Sheriff Brody

When you live in a house for ten years, you come to know all of the neighborhood dogs, even those you’ve never met. You recognize their barks, calling to one another across fences and yards, down streets and alleyways. They pass secret messages to one another and information of great importance, such as:

“Hey! A squirrel is heading your way!”

“Get out of my yard, cat!”

Or most often, I imagine, “Did you hear that?”

These dogs I’ve never met have taken shape in my imagination: the dog down the street who cries out a long stream of excited barks every time he’s let outside is a medium-sized mutt of many colors with fluffy tufts under his ears; the loud, occasional woof comes from a big, black lab who’s barking just for something to do; the yapper is a miniature, white, overly animated dog with anxiety issues; and on the other side of the wall which borders the north side of our yard is the small, yet tough-sounding, scrappy barker I called the wildling.

Then there are the dogs I know…

Across the street, my neighbors have huskies, easily distinguished by their distinctive howls. Next door is a lovable duo–a low-key chocolate lab and a furry, troublemaking, little rascal. And behind our house, the dog known as Sheriff Brody.

When my husband and I bought this house we were elated to leave behind the noise of a rental house on a busy street for a quieter neighborhood. Even though we’d only moved a few blocks away, it made all the difference. Traffic had been steady, day and night. Beer trucks gunned their engines up the steep hill, people sped by on their way to and from work, and snow plows/garbage trucks/street sweepers were a constant noise.

At our new house, we could still hear traffic, but it was a soft din. We embraced it as the sound of our town thriving, people going about their lives—our neighbors, our family, our friends.

The first morning we couldn’t have been happier. We owned a home! We had waited so long. We’d worked hard, we’d saved, and we’d searched a long time for the right place. And now we’d finally moved into our own house.

Then, at 7:00 AM, “Bowowowowow!”

It was a big dog, we could tell. And it was close.

Another “Bowowowowowow!” came a minute later.

We got up and looked out the back window to see our neighbors’ yellow lab sitting on their deck overlooking our backyards, occasionally breaking the morning silence with a good old-fashioned, big-dog bark.

We watched him for a few minutes, sipping coffee, laughing about how much better it was than waking up to hundreds of cars and trucks speeding by, then went on with our day. Truthfully, we didn’t mind. We both had to get up for work anyway.

The next morning it happened again.

And the next. And the next.

The dog was a yellow lab named Body, but for some reason we called him Brody, and eventually that turned into Sheriff Brody, after the character in Jaws (which we watched years later and realized his name was actually Chief Brody. But that was for the best; there was only one Sheriff Brody.)

He was an older dog, and as sweet and mellow as could be. He never barked at any other time of the day–unless a siren went off at the fire station. Then he would let out a mournful howl that came from the very depths of his doggie soul. It was a howl of longing, perhaps one telling the world that somewhere deep within him the wildness remained.

Sometimes his owners would howl when they were on their deck with friends and it would cause the Sheriff to howl along with them. (If you have a dog who howls, you know you’ve done this…) Those coerced howls never sounded as mournful as the howls for the fire alarm, though. That siren struck a chord within him, like when we hear a song that brings tears to our eyes, or a certain note on the piano that strikes a melancholy within.

During the day, when Sheriff Brody was in his yard, our dogs would run to the fence barking ferociously. He would look at them passively, walk to the fence and sniff, then lay down in the shade. He never barked back. He never reacted. He was completely quiet … except for when that siren rang, and at 7:00 AM in the morning.

So we had bought a new home with a built in alarm clock that was perfect for a pair of dog lovers. We left behind the sound of traffic and traded it for an old lab welcoming a new day by calling out into the morning sky. It was wonderful while it lasted.

Sheriff Brody passed away a few years later. He had a nice, long life with good owners, but it was still sad. It always is. We miss the best alarm clock we ever had to this day. He was our introduction to the fact that when you own a home, things don’t often go as planned, but sometimes, if you go with the flow, they may turn out even better than you imagined.

Some mornings I wake up thinking I hear him, but I know it’s only a memory. Those mornings I get my coffee, look out my back patio and imagine him, sitting quietly, content, gazing across the yards behind his house, occasionally sniffing. Then his body flexes and his head flattens out and he puts his snout in the air, letting out a “Bowowowowow” for all he is worth.

I remember the fog of his breath on cool mornings.

And sometimes, when the fire alarm goes off in town, I call out a wild and wolf-like howl in his honor, and wonder if he is howling along.

Rest in peace, Sheriff Brody. You were a good boy.


Fireflies and the First Dance

We didn’t see them coming. They surrounded us as we lay in lounge chairs on the beach, wrapped up in sleeping bags–because even though it was late June, nights were still cold on the sandy shores of Lake Superior.

