New weather

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With snow falling in the high country, Joy posted this quote on her Facebook page:

A Montana summer:  “Why isn’t it warm yet?”/”Yay it’s finally warm!”.  Then, the whole state catches on fire…and then it’s winter again.

I think this may be the game changer.  There are frost warnings in the valleys tonight, and, at least for now, the smoke is gone.  It looks like a day in Autumn when your heart hurts with melancholy for what’s been lost.  I’ve been going through the photos I took in July, when the house was buzzing with the energy of grandkids for a whole month, and it seems so long ago.  And, I started reading–for the third time–George Colt’s book, The Big House–A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home.  If you really want to wallow in the sadness of summer’s end, this beautifully written memoir, with lines such as, “A summer house in winter is a forlorn thing.  In its proper season, every door is unlocked, every window wide open…people, too, are more open in summer, moving through the house and each other’s lives as freely as the wind…”, then I highly recommend this lovely story of a family’s beloved summer home, and the tender loves and losses in their lives across generations.

It was raining when I woke up this morning, in the dark, dark house.  The coffee smelled so good back in the butler’s pantry.  And, when I went out for a run, the green leaves were rain-washed and low-lying clouds clung to the hillsides and the air was fresh and clean.  It reminded me of Ireland, where I’m headed in just two weeks.  But, there are lingering days of summer before I go.  My brother–a genuine Old Salt– is visiting from Hawaii, and we’ll be taking the sailboat out on our high seas in the next day or two.  Sarah and Nick are coming over Labor Day week-end, and we’re going to figure out how to get her and her leg cast into a boat somehow.  But, I am thinking I’ve probably had my last swim of summer, now with the water so cold.  The days are clipped short by darkness, and the chilly, damp weather has abruptly announced the end of a season.  Feeling the loss in this changing weather, I’m wondering if I paid enough attention when ‘the light was like lemonade on the shores of June’?

The Last Swim of Summer, by Faith Shearin

Our pool is still blue but a few leaves
have fallen, floating on the surface

of summer. The other swimmers
went home last week, tossed

their faded bathing suits aside,
so my daughter and I are alone

in the water which has grown colder
like a man’s hand at the end of

a romance. The lifeguard is under
her umbrella but her bags are packed

for college. We are swimming against
change, remembering the endless

shores of June: the light like lemonade,
fireflies inside our cupped hands,

watermelon night. We are swimming
towards the darkness of what

is next, walking away from the sounds
of laughter and splashing, towels

wrapped around the dampness of our loss.

Making it through

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Lost, by Carl Sandburg

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.


This was the last photograph I took before we left Montana.  We are deep into fire season now and smoke from Canada, Washington, Oregon, California has filled our valley, as well as smoke of our own from nearby dangerous fires.  Once again, Glacier National Park has closed down the west side, historic structures have burned to the ground, and the Going to the Sun Road is at risk.  As we drove away, there was a “there’s an east wind coming, Watson” weather alert, and we watched the offshore wind create whitecaps and strange swirls in the water, as we drove down the east shore to Missoula, for our flight to California.  We hoped our boats were secure and that we’d left the property well-watered.  I always leave home with that feeling of being a snail pulled off my rock, but it’s even worse in fire season.

Now, we are in Oakland, helping Sarah hobble around with her broken ankle, and keeping on eye on the air quality alerts here at the coast.  A major attraction for the Berkeley grandkids, with our visit, has been the string of Oakland A’s games while we are in town.  Ten-year old Cormac was with his Dad in British Columbia, and ended up going to the hospital there with a smoke-induced asthma attack.  They arrived home in the wee hours last night, and we are hoping the air quality will improve enough for him to take in some of this afternoon’s game.  My brother and sister-in-law, who live in Hawaii, are scheduled to meet us back in Montana for a little holiday on our lake at the end of this week.   And, here comes Hurricane Lane, bearing down on the islands over the next few days.

The Earth&Sky blog today talked about how scientists have discovered, in the geologic record of rocks,  a “fast flip in the Earth’s magnetic fields”, and the implications the next one would present for our globally interconnected world of satellites and electrical grids.  All around the globe, there are earthquakes, floods, brutal civil wars, and the suffering and destitution of millions of people.  Add on the scandals and crimes, lies and deceit in the backyard of our own government, in the sanctuary of our churches, and it’s enough to make me wish I could crawl inside my snail’s shell to hide–“Like some lost child in tears and trouble…”

Instead, while the able-bodied family members went to another A’s winning game last night, I made Sarah a new recipe from The New York Times– a comforting pasta dish made with jalapeños and orecchiette.   The house filled with that rich smell of roasting pepper, and how can you not find joy in those little tiny ears, which soak up the creamy feta cheese and fresh basil.  Sarah sat on the chaise side of her sectional sofa, with an ice pack on her ankle, and we eat our delicious dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and watched “So you think you can dance” on TV.   This morning, we are given a new day.  We are now ten days from the start of September and the glorious prospect of Autumn, and the rains, and snow-dusting over the wildfires.   AND, we have so much pasta left for the next few days.  We are making in through…


Go jump in the lake!

