Snow began falling around 8:00 a.m. today. The forecast predicted a trace to one inch, but it snowed all day, and four fluffy inches covered the ground, roads, trees, and cars. Snow can be that way, making weather forecasters look foolish.
This isn’t the first snow of the year, but today’s snow has a good chance of staying on the ground, making it a white Christmas. That’s why I call it the first real snow of the year.
I loved snow as a child, and I haven’t grown old enough yet to resent or fear it. The first real snowfall of the year evokes childhood memories of snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, and sledding. Swaddled in snow pants, jackets, hats, scarves, and mittens, our joyful shouts, squeals, and laughter bounced off the trees and houses.
I love to walk my dogs, Ziva and Cabela, in the evening after a fresh snowfall when the air is still. My dogs love the first real snow too. They prance. They stuff their noses in the snow, tossing it in the air or eating it. Sometimes the snow tickles their noses, and they sneeze. Even Cabela, who’s now fourteen-and-a-half, becomes youthful. When they were puppies, the first snowfall of the year gave them the crazies. They pounced and dashed and rolled in it, creating doggie snow angels. They reminded me of a gaggle of children unleashed into the first good snow of the year.
Perhaps snow sparks something primal in my dogs and myself, something that lights up ancient places in our brains, something that is more complex than our happy memories of youthful frolics in the snow.
Yesterday, my dog Ziva and I walked a different direction, not to seek adventure but to find warmth. Every block we put between us and Lake Superior meant more houses to deflect the wind coming off the lake. It helped, but not much. When a cold wind rumbles off the lake, it finds you.
On our walk I saw a long-stemmed rose, and my first impulse was to smell it. Because you should stop to smell the roses, even when it’s 28 degrees and overcast and the sky is sprinkling snowflakes like salt from a shaker. The rose smelled sweet, like the roses my nana grew in the front of her 900-square-foot home, the smallest house by far on her street. Nana prized her roses and tended them with great care. They signaled that she, too, was a lady, even in her tiny home. Her long-stemmed, red roses announced that she had left behind her childhood of deep poverty and great difficulties.
My next impulse was to take a picture of the rose, which looked remarkably good. Amazing because this week’s basket of weather contained strong winds, drenching rains, and even some snow.
But sometimes survival is about luck.
This rose was blessed because its owners planted it in front of their house which works as a shelterbelt, saving it from the worst of the icy winds and horizontal rains that blow off the lake. It was fortunate because it bloomed at the end of a long stem, keeping it off the ground where colder air settles. It was spared because this week’s snow was light and melted quickly, postponing it’s red, velvety petals from freezing and turning brown.
It’s 23 degrees this morning, so the rose’s good fortune won’t hold much longer. But with care and some luck, new roses will bloom again next year.
Bogey, my mother’s dog, loves Lake Michigan, so this afternoon I took him to Harbor Springs, a small summer town snuggled up along the eastern shore of the lake. It’s Bogey’s favorite place to walk. He knows when he is going to Harbor. The only place he loves more is a pet store, where he tries to shoplift anything he can fit into his mouth.
First, we stopped at his favorite clothing store. He got lots of hugs from a woman who works there, but she was out of dog treats. He kept holding up his paw and pleading, but only received another hug and another apology. He was clearly disappointed, reminding me of a little boy who tells his great-aunt, “But I wanted a toy train, not fuzzy footie pajamas.”
After we left the store, Bogey enjoyed his water-view walk. He sniffed the grass, did his business, and watched a pair of ducks swim along a beach. Dogs get over disappointment quickly.
Next, we headed back to Main Street, where I noticed boney visitors who’d stopped by Harbor Springs dressed for Halloween. Bogey had to wait for me while I walked up and down the sidewalks and photographed twenty-seven snappily-dressed skeletons. I know I didn’t get pictures of all the skeletons, but I had fun trying to find as many as I could. Excitement lurked on every block and around every corner. Costumed skeletons have become a Harbor Springs Halloween tradition. And this year there are seventy-five skeletons creaking about.
Tonight the wind howls off Lake Michigan, and it’s raining in spurts. In the hours before dawn, snow is expected before turning back to rain. The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory. And I wonder how the skeletons will stay warm in all this weather–they don’t have any meat on their bones.
Yesterday, Ziva, Bogey, and I went for our first walk at 8:00 a.m., our second walk at 1:30 p.m., and our last walk at 4:30. We let the 20-mph winds off Lake Michigan push us down the road, until we had to turn around, then we leaned into the wind and pretended we were walking to school, uphill, in a snowstorm, for five miles. A bit histrionic but fun.
