Slow start to summer

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Except for passing thunderstorms each day, which roll up the lake to create havoc north of us, it’s been cool and quiet most of the week.  With unsettled weather, our sailboat has not yet left its mooring ball, but twirls gently around in the currents and riffles of breezes across the water.  Don’s been cleaning up logs which washed up on the beach after the big storm–what’s left of the beach.  The lake took back about half of the rocks, which had created a nice big landing spot for kayaks and beach chairs.  As soon as the wood dries out, we need to get campfires going down at water’s edge, and reduce the big pile accumulating by the little cabin.  They’re suggesting that this low pressure system may still be in place over the 4th of July holiday.  And, to think, we’re already losing a minute a day of sunlight.  It’s one of those years in which summer is hesitating at the starting gate.

I haven’t minded the pause, as I’ve nursed a crummy cold and been a lay-about on the sofa with a book, and a wool blanket pulled up to my chin.  Yesterday, in a sun shower between the rains, I tended to all the geranium pots across the property–a task I complain about come busy August.  It involves dropping the big plastic bucket, with a rope attached, over the end of the dock, and watching it fill with water as you look up at the clouds, feel the cool breeze, and listen to boats far out in the lake.  Then, you walk to each pot, pour out the bucket of cold water, then repeat, seven times.  There’s been reading down by the water–surely, one of life’s most pleasant pastimes–and the other evening, just before bedtime, we sat on the porch with our whiskey, and watched the rain come up the lake, filling the air with that distinctive mineral smell as water splashed off the aspen leaves.

I remembered that time several years ago, when ten-year old Norah had flown alone from California, for a week by herself at the lake.  One evening, she and I sat on the porch, holding hands, and watched an enormous thunderstorm roll up the lake.  The wind and lightning were fierce, with booming thunder, and we giggled every time it startled us with its power.  How things will change around here, when everybody arrives in a few weeks, moving into their spaces in the dormitory room, and beds tucked under the eaves.  The year Norah came before everyone else, she made a drawing of the various beds and dressers, identifying where each of the cousins would sleep and store their clothes.  I’ve saved it in a drawer someplace.  Joy’s family touched down here Wednesday, on their return home from California, and they talked about how much they enjoyed seeing their cousins, and can’t wait to be together at the lake house soon.  I hope they will someday talk about the memories they are making here with one another…they are the sweetest of blessings in the life of their 72 year old grandmother.

The Miller family will be here for the 4th, which will be grand–like us, they will think the low pressure system is just fine.  John and Don will surely bring up the summer they worked for the Forest Service near Spotted Bear, 41 years ago, when it rained every day in June, whilst they planted spruce saplings.  But, there have been years in which fireworks weren’t permitted here because of fire threat,  and I have photos of all of us swimming one August day, many years ago, in which the smoke was so thick we could barely see each other out in the lake.  But, as July begins to unfold, I confess, I am very much looking forward to “delightful weather”.  For, after all, what would summer memories be without that.

“All in all, it was a never to be forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams



A change in the weather

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The forecasters told us there would be a “major weather pattern change.”  I’ll say.  New snow is on the mountains around the lake, with rain and 50 degrees in the valleys, for days to come.  And, here we are, at the Summer Solstice.  We had relaxed into a summer mind already– now this.  The forecast for at least the next week is for colder than normal summer temperatures.  Joy wrote from Billings yesterday, “Ugh.  When will it be truly summer!”  I didn’t tell her that there was that one summer–maybe 25 years ago–when Don and I came up for an August wedding of a friend of his, before we had decided to move to Montana, and it rained every single day, except for five days, that entire summer.  Despite recent history, the old timers have always said that summer does not start until the 4th of July, and June was always the rainiest month.  But, I think we are afraid it might just not happen this year.  There are heavy clouds of anxiety hovering over our world right now– climate change, dangerous dictators, denial of science, suffocation by plastic, and entire continents of people on the move for their very survival.  An imminent threat of war with Iran hangs over us at this very moment.  We’ve felt like we could trust, could count on summer to return, that the sun will come out tomorrow, even as half the bee colonies in the world are now extinct.  It’s easy to lose hope when the skies are blackened by rain and hail, the lake roars all night long, and tree limbs litter the lawn in the morning.