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Well, we survived the “Excessive Heat Wave”.  Maybe, that’s as hot as it’s going to get this summer.  However, there is really nothing to complain about when you are lucky enough to live on this cold lake.  I put the new percale swimming sheets on our bed, which I’d recently purchased from one of the end-of-summer sales which are now flooding my inbox, and sleeping felt instantly cooler.  And, there was plenty of jumping in the lake.  The water feels like cool velvet, and your core body temperature drops down for hours afterwards.  On one of the evenings, when the air was thick with hot haze and not a ripple on the lake, we took out the old aluminum motor boat and puttered along the shoreline south of us, and made a spin around Wood’s Bay.  Everybody’s docks and Adirondack chairs were full of people, and colorful inner tubes and rafts bobbed along the shoreline, its inhabitants partially submerged in the cold water.  It always makes me happy to see people out enjoying their lake houses–just like it does when people decorate their homes at Christmas time.  I get this all’s-right-in-the-world feeling, as if time has paused for an instant, and nobody is in pain, the world is at peace, and there is nothing but beauty and light.  The air turned blue in lovely winds yesterday, and I could barely read my book on the porch, so enchanted by the sound of the waves and wind in the trees, and the smell of clean air.  The heat crisis had passed.

It’s a new day, still coolish, but I can’t see across the lake because of smoke.   Fires have started in Glacier National Park, Going to the Sun Road is closed on the west side, and Lake MacDonald Lodge has been evacuated.  Deja vu all over again, when Glacier was ablaze this time last year, and Sperry Chalet perished in the inferno.  Our new normal, is what we all mutter.  But, oh, it is difficult to adjust, when summers are already so short.  We are nearing the mid-point of August, and about to pass over summer’s apex.  I love the image of being on the highest seat of a Ferris wheel, when it pauses, before its gentle swing back down.

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn…”
― Natalie Babbitt from Tuck Everlasting

It’s dark now at bedtime, and I am already lighting the lamps.  When I look through the slats of my window shutters, as I go to sleep, I like watching the occasional boat when it motors past our house, lights on, making its way back to port.  It’s time to start thinking about coming into home again, as soon enough, there will be that chill of autumn.  But, not just yet.  Not yet.




Cat days of summer

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The next couple of days are predicted to be the hottest days of summer–they say 100 degrees.  It’s never that hot here at the lake, but in the hour or so before dinner, if you’re out in the smoke-hazy sun and away from the water, you’d best find some shade.  Don’s been frequently turning on the sprinkler system to keep the grass and bushes from drying out, and the kitties are often off sleeping in the coolness of the wet grasses.  One of my favorite things in the morning, when I drive into town for yoga, is entering into the shady tunnel of trees on First Avenue East, in the residential section of the street.  In this heat, everyone is watering their lawns, using a variety of sprinkling systems.  There are the ones with crossed arms which spray out crossing arcs of water, and the little round ones which become vertical fountains, and the rectangular ones which slowly oscillate a line of holes spouting water, moving from one side to the other on its axis.  It was always easy to be lazy with this oscillating one, thinking you could keep the hose turned on while you moved it, but misjudging the angle when you set it down, and soaking yourself.  I admire the energy of the pulsating ones which make that staccato punctuated (ttttttttttt) sound, when it reaches the lever, which sends it back to the starting point.  And, those traveling ones, crawling along, always look like they know how to take it slow on hot summer days.

There are nothing but in-ground sprinkler systems in the golf course neighborhood, where I go for my morning walks and runs.  There is nothing to see here.  In fact, at some of the newly sodded lawns, I’ve walked across the precious grass to see if I could even find the hidden sprinkler heads buried in the ground.  I miss the old sprinkler contraptions, and am irrationally nostalgic for all the years I had to drag hoses around lawns.  There was a certain comforting rhythm, on a slow dog-day of summer, in which the most pressing thing of the day was to remember to keep moving the sprinkler.