We had been too engrossed in laziness, watching the horizon change colors, melding from pink to red to dark blue. We had been too captivated by the lights of the ore boats gliding across the surface of the lake, following them as they crested the horizon, then faded away into the distance, listening for the soft hum of the engines, and actually being able to hear them from miles away in the deep silence. We had been too focused on spotting the first few stars as they revealed themselves in the moonless, darkening sky.

The first fireflies that flitted about on the periphery of our eyesight–before the great horde enveloped us–had seemed like nothing unusual. They’re a common sight in the northern landscape on summer nights. They’re something all children, at one time or another, has chased across their backyard at a late night barbecue, or has captured in a jar to ponder for a while, marvelling at the magic of the odd, cold light until their parents made them unscrew the lid and set the winged creature free. Although fireflies make an appearance every summer, it is only for a few, short weeks, and it was a lucky night when we saw two or three in the yard.

They affirmed for me, as a child, that there really was magic in the world.

This magic of the firefly begins when they hatch from eggs in late summer into larvae, known as glowworms. They live in the soil for a few years, then construct a mud chamber in the soil into which they settle. In this little mud chamber, their larval body is broken down and they transform into their adult form, emerging when the conditions are right as the twinking firefly, ready for its first sky dance. This stage of flickering light lasts only three to four weeks while the fireflies mate. There are many species of fireflies around the world, and all of them undergo this metamorphosis on their life journey.

Although my husband and I both enjoyed fireflies in our childhood, the great swarm that surrounded us so swiftly and silently was not our usual experience. We discovered, as we looked behind us at the wide expanse of beach to the tree line, that instead of one or two lights, the entire pine forest was alight, as if hundreds of strands of lights had been strung while we were watching the sun slide behind the lake. Thousands upon thousands of nature’s strobe lights danced in the night sky around us, twinkling and bobbing erratically down the vast sand beach stretching for miles in either direction.

It was a firefly dance party on the beach, and we had crashed it.

As the stars appeared, one by one, or in two or threes, the sky began to mimic the beach. I would  look away for one momenyt, watching a spectacular firefly dance move, and when my eyes returned to the sky I would find three new stars were out, as bright as if they had been there all along. The Big Dipper appeared directly in front of us over the lake, poised to scoop water out of the great basin.

As it grew darker, the Milky Way revealed itself, stretching across the sky from the lake horizon,  sweeping over our heads, then disappearing behind the treeline. When it was full night, we could no longer see the line between water and sky. All that remained was darkness and light.

The firelies did not radiate enough light to make it brighter, but held a light that was self-contained, like the stars. Their biolumenescence, which is caused by a chemical reaction, is the most efficient in the world, with all of the energy being emitted as light and none as heat. But to me, it just seemed like the stars had come to Earth to spend the evening on the beach with us.  And they were dancing.

I have thought about that night many times since. It is my happy place, where I go to reaffirm the dream that my life can be whatever I make of it…and to remind myself that there really is magic in the world.

I have seen the stars dancing.

It was the night I began to metamorphise as well. I had been in my mud chamber, burrowed in the ground, being broken down. I was ready to begin transforming, springing forth wings and learning to sparkle and fly.

I brought home two rocks from the beach that had been rounded by the waves. They have embedded stones and swirls within them. Though they are gray and somewhat drab, the amalgamation reminds me of the fireflies, the swirls, the milky way. They sit on my writing desk as a reminder of that night; a reminder that perfect moments do happen, and that I have to cherish them, hold them in my thoughts, continuously smoothing them, remembering.

Since then, I have made many changes in my life–at times fearlessly, and at times merely pretending to be fearless.

I’ve found it works either way.

There are many more steps to go before I can say I danced without abandon on the beach under the Milky Way on an inky black, summer night. But I keep working towards it. I have felt a few flickers of light within and my wings are getting stronger every day…

The Secret to Happiness

The small, yellow cabin on the shore of Lake Superior was built by our friend’s father in the 1950s. It faces west, toward the vast lake and a sandy beach that stretches for miles in either direction. To the north, a rocky shoreline rises and curves, creating a long sweeping bay. A monastery is perched on the cliff, hidden entirely by thick tree cover, except for the large metal cross on the peak which occasionally catches afternoon sunlight. The monks who live there have a small store where they sell baked goods and homemade jam from raspberries and thimbleberries they grow on their property. To the south there is only beach, with a small, sandy point miles away, reaching out into the lake, creating the other arm of the bay. Past that, I don’t know…

When my husband and I arrived in the Keweenaw Peninsula I didn’t know how that beach was going to change me. I didn’t know that over the course of five days I would learn the secret to happiness.

The beach is over a hundred feet of soft sand from the edge of the tree line to the water, and it’s the kind of sand that sings when you walk on it–but only the dry sand, the saturated sand near the shore is silent. The sound of the lake is a melodic roar, a series of continuous notes creating a resonance that penetrates everything. It pulls, reaches out and eases tensions with its song. Being near it, I felt the relaxation similar to those few moments before I fall sleep when my body lets go of tension and sinks into comfort. I was ready to sink into that quiet serenity for days.