I overheard a friend describing my blog to someone the other day, and she said, “It’s about the weather.”  I’ve been thinking about that, aware that I always start each day with “what are the skies like this morning?”  It’s an adaptive strategy, to be sure, looking outside my own window as soon as I start the day.   In despair over the world, it would be easy to lose this one wild and precious day.   Better for me to pay attention to the wind and rain, sun and snow, clouds and moonshine, and know that this is how I can stay tethered to here and now, the only moment I can really count on anyway.

Even though the furnace is running this morning, it’s windy and cold and more rain is building  across the lake, what would the Summer Solstice be without Mary Oliver’s A Summer Day.  Happy Solstice to us all!

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


Sleeping in June

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We have five more days before the longest day of the year.  There will be over 16 hours of daylight, and, “astronomical twilight,” which is when there is truly no light in the sky left after sunset, occurs at 1:06 a.m. on the Solstice.  This is an enormous adjustment in a household where eyes open at 5:00 a.m., no matter what is happening in the sky, or when it was bedtime.  I should have been a farmer or a rancher.  In fact, if I awaken in a heart-pounding cold sweat from a bad dream in the middle of the night, struggling to return to sleep, I take comfort in knowing that soon it will be 4:00 a.m., and the farmers are up at that hour, milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and all will be right in the world as a new day begins.  The trick for an early riser is to go to bed by 9pm–which is effortless, welcome, in winter, with skies that are dark and gray and so little light in the day.  But, it’s challenging, come summer, as long and gorgeous sunsets of pink and gold spread across the twilight sky, lasting forever.  Afternoon naps are de rigor in summertime.  But, sometimes, I just have to go to bed on winter’s time, even as golden light streams through the shutter slats on the windows.  I plan to read myself to sleep, but, instead, just watch the light move down the walls, fluttering as it bounces off the lake.  It really is a magnificent way to fall asleep– if you can forgive yourself for not watching the sunset from the porch.

We’ve had warm and humid days all week, with afternoon T-storm clouds forming over the lake, and sprinkles here and there.  Now that the screens are on, I open up the french doors on the porch to the lake, once the outside temperature registers higher than indoors.  I’ve moved the living room furniture to face the water instead of the fireplace, and my little wooden sailboats now line the mantle, waiting for summer winds.  We put the motor on the old aluminum boat and had a lovely little jaunt down to Wood’s Bay the other night.  I went for a hike in Herron Park where gorgeous purple lupine, yellow heart leaf arnica, and wild rose were scattered across the hills.  We’ve started preparing the house for a summer’s worth of guests–airing out bedding, fresh sheets, new window seat cushions, and fixing this and that.  It’s quintessential summer as the Solstice approaches.

Sarah said to me awhile back, “You guys are always either preparing for summer or preparing for winter.”  I’ve thought about that–wondering whether or not I’m actually here and present for winter and summer, or do I just anticipate its arrival and actually miss the main event?  I don’t think so–maybe, I once did, but the older I get, the more I think I am living my life largely in real time.  At least I’m mindful about it, even if I miss a beat here and there and lose the rhythm.   Not that winter doesn’t last too long, and I began dreaming of Hawaii before February.   And, by late September, I begin to look forward to lighting the candles each night and morning, as darkness begins to envelope the land, and it gets quiet and still, with that tender dose of melancholy.  I think it’s just a big realignment to move between seasons, here in the north country.  There is a sharp line separating them.  Winter is long and cold and dark, and it’s important to settle into that season’s quiet slow time, or you’d go crazy.   Just about the time you do think you’ll lose it, here comes all this light and warmth and green and color, and you realize you’ve been living in slow time for so long that you don’t know quite what to do with yourself when the day never ends.  Sometimes you just have to re-group, and go to bed early anyway, and watch as the light moves down your bedroom wall.

Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?



June’s early heat wave broke last night with thunder and lightning and soaking rains just after midnight.  There is nothing quite so lovely as awakening in the morning to the sound of much-needed rain falling outside the window.  It felt like full-on summer this week.  The screen doors are now on the French doors to the porch, groupings of wicker chairs are strewn across the lawn, boats at water’s edge.  And, I’ve been able to hang sheets on the clothesline.  My mother would be appalled at how my sheets are unevenly pinned to the line, and, sure enough, the creases didn’t line up when I folded them after they were dry.  Nevertheless, next to summer rain, is there anything better than the smell of fresh air and sunshine when you lay yourself down to sleep at night.