Ziva’s and Bogey’s ears flapped and fluttered in the wind, but my ears were tucked under my stocking cap. I liked stocking caps when I was a girl who played in the snow, but when I turned thirteen, I wouldn’t wear a hat in winter, no matter how cold it was. I wasn’t going to mess up my hair. Instead, I arranged my long, not-so-thick hair over my ears, trying to keep them warm.
Now I have four favorite knit stocking caps, and when it’s cold, I wear one. I even have a knit hat with earflaps that ties under my chin. I’m not letting my head or ears freeze. My nana always told me, “Keep your head and your feet warm, and the rest of you will follow.” I think about her when I put on a stocking cap and a pair of wool socks. Nana repeated her “warm head, warm feet” advice to me a lot when I was a foolish, hatless teenager, dashing through cold winter days.
Yesterday’s picture theme: autumn-colored leaves. I took oodles of photos of newly fallen leaves because I could see that each one was unique, deserving to be photographed. If my granddaughter had been with me, she would’ve collected the leaves, oohing over each one, handing them to me to hold as she collected more to use in art projects.
Around 9:00 p.m., I took the dogs out in the yard for their last potty break of the day. The swirling wind whipped up a smorgasbord of scents, stirring something primal in Ziva and Bogey. They sniffed the air and the ground, weaving in and out of bushes, looking for little critters. Under the full moon, they chased each other, zooming in circles, like a couple of young pups with the crazies. Autumn makes me feel that way too.
When I walked Ziva and Bogey this morning shortly after sunrise, the sky was a jumble of dark clouds and bright blue patches. The sun illuminated gold, orange, and red leaves, giving the impression they were lit from within. Of course, the dogs had to wait while I snapped pictures, and I never tire of taking pictures of trees dressed in fashionable autumn colors. When the dogs became impatient, I reminded them that I spend lots of time waiting for them while they smell blades of grass, tree trunks, and mailbox posts.
Finally, we turned down another road, and I spotted part of a rainbow. Out came my camera phone, again. As I alternated between walking and taking pictures, the rainbow became an arch, one end appearing to dip into Lake Michigan and the other end appearing to stand in a field about a half-mile away, giving the impression that if the dogs and I set off across the field, we would find the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun and a pot of gold.
As a child, I knew about leprechauns who guarded their gold at the end of the rainbow from people who tried to steal it. My sisters and I fantasized about finding the rainbow’s end and the leprechaun with his riches, but we knew it was a folktale.
If the tale had been true, I’d have picked the leprechaun over the gold, which I knew meant wealth, but only in the way a six- or seven-year-old understands wealth. Besides, I lived in a comfortable home with plenty of food in the cupboard. But a leprechaun was a magical two-foot-high man with orange hair, dressed in green, smoking a pipe, and speaking with an Irish brogue. According to folklore, if we would’ve caught a leprechaun, he would’ve granted us three wishes in exchange for his freedom.
This morning while walking on the country road, watching the rainbow form a half circle through the sky, I wished that the fields and trees in this enchanted place would stop disappearing. In the eight years I have been visiting my mom, ten new homes have been built, and each one stands on an acre of land. Each new house means a loss of trees and fields. A loss of habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and small critters that I don’t see, but the hawks who perch in the trees are evidence of their existence.
Today, looking at the rainbow arching over the still undeveloped fields, I don’t wish for gold or to meet a magical leprechaun protecting his stash. I imagine a leprechaun at the end of today’s rainbow protecting a field, keeping it safe for insects, birds, and small critters, and I wish that each homeowner in this neighborhood would leave a strip of field along their lot lines.
When I take my grandkids for a walk, they stroll and run along the city sidewalks, and with a child’s imagination, they turn each walk into an adventure. On an outing last October, they each picked a small bouquet of dandelions, Indian paintbrushes, and tiny yellow flowers from lawns overdue for a trim.
After we returned home, I put each child’s bouquet in its own bud vase and placed them around my kitchen. My five-year-old grandson had a prolific bouquet, so his vase stood on the kitchen table. By the next afternoon, the dandelions and Indian paintbrushes boarded themselves up like roadside stands at the end of the season, and the tiny yellow flowers discarded their petals like ticket stubs after a rock concert. I tossed the bouquets.
A couple of days later my sister sent me a large yellow, orange, and red autumn-themed bouquet of flowers, a mix of daisies, a rose, and a sunflower. I placed it on the kitchen table.
Two days later my grandkids returned to visit. My five-year-old grandson walked by the large bouquet on my kitchen table, paused, then said, “I guess my flowers really grew.”
