Times they are a changing, in fact they already have and I suspect the process will continue as long as there are people; we continue to evolve. Seems at a certain age we look back on the ‘good old days’, time has often softened our memories, which is why they are now good!
When I look back at my childhood growing up in Munising Michigan, a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it’s always with fondness, even the snow is not so overwhelming; most likely because I no longer have any need to contend with it; even the snow had magical moments.
Munising Bay (Lake Superior) has an extremely beautiful island called Grand Island. This island for me and for many others holds many special memories. Families lived on the island, I’m certain they felt it was their own personal piece of heaven and the burial markers that stay in the small cemetery remind us they were there, spent their life, pioneering a heavily wooded, harsh, sometimes icebound island and at that time it was theirs.
Like most islands in large bodies of navigable water this one does have lighthouses to protect ships with their light in the darkest of night. When I was a child the East Channel Lighthouse felt like it was my own personal structure, it’s light had long gone out. I knew little of its history, just that my neighbor lady’s father had at one time manned the lighthouse; it hadn’t been used in many years. It was in terrible condition in the early 1950’s and there were no plans to save or restore it, it was there in my case as a baby sitter.
Ah, a baby sitter? How can a lighthouse be a baby sitter? I am here to tell you how that happened to take place. My mother and her friend Irene VanLandschoot worked during the summer and they had children that needed caring for, we weren’t little girls but we still needed to be occupied during the time of the day our mother’s were working.
When you grow up in Munising you learn to do many things, I don’t even remember how I learned some of my skills, seems they came naturally and many skills did come by trial and error seeing we had much more freedom to explore, and as I’ve mentioned, those times have changed. One of our abilities was rowing a boat, doesn’t every 10 or 12 year old know how to row a boat on Lake Superior (having learned on smaller lakes I hope).
The VanLandschoot family in Munising, to this day are fisherman, and fisherman set nets way out in Lake Superior (at least they did back then), I believe those laws have changed along with the many other changes that were to come. Irene, mother’s friend was part of the VanLandschoot fishing family and her daughter Paula Rae was two years younger than me. Paula had a little brother (his name is Paul but he was called ‘Brother’ at that time) I assume he went with the men on the boat. It must have seemed a great idea to get these two little girls together for the day and they would be out of trouble and our parents would know exactly where we were! Problem solved and adventures for Paula and me. Soon we would be teenagers and most likely wouldn’t have been a way they could have even tempted us to spend the day on the island alone, boring! I don’t remember how many of these trips we took, but enough to give me fond memories and amazement how free we actually were.
On a day that nets were to be set or maybe lifted, I’m not certain, it was a long time ago, it wasn’t one of the fisherman’s longer days, Paula and I would be on the fishing boat, dropped off with a boat to row ourselves onto the beach of Grand Island, pull up our boat and make it safe so the waves wouldn’t blow it away (a real problem) and we settled in right in front of the old lighthouse. I’m amazed that we even knew how to beach our boat well enough and then to know when we would see the fishing boat returning to get back in our rowboat and meet the boat! Amazing! No wonder I won’t leave home without a watch!
We were armed with a bag lunch, some ‘pop’, chips, and cookies or something tasty, our mothers were excellent bakers. My sandwich was most likely liver sausage and mustard on good old white Bunny Bread. A great meal for growing girls and as I remember it tasted pretty darn good. There is something delicious about eating outside!
The freedom to explore an island, walk along the shores of icy Lake Superior, inspect the caves, stand under water dripping from above and to go inside the very ‘spooky’ old East Lighthouse took a lot of time and occupied for the hours we were there. Surrounding the lighthouse the field was filled with Sweet Williams, still one of my favorite flowers. My grandmother had them in her garden and at one time someone must have had a flower garden around the old lighthouse. Have you ever had the pleasure to enjoy the scent of an old-fashioned Sweet William? I was born a gardener; if there were flowers I would be sure to find them.
I do remember a thunderstorm coming up one day, if you’ve ever seen a storm whip it’s self up on Lake Superior you would know why Paula and I were a little nervous. We simple got ready and waited watching for the fishing boat and knowing we had to row to meet it. We always knew that Paula’s father knew where we were and he’d make sure we were safe. I doubt anyone told us that we were safe, it was unsaid but understood that Mr.VanLandschoot would let nothing happen to us.
These are wonderful memories; the lighthouse has remained with me always, as special to me today as it is to so many others. Caring citizens seeing it was going to slowly erode into Lake Superior and of course there are vandals’ even at such pristine and peaceful places have restored it. It was not long after this time that all Pictured Rocks, which had been free for us to roam, was taken under the protection and preservation of the parks system. Some of the residents didn’t like this, some did, it is progress and times really do change.
