I Love this Ride

As I strained against my bicycle pedals while advancing up the hill, debate raged in my head.  Rounding the corner I asked myself, should I or shouldn’t I?  Nearing the turn I pondered anew – what to do?

In my well ordered world, I would continue on with my planned early morning bike ride/workout.  I would complete my 30 miles, finish my breakfast toast slathered with peanut butter en route to the coffee shop, then perch on the front porch with a medium skim latte and write for several hours.  It’s what I do.

But possibility lurked.  It was a mild clear morning with the sun just rising, and the brilliant leaves told me they were approaching prime.  Not quite there yet, but the weather forecast promised ugly conditions for the next week.  The leaves might not outlast the ugly.

I had yet to perform my annual ritual. At least once a year I take a ride across the city of Duluth, perched on the hilltop following Skyline Drive with the harbor and lake far below.  This would be the perfect day to do so.  But it wasn’t in my plan.  And I always follow my plan.  Or do I?

I turned left.  Never mind that I had only a half full water bottle for a 40+ mile ride.  So what if my usual granola bar stash was in my other bike bag?  Forget the fact that my map of this route was in the same place.  I had to go for it.

Whizzing along in the early morning sunlight, the air alternated between hot humid blasts that fogged my glasses and the more habitual chilly air.  I felt loose and free.  The writing will wait.  The story will still get done.  I was doing something for myself, and it  felt good.

I had a good 20 mile ride through the countryside just to get to the opposite side of town.  But even that blossomed with fall colors.  They were all around me.  It’s what I had come for.

Fall colors Lavaque Road

Reaching the Information Center at Thompson Hill marked the beginning of Skyline Drive.  From there, the scenic drive snaked across the crest of the hill, weaving back and forth in a rolling ride through forests of fall colors.  My pace took a nosedive as I continually stopped to snap pictures, to gawk, to appreciate.

Skyline Drive fall colors 1 Skyline Drive fall colors 2 Skyline Drive fall colors 3 Skyline Drive fall colors 4

Normally, the appeal of Skyline is the view.  The panoramic spread of the St. Louis River, the harbor and Lake Superior is visible from multiple overlooks and is a real-life geography lesson.  But not today.  Blue smoky haze from the western wildfires hovered over the scene.  Across the water, Wisconsin was a blur.  The horizon erased.  The flat water on this calm day stretched into nothingness.  All of it was eclipsed by the vivid scenery in my immediate vicinity.

With one exception.  The quintessential Duluth experience – a thousand-foot ore boat was inching its way out of the harbor and making its final turn to pass under the Aerial Bridge.  In my “why not?” state of mind, I had all the time in the world to wait for it. Even if it resembled the scene from a faded black and white movie.

Ore boat approaching the bridge

Skyline Drive dumps out unceremoniously at the gates of UMD, and I dutifully skirted the campus.  But even that had its rewards, as I passed the flaming maples of Bagley Nature Area abutting a student parking lot.

The final stretch took me across Hawk Ridge where I bumped along the dirt road amid a gaggle of bird watchers observing the migration.  Then I twirled down Seven Bridges Road through a tunnel of gold – home territory and the terminus of my own driveway.

How glad I am that I followed my yearnings.  That I heeded the siren call and threw my plans to the wind.  And relished this last gasp of warm colorful weather.  Throughout it all, the same chorus kept repeating in my head: Oh, how I love this ride!  

Breaking Routine

We own a wonderful cabin nestled in the north woods facing a pristine lake.  A pontoon boat awaits, as do multiple kayaks, a fire ring and a sauna.  Inside a stone fireplace begs for a blazing fire.  So what are we doing renting a lake home?

Having put all our bike touring, lighthouse keeping and travel on hold for the foreseeable future, Rich and I decided we deserved a vacation.  A real getaway, on a different lake, in a dwelling with more space and amenities (including heat that doesn’t involve stoking a wood stove in the middle of the night), and new territory to explore.

New is the key word here.  A place with no expectations.  No chores.  No established routines.  Only possibilities.  Wonderful options.  The outdoors awaits, and I just know the indoors will delight.

Lakehome at Gunflint Pines

I pack all my notes for the pile of magazine stories I’ve promised to write.  But before the first night falls I set them aside, out of sight.  My head hits the pillow without setting an alarm.  I’ve already dismissed the idea of an early morning run or bike ride, kiboshing my daily ritual.  I’m off to a good start.

