When the Words Won’t Come

It’s been a dry year for writing. After steadily plugging away on my book for over four years, I came to an abrupt halt. At first, I put it down to my usual summer slow-down, the season when I prioritize family, cabin, friends and the outdoors over sitting in front of a laptop. But I failed to get re-energized all through the fall and winter and felt lost, drifting without that goal and sense of productivity. I had to do something.

It was a writing friend who pointed me down a new path. I’ve always had an interest in sketching and was intrigued when I saw a distant cousin doing “journal sketching” years ago. The idea stuck with me, so when Gail recommended Jane LaFazio‘s online class Sketching and Watercolor: Journal Style I took the plunge.

The class included six lessons, one released every week for the students to work on independently. I ordered her list of supplies and waited eagerly to begin.

Week 1: Fruit. I watched her video, read all the instructions, and looked at her examples. Could I really do this? I pulled a sheet of thick watercolor paper off the 5×7″ pad she recommended and lined up my drawing pencil and kneadable eraser. Setting pencil to paper, I took a deep breath and began to follow the outline of the fruit in front of me. This was a rough draft, after all, and I could always hit delete and rewrite it.

Pulling out my permanent ink pen, I traced my pencil lines. There was no going back here, each stroke of the pen was a final statement – a sentence I could no longer change. But it went surprisingly well and I forged on.

The final step was all new territory to me. I opened up my children’s set of watercolors that Jane assured us were a good inexpensive starting point. Now I had to mix colors, blend shades and capture the nuances of light and color. I still have a lot to learn about writing scenes, and this felt the same way. I needed to make this come to life, now with water and paint. With Jane’s reassuring voice in my head, I applied my brush strokes as best I could.

For the journaling aspect, Jane encouraged us to frame our paintings, to add words and context to the composition, and to sign and date it. She was right, it added the polish my timid start needed, the final edit to complete the story.

Voila, I had my first painting!

Now it was time to share my work. The final step was to post my painting on our class discussion page with a note about the experience. Just like reading my stories aloud in writing workshops and hearing others read, this became a valuable learning experience. We all opened ourselves to exposure, gave feedback and encouraged one another on this journey. In addition, Jane commented on each and every painting, always providing encouragement infused with helpful tips and insights.

Buoyed by my first attempt, I bought more fruit and continued painting and posting throughout the week.

Week 2: Leaves. Who knew there were so many colors of green in the plants around us? Jane taught us to mix colors, to layer them on the paper and reveal the veins in the leaves. I revelled in the new techniques, but lacked material in our bleak Northland spring that had not yet sprung. Just as story and plot have evaded me as a writer, I had to get creative and find alternate ways to express myself. This time, foraging in the refrigerator and tub of spring greens I found inspiration.

I liked these small compositions. I was not overwhelmed by a large expanse of white paper, and a complex layout. They were a manageable size, something that could be accomplished in one or two sittings. Just as the magazine stories I have continued to write this year while my book lays fallow. Short projects that were contained and manageable.

Week 3: Straight to Ink. Now this was a scary concept, drawing with no safety net. Committing immediately with no recourse. Sort of like those writing prompts I’ve done in classes. Write about the color Red for five minutes. Don’t look back, just keep writing.

We warmed up with continuous line drawings. Keep your pen on the paper without lifting it, go over existing lines if you need to. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be fun. Then we drew with our non-dominant hand. The results were wobbly and sometimes a bit wonky, but I had to admit there was a bit of charm. It made me realize that left alone, my drawing is very controlled and precise. It takes work to let myself go and let the lines just flow.

We were granted permission to raise our pens in our subsequent drawings, but it was still hard to commit to ink right out of the gate. I found that it forced me to keep my eyes on the subject more, and trust my hand to follow its outline. The longer I kept at it, the bolder I became. I learned to embrace the irregularities and appreciate the end result. Perhaps I need to do more of that in my writing. Ignore the wiggles and blips and just let the words come. Sort it out with color later.

