Posts in Category: Beauty

One Voice – Introducing Christina

Part 1                                                    

Christina and I met in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on one of the hottest days in July. There was no relief from breeze or shade and our brows quickly populated with beads of sweat. Looking back, it seems appropriate that the weather was extreme when I met this extraordinary woman.   

Who is Christina? That is not an easy question to answer. The best reply I can give succinctly is that she is a complex, brilliant, beautiful black woman with a heart to teach and express her one voice through music, dance, and words. She uses her gifts to speak to people about faith, family, racism, oppression, PKD (polycystic kidney disease), and much more. She is witty, wise, and courageous. 

Christina’s beloved mother and grandmother molded her into the woman she is today. Faith, integrity, and being proud of who she is as a strong black woman are virtues her elders demonstrated and expected in return. Christina and her family lived in a modest home in Grand Rapids, where black and white people lived as neighbors. 

On Sundays, the family went to a Baptist Church where Christina went to Sunday school and sang in the choir. Christina’s faith began early, and it has given her the strength and courage to overcome many difficult challenges. Hymns from her youth continue to bring her comfort and joy. 

Church was the only place where Christina was in the company of all black people. Though she was active in the church, she often struggled to fit in. Her light-skin too light to be black and too black to be white. 

Christina attended Grand Rapids Public School. She had a group of good friends throughout elementary school, but none of them were black. Faith was the shared bond between friends. After 6th grade, the friends attended different middle schools and lost contact.  

Christina attended City High School in Grand Rapids. The school attracts mostly white high achieving students interested in receiving an international baccalaureate degree. While at City High, Christina struggled to find her identity. She could not understand why she did not have black friends. The other black students were cordial but not close. Christina admits that she often felt uncomfortable with other black kids. 

In the end, Christina determined that she was not at ease with her blackness. She asked herself often, Am I black enough? Or, how can I be black enough? To be high achieving, smart, and articulate is considered a white thing. Additionally, her interests were not the same as the other black students. While they were hanging out, dating, and participating in typical teenage activities, Christina was reading, writing, and volunteering at church. 

The puzzle pieces of Christina’s identity began to fit together when she attended Grand Valley State University. In addition to attending classes, Christina joined the choir. The choir was natural a choice as she had been singing all of her life. Less likely, was dance. At the insistence of her best friend, she hesitantly joined a Tap Dance class. She fell in love. 

Dance helped Christina define herself in many ways. Movement unlocked hidden emotions and allowed her to express them non-verbally. Dance made her realize that she could do more than sing, read, and write. It also broke down the barriers of color. She began to look past color and see people more broadly. She gained an understanding that what truly binds us together in relationship to one another are our shared or common interests. 

Christina graduated from Grand Valley State University and began teaching 2nd grade at Muskegon Public Schools. After two years of commuting from Grand Rapids, Christina moved to Muskegon. While she loved teaching the kids and meeting other black professionals, something was not right. The shift in the environment felt extreme. She felt isolated and missed her friends, her mom, and Grandmother. She would not realize the depth of her unhappiness until she moved back to Grand Rapids 4 years later.  

While in Muskegon, the puzzle of Christina’s identity unfolded more deeply. She describes the experience as a wakeup call. Having been raised in a professional middle-class black family, she never wanted for anything. Issues that many black people face became more transparent. Christina’s heart broke when she realized the extent of poverty, child abuse, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that permeates the black community. 

Christina is currently an Associate Professor of English at Grand Rapids Community College. She teaches remedial reading and African American Literature. 

Part 2

Christina and I spoke frankly about racism and the current social climate in the United States. The following speaks to Christina’s experience of discrimination and oppression, her desire for change, her hope for the future, and more.

Experience

Christina’s first experience of racism was when she was in 3rd or 4th grade. She was in line at a fair when a white man standing in front of her dropped a pen. Christina picked it up and tried to give it back to him, but the man refused to take it. He said I’m not touching that, put it back on the ground. She did as he asked, and then he picked up his pen. She asked her mother later why the man refused to take the pen from her. Her mom did not sugar coat the incident. She simply stated to her daughter that she couldn’t prove it, but it was likely because his skin color was different than hers.  