Our home for the week is on the edge of Gunflint Lake.  We came loaded with bikes, kayak, and hiking shoes.  I set about putting them all to good use.

Mornings on the large lake are my favorite.  Launching the kayak into the tranquil water I cling to the shore, exploring the deep rocky lake, peering into the woods to catch glimpses of cabins and lake homes.  Smoke from the forest fires out west reach us early in the week and creates eerie reflections, but can’t spoil my reverie.

Smokey sunrise by kayak

Strong winds keep me off the lake for a day, but in their wake the deep blue of the sky returns.  The air borders on freezing and the lake gives up her warmth.

Kayaking with lake mist Kayaking Gunflint Lake

The hills behind us are criss-crossed with hiking trails and I set out to conquer them all.  In the resort office I pick up a hand-drawn map, and get pointers on where the best overlooks are.  I can’t resist labels like Lost Cliff and High Cliff, which live up to their names.High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 1High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 2
High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 3

Rich and I set out to hike to Magnetic Rock.  It’s not a long walk, and I don’t know much more than that this rock has magnetic qualities.  I was not prepared for its sheer size.
Molly at Magnetic Rock

Fall colors grow more vivid by the day.  Yellows punctuated by brilliant gems of red illuminate the trail.

Rich hiking Magnetic Rock Trail Magnetic Rock Trail 1

I’m so busy watching where I step – over tree roots and around rocks – that my eye is easily drawn to nature’s minutia beside my feet.
Magnetic Rock Trail 2 Magnetic Rock Trail 3

Traffic on the Gunflint Trail tapers off beyond Gunflint Lake.  So I set out on my bike for the end of the trail – literally.Molly end of Gunflint Trail

Nightfall lures me back to the lake where I can hear the waves gently lapping while warming myself by a crackling fire.  Rich joins me and we sit, mesmerized by the dancing flames. 
Gunflint Lake Campsite

Five days of finding new things to do, seeing new sights, lingering over views, staring into fires.  None of it resembles my daily routine.

Dip Dip and Swing

Our paddles keen and bright,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing.

That old Girl Scout song infiltrates my brain, repeats over and over again, accompanying the strokes that propel our canoe.  I’ve been yearning for this.  There is no escape quite like launching a canoe and becoming one with the water.  Losing myself in the pristine wilderness, the tree-ringed lakes, and the silence broken only by loon calls and the swish of our paddles.

Molly Rich canoe Sawbill Lake

I’ve been lobbying for a trip to the Boundary Waters.  To camp and sit by the fire.  To look beyond at the brilliant stars.  To hope for an Aurora. To crawl out of the tent in the morning and drink my coffee while looking out at the calm water.  To set out and paddle the whole day long.  But it wasn’t in the cards.

While in Grand Marais with our son Erik and his wife, Katie, we went up the Sawbill Trail and rented two canoes for the day.  Rich and I paddled one, they shared one with their dog, Finley who rode complacently in the duffer spot.

Erik Katie paddling Sawbill Lake

It all came flooding back.  That Boundary Waters feeling, the seclusion, the lack of technology and urgency which pervades our lives.  Just us and the water.  Dip dip and swing.

We traveled the length of Sawbill Lake, surfing the rollers stirred up by a strong south wind.  All the while knowing we would have to paddle back again into that same wind.  But we forged onward regardless.  An 80 rod portage took us into Ada Creek where we found quiet backwaters to have a floating lunch.  Finley wondered why we didn’t portage more often so he could run.  It was all good.Erik Rich portaging canoes

Yes, it was a brutal return battling into the wind.  But it did the trick.  I didn’t think about COVID all day.  I didn’t worry about wearing a mask, washing my hands for 20 seconds or who was in my circle.  All I had to do was paddle.  Dip, dip and swing.

This morning Rich and I launched a canoe once again.  We are staying in a secluded lake home at Gunflint Pines Resort, which comes complete with private lakefront, a canoe, and our own fire ring on the shore.  Gunflint Lake is not quite in the Boundary Waters, but close enough.  The fog was just lifting from our end of the lake when we pushed off.

Our dock at Gunflint Pines

It was calm as we crossed the large lake in the early morning.  Our destination was Magnetic Lake, but we accidentally sidetracked into a quiet inlet instead.  I didn’t  care.  Nascent fall colors accented the forest reflected in the calm waters.  We pondered the international border that ran along our route, the US to our left, Canada on our right.  The rest of the world didn’t exist.  Dip, dip and swing.

