Breaking the Solitude

We hear it all the time. The only way to get writing done is to “put your butt in the chair.” Show up and just do it. Punch those keys, push that pen. It requires mental fortitude, commitment, a will to write. And a willingness to shut out everything else, endure the solitude.

It’s been a quiet fall. The sudden cancellation of our September travel plans left me at home with an empty slate. An abundance of empty mornings that screamed Writing Time. A lack of excuses. A productive stretch. A lot of time spent inside my own head.

Yet as I look back over the last few weeks, I can see the benefits I reap from my so-called solitary pursuit.

A chance meeting at a birding event with my husband, Rich, led to a coffee date with another nascent writer. She shared her passion for submitting stories to publications, reigniting my resolve to pursue more short pieces and send them out into the world. We swapped sources, favorite contests and writing goals all with a heavy dose of encouragement.

Through Lake Superior Writers, I have met local writers and now call many of them friends. Most are far more accomplished than I, yet generously share their knowledge, their experiences, their support. I can pour out my fears and inhibitions and they get it. They’ve been through it. Just recently, I spent several hours walking the woods of Lester Park and Hawk Ridge with two such women. With each crisp footstep and breath of Northwoods air, I relished the one-on-one connection, the common pursuit of elusive goals. No matter our skill levels.

My very first writing class was a week-long immersion in travel memoir, sequestered on beautiful Madeline Island. The twelve women in the class bonded by week’s end, sharing our writing aloud – hesitantly at first, then more eagerly as the week progressed. Last weekend, five of us gathered for dinner. We’ve managed a haphazard schedule of reunions since we first met four years ago. Of course, we all brought a piece to read. We still cheer one another on.

My own writing group met a few days ago. We’re only three in number, but we hold one another accountable. Critique each other’s works. One member has accurately dubbed it the Motivation Group. Once again, it’s the common bond of writing that unites us. Enriches our lives with this connection.

Today I just returned from the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival in Grand Marais. This bi-annual assembly of authors, instructors, book lovers and writers is the pinnacle of literary indulgence. For four days, I attended classes, listened to speakers and panels, and rubbed elbows with other writers all day long. Socializing over wine, meeting up for dinner, or just sitting in the same sessions widened my network of fellow writers and friends. But even better I could share my passion with like-minded folks. People who ground me. Reinforce my desire, and fully share the journey.

I came home exhausted but inspired. Ready to put my butt in the chair again. New ideas racing through my head. Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone anymore.

Rain and Shine

Four kids ages 1 to 9.  Two parents.  Two grandparents.  Three generations in one small retirement home.

What to do when it rains on your weekend plans?  Go out anyway!  The key is to work with the weather, not bemoan it.

Inspired by Anne Marie Gorham, of Lake Superior Beach Glass (who happens to be the daughter of my best friend in Jr and Sr High School), we headed out to Burlington Bay Beach in Two Harbors.  “The best time to find beach glass is when it’s raining,” grandson Ben informed me.  He’d seen enough of Anne’s videos in pelting rain to know.

And sure enough, he was right!  We forgot all about the raindrops while scouring the beach for those glistening shards.  It didn’t matter that most were tiny white specimens.  The mere fact that they were plentiful kept us peering, bending, picking and looking for more.  I admit to feeling giddy each time I plucked one from the rocks.  We scored some turquoise, green and one cobalt blue piece too.

Looking for beach glass 1 Looking for beach glass 2

We had visions of hiking on the North Shore in the brilliant fall foliage.  Instead, we decided to check out the raging torrents at Gooseberry Falls.  All that rainwater swelled the river beyond its banks, plummeting down to the lake with a thunderous roar.  Something tells me the kids found it more entertaining than fall colors.

Kennedys at Gooseberry Falls Ben at Gooseberry Falls

Passing the remainder of the day playing games, it was hard to imagine the rain would ever stop.  But Sunday morning dawned crisp and clear.  Seizing the moment, we started at The Deeps, where we inspected the new footbridge, then made our way to the Lester Park Playground.  There we stumbled on a Park and Rec “Pop-up” event.  The collection of lawn games and outdoor activities soon lured the kids away from the playground to try the offerings.

