Summer 2020 Reimagined

While Summer 2020 may be drastically different from summers past, we’re up to creating memorable outdoor fun with our circle of friends and family. As I sit in my office looking out at a cold white sky and maple trees full of new buds, I can envision in my mind’s eye the window open, a soft July breeze lending a voice to hand-sized leaves while birds call and insects hum. Heightened imagination and innovation are a couple of quarantine side-effects that we can put to good use. It’s what we do, so onward with a few ideas that may fertilize your idea garden.IMG_1992

  1. In a recent chat with my cousin, we planned a small family cookout for June, date to be determined. Our plans hinge on multiple factors, and may include new feasting practices, and elbow touches rather than hugs, but oh how sweet it will be to see those faces.  Talking and laughing in person again paired with more sunny days is a hope worth having. We also want to spend as many years as possible with our parents and each other. Mortality is on the table whether we acknowledge it, or not, so we may as well make Summer 2020 a standout with a focus on what we DO have.
  2. Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and boats can easily be enjoyed without exposure to a crowd of strangers. We can wave and yell to the strangers, “Any luck? What ‘cha using?” or just a nod and a smile on the river works, too. **Note of Caution**- river levels are especially high after rain and can change a meandering kayak trip into navigating small rapids. Water levels of a specific river or lake can often be found online, too. Here are a few companies that you may be able to schedule classes and tours with to try out kayaking in calm waters: https://stepoutside.org/article/5-excellent-places-for-beginners-to-kayak-in-michigan/
  3. For the past few years we’ve camped at a family-friendly state park next to 2 lakes with wooded trails, and neighbors.. lots and lots of neighbors enjoying the campground’s play areas, courts, and community restrooms and shower houses. Our 2020 campground is our backyard, with the luxury of  a private bath and shower. Within 15 minutes’ drive we have several lakes and natural areas for trail walking. And there’s a basketball hoop in the driveway for those games of h-o-r-s-e before it’s warm enough to go swimming. Here are a few innovative hacks for curating your own camping experience: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/a-backyard-camping-we-will-go
  4. Hiking/Walking and Picnicking outings also include a chance to create experiences that reflect our individual tastes. For us, an outdoor scavenger hunt could be fun with a simple follow-up picnic of hoagies, nuts, and seasonal fruit. Dozens of scavenger hunt printables and hundreds of picnic recipes can be found online. Location possibilities are plentiful in Michigan with 74 state parks, 1 state forest, and 4 national forests, not to mention hundreds of parks.
  5. Host a family/friends art show, storytelling evening, or craft fair/flea market. Those events on Facebook that we were interested in, but are now cancelled or questionable? Why not a family/friends Maker/Art Fair with created and discovered pieces that stretch our definitions of art, like a miniature ArtPrize 2020, (brilliant ideas for art projects that everyone can manage).  Story-telling is perhaps one of the oldest forms of both entertainment and learning. Stories create ease in uncertain times, especially for children, and memories shared strengthen bonds and deepen our roots. I’ve found The Storytelling Loop helpful for crafting children’s tales.
  6. Create a patio and garden that you enjoy. Always wanted flower boxes in your windows or big pots overflowing with blooms on your patio or porch? If you plan on mostly staying close to home this summer, containers’ increased watering needs aren’t a problem. 2020 is my year to create an outdoor oasis. Our grandson already helped assemble a gnome/fairy garden in a rock/succulent bed. Victory gardens, a.k.a. vegetable gardens are an excellent method for reconnecting with our source of nutrition-earth. Families especially can benefit from planting, maintaining, and harvesting fresh produce-from reduced cost, pesticide exposure, and environmental footprints to increased understanding and peace through a creative outlet.
  7. Helping others has never felt so urgent to me, but my usual donations of food and clothing aren’t being accepted. Of course money helps people, and there are plenty of online requests and easy giving opportunities if you’re able. The simplest, yet not the easiest, way to contribute is to consciously be a positive force in your little ecosystem. Encourage others and scroll past angsty political posts. Choose wisely if you want to be informed of world happenings, and remember to enjoy the life and love you have right in front of you, or right around the corner. Make plans. Send cards by snail mail to say, “I care.” Here are some simple tips that contribute to a positive out look.

Winter’s Gifts

Typically more than 30 inches of snow has fallen in the Great Lakes by mid-January and most of the  lakes have accumulated enough ice to hold crowds of fishermen and ice hockey leagues.  Usually there are ice bridges on the Great Lakes so snow mobiles can travel to and from the islands.  Normally I am bemoaning the frigid temperatures and tell anyone who will listen that January is really the cruelest month.  But, due to this year’s weirdly mild temps I feel the awe and excitement brought on by our first cumulative snowfall…in January.  It is the epitome of wanting what you cannot have and absence making the heart grow fonder.  I was getting a bit disgusted as I watched the mildew patches in my garden widen every week and the spring bulbs sprouting.  Although we saved a bit on our heating bill and did not have to shovel the driveway, snowmen were absent, holiday lights were not as splendid as when they reflect off the snow, and when I took my nieces to the park across the road during Christmas break they got muddy.  