Canoeing Gunflint LakeMolly canoeing Gunflint Lake

We couldn’t help but be attracted to the ornate golden estate that populated the opposite shore on Magnetic Lake.  It turned out to be on the island we were encouraged to encircle, and I insisted we do so.  I was intrigued with the intricate carvings on the perfectly maintained structures and flower boxes with red blooms.

Magnetic Lake

The wind came up and challenged us on our return.  It wouldn’t be a canoe trip without requiring a bit of extra effort.  The far shoreline advanced ever so slowly as we beat our way into the waves, back across the endless expanse of water.  We poured all we had into the task.  It’s all that mattered.  Just as I wanted.  Dip, dip and swing.

COVID Family Time

“This is not the year to try to make things normal.”

That was in response to the unpleasant task of uninviting our friends to our annual Labor Day gathering at the cabin.  Todd and Susan and family have never missed in 30 years, but the Same Time Next Year event was not meant to be this year.  The feeling was mutual.  Mingling two family circles was not wise.

These COVID times have certainly limited our connection with such friends.  The ability to travel together, invite friends over for dinner and host them at our cabin suddenly evaporated.  Fortunately, in its wake we still have family – the silver lining.  Having extended our circle to include all our children and grandchildren back in late May, our greatest opportunities for socializing have centered around spending time with these loved ones.

Minus our friends, Labor Day weekend became a full family gathering.  We still numbered eight adults and six children ranging in age from 9 months to 10 years.  Thankfully, the weather allowed us to spend most of our time outdoors, sparing us from a juggling act in the cramped space of our modest cabin.

I love nothing more than being surrounded by all my children and their kids.  I’m so grateful for the closeness of our bonds, and the fact that they all still enjoy one another and choose to spend time together.  And yet, I’m conflicted.  So many people and so little time to talk.  I want quality visiting time with the adults, yet easily cave to the insistent pleas to join the little ones in their play, or read to them.

In the end, what lingers are memories of precious moments.  Spontaneous snippets of time that fill my heart.

Little Michael’s infatuation with riding a tiny trike.  Despite his limited vocabulary he easily cajoles several of us to join him.  Time and time again down the little hill.  He insists.  Points to illustrate his instructions.  I laugh so hard my stomach hurts.

Michael Erik on trikes

Ben’s excitement and determination to master the art of rowing – a prerequisite to learning to pilot the little fishing boat and motor.  Taught by none other than Dartmouth oarsman, Grandpa.  The grin on his face when he succeeds.  The invitation to be his passenger on his training runs.

Grandpa teaches Ben to row

Happy hour sprawled across the deck and beyond.  Little fingers picking out only the green veggie straws.  Adults with their favorite beverages.  Two Elsa princesses in attendance.  The cacophony of conversation swirling around me.

Happy Hour on the deck

Pontoon rides.  Wondering if we are over our weight limit.  Redistributing passengers to keep the front afloat.  Admonishing Grandpa when he exceeds cruising speed.  Ogling cabins on the shore.

Taking out the Pontoon Kids cruising on Pontoon

Carrying on the home-made ice cream tradition.  Will it freeze this year?  Yes!  Best Oreo Mint ice cream ever.

Karen Mya Michael make ice cream

The list goes on.  Introducing young ones to the sauna, the “warm room.”  3-year-old Maren swimming in the lake with me, immune to the cold water.  Baby Crosby army crawling across the lawn.  Watching my kids parenting their kids, aunts and uncles spoiling them.  

We certainly missed our friends.  But I am thankful that to date COVID has allowed us to still come together as a family.  Even more than normal.

Hoeg family with masks

Hoeg family

Time out for Waterfalls

With my manuscript ready for the Post Office, I am free.  There is no point in laboring over minutia, tweaking the words, or re-crafting my dialog.  While my writing coach spends the next month pouring over my draft and developing a plan to guide my next steps, I am absolved from working on it.

I promised myself this respite.  After hunkering down and writing all spring and summer, limiting my excursions to the cabin and family visits, it’s time to venture further afield.  Rich and I have decided that the safe way to do that is to stay self-contained, driving and renting AirBnBs that have kitchen facilities.  Sheltering in another place.