Mya and the Pop Up Park sign

Kennedy boys playing soccer in the Pop Up Park Mya tightrope walking in Pop Up park Mya playing Jenga in Pop Up Park

Karen was still intent on getting in that hike.  “I don’t want to go for a walk,” the kids wailed.  But as soon as we reached the COGGS Hawk Ridge Trail, the oldest two kids were off and running.  “This is so cool!”  They loved the advanced structures created for the most adventurous of mountain bikers, scrambling over the steep rock formations.  Lakeside spread out below us, a collage of yellows and greens, while leaves of every color carpeted the path.  Reining them in was impossible.  Their energy contagious.

Ben Mya on COGGS trailBen Mya on trailBen Mya overlooking cityIt’s hard to say which was better, playing in the rain or the sunshine.  I just know I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

 

A Little Girl’s Prayer

I guess I’m not the only one moved to tears by finding Karen’s song.  It was heartwarming to know that I was able to convey the emotion of that experience well enough to invoke it in my readers.

Several of you have asked to listen to the recording.  I have added it to the original post, but here it is for your listening pleasure.  For those of you who get my posts by email, click here to listen to the recording.

Did you cry too?

The Power of Prayer

The sun illuminates the radiant fall leaves outside the window of the cabin as Rich hunches over the CD player. “I unearthed some old CDs when I did my big clean-up at home a few weeks ago,” he says. Strategically placing himself between me and the disks he loads one into the machine. I’m sure it is some funky old tunes of his. Until the music begins.

Soft strains of a guitar prelude capture my attention and tickle my memory. A sweet youthful voice picks up the melody, adding words, lovely yet confident. Within moments the music embraces my heart. And then squeezes.

“Is that… Karen?” Rich nods.

“Wait, she wrote this, didn’t she?”

A glance at the CD cover, now visible, confirms it. “A Little Girl’s Prayer,” Song written by Karen Hoeg.

A little girl's prayer

Standing spellbound, I let the song flood my entire being. Captivated by each note, entranced by every word, savoring the memories. Tears slipping silently down my cheeks. I dare not move until it ends. And then we play it again.

This was the music of our daughter, at age 19. Not your typical teenage music. It was a testimony to her years as a baby and growing into a little girl, each verse ending with her parents reciting her bedtime prayers. Our baby, our little girl, our nightly ritual. She wrote it for a music class in her senior year of high school. By the time she recorded it she was about to leave for college. Yet the bond continued to hold. As she put it, “My little life has grown up strong. Still I ask would you pray with me – your little girl’s prayer.”

How could I have forgotten this? And yet, recovering it makes it all the sweeter.

Rich hands me the CD case. “Get ready to cry again.”

Opening the lid, I read the note in Karen’s neat writing. An inscription with a Bible verse and a heartfelt thank you for our parenting. Then I notice the words on the CD. “For my parents.” It means more today than ever. I reach for the Kleenex again.

This little girl is now a mommy herself. She tucks in her own four kids every night.  Presses their hands between hers as she prays with them, the same words we recited with her. A little girl’s prayer.

She was their baby, their little girl
Too little to speak, or walk on her own
This little life, they took in their arms,
And every night would say to her…

Chorus:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep.
Thy love go with me, through the night,
And bless me with the morning light.

As time went on, their little girl grew
They watched her first steps, and heard her first word
They watched her learn, to laugh and play
At the end of the day, they’d still say…

Chorus

I am their baby, their little girl
I’m learning to speak and walk on my own
My little life has grown up strong
Still I ask, would you pray with me – your little girl’s prayer?

Chorus

And bless me with…
Bless me with the morning light.

Lighthouse Mornings

As a lighthouse keeper, it’s my favorite time of day.  Up with the sun, I relish the quiet mornings before visitors arrive.  Each day is different, entirely at the whim of the weather.  This year was a perfect example, as my journal proves.

Day 1
It wouldn’t be a Crisp Point morning without my perch on the beach, tower looming overhead, waves pulsing and wind stirring the damp air.  With coffee thermos mug at hand and charred camp-stove toast slathered in peanut butter, I’m ready to put pen to paper.