At my age, I know I am more and more inclined to be washed over by that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia, and in summer, it’s at its prime.  Take baseball, for instance.  On hot hazy summer nights, as a little girl in Ohio, we sat in aluminum folding chairs in Uncle Dean’s pristine garage, with the door wide open and an oscillating fan moving the humid air.  The grown-ups drank beer with their popcorn, and we cousins drank Coke, as we listened to the Cleveland Indians game on the transistor radio.  The kids followed along, making the marks on those old scorecards.   Just whiling away the time–like it seems nobody does anymore, unless you count looking down at your phone.  Fast-forward sixty years, and on one of the nights last month, when just Valerie, her three kids, and Don and I were here, the Oakland A’s (our family’s team, vis-a-vis that Don grew up in Oakland, and has loved them ever since, and now two of my three daughters live in the East Bay) were playing the SF Giants.  Mark had flown home for business, and actually scored a ticket, and was with the record-setting crowd in the Oakland Coliseum.  While Don went up to Burger Town to get burgers, fries and milkshakes, Valerie found a live stream of the game from a radio station in Sacramento, and the six of us sat out on the porch, ate our supper, and listened play-by-play to the game, while occasionally texting with Dad, out in California.   When things were going our way, we jumped up in unison to chant, “let’s go Oakland, let’s go Oakland, clap, clap, clap, clap,clap!”  At the top of the ninth, the Giants tied the game, and when Don threw up his hands in frustration, and left the building, we weary remaining fans went off to bed.  The lucky Californians, who were sleeping upstairs, got a late text from their Dad that Oakland had gone on to win in the bottom of the eleventh inning.  They all had a night of sweet dreams in their beds above us.  Fortunately, as an early riser, Don received the good news before we all had to face him come morning.

David Whyte writes, in Consolations, “Nostalgia is not indulgence.”  He goes on to say, “…something we thought we understood but that we are now about to fully understand, something already lived but not fully lived, issuing not from our future but from something already experienced; something that was important, but something to which we did not grant importance enough, something now waiting to be lived again…Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end.”  Often, nostalgia for me is a chance to relive the past with new meaning and much richness, and it is truly a treasure to share a childhood memory with our grandchildren.  Who knows what memories they may have from their days at the lake, and what nostalgia may wash over them when they grow old?  Such a beautiful circle of life it is.

Memory is a child walking along a seashore.  You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.”
–  Pierce Harris





Do we ever stop fretting over our babies–even when all three of them are in their forties?  August 3rd, the eve of Sarah’s fortieth birthday, she called to say she was in a hospital in Peru, having sustained a double fracture of her ankle while hiking.  The next day, her birthday, she posted photos of the X-rays on Facebook, and lamented the abrupt ending of her fortieth celebration, which was to culminate by hiking legendary Machu Picchu.  In the wonder of being connected across the globe, she was able to talk to her surgeon-father, and send photos of the X-rays to the family’s long time friend, and orthopedist.  The decision was made to make the long and arduous journey back to California and have the surgery performed at home.

After talking to my other two daughters, and crying plenty of tears, they both reassured me, as only daughters can do.  When I finally went to bed, and thought of Sarah in a hospital bed far away, I remembered–as I always do on August 3rd–being in a hospital bed in Boston, with a Caesarian section scheduled early the next morning.  So afraid, in the middle of the night, about what would happen to my two children at home if I were to die in this childbirth, and what would become of this new baby.  What mother has not been awakened by such nightmares.  A mama deer and her two babies have been hanging out in our yard, assuming that I’ve grown geraniums and flowers in window boxes, just for them.  I startled her from the porch the other day, and was aghast when she scurried up the hill, leaving her Bambi behind.  Of course, this is the nature of things, and she is teaching her baby how to take care of herself.  But, it is easy to forget the nature of things, when you know your babies are in pain–even if they are forty-somethings.  With Nick at her side the whole time, Sarah is now safely back in California, welcomed home by her nearby sister, Valerie, who had left llama-shaped balloons, champagne and flowers at their house, as a day-after birthday celebration.  The kids are all right, the kids are all right.

So, where was I before this ordeal?  Well, a coolish weather front blew in this week-end, bringing a lovely break from the hot white days.  It’s hazy from the California fires, but not much smoke smell.  I went for a little walk with a dear friend yesterday, out in the waterfowl refuge at the head of the lake.  The clouds softly draped the rising sun and shafts of light crisscrossed the sky.  The reeds and cat-tails were verdant green and the water barely made a ripple at the shoreline.  My favorite old weeping willow tree looked strong and healthy.  When I first started walking out there, years ago, there was a sagging, dilapidated old farmhouse falling into the ground, just behind the tree.  Especially in the quiet of early mornings, when the wind was blowing and the tree creaked and the branches swayed, the house felt haunted in its forlornness and lost history.  They tore it down when the refuge was opened up to the public, and then I wondered if the tree, now all alone in the meadow, might be weeping sad tears.  But, I can see, after life’s storms, the tree has hung tough, deeply rooted, and yet still enough to hear the rustling of her own leaves.