The first day was a typical June day in the Upper Peninsula, with temperatures wavering around seventy degrees, humidity so low that bright, blue sky could be seen between the branches of the pine trees, and a cool breeze cruising in from Lake Superior. As evening approached, we built a fire in the cabin’s wood-stove to combat the chill. Through the trunks of the tall red and white pines, we watched the sun set over the lake. I sat in a rocking chair by the fire and gazed out the front picture window at the oncoming night, thinking of the days when this was normal life, before the invasion of noise and too much information into every nook and cranny of our existence. The quiet, the dark, the disconnect was a relief. After my husband fell asleep, I spent many more hours sitting, thinking nothing, alone in the dark, with only the amber glow of fire for light. Ore boats passed silently by in the distance, gliding along the horizon.

The second day we walked around the camp searching for the fabled Pink Lady’s Slipper that we‘d heard recently bloomed. Lady’s Slippers are rare orchids which grow only in unique conditions. We found six in one sunken area in the woods, soft and mysterious, all connected by underground rhizomes. Then we found two by the beach, facing the lake as if they were gazing out across the water as I had been the night before. Later in the afternoon, we stumbled across another hiding near the wood shed. That night, inside the cabin, I read the book “The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper” which the owner of the cabin had thoughtfully left out. It tells the tale of an Native American girl who saves her village by traveling out in a terrible blizzard to a neighboring village for medicine. After sinking in the snow and losing her moccasins, she walks home barefoot, barely making it back, leaving bloody tracks in the snow. In the spring her footprints have become Lady’s Slippers.

The woman who owns the cabin has been an artist and art teacher for over 40 years. Her husband built the camp and they spent many summers here with their children. It is a place filled with love and creative energy, decorated with intriguing nature-inspired art: creatures made from driftwood and stones, animal tracks that have been plaster-cast and hung on the wall, jars of agates and other interesting rocks. Everything about the place inspired creativity. The ground around the cabin was a soft bed of pine needles and pine cones, with occasional strips and rings of birch bark. I found a scale of a red pine tree that resembled a child looking up with a curious expression, then found a piece that resembled the face of an old woman. I put the two together on a piece of birchbark with another piece of birchbark as flowing hair. It took a picture, then put them back outside calling it temporary art. I picked up rocks and driftwood on the beach, followed bird tracks in winding circles and studied the wind and water patterns in the sand.

My eyes were continuously drawn toward the water, and my feet led me back repeatedly to the shore. Every morning, every afternoon, every evening, called for walks on the beach.

The second night we wrapped ourselves in blankets and reclined in chairs on the beach.  A deer made a surprising appearance and even a few eagles. The slight, cool wind kept the mosquitos away as we watched the sunset. It took so long for the sky to grow dark! Dozens of shades of blue made their appearance, along with a few reds and pinks.

Then the fireflies appeared. First one, then ten, then hundreds, maybe thousands. All around us, down the beach and in the trees, magical lights flickered and bobbed.

Then came the stars. The Milky Way stretched from behind the lake over our heads into the trees. It was brighter than I had ever seen before! The Big Dipper spread across the sky in front of us, pouring its water directly into the lake. The fireflies made a spectacular showing, dancing all through the night. I couldn’t tell if the stars had come to Earth to dance with us or if the fireflies had made it all the way into the sky.

The third night we watched it grow dark again, except that night the air was thick and humid and the sky overcast. We walked the beach, hoping we could again watch the darkness overtake the day, but the bugs were too hungry. We ran for cover into the large screened porch filled with buckets of driftwood and decorated with colored globe lights on a string, fishing nets, a buoy that had washed up on shore, and a handmade brick on the table by the front door that had the impression of just one word in it.  Enjoy.

As I sat in the cedar swing, winded from running, smelling of campfire and putting Xs on my bug bites with my fingernail, I looked toward the lake and had a deep epiphany. The moment I thought it, contentment swelled and filled me…or possibly it emptied me…either way, I knew.

That’s what it’s all about. It is the secret to life. It’s the meaning of life.


That is the plan for us–we are here to enjoy.

It’s so easy…enjoy.

That was exactly what we’d been doing all weekend. It was why we were able to walk the beach, again and again, without care. It was how we could just stare at the fire for hours or spend an afternoon seeking rare flowers in the forest. We were enjoying. Only that. It was something we desperately needed and were not allowing ourselves to do enough in our daily lives.

It’s incredible how hard it is to enjoy the wonderful things in the world and enjoy our precious lives. We always seem to be working toward some goal, continuously planning or achieving, concerned about our image, our reputation. We very rarely just ‘enjoy.’ The concept was so foreign to me, that I knew when I went back to my life I would actually have to work hard to do it. I laughed at the irony  to cover up the fact that I was a little ashamed. 