Our first foray is up to Grand Marais, returning to a gem of a rental, Tre Søstre in the heart of town.  These three mini-tower dwellings bear the Scandinavian sleek design of architect David Salmela.  With huge windows overlooking the harbor, a deck on each floor and within walking distance from everything in town, it’s an upscale haven.  Since we are in the middle unit this time with two bedrooms, we invited our son Erik and his wife Katie – as well as pooch Finley – along.

Three Sisters Horizon Three Sisters Horizon inside
View from the Horizon in Grand Marais

We dedicated a whole day to journeying up the shore, hiking in state parks along the way.  The common theme was waterfalls.  It didn’t require rigorous effort, as each site was a mile and a half or less from the car.  Half the fun was just lingering, not caring how long it took, and drinking up the sunshine.  Escapism at its best.

Our first stop was at Tettegouche, where we hiked up to High Falls.  Katie braved the rocks and water to throw sticks for Finley who boldly swam below the falls, while the rest of us perched on rocks.

Erik Katie Tettagouche High Falls Katie Finley High Falls Tettagouche

On the way back down, we took a side trail to see Two Step Falls – requiring 200 steps down.  And back up again.Katie Erik Molly Two Step Falls
Rich Two Step Falls Tettagouche Erik Katie Finley Two Step Falls Tettagouche

Temperance River has always been a favorite of mine, with its deep gorge, rushing water and potholes scoured out by swirling water, sand and gravel.  Despite the almost-fall season, there was still plenty of waterflow accompanied by lots of oohs and aahs.

Temperance River 1 Temperance River 2Temperance River 3

We followed the trail up to Upper Falls.  This view took a bit of maneuvering down a steep rocky unmarked path that we missed the first time we passed by.  But it was worth the climb down.Erik Temperance RiverHappy Hour on the deck while Erik and Katie prepared shrimp scampi was pretty sweet.  I’m starting to get into this time out.  Molly Grand Marais

Here I go again

My forever project.  That’s what I’m now calling the work that has consumed the last four years of my life.  What was I thinking when I started out to write a book, expecting that it was The Year of my Book?  Naive as I was, I poured my heart and soul into the stories I wrote for the next year.  And the year after that.  Tales derived from the thousands of miles that Rich and I covered on our bicycle tours, along with the joys and the conflicts that accompanied them.

I supplemented my work with taking writing classes, reading books about craft, joining Lake Superior Writers, and networking with other writers.  I grew as a writer, but knew it wasn’t enough.  I decided to engage a writing coach, to get first-hand personal input on  my efforts to write a book.  Even as I packaged up my work to send to Mary Carroll Moore, I knew what I had was just a “pile of content.”  I relied on her to steer me through shaping it into a book.  I spent the next six months working with her, and she delivered.

Molly writing

It has taken me another two years to put those learnings into practice.  To whittle down my stories and turn them into a cohesive tale.  One that goes well beyond pushing the pedals of my bike, and explores the inner me that journeys through life.  I’ve learned that the bicycle is the vehicle, not the real focus.

Less than half of what I first wrote remains in this new version.  But so much more is woven in between those pages.  I’ve delved into my past, dug into my innermost desires, scrutinized my motives and exposed my biggest failure.  There were times when writing felt like therapy sessions.  But I could see how it all began to weave together.  I could feel it working.  Maybe.

I feel as though I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own.  I could spend months tweaking and fine tuning, but it would all be for naught if I’m not on the right track.  I’m yearning for that professional guidance and tutoring specific to my writing, to my project. I’m ready for another check-in with my coach.

As I prepared for the October start to our next engagement, I looked back on the notes I sent her the first time around.  Specifically, I read through an exercise focused on Why am I Writing this Book?  I was amazed to find that my original reasons no longer hold true.  My purpose has changed.  The themes have shifted.  The points I want to make are vastly different.  I think it’s progress.  I hope she thinks so too.

Yesterday I took my document to the printer, and came home with 320 double-spaced pages.  Nearly the same size as last time, but not at all the same inside.  This time I’m willing to call it a manuscript.

I’m both eager and nervous to get Mary’s reaction to the transformation.  I already know she will be encouraging no matter what.  But I have no illusions that I’m close to done.  I trust her to guide me from here, and teach me the techniques and nuances that will take this to the next level.

Mary is still the only other person who has read this volume.  I’ll keep it that way until I’m good and ready, until it’s good and ready.  I know I still have plenty of work to do.  So here I go again.  Coaching round 2.Life Cycling manuscript

Loon Swimming Companions

For three years running I had a feud with the loons. We battled one another for my swimming space in front of the cabin, and invariably the loons won. With their fancy dances and alarmist yodeling, they drove me away. Away from swimming my laps. Away from their young chicks. Unseen but undoubtedly nearby in their nest.