As I write and think about this time in my life all the possible worrisome things that Paula and I could have met left to spend the day on Grand Island with our babysitter the East Lighthouse it’s not with any thought why we were allowed to do such things, It’s how wonderful it was that we could. Do any of you think that a child today would be allowed to take this venture? Would parents be considered neglecting their child’s safety?
As many of you know I am a ‘reluctant’ traveler. Give me a reason and I’ll stay home, it’s safe ( baring fires, hurricanes or tornadoes). My house will not smell like a farm when I come home after ten days of enjoying myself, having seven animals does have drawbacks. Not many people want to clean up cat hairballs, lost dinners or mounds of fur while you are away so when you arrive you do know what will await you, it’s enough to ask to have the cats fed and litter robots cleaned, thank you Tracy. The dog greets us as if we’ve been gone for months, but then she does that when we buy groceries!
Hal and I went on a cruise to the Panama Canal. Seeing travel plans are most often made in advance I had plenty of time to conjure up all sorts of dreadful things that could befall me or our home while we were away. All for no good reason, you would think I would learn! Panama was a good draw for me, it’s historical and I like big ships and I enjoyed the locks in Sault St. Marie Michigan. (A bit smaller scale) The other ports of call were tropical and of more interest to Hal, he’s a beach guy, me, not so much other than photo opportunities, you never know when an intriguing window or door may pop up (one of my favorite subjects) or an especially interesting critter wandering the beach (sometimes human). Costa Rica and the Veragua Rainforest were the last stop on this cruise, with my love for nature both plant and animal, I did want to take the trip.
There is a 12-section zip line available in the forest, that was Hal’s aim and to see the forest and some of what lives there. I was there to absorb the air, the smells, sounds and amazing sights; for those who enjoy houseplants, it would be heaven on earth. If you want to see a sloth at home, you will and it will stay that way until you come by once again. They really don’t move very often, tend to look like a large gray basketball high up in a tree.
Like many people in the 1960’s and 70’s I tried to grow suffering houseplants at every window in my house, until I discovered growing plants outside was much more rewarding and stopped torturing jungle plants. I still enjoy seeing where the plants I tried to confine to containers, dry houses, lack of sun, too much sun, all manners of plant torture, do grow and what they look like happy, and at home. Before going into the forest and a tram ride we were given an informative tour of what we might expect to find if we were to wander in this forest, who and what live there. I can’t imagine who would want to set out wandering in this mass of gigantic trees, wet, dripping, lush, solid foliage and intriguing sounds, certainly not me. I’ve been told a machete is usual equipment if you are going to find your way through a jungle, and I can easily believe that is true.
The rainforest has a pulse; I could feel life all around me, I could smell and hear it, for me it was a very emotional experience. At times I wasn’t certain if it was raining or just amazingly humid. The tour and information of what to expect in the forest was a good beginning, much of what was explained to us before we took our tram and walking tour we did see, these critters do indeed live in there and aren’t hiding! Don’t touch anything, rule number one, rule number two, DO NOT touch anything, no hugging trees!
The family we were taking our tour with and Hal were all going to zip line high above all this beauty; I was to meet them at the end point. Our trusty and entertaining guide and his driver drove me to the ‘end of the line’; there were a couple of times I thought I might literally be ‘at the end of my line’! Many men speaking a language I didn’t understand, in the middle of a Costa Rica rain forest, laughing and joking, me wishing I had learned to speak Spanish instead of Latin and French! They were gracious, I had no reason for concern, and in fact everyone we met was so pleased to show us their remarkable forest.
When the men understood I wanted to take photos they were more than helpful showing me the treasures that could be found right next to and around me. Including an adorable red (poisonous) frog. The guide told me I would probably not die if I touched it, I’d get mucho ‘high’ for a pretty long time. Well, all right then, more information than I needed right then, I’d wait until I was back on the ship and have a glass of wine. I took his picture instead! All around their cabin, any piece of fruit they tossed out that had a seed remaining, was a growing plant, bananas, mangos and pineapples, for a plant woman, I had a great time. I could hear the whooping of the zip liners and had no wish to be zipping above the forest, wandering on the ground was excellent for me. The zip liners did have a wonderful time with little to no mishaps. The zip line guides are remarkably skilled.
The Veragua Rainforest is not in a prosperous part of Costa Rica; the trips into this forest have only been taking place for about eight years. The people are proud of the forest, they want it preserved, the gigantic trees with valuable lumber left alone, to be enjoyed and to continue to grow, the reptiles and animals, butterflies left to live without intruders unless guided by the people who love and live in the country.
The cruise lines bringing travelers to see these beautiful places are a good source of income for many of the residents. The cruise lines do invest in the countries they take people to visit, just the docking area it’s self employs and improves the area. There are open air markets enabling visitors to buy products, some made by hand, often the artists are selling their own creations. Poverty in this part of Costa Rica was clear away from where the ships dock. All the people we met were friendly, proud and industrious Costa Ricans. I hope they are able to keep more and more of their beautiful country protected from people whose interests are in harvesting trees, plants, taking animals, it is a pristine area and should stay as it is.