My husband looked at me quizzically, and I told him I just discovered the secret to happiness, picking up the brick and showing him. Before either of us had a chance to say a word, an icy breeze blew through the porch and the first lightning flashed over the lake. A moment later lightning flashed again and we began to hear thunder. A storm was coming. A warm front and a cold front were battling above the lake. First we would feel the warm front enveloping us like a hot, humid breath, then a cold blast of arctic air would chill the moisture on our skin. The winds fought for over an hour and we had begun to give up on the storm ever reaching us when we heard the deafening roar of billions of raindrops pounding the sand and water. It was so loud, so deep, rolling up the beach from the south, that I honestly became afraid. The wind picked up and the trees bent and swayed, then it was upon us.

The power went out immediately, which didn’t bother us since we only had the string of colored globes on. I lit a few candles and we sat in the dark, listening to the storm. After a while I realized I needed to feel the rain, so I stepped outside, barefoot, under the pine trees, and closed my eyes, turning my face upwards to feel the cold, refreshing rain. I opened my mouth, wanting the storm to become a part of me, catching raindrops on my tongue. Some of them were pine flavored.

Within moments I was drenched, but it was the most cleansing and revitalizing shower I have ever taken. 

After five days I was renewed. Like the lake, the things that were deep within me were swept from the bottom and pulled to the shore, to be examined like driftwood or tumbled stones. “Ah, here we see evidence of a shipwreck…and over here, a red stone tumbled and beaten upon the rocks until the edges are smooth and worn…and over here a jawbone of a fish…and there, a feather.” At times there was simply water and sand.

The final day we did the same things, walked the beach, picked up driftwood, sat in front of a fire. We enjoyed the silence. I had been afraid of silence, afraid to be alone with my own thoughts, afraid of what demons may arise. But during those beach days no demons arose, no fears, no regrets, only clarity. I realized the secret to happiness–that I have much to be thankful for, and so much that is worthy of enjoyment in my life. All I needed to do was take the time to enjoy it.

Saving Mr. Jingles

We found half of a mouse in the basement the other day. The back half. Not sure where the other half is, but I assume it’s in the belly of one of our cats.

We also found a whole mouse, cowering under my husband’s bass drum, a cat on either side of it–one all white and fluffy, one black and sleek–watching it intensely.

My husband pulled the mouse out and brought it upstairs. “What do we do with this?” he asked, motioning to the mouse sitting patiently in his hand. It was just a baby, fully furred, yet unstable on its feet, eyes slightly open, mouth suckling the air. It quivered uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, it had seen its sibling get bitten in half by a giant beast. We were torn.

At first we put him out in the woodpile, finding a sizable notch in a piece of wood and wrapping him in a garden glove. We dropped some flax seeds around him for nourishment. He nestled in and we left him there, hoping he would survive.

As darkness fell an hour later, we began to question our decision. Did we just sentence this little creature to death? Surely he’d freeze in the night; it would get down to fifty degrees overnight. Plus, there are stray cats out there all the time. Could he even eat solid foods yet?

My husband went out to check on him and came back twenty minutes later. “His name is Mr. Jingles,” he said, matter-of-factly. Of course it is, I thought, since he’s Stephen King’s #1 fan. Well, on second thought, he’s his #2 fan…

Once he had a name, we had no choice but to bring him in. We decided to keep him warm overnight, then free him to the wild when it was warmer. So, we poked holes in a shoebox and lined it with a piece of a fleece blanket. I made a concoction of half and half and warm water for him to drink. The internet said to feed him powdered kitten milk, but we didn’t know where to find something like that. (Was someone out there milking cats?) It was nine at night and we used what he had. He drank it, slowly, from an eye-dropper. After a few drops he quivered and we thought he was dying, but he didn’t. He climbed around the blanket, buried his nose into a fold and nestled in. He slept in our bedroom that night next to the heater.

Maybe we were crazy. Maybe we should have let nature take its course. But, we’re part of nature too, aren’t we? And, in a way, didn’t he have more of a right to live in our house than us? I mean, he has BORN here! (I know, I’m stretching it there…)

The next day he spent in the garage while we were at work. That evening we fed him by putting drops into our hand and he lapped them up. It worked so much better than the eye-dropper. He eagerly crawled into our hands when he sensed us near–his dexterous, gripping toes clinging for dear life as he climbed our fingers. As he walked more, he built strength and balance in those wobbly little limbs. The next few days were cold, so he became a full-time house dweller.

I’ll admit that after three days I felt a bit like a crazy person taking care of this little guy, but I figured I was doing it because we have four month old dachshund puppy and I have some ‘mother’s milk’ running through my body. The innocence is all too familiar; the trust too sweet. Or is it more than that?