Week 4: Flowers. I was learning to like sketching and painting nature. It’s very forgiving in its irregularities and loose symmetry. This time it took purchasing a bouquet at the grocery store for my subjects, while I gazed wistfully at the garden flowers from fellow students in warmer climes.

My bouquet contained some brilliantly colored blooms, impossible to replicate with my student paints. I queried Jane. “How do I make hot pink?” Her reply, “You can’t. You need specific colors like Opera Pink to get it.” Clearly my toolkit was lacking, so I researched the more professional paints she had recommended for those willing to pay the price. I was now one of those. I hit Place Order.

Perhaps this was like hiring a writing coach. When I found myself unable to navigate the divide between writing short magazine stories and the manuscript for a book, I sought to increase my toolkit. She guided me through exercises to grow my skills, to learn new techniques and put me on a course to continue working on my own.

While I waited for my new paints to arrive, I did the best I could with the materials at hand, and finished up with some pastel flowers.

Week 5: Shoes. I just knew I was going to like this lesson. Shoes provided such a vast array of choices. This one in particular provided numerous comments and camaraderie when we posted our paintings. I found great fun and inspiration in the shoes my fellow students chose, and how they rendered them with ink and watercolor. Students ranged from novices like me to those with obvious artistic talent, and I learned from every one of them. I also admit to borrowing some of their ideas and techniques.

Clearly this was why my writing coach instructed me to read every book in my genre that I could get my hands on. I learned what worked and what didn’t. What made me want to keep reading, and what caused me to quit reading some books.

I dove into my own closet first, then succumbed to the cuteness factor of my grandchildren’s footwear. Sometimes it’s the subject matter itself that makes a creation shine, whether it’s in print or paint.

Week 6: Man Made Objects. This lesson incorporated techniques for drawing to scale, maintaining symmetry and the artistic license in choosing what details to leave in or exclude. Not wanting to copy Jane’s example of a wine bottle with a classy label, I stumbled on a bottle of Amaretto in the pantry. It contained plenty of challenges for getting the proportions right, and I worked through her methods to complete my drawing. But the thought of replicating the bumpy texture of the bottle and the shiny glass was daunting, so I set it aside. When I completed painting a kettle and tea cup, that first drawing taunted me, daring me to complete it. I accepted the challenge.

Sometimes stories don’t go well. Chapters just won’t work. I’ve found that if I leave them alone for a while, rather than using blunt force to push through them, the answer becomes more clear. Or my confidence surges. And the end result is greatly enhanced. So it was for my Amaretto. Along with the help of my new paints!

I have completed my class, but not my painting. I have a lot of practicing to do, especially mastering those finicky watercolors. I found that I look forward to these art projects, and they can absorb a whole morning or afternoon just as writing did in the past. I did have a niggling worry that I might supplant my writing time with sketching and painting. That I might transfer my allegiance from creating with words to ink and color.

I went into this new venture hoping to stimulate my creativity, to open that side of my brain hoping it would spur on my writing as well. If I had my way, I would marry the two. Use my ink and color to illustrate my words. But I’m not there yet.

The biggest hurdle with my book is that I cannot see the true thread, feel the message I am meant to be sending, the audience I seek to serve. Learning to draw and paint hasn’t solved that for me, but clearly it has taught me many transferrable lessons. So for now, I will continue my new art and wait for the words to come.

Sunrise Cycling

With the onset of fall, the days seem to shorten at an alarming speed. At this northern latitude, by the fall equinox we tip the balance to more darkness than light each day. By now we are already down to just 9 1/2 hours with the sun above the horizon.

I mourn the dim mornings which push out my morning workout routine. On cycling days, I wait impatiently until I have just barely enough light to see in front of my bicycle – typically about a half hour before sunrise.