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.”
–   Karen Shragg, Think Like a Tree   

Hanging on to summer

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My daughter, Joy, told me that she’d better not see me writing on my blog that it’s beginning to feel like Fall.  So, I’m not, but as the old saying goes, “August is like the Sunday of summer.”  There’s no denying that Sunday-night-kind-of-feeling which seeps in around these dog days of summer.  And, let’s not talk about how quickly the sun is beginning to go down in the golden hazy skies of August, and slow to get up in the early mornings.

We had NO rain here at the lake in July and our road is dusty, and bushes are beginning to look crispy and red-tinged.  We’ve had our first hazy-smokey skies from all the western fires, and we are now on high alert for our own forest fire danger.  The air is hot and still, just waiting for something.  It makes me think of those Augusts, over 40 years ago now, when two of my babies were born.  There is ever-lasting body memory of flopping on the couch in August’s heat, in those last days of pregnancy, with swollen ankles and puffy eyes, and the shades flapping against the windows, the drone of oscillating window fans, and just holding on, for the start of Fall.  Waiting.  Waiting for the two-plus pitting edema over my shins to disappear, and for wool sweaters and tartan plaids, and for rain dripping through tree branches.  Waiting for those babies to arrive.  Happy Birthday month to Joy and Sarah!

Other than that, I am hanging on for every last summer day of golden light, and amber waves of grain coiled in round bales across the fields, and the cool silvery blue water in the lake, and the chairs by the water with a glass of wine and summer’s book opened on the table.  It’s all really quite grand, isn’t it?


Sweet dreams

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Yesterday, the final day at the lake for our California family, some clouds settled about, and there were rumbles of thunder here and there.  It was the first day in their month-long visit that wasn’t hot in bright sunshine, and it was the kind of mellow day the parents needed for laundry and packing up.   The kids spent a lot of time hanging with their Dad, who had just flown back to the lake after crisscrossing the country on business trips.  They resumed the ping-pong competition, talked him into jumping off the dock with them, and spent ever so long a time, just sitting next to him on the bench by the water, towels wrapped around their shoulders, chatting.  We finished off the night by watching TV together, as our team, the Oakland A’s, won yet again.

While my family has been here this month, each morning in the early quiet at my computer, I’ve clicked on to old posts of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.  After his fall from grace, he must have negotiated rights to the archive, going back many years.  The days of each month are listed numerically across the page, and starting with 2002 (the year we moved into the lake house), I’ve read each poem for that day–just because it’s a good thing for me to start a day with poetry.  There have been days this month, along that line of numbers, that I’ve been so tired and wondered how I’d have the stamina to make it to August!  In the middle of the month, our numbers swelled here when the Billings family joined us, and there were six adults and six grandkids, and as the now 12-year old Anna texted me a few months ago, “Wow, Grandma–you’re going to have a lot of meal-planning in July!”  Add in visits from friends, and the whirlwind 22-hour road trip to the Washington coast for Fletcher’s college visit, this month has been big and broad and full to the brim.  When I read those poems this month, on the days that strung across the page, July 27th was on the very last line.  Now, suddenly almost, it is here, and the Californians left this morning.

We walked them up to the driveway to say our “I love you’s” and to hug each other goodbye, and when I watched all those little arms waving out the windows of their old blue minivan as they drove up the hill,  I needed Don’s arms to hold me steady in my tears.  I’m used to this ‘shaking the island’ feeling when my families leave, all so far away from me.  Getting the house immediately back in order is always an antidote.  Don goes off with the vacuum and mop bucket, and I head for the bathrooms and get the towels going in the laundry.  I start upstairs in the dormitory room, knowing I’ll find something left by the kids, or see where they left a book they were reading, still feeling their presence.  We both go back to our separate selves and quietly go about our duties, knowing now is not the time we can talk.  It’s been a beautiful soft and gentle day today, with a thin blanket of gray clouds and moisture in the air, and sloshing of the water.  Soon enough, we’ll talk about the fun times we all had together, and how the kids are growing and changing, and how lucky we are.  We’ll talk about how we are getting older.


Like a huge bassoon, the inbound ferry sounds,
shaking the island. To leave here all must ride it.
Some before others. Some at summer’s end and some tomorrow,
Some never to return, and some to come back,
summer after summer, weaving a bright thread of constancy,
into inconstant lives. Babies will change
into children, children will awkwardly grow up,
girls will find their slender beauty stolen,
and mothers will wake up grandmothers, they will wake up.
Pursued by change, they will run to the end of their lives,
No other choice left to them, and plunge into
An element darker than sunlight, darker than night.

–from On the Island by Elizabeth Spires