I think the moment we knew we’d protect him and try to save him was when I ran a finger along his head and under his chin and he closed his eyes and stretched out his neck. He loved to be touched, to be pet, like one of our dogs or cats. He wasn’t ‘vermin,’ as some people would say. He was a scared, little creature asking for safety and comfort in a big world after he’d lost his family.

How could we refuse?


I wrote the first half of this a few days ago, and really thought we were going to save Mr. Jingles. I had visions of creating a little home for him in our house, or letting him free in the garage, where he would come out and visit us when we were working on projects out there. (I probably watched too many Disney movies as a child…)

Last night he snuggled up in my hand for a while, then I lay him on my shirt as we watched a movie. He was fine until his back legs spasmed. Then his whole body spasmed. I tried to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t. He started gasping every few seconds, sucking in air. We each held him for a few minutes until he passed. We hoped he wasn’t in pain, but it was quick, and he wasn’t alone.

We thought he was going to make it. And we had been ready to take on the responsibilities. We were feeding him numerous times a day, making sure he was pooping (he did so…in my hand, often…) and we kept him warm. But, it wasn’t enough.

We only had him for four days, but he became a part of our family, however briefly. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears when he died, and I went to bed sad, and a little shocked, with no shoebox on the floor next to the heater.

We knew the odds were against us, but we tried. I’m glad we tried. I hope he is too.

I know this happens all the time–people try to save birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other animals who are orphaned or injured. But why? Is it just instinct to care for those who are helpless? Or do we have so much love inside of us that we can give, and give, and give and never be empty?

I hope so. That’s a nice thought.

We did love that little guy; he had personality. 

We’ll bury him in the backyard under a fruit tree. And we will remember Mr. Jingles.



Smiling Into The Sun

In the north, our summers are short and the winters long, so when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, it is essential we turn our faces towards it, slow down, and enjoy the warmth it brings (even if there’s still two feet of snow on the ground!). Taking time to notice and appreciate those sweet moments of contentment help us become happier beings in this tumultuous world; they can help us enjoy our journey here more.

When we turn our faces toward the sun, the shadows fall behind us. We can still know the shadows are there; we just don’t focus on them.

If you have a moment when you enjoy the warmth on your cheeks after a long, cloudy week, please share it. Maybe it was a kind word from a stranger, a smile from a neighbor, or someone paid for your coffee for no reason at all. Maybe you worked out (finally!) or had a day where you just felt fantastic. Those moments happen more than we notice. Let’s pay attention. And by sharing them, we can bask in the glow of each other’s sunshine.

Post your good moments here–those worth remembering, worth celebrating, worth sharing.

Or post a picture of yourself smiling into the sun.

Spread the warmth.

What We’ve Lost & What We Keep

Something is missing. It has been neglected, lost, forgotten.

This something was so important to us as children, so important to our life’s purpose, so undeniably a part of our story that we thought we would never forget it, never stop wanting it. Yet in order for us to be productive, responsible members of society it had to be pushed away, pushed down, pushed aside, from the main focus of life to simple fantasy.

Didn’t it?

And it’s been so long since we’ve thought about that something, that dream, that it’s hard to remember it now. With each passing moment of the daily routine it’s more difficult to feel the joy of wanting it.

What was it again?

It tugs at our sleeves like a child wanting attention, a child who still remembers, who still lives in the place where all things are possible. A child who still believes dreams are attainable.

What was it again?

Someplace inside of us is empty.

Some people have this realization and throw everything out the window–divorcing their spouses, quitting their jobs, cutting ties with friends and leaving town at a run. For them, it’s the only way they can find what they are missing; they keep nothing of the lives they’ve built, even that which is good. They must start from scratch. Many don’t know what they’re running towards, only what they are running from–the emptiness within them. Others know what they are running toward–a life more authentic to their true self. They run with the wind at their backs, leaving nothing behind except footsteps in the sand.

But, what if we don’t want to give up the life we’ve created?  Can we run with the wind at our backs toward everything we have ever wanted, while still loving and appreciating the precious things we want to keep?

I believe we can.

We don’t have to leave our lives behind to find the part of us that was undeniable, the part that burned and refused to take no for an answer. Instead, we can add those youthful dreams back into our lives, one by one, softly, with love and tender care, or fiercely, with passion and sheer life-force. We can slow down and respectfully decline to do things which do not serve our life’s purpose. We can cut down those mundane routines, allowing dust to build a little higher on the furniture, allowing items to remain unchecked on our lists. Perhaps we can quit making lists all together. We can let go of insecurities that have held us back.

We can promise to honor those dreams, making them a priority, allowing the joy of wanting them to again fill our hearts until it is overspilling with the exuberance of youth.

And eventually, we will remember.

New seed
is faithful.
It roots deepest
in the places
that are
most empty.
    – C.P. Estes

The Apple Tree Whispers

The apple tree in my backyard has not been well cared for. It is diseased and weak, and when overburdened with apples, branches often come crashing down. The apples are no good to eat.