Absent the sun, there is a definite chill in the air. I layer on warm clothes, pull booties over my cycling shoes and don my Happy Hat under my helmet. Ski lobster gloves and a buff complete the ensemble. I shiver as I coast downhill, absent the heat-generating pedaling I need to stay warm. But soon that all fades into the background.

By the time I reach Superior Street, I get my first glimpse. The sky begins to widen, and color radiates above the trees. I can’t wait to get to the shore to see the full effect, and I’m richly rewarded by the time I reach London Road. The sun is still low enough to generate rich colors that bounce off the clouds, paint their undersides and send reflections across Lake Superior.

My favorite stretch is from the Lakewalk tunnel through the newly completed path through Brighton Beach. Despite the cold, I have to stop, straddle my bike and pull off one glove to take pictures. I am compelled to record this majesty.

But the real impact is more personal. I can’t help but be thankful for the beauty of Nature. The sense of wonder fills me with gratitude. How lucky I am to be out here, fit enough to be cycling, able to witness God’s handiwork, healthy enough to do this day after day, and to live in close proximity to Lake Superior’s many moods. A day that starts like this just has to be good.

No two mornings are the same. As I flick through my photos, the words that come to mind are Fire and Ice. The brilliant red-orange mornings are balanced by more subtle blues and purples turning the lake a cold steely gray.

When the sun finally makes its fiery entrance, the show moves quickly. It doesn’t take long before its radiance overpowers the scene. Dawn has arrived, colors fade and light begins to bathe the world.

The warmth of those powerful rays eases my way up the shore, reviving my fingers and toes, glowing on my face. I’m not sure how long I can keep up this fall routine. But for now, each day I make it out for sunrise cycling is a gift.

Sunrise, Sunset

Being a volunteer lighthouse keeper has its perks, particularly in the off-duty hours. Fortunately, no matter what month I am at Crisp Point Lighthouse, sunrise and sunset fall squarely within my free time. And I make sure I am at the ready to witness and photograph both. Highlights of each day.

Being keepers in September this year means a more sociable hour for sunrise. Scrambling out of the tent by 6:45am still nets me a front row seat to an inspiring light show. I start on the west side of the lighthouse, watching the oranges infiltrate the clouds and silhouette the tower.

Making my way past the lighthouse to the opposite side, I turn back to watch the sun crawl its way down the lighthouse, illuminating it with the glow of the low morning sun and reflect on the water.

Another morning delivers fiery red hues that mutate into pink cotton candy in the clouds overhead, just 13 minutes later. I never tire of this scene. It’s worth the brisk morning chill, the sleep still in my eyes and the fact that I haven’t had a chance to brush my teeth yet.

At the other end of the day, sunsets provide lingering entertainment that only starts with the sun dipping below the clouds.

The real show begins five minutes later when the sun drops below the horizon and shoots its brilliance into the clouds above, and intensifies with the accompaniment of crashing waves.

The variety is never ending. Some mornings and evenings are duds, scuttled by clouds blanketing the horizon. Others lack clouds completely, robbing the sun of targets to reflect its brilliant rays. But when the conditions are right, it’s downright magic and never the same twice. God’s majesty at work.

Photographing these scenes is half the fun, the game of seeing if I can replicate the image. In the past, I’d point my Canon Powershot SX40 camera at these displays, struggling to get the settings right, focus carefully, keep the camera still and hope for a good photo. Usually with mixed results. This time the camera stays in the car. Instead, I whip out my iPhone 12 Pro Max and hold it up for the shot. Click, I got it. Click, another for good measure. Click, catch the changing light. It certainly lowers my stress level, enhancing my appreciation for these solar events. And I have to say, that phone does a credible job and is always at the ready in my pocket. It’s my new standard to ensure I capture those sunrise, sunset moments.

Sharing the Light

The incessant wind drives tumbling waves onto the shore, cresting in white foaminess that contrasts the water’s deep blue. The morning chill on the beach is mitigated by the warm sun on my back. In my peripheral vision the tall tower stands guard over this sacred spot. Good morning, Lake Superior. Hello, Crisp Point Lighthouse. I’m back!