Snow is caught on every branch and a cotton-like puffy blanket covers our village.  Finally, my garden is tucked in and the ground is freezing.  People are skiing and sledding for the first time this season and the die-hard haters have begun their “I hate winter” chants in the shops and online forums.  This feels familiar and right.  What is the point of having four-wheel drive without an icy, snowy winter?  State funds for dredging have almost dried up, so what is the point of having a boat if the water is too low to put it in?  What is the point of my husband’s ice auger if there isn’t any lake ice to drill through?  The companions to an essential Great Lakes winter have arrived and given me hope, just in the nick of time.  Funny how hope does that.

Landscape Redesign

In my decade old garden the bulbs and perennials cry out for more room and this year I have the time to devote to a redesign.  We will see how far I get once I dig in, because I have learned that projects tend to take longer than anticipated and
although we had temps in the high 70’s this week they are predicting our first snow next week.  A nursery of tried and hardy plants begging to be spread to other garden beds or have their existing homes widened is a wonderful problem to have.  The cost is especially appreciated, as is the lack of volunteer weeds that often accompany new plants purchased from another nursery or a friend’s crowded garden.

Any big attempt deserves a plan and goals that I can visualize.  I like to ask myself, “What does that look like?” when I want something.  A happy garden with blooms throughout spring, summer, and fall is a huge goal with a multitude of necessary steps to get there.  My landscape on paper helped me create a step-by-step garden redesign plan that reminded me of the life plan I drafted recently.  Multiple moves dictate a process of bite-sized goals.   I cannot move the daisies until the blue fescue vacates their current hot home for a cooler semi-shaded bed that is weed-free and double-dug.  This is simpler than the weeding out of negative messages and habits I picked up at work and planted in my persona over the past decade, but I find gardening conducive to reflection and picture some of that refuse in my wheelbarrow along with the crab grass and root-tangled clumps of dirt headed for the village’s burn pile.  I highly recommend gardening for anyone experiencing a life change; creative solutions are born out of creative pursuits.

Planning does not get the job done, however, and although the meteorologists usually predict snow long before it arrives, past seasons have shown that my window is two weeks at most for roots to acclimate and ultimately survive the winter.  Grass invaded my beloved red bee balm, one of the super stars of my garden, and provided another lesson in patience (I recognize a trend in this area).  Because the bee balm roots are
very tender I carefully dug up the root ball and spent three hours teasing the grass roots out.  This tedious exercise provided much-needed motivation for pulling any grass I see in my beds as soon as I spy it from here on.  I started with two bee balm plants and now have six that are so happy they do not have to share nutrients with grass.  They didn’t tell me so, but a gardener knows.

Yesterday I raked the orange and red sugar maple leaves out of the semi-shaded garden area and watered the blue fescue and daisies in anticipation of today’s move.  I could write about my garden redesign for another hour, but with rain moving in this
evening, today is perfect for replanting so it will have to wait for another day.  Goals realized are more interesting to read about, anyway.

My Garden, My Self

My flower gardens often resemble the state of affairs in Schultz land.  Orientation of new plants
includes only one instruction, “You must be tough to make it in this garden”.  I take great care in planting, providing good soil that the clay eventually incorporates and a month of food and water.  After that, Darwinism takes over and the majority of plants stretch their roots deep while the weaker species succumb, never to be bought again.

I lavish my plants with praise, not only for their beauty, but also for their inspiring endurance.  Occasionally I need to apologize, usually when I have not shown
diligence in defending them from enemies such as dandelions, nightshade, and
thistle.  Cutting flowers in bloom makes me feel as though I have robbed my perennials of a year-long effort, so I prefer to buy cut flowers from someone else’s garden.  Besides, my lovelies cannot dance in the breeze indoors.  The perennials who are
hardy enough to endure all-day sun exposure, clay soil that refuses to be amended,
and very little water that the sky does not provide return year after year like loyal friends.   The few annuals who visit for the season are splashy in their vibrant displays of color, but require a level of nurturing I do not possess and typically leave the party early.  Due to the undependable and high-maintenance nature of annuals, I do not invest much in them, viewing them only as accessories for my trusted friends the perennials.

Record-high temperatures and very little rain made for an extremely harsh growing season this summer which required extra care and kindness, something I could relate to after losing my job in mid-July.  Unlike the company I worked for, I am not heartless and took into consideration the plants’ longevity and past performance.  We pay an exorbitant price for water, even though we live in the Great Lakes where one would think there is an abundance of water (Michigan’s water is bottled and sold for corporate profit).  Not immune to wilting plants that were obviously struggling, I deemed the extra cost worth the survival of my loyal friends.  I wish my former employer possessed an ounce of the same compassion and loyalty, but also see the value in replanting.  When I divide and move my plants I sense that it hurts them to be uprooted, especially when the roots run deep and are impossible not to damage.  But, they flourish the next year when they have a friendlier spot to grow, a perfect example of positive healthy change.

The gardens went quickly this year, expending all of their energy in a short period and blooming weeks ahead of schedule.  It is logical that my garden now looks like it usually does in mid-Fall with red and yellow leaves already falling from our sugar maple.  It is cleanup-time and this year I am planning a drastic redesign for both my garden and myself.  Although I enjoy the flowering season most, I value the dormant season when we essentially recharge, efforts hidden until it is time to flower once again.  Creating
a new landscape is exciting, but a lot of work.  I have survived enough growing seasons to know that my efforts will eventually pay off beautifully.