Sunday, November 15, 2009

When all the barns Have finally gone

For years now I've been watching the barns disappear.

Red Barns faded pink and then weathered gray.

The side boards rotted and fell away.

Roof shingles blew off.  Moss carpeted what was left.

Open spaces appeared where doors and windows had once been.

Swaybacks marked the countryside.

As the barns went, so went the homesteads.

Rusted relics where life had flourished.

And at the end of the day, nobody cared.

But me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Controversy over Clotheslines - Really!

I imagine my grandmother has been turning in her grave a lot lately, but this latest travesty must have her positively spinning.  She was a true believer in hanging laundry out of doors, even on winter days when they came back inside stiff as boards and steaming from the cold.  Even after her daughters decided she was too old to be out there hanging clothes, she refused to use the dryer they installed in the basement.  Her one rule was that the last load had to be out on the lines before 10 AM.  It was a lazy woman who was still doing her wash in what was practically the middle of the day.

Her reasons for hanging laundry outdoors had more to do with tradition and enjoyment than with saving money or helping the environment.  She genuinely looked forward to Mondays, when the washables were scrubbed clean and dried miraculously by nothing but the very air we breathe.

 So, while I miss her terribly, I'm glad she isn't here to see this.  She simply would not be able to comprehend that there are actually people out there who see clean laundry drying on clotheslines as nothing more than the kind of neighborhood blight that threatens to turn communities into rotting ghettos.

Homeowner's Associations across the country are warning residents that clotheslines and all the attendant paraphernalia, like clothespins and clothespin bags and laundry baskets and actual laundry will not be tolerated in plain sight of other humans.

The debate is getting hot and heavy, even to the point of bringing the blasted gov'mint into it. You can go here to sign a petition stating it is the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to line dry. They're asking for a one day photo-op of the First family airing out their (clean) laundry.

Some states are already working toward rescuing the line dryers from the tyranny of the energymongers.  Vermont, for instance, passed the "Right to Dry" for all Vermonters, as described here by Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store.  Lyman has been "raisin' the dickens" about it for the past few years and. . . .but I'll let him tell you:

Colorado, Hawaii, Main, Florida and Utah already have such bills in place, and Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Oregon aren't far behind.  They're working on it.

Even the New York Times got into it.  This from their article:  “The issue has brought together younger folks who are more pro-environment and very older folks who remember a time before clotheslines became synonymous with being too poor to afford a dryer,” said a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia, State Senator Linda T. Puller, who introduced a bill last session that would prohibit community associations in the state from restricting the use of “wind energy drying devices” — i.e., clotheslines.

A film crew in the UK is producing a film called, "Drying for Freedom", due in theaters not necessarily near you in 2010.   Click here for the trailer.

This is big, folks.  But, wouldn't you know?  Certain people don't like the idea of anybody telling you you CAN hang out your laundry.  They much prefer those who tell you you CAN'T.  Tammy Bruce's take on it is this:  "You can have my dryer…and washer…and refrigerator when you wring them from my warm, smooth hands."  She sees going back to hanging out the laundry as drudgery, and maybe she's right. but what if you just want to?

I have a dryer now, but for the first three years in our cabin, it was air dry or nothing.  In the summer I hung laundry outside and in winter I hung them on drying racks, thereby adding needed moisture to the dry heat of a closed-up house.

I still love hanging out when the weather is good.  When it's heading toward bad, I often hang out for a while and then throw them into the dryer to finish up.  I like the way clothes feel when they've been wind-dried and I like the way they smell.  I like the idea of saving a few bucks on electricity, too.  And I really like standing out there, clothespins in my mouth (the way my Mom always did), arranging those pieces just so, until they're not only set for optimal drying but are aesthetically pleasing, too.  All of the white tee shirts are hung side by side, shoulder to shoulder.  The socks match up, heels all facing the same direction.  Sometime I even color-code.  You can get much more creative with line-drying than you can by throwing things into a dryer.  That's a definite plus. (And nobody around here would ever dream of telling me I couldn't.)

But what I especially love about this whole argument is that it's like feathers flying instead of poison-tipped arrows.  I haven't laughed so much over a cause I might actually care about in a really long time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Thing of Beauty


Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

Henry David Thoreau


This week we were walking along a nearby hiking trail and it might have been the fall light (the air is clearer, the greens are fading, and the vegetation takes on shades of brown and gold), but it seemed like even the simplest bits of nature took on a beauty that just cried out "photo-op".