It’s been two years since I was last here. Our streak of 7 annual stints as lighthouse keepers was interrupted by Covid, like so many aspects of our lives. Even this year’s trip was a leap of faith as the virus continues to rage. But armed with vaccines, masking and distancing protocols in place, we felt willing to answer the call.

With the long slow drive down the infamous 18 miles of rough dirt road, the world began to recede. Shaded by towering pines and leaves rimmed with a touch of color, weaving through forest regrowth, I anxiously awaited that first sight of the lighthouse. The early morning calm and solitude of the site reminded me how much I love this place.

And yet it’s different this year. With extra duties imposed by Covid, we invited our friends Jon and Beth to join us. They were willing and eager participants, even knowing the rustic camping conditions – or perhaps even because of them. We erected our tents in unison before the onslaught of visitors – ours on the sand, theirs on the bed of their truck. A quick climb up the lighthouse clenched the sale as we gazed out over the miles of sand and rock beach stretching to the horizon in both directions, and took in the endless blue expanse of Lake Superior. Welcome, Jon and Beth, to our little slice of heaven.

The “Keeper’s Residence” below the lighthouse
View from the catwalk

The arrival of visitors plunged us into our duties, manning the Visitor Center, dispensing information about the lighthouse, selling souvenirs and cleaning jobs. Jon and Beth quickly became ambassadors, greeting folks, learning where they were from and how they found the lighthouse. It was a novel experience to be able to trade off and spell one another for bursts of freedom to walk the beach, climb the tower or read on a bench overlooking the beach. And the constant companionship was especially welcome in the evenings when we’d share dinner and linger by the bonfire. I knew the invitation had been a success when Jon and I manned the campstove cooking breakfast under an awning in the rain, and Jon leaned over to say, “Even this is fun!”

Jon restocking the bathrooms
Molly and Rich tending the shop
Ladies walking the beach
Dinner together
Campfire time

I admit it took a bit of adjusting. I had always equated our off-hours at the lighthouse with solitude. Morning walks and reflection, followed by time spent writing by the water. Evenings mesmerized by the flickering flames and glowing coals after Rich retreated to the tent. Reading while crunched down in the catwalk high above the lapping waves. Rare quite time I intentionally allowed myself in this retreat.

But after over a year of forced seclusion, having company was a treat. We ribbed Jon over his raging battle against the sand on the boardwalks and lighthouse steps. I relished Beth’s company on my morning beach walk, opening our hearts and sharing common woes. They taught me how to be an engaging host. We lent them our LED black light to find Yooperlites (which they did), and Rich gave them tips on seeing the Northern Lights (which failed to show). Laughter reigned. It felt so good.

I meant to consult Rich, but forged ahead without it. “Do you want to come again next year?” The answer came out in unison, “Yes!” It’s settled. We’ll be back next year, sharing the light with good company.

Re-emerging is Hard to Do

My Covid cocoon had become a comfortable, familiar place. While chafing at my restrictions, I also learned to embrace my quieter existence.

I felt safe in my bubble, secure in the control I had acquired over my life. My time was my own to indulge in hours of writing, confident that my plans would not be interrupted. The outside world was held at bay, unable to intrude. While some writers felt crushed by the pandemic, my retirement status allowed me the freedom to forge onward working on my book.

The outdoors was my playground. My running shoes, bike, trail shoes, skis and snowshoes my constant – and virus-free – companions. The opportunities to share those activities with friends, to see others outside, let in a little normalcy that helped balance the isolation.

Family became my only source of close personal contact. The decision to extend our circle to our children and grandchildren was not without its risks, but held overwhelming benefits. Those visits fed my heart and nurtured my need for social interaction.

In the course a year I had adapted to my revised lifestyle. Then suddenly everything changed. Again.

