Posts in Category: Nature

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.

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

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.

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