During the winter I plan the garden, order seeds, start seedlings, wait (and sometimes neglect) plants as days move forward into spring.
I plant and water and wait some more, this time for the bounty or just the chance to pick a strawberry, a snap pea or a bite-size tomato and pop it into my mouth. Nothing makes me feel quite so healthy and virtuous!
Yesterday I looked over the plants, fresh from a new rain. I noticed a pretty cream-colored bloom with a deep red center hidden low underneath the leaves that I had watched develop for weeks. It was an Okra blossom and a beautiful morning surprise.
I looked around and realized that there were lots of flowers in my vegetable garden, easily overlooked as I looked for signs of the harvest crop.
So, my gratitude is to the Okra- as pretty a flower as any you will find in my garden today.
A reminder to enjoy today.
And leave room to notice the small things that may be hidden underneath the big plans and expectations.
We started walking a couple of years ago. We would meet at a local trail, walk 2-3 miles, talk about the regular things in life, and I noticed that each time that we parted Anne would say a simple thank you for sharing the walk that day. It happened every time, that simple thanks, and I wondered about it. What was the effort that prompted the gesture? It seemed like such a small thing but so important.
Our lives had become more quiet in the pandemic and it was good to have a plan, an appointment, a reason to leave the house. It was fun to explore new places in our community – a somewhat normal activity in the face of so much that was abnormal. Life was solitary even when we lived with partners- and safe and trusted companions truly were a gift.
Soon Jan joined us and we became the 3 Walkers.
Jan and Anne identified wildflowers all along the trail, and I learned about plant apps for my phone and the benefits of down sweaters. Two years later we continue to share grandkid stories, review our latest efforts at photography, quilting, pottery and felting. and ponder the latest community and world events.
It has taken me two years to write about this, maybe because I too have been looking for a way to say “thank you” for this very comfortable, supportive, and delightful time with special friends.
So, maybe just thanks for walking with me on this journey, my friends.
Two months ago we had just returned from a month away from our snowy weather having spent time with my mom, sister and friends in North Carolina. We were still anticipating a trip to Italy in mid-May, though somewhat hesitantly. But at that point the President was assuring us that the Corona virus was a China thing, and well under control.
Well, under control it is not. From mid-March forward, there was no looking back. We were social distancing, self-quarantining, mask wearing and manufacturing hand sanitizer. As I write this on May 1st, over 62,000 people have died in this country in a little over one month. I maintain my limited control over an out of control situation by recording Michigan data each day, baking bread, and cleaning out cabinets and closets . I send notes to people that I know who do essential work and risk contact with people who are infected with the virus. I think of the people who work in local businesses and we continue to support local restaurants and shops where people are learning new ways to serve the public, while risking financial losses that may or may not be recoverable. 25% of the residents of our state are currently unemployed.
It is the people in my life who make this chaos containable. My sweet husband Mike whose low key style and sense of humor is a welcome daily companion. My sister, Pam, who retired one day in March, left for an around the world trip literally the next day, made it to Fiji and then had to turn around. Her biggest adventure in the month of April was making it successfully to Michigan from NC without leaving her car, except for a quick stop for gas. And our children and grandchildren who connect on FaceTime and remind us that the energy of children does not change and the connections across miles remain unbroken.
We have been Zooming with friends and Optimist Club members. Who knew we could party with people in Florida, Virginia, San Antonio,Lansing, Muskegon and Grand Haven- all in one day?! We are seeing some of them more now than when we were out rubbing shoulders at restaurants. Can’t even imagine what it will be like to be in a packed bar watching the Final Four again! Or when…
These weeks have not gone without life lessons:
Stay in touch, especially with those who are alone or endangered- or both. Our mom lives in a wonderful elder setting, but we cannot visit, help her get out to walk, or supply her with her favorite bourbon. We miss providing support and more than anything wish for this to be over for her sake.
Written messages have not gone out of style– SAVE THE POST OFFICE! Yes, I love to get cards, people love thank you notes, and taking the time to think and then write has its own creativity. We cannot lose this in our busy days.
Life is not equal or fair. We have no illusions about our ability to stay at home these days- it is a privilege. There are many who must work, there are those who cannot work when children are still home and need supervision, there are many who will worry about more than just having a proper mask or being able to buy flour, toilet paper or chicken in the stores. We can support local business, donate to assist with food distribution in our community, and ask and respond when we can be of further assistance. And not forget our privilege.
We are not out of this yet. Today, May 3rd, our numbers are still going up in Kalamazoo County.
I have long known the importance of having role models – “someone like me”. I don’t need to lecture on the need for black teachers, Latino police officers, women professionals, gay/lesbian politicians. But sometimes there is a reminder so special that I have to share. And because the lesson came at the hands of my granddaughter just makes it even more special – so indulge me here.
Amelia has been talking for several years about wanting to be a pilot. Two years ago her parents arranged for her to have a flight suit from the same place that military flight suits are made. It still fits, but she may outgrow it soon. What she hasn’t outgrown is the desire to be “a Blue Angels pilot”. This summer we had the opportunity to take her to see the British Royal Air Force Red Arrow team land at Dulles Airport.
Three jets and crews set up on the ground to meet with admiring kids and adults- some in red flight suits and some in blue. The crew in blue spent a lot of time looking over the planes, opening compartments, checking tires and making adjustments. The bonus for us was that one of the RAF crew was a woman who remained on the field and stayed available to a long line of young girls and boys for endless pictures and questions.
Amelia listened attentively to the pilots in red suits who talked about flying and discussed that the crew in blue flight suits were actually their engineers who were responsible for the mechanical well being of the aircraft. We talked with Amelia about it – that the pilots in blue did not actually fly the planes but were there to experience the flights and check on the planes.