Later, Christina had a wonderful experience as a student-teacher for East Grand Rapids Public Schools. The love and appreciation she experienced from students and staff led her to apply to become a full-time teacher. Though Christina received glowing recommendations, one of her school advisors from East Grand Rapids Public Schools suggested that she not get her hopes up. The advisor shared that though Christina was an excellent teacher, the school system would not likely hire a black teacher. 

Christina felt hurt by the experience. The hurt grew deeper and deeper until she became angry. Her anger was not toward a person but with an unjust system. 

Recently a white co-worker said she thought Christina received her job at Grand Rapids Community College because she was black. Though, now she recognizes that Christina is a great teacher. Christina was stunned by her co-worker’s statement and thought, this isn’t something that happens to other people. This is happening to me.

Christina does not feel she led a sheltered life, but she did not experience racism often. Christina, who questioned most of her life if she were black enough, suddenly realized that she was black enough. The experience was eye-opening and made Christina infinitely more aware of the issues that black people face daily. 

Desire and Hope for Change

Today, Christina struggles to reconcile the horrible things that people say and the actions taken against African Americans. Social media has given everyone a voice, and it is impossible to deny the reality of racism. Daily news feeds contain hurtful and ignorant comments that range from innate cultural bias to blatant hatred. The stream of constant and insufferable dialog makes it difficult for Christina to remain hopeful for change.

Still, Christina is unwilling to accept that this is just how it is. She has become a fierce advocate for justice. She is creating awareness of racism and oppression through her blog, tap dance, and educating people like me. Christina is unafraid and stands up for the rights of others. She states, though, that all voices must be heard to create real change.  

Christina has had little hope for change. However, since the murder of George Floyd, she has felt a shift of consciousness. The black community has grown more unified, and many white people have become allies. She also thinks that the movement is not a fad and that it is not going away. There is a glimmer of hope. But, Christina, a realist, knows it will happen slowly. 

The following links are to songs that Christina chose for tap dance recitals that acknowledge the existence of oppression.

Glory, By Common and John Legend from the Motion Picture, Selma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZOKvYcx_o

A Change Is Gonna Come, By Aretha Franklin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6YCxXQ6Scw

Christina wrote the following blog, Black Ink. It speaks to the excessive number of black lives that are lost unnecessarily. I encourage you to read it and feel the depth of her words and the gravity of the world in which we live. https://tickledpink1.weebly.com/blog/archives/05-2020

In Her Own Words

I asked Christina if she felt she had to work harder than a white person to prove herself. Her response is as follows:

I think that I have to work 100 times harder to prove myself, especially as a professional. I struggle with being labeled “the angry black woman.” While I know that speaking up for injustice is the right thing to do, too often, when black women speak their minds, they get this label. We are constantly evaluating our speech, our behavior, our attire, etc. I don’t feel like I can have off days – I have to be on all the time.

And lastly, I wondered how Christina reconciles or carries her burdens? Here is her response.

When I think about the things that I do to live with the unrest, I have to say that I struggle. A lot! I am continually reminding myself that there is only so much that I can do as one individual. I think about the impact that I make as an educator and in my spheres of influence. I think about the hard conversations that I have with friends. I do all of this to remind myself that all hope is not lost and that change will come – slowly – but it will come. I also dance. There are so many times that I tell myself, “just let it all out on the dance floor.” I think one of the most significant ways that I reconcile everything is through my faith. I remind myself that God is in control.

And More

Christina’s battle is not only related to racism and oppression. She also fights a physical war with her own body. Christina has Polycystic Kidney Disease. This plays a huge role in who she as a person. It helped her in her journey of advocacy. She is involved with the PKD Foundation and became a staunch advocate for kidney health – specifically in the black community. The experience of having kidney disease completely changed Christina as a person. It softened her and helped her think about what other invisible illnesses or circumstances people may be going through. She became more compassionate and a spokesperson for self-care. Having a condition with no cure changes your perspective immensely. 

Thank you, Christina, for participating in A Time To Heal. I value you and your contribution. When I began this project, I hoped that it would open eyes, provoke thought, and heal hearts. However, my expectation changed significantly within the first few weeks. Almost immediately, people I love began to question whether I should speak about race, racism, and oppression. I was heartbroken.