Stump flowers

A study in Contrasts

Birch Bark

As I was adding those photos to my files, I realized I had taken a lot of pictures lately that might fit into the "walk on by" category. Natural "vignettes" that don't jump out at you, don't leave you breathless, but on closer inspection, have a kind of fascinating beauty.

Tree fungus

A Fungus Bouquet

Lake Superior "seashells"

Caterpillar Chic

Goat's-beard "Puff ball"

The goat's beard, I admit, didn't grow on our dock.  The light was better there, and so was the background, so I sort of stuck it in between the dock boards.  Artistic license or "fudging".  Call it what you will, but I like it!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A squirrel-and raven-proof suet feeder. . .so far!

We were buying suet by the wagon-load for a while there, what with the constant stream of uninvited, selfish, messy diners. We had the usual cage suet feeders that attached flat against the trees, and every day they were emptied and needed filling. The squirrels, the black birds, and the pileated woodpeckers made sure there was nothing left for the smaller suet-loving birds, who were hovering nearby licking their chops.

Then I saw something ingenious, either in a catalog or on one of the many blogs I hop to. It showed a suet feeder with the suet cage on the underside. Brilliant! (I would give credit where credit is due, but I honestly don't remember where I saw it.)

I showed it to the fix-it guy around here and he came up with this:

It's just a regular suet cage mounted upside down on a board. The rounded cover made from a soda bottle makes any potential bandit slide right off. It's attached to the tree with an old shelf bracket he had lying around, so the whole thing didn't cost a penny. (Well, maybe a dime, since he had to use a deposit bottle.)

The metal clamp holds the feeder shut and is easy to open when it comes time to fill it again--which isn't nearly as often any more.

The small birds love it and the big, aggressive birds--and squirrels--hate it. That's an added bonus, don't you think?


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Dance of the Cranes

"High horns, low horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes. At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun in the cr
ane marsh. . .

. . .Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. the quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words. . .

. . .The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their having once harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history."

Aldo Leopold, Wisconsin - A Sand County Almanac

In mid-April, when the ice was just leaving, we were out walking our road and heard strange noises coming from the marshy place around the bend.

Through the bare branches, we saw two sandhill cranes--a rare sight around here.

For once, I had my camera with me and as I started to take pictures, the male of the pair began doing a mating dance. (The pictures are grainy because I was carrying my smaller, less weighty camera with the shorter lens, but I was afraid to get too close and scare them away.)

There is something so primitive about these birds--still so wild and not yet dependent on humans, as the Canada Geese have become. They're rare enough not to be nuisances yet--though in an earlier blog, I posted pictures of hundreds of them in a farmer's field.

That was two years ago, and we haven't seen anything like that again. Now and then we hear their incredibly loud calls and see them flying overhead during the spring fly-0ver, but we are just a stop along the way to a more permanent summer home.

I think I like it that way. I want to be able to be surprised by their calls and to be astonished at their size. I want their numbers to be small enough here so that we humans don't feel the need to try and feed them to keep them around, so that, ultimately, hunters won't feel the need to treat them as nuisances and have an excuse to kill them.

There are elements of wildness that have nothing to do with us--that can survive very well, often better, without us--but that we crave, possibly because something in our primal, primordial past cries out to us. I think it's why so many of us choose to either live in or keep places that are inconvenient at best and crudely inadequate at worst. We crave the quiet and the tranquility of the boondocks, the wildness of nature surrounding us, and we take it where we're able to find it.

Times are desperate here in my sad, beautiful Michigan. State unemployment rates are in the double digits, and I heard a report just this morning that jobless numbers in Detroit are over 24%. Even from this distance--350 miles away and on a separate peninsula--my heart is with those people.

The fear is palpable in the city. Foreclosure notices, red flags on those unfortunate doors, dot every working-class neighborhood and there isn't a person who isn't touched in some way by the current mushrooming joblessness. In Michigan, auto-workers and other blue-collars have always headed north out of the cities to their own little patches of land. You don't have to go far in Michigan to get to where the wild things are, and finding your own quiet breathing space is not a luxury for a factory worker, it's a necessity.

For every lonely hermit who goes quietly mad, a thousand city dwellers--not just in our cities here, but in every city--rage loudly, fiercely, dangerously into insanity. The wilderness, the quiet places, are there to quell that rage, to soothe their fears, to give them respite, even for a few hours or days.