Getting the vaccine was only a baby step. Although I was protected, it was still early in the process, and many people around me – including Rich – were still awaiting vaccination. Those early days didn’t feel much different. Still social distancing, wearing masks and seeing others only outdoors.

Our first fully-vaccinated outing was returning to church. Spread out in every other pew, masked, with small numbers in our little church it felt safe. No coffee fellowship downstairs afterwards, but it was enough to see our friends and fellow church members and worship together in person.

Having friends over for dinner has long been a favorite social activity. We decided we would be comfortable with having one fully vaccinated couple over for dinner at a time. The first evening, sitting down to wine and appetizers at the kitchen island followed by gathering around the dinner table felt like a gift. So did the hugs we felt we could now afford.

The day the governor lifted all the major restrictions came as a shock. I was used to the slow pace of recovery, the gradual loosening of constraints. The idea of flipping a switch and returning full speed felt like too much too soon. In fact, it put a damper on our willingness to venture forth into normalcy. If we were still unwilling to eat in socially distanced restaurant space, we certainly weren’t about to sit in the close proximity of full capacity.

And yet, we developed chinks in our armor. Trying to work out the logistics of a road trip to Seattle to visit our son Erik and his wife Katie in their new home, the specter of air travel began dancing in my head. Justifying arguments followed. “We’re going to have to start sometime.” I pleaded my case, leaving Rich to ponder the idea. “I’ll only go if I can sit up front, have extra leg room and priority boarding,” Rich said. We bought tickets. And flew.

I feel like everything is a test. In the absence of government mandates, I am left to define my own rules. Is it okay to go into the grocery store without a mask? I haven’t yet. Should I get a massage? I did and it worked wonders on both my mind and body. Might I return to the pool at the Y? Maybe, but I have enough summer alternatives for now.

Behaviors I once took for granted now cause me to hesitate. My favorite table in the coffee shop has returned, and beckons each time I stop in for take-out latte. After months of self-protection, it’s hard to know when to relax and where to hold the line.

I’m inclined to cling to some of the life simplifying aspects of the Covid era. My makeup sits untouched in its pouch in the bathroom drawer. Who needs makeup behind a mask? now becomes Who needs makeup? Why would I run to Target to stock up on household supplies when they will deliver to my door for free? I appreciate the time saving travel-free option of attending meetings on Zoom, and wonder how many of those need to resume in person.

There is no returning to normal. Not the old normal, anyway. The new is bound to be a hybrid, hopefully mixing the best of our Covid innovations with good old in-person, face-to-face life. Re-emerging step by step. As best I can.

Life in the Slow Lane

Covid has shut down large chunks of my social life. Confined me to writing at a table in our bunk room instead of the cozy environs of Amity Coffee. Diverted me to Zooming with my delivery-mates instead of bringing library books to shut-ins. Shackled me to the stove every afternoon at 5:00 instead of eating out now and then. Limited our table to two instead of the frequent dinner guests we love to invite to our home.

There have been positive sides too. Loads of time for writing, urging my book forward toward becoming a real manuscript. Seeing family more than ever, the only personal contact we’ve allowed ourselves indoors. Getting out to enjoy our State Parks. Pairing up with friends to run and walk and talk, talk, talk in the great outdoors. Pedaling my bike up and down the shore, waving to other cyclists and runners.

And then came “recovery.” I had minor surgery to repair a hernia the same week Rich had his latest heart procedure, sidelining us in tandem. Our Covid-suppressed household narrowed even further, as life quieted down to allow our bodies to heal. I finished several books, started knitting again and poured myself into my writing. In solitude. Indoors.

Although I bounced back quickly, I was still under strict restrictions: do not lift over 15 pounds, avoid straining my core, no cardio exercise for two weeks. Then came the empowering words, “Walk as often as you feel able.”

