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It feels like mid-summer.  My sister wrote today, “it will be August before you know it.”  We’ve had a reprieve from the heat wave, but the air is so dry, and there is no rain in sight, forever.   Forest fires dot the state, and British Columbia fires are raging.  There is an ominous foreshadowing, even with bright blue skies overhead.  The deer are making attacks on my geraniums and I’ve covered them with netting to see if they can at least make it to mid-August.  I watch the mama deer and her little Bambi walk down the grass each morning, and know I should shout out the door to them, but, really, it’s just not in me.  I finally had to give up on the flowers in the window box over the garage, even after Rita made so many trips down here to water them while we were on Whidbey Island.  There was just so much heat, and somehow the water wasn’t draining from the window box, and it smelled terrible when I tried to trim the plants, and, in frustration, I threw the three pots down to the driveway below, smashing them, and scattered dirt and dead flowers everywhere.  It was a mess to clean up, but quite therapeutic, actually.  I don’t know what that was all about, but I cleaned out the window box and there are new pots alive in there for the time being.  Something about mid-summer is just a little unsettling.  It’s like being on that amusement park ride where the car reaches the very top, and pauses for a brief moment, and you don’t know if you’re going to go over the apex or come back down to where you were.

I’ve been watching these little Johnny-jump-ups grow between the stones on the terrace, popping up where I drip water from the watering can, as I replenish the geranium pots.  I’ve been thinking that I’ll pick a few for the table when we have guests this week-end, and have made sure they get little dribbles of water.  Don trimmed today, and when I went out to water the pots this evening, oh dear, they had all been cut down, except for these little guys under the faucet.  The tiny tri-colored violas are referred to as “heartsease”, and seeing them in the kitchen window, so steadfast and faithful, they truly ease my heart on this lovely mid-summer evening, cool air now drifting down from the woods.

Home port

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After all these months, the sailboat is home to port.  Don and a friend spent yesterday morning sailing her up from dry dock storage in Dayton, 25 miles down the lake.  She started out under sail, spent some time propelled by the motor, then back under full sail while I watched from the dock and they brought her into the mooring ball.   It really was just grand.

I am pretty much back to port myself, one week after the Whidbey celebration.  There was one day this week in which the heat wave released its grip and I was home alone all day to relish in it.  I hung sheets on the clothesline in a coolish breeze, washed dishes while a mother robin zoomed back and forth under the porch eave, and watched hummingbirds alight on the flowers in the window box.  A spotted Bambi came walking up the grass with his mother.  I puttered at my chores, listening only to the lapping waves and birdsong out the doors and windows.  Everyone should have a day like that to transition from a holiday.

When it gets cooler this evening, I’ll have my own maiden voyage on the Coup de Vent.  I’ve had a walkabout, seeing how it is to move around the boat whilst holding on to life lines, and a tiny introduction to the dizzying array of nautical terms for parts and functions I must come to understand.  All the people in my life know that I would be content to gaze out at her, just tethered to the mooring ball, with sunlight shining on her bow in the morning, and golden drops of water dripping from the line at sunset.  But, I’d like to be a sailor….      

“I’d like to be a sailor – a sailor bold and bluff, Calling out, ‘Ship ahoy!’ in manly tones and gruff. I’d learn to box the compass, and to reef and tack and luff; I’d sniff and sniff the briny breeze and never get enough. Perhaps I’d chew tobacco, or an old black pipe I’d puff, But I wouldn’t be a sailor if The sea was very rough.”       

C J Dennis

Heat wave

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From the beach in Washington, as the cool Pacific breezes wafted over us, we read about the heat wave which had settled over Montana.  I have a friend who says that when she returns home, her body is there, but it takes two days before her mind and heart arrive.  When we left on our vacation, I was still wearing wool sweaters, and there had been but three evenings in which it was warm enough for dinner on the terrace.  So, coming home to this heat, and sleeping with just a sheet and the ceiling fan whirring overhead, has made homecoming even more disorienting.  My friend says she just aimlessly wanders around her house.  That’s what I’ve been doing, sitting in a chair here and there outside in the shade, deadheading and watering the geraniums, brushing the cats who lie listlessly on the cool concrete under the shade of the porch.  Just giving myself time and space so that the mind and heart can settle back into my body.

