Sunday, September 26, 2010


If clothes make the man, weather makes the garden. No matter how clever my plantings, how thorough my care a heavy rain, a cold spring, or a hot dry spell can alter a garden in ways never intended.

A few weeks ago when I visited the Chicago Botanical Garden with my sister Julie, the winds were high the sky smudgy with clouds, making photography rather difficult and the whole visit fraught with a low level irritation. Not at all my experience there on other occasions. I didn’t like the garden. But truly I didn’t like the weather. Even though the stiff Japanese garden didn’t budge in the winds there was no tranquility to it, only resistance. The only serenity to be found that day was in the banks of ornamental grasses plowed over by the forceful winds. They had no qualms as they became the winds, which we could not.

A few days later at Taliesen the winds were more rambunctious. As Michael and I roamed the hills of this fascinating estate, we were nearly blown away. Yet Frank Lloyd Wright who grew up in this rolling landscape along the Wisconsin River, knew these winds and designed bluffs and coves of ferny stillness which were refuges on our tour.

Just a few days ago it was a weather-less day. No shadow under the thin fog, no precipitation, no wind. The fog lent a whiteness to the morning that made everything gray. Yet you could hear the sun’s rays pinging off the upper surface of the fog bank as they slowly stripped it away with seductive slowness. First the shoulder of a hill, then the moony pale inner thigh of the lake. Eventually the sun broke through and a breeze trembled through the springy boughs.
Even this little shift from morning to afternoon was a reminder of the direction we were heading.
Yes, the winds will come.
The leaves will fly.
The rains fall, and the frosts kill.
That weather-less day was the last day of summer and, paraphrasing T.S. Eliot, it ended with a whimper, not a bang.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Sometimes I am so frustrated by blogging that I want to quit. No time has this been more true than this morning when I sat down to post about my recent trip to Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It seems all I can share is snippets and snap shots. I can not pour the familiar humid fragrance of late summer in Milwaukee through cyberspace. Nor can I capture the warblings of warblers in Estebrook Park, or the crack of wind in leaves. Nor the subtle changes of temperature through out the day. The blast of hail, the crack and blitz of lightening and thunder. Nor the bite and sugar of a vine ripe Big Boy tomato sliced thick and big enough to cover a whole slice of toast slathered with mayonaise.
I can not capture the miles traveled to family visits, gardens explored and natural wonders touched. But one trip with n the bigger trip I cannot avoid writing about.

Michael had never seen Lake Superior, so when we were visiting my parents on their farm in the Iron River we decided to take a day trip north.

Our first stop at Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River was a revelation. What the guide book calls the “Grand Canyon of Michigan” is only 300 feet deep at it’s deepest farther north from where we stopped. Yet the twists and turns of the river through the forest as it headed into the canyon were lovely.
Our goal was Point Abbaye an un-populated cape just east of the town of L’Anse. The road in had my father perpetually asking “Where are we going?” Michael jokingly responded, “To the end of the world.” I was beginning to wonder myself if we were headed toward the end of the world as the gravel road narrowed, got muddier and offered only scant views of the the lake through the dense forest. We wondered if we had made the right choice, but there was no place to turn the car around, so on we went.

We were not disappointed when we finally reached our goal. The sand stone shelf flaked and eroded by wind and water at the tip of the cape was picturesque and offered great views of the Huron Islands and the Huron Mountains to the south.

Michael walked right out to the very end of the world.

While I got into the details of the place.

We only saw a snippet of the lake, a hint of it’s vastness. Lake Superior, the third largest body of fresh water in the world has the largest surface area of any, 31,820 square miles and contains over 2904 square miles of water. It’s a cold lake with and average summer temperature of 40 degrees and the deepest of the Great Lakes at 1332 feet, give or take and inch.

The wind swept point was densely forested nearly to the shore and with a surprising number of very large trees that I though should have succumbed to the horrific winter storms that cross the lake.

My parents posed for me in front of the largest red maple (Acer rubrum) I’ve ever seen. Even though I had visited many gardens, the Chicago Botanical Garden, Olbrich Garden in Madison, the wonderful Northwind Perennial Nursery and Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright's school and home in Spring Green, WI on this trip, nothing could match the beauty of this little forlorned cape jutting proudly, silently into the vastness of Lake Superior. And a brisk and summy day spent with my parents and Michael.