Night before last, an eclectic group gathered in the basement of Artworks cultural center in Big Rapids. There was Chris, a dental hygienist; Théa, a former social worker; Sally, a retired educator; Susan, an artist who's, well, hard to sum up in a few words; and me. All brought together by our interest in writing—and in improving our writing.
Let's listen in on snippets of the evening's discussion:
That one suggestion you gave me last time has added two-thousand words to my document!
This did read much better for me, and now I have a clearer idea of the story. I'm more pulled in to what's happening.
There is a difference between a run-on sentence and a long sentence that moves the story along. I've read 93-word sentences that are absolutely amazing. If you were to break one of those up, it wouldn't work.
I loved the images in your chapter. You create a lot of suspense.
Ohhh, so I need to open the chapter with what the hell is going on!
I think you're nailing the struggle I've had all along with the voice I want to use to tell the story.
I didn't feel like I was reading this just for this group; I was reading because I enjoyed it.
In one form or another, the Artworks Second Monday Writers have been carrying on like this for a dozen years. Founded by poet and writer Phillip Sterling, the group originally focused on fiction. Later, under the guidance of writer-photographer-biologist Stephen Ross, and then with writer and all-around lovely person Mikki Garrels at the helm, the group expanded to include writers of both fiction and nonfiction.
The group has waxed and waned over the years, with a full house of eleven members around the time I joined in 2012. Eleven writers, all submitting work for review and offering critiques of everyone else's work, eventually got out of hand. No matter how we tried to keep our comments concise, our meetings ran l-o-o-o-o-o-ong!
Now we're down to a manageable five members. Well, maybe manageable isn't quite the right word—we still get out of hand sometimes. But after working together over the years, we've learned a few things about how to give and take constructive criticism and avoid getting hung up on trivial matters.
Below, I'll share a few tips for writers' groups, in case you're thinking of starting one of your own (or already belong to one and need suggestions for making it work better).
But before that, I want to introduce you to the Second Monday Writers and let them tell you about themselves and their projects.
I’m currently working on a horror/supernatural story. It involves Dhampirs hunting old school demonic beings, set in a dystopian future. I've worked in many different genres, including Sci-Fi, fantasy, non-fiction and poetry.
At the moment, I work as a dental hygienist in Lakeview Michigan.
I consider myself a skilled Hunter/Gatherer and resale shopping a blood sport. My work-in-progress, A Wilderness Guide to Resale Chic, is loaded with tips on how to sniff out treasure and navigate unpredictable resale terrain. Its message: You do not have to be born rich, win the lottery, or max out your credit cards to dress well and surround yourself with beautiful things.
My background as a Licensed Master Social Worker and Cognitive Therapist informs my approach; having grown up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gives me an edge. My adult years in Chicago supply field experience: true tales and insider information.
In addition to being a member of the writers group, I contribute to several Michigan newspapers and have been published in Michigan History magazine and Health and Safety magazine.
I live on the Muskegon River near Big Rapids.
My current writing project is a memoir about visiting Cuba in 1980, during a brief period when the U.S. government allowed some educational travel to that country. The story weaves personal discovery and the effects of growing up white-middle class in the United States during the Cold War and the1960’s, with a de-mystifying of Cuba’s realities at that time.
I also write poetry, essays and non-fiction stories.
A retired early childhood educator and social worker, I also did Trager Bodywork and taught Movement Therapies for many years. In the mid-1980s, I lived and worked in Mexico and Central America with my husband, where I learned to speak and read some Spanish. In December 2016, I returned to Cuba, a trip that serendipitously coincided with the week of national mourning for Fidel Castro.
In addition to writing, my interests are travel and learning about history and culture, reading, drawing and outdoor activities that correlate with the seasons, all balanced with political activism. I delight in caring for and playing with my granddaughter.
Editor's note: Sally is also my neighbor and a member of the Monday morning yoga class and the Wander Women hiking group.
I write paranormal romance/humor, urban fantasy and horror for adults, new adults and young adults.
My current project is a young adult urban fantasy that I'm co-authoring with Christopher Rizzo. I will write a seventeen-year-old shapeshifter wolf who does not accept her role in the wolf pack. Christopher is writing an angel with faery blood who was sent to earth to earn his wings by saving the shifter.
Where I draw my characters from: I grew up in the streets of Bridgeport Connecticut, and that's where I got my education. By ten years old, I took care of my sister and brother and our four-room apartment while my mother worked two jobs. The city was a melting pot of good and evil, and by ten I knew it well, above and below ground, and was cold to its hardships. In my writing world, I weave reality with mythological creatures, fantasy, folklore, legend, and a fair share of humor, because without humor there is no sanity.