I survived another trip, nothing fell off my body, my house did smell funny (it doesn’t now), but like the houseplants that grow so well in the Veragua Rain Forest, I do well in Cedar Creek Texas, although my life is now richer having seen an amazing structure (the Panama Canal) and a beautiful work of nature, the Vergua Rainforest.
In my mind there were few things I learned to do that equaled the sheer pleasure of driving a car! I learned to drive when I was young, fourteen as I recall. I learned on country roads, places I couldn’t hurt anyone other than ruining my boyfriend at that times car! And I was young to have a boyfriend but I was strong-willed young woman and there I was on my sixteenth birthday (and having passed drivers training in school) ready for my license. Hooray! I passed with flying colors. Passing with flying colors in Munising Michigan isn’t saying much seeing there wasn’t even a street light, no merging highways, the hardest thing for me is I did need to learn driving ‘a stick shift’. So at one time I could drive with the best of the guys, at least I thought so. The good thing was my mother drove an automatic shift and so the family car was automatic. The test would be a piece of cake!
I think the day I got my license I was off running errands or making up errands as soon as my mother got home from work. The car was so freeing and fun to drive, a whole world opened up for me. My mother and dad’s car was never so clean once I could drive it! I could hardly wait to buy my own! Which I did within a very short time.
My parents were very free allowing me to use their car, and I was pretty useful driving off to the grocery store to buy something my mother had forgotten. Of course each trip took far longer then it needed seeing I had to drive all the streets of Munising hoping I might see someone I knew to wave at, maybe even an ‘older’ boy. One summer day my dad asked me if I’d take the car and give his father, Grandpa Joe a ride to the doctor’s office. Grandma and grandpa lived in Shingleton, about 12 miles from Munising, a nice ride. I would be able to show grandpa how well, and fast I could drive, how grown up I was.
Can you imagine how comfortable he must have been? I wasn’t a very big young woman, most likely 100 pounds wringing wet and I didn’t look old for my age. Although I was chatty and I really did enjoy my grandpa. He was I thought very ‘old-fashioned’, he didn’t drive, he didn’t write and I’m not certain he could read, he spoke English rather well, I think he preferred his native Croatian. He walked everywhere he went, many miles through the woods to go hunting or fishing, he was a competent man. He had been a lumberjack earning his land by helping to log the forests of his part of Upper Michigan. He built his and grandma’s house, all the out buildings and an extra house to rent. That included two out houses, one for the little house and a rather deluxe one with three openings and I do think I remember one was smaller for the children. One of his out buildings was a work shop, from the time I was small I loved to go in there to see just what mysterious thing I might find or see. He had all sorts of tools and sharpeners, warned to not go near the scythes because they were really very sharp. He sharpened them on a grinding wheel and that was how the lawn got mowed. It wasn’t cut until the daisies stopped blooming. Grandma and grandpa’s house and property was one of my favorite places to spend time. I believe my love of gardens started right there in Shingleton Michigan on grandma and grandpa Dolaski’s piece of America.
Back to our summer day and grandpa’s exciting ride with his grand-daughter, Trudy Lee. I drove the top end of the speed limit all the way, passing cars if needed; I was out to impress grandpa. I don’t think I did, but I felt special taking him to town for his appointment. He was most likely very happy to reach the doctor’s office in one piece.
When I picked grandpa up at home he was carrying a brown paper bag with him. The time was late morning; I asked him what was in the bag. Well, he was pretty sure he was going to miss lunch while he was waiting to see the doctor so he brought it with him. I knew grandpa always planned ahead, usually anticipating anything that might happen but bring his lunch to the doctor was a new one and I knew better than to giggle on the outside like I was in the inside
We made it to the doctor’s office in record time, I assume that was because I felt the high-end of the speed limit was the proper way to drive. We found a seat in the waiting room; I helped him get checked in and found us a place to sit, the office did have other patients waiting. Grandpa must have decided either due to his stomach or his pocket watch it was time for his lunch. He took out his ever-present pocket knife, opened his brown bag, cut a nice piece of onion, a chunk of bologna and began to eat. I’m sure he offered me a bite and I can’t say I remember having any but I know I didn’t have any onion. To someone else this may have been an embarrassing moment, for me it was not. People knew one another in Munising, I’m certain everyone in the waiting room understood this was grandpa’s ‘way’ and I was smiling on the inside at how comfortable he was. He had no false ‘airs’ about him, he was who he was all the time. I was proud of him.