In this month of June brides, we are off tomorrow for the high country of Colorado to attend a wedding.  It’s a chance to see old friends who’ve been part of our lives for nearly forty years–the same friends who years ago used to ask me, “So, when are you guys moving back?”  I’ve lived in Montana now for twenty-three years, longer than I did in Colorado.  But, that is where we all raised our children together, the halcyon days, in retrospect, when we were at the top of our game, the prime of our lives.  Now, we come together with new hips and knees, surgical scars, and some terrible losses, in celebration of marriage of one of our kids.  It feels important to be there.  As Black Elk said:

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a person is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

I saw the new fingernail moon last night, right before bed.  Bright Mercury was somewhere nearby but the night’s storm clouds left only the moon to shine through.  Sunny skies and normal temperatures will be here upon our return late Sunday night.  We’ll get the sailboat in the water, and the motor on the aluminum fishing boat.  An entire summer spreads out in front of us now, feeling like a miracle.

The Miracle by Michael Goldman

It is not that
the sun comes up
or the earth goes around
or that the plants sprout
and take up rain
and flower and set seed
or that our hearts pound
five thousand times an hour –
It’s that we don’t have
to go out with tethers
to make the heavenly bodies
move correctly around
or caress the ground
and tease the stems upright
and separate the petals
or tap our chests
continually with little hammers
and we can put
our attention elsewhere.


Lilac days


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Stealing Lilacs  by  Alice N. Persons

A guaranteed miracle,
it happens for two weeks each May,
this bounty of riches
where McMansion, trailer,
the humblest driveway
burst with color—pale lavender,
purple, darker plum—
and glorious scent.
This morning a battered station wagon
drew up on my street
and a very fat woman got out
and starting tearing branches
from my neighbor’s tall old lilac—
grabbing, snapping stems, heaving
armloads of purple sprays
into her beater.
A tangle of kids’ arms and legs
writhed in the car.
I almost opened the screen door
to say something,
but couldn’t begrudge her theft,
or the impulse
to steal such beauty.
Just this once,
there is enough for everyone.

I do feel guilty when I steal lilacs every year.  There is something violent about jumping out of my car, sneaking over to a big bush, then quickly tearing off branches, their woody stems turned into sharp daggers.  I recently read that when you prune a lilac bush, the plant sends out a flurry of beautiful heart-shaped leaves to mend the wound, and it can take five years before a blossom appears there again.  I look for big bushes–small trees really–and do my thievery in different spots of the tree, so it doesn’t grow lopsided.  Such an old-fashioned flower–you hardly ever see them in new subdivisions.  They easily can live past 100 years old, and I used to hunt for them on old country roads, where the homestead was abandoned long ago, with the big lilac bush left alone to the winds.  But, I felt like a graverobber, so I’ve kept to back alleys when no one was looking.  I got lucky this year.  There’s a ramshackle property next to the road down to our house which has been vacant for over a year–I guess a niece in Minnesota inherited it and is supposed to pay a visit this summer.  There are abandoned trucks, a boat, a snowplow, and the split-rail fence around the orchard fell down this winter.  I try to ignore it, I guess, but when I drove home from the grocery the other day, I spotted a tall, lusciously full lilac bush, right next to one of the outbuildings.  I stopped and grabbed an armload for the living room–just like the greedy woman in the battered station wagon.

“Lilacs are May in essence,” writes Jean Hersey.  Coming in my birthday month, they’ve always been my favorite flower.  Every year, I tell somebody about the time when I was 13 years old, moving schools in the middle of eighth grade, so utterly miserable and lonely.  To avoid the cafeteria, I would run the mile home at lunchtime to be with my Mom, who fixed my favorite foods.   That year, on my birthday, she made me her tall angel food and ice cream cake, decorated with lavender lilac blossoms of whipped cream.  And, then, there was May 18, 2001, the year Fletcher, my first grandchild was born.  I stayed in Colorado for a couple of weeks for his birth, helping Joy out by day, and then driving the 30 minutes over to my sister’s house to sleep at night, then back again the next morning.  I would pull off the road for lilacs, keeping a sprig in my car for the journey.  In my sweet memory of rocking him in the blue wicker chair, filtered sunlight coming in through the lace curtains, there were always lilac blossoms in a jar on the table.

Fletcher graduated from high school last week-end and we had a grand celebration in Billings with friends and the Colorado families.  The lilacs were bursting in alleys and at the corners of homes, in their old historic downtown neighborhood.  I thought of the little blue nursery back in Colorado, and how he always slept on his back with hands behind his head.  Where did all this time go and how did it happen so fast?  Is it any wonder we tear up when the band begins to play “Pomp and Circumstance”, and we know how much older we became, as a tiny baby blossomed into such a fine young man.