I never did figure out where that nest was. But in loon logic it was too close for comfort. Too close to let a swimming human any closer.

By now I have been well trained. Starting each July, I scan the water for loons before pushing off from the dock. I double check the area as I near the widening in the reeds. The loon parents have radar and will speed in from the middle of the lake to fend off my advances. But not this year.

So far I have yet to encounter a single loon while swimming. Sadly, I know it means they have no chicks. Or perhaps they have moved their nest further afield. I hope it is the latter.

This morning a loon pair float into my space as I begin my swim. Hesitantly I breaststroke, keeping my head above water, my eyes trained on the loons. They remain calm. Floating, dipping their heads in the water, looking for fish. I try shouting to drive them away, but they ignore my silly cries, only giving a mild yodel to acknowledge my presence. So I swim on.Molly swimming with loons 1Molly swimming with loons 2

This is nothing like the protective threats of yore, which instilled a healthy fear and retreat. I know not to cross that line. But this feels different. I engage full lap swimming mode, crossing from one side of the reeds to the other and back again in a strong front crawl. Without the line in the bottom of a swimming pool, my laps tend to stray off course, so I steal looks now and again to make sure I am not veering closer to the loons. Still they float nonchalantly, willing to share the space.Molly swimming with loons 3

Underneath my minor victory lies a good dose of discomfort. They are still wild birds, after all, and unpredictable. I head for shore while I’m still ahead on this round. I send my loon friends a silent thanks for their company and forbearance. For letting me swim with them.

Next year the feud may resume.  I do want their chicks to survive. Just not near my swimming spot.  I would miss my loon swimming companions.Molly swimming with loons 4

All photos by Rich Hoeg, 365DaysOfBirds.com

Note: The telephoto lens makes the loons appear closer to me than they really were – they were about 5 yards away.

Reliving History

The year was 1985. It was our first year back in Minnesota, and with one child in tow we eagerly headed Up North for our first family vacation on Lake Wabana. We rented the same little cabin Rich had frequented as a little boy, and I instantly fell in love with it as well. It became our summer getaway for the next five years.

The cabin came with a small rowboat, and we brought our prized motor to power it – a full 1.5 hp, with a rope on top that Rich would wind around and around then pull to start the motor. It was our locomotion for the week.

That year we took our first long boat excursion. Wabana is part of a chain of lakes, and our goal was to reach the Joyce Estate on Trout Lake, two lakes and two streams away. It required starting early in the morning on a day with little wind and no chance of rain. At our speed, it was an all-day adventure.

We pulled off the trip successfully, and it became an annual pilgrimage. Even when we bought our own cabin where we had a much bigger boat and motor and a family of five, we would trailer our boat over to Wabana and repeat the trip. Still a favorite cabin activity.

Today Rich and I rise with the sun and set out to relive history. The big boat has been replaced by a grandchild friendly pontoon boat, so we hitch up our little 12’ boat and a 3 hp motor. Arriving at the boat launch on Wabana, I strain to find the lake. The lingering overnight chill is robbing the lake of its warmth, and a thick fog lies over the still water. I am bundled in three layers and a jacket and I pull up my hood to ward off the light wind. This is not how I remember setting out.

As we motor away from the landing, a tall figure materializes in the mist. A lone paddle boarder is plying the waters, ghost-like as he crosses the bay then silently disappears. We struggle to find the opening to the first stream. Not daring to lose sight of the shoreline, we cling to the water’s edge until a bright sign jumps out at us. “Slow No Wake” it warns. That wasn’t there before, but we are thankful for the gaudy entry post.

Heading for Trout Lake

Motoring up the narrow stream is easy with our tiny boat and motor. A merganser mom approaches with her brood of five chicks. Rich, ever the bird photographer pulls over and stops. Only when she is opposite us does mom see us, and she quickly prods her family into a frenzied sprint to get by. We laugh as we watch their heads wobble with the rhythm of their rapid strokes. No time to get that photo. The mental image was enough.

In the stream to Little Trout LakeLittle Trout Lake is shrouded in fog. Despite its small size, we cannot see across. But we’re not looking there yet – a mama loon with her well grown chick distract us and we follow. Just beyond, a splash reveals three otters. That mama hisses as us and leads her two young away. They dunk and reappear trying to get away. The little ones imitate mom with baby hisses. Always looking behind, swimming to safety.

