Welcome back to Magnetic North where wildflower colors shift rapidly now from the predominant yellows and whites and oranges to the royal hues which announce the coming of.....are you ready for this?....WINTER!
I search my meadow for the lush waves of daisies, buttercups and birdsfoot trefoil blooming so profusely this wet, wet summer. They are still there, but fewer and fewer by the day. Only the perennially late-to-the party goldenrod lift their gaudy heads in steadily growing numbers as we slide into autumn.
In fact, as far as the wildflowers go, the purple reign starts now. That’s r-e-i-g-n, as in all powerful. I see many purples in the Joe Pye weed, fireweed, bull and canada thistle, and wild aster ringing the meadow and invading my tiny garden patch. These newbies to summer 2014 paint the highway shoulders around the big lake as well as on all our roads less traveled. Their arrival on the scene is, depending on one’s experience during the winter of 13/14, either ominous or thrilling.
I lean toward the thrilling but many a hardy resident has good reason to welcome these signs of seasonal change with as much cheer as an infestation of bedbugs.
In fact, a fair number of souls opted to “git while the gittin’s good” and put their homes up for sale this summer. Winter takes a toll on all of us. And last winter, even folks who live to be outside in cold weather to ski or ice fish found it nearly impossible to do any of that with the triple whammy of wind, snow and brutal cold gripping our region from mid-December through March. Oh, I know April was no picnic either, but we could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel - summer!
Sadly, that light proved to be more of a train. A tanker car filled with water. Rain, rain and more rain gave us those lush stands of wildflowers. But it also took away a big chunk of planting season from area crop gardeners. With one of the county CSAs (that’s community supported agriculture) on an acre of my land, I feel the pain of my hardworking friends working that soggy plot, only to watch plants fail to thrive when nighttime temperatures stayed low. Surrounded as that acre is with bumper crops of wild roses, thimbleberries and such, it seems that our Mother Nature is in her Mommy Dearest mode still.
I am not one of those “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” saps. Still, I do plan to collect as many wild raspberries, thimbleberries and rose hips as I can this season. As soon as the mosquito population dwindles a titch. The guinea hens I brought in last June have de-ticked the place. And now the dragonflies are doing their 24/7 feeding-on-the-wing thing directed at mosquitoes.
My berry picking is not so much for me as for my grandchildren. Jackson and Jane and their mother, Gretchen, my one and only child, just left for their home in L.A. with nary a single berry in their possession. Just a bit too early in this cool, wet summer. But I promised them that I would come bearing berry jam and rose hip tea on my next trip out. Which, if I had my way would be tomorrow, I miss them so dreadfully.
As do most folks hereabouts, I do not divulge my berry patch location, except to family. So Jackson and Jane had better keep their little traps shut. Oh, you don’t think word about a boffo berry patch could travel from L.A. to someone here? You obviously have not lived in Cook County for long.
I, on the other hand, am happily entering my 25th year in these parts. That’s longer than I have lived anywhere. And I like the feeling. From the first day of owning land here, I felt at peace. That was a surprise. Paul and I were just looking for a nice place on the shore and ended up several miles uphill from the big lake on an old farmstead. But as I made my first trip into Joynes Ben Franklin, the first of literally hundreds of such trips, I turned and looked up and down the Grand Marais main drag, then out into the harbor and voila! Peace. A strange sensation to me at that time in my life. But one I recognized instantly.
And, right then, I knew I would stay. That I was home. Even though I did not have the required two sets of grandparents in the cemetery needed to claim “local” status. But I have my application in. My mom and dad and beloved Paul are all resting in a shady patch of earth overlooking the town and lake up on Maple Hill. So that’s a start.
Staying and knowing I will stay has its rewards but also its pains. A big one is saying goodbye to those who choose to not stay. Those who want to “be nearer family” or big medical facilities. And those who find winter more grueling than glamorous.
I get that. One of my dearest life friends just sold her home and will be gone with the golden leaves of autumn. Understandable? Yeah. But acceptable? I am working on that one. My heart is slow to let go. With good reason.
This friend and her late husband were anchors for me and Paul. She tended to my wounds after my breast cancer surgery. Helped my sweet husband adjust to his first hours in a strange place as I filled out mountains of forms at the Veteran’s Home. And even though I know she will always, as the saying goes, “be there for me,” I find myself staring at her whenever we are in the same place now. Memorizing her features and her voice. Saving to memory all that I can while I can.
So I tell myself that I feel loss because having such a friend just ten miles from my door felt really, really good. I tell myself also that I WILL spend at least one country mouse weekend with her in her new digs in the Twin Cities. And that she WILL come visit here.
So it will be fine. We will be fine. I have faith - which is belief mixed with doubt - that what I tell myself will come to pass. And I fix my gaze on the trees ringing the meadow, towering above the fattening cattails in the wetland, and the swaying seed heads of the meadow grasses.
And there I see yet one more shade of gold. A lone aspen dares to be the first to turn. And that first glimpse of the coming season takes me back to that first autumn here. The day I drove up my road and saw aspen leaves skittering in circles in front of my car on the gravel. Portents of winter. And I said out loud, “Oh, Lord, am I ready for this?” Meaning winter spent in a place that, while it felt like home, was more strange than familiar.
Perhaps all transplants like Paul and I ask themselves that same question as they leave old friends and family for a wild and beautiful dream. And none of us really can ever know the answer.
And truth be told, after 24-plus years, when I see the aspens turning and the fireweed burning with the last burst of summer color, I find myself wondering yet again, “Am I ready for this?” Only now, I know the question needs less to be answered than lived. And that, ready or not, I’m here for as long as luck and life and the good Lord will allow.
(Photo by goonarlflc on Flickr)