In one more day, it will be June.  It’s felt like summer since we arrived home.  The geraniums are in their pots and the window boxes have been planted.  A water-skier in a wet suit hollered out there the other day, and a lithe young girl floated along standing on her paddle board, while I read my book by the water last evening.  There may be one more bunch of lilacs I can pilfer from the neighbors, but this spring season is coming to a close.  There is another summer coming our way, just around the bend.  ‘A guaranteed miracle’!

“A faint smell of lilac filled the air. There was always lilac in this part of town. Where there were grandmothers, there was always lilac.” — Laura Miller

Rainy day

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“Tut, Tut, looks like rain”
A.A. Milne

“My mom says that when it rains you never feel like you should be anywhere but home.”
Elise Broach, Shakespeare’s Secret

We are now enveloped in a cold and rainy period for at least another week.  Cliff Mass, the meteorology professor at University of Washington, wrote on his blog that this is “liquid bounty” for the Northwest, with hopes it could stave off forest fire season by a few weeks this year.  It is not good news for Anna’s soccer championship this week-end in Great Falls, in which games were delayed until the pitches were cleared of snow, nor for Fletcher’s outdoor graduation party next week-end.  In California, where they are expecting 500% of normal precipitation through the end of May, Sarah said she was “so over it.”  Just as things felt close to summer…alas, sigh, oh well.

On this cool and rainy week-end, I’ve been sequestered at home, not doing much of anything.  Don has been gone and while I had grand plans for various house projects, I’ve just wandered around the house.  I looked out the window, picked up a book, then stepped out on the porch again, back to the book, a little nippy nap on the sofa, another cup of tea.  The pair of loons on the water have been making their wolf-like calls, so loud that I can hear them with the windows and doors all closed.  I scan the lake, making sure they’ve found one another.  I did have a beautiful walk this morning in light, misty rain, which felt like Ireland, so I looked online in search of holiday homes for sale at the sea, somewhere along the Atlantic Way, and found this cottage:

“This unique property has it all! Barry’s Cottage is located in the hamlet of Cromane, a beautiful fishing village on the famous Ring of Kerry and Wild Atlantic Way. This charming cottage was built in the 1940s with thick walls to protect it against Atlantic winds. It is a solid structure which can be renovated, modernised and extended according to the new owner’s wishes. It enjoys the most magnificent sea and mountain views.”

Then, I read some poetry, and looked out the window again, and reminded myself that we are but ‘fleeting clouds in the sky’, and all I need do is just pay attention, out my own window.

What to Do
by Joyce Sutphen

Wake up early, before the lights come on
in the houses on a street that was once
a farmer’s field at the edge of a marsh.

Wander from room to room, hoping to find
words that could be enough to keep the soul
alive, words that might be useful or kind

in a world that is more wasteful and cruel
every day. Remind us that we are
like grass that fades, fleeting clouds in the sky,

and then give us just one of those moments
when we were paying attention, when we gave
up everything to see the world in

a grain of sand or to behold
a rainbow in the sky, the heart
leaping up.



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We were home for one of the finest sunsets, ever.  Joy, Duncan and Anna stayed with us for a couple of nights–traveling across the state for Joy’s work and more soccer– so we all got to photograph it together and revel in the fabulous warm May night.  Ahhh…good to be home.  Everything is growing by leaps and bounds now.  Dandelions dot the spring green fields and Don has already mowed the lawn.  The hummingbirds dart in and out of the feeder hanging on the porch, and there are so many bird songs, including the distinctive Wilson’s Snipe, we heard at the shoreline.  We walked along the head of the lake this morning to the Flathead River, on packed sand which will soon be covered by snow melt from the mountains.  I hung sheets to dry on the clothesline today, took a bike ride, and canoed down the lake for a bit.  With Memorial Day week-end but two weeks away, it really truly feels like summer is around the bend.

So many birthday celebrations this month, and Don and I are officially another year older.  Fletcher’s high school graduation takes place over Memorial Day week-end–a reminder of just how fast the years go by.  In what feels like a miracle, the trees are bursting with new leaves for another season, yet, at my age, there is a whiff of melancholy in this time of year.  As the  poet, Phillip Larkin writes, “Their greenness is a kind of grief.”   But, still, and yet, we get to begin “afresh” once again.  Afresh, Afresh, Afresh–such hope, and grace, in beginning afresh in this new season.

The Trees, Phillip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.