There was so much heart at Whidbey Island as my family gathered to celebrate my 70th birthday.  I took this photo, late on our last afternoon, when I went down to the beach to wash off the toys and put them back into the storage area at the airbnb.  It was the only “job” I had for an entire week.  My three girls and their husbands planned all the meals, did all the grocery shopping, prepared three meals a day, and washed all the dishes, swept the floor, picked up the towels.  They made a birthday celebration one evening with cake and balloons, a slideshow of Me, beer glasses hand-etched with my name, T-shirts for us all which had been printed with a painting and quote from this very blog.  We sang and danced late into the beautiful night.  And, they presented me with a scrapbook in which each of the grandchildren, my daughters, and my sons-in-law created a page for me.  These pages are the dearest gift I’ve ever received–original poems, watercolors of flowers we’ve seen on walks to school, sailboat paintings, thanks for my advice, appreciation for the little things like sharing recipes and cat videos, and memories of moments together which I never expected them to remember.  It’s going to take a long time to bring my heart, overwhelmed in gratitude, back into this 70-year-old body.

Halfway point

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Colleen and I did a bike ride on Saturday, through the sweetgrass scented prairie out west to Kila.  Just as I heard a Meadowlark singing nearby, she commented that we were halfway to Christmas, as it will be here in six months.   On a day that was 80+ degrees in town, flowers blooming all over the land, and thunderstorms in the forecast, we talked in dismay that Christmas will be here before we know it. ‘ Oh the humanity!’

They’ve been re-paving and chip-sealing the cut-across road at the top of the lake for weeks, and all the talk is how long you had to wait on any given day, or how many trips in which you had to suffer the ordeal.  In that time, sitting in my car, I’ve watched the bright yellow canola come into bloom, reaching out to the blue lake,  as well as the first hay cutting of the season.  Each morning, I’d find new round bales had been spaced throughout the green fields, under white fluffy clouds, and if the smell of tar and asphalt wasn’t too much, I’d roll down my window and let the freshly cut hay breeze blow across me as I waited for the pilot car.  When I’ve been lucky, they’ve stopped me in view of these poppies.  They’ve never been here in years past, and through the weeks of road construction, I’ve been witness to the first hint of something red and pink sprouting at the edge of a field, gradually transformed into poppies, which open their faces so exuberantly to the sun.   The road project was finally finished Friday night– I wonder how long until the poppies are finished.

In the meantime, I’m going on vacation!  To the seashore.  With all my family.  I drive by a Super 8 motel when I go into yoga class, and in the summertime, I am often wistful as I watch people put coolers and suitcases into their cars, knowing that they are on vacation.  It’s always vacation when you live on Flathead Lake.  As a photographer once wrote, “you can live all of summer on one perfect day at the lake.”   So, why would one leave in summertime, but, this year, because I turned seventy, and that’s a celebration, I’m going on vacation with all the people I love best in the world.  We may be halfway to Christmas, but it sure doesn’t feel like it right now.

Summer solstice 2017

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“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains…”
–  Diane Ackerman

Last night, after dinner, we took the old Nymph motorboat out for its maiden voyage of the season.  It was suddenly summer and there are no words to describe the color blue, the soft air, and sweet smells of a quiet evening boat ride on Flathead Lake, but it settles deep into your body.   We have now made the turn into Summer, and my oh my, isn’t it grand!

