Winter Lovers

We weren’t sure what we were looking for but we decided it wasn’t in Arizona.

Our plan was to head there this morning in our truck with our two dogs to meander around and maybe see some baseball at spring training.

And then just like a flipped switch, we nixed it. This morning. Pretty much when my husband said “it’s going to be 80 degrees in Phoenix today” and I thought I really hate being hot.

So I think we are heading north to Lake Superior where it isn’t hot, and where there is still snow on the ground, maybe big drifts of it, and where we can ski and possibly take our snowshoes off the shelf downstairs and hike down the beach following the tracks of the deer herd that winters near our place. If they come on their daily stroll, they will be surprised to see us. It has been a long time.

We’ve closed our house on Lake Superior during the winter for the past three or four years. We did that because every time we went in the winter, there would be some terrible problem – a burst pipe, a frozen septic tank – that always involved melting snow and peeing in a bucket. Roughing it was not that bad, it was roughing it in addition to the million phone calls to repair people and then suffering their home boy sympathy for our ‘summer people’ screw-up. And the price tag.

But it’s close enough to spring that we can have it both ways. Have the plumber come and ‘open’ the house, do all the official turning on of the water rituals in the most perfect way, have snow still be on the ground, have snow still falling, and have the deer herd soundlessly treading past our window.

We will wear layers and our dogs will run without leashes and everyone will come in out of the cold and snow healthy and tired.

I can’t wait.

Saturday on the Porch in the U.P.

When we got here two days ago, the chairs had blown every which way on the porch. We were lucky one hadn’t taken flight and gone through a window. Our canoe was lifted off the old bedspring that serves as its resting spot on the side of the house and tumbled across the back of the house, ending right side up behind the sauna. We found it filled with rain water, too heavy for one person to empty. For a while I thought we would have to bail it out but we lifted it together. As is often the case.

It is the end of the season here on Lake Superior. Yesterday’s great wind caused a sign to be posted on the bar’s door: “No whitefish today. Lake is too rough.” And it was rough all day, blowing hard. Our oldest bird house blew down, its ancient post snapped at the base. We have newer ones that we’ve put up in the twenty-three years we’ve been here but the fallen one was an original. It had stood out in the sand and snow watching while our old house burned down. We loved that bird house for that reason. It survived.

We took a walk in the Grand Marais School Forest before lunch. The chances of finding any blueberries left this late in the season seemed slim but we came upon patch after patch of the bluest blueberries and because I had a plastic bag in my back pocket, you know, just in case, I started picking. And it wasn’t long before I wanted to pick all the berries. This is what happens when you’re in the forest with blueberries hanging, their little round clustered selves ripe and waiting. You think, I should pick these berries so I have them. So I picked enough to put on ice cream tonight and in pancakes tomorrow and I carried the bag down the trail, its heft a source of accomplishment, but I had to stop when I saw particularly bountiful little bushes and pick more. Finally, I knotted the bag so I would quit. You have enough. It is enough.

Tomorrow is September 1st. By then, according to a goal I set for myself last year around this time, I was supposed to have put together a book of new essays. Because I write pretty short essays, I would need, say, thirty of them to make something resembling a book. I have maybe three. I’m not going to finish by tomorrow. I did a lot of things this year, including writing some decent pieces, but I wasn’t driven and I think that’s what you need to be to put together a book. Driven. I’m not that. Not right now, anyway.

In other news, it couldn’t be a more beautiful day.

Bird Hearts

My hands are full of blue. Blue on my palms, on my fingers, my wedding ring. Not solid blue. Splotches. And the blue shows no signs of coming off soon but I know it will. I believe it will.

I underestimated the blue paint, you see. Figured I could wash the brush with soap and water but it was the wrong kind of paint for that plan which I realized after I laid the wet brush in the palm of my hand to carry it inside to the sink. This is what happens when I paint.

The painting begins with great joy and hopefulness and then devolves into slapstick. Usually, I am alone so the show is private except for the evidence left on my pants, shoes, and, today, my hands. “What happened?” Nothing, why?

I am so in love with painting. I think about running a roller full of bright paint over white walls all the time. The rush of that first roll. Incomparable.

Today I decided to paint birdhouses. We have many of them up here at our place on Lake Superior. Some were left by the previous owner, those are the ones that survived the fire that burned down our first house. So the birdhouses are old, many are warped, and they are weathered beyond description. Yet birds use them. It’s their habit. Home. Home is where their little bird hearts are.