I could have quit. I could have changed the focus. But, I made a commitment, and I still believe that the only way to bridge the divide that exists in our country is to open peaceful conversations with people unlike ourselves. Christina, you gave me the courage to continue. I asked you, “What if the only heart changed by this project is my own?” Your response was, “Well, then it was all worth it.”

Christina, your one wise voice has changed my heart. I am forever grateful.


For more information on PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease), go to https://pkdcure.org/

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more. 

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, purchase Gail’s photography at Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artsplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

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The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Christina once asked herself, Am I Black Enough? Later in life, the answer became self-evident. Christina has experienced racism in many forms. She is an educator, and passionately speaks of the inequalities that exist in our country today. Christina uses her one voice to seek justice. She expresses her concerns, her anger, and her wisdom by blogging and through dance.

My Dirty Little Secret – Nature Knows

I have a confession. I lied. It was unintentional, but still, I lied.

I am a storyteller. I observe, gather information, and translate. Sometimes when I do not have all the facts, I make up “stuff” to fill in the blanks. Is that lying? Or, is it just an attempt to make sense out of an unknown thing. Perhaps it is just an exercise to entertain my busy brain. No matter, as time passes, the stories I tell myself become more intricate, and fact and fiction begin to blur. Soon, I am confident that my story is infallible and entirely correct. That is until one of the square building blocks turns into a circle, and the whole tale crumbles.

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have taught me more than I could possibly share. Humility is a common theme, and so it is in this case. It has become apparent that I misreported a few of the facts. I contemplated never sharing the truth out of pride or embarrassment. But, honesty and integrity won.

It all began with Lydia. Lydia was one of my best friends. I am solid in what I know about her. She loved me. She was a fierce protector of her colts, and the lake, and a faithful mate to Roger, and then, Bud. When Lydia was injured in the spring of 2019, she lost her status as the matriarch of the lake, could no longer produce offspring, rear her brood of colts, or be a mate to Bud.  She had lost everything that had defined her as a crane, except for me. Her gift to me was to allow me to see her frailty. Her vulnerability deepened our relationship. I lost her at the end of the season, but she lives on in my heart.

Lydia’s last surviving colt was not a typical crane. Crystal was born without fear. Baby cranes should be afraid of humans, but she would wonder about my feet so much at times that I feared I might step on her. She possessed a level of athleticism and grace that I had never seen in another crane, and I often thought of Crystal as a ballerina. She loved to ham it up for the camera and me. Crystal warmed my heart. Lydia and I were both so very proud of her.

When the cranes returned in 2019, I was shocked that Crystal was allowed to linger in the nesting area. In the past, I observed Bud and Lydia turn their backs toward the colts born the previous year. The message was clear; You are no longer welcome here. Bud and Lydia mated, as usual, eggs were laid, and everything seemed normal, except that Crystal was always around. When Lydia was injured and then disappeared, Crystal stepped in as mate to Bud and shared the responsibility of lying on eggs and even attempted to raise colts that were not hers. I was very proud.

This year I was delighted to welcome back Bud and Crystal. But, Bud seemed smaller, and I was concerned about his health. As time went on, I began to wonder if the bird was, indeed, Bud. Mostly, the bird seemed like Bud. But, one day, as I peered out the window, I noticed the cranes doing their special spring mating dance. Oh my. Oh, dear. Nope. No, indeed! My mind refused to process what it was seeing. My square building block became a circle, and the story I had told myself of Crystal fell apart. Crystal and Bud were not mates last summer, but companions. The new bird is not Bud, and the old bird is the same, but not Crystal.

Thus, I humbly introduce you to the Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse; Patriarch Billy Crystal and his mate Rosebud.


Song of The Post: I Heard it Through the Grapevine By Marvin Gay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hajBdDM2qdg

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. 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, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Favorite Photo – The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo was born from my journey with loss, grief, depression, and rebirth. When the cloud of despair lifted, I experienced the world around me with new eyes, ears, and a changed heart. The ordinary in everyday life became extraordinary. Problems became opportunities, and I began to imagine the possibilities. Gratitude became my constant companion.