The Earth & Sky blog reads this morning:  “Each solstice marks a “turning” of the year. Even as this northern summer begins with the solstice, throughout the world the solstice also represents a “turning” of the year. To many cultures, the solstice can mean a limit or a culmination of something. From around the world, the sun is now setting and rising as far north as it ever does. The solstice marks when the sun reaches its northernmost point for the year. After the June solstice, the sun will begin its subtle shift southward on the sky’s dome again. Thus even in summer’s beginning, we find the seeds of summer’s end.”   Oh to be back in childhood, when the ‘seeds of summer’s end’ were invisible and the beginning of summer stretched out endlessly.  Yet, in this time, in my time, summer is like an old photograph album, bringing back to life those vacations to the seashore, or to a rented cottage beside a mountain lake, and the laziness of a humid day, when there wasn’t a singe leaf rustling in the shade trees, as you walked home from the library with your arms full of books for the week ahead.  Opening the kitchen door, early on a summer morning, that smell in the air brings it all back, just when I need it.

‘We’re not promised tomorrow’

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When I made reservations at the small hotel in Ketchum, Idaho, they asked if I minded having a room that looked out over a cemetery, “with a beautiful view, otherwise.”  While we were there on our short holiday, in the news, there were the dreadful images of the apartment fire in London, against the blue sky of morning, as well as the baseball shooting in DC.   One of the congressmen was quoted afterwards, “we’re not promised tomorrow”.  I thought about that as I gazed out our glass doors.  ‘Otherwise’ IS the view at the heart of it all–our inescapable carpe diem.

I turn to the weather when the news is all too much–that Force of Nature just doing its thing, no matter what is happening in our tiny human lives.    We had driven to Idaho in hard rain much of the day and the rivers and streams were close to flood stage.  We followed the rain total tallies back home online, and made sure to check the road report before we drove back–last February, our route was closed to avalanches.  It was such a good soaking rain here in our absence and it appears the kitties spent their time nestled in the wool throws I’d left for them on the front porch.  The robin did not make a new nest after all.   However, Don saw a huge mountain lion cross the driveway in front of him yesterday, and the neighbor called last night, just as I was about to go watch the sunset from our dock, that there was a black bear in their yard.  I decided to watch from the window.

There was lightning and thunder in the middle of the night and a drenching squall of rain, ushering in a high pressure system at last.  It’s clear and blue and fresh this early morning.  Don left for a bike race in Lolo, and I’m off for the beautiful drive to Helena to watch Anna’s soccer tournament.  I’ll get home tomorrow.   And, while I know I’m not promised tomorrow, the Summer Solstice arrives in four days, along with the phenomenon of the slowest sunsets of the year, with the possibility of stunning views from our dock.

For the birds!

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Even though the Strawberry Moon is the smallest full moon of the year, it has been daylight these last few nights.  And, much to our chagrin, birds are waking us at 1:00 a.m., singing away out there like it’s morning light.  Perhaps there is a new species that has taken up residence here at the lake, after fifteen years.   I did some research to see who the hell is singing at 1:00 a.m., and if a full moon might contribute, and I think it’s possible that the Mountain Mockingbird has moved into our woods.

And, the robin family on the porch!  We had such tender feelings for them, earlier in the spring, but that’s before I learned about “nest fidelity”!  Not to be confused with an investment fund, it is their hard-wired trait to return to the site of a successful nesting area, to hatch THREE broods each season.  Every day, there is a new nest under construction, and every day, Don sweeps it off the rafter, often to the sinister beak snapping protest by the male.   The nest looks sloppy with tendrils of moss and sticks hanging down low, as if he/she is in a great hurry, which of course she is, seeing that man with the broom below.  I’m beginning to feel sorry for them.  After the morning sweep, when I’m walking up to the garage, I hear them ranting to one another about the violence taking place on the porch.  We’re off for a little three-day trip next week, and I suspect we’ll return to a newly completed nest.   It wasn’t THAT bad.

I love my ritual cocktail hour, out on the terrace or down by the water, after the day’s chores are completed.   I’m usually by myself, except for the kitties who stretch out across my lap or in the sunshine at my feet.  I like to just sit there and listen to the birds.  The cats glance at them on a nearby branch or on a rock, but they don’t assume that crouched position for attack.  There were plenty of feather “gifts” left for us on the porch early in the season, but I think they have given up, perhaps overwhelmed by how many birds there are, and seem content to just let them be.  Summer is, after all, short for us all.