Just being out here is an unexpected treat.  With rain beating our tent all night and a dismal forecast this didn’t seem possible.  But the downpour ceased with our sleep and the south wind brought warm breezes. I’m wearing three layers of clothes on this September morning feeling grateful.

Crisp Point beach writing

Light wisps of clouds skitter by below the more stationery cloud cover.  Cracks in that shield reveal patches of blue sky, more than I thought I’d see all day.  Lake Superior makes her own weather.  I drink in the scene and write.  The old fashioned way.

Day 2
Waves crash against the shore just as they have done all night long.  The white pulses against the sand regenerate, again and again, changing the shoreline moment by moment.  The sandy beach I walked yesterday has been reclaimed by the water, reaching high on shore.  Lake Superior has claimed all but 3 of the 15 acres that surrounded the lighthouse 115 years ago.  And still it seeks to alter the landscape, to sculpt its border.  I turn my footsteps in the opposite direction for this morning’s outing.

On my return, I climb the tower, seeking shelter from the wind.  I know a tall stool stands inside the windows at the top, nestled against the modern LED lamp.  The air is damp, the view obscured by fog.  Unlatching the doors to the catwalk, I press them open.  Fresh breezes and the drumming of the waves sneak inside, gradually clearing the view and my thoughts.

Crisp Point tower view

Day 3
“Is there any sunlight?”

“I doubt it, the skies were cloudy at 5:15am.  Wait! There’s a break in the clouds and a ribbon of light.  We might get a sunrise after all!”

That’s all it takes to jettison us from our tent into the predawn hour.  Already orange hues stripe the horizon and the clouds’ underbellies blush in pink.  I rush for my camera – teeth unbrushed, haystack hair, my eyes thick with morning gunk.  There is not a moment to lose.  Rich, of course, is out well ahead of me, already poised behind his tripod.

Crisp Point is picturesque in all conditions, but sunrise and sunset are when it truly shines.  So far we have been denied these sublime moments by persistent clouds and fully anticipated being skunked this year.  But maybe not!

Single minded and on a mission, Rich doggedly pursues angles, hones his focus, searches – and finds – exquisite vantage points.  In contrast, I point and shoot.  Change a setting here, try an artsy shot there.  But really, I’m out there for the display.  To see it with my eyes, not a lens.

Crisp Point sunrise

The vivid colors are certainly a draw, and evade my amateur shots.  It’s the flip side of the show I find more captivating.  It’s not the sun that’s the star, it’s the light it paints.

The dim shadow of the tower comes to life as a warm glow travels up its majestic height.  Bathed in morning gold, it emits a warmth unmatched by its small beacon.  The ephemeral effect is all the more alluring for the shortness of its life.  I drink in the moment.

Crisp Point sunrise glow

Crisp Point through driftwood

It is a final gift.  A fond farewell on our last Crisp Point morning.  Until next year.

Yooperlites

“There’s one!”

“Oh, that’s a really good one.”

“Here, your turn.”

“Wait, shine that light back over here.”

“Yes! Look at it glow!”

“Yea! Yippee! We found one!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun in the dark. Giddy with our success, Rich and I press on, sweeping the flashlight over the rocks on the beach.

“Oh, another one!”

We would still be huddled by our evening campfire had it not been for a series of fortuitous coincidences.

Checking in with our contact for Crisp Point Lighthouse prior to our stint as Keepers, she alerted us to the fact that there had been frequent late night visitors this year. “They’re looking for Yooperlites,” she told us. It went right over our heads. We had no idea what she was talking about, but appreciated the heads-up.

Crisp Point map

Crisp Point Lighthouse 2019

Arriving for duty, I scanned the updated layout of merchandise in the Visitor Center taking in the new inventory. Passing the table of scrapbooks and resource books, the words jumped out at me. Yooperlites were featured on the front of the Mineral News newsletter. And my education began.