I began to wonder. Does gratitude have a distinct look? I know how it feels, but is the appearance of gratitude universal? This question led me to ask my friends to sit in silence and ponder gratitude while I photographed them. I hoped to capture an emotion, not a picture-perfect portrait. Several of my friends volunteered, and the project was born.

My favorite gratitude photo is the first one that I took of another person. Neither of us knew exactly how we should start. We were in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado, and we were both a bit weary from a day spent on our feet in our booth at a dental show. My friend decided to sit quietly in a chair and silently pray. As she began, the energy in the room became palpable, and I immediately understood the gravity of my request. I was asking another person to bear their soul, to become vulnerable in a way that is not comfortable, and to share that moment with the world.

After a bit of time passed, my friend began to shift in her chair and then opened her eyes. Her face, illuminated only by the lamp on the bedside table, appeared as though it had been kissed by angels. Silvery tears fell down her cheeks, and her eyes glistened with gratitude born from grief. The intensity of this moment took my breath away, and I nearly forgot to release the shutter to begin capturing images. The inside beauty of my friend was present on the outside, and it was stunning beyond words.  That moment was then and has remained, among the most intimate of my entire life.

The photos taken in Denver are as real and raw as it gets. While I saw the images as beautiful, my friend did not. The image I chose was too harsh for her, and she did not recognize the woman depicted. And so, I have honored my friend’s wishes. The photo will not be used in The Gratitude Project. I will, however, use the experience as I proceed. My friend taught me that my request for a person to sit in gratitude is not small. I will move forward with honor and reverence for every person that participates in The Gratitude Project.

Thank you, friend, for the gift you gave me. I am grateful.

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Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project?  Please feel free to contact me at Gail@Lakehousecc.com.

Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

Instagram – The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo – https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

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2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. 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, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Nature Knows – Moms, Kids, & Grief

Saying Goodbye to Hans

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have had a tough year. The matriarch of the lake, Lydia, was injured early in the season. She was no longer able to defend her territory, be a suitable mate for Bud, or to care for her unhatched colts. In a strange twist, Crystal, Lydia’s colt from the previous summer stepped in as a replacement mother and mate to Bud. Lydia’s fate is currently unknown. She may be living on the fringe of the lake with the other unmated birds, or she may have died. Either way, her departure from the Lakehouse has been a devastating loss.

Crystal cared for the eggs as though they were her own, taking turns with Bud to keep them safe and warm. She has been a good and doting mother to this year’s colts, Hans and Solo. But as any mother knows, it only takes a moment for a child to step into danger. Hans did just that on Wednesday, May 29.

I could hear the horn of the passing car clearly from inside the Lakehouse. This happens from time to time. The cranes are, after all, birds and have very little sense about the dangers of the roadway. Most often, the cranes come away uninjured and unfazed by their close calls with passing vehicles. But in this instance, I felt quite certain that one or more of the birds were injured or killed. Bud & Crystal’s distress calls clearly communicated that a colt was seriously injured or dead. I searched for Hans along the roadside but found nothing. Perhaps I was wrong.

As the day passed, I watched the cranes closely. I saw Bud and Solo together in the bog, but not Crystal. I worried that Crystal, as a new mom, might have been unsettled enough by the event to abandon her new family. Or, maybe Hans was not gone and for some odd reason, Crystal was spending time alone with him. That, however, would be highly unusual. There is safety in numbers, and crane families stay together.

Around 8 pm, I heard Crystal knocking on the basement door. She normally does this to let me know that there is no bird seed on the ground. However, there was plenty, and there was no need for her to knock. She met me at the door and just stood there looking up at me intensely. I don’t know for sure what she wanted or what she was trying to tell me, but I believe she was sharing her loss. I said from my heart in my out loud voice, “I love you, Crystal, I know that Hans is likely gone, I am so very very sorry, I will miss him too. And, Crystal, I am so very proud of you. You did your best. You are a great mom.” She held my eyes with hers for some time. Tears fell as I focused on sending love from my heart to hers.