It started out as shuffling. I barely made it to Superior Street and back. I couldn’t keep up with Rich for a 1-mile walk, despite his impairment. But each day I was determined to try again. Four days in it actually felt like walking. Each day from there got better, my walks longer.

When I’m running or cycling, I’m aware of my surroundings but more focused on the activity. Pushing my pace, pedaling up hills, getting in a good workout. Walking has shifted me into slow motion. I have more time to appreciate nature as I amble along. I open my eyes and ears to the world around me. It’s as much about the escape as it is about moving my body.

I hear the soothing rush of Amity Creek for the whole distance of 7 Bridges Road, and pause on the bridges to watch it gushing with spring run-off.

Amity Creek above Smiley Falls
Amity Creek at The Deeps

My limitations encourage me to sidetrack and look more closely at the evidence of Spring’s struggle to arrive.

Spring buds

I have more time to appreciate the beauty of the sunrise, even if the sun is hiding.

White sunrise Brighton Beach

I catch a glimpse of nature’s artistry created by the prolific rainfall, and pause to admire.

Brighton Beach reflection

I take the time to play with “burst mode” on my phone in order to catch the waves at their highest.

Brighton Beach waves

I stop and sit on the rocks warmed by the sun, listening to the water gently lapping.

Resting at Brighton Beach

I catch the scenery I see almost daily, but in a new light.

Brighton Beach gazebo
Gazebo with shoreline

I’d be lying if I said I was content with my daily walks. I can’t wait for the day I can resume running and cycling. I’m told to “start slow with short timeframes.” So I’ll continue to supplement that with more walks, more observations. Still living life in the slow lane.

Molly at Brighton Beach

Exiting the Cold Snap

This morning’s temperature was 54 degrees warmer than it was a week ago. Already it feels like a distant memory to get up and check the thermometer, only to see it in the -20s, day after frigid day. To wait until mid-day for the air temp to reach a balmy -4 before setting out for a run. To forego my afternoon friend walks in favor of warmth by the fireplace. While Covid was socially confining, the cold compounded it.

As the mercury rose, so did the options for outdoor activities and Covid-save ways to meet up with family and friends. I readily embraced the opportunities.

First up was the Luminary Walk. This candle-lit stroll on the Lakewalk was part of the city’s Cold Front activities intended to celebrate winter. Ironically, it was postponed by the real cold front. Its new date fell on the first “warm” evening, a sure indication that I should get out and do it, and I convinced Rich to join me. Because we could.

Luminary Walk

To celebrate our son Erik’s birthday, we arranged to meet up with him and his wife, Katie, at Banning State Park. The river trail followed the ice covered stream and led us to rapidly flowing water gurgling in the icy openings. The sun shone down and I could feel its glow on my face, its warmth radiating down to my fingertips. There was no reason to hurry, it was enough just to be outside and moving, in the company of family, conversation flowing up and down the line. With a trunk load of firewood, we soon had a roaring campfire in the picnic grounds and warmed our innards with hot chocolate and s’mores. Lingering until the sun was low in the sky.

Rich Molly Erik Katie at Banning State Park
Erik Katie Rich hiking at Banning
Erik by Kettle River at Banning
Rich Molly Erik campfire at Banning

The icy snow on the ski trails was rejuvenated by a slow gentle snowfall and lured me back out on my skis for the first time in two weeks. It was a sweet reunion, gliding over fresh grooming, moving freely without the encumbrance of extra layers, not worrying about losing any fingers or toes. Remembering winter as it should be.

Lester ski trail
Shadow Molly XC trail

The grand finale of this recent surge in outdoor social life was being invited back to the “snow room.” Thanks to the ingenuity of our friends, we have enjoyed a number of pleasant happy hours and light suppers outdoors in front of a fireplace surrounded by snow walls. Protected from the wind and containing the heat of the fire, spacious enough to position our chairs with six feet between couples, we whiled away the hours enjoying the personal contact we took for granted a year ago.