Just last year a gentleman began selling unique rocks he collected from Lake Superior’s shore in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Looking perfectly ordinary in daylight, in the dark these stones emit a brilliant orange glow under UV light. He marketed them using the name Yooperlites, based on the slang for UP residents (Yoopers).

That explained the nocturnal visitors. And why it was a new phenomenon.

According to the Mineral News, these are examples of concretions – sedimentary rock with minerals embedded in them. In this case, the mineral is believed to be fluorescent sodalite.

Interesting enough. Until a late afternoon delivery of supplies for the lighthouse that also yielded a key disclosure. There was a UV flashlight and samples of Yooperlite in the Visitor Center. Suddenly, we had the means to make our own discoveries.

With the last light fading from the sky we scour the rock strewn beach. It is surprising how many pinpoints of yellow or blue light shine back at us from the rocks, and how white rocks reflect that light. (Not to mention Rich’s white socks and my neon yellow shoe laces, which are blinding.)

But we seek the real gems. The rocks permeated with an orange glow. The more pocked with light the better. And they are there. As soon as the UV rays passes over those rocks, they light up. Not just colorful, they radiate from within. There is no mistaking them, and with each discovery we cheer and laugh, triumphant.

Yooperlites glowing

It is a heck of a lot more fun than hunting for agates. And a lot more successful. With each new Yooperlite we find, we are spurred on to uncover another one. And another. Selecting only the five best to keep.  Sure enough, in the daylight their hidden glow is locked deep inside.

Yooperlites daylight

I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow night. Oh, and did you know? I was born a Yooper.

Yooperlite w Crisp Point Lighthouse

The Little Cabin at 30

“Grammy, do you ever wish the cabin was bigger?”  I had to smile.  With 17 people gathered for the weekend, coming in and out of the modest abode, it was a fair question.  No sooner had I responded to the seven year old, “Yes, I do, Mya!” when her mother chimed in.

“You have to remember, Mya, when I was little it was only the five of us here.  It was just the right size for us.”  She was right.  How well I remember coming up the driveway for the first time, knowing right away that it was made for us.  Perusing the knotty pine interior, the stone fireplace, and the two tiny bedrooms.  It was the simplicity of the place that appealed to me. The bookshelf to stock with cabin reading. The short wooden dock, enough for our 12′ boat.  It was a place to build family memories.

What is it about a remote cottage, with its cramped space, mismatched dishes, mattresses that sag, raggedy towels and a needy wood stove that is so appealing?  The yard games we never play at home are entertaining there.  Bonfires invite storytelling.  Grilled meat tastes better.  The chilly lake dares intrepid swimmers and fishermen. Board games take on new life, and fierce competition.  It’s a-ok to lie in a hammock or sit on the dock and while away the afternoon reading.  Or snoozing.  And we have front row seats for the Northern Lights.

For so many years the cabin has been our haven, away from work, school and too-busy lives.  Time slows down there.  Priorities shift.  Time slips away, but the cabin doesn’t change.  We still treasure the simple existence it offers.  I still get excited bumping over the dirt road as we approach that driveway yet again.

Those three little kids in the bunk beds are now grown and married and have produced five (almost six!) grandchildren for us.  Carrying on the tradition, they have come to treasure their own family time at the cabin.  It’s still just the right size for them.

It was their idea to celebrate this milestone.  This Labor Day marked the 30th straight year we have gathered as a family with our good friends the Readingers and their offspring at the cabin.  Admittedly, we had to farm a few members out to beds in nearby resorts this time, but they all converged on the cabin throughout the day.  As Mya noticed.

Thirty years generates a lot of memories.  Everything we did triggered flashbacks, smiles, rolling eyes, laughter.  It was a weekend of déjà vu as grandchildren followed in their parents’ footsteps.

It was a celebration of friendship.  Of lasting bonds that form over years of sharing, from being new parents to empty nesters.  From being children to new parents.  From carving out time away from work to relishing retirement.  And through it all, we still relish cabin life.

We did our best to recreate some of the best moments.  Some, like this one, came as a pure gift.  Like a blessing on our gathering.

The remainder will have to wait for the next gathering, at the Same Time Next Year.  And 30 years beyond.