Thursday morning arrived, and no cranes came to the yard. I could still see Bud and Solo in the bog, but not Crystal. The afternoon passed, and then, the evening came. I could no longer accept Crystal’s absence. I had to find her. Perhaps I could see her more easily from the kayak. It did not take long to locate them. While I was saddened to see that Hans was indeed missing, I was relieved to see Bud, Crystal, & Solo together.

I was disheartened, but at peace. The remaining family was safe and together as a unit. For this, I was grateful. I paddled around the lake for a bit longer feeling my feelings, talking to God, and taking in the sights, and sounds of the lake.  As the sun began to set, I recorded and posted a video on Facebook sharing the sad news of Hans passing.

On my return to the dock, I noticed the cranes settling on their nest for the night. I called out to them, “Come back to the yard tomorrow, ok!” At that moment, I saw something that was not right. It was a patch of orange where it should not have been. My heart sank, and tears began to fall. Hans lifeless body lay below Crystal’s feet. She must have carried him from the roadway back to the nest. The mystery of her absence from the others was now solved. Crystal looked down at Hans and then at me with an expression that was not unfamiliar. It was, in fact, an expression I hoped never to see again as long as I lived.

Grief has its own timeline. It comes and goes without warning. Sometimes it lasts for minutes but often lingers for days or even months. Grief feels like a lonely Godless place. No one, absolutely no one can feel your pain. No one can bare it for you. And, God, where is God when every cell of your being aches for someone or something that is no longer here? With just one glance from a distraught bird, vivid images from my mother’s final days played out in my mind’s eye, and I plunged into the depths of grief. Grief makes no apologies. It is an opportunist that shamelessly marches in, sets up camp, and stays until the heart heals enough to send it packing.

Three days before my mother passed, she was standing in our kitchen getting ready to take her night time meds. Instead of opening one section of her pill minder, the entire lid came off and one week’s worth of pills scattered across the floor. She quickly got down on hands and knees and began picking them up. As suddenly as she started, she stopped and stood up. She was confused. She looked up at me and like small child opened her upturned fists to show me what she held. She said, “I don’t know what to do.” At that moment, my mother realized that the cancer in her brain was winning. Her eyes pleaded in the same way as Crystal’s. Both were saying, Help me, can you fix this, won’t you please fix this. I took the pills from my mother’s hands and then held her in my arms and rocked her gently as she wept. I said It’s ok, it’s my turn to take care of you now. When she stopped crying, I put her to bed.

What is a person to do when pleading eyes ask the impossible? What is a person to do when there is nothing to be done? I could not fix my mother’s failing brain or make the cancer go away. I could not bring Hans back to life. I could not give my mother or Crystal what they wanted. In that helpless, hopeless place, all one can do is show up. To bear witness to the other’s suffering and in some small way, help to carry the burden. I sat quietly in the kayak and held Crystal’s gaze until she looked away.

Grief is a Godless place, but it is often where we find the Divine. It is frequently in our darkest moments that we call on God to lead us out of suffering and into the light. It is the journey back from the despair experienced during grief that strengthens our relationship with God and heals our hearts. As for me, I am shaken, and my heart is badly bruised. But, I know that the grief will pass and that the sorrow will be replaced with gratitude.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harold and Lynnie Howarth, Lydia, and Hans.

My connection to nature is a direct gift from my parents. It is where I connect most often with them and is where I see God. Without my mother and father’s demonstration of love and reverence for nature, I would likely have never befriended a nesting pair of sandhill cranes. I am grateful beyond words for my folks. They were good people. I am grateful beyond words for the odd connection I have with these splendid birds.

Song of the Post: How Can I Help You Say Goodbye By Patty Loveless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k

If you enjoyed this post, please consider viewing my photography at https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

2019© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse. 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.

Kicking Stones

I am kicking stones.

I am kicking stones from the bridge into the shallow sandy creek below.

I lean upon the rusty old iron rail, and I am kicking stones!

I watch them as they fall and wait for the splash, the sploosh, the plip, the plop, the rapid stutter of multiple small stones kicked all at once. I wonder what will become of the dusty old rocks now washed clean by the flowing water. Will they stay lodged in the bedrock, or continue their journey toward the river or perhaps, even the sea? Over the years, have I kicked enough stones into this creek to have forever changed its path? Or does it take just one?