Our ride home was uneventful, I didn’t even know why he was seeing the doctor. I expect it was serious otherwise he’d not have been there. I must not have given the why much thought then seeing I remember being quite happy on my ride back ‘to town’. I was ready for another adventure driving!
One of the last things that would come to mind when thinking about my favorite cottage gardens would be Texas. A cottage garden usually brings gardeners thoughts to England and the Texas climate hardly resembles England by any stretch of the imagination. Texas does have multiples of gardening zones, the state is huge and the climate varies drastically from region to region. Still, cottage garden and Cedar Creek Texas don’t go together. The heat in the summer turns the water in the hose to what feels like boiling water, cook your veggies right on the spot! And the winds can howl for days decimating any growing thing that hasn’t adapted it’s self to our environment.
Gardeners are tenacious, we try, fail and try again, burned or baked plants, soil so hot a root couldn’t survive no matter how much you water we don’t give up. The upside for me is I don’t live where the soil is solid rock and blasting caps might be my best option! The high hills in Texas look like mountains and they are rock, we live in rolling hill country on the edge of the piney forests, which is relatively close to black land soil. We do not miss out on the heat and the winds, they come with the territory, and we live on top of a hill, howling wind is often my companion, it’s howling as I write. The rocks found in our neighborhood are typical Texas rocks, very large, a tractor bucket is usually needed to move them, the rocks found on our property have all been put to good use in our gardens or other places in our landscape.
Let me explain what a cottage garden was and is today. Manor houses in England employed gardeners and the gardener’s family usually lived with him in a cottage on the property. Very often the wife and the children worked at the manor also. In the process of maintaining the gardens of these gigantic homes and the structures themselves much of the debris, be it plant material or hard scape material was given to the cottagers to use in any way they wanted. Old roses being replaced by newer varieties, seeds from the cutting back of flower heads, vegetable seeds, pieces of brick, wood, chimney pots, just about anything not being used was taken home and used for another purpose or in the case of plants, its original purpose. Desirable seeds were often saved in these gardens over the years, they come back into fashion again. As in most things garden ideas come and go in fashion, what’s new once was old changed a bit and once again is desirable. Most gardeners do like heirloom vegetable seeds and roses.
Vegetable plants among the flowers, planting closely, allowing herbs to grow in paths, paths built from the cast away bricks, millstones and other solid materials, even a thick piece of wood could find it’s way into the path. Chimney pots made great containers. After many years these gardens were given a ‘name’ and became a garden design and not a need to feed a cottage family. They are beautiful, utilitarian and they are a great deal of work. From what looks to some like chaos is actually rather well thought out, and right outside your door for easy access; herbs, vegetables for cooking and flowers for a quick bouquet.
I am able to use two of my gardens to make my version of a Cottage Garden. Both of my gardens are close to the house, one fenced, and has a small amount of grass, it’s a bit more formal, but not much seeing I’m not exactly a formal person or gardener! I lean toward overgrown, it’s a matter of choice, what looks good to the gardener; in the case of roses I wouldn’t want visitors attacked by over zealous bushes!
I use many roses, they are the backbone of my gardens, all Texas tough roses from a supplier that specializes in roses that it reclaims from old homesteads, and various other places where nothing seems to survive but the rose-bush. It is surprising how many old varieties, many with beautiful scents, colors and multiples of petals . There are some newer roses that are grown at the Rose Emporium to see if they will take our weather. The only rose that won’t be found is a long-stemmed tea rose. Tea roses are often a great deal of work as they are almost always dependent on chemicals for bugs, needs for food and many diseases that attack the leaves. So I don’t miss them, the roses I grow I do pick, they look as lovely as long-stemmed teas. One ‘new’ rose that does grow well is Knockout in all its varieties; I allow it to grow large to suit my cottage garden look. The most daunting challenge I face with my roses is keeping them pruned; they grow like Jack’s bean stock! Like most things I undertake I overdo my cottage look but there is order, my order 🙂
In my cottage garden you will find roses, lavender, laurel, sunflowers, sweet potato vines, native hibiscus, native mist flowers, cosmos, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, Thai and ‘regular’ basil, thyme, rosemary (grows as a shrub here) all go into my gardens, one garden by our kitchen the other the front door and courtyard. Vegetable plants need planting early in the season to escape the heat of summer; once summer is upon us it becomes my ‘winter’ and the gardens become somewhat dormant. Our other gardens are Texas Tough gardens, native plants that are tolerant of drought, wind and heat. They have their own kind of beauty, I still get carried away and try to turn them into cottage gardens and Mother Nature takes care of that for me, plants die! Slowly I am giving up my ambitious plans and remember where I live!
Today if I sit in the courtyard I can pretend I’m in a beautiful English garden having tea (in Texas, sweet tea) and a scone with clotted cream. We must remember to blend all the good things life, a bit of England in a Texas courtyard; sounds like a plan to me.