Fungi everywhere

Or, it’s all about the fungi.

At least it is in the woods right now. Okay, wait. It’s also all about the spiders and frogs, too, because I walked through webs aplenty (and tried not to think about hitchhikers) and every time I stepped foot near the tiny lake in the woods, the frogs practically knocked each other out trying to get out of my way.

I have that effect on frogs, I guess.

“I’m just going to stay really still and pretend she’s not there. She can’t see me, right? Right???” –frog

So, getting back to the fungi.

Once you notice a deep red mushroom on the forest floor, or a bright white one illuminated just right in a little patch of sun that sneaks through the trees, you just see them everywhere.

double whammy orange

If I was a really good naturalist, or even a good blogger, I’d have dug up the names of these different kinds of mushrooms for you. But I’m just a girl with a camera in the Michigan woods, sweating in the late summer humidity and heat, talking out loud to myself, dropping cameras*, tripping over branches and getting bit by mosquitoes and deer flies. Geez, isn’t that enough?

Actually, it occurred to me just this evening that I have a good excuse for not knowing the mushroom varieties. My mother taught me all about the growth that you find in the Michigan woods earlier in the summer. I’m not sure she cared so much about the mushrooms, but in any case by this time in the year we’d be back in the city getting ready for school, our time at the cottage over until the next year. So there’s that.

perfectly illuminated

And, I always get giddy when I see these:

Indian pipe! Also called ghost flower, ghost plant, or (barf) corpse plant. It’s sort of a fungus but it’s not. It has no chlorophyll, hence no green, but it does turn pink once it’s fertilized.

Anyway, if it’s late summer where you are, and you have a woods nearby, I implore you: get some bug repellent (or don’t, and wear some long sleeves and pants, regardless of the heat), go into the woods, and see what you can find. It’s kind of spectacular.


*I should have some film developed from this venture in a few weeks. I picked up a Minolta X700 and put a roll of Fuji 800 speed film I had hanging around in it, seemed a perfect speed to test in the low light of the woods. I dropped this camera in the woods, actually. And, I accidentally popped the back open while rewinding the film (it stuck, it was near the front of the roll, hopefully minimal damage). Sigh. And I also brought the Olympus Pen with some black and white film in it; but I’m never sure about metering and focusing with this bugger. So, surprises await.

A good summer

Summer, you’ve been good. I mean, seriously, full of good stuff. I ate all the cherries I possibly could, fresh-picked. Summer squash and zucchini? I’ve eaten tons. Hot, languorous days and steamy nights galore. Beach walks and sunsets–oh yes, yes, yes (although never enough). Friends visiting, time with my kids, good news, a really good cake recipe, cooking for new friends, old cars that are still running.

All very good things.

But there are rumors you’re moving on, summer. The sky is starting to say so, and a leaf or two is nodding in agreement. The corn and blueberries and peaches won’t be around too much longer, either (I’m freezing some, so I can pay homage to you when the winter chill arrives).

a very fall-like leaf in the road
corn field, goldenrod, sky
a field of queen Anne’s lace

I love fall, though. I love scarves, sweaters, and rugged boots. Fall colors and threatening-looking skies, too, and bundled-up beach walks. It’s beautiful all the same. But I think there might be still a few weeks left for night swims, fresh peaches, tomatoes from the stand up the road.

old shed, diamond window
dune grass, gone to seed, Lake Michigan

I’m not counting summer out just yet. But I’ll welcome fall in all its colorful glory, when it decides to arrive.

Jumping in

In my very, very early 20’s while studying journalism I got an internship doing something I had no idea how to do. The job was for a crusty old lawyer who had his own firm and a corner office in Chicago’s financial district. He wanted someone to help him self-publish a book of short stories as well as proofread, typeset, and print a collection of children’s short stories.

I sat in that windowed, corner office in front of him and his big desk as he told me what he wanted done and asked me if I could do it. I said I could. I said I’ll figure out how, and I’ll get it done. I know my heart was pounding and my bottom lip was probably quivering because I honestly had no idea how I would do these things, but I said it with enough conviction to convince him to hire me. And thus I spent the year learning about how to get an ISBN and work with writers and printers and how to set type on late 1980s computers and now-obsolete word processing software. Often getting yelled at, too, as I found my boss was exacting and had little patience for mistakes.