What about the creek of my life? Have I kicked enough stones into its current to change the course of a life? Have my words, thoughts and actions had an impact on others? Have they been kind, compassionate, and caring, or have they been biting, ugly and cruel? Have I been reckless with the hearts of others, or have I tended them like a sacred garden? Have I helped or have I hurt? I suppose a bit of both.

And where have I resided in the creek of life? High and dry on the creek bank only to bear witness, or fully immersed in the raging waters of the spring. Did I seek the comfort of the slow-moving shallow water, or did I venture deeper into the rapids only to cling to boulders for safety? Was I ever courageous enough to wade in without hesitation, let go, and let the current lead me to my destiny?

I wonder, what is the sum of my life? Have I created a splash, a sploosh, a plip, a plop, a stutter or a ka-thump? Will I, in the end, arrive at my final destination washed clean of this life as a finely polished stone, or weather-beaten and broken? I cannot know the answer. What I do know is that the tally has not yet been totaled. Though there is little I can do to make amends for the misdeeds of my past, I can go forth today, tomorrow, and all of my tomorrows with love, kindness, and compassion. I will throw caution to the wind, and step boldly into the creek, let go, and allow my destiny to unfold.

Song of the Post: Stones In The Road By Mary Chapin Carpenter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ekTCh5JiA0

If you enjoyed this post, please consider viewing my photography at https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2018. 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.

Originally Published Kicking Stones 08/24/2013

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.

My Mother’s Garden

 

Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

If you enjoy the photos in this blog please 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.

 

 

Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse

 

 

The day the baby Sandhill Cranes are born is one of my most highly anticipated days of the year.  On May 1st, I was awakened by Bud and Lydia trumpeting the arrival of this year’s brood.  Neighboring cranes replied, either to share in their joy, or to announce the hatching of their own families.  With heart racing, I jumped out of bed, and rushed to the backyard with camera in hand.  Sure enough, Bud and Lydia stood upon the nest with two little ones under foot.  I was beside myself with excitement and could barely hold the camera still.  Not only was I overjoyed by the birth of the new cranes, but also, that they had for the first time ever placed the nest in a location I could easily see and photograph.

 As with all babies I have hopes and dreams for their future.  The first hope is that they live one day, then one week, and finally through the fall so that I might wish the whole family farewell as they fly south for the winter months.  If they make it through the week, they receive names.  Names are chosen based on behavior, birth date, or some other theme that is appropriate that year.  Here is a chronology from the time the time I lived at the Lakehouse.

2006 Roger & Lydia (Named after some friend’s of my father)

2007 Roger, Lydia, and son David (David, after the real Roger and Lydia’s son)

2008 Roger, Lydia, & son Bud, and daughter Diane (Bud for a relative that loved nature and had passed away that day, and Diane after a relative born on that day)

2009 Sadly Roger did not return in the spring of 2009.  Lydia chose to mate with Bud, her son from the previous year.

2009 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Dori, and son Nemo (Born during a high water year, and survived for only a few days)

2009 Bud, Lydia, & sons Chance, and Rerun (The second brood of the year, thus named for the second go around.  Chance injured a wing late in the summer, and though I took him to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Grand Rapids. he did not survive)

2010 Bud, Lydia, & sons Trip and Mayday (Born on May 1st, the logical name for one would be Mayday, and the other.  Well he tripped on everything)

2011 Bud, Lydia, & daughters Corky and Cedar (Named after the parent company of Michigan’s Adventures where Tammy Sue worked , Cedar Point and the Corkscrew Rollercoaster).  Neither chick survived the summer.

2012 Bud, Lydia, & sons Sherwood and Forest (Named after Sherwood Forest from Robinhood)

2013 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Red, and son Rusty (After the color of their baby down)

2014 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Jut (Born on Mother’s day, she was given my mother’s childhood nickname)

Though many folks do not like Sandhill Cranes, I cannot help but be fascinated by them.  It is true that they destroy crops, landscapes, and lawns with their long sharp beaks, as they search for bugs and seeds to eat.  But I have no crops, and the little damage they do to my yard is not of consequence.  How can one not love a bird that stands nearly four feet tall, eats at the feeder, brings precious babies each year, and allows one to stand just inches away?  What a precious and unexpected gift I received when I moved to the Lakehouse!

