees are beginning to put on and the multitude of colored berries the bushes now hang out to indicate that their cycles also have been completed.”
Ah yes, the iridescent turquoise, lilac, and blue edible berries of the variegated porcelain vine. To my great pleasure, the plant grows happily here and prefers the south side of the pergola.
Another autumnal rite, I decorate my dining room table with the vines. Any flower lover is thrilled to receive a handful.  
Mr. Wright concludes, “The secreting of porch and garden furniture in the bowels of the barn—is an act of finality that brings me complete satisfaction.”
Me too, dear Reader.
Then I spare those moments on my backyard swing, observe the panoply of cycles turn, turn, turn.