There are people in power who don't understand this need, and I might feel sorry for them if not for the fact that their being clueless often means a surrender of our wild places to corporate interests. Any of us who value these quiet places of inordinate beauty, these sanctuaries for the human soul, cannot let that happen.
"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste."
Wallace Stegner, The Wilderness Letter, written to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, 1962 and subsequently in The Sound of Mountain Water (1969)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When the North reminds you it's NORTH

This has been some spring! Oh, wait. . .it's summer now. Let me just peek outside to make sure. Be right back. . . . .

. . . .okay, I'm kidding. I took these pictures the week after Easter. The eagle landed on the ice, sat there for a few minutes--long enough for me to fiddle with my camera--and then took off.

The ice didn't move out until April 23. We had a ridiculously cold winter up here this year, so looking forward to spring became a full-time occupation. Except spring never arrived. Not in March, anyway. Not in April, either. May looked promising for a couple of days but turns out they were just teasers. Back to endless weeks of cold and wind and fog.

Now it's the end of June (How could that be?), and we've had maybe ten warm days at the most since we got back on the island in mid-April. Week before last we had two HOT days. Into the 80s. But now it feels like April again.

I shouldn't complain, I know. I've looked at those oranges and reds on the Weather Channel's maps and I guess I should be happy the heat waves are missing us. But wind and cold and fog at the end of June doesn't seem at all like summer. I can't believe we're less than a week away from the Fourth of July.


We went to the Lower Tahquamenon Falls near the end of April . Plenty of snow in the deep woods and along the shaded boardwalk, but the lookout deck was sunny and clear. Huge runoff this year, making for spectacular rapids. Pictures just can't do justice to the fury of all that water!

Okay, just ignore my grumbling here. There isn't a place on earth I would rather be. The spring bird migration was wonderful. This oriole hung around for almost a week--really unusual. They usually show up one day and are gone the next. They'll hang around hummingbird feeders as long as there is a perch for them. They love oranges, so we hang a half from a nail in a tree. I hear they love grape jelly, too. Maybe I'll try that next year.

The morel mushrooms tried to hide on us, but we found them. Fried them up in a little butter and olive oil and oh, did we go looking for more!

I have a lot of catching up to do after such a long time away. I'll be back!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cabin Longings - Never satisfied

I've been away from our cabin for less than a month, which means that I have more than two months to go before I see it again. In December, when I was packing up to leave, I couldn't wait to start out for new places. We were heading downstate to spend Christmas with the people we care most about, so saying goodbye to our little cabin didn't seem all that hard.

Then, after Christmas, we left our bunch and took off over the Ohio flatlands, beyond the Kentucky hills and into the Smoky Mountains and out the other side to the South Carolina Piedmont, out final destination being the Atlantic coast. It was exciting enough to forget, for a while, about our little cabin in the woods.

Tunnel through the North Carolina mountains

The views are beautiful here, too, though as different as day and night. Instead of pines, we see palms, and instead of Cisco fishermen, we see shrimpers and crabbers pulling their traps into their small boats. The seagulls follow behind, the same as they do on the lakes, but here we see pelicans and the occasional group of dolphins competing for any little morsels left behind or thrown overboard.

Today there were horses on the beach and I rushed out to take pictures of them. Pretty interesting stuff, so why do I keep thinking about home?

I'm having Cabin Longing at the moment, but I've had Cabin Fever often enough to know it's no fun being cooped up inside a small hut for days on end as Mother Nature unleashes her own nasty brand of Northern fury.

Oh, those furies. . . But that's not what I'm thinking about now. Now all I can think about is a cozy fire in the stove. . .the soup pot simmering on the back burner. . .snowflakes drifting softly, forming luscious pillows outside my window. . .forest creatures stopping by to spend a little quality time with us. . .

. . .Ah, the stuff of dreams. But, oddly, when I shared some of this with the folks near home, they had more than a few choice words, too. Most of which I wouldn't want to repeat here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another Moon, another place

Tonight I'm watching the "largest moon of 2009", which might not mean much, considering it's only January 10th, but Nasa says it's a Perigee moon, and I really like the sound of it. This from the Nasa website, where you can read all about it:

Johannes Kepler explained the phenomenon 400 years ago. The Moon's orbit around Earth is not a circle; it is an ellipse, with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other. Astronomers call the point of closest approach "perigee," and that is where the Moon will be this weekend.