I gave him the facts—his flowers had died and were thrown in the garbage; these flowers were from my sister. He moved on and played with blocks on the living room floor.
Later I told my sister about his belief that his flowers had grown into the bouquet she’d sent. She hoped I hadn’t told him the truth, but I had. I’d been the Grinch before his heart grew, Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts visited, Joe Friday with the cold, hard facts.
Instead of entering my grandson’s world where it was possible for a handful of tiny flowers to grow into a substantial bouquet of large flowers, I used words like died and garbage. I’d become the eight-year-old neighbor boy who told me and my sister when we were five and four years old that there was no Santa Claus. I can still see him standing at the side of his house telling us Santa wasn’t real. My sister and I argued with him, but he clung to his story. We tried to believe after that, but we couldn’t—not even when our mother assured us the boy was wrong and Santa was real.
But if I’d gone along with Evan’s belief that his flowers had grown, he would’ve bragged to his older siblings, who would’ve set him straight.
He would’ve come back and asked, “Nana, did my flowers really grow big?”
If I’d said, “Yes, they did,” he would’ve doubted me, weighing what I said against what his siblings said, just like my sister and I weighed what my mother said about Santa against what the boy next door said.
If I’d said, “No, they didn’t,” he would’ve asked, “Then why did you say they did?”
But I still felt bad—I’d squelched a magical moment for him and replaced it with reality.
But the five-year-old wasn’t done. A couple of weeks later, he asked me, “Nana, did my flowers at least get big before they died and you threw them away?”
With the Grinch, Scrooge, and Joe Friday as my wingmen, I explained, “The type of flowers you picked don’t get any bigger than when you picked them. But they’re beautiful flowers and an important part of nature even if they’re small.”
However, if he ever asks me if Santa is real, I’m going to lie through my teeth and say, “Yes, he is.”
[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 20, 2022. The blog prompt actually asked me to choose my favorite photo ever. I have too many favorites, so I picked one of my favorites from 2021.]
This photo, taken April 14, 2021, is one of my favorites. My grandchildren love to go for a walk, so on days when they come to my house, we often stroll around the neighborhood.
Evan holds a grabber, and you can’t see it, but Michael carries a plastic grocery bag filled with trash and another grabber. In the spring our walks become garbage patrols. The snow has melted, and hidden wrappers, disposable cups, bottles, cigarette butts, and the odd mitten or piece of clothing dot the landscape.
My grandkids blurt exclamations of joy when they spot a piece of garbage. It’s an accomplishment. I know how they feel. When we were children, my sisters and I pulled a red wagon down our country road and picked up garbage. We were influenced by Lady Bird Johnson’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. We didn’t have grabbers, so we used our hands. Things were tougher when my generation was young. (As we age, we enter the I-walked-to-school-in-blinding-snow generation.)
I love walking with my grandkids. But before I took this idyllic photograph, pandemonium ruled, as it does before every walk. Once we decide to go, strategical planning and the ensuing chaos from working that plan almost swamp me. Everyone needs to go to the bathroom, including me. “There are no porta potties on the walk,” I say. I check Charlie’s diaper. We dress for the weather, and during the winter that means helping two toddlers into snow pants, jackets, boots, hats, and mittens. I put leashes on the dogs, who plead to be included, and I stuff poo bags in my jacket. It sounds simple, but understand that all four grandkids and both dogs are moving targets. Just as we are about to exit the house, one of my grandkids usually utters, “I think I have to go to the bathroom, again.”
At this point I think to myself, “Eisenhower had it easy–he only had to organize D-Day.”
However, once we hit the paved trail, serenity settles in, and my grandkids race each other, hunt for garbage, climb trees along the boulevard, and play games with rules only they know. Watching them, my memory of the pre-walk havoc fades. These walks will become cherished memories for my grandkids and me.
I love earrings. Before the pandemic began, I wore them almost every day. But I stopped going to work during the pandemic, so I stopped wearing earrings every day. Sometimes days or weeks went by without giving them a thought.
But occasionally earrings gave me a nudge because it would suddenly occur to me that I’d better wear a pair before the holes in my ears closed up. More than once, I had a tough time pushing a hoop or post into the hole in my ear. I’ve always worn small lightweight earrings, so I have tiny holes in my ears.
This morning I put on earrings because I wanted to forget about the ups and downs of COVID-19.
I’ve decided to wear a different pair of earrings for thirty days, and tell a story about each pair. I’m not sure I have thirty pairs. (I’m very particular about my earrings.) But if I don’t, I’ll re-wear a pair. And that’s okay because some of my earrings have more than one story.
