Monthly Archives: October 2014

Looking For It

I have been looking for something. I have checked the cupboards, the fridge, and the freezer. I have picked up books, read a few lines and put them down. I have sorted through old photos and trinkets. I have taken rides in the boat, in the car, and through the woods on the golf cart. I have walked the farm, only to find that my favorite places to sit and ponder have long since become overgrown. I have spoken with friends and trusted advisors, and still I cannot find it!

What ‘it’ is, is somewhat unclear. When I take stock of my life, I find that I have been a hard worker, I have tried to always do my best and to live right, I experience happiness and joy nearly every day, I am surrounded by the beauty of nature that nourishes my soul, I have loved and been loved, and I am blessed to have many good friends. Most days I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. So what is ‘it’, then, that eludes me?

The ‘it’ has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has made me a lifelong seeker of what is meaningful and true. Sometimes it slumbers contentedly in the background, but other times, it is like the incessant whine of a mosquito hovering about my ears. At first, a mosquito is just a minor annoyance, but the longer it lingers without capture, the sound becomes intolerable. The latter is what I have been feeling for the last few weeks.

Looking back I can see clearly that ‘it’ was awakened when the Amish grocery store burned down and was, subsequently, compounded by the near miss I had on the highway the following week. My first response was to ignore the slight niggling in my mind. Sometimes this works, but the technique is most often like waving away the pesky mosquito. It keeps it at bay for a moment, but it always comes back. Next, I buried myself in projects, moving erratically from one thing to the next. Again, as with a mosquito, it does not matter how quickly or what direction one moves. Once the mosquito picks a target it does not give up until it is sated.

Thus, I have chosen to surrender. I will cease the endless searching, and I will sit quietly and let ‘it’ come to me. I will abide mosquito one last time. After all, even a mosquito is quiet while it is filling its void.

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For more of Gail’s photos, please consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Thanks to Carmel Steffen for Editorial Assistance

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spring Is On Its Way!

Spring is on its way!!! I received the first indication of spring on December 23 and another today. How could this be you might ask? Wasn’t winter solstice just a few short days ago? And on the first full day of winter was there not a major ice storm here in Michigan that left thousands without power for nearly a week? And the following evening was there not a storm that deposited up to 18 inches of new snow in the community where I live? And was it not Christmas just yesterday? Well, of course, winter has only just begun. But I have seen the sign! Spring is, indeed, on its way!

I am often amazed by the calm that is present after a storm. The day after the ice storm was no exception. The sun was shining brightly, as if it had no regard for the previous day’s devastation. No, in fact, it quite literally shed new light upon the situation. As I traveled Interstate 96 from Muskegon to Lansing, I was completely mesmerized by the way the thick layer of ice on the trees, shrubs, and fences glistened. It was pure magic! My heart soared, as mile after mile I drove through the enchanted countryside.

The return trip later that day was not the same. The clouds drifted in and light snow began to fall. I kept hoping the clouds would disappear, that I might once again experience the splendor of ice and sun. Instead the snow grew heavier, traffic slowed, and the normal two hour drive expanded to over three. The snow no longer drifted lightly in flakes from above, but rather, rained down in thick chunks. Driving lanes were difficult to distinguish, and the red tail lights of other vehicles, invisible until within bumping distance. When I arrived home, I stopped at the end of my driveway to pick up my mail. Though I knew it was deep, it was still a surprise when I stepped into nine inches of freshly fallen snow.

Once inside my home, I obsessively watched as the snow continued to fall and pondered the massive task of snow removal that would await me in the morning. Finally, I concluded that watching the snow would not change it or stop it, and I reluctantly retreated to the dining room table where I left the mail. This is where I received my first sign of spring. It is what brings many of us sunshine on the seemingly endless cold dreary days of winter. It catapults us into thoughts of thewarming spring and long luxuriant days of summer. It provides countless hours of pleasurable hopes and dreams for the coming year.