Luikart's snow room
Molly Rich happy hour Luikart's snow room
Jon Beth Rich supper in Luikart's snow room

What a relief to relish the outdoors once again. To resume this strange new normal. To exit the cold snap.

Nocturnal Wanderings

A brown Christmas seemed a certainty. As the days ticked by with narry a snowflake in the forecast, I resigned myself to the inevitable.

I admit to appreciating the clear dry surface of the Lakewalk for my morning runs. I felt grateful for the unseasonably balmy temps and shivered when they approached normal. I became accustomed to the ease of good driving conditions and not needing boots. I began to despair of losing my love of winter. And then it snowed.

It was entirely unexpected. We arrived home from a short trip to the Cities to find the trees blanked with snow. Our house lay nestled in the softness of white, our footsteps muffled by the residual snowfall since the walk had been shoveled. Outside our windows each branch bore a layer of fluffy frosting.

As darkness fell, I couldn’t resist the urge. I had to shuffle through the new snow, walk among the giant trees cloaked in white, traverse the silence surrounded by the muffled woods. Donning warm clothes, boots and headlamp I crossed the road and left civilization behind as I followed the footpaths.

My headlamp pierced the darkness, preceding my progress just fast enough. The rest was a hidden world of discovery.

Lester Amity trail at night

The moon shone softly through the trees, a heavenly presence on this wintry trek.

Moon and snow covered trees at Lester

The contributions of a nameless Christmas elf graced the evergreen branches.

Christmas decorations in the woods

I wasn’t gone for long. I didn’t travel very far. But it was enough to transport me into a renewed sense of well being. And a rekindling of the frosty spirit that comes with our coldest season.

Home beckoned as I approached. A warm sight after my nocturnal wanderings. Welcome winter.

Hoeg H'Arbor glowing in the night

Turkey for Two

All the stars were aligned. It was our turn to have our kids for Thanksgiving. Our daughter-in-law got the Friday after Thanksgiving off work, never a given for a doctor. The weather cooperated, no slick roads. Everything pointed to a family holiday. And then it didn’t.

As the COVID numbers raged higher and higher, we set our sights lower and lower. A big family gathering was no longer advised. The governor clamped down on the state, and we downsized to communing with just one family. And in the end, in the interest of protecting Rich’s post-operative health, we scaled back to the recommended single household. Ours.

It’s not the first time we haven’t gathered with our kids and their families. We’ve had off years, when all of them were dining with the in-laws. It happens, it’s only fair. But we always filled the void by getting together with friends – other childless parents. We had a fine time sharing the task of preparing all the traditional dishes and feasting shamelessly. I admit, Thanksgiving to me involves a crowded table – both the overabundance of food choices and the number of occupants surrounding it. They don’t have to be related to me.

We couldn’t share a table with others this year, but it didn’t mean we had to tough it out on our own. We still had the outdoors at our disposal, and made the most of it. Living across from the Lester-Amity trails, we invited friends to join us for a hike in the woods. The snow-covered trails lent a wintry feel, and we meandered happily among the pines as our boots crunched over the path. Respecting distances but in friendly proximity, my spirits lifted with the camaraderie.

Hiking with Luikarts
Thanksgiving day hike with Luikarts

Minnesotans that we are, we capped the afternoon with a visit out on the deck. Adirondack chairs fully separated, blankets at the ready and a touch of wine to celebrate.

Luikarts on our deck
Molly and Rich on our deck

A hastily arranged family Zoom call brought us all together virtually. Just seeing all their smiling faces brightened my day, and the inevitable chaos of trying to talk to 14 people at once regenerated that spirit of a family gathering. All three of our offspring were cocooned at home with just their spouses and children. We were hardly in this alone.

Everyone was making the most of a strange year. Karen and Matt were making home-made pizzas with their four children. Carl and Chelsea were serving up roast beef with the usual turkey trimmings for their two kids. Erik and Katie, both nursing colds, were basking in the pleasure of a turkey dinner being delivered by Katie’s mom. Not one us of was doing what we thought we’d be doing just a week or so ago.