Each year I am delighted by new and old observations.  Just this year I learned that the babies swim across open water.  Something I have known for some time is that each chick develops its own distinct personality though some themes remain the same year after year.  The boys tend to lean back on their knees when resting.  The girls sit down.  There is always the flapper.  This chick propels itself forward as it walks by constantly flapping its tiny wings.  Without a doubt, the flapper is the first one to successfully fly as fall grows near.  Then there is always one that is a bit lazy or sleepy.  This chick will take every opportunity to lag behind, sit down, or take a nap.  This chick’s first flight is never pretty.

Bud was a lazy/sleepy chick.  Still on occasion he reverts to old behavior and forgets that he is a dad and has responsibilities to the babies.  Bud’s first flight was the absolute worst I have ever observed.  His sister Diane had a picture perfect flight.  Roger and Lydia cheered her on as she glided from the nest to my lawn.  Bud followed up with a wobbly take off gaining a bit of altitude, then abruptly took a nose dive into the muck.  Though Roger and Lydia started off with the same enthusiastic cheer they had with Diane, they quickly fell silent during Bud’s ill timed decent.  Soon all four cranes were in my garden.  Diane, Roger, and Lydia, were obviously pleased, and ate happily at the feeder.  Bud, however, wet and mud covered, hung his head in shame, and would not come near to eat.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life and can live 20 years.  The first year of a crane’s life is the most difficult.  On the day the chicks hatch the adults compel them to leave the nest to forage for food.  The terrain they nest in is not easy to navigate, and I find it unimaginable to me,  as to how the little ones manage.  The nests are often surrounded by water that they must swim across.  Then there are reeds and cattails, sharp, bent and broken from the previous years, new sprouts of the same plants, muck, sticks, and fallen trees.  During the first year there are many predators the colts are ill prepared to defend themselves against including; hawks, eagles, fox, coyote, raccoon, snapping turtles and even cars.

The cranes have provided me with laughter, wonder, joy, and some sorrow.  In return there is so very little I can do for them.  I feed them, love them, cherish them, and adore them.  I hope that I can provide a safe haven that they will come home to year after year. I am painfully aware that despite my best efforts, I cannot guarantee that Rusty and Red will make it one more day, week, month, or until we say goodbye at the end of summer.  Each day I count, 1 baby, 2 babies, 1 adult, 2 adults, and am grateful and relieved that all are still here.  I cannot guarantee that Bud and Lydia will safely return each spring.  But I hope and I pray, and I wait each year for them to do so.  These are after all wild creatures.  They are not bound to me or to this place, but to their natural instincts.  I can only hope that these instincts will lead them home for many countless years to come.

 

Rusty and Red - The day the sandhill cranes were born

Rusty and Red – The day the sandhill cranes were born

 For more photos of the Sandhill Cranes go to:  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.

 

 

The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

It is the perfect evening to sit on the back porch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Lakehouse.  Even the birds are savoring this spring evening.  Their songs, so plentiful that it is difficult to distinguish one from another.  There are Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Red-Winged Black Birds, Cow Birds, Eastern Tohees, Mourning Doves, Gold Finches, Bud the Sandhill Crane, Sparrows, and Woodpeckers at the feeder.  And not to be forgotten, the Loons, Canada Geese, and various ducks are calling from the lake below.

The cats, Mini and Laila, accompany me.  I am certain they will be exhausted tonight, as they are diligent in their attention to the birds, and the first chipmunk of the year.  Laila quivers and chirps back at the birds. Oh, what might fill her dream tonight!  Mini races back and forth following the chipmunk’s path.  The chipmunk, intuitively, knows he safe, and is enjoying tormenting poor Mini.  They all make me smile and laugh.