So, what is the first sign of spring? It is the delivery of the Gurney Seed Catalog! Followed, of course, by Henry Fields, Burpee, and, no doubt, Jung’s will come any day now. It is with the arrival of the seed catalogs that I know in my heart the commitment that I made to myself to never grow a vegetable garden again will wane. I know that I will soon be pouring over the pages of the catalogs. I will enjoy looking at all the new items that promise bigger, better, and tastier yields. Though, I will just as likely, order the same old reliable seeds I have for years. I will dream about a new ornamental for the backyard, and how it might draw in more butterflies and birds. I will plot my garden, row by row, seed by seed. I will remember the smell and texture of the soil, the sun upon my back, and the taste of home grown vegetables. And, I will escape winter for a little while, if only in my mind.

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For more of Gail’s photos, please consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Thanks to Carmel Steffen for always checking my grammar so I look smarter than I am.

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Turtle, Turtle

I can hear the distant rumble of thunder from a storm making its way across Lake Michigan. It will be here soon enough but for now I will enjoy sitting on the back porch for whatever remains of the sun and warm breeze. With as lovely as it is right now it is near impossible to believe that the skies will soon darken and rain begin to fall. Even the birds at the feeder seem to be in denial of the upcoming storm. The Indigo Bunting sings sweetly, the Orioles are taking turns sipping nectar from the feeder, and the Red-Winged Black Birds continue to disturb and disrupt as much of the peace as possible.

As I listen to the thunder I think about Snapping Turtles. I am in awe of the primal instinct that is triggered during thunderstorms that compels the normally shy creature (female) to leave the security of the lake to find the perfect spot to lay its eggs. Another less awestruck part of me thinks about the damage to my lawn, the money that Muskegon County, the State of Michigan, and the turtle people spent to erect a fence along 2 miles of US 131 to keep the turtles safe from vehicles, all the baby birds I will meet this year yet not watch grow to adulthood, and lastly turtle soup.

In the morning, I fully expect to find one or more Snapping Turtles digging holes in the soft parts of my lawn to deposit eggs. Often they dig several holes, but only lay eggs in one hoping to confuse predators such as raccoons or skunks. The trickery seldom works.  Frequently I find the nests reopened and surrounded by what is left of the fragile white shells curled and drying in the sun. Perhaps I should feel more saddened about the unborn turtles.  But in truth, this sadness is fleeting when compared to how I feel when a Swan cygnet disappears, or when the last of the goslings are gone.

Against all odds, a few must survive as there is no shortage of Snapping Turtles at the Lakehouse. I occasionally see them submerged in shallow water or the tip of their nose as they break the surface of the water for a breath air. There are rumors that a frighteningly enormous Snapping Turtle lives in the lake. An average Snapping Turtle has a shell a little larger than a dinner plate or nine inch diameter and weighs about ten pounds. Table Top, as he is appropriately named. is no friendly quarter sized dime store turtle. His shell is at least 36 inches in diameter (a medium sized coffee table), his legs the size of small tree trunks and his weight unfathomable. I have not seen him personally, but have heard enough similar accounts to believe that he exists.

Mostly I know that there are an abundant number of Snapping Turtles not because I see them, but because of what I do not see. Each year flocks of Canada Geese nest at the Lakehouse. They sneak to the birdfeeder while the Sandhill Cranes are not watching and eat the fallen seed. When the Goslings are born they to come to the feeder. They are yellow, cute, so very silly, and so much fun to watch! But as the days go on fewer and fewer come to the feeder and finally I notice that for the most part the geese are gone completely. The same thing happens to the swan cygnets, loon chicks, and occasionally Sandhill Crane Colt. Sadly in the eight years I have lived here I have never seen a gosling or a cygnet live to adulthood. The small awkward swimming birds are easy prey for the turtles.

Although I am saddened every time one of the small birds disappears, I do understand that this is the way nature works. Despite its short life each has served its purpose. I am reminded of an old Native American story I heard years ago. There was once a mouse that lived in fields of tall grass and tunnels below the earth. The mouse wondered what lies beyond the grass where the bright light shone down upon him. He wondered what creatures made the sounds he knows to hide from. He wondered if he will ever know anything other than the tall grass and the tunnels he travels each day. But he understands that he must live exactly where he is and declares, “I am mouse”. One day while he was foraging for food he heard a terrifying shriek right above him. Talons with sharp claws grasped the mouse and raised him into sky. Later when he awakens he feels the wind beneath his wings and sees with clarity all that lives below and declares, “I am Eagle”.  Though the imagery of becoming Snapping Turtle is much less romantic than becoming Eagle, it is none-the-less the same concept. Somehow it gives me comfort.