I started today with this little birdhouse that is attached to a pole holding up our ancient wood shed – another survivor of the fire. Yellow, I thought, is the perfect color for this birdhouse. Plus it was a color I had. I am big on using old paint.


After a few brush strokes, I noticed rustling inside the birdhouse. Could it be a baby bird? No, they’d all left weeks ago. It’s barn swallows who nest here and they were done nesting and having babies. Gone to wherever they go that is better than here when everyone knows that winter is a couple of cool nights away.

More rustling, more looking. Then the yellow and black markings of a giant bee, then two. They flew out, angry, looking for me but I ran down the sand hill with my little paint can in hand, sneaking back later to finish. Except I didn’t really, the house needs a second coat, maybe a third.

Later, I took my new little can of blue enamel and went after the granddad of our birdhouses.


I could do this all day. Paint birdhouses, maybe paint little rising suns or peace symbols or daisies on them. I could paint a forest of birdhouses that reach from our house down to the sea we call Lake Superior. And all the barn swallows from all over North America could come here to have their babies and leave their little bird hearts so they remember where home is.

The Man at the Boat Launch

He drove up just as we were starting lunch at the picnic table under the trees at the boat launch. A black Dodge Ram truck with a squat camper like all the autoworkers used to have in Flint, pulling a flat bed trailer with a blue plastic kayak and a red off road vehicle, we recognized the truck and trailer right away because we’d passed him maybe a half hour before. He sat for a minute after pulling in, his little spotted dog draped across his shoulders: the dog eyeing us keenly and wagging his tail which we couldn’t see but knew to be wagging from how he looked at us.

The man got out of the truck with Spotty on a short leash. This surprised me because the guy looked like a tough customer, not someone who would agree to leash his dog, more like someone who would let his dog tree squirrels and forage other people’s lunches. He was a cute dog, not my type, but cute enough and he leaned into his exploration of this new place like he was pulling a heavy dog sled.

The man didn’t speak. He walked toward the lake and then read the sign about boating rules. He wore shorts and hiking books, a t-shirt stretched to bursting over what some would call a beer belly. Then he headed back our way, still not talking, no greeting. So I said hello and he answered. Then ensued many questions about how and where he could camp and were there places where he could just go in the woods and camp and put a piece of paper on a tree. He said he was from Ohio and owned property in Lower Michigan but he seemed lost.

He watched us eat. We had such a peculiar lunch – my husband with a leftover fried trout sandwich and me with a hard boiled egg and piece of cheese – that it seemed too weird to ask him to join us yet he stood there, kind of expectantly, waiting for something, the answer to his question, I guess, about where he could camp. I finished my egg and ate a piece of cantaloupe. By now, we’d answered the same question a dozen times and I realized the man was lonely more than he was hungry or he was hungry but not for food, for this revolving door of a conversation about where he could camp. Well, good luck, I said, wanting him to go so we could wrap up lunch and launch our canoe on a big, beautiful lake that at that moment was devoid of any other boats and as calm as a lake could ever be. I could see our old green canoe slicing through the water like I imagine myself swimming in a still, deserted, very blue pool.

He said goodbye and thanks and went to sit in his truck for a good long while looking at a map. I don’t know what he saw on the map. He seemed just to be killing time, and then he folded the map and started his truck, Spotty curled up again around his shoulder like the fox stoles women used to wear at the Methodist Church. That was a long time ago, no one will remember, but they wore fox stoles where the little fox head would bite the tail and that would be the fastener. I know about this. I studied this for years in church.

The lake stayed calm while we paddled but it was hot, very hot. Stable flies, the bane of Upper Michigan, would land on our backs or legs if we came too close to shore. I wondered to myself, how far is too far for a stable fly to fly? The life preservers made us sweat as we paddled over water that looked shallow but was actually deep, the tall, thick weeds creating a false bottom. I put my paddle down to test the depth; no, it isn’t shallow, it is just thick and deep with ropy, green and brown weeds.

Midway, my husband said he’d heard a twig break on shore and wondered if maybe there was a bear. I wondered if it was the man from Ohio finding a place to camp where he could just put a piece of paper on a tree.

Friday Poem

I meant
to write something profound

Move people
impress with my erudition

I forgot
what I would write
in a sea of waterlilies

I reached in black water
Pulled two slick stems

white blossoms
in black rope

masthead for my canoe
just enough

Then I saw
yards ahead in a water forest
a yellow lily

everything I’d planned
for the last flower