Despite grousing about the fog, and how we could have had a nice sunny day if we’d waited a few hours before setting out, I had to admit these were special moments we would have missed.

Another No Wake sign leads us to the next stream and on into Trout Lake. The fog refuses to lift, and the Joyce Estate lies on the far shore – somewhere out there. Relying on distant memories and dead reckoning, Rich leaves the comfort of the barely visible coastline and strikes out across the lake. One small boat plowing through deep mist. When a small point with tall pines gradually emerges from the fog Rich exclaims, “That’s it! It’s the peninsula with the sauna!” Sure enough, it’s where we were meant to be. Finding the beach where we used to swim with the kids, we secure the boat and start down the trail. Hiking back in time.

Back in 1915 David Gage Joyce gained ownership of 4,500 acres of land, almost completely surrounding Trout Lake. He began construction of the Joyce Estate on this spot two years later – a large private family resort with an expansive lodge, a number of guest cabins, butler and maid cabins, a two-story sauna, a 9-hole golf course, seaplane hangar, boat house and other amenities surrounded by beautiful gardens. In 1973, at the end of an era, the Joyce Estate was acquired by the Nature Conservancy and transferred to the U.S. Forest Service a year later.

On our first visit in 1985, nearly all the original buildings were still standing. Some were in disrepair, others still in quite good condition. The grounds were covered in brush and raspberry bushes, and we had to bushwhack our way into the old cabins to peer inside. It felt like a secret find, our own private fantasyland to explore.

Today, the Forest Service has torn down the crumbling buildings, stabilized the lodge, one guest cabin and the sauna, cleared out all the brush and mowed the grounds. It is preserved for visitors, accessibly only by hiking trail or boat, and includes a rustic campsite.

Joyce Estate Lodge Joyce Estate Guest Cabin
Joyce Estate sauna railing

Once again, we peer into the buildings, walk gingerly inside where it looks safe and try to imagine the lifestyle of those who spent their summers here. I also see my children poking around, exclaiming over their finds, eager for a picnic on the beach. Waves of memories.

By the time we make our rounds and launch the little boat, the fog has finally lifted. As we reach the opposite shore, the clouds see fit to part and the sun comes out. It has turned into the warm sunny day that was promised. The return trip reveals all the sights we missed on the way over, and we putter along digging up visions of how it used to be 35 years ago.

Leaving Trout Lake Narrow stream to Little Trout Lake

Today, we’re back to just the two of us. And we have twice the horsepower. Times have changed. But not that much. We’re already planning to do this again next year.

A Welcome Retreat

Northstar SunsetRhythmically dipping my paddle into the water on alternate sides of my kayak, I slide away from the dock.  No need to hurry, no interest in exerting myself, I slip out only a few hundred yards, lay my paddle across the kayak and just float.  Drifting in the calm water I take a deep breath and watch the sunset play across the slight ripples from distant boats, rocking gently as they pass.  There are no clouds to generate a spectacular sunset in the sky.  Instead the show takes place on the lake, reflecting the oranges then pinks of the disappearing light.

Two nearby loons begin to call, each eerie cry echoing in the woods beyond the shore.  More loons take up the song, taking turns calling and answering.  Soon the rounds circle the lake, die out then start up again.  Mesmerizing.  Enchanting.  I drink in the scene, freeing all outside thoughts from my crowded mind, just being.

The cabinSince the beginning of the coronavirus, this has been my get-away.  My source of sanity in a world we no longer recognize.  The quiet connections with nature soothe my soul, restore peace to my heart as I focus on what hasn’t changed.  COVID-19 ceases to invade my thoughts here.  And social distancing requires no effort in our remote little cabin.  It’s life as usual up here.

We started coming in mid-May, our 30th spring opening since we bought the place.  It brought a sense of normalcy to those early days of sheltering.Cabin view of the dock Cabin old boat

We are privileged to have this little haven.  Our children grew up coming here, building family memories, escaping our busy suburban world back home, focusing on the simple joys of life and nature.  This summer “escape” has a whole different meaning.

Even before opening up, we created an online Cabin Calendar.  Each of our three children immediately signed up for one or more weeks at the cabin as well as long weekends for their families.  We sandwiched our stays on weekdays between their visits, and before we knew it the cabin was fully booked.  My heart was as full as that schedule.  The cabin has never seen so much love and activity in one season.