Day 1—Earrings from Coronado Island, California
I bought these gold-toned earrings with aquamarine-blue crystals on Coronado Island from a boutique jewelry shop owned by the artist who created them. I was drawn to this exquisite pair because my birthstone is aquamarine.
A couple of years after I bought them, I lost one. I wasn’t wearing the clear rubber backings, and the earring slipped out of my ear without me feeling it or hearing it. I still imagine its voiceless descent and landing, most likely on a sidewalk in Northfield, Minnesota.
I was staying at Carleton College, attending a week-long training, and I’d been walking around Northfield. After I discovered the earring was missing, I walked up and down every city block that I’d walked on earlier and some others just in case. For hours, I retraced my steps over and over. I didn’t find my earring.
Using the internet, I found the phone number for the jewelry shop on Coronado Island. The owner answered the phone. I told her about my earrings, my favorite pair. I asked if she had another pair I could buy. She offered to make me a new earring at no charge. She had me send her the remaining earring so she could match the crystal and setting sizes.
A month later, my old earring arrived with its new mate.
I’ve never again worn them without their clear rubber backings. I still have both earrings.
I’ve never forgotten the kind jeweler, who must have also known the sadness of losing a cherished earring. I hope she’s still creating jewelry.
I’d like her to know that I still think of her kindness every time I wear the earrings.
I’m about to walk across the drawbridge in Charlevoix when I see a man and a woman standing along the Pine River Channel on the other side of the bridge. The pair are in their late 50s, maybe early 60s. He wears a fishing hat and clutches a fishing pole that’s arched over the water. He works to reel in a fish that fights to remain in the water. She wears a pastel-colored shirt and pair of shorts and clasps a fishing net that’s perpendicular to the water. She’s waiting to scoop up the fish once it has been reeled in, ending any chance it has of slipping back into the channel. They are a team.
I stop to watch the battle between man and woman and fish. In front of me, three young teenage girls have already stopped to watch. All of them wear their golden hair in braids. I walk forward a few steps so I’m even with them but keep my distance. I don’t want to break the spell. Their large smiles have pushed their cheeks into rose-colored apples and their eyes twinkle, telegraphing their joy. We all watch the man lift his pole and crank his reel. He’s playing with the fish, letting it wear itself out. We all watch the woman move the net closer to the water in anticipation, then watch her back away when the fish retreats.
The girls huddle together, like teenage girls do. Their hands are empty. The cellphones I expected to see in their palms, protrude from their pockets. Watching the fish action is better than Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. They’re immersed in this moment, no lenses between them and the man-woman-fish drama.
Suddenly the woman swoops the net into the water and pulls up the fish. The man bends down and unhooks it. As he slips his fingers through the gill and lifts the fish, the three girls applaud loudly and laugh joyfully. Unfortunately, the man and woman don’t hear the clapping because of the traffic noise and their position on the opposite side of the channel.
I cross the bridge and get a better look at the fish—it’s big, a keeper. The man and woman pack up their gear and their one-and-only, but good-sized fish. I know what he and the woman are having for dinner.
And I know what the three girls will talk about at dinner.
The book is dead, nestled among dried leaves and small pine cones, partially covered by the branches of a pine tree nearly sweeping the ground. Sun-bleached pages catch the light and bounce it like a beacon.
Broken open along the spine, its pages swollen by last week’s rain and snow are baked dry. Two pages fused together, blown vertical and dried by the wind, stand perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.
I walk past, but stop. I turn, and look. I debate.
The front of the book is mangled, its cover rolled under itself. A splotch of sky-blue color entices me to retrace my steps. I want to know its name, but I don’t want to touch the book. It’s a corpse.
I’m walking my dogs, so I juggle leashes and mittens, remove my phone from my pocket, and snap several pictures, like I do in cemeteries to record family grave markers.
Who did the book belong to? How did it end up on the ground? Did someone finish it before it was lost?
I crouch down next to the book, thankful it’s not mine.
Centered on the top of the left page, I read, Ken Follett.
I’ve read some of his books: Triple, Hornet Flight, Night Over Water, and Eye of the Needle—one of my favorite books. The snippet of sky blue on the cover tells me it’s not The Eye of the Needle. The blue is too cheerful, matching none of the cover art I’ve ever seen for that book.
My dogs stand at the end of their leashes while I stare at the book. Still crouching, I contemplate turning the book to read its title.
I let it go.
I stand, leaving it in peace, its fused pages standing perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.