There was no internet to learn how to sort these things out, so I called people I thought might know–professors at universities, librarians, people at the newspapers, bookstores; most of them very happy to impart their knowledge (I think my youth and inexperience was a benefit, here). When I had to call some very prominent writers to ask for cover quotes, I got chewed out–royally–by an author who felt snubbed that he hadn’t been included in the book. I may have cried for an entire day over that, but I had a story to tell, and I still got quotes from some other authors.

Sure, the entire thing scared me, but I did what I said I’d do–I figured it out; I got it done. I got tougher in the process, that’s for sure.

I’ve done other things since then that required the weird mixture of blind bravado, hope, and maybe a shred of skill. But the older I get the more I have settled into the things I know, without fail, that I can do. The easy things. The things that don’t require lip-quivering and hesitation and panic.

A few weeks ago I got asked to do something I don’t know how to do, and I immediately thought of that internship. I said yes. I said I’d figure it out, and I’d get it done.

So that’s what I’m going to do.


(Edited to add that I think only fondly of my former boss, Mr. Morton, now. He was tough on me, but I know that he both cared about and appreciated me back then, and I learned invaluable lessons from him.)


Little things on a big beach

I didn’t have high hopes for the beach recovering after such an awful spring, but like many things this summer, it surprised me.

Three weeks ago there was no beach to traverse. Well, not no beach at all, but the tiniest sliver of walkable beach existed and you could really walk it only when the lake was calm. Otherwise, you could walk if you didn’t mind getting battered by the waves, getting your feet tangled and scraped in the branches and grasses that twisted and matted on the shoreline like discarded rope.

Today, there is plenty of beach to roam, to throw a ball for the dog, to run barefoot. Lovely, big stretches of it.

Why would I be surprised? I know this lake and these sands and the constant drifting and redepositing of shoreline.

Last evening in long shadows just before the sun slipped into the shrouded, cloudy horizon above the lake I walked the beach with my camera in search of the things that get overlooked.

small feather from gull, pebble, drift marks in the sand
oak leaf, blown in from the woods
pebble, indentation, lines from the waves

I still tuck the gull feathers into my ponytail or behind my ear or into a cap.

I still fill my pockets with pretty stones.

I still gaze at the patterns the waves make on the shore–I think they look like mountain ranges.

I still chase the leaves and small feathers and dead bugs down the beach as they travel with the wind.

I still pluck the struggling butterflies and bumblebees out of the water.

Why shouldn’t I?

fossil, under just a bit of water
same fossil, post-wave
mountain range
lines from the waves moving the sand around


A good crowd

I write a little poetry sometimes. Not because I want to, or because I know how to, but just because things bubble into my head and come out of me in a certain way, and I call it a poem, even if it might not be, because that’s just what feels right and well, let the poetry police come and argue otherwise.

I’ve never published any of it, nor have I ever read my own stuff aloud to anyone (unless you count my dog, who has been a patient, if not interested, listener). Just over a week ago I stood in front of a lively and supportive audience of some friends and some strangers who were just liquored up enough to seem somewhat less daunting (to me, anyway), and I put my lips up to a microphone and without apology or explanation read, aloud, comfortably even, two poems I wrote.

And it felt kind of awesome.

And I kind of want to do it again.


The Piano

In the thick of things it came,
was wheeled up onto the porch on an old, battered ramp
dragged into the living room where it stood
no worse for the wear or the years
waiting, like an old and somewhat awkward guest,
to be told its place

A fragment of my mother’s life, this piano
the one she played in her youth
rich, deep chestnut, years etched in those wooden waves
red stains, streaks on white keys
from her clicking nails, you could hear them
through her South Pacific and Schubert’s Serenade

She disappeared into those songs
and others
in her place fingers,
keys, clicks, voice, movement
I could never look away
when she played

But she is gone
the piano now a reminder
in a too-small house, crowded dining room,
where a cat makes middle of the night attempts at Mendelssohn
and where children offer serious concerts
during dinner and phone calls

where it waits still, ever patiently, for its player


A Love Letter to Manhattan

Oh, Manhattan
you are captivating!
At once both old and new
enveloping, yet aloof

I dreamed of you long before we met
of your towering buildings poking holes in the clouds
your grit, your attitude, your people
you felt like home and I fell hard

You remained perennially beyond my grasp
save for the brief moments I pretend that we are a couple
howling at a crazy moon together
from a drunken rooftop

Better to leave you in my dreams, though
like a pined-for lover
skip the fumbling, awkwardness
and the eventual demise

I’ll visit
we’ll flirt
you’ll stay shiny and elusive
and I, still captivated