What makes me smile: Walking in the woods, rainy days, and listing to the coyote at night. My art—watercolor, acrylics, book-cover and marketing graphics, stained glass. Listening to classic rock and writing.
You can find me and my books here:
Pretty interesting mix of people and projects, wouldn't you say? Before I joined this group, I had never read paranormal fiction, fantasy (at least not since childhood fairy tales) or much Sci-Fi. It's been enlightening—and fun—to be exposed to these genres, which are so different from the kind of writing I've done. I've been inspired to try my hand at fiction (not quite as far-out as some I've read in this group, but definitely a stretch from journalism and memoir!).
In turn, the fiction writers in the group have offered insights on ways to enliven my writing. Things don't always run smoothly—what ever does when you get a roomful of distinct personalities? But we keep learning from one another, and our writing keeps growing as a result.
Now, as promised, a few tips for writers groups:
Thanks to Mikki Garrels for filling me in on the early years of the Artworks Second Monday Writers.
This week, I'm taking time out to look back at some of this season's sweetest moments. It's been a beautiful summer so far, and outings and festivals have added to the enjoyment. But even when I've stayed on my own back porch or sat for a spell in the front yard, I've found plenty to appreciate.
I hope you'll enjoy these sights as much as I have.
In winter, our outings are mostly mission-driven: venturing out to the store to stock up on groceries, returning books to the library, braving the elements to go to yoga practice or to a monthly writers' group meeting. Summer, on the other hand, is a time for aimless wandering.
Lately, we've been taking drives through the countryside with no particular destination in mind—sometimes only for an hour or two, other times for a whole day. A couple of Sundays ago, we headed out with the vague intention of ending up somewhere around Pentwater, a lovely little village northwest of here, bordered on one side by Pentwater Lake and on another by Lake Michigan.
But we had all day, and we really cared more about along-the-way than about getting-there.
After driving through forests and rolling farmland, we came to Cherry Point Farm and Market and couldn't resist stopping. I'd heard about the farm—one of the oldest operating farms in Oceana County—and its lavender labyrinth. We could see from the road that the lavender was in bloom.
We parked and headed straight for the field where the labyrinth winds around and around a raised, circular herb garden. Labyrinths date back to ancient times and have long been used in garden designs. Unlike a maze, which offers bewildering choices of path and direction, a labyrinth typically has a single route to the center.
Many people use labyrinths for meditative walking; the spiral pattern suggests a spiritual journey or one's path in life. Lavender, with its calming scent and medicinal properties, seems a perfect fit for the design.
We didn't walk the labyrinth—my recovering foot was still in the boot, and I was avoiding uneven ground—but we did wander through the Stone Circle Herb Garden. The garden is designed in accordance with principles of sacred geometry, with a pattern of overlapping circles defining 36 herb beds. Bee balm, calendula and a full palette of other flowers were blooming, and the air was perfumed with minty-grassy-earthy scents.
The farm also hosts special events during summer--Tuesday Tea, with sweets and lavender tea, and fish boils on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. And on Sunday mornings, Flapjacks and Fruit breakfasts. Just writing this paragraphs makes me want to go back and sample the fare at one of those gatherings.
Lunch left us satisfied, but not quite ready to leave. We strolled toward the market—where fresh cherries, cherry pie, cherry turnovers, cherry strudel, cherry jams and jellies and other goodies and gifts are sold—but we got sidetracked at the Word Garden. Scattered about the sunken rock garden are smooth stones painted with words. Visitors can arrange the word-rocks into evocative or humorous combinations.
I guess it's not surprising that the farm has a Word Garden. Cherry Point owner Barbara E. Bull spends winter months writing books—one children's book, two historical tributes to her family farm, and three novels so far. Just one more manifestation of Cherry Point's imaginative spirit.
I left there thinking about how a touch of imagination can elevate the ordinary and create something memorable. From the spiraling paths through lavender, to the serene design of the herb garden, to the lanterns on the Board Room tables, to the Word Garden, this wayside stop was a rich reward on a summer day.
Where have you found imagination at play this summer?
Cherry Point Farm and Market is at 9600 W. Buchanan Road, Shelby, Michigan, 1.5 miles south of Silver Lake on Scenic Drive (B15). Open daily from April through October. Current hours are 8am to 9pm (shorter after Labor Day).
On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of advice, inspiration and other tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. This being mid-summer, and finally being free of the boot I've been wearing for a foot fracture, I'm sharing quotes about summertime and freedom. How's your summer going?
Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer.