There is something timeless about a night like this.  The stresses of the day are far from consciousness, the worries for tomorrow non-existent.  Only the moment, this very moment, matters.  This moment so rich, so full of life, love, and beauty, fill me up, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

And so, I have remained upon the back porch long enough for the day birds to roost for the night.  A chorus of spring peepers, whip-poor-wills, and other night birds welcome the night with a different song.  Tom Turkey is gobbling his last few gobbles, the loons are crying their mournful tune, and the geese are settling in with a few last honks.  The sun set an hour ago, the air is cooling, and I know it is time to go.  But I do not.  How does one end the perfect evening?  Perhaps, I could sit here, for just a few more moments.

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The Loons

The Loons

If you like my blog, you may also like my photos at:  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.

Spring At The Lakehouse

Spring has come to Michigan.  We know this because it is April 20th.  It must be spring!  And yet, the bitter wind is howling, the temperature is below freezing, and it is snowing.  This followed by a week of flooding like I have never seen in my more than 50 years.  So many of us are convinced that spring has not come, and that it may never come this year.

Still, the plants and the animals know that spring has come!  Each year there are signs that spring is on its way to the Lakehouse.  First the Red Winged Black Birds arrive in mid February.  They come in droves, noisily ending the quiet solitude of winter.  Some folks find them annoying.  They are, indeed, a greedy bird and often bully others.  But, I find myself grateful as I watch and listen to them at my feeder, as they replenish their bodies from their long journey North.

By the end of February I start looking for my favorite couple.  Each year I worry, hope, and pray, for the safe return of Bud and Lydia, the nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes that live at the Lakehouse.  This year they were a week later than usual and I feared they had perished over the winter.  As a result, Bud wasted no time in dancing for, and throwing twigs at Lydia to entice her to do whatever birds do to get babies.  The courtship is comical and tickles me to no end.

Shortly after the cranes come home, a variety of migrating ducks and Canada Geese begin to arrive.  Each year, all the birds share a small patch of water where the ice has melted, with the two Mute Swans that are here year round.  The swans at the Lakehouse are extremely antisocial and it is often amusing to watch their less than hospitable interactions with the new arrivals.  I have come to consider Canada Geese the clowns of all waterfowl.  They honk all day and night for no apparent reason.  They tease and taunt all the other birds until they get a reaction.  I have even watched them fly up high above the lake, circle, only to drop back down onto the ice, chest first, to slide across the slick surface.

As the lake begins to thaw the Bald and Golden Eagles stop by for a fishing trip.  One year there were at least 28.  Quite a sight to see!  The Eagles have two fishing methods.  The first fits the classic image of the Eagle swooping down into the water, and reemerging with a fish in its talons only to fly away to some unknown destination to eat its prey.  The second, less spectacular or publicized method, is for the Eagle to stand upon an ice ledge, grab an unsuspecting fish from the frigid water, place it on the ice just inches away, and unceremoniously begin to eat.  The second, less glamorous method, is the most common at the Lakehouse.

At the end of March, the Crocus began to bloom and the foliage of other plants, such as primrose, hyacinth, and daffodils begin to peak through the soil or snow.  Soon, the first morel mushrooms will appear.  For me, just the thought of morel mushrooms in the early spring, induces obsessive night time dreams of hunting for and finding bushel upon bushel of the delicacy.  The reality of mushroom hunting is that it seldom, if ever, matches the imagination.

Lastly, on April 18th, I awoke to the haunting call of my beloved Loons.  The loons have not always lived at the Lakehouse.  They came one year after a terrible, yet, magnificent thunderstorm.   The thunder and lightning was constant!  Light flashed brilliantly all about, lighting its erratic path from heaven to earth.  The thunder rumbled and the house groaned and shook.  Lying in bed I thought of Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, and wondered if the house would still be standing when I awoke.  In the morning, the house was, indeed, still standing.  The sun came out, and for the first time, I heard the call of the Loons.  I wept with joy.

The spring of 2013 is certainly not the spring we all dream of during the dark days of winter.  But spring is most certainly here.  The plants know it.  The animals know it.  And the light grows longer each day.  The cold and dreary days have not stopped nature from its annual rebirth.  It is the time of year for all of us to renew our hopes and dreams, and to be born again. Thus I take my cue from nature and embrace and rejoice in the spring of 2013.  I hope you will too.

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If you enjoy the photos in this blog please 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.

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