I can only assume that in the years before we bought this house and moved in, no one took the time to trim the tree, to care for it properly. No one attempted to stop the spreading black fungus which crept along, year after year, eventually covering many of the larger branches. No one tried to halt the invasion of boring insects.

It won’t survive for many more years, this old apple tree, but we’ve done our best to save it by fertilizing and watering it often, applying treatments to heal its ailments, and trimming it back in the spring and fall.

This apple tree will be appreciated in its final years, for I believe there are many lessons to be learned from it. On quiet days, the tree whispers to me with the wisdom of an elder.

I look out over my backyard as I write, towards Lake Superior and this craggy apple tree. It resembles a bonsai tree, with a Zen quality that can only be attained through time. It is still beautiful in its old age, and in the darkest days of winter when the sun rises behind it, the creeping red over the lake horizon casts the tree in a celestial glow.

Clearly visible in that halo of light are the stumps where branches have been sawed off in the distant past, and long, spindly new shoots, jutting in every direction, which must have been hidden behind leaves and apples when we trimmed in the fall. We will cut most of them back in the spring. Those that are strong and straight we’ll leave, to balance the tree where a branch may have broken the year before. When a healthy shoot rises next to a sickly one, a choice will need to be made.

My life often feels like this tree, overburdened, with new shoots coming up every year. There is so much that requires my attention, my time, my life energy, that I must continuously try to determine what to keep and what to cut. If I don’t trim back some branches, I will get diseased and weak, like the apple tree. I cannot sustain them all.

Choices need to be made.

Some shoots fill in areas that are bare. They stretch toward the sun and even out the places where I am vulnerable. They make me whole. They are keepers.

Some shoots are harmful, unnecessary, demanding or negative. They need to be trimmed. Those are the easiest decisions to make.

At times I must cut away branches that I have nurtured and loved, though it hurts terribly to do so. When something has become so toxic that it causes distress, I know in the long run I will be healthier for it. Sometimes a part of the branch remains as a reminder. In bonsai this is called jin, signifying that the tree has had to struggle to survive. How fitting.

When the saw makes the cut–back and forth, back and forth, back and forth–it is a long and tortuous, painful task. Often it’s better when the axe does the job. There’s an abrupt end with the axe, very finite, with little time to ponder or contemplate. The pain is quick and intense, then passes.

Other times the branch simply breaks, splits under the pressure with a resounding crack, and falls to the ground. Afterwards I feel lighter, never realizing until then how much that branch had been weighing me down. Unfortunately, the breaking usually leaves fragments, splintered remains, or pulls off more than it should, tearing away at the bark of the trunk. I have learned to remove those branches before they fall; they can do a lot of damage on the way down. Sometimes they break other branches on the way that I had intended to keep.

In the fall, trimming helps the tree to conserve its resources so it can survive the harsh winter.  After trimming in the spring, the apple tree blooms. It has more to give to the branches that remain, more energy to thrive. It stands taller, is less weighed down, more balanced. Healthier.

And really, isn’t life all about staying healthy and finding balance? How much can we handle? How much can we give? How much can we ask for? How much can we take? How much can this small bit of matter we inhabit actually accomplish in a lifetime?

With each trim and each new growth, my energy changes, what I have to give changes, and similar to the silhouette of the apple tree in the sunrise, the way I am perceived changes.

Looking out over that tree I have realized that there will always be new growth and letting go of the old. And it is good. It’s okay to accept that something doesn’t work in my life anymore. It is okay to move on, to leave behind that which is toxic, to let go of an old dream and create another, and to keep what I need for myself. Because in order for me to thrive and care for what I love, I must be also well cared for. I must be balanced and healthy before I can be fruitful.

“It’s up to you to choose what is important and worthy of your precious life energy. It is up to you to decide the things you need to let go. It’s up to you to be bold and keep only that which will help you grow healthier, find balance, and become a beautiful, craggy tree in your own way, with your roots firmly planted in the Earth, and your branches dancing in the wind, joyously reaching for the sky.”

That is what the old apple tree whispers to me.


Those of us living on the Great Lakes are accustomed to severe weather. We don’t always love it, but we do expect it. At times it snows twenty inches overnight. Other times the brisk winds from the Arctic Circle race across Canada, and if we inhale too deeply, it freezes our nostrils closed. Men come inside from snow-blowing with icicles hanging from their beards. And that’s just the winter months.

Sometimes, a summer storm rolls across the land with so much intensity, so much power, that it  changes the entire lake ecosystem…

When extreme pressure from a storm front pushes down on one side of a lake, this compression can be so tremendous, so strong, that massive amounts of water will flow to the other side, causing the opposite shoreline to flood. As this huge surge overspills the shoreline, the water climbs into the mouths of rivers, washes out low-lying roads, and rolls even the largest, gnarliest pieces of driftwood onto the beach. It causes boats of all sizes to tug desperately on their moorings.