In contrast to my placid sunset, the laughs, squabbles and squeals of delight fill the air as our grandchildren swim, learn to kayak, plead for another boat ride and sneak another s’more when Mom’s not looking.  Our kids find time to read, ride bikes, go for hikes in the woods.  I can’t resist the urge to make extra trips up to the cabin to join them, to relish time together – another silver lining of the virus.Katie Erik Molly kayaking Carl Chelsea and kids on pontoon Kennedy kids eat smores

Part of me relishes this slowing down.  Staying local instead of taking far-flung vacations.  Squeezing into the cabin with our growing family, or hiding away up there by ourselves.  One day we will all travel again, seek adventure in new places, indulge ourselves in lavish resorts or wilderness camping.  For me right now, it’s enough to float in the middle of the lake, feeling no urgency to move.  Retreating from the world.

Sewing up the Pandemic

I had a reliable source, and the news was alarming.  I heard that Bunny and Giraffie were trying to share the same set of slipper jammies.  And it wasn’t going well.

It started with making Grammy Jammies for my grandchildren each Christmas, their numbers now climbing to six.  My oldest grandson, Ben, talked me into making jammies for his Bear.  And it took off from there.  Next was Mya’s Puppy.  Last Christmas Isabel’s Bunny joined the jammie parade, and Maren’s baby doll.

Grandkids in Grammy JammiesPuppy Bunny Bear in Grammy Jammies

“Jammies for Giraffie might be a good birthday present for Isabel,” my daughter advised.  But what better project to tackle during my coronavirus sheltering time?  The key was that both “friends” were JellyCat animals and shared the same shape – soft pear-shaped bodies, scrawny arms and big fluffy feet.  It took several tries to get it right for Bunny, but I finally perfected the pattern.  After 10 years of making slipper jammies, I had bags full of fleece scraps and I even scrounged up a few unused zippers.  I was in business.

With extra time on my hands, it felt good to pull out my sewing machine, thread it up and make something from nothing.  Sewing opens so many creative opportunities – designing the garment, choosing the fabric, picking coordinating ribbing, placing the print on each pattern piece.  As my machine hummed, so did I.

Giraffie in jammies

My thoughts turned to the book I recently finished reading.  I picked up The Murmur of Bees quite by accident in the early days of the invasion of COVID-19.  When the spread of the virus was still news, I was surprised and fascinated to find that the book was set in Mexico in 1918, in the heart of the devastation wrought by the Spanish flu.  It was history I did not know well, but it had an eerily familiar strain.

The family in the book fled from their home near town and relocated to another hacienda further away, where they rode out the worst of the pandemic. Mom couldn’t settle herself, and it was her young son who figured out why she was so distraught.  He convinced his dad to return to their home, pack up her sewing machine, material and tools and bring them to her.  She was puzzled and angry at their curious actions.  Until she threaded her machine and began sewing.  With each garment she sewed, a sliver of peace was restored.  She was grounded at last, in the productive and creative endeavor of sewing.

I felt the same way.  When Giraffie’s jammies were done, I needed another project.  I decided little brother Michael needed a stuffed animal friend.  Obsessed with the idea, I scoured the internet for a free pattern for a fleece animal.  More scraps to cut up, excess stuffing that needed a home, and a load of fun later I had a soft little puppy for Michael.  It was such a hit, that I couldn’t stop there.  Five grandchildren later, I had a whole litter of pups and kitties!

Stuffed puppies Stuffed puppies and kitties

There’s something inherently rewarding about using only what I have on hand.  Taking bits and pieces and ending up with a little critter that will delight a child.  There are many ways this pandemic has forced us to simplify life.  To do without.  To make do with what we have and forego what now feels like frivolous shopping.

Sewing returns me to my roots.  My mom taught me to sew long before I took Home Ec classes in junior high.  She made all my clothes until I took over, then sewed for my own children.  By now when I sit down in front of my machine, innate skills take over.  My hands know how to guide the fabric, my eyes gauge the seam, my foot regulates the speed. I reap the rewards of familiarity, of falling back on something soothing and rewarding.  I feel Mom’s presence as I follow in her footsteps.  I imagine she too would sew her way through this pandemic.

I hear that Bunny and Giraffie are friends again.  And my daughter’s whispers, “Michael has taken to a Jellycat puppy recently.”  I can already hear the whir of my sewing machine.

Isabel with Bunny and Giraffie