So, school has now started and the first graders are writing books, All About Me. And lo and behold, when writing This is What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, Amelia draws a picture of a pilot in a blue flight suit and writes that she wants to be a “pilit engoner”.
I looked for a poem but nothing quite captured my thoughts. Maybe it is the pictures themselves that say it. The summer garden is a wonderland full of new flowers each day, visits from bees and butterflies and hummingbirds, ripening tomatoes- I can’t seem to grow anything else as the birds and groundhogs take everything else for themselves!
All the work in the spring, the scrambling to keep up with the weeding, the watering this year that never seems to be enough- it is all worth it in the morning when I get up and wander in the wet grass and hear a hummingbird zip by on the way to the Rose of Sharon or the trumpet vine.
And at the end of the day when the scents of the flowers start to mix with the cool of the night, I have to stop and take it all in- in gratitude for the unique mix that is my own little garden.
We had the opportunity in March, extended to us by friends (Carl and Shanna Denman) who now live aboard their sailboat (Moondance), to visit the Caribbean. We all agreed to meet up in Guadeloupe, in part to assist Carl and Shanna and their business Moondance Charters in exploring rum distilleries on the island- a very tough task! But Mike and I and my sister Pam agreed to attempt it.
Guadeloupe is in the chain of islands, east of Cuba, east of the Virgin Islands, and part of the Lesser Antilles. It is actually a grouping of islands, part of France, and the largest part of Guadeloupe is in the shape of a butterfly. We spent time on the western side of the butterfly, known as Basse-Terre, set on a volcanic mountain range and filled with amazing tropical vegetation.
A friend asked me to describe Guadeloupe and I said:
Laid back, very French and Caribbean all at once. Bakeries loaded with baquettes and pastries on every corner. Windy and warm on the water- nice breezes inland. Rhum, lots of rhum.
After landing in Pointe-a-Pitre, we drove to Deshaies Bay and spent the rest of the week on the Moondance. We sailed south to visit the Cousteau Reserve and then finished the trip anchored off the town of Basse-Terre at the southern tip of the island.
There were lots of adventures, but a few of my favorite moments include:
We learned that in Guadeloupe, the rum is RHUM- spelled that way if it is made with fermented sugar cane, instead of the more common main ingredient of molasses. We learned about tea punch- a drink served everywhere. Tea Punch is essentially a small glass with a squeezed wedge of lime, add a shot of rum, add raw cane sugar to taste, stir and stir and stir some more with a tiny spoon until most of the sugar is absorbed, sip and enjoy. Simple and delicious with a good quality rhum.
We had the opportunity to visit a working distillery Rhum Bologne as well as have dinner with the owner and his partner at their wonderful home on the mountain.
Jardin Botanique de Deshaies
Photos from this botanical garden in Deshais speak for themselves. Here are some of my favorites.
Sailing and Living Aboard
Spending a week on the water in the Caribbean with friends and family was all that I hoped it would be. We gained a true appreciation for the efforts of Carl and Shanna to live aboard and make life work day to day. Water is precious, meals on the boat can be gourmet with an enthusiastic cook, and everything takes longer than you would think.
As always, sailing does not happen just as you might wish or expect. Seems like we are always heading into the wind! But the wind was constant, the skies almost always clear, and it was warm. No room for any complaints!
So, we are just left again with gratitude. To Carl and Shanna for sharing a glimpse of their new life together, and to the seas for once again giving us all that we asked for and more!
The days pass happily with me wherever my ship sails. – Joshua Slocum
I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again. I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me. — Wallace Stegner
Although I have visited North Carolina for years and know well my mother’s love for the mountains, my lasting memory of our extended visit there this winter was of the rivers. We arrived in the middle of record rains in western NC and every day we could see the accumulation of the mountain streams flowing down into the French Broad River. One day, the kayakers slid by in the rapids, too fast for me to get a camera out to try to capture the action- people and kayaks are one in the rapids. Every day we measured the results of the rain the day before by checking the cut that the current was taking from the bank below our bridge.
We had so much rain that you could hear the river all day long, above the normal sounds of the day. Today I miss the sounds of the river as much as the view of the mountains out of every window. I can say now that I truly do love the mountains, but it is the river that brought me there.
Ever wonder why they call these the Smokies? These pictures will help explain it. We see this almost every day.
Our favorite questions about the Smokies:
What is the difference between the Smokies and the Appalachian Mountains?
The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province.
“The mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are blanketed with a smoky haze that gives the region an almost magical quality. Indeed, the Cherokee considered the mountains to be a sacred place and referred to the area as “Shaconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey): land of the blue smoke. When European settlers arrived in the early 1800s, they took inspiration from the Cherokee language when they named the Great Smoky Mountains and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.”
“The ‘smoke’ from the Smoky Mountains is actually fog that comes from the area’s vegetation. We all know that plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. What we hear less about is how plants also exhale something called “volatile organic compounds”, or VOCs….The Great Smoky Mountains are particularly blue and smoky because they have the perfect natural conditions for it. The trees that are most common in the region have high concentrations of VOCs that scatter blue light. Also, the Smokies get a lot of rainfall and sunlight, experience high levels of humidity, and have a lot of stagnant air. When you take all of these factors into account, you’ve got a recipe for some of the most beautiful mountains in the world!”
One of the really cool things about spending February and early March in North Carolina is that we get to see the countryside wake up to a new spring in North Carolina and then see it again when we return north to Michigan. A reminder of new beginnings twice in one year.