On the compressed side of the lake, the water moves away from shore and mysterious things long buried underwater are exposed — perhaps the skeleton of a shipwreck, or a glistening strip of colored stones, or the remains of a dock that pulled free and disappeared beneath the waves. The standing docks seem to be on stilts, with dry land beneath them, their spindly legs covered in green, dripping algae. Boats on this side of the lake run aground and beaches become vast expanses of sand, littered with curious objects. Maybe even treasure.

One must be quick to discover these treasures though, for once the surge reaches its furthest point, it reverses and the water flows back to inundate this newly barren shore, creeping back with the unstoppable force of water.  After reaching its furthest point in that direction, again it retreats.

This phenomenon, called a seiche, continues for hours, with the water sloshing back and forth, each time a little less intense, until it finally reaches equilibrium. Even though oscillations  continuously move through enclosed bodies of water, they are usually so small that they are not noticeable even to boaters — only when extreme pressure acts upon the water does the phenomenon cause destruction and chaos.

We’ve all felt this tremendous amount of pressure, when the neat edges of our safe, little harbor were askew and overflowing, and all we could do was hold our heads slightly above water to keep from drowning until it was calm again. During those times, we were pushed to our extremes, with emotions overspilling their banks, losing all control, and re-learning what it meant to be vulnerable and exposed to the elements, churning in turmoil.

Even worse, those secrets that had long been hidden deep within were exposed for all to see. Ashamed, we covered them, collected them, hid them. But in doing so, maybe we found a clear piece of rounded blue glass, or a soft pink shell, or a swirling red agate. Maybe we discovered something about ourselves.

After the storm passes, and the surges have settled, the lake resumes its normal ebb and flow. Although the obvious and immediate result of a seiche is destruction, there are many benefits from the turmoil as well. The seiche-driven wave action lifts nutrient-rich sediments, such as decomposing leaves and grasses, from the deeper waters into the sun-lit, surface water where algae can create new living tissue through photosynthesis out of the otherwise stagnant, decomposing material. By whisking those nutrients to the upper levels of water, this disturbance, or upwelling, makes it available for use in the food chain, which in turn, makes the lake a healthier ecosystem.

Even the water rushing onto the shorelines carries nutrients onto land, enriching the soils. When it recedes, it pulls back more leaves and grasses to add to the churning lake, feeding it, making it more whole and resilient.

Looking back at the most difficult events in my life, I realized that like a seiche in the lake, those experiences also enriched me. At the time I only felt the swirling, overwhelming waves battering me, nearly drowning me, but once the storm quieted and I could catch a full breath I felt stronger, wiser.

I was forced to assess where the storm was most destructive, thereby admitting where I was vulnerable. I re-enforced as needed.

I faced my own shipwrecks, and accepted the treasures that had been washed ashore.

I fed upon the upwelling of lost emotions, memories and experiences that had been put to rest on the bottom of my lake bed. They burst forth into new life.

I realized that many small seiches had moved through my life, subtly redefining my shorelines, preparing me to survive, and even thrive, after a storm. And for the first time I was grateful for them.

We have no control over the weather, just like we have no control over many of the events that happen in our lives. We can only control what we take away from those experiences, how we survive them. They can enrich us, or drown us.

And I, for one, am learning how to swim.


If you are a pet owner, you know about nose prints.

They show up on your patio doors, windows, windshield — anywhere your pet decides it’s interesting to watch the world outside. When you have more than one pet, you can tell whose nose prints are whose by how high they are off the floor. Sometimes they’re wet and smudgy, so you know there’s been a lot of snorting and barking going on, and other times they are perfect impressions, like the heart-shaped nose prints the cat leaves on the bay window.

I’ve tried to keep up with cleaning nose prints, but as soon as I wipe them away, they’re back. Sometimes I forget about them, or don’t notice them until a whole strip of window is covered and I think, ‘didn’t I just clean that?’ It seemed to be a never-ending battle, then…

A few years ago, we lost both of our dogs in a short span of time. The first dog, Adora, was sixteen and had been our ball dog, always wanting to fetch, always carrying a ball around the house. She would catch balls bounced off the garage roof, swim after them in the lake, and dig through the snow to find them. Because of her, we went outside every day, rain, shine, or snow. She was an Australian Shepard mix, and though her name was Adora, we mostly called her Ora, Dee Dee, or by her rapper name, Doggie-D.

Our other dog, Jackson, was a black lab/shepherd mix who took off hats, no matter what kind. When someone came over with baseball hat, a winter cap, anything, he would gingerly step his front paws into their lap, gently take off the hat, then hand it back to the owner with a big wag of his tail.