Perigee full Moons come along once or twice a year. 2008 ended with one and now 2009 is beginning with another. It's the best kind of déjà vu for people who love the magic of a moonlit landscape.

When I'm up north, much of the time any sky phenomenon is hidden by the ever-present cloud cover, but here at the ocean we've been watching it for over an hour now.

They say it should look largest nearer the horizon, and maybe it did. (See above) But I loved this view, when it was peeking through the clouds.

Did anyone else see it? I'm curious to know whether it looked different in other parts of the country. (Just talked to my daughter in Southeastern Michigan. They got eight inches of snow today, so I'm guessing they weren't watching a full moon!)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2009. . .Already??

Whew, I feel as though I've been caught up in a whirlwind and I've just now come back down to earth. The Holidays were wonderful, but enough is enough, already!

We closed up our cabin the week before Christmas and headed downstate to the city. (Which would have been a sorry trek but for the fact that nearly our entire family is there.) Packing for three months takes miles and miles of lists, two large suitcases, five plastic bins, and a couple of those vacuum bags you put your stuff in and suck all the air out of and they flatten like lumpy pancakes. They look great when you first do them, and they'll last for a few days, but by the time we get to our destination, they've puffed up into very large pillows. We've tried everything to get them to work. We've bought different brands. I've arranged and re-arranged the clothes inside many times to get lumps, bumps and air out of them, but they turn on us every time.

Closing up the cabin for the winter has gotten easier over the years, but it's still a job that takes days of planning and doing. My husband keeps a list that he checks off every year so he doesn't forget anything, and he's good at it. So far no major disasters. I keep lists, too, and my job, besides packing, is to contact the Post Office, DirecTV, the utilities, etc. I did good for the most part, but half way downstate I remembered that I forgot to open the refrigerator doors after I pulled the plug. I'm waiting for our nephew to go back up to his cabin nearby, but his father is sick and he's staying downstate for a while. It's been cold enough so far that it's not a problem, but if things warm up, I may have to call someone up there and get them to go in and do it. I don't know how much snow is on the ground now, so that could be trouble.
Oh, well, the sun is shining here and it's going to be in the 70s, so tomorrow is another day. . .

As I was packing, I spotted this little squirrel trying to make away with an apple half almost as big as he was. It was out there for the deer, but I didn't put a sign on it so I suppose it looked like squirrel food, too. In the second picture, he has actually grabbed onto it somehow and he's pushing it along. Maybe it's the same squirrel that was so good at stealing food out of the trap without triggering it!

My son must have gotten tired of my complaints about my clunky camera, which I dearly love but which is about the size of a pot roast. For Christmas, he bought me a nifty little Canon Powershot that--glory be--actually fits in my pocket! And if I wear it around my neck, it doesn't feel like some sort of penance. It's taking a while to get used to it, and it doesn't have the telephoto range that my other camera has, but I think I'm going to like it a lot. It has a great macro setting, which I'll use a lot for my Etsy store, but I'll probably still hang onto my Konica Minolta for some of my nature shots. My old camera had a tiny, tiny LCD screen, but this one is large enough to actually recognize things. I still use the view finder for most shots. It just seems more comfortable and camera-like.

We left Michigan on December 29 and arrived in South Carolina on New Year's Eve. We were so exhausted, we missed the midnight New Year arrival by about three hours. We caught up with it the next day, though.
I miss our cabin already, even though nobody forced me to leave it for the winter. I wish I wasn't such a baby about the cold and the too-short days. I used to have visions of me on skis or skates or on a sled or a toboggan, just whooshing along, enjoying all that fluffy white stuff, regarding that often cruel weather as a challenge I was up to.

No more, I'm sorry to say. I was born in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, purportedly the snowiest place in the continental U.S, so I should be out there wallowing in that stuff. (Check out the Keweenaw Snow Thermometer here. Their record snowfall was 390.4 inches in the winter of 1978-79)

Half of me is Finnish, so any number of hardy Finns are probably ashamed of that half of me, but the other half is Italian and I must have inherited that Mediterranean blood, because I don't like to be COLD!

I'll be posting pictures of our cabin and other Michigan locations throughout the winter, but I'm planning on doing some posts on other people's cabins, too. I have a couple I'm working on already, and I'm hoping I'll be able to do a few more. I would love to do a piece on cabins in the south, too. I'll be on the lookout for some interesting ones while I'm here.

A wish for the best of the best in this new year. Make the most of it. It won't return again.