The sky is darkening now and it is time to go inside. As I do, I feel blessed to live in a sanctuary that allows me observe, learn and grow. In this moment I realize that the holes in the lawn heal themselves, that the turtle fence may actually prevent accidents, or save the lives of other animals looking for an easy meal, and that the babies do live on in a different form.

I do, however, still think about Turtle Soup!

For more of Gail’s photos consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Loving Memory of Gwen Jansma

How Can Anyone Ever Tell You You Were Anything Less Than Beautiful

This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age.  But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.

I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.

Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass.  Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.

A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves.  With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me. 

Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another.  In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process.  Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).

I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.

Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.

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Please consider viewing Gail’s photography at:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sweet Memories

All these memories! Where are they coming from?  Just one note from an old country song or Sunday school hymn can evoke vivid imagery from my childhood. Sights, sounds, smells, and voices rush back as clear as the day they occurred. Perhaps I am just of an age when this phenomenon occurs.  Perhaps it is simply because I have been working in the same vegetable garden that my folks started in 1963. Or perhaps the memories live in the ground and are released as I part the soil to plant seeds. The memories come in clusters quite rapidly and then into individual events.

Mother is in the kitchen, not yet thirty, listening to Tiger baseball cheering on Al Kaline and Willie Horton. The room is hot and humid and her skin glistens with sweat. There are tomatoes in the bushel baskets, on the stove being blanched, in the sink cooling, and some in jars. The house is filled with the smell of partially cooked tomatoes, the clinking sound of glass jars being bumped against one another, and the pop of canning lids as they seal. My arms itch from the juice that seeps from tomatoes as I remove the peels for mother.

Calvin and Kenny are in the upstairs hallway endlessly stacking and restacking wooden blocks into a pyramid.  Only to propel the indestructible gray model car forward hoping each time for a bigger better more magnificent crash. They banter back and forth arguing over which crash was the best. I am the cheerleader and always root for Kenny because he is not my brother.

Jeannie, Joanie, Frankie, and I are sitting in the front yard on a warm summer day. The grass is cool but prickly on our outstretched legs. Our legs create a human fence to contain the new baby bunnies. We take turns holding each of the babies, nuzzling and petting their soft black and white fur. We giggle. We giggle because they are cute, and soft, and funny, and because they try to nibble the ends of our fingers. We giggle because we are delighted, because it is summer, and there are bunnies, and we have each other.

I am sitting in the old fiberglass canoe on the pond, fishing pole in hand. I am in the front and Dad in the back. I want to catch a fish, but I am distracted by the turtle that is swimming under the boat. “Keep still” my father cautions, “You will scare the fish.” So I sit still and watch the bobber. I like the yellow flowers on the lily pads and ask if we can take some to mom. “Keep still” my father cautions, “there is no talking in fishing, you will scare the fish.” I am five years old and I try to watch the bobber and I want to catch a fish. But my mind begins to wander, and I wonder how warm the water is and why we cannot go swimming in this lake. “Jerk!” my Dad hollers, and I do and he says “reel in” and I do and he smiles and calls me his little fisherman. He takes the fish off the hook, tosses it in the bucket with a splash, and recasts the line for me. I want to catch another fish and I try to watch the bobber, but I am distracted by the bird flying overhead.

All of these memories! Where are they coming from? I simply cannot say. No matter the catalyst, each is a precious gift to be unwrapped, savored, and considered again and again. I hear the laughter of children and the echo of boys being boys. I feel the special bond that is created between father and daughter spending quiet time together, and that of mother and daughter working side by side to complete a task. I have cherished these snippets from the movie of my life. It is with the sincerest gratitude that I say thank you Mom, Dad, Calvin, Kenny, Frankie, Jeanne, and Joni. Thank you for all of precious moments long past shared that have molded me into the person I am today.

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For More of Gail’s Photos please consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Blog.Lakehousecc.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and https://lakehousecc.com/blog/ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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