If you rubbed the side of Jackson’s face, just along the whiskers, he made a snarly face like Elvis. He also barked at the bust of Elvis our friends had at their house, so we called him the Elvis-spotting dog. We also called him Bilbo Beggins, Mookie Bobo, The Black Panter and many, many more.

Jackson died somewhat quickly of kidney failure at only nine years old. He’d been losing weight, but since we’d just lost Adora we didn’t realize he was sick. We just thought he was sad; that he missed her. She’d been there since the day we brought him home from the animal shelter at ten weeks old.

We gave him water infusions under the skin. We gave him medicine. He threw up a lot. The fur on his face turned gray. We did our best to save him, but in a short amount of time he faded away.

After he was gone, whenever I would sit in the living room I would see those nose prints on the patio door. He would never make another. He would never ask to go out again. He would never press his nose up against that door, transfixed, watching the fat squirrels run across the top of the fence in the back yard.


For months I couldn’t bring myself to wash them off, and neither could my husband. I would run my fingers across them and think to myself that I would wash nose prints off windows all day long just to have him back. All day and all night.

I look at everything I love from that perspective now. All things we love leave nose prints.

I love where I live but the winters are so darn long and cold — nose print. My husband is amazing, but never fills the ice cube trays — nose print. He lets it go that I leave my socks all over the house, just like those pesky nose prints.

We need to learn to let the small things go, because in the great scheme of things, it isn’t what really matters. What matters is that we love what we love while we have the chance. Everything else is just nose prints.

For a long time after losing our dogs, the thought of getting another dog made us feel miserable and guilty. No dog would be able to compare. We would never love another dog like we had loved those two.

I still think that’s true, no one will ever love two pets the same way; because no two pets are the same.

And by loving them we are not the same.

When we decided to get another dog, we needed something different, so we found someone who had a litter of ‘oops’ puppies, and brought home a four pound mini-dachshund. Then we began another journey with another set of nose prints, this time much daintier and much closer to the floor.

After many months I finally wiped those tall nose prints off the patio door.

They returned in full force a year later, when we rescued another mini-dachshund, Frank, who was two years old. He’s a bit taller than Penny, so now we have two parallel nose print lines across the bottom of the patio door, one a slight bit higher than the other.

And I can’t express how much I love seeing them there.

What I Know about Pine Trees

Pine trees are all different.

Pines growing on the rocky outcroppings around Lake Superior are often stunted, crooked, and twisted into unnatural shapes. They perch on ledges, balance precariously on top of boulders, or cling desperately to cliffs, parallel to the earth after part of the rock beneath them gives way and crashes into the lake. Their roots, bare to the elements, finger their way into cracks, pulling minerals from the rock and water from the shallow pools in small indentations. These trees have to endure the cold, long winters, northern winds, and the frigid spray of crashing waves which form icicles on their needles and branches.

They are survivors. They are the watchmen of the lake. They are the old ones.

On the beaches, pine trees thrive in the sandy soil. They carpet the ground in a blanket of needles in burnt oranges, dark reds and golden yellows which release a chemical into the soil that hinders growth in other trees. The forest consists only of a carpet and canopy of needles with straight, uniformly sized trunks in between and crisp, blue water in the background. In the sand, pines grow straight and tall, their limbs jutting out at right angles in whatever arrangement that suits them.

I have never seen a symmetrical pine tree.

White pine once grew from one end of Michigan to the other, covering the landscape in old growth boreal forest. Logging over the past few hundred years has changed that…for better or worse who can say? After pine trees are cut, other species grow back in their place: oak, maple, poplar, beech–all of those beautiful trees which change color and lose their leaves in the autumn.

Yet the remnants of those majestic pines still remain. Eagles often make nests in their upper-most branches. Crows use them as watching posts.

These trees are the protectors of the forest; they tower over the other trees and become lightening rods in thunderstorms, often meeting their fate when a bolt of electricity splits their trunk.

There comes a time when even the hardiest of trees must let go.

All along the shoreline are trees that have given in to the elements. They lie on their sides, roots exposed. Pine trees have no tap root; their roots twist and turn and creep and crawl, crossing back over each other, looking for every drop of water, every bit of nutrient near the surface. They are shallow and extend in all directions in a tangled web so when the tree falls over a gnarled, woven tapestry arises.

Every exposed root bed of a pine tree I have ever seen has a face; some have many. They are the wizards of the tree. They keep it safe from harm, and when the time has come for the tree to die, they rise up and watch over it, keeping vigil over the grave where the sleeping tree lies.

Pine trees are all different.

Yet, they are also the same. They all do their best to stand tall, be majestic, and protect who is around them, being strong when the storm comes. They may not live in perfect conditions, but find a way to survive, defending their home if necessary. They are susceptible to their surroundings and cannot control their environment–the wind, the rain, the sun–but they do what they can with what they receive, and thrive where they are planted.

So can we.