Our 3-year-old granddaughter urged everyone to get their “ouchies” (vaccinations) soon so we could all be together again. Amen to that.

Although Rich offered to barbecue steak and salmon – our individual favorites – to spare me the work of a Thanksgiving dinner, I declined. We were on our own, but I still wanted that turkey smell. I still craved the side dishes. I really wanted the leftovers for Thanksgiving dinner revisited and turkey sandwiches.

By feeding only ourselves, the stress and drama of the turkey dinner evaporated. A turkey breast roasted in the oven and I puttered over the remaining trimmings. There were no table leaves to add, no large serving dishes to unearth from the pantry. We still laid out our wedding china and put the gravy in my mom’s silver gravy boat. I didn’t miss the last minute panic of getting everything done at once – when it was ready, we sat down to eat.

Molly on Thanksgiving
Rich on Thanksgiving

Candles glowed, as they do every night on our table, and we gave thanks for our many blessings. This year most of all we were thankful for our health, and for the medical teams that discovered and treated Rich’s heart condition. For bringing him back home to recover.

It was a quiet dinner and we did our best to linger, to draw it out and savor the occasion. It tasted like Thanksgiving even if it didn’t feel like it. Turkey for two. I hope this is the last time we do this.

Coming Half Circle

The infant days of COVID-19 seem so long long ago. Back in those early times, it all seemed so strange. So disruptive. So confining. And lonely. In lieu of a social life, I took to the outdoors. By mid-afternoon each day I needed to flee the house, and began walking Seven Bridges Road. What a boon it was to have the city extend the road closing, to have a safe place to walk just outside my door. To climb that hill time and time again, and venture over to Hawk Ridge to look down on Lakeside. Quiet, traffic-less, sheltered neighborhoods. Shuttered by the virus.

Seven Bridges Road April 2020

I watched the leaves come out, the grass come to life, the roadside don its cloak of spring green finery. And still I traveled through a foreign world. The road reopened, and I joined the cyclists grinding up those same hills. My wheels took me further afield, granting a longer and more vigorous escape. I retraced old routes, invented new ones and flew down newly surfaced roads that felt like butter under my spinning tires. It felt almost normal. But I couldn’t out pedal the grip of the virus.

In summer, lively voices accompanied my wanderings. Amity Creek was teeming with life as teens and families alike were drawn to its swimming holes and surrounding woods in greater numbers than usual. “Hammockers” inhabited the trees. Thrill seekers jumped from high cliffs. Kids played hide and seek in the bushes. Picnickers ate by the stream. All eager to forget. Not exactly social distancing. We all needed a way to cope.

Fall’s colors painted over my world, brightening my days with radiance. Every day brought a new landscape, each set of changing leaves outperforming the last. Enticing me out to walk my route before they faded. Those hikes were habit by then. Seeking beauty in a world inhabited by ugly germs.

Hawk Ridge fall view

The falling leaves now signal the waning warmth in our days. Days which have already grown too short for my taste, darkness closing in on both sides. Gone are the evenings we could sit on opposite ends of the deck with friends, to relish seeing them in person. To satisfy that craving for live company. In ways we are allowed in the midst of the virus.

I feel winter lurking at the door, ready to scale down my social opportunities. To limit my face to face contact to that contingent of friends that embraces snow, skis, snowshoes and bundled up walks. To challenge my creativity and strengthen my tolerance for Zoom. All in the name of staying safe.

I don’t know what I expected when the first shut-down order came. I wasn’t naive enough to think it was only a matter of weeks. But I didn’t fully grasp the long-term nature of this confinement. Yet here we are. My walks up Seven Bridges Road tell me we have come half circle. I now have no doubt we will complete this circuit, and then some. Until the virus releases its hold on our lives.

Seven Bridges Road October 2020