-- Jenny Han, The Summer I Turned Pretty
Freedom is the basic condition for you to touch life, to touch the blue sky, the trees, the birds, the tea, and the other person.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
-- Henry James
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
-- John Lubbock, The Use Of Life
At these times, the things that troubled her seemed far away and unimportant: all that mattered was the hum of the bees and the chirp of birdsong, the way the sun gleamed on the edge of a blue wildflower, the distant bleat and clink of grazing goats.
-- Alison Croggon, The Naming
One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
-- Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Again and again, the cicada's untiring cry pierced the sultry summer air like a needle at work on thick cotton cloth.
-- Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses: The Sea of Fertility, 2
Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.
-- Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy
I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer – its dust and lowering skies.
-- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
-- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you're not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don't have the rest of the year. You can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. Summer just opens the door and lets you out.
-- Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
'Cause a little bit of summer's what the whole year's all about.
-- John Mayer
Read more summer quotes here.
I didn't know whether to laugh or wince when I read a recent post by blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, titled "You might have a problem with photography if . . ." The post listed twenty signs that photography is taking over your life. I had to admit, quite a few items on the list applied to me.
Okay, nearly all applied, but particularly on-point were such signs as "You've lost track of how many times you've burnt breakfast/lunch/dinner because you 'just popped outside for a minute to take a photograph' " and "You realize your blog posts have gradually become heavier on photographs than writing."
Too true! And just when I was on the verge of doing another all-photo blog post. But as I considered Ruth's list and how easy it is to become consumed with an activity that once was just an occasional pastime, I started thinking more generally about passions. When and how does an interest become a passion? When does a passion become an obsession? How can we nurture our passions without going overboard?
I'm something of a serial passion-cultivator. In the course of my adult life, I've gotten all wrapped in an ever-shifting string of engrossments: alternative education, horticulture and botany, dance, insects, science writing, motorcycling, memoir writing, yoga and now photography. Each of these preoccupations started with a glimmer of interest that grew into a near-magnetic fascination with anything and everything related to the topic or activity.
Before we get into how interests evolve into passions, let's think for a minute about what, exactly, distinguishes an interest from a passion. LEGO enthusiast Paul B put this way on a LEGO forum (and by the way, did you even know there were LEGO forums?): An interest is "something you choose to do when you have a little spare time." A passion is "something that you consider fundamental to your life."
He went on to use this fishing analogy:
By that standard, writing is clearly a passion for me. There have been times when I've tried to do less of it, to make room for other things in my life, but writing feels so essential to my being, I have to keep coming back to it. A glance at the magazines stashed beneath my coffee table reveals that fully half of them are about writing; I belong to a writers' group; I blow my vacation budget traveling to writers' conferences; and I plan my days around my writing time. Yep, it's a passion.
It was the same with motorcycling. I devoured motorcycle magazines and books, belonged to a women's motorcycle club and rode as often as I possibly could. What's more, with both writing and motorcycling, as well as most of my other passions, I've experienced an intense desire to learn more and keep improving my skills. That, some people say, is what tips the balance from interest to passion.
Writing on the knowledge platform Quora, Justin Tan, founder of the I'd Hike That online community and apparel store, puts it this way: "The biggest difference between a passion and an interest is when you deliberately develop a mindset to improve . . . Having that mindset and desire, plus doing it every day is what separates a passion [from] an interest."
That mindset, however, can lead to a kind of tension that turns a relaxing hobby into a drive.
Photographer Danny Santos II wrote about this phenomenon on his blog, Shooting Strangers. "When I started photography out of interest, it was all hunky dory. I was a kid with a new toy discovering new possibilities. But pretty quickly, I've grown easily unimpressed with my own shots." His dissatisfaction led to an almost frantic desire to get better and better shots, which, in turn, led him to spend more and more time taking photographs.
A comment from a speaker at an alumni association meeting session on finding your passion summed up precisely what Santos had been feeling as his interest in photography shifted to something more intense: Passion exists when attraction is coupled with friction.
At its most positive, friction keeps the interest fresh. But sometimes, friction is a sign that passion has turned to obsession.
That's what happened to me with motorcycling. I loved it so much, I didn't want to do anything else. I found myself turning down invitations to really fun events that might cut into my riding time. I resented commitments I had to keep on days that were perfect for riding. I saw less of my non-riding friends. Other interests languished.
As much as I adored riding, I realized my obsession with it was creating discontent and diminishing my life. Eventually, I came to see that I could still enjoy riding if it was part of a suite of pleasurable activities, not the only one. The funny thing was, I probably rode just as much as before, but I found I could also be happy when I wasn't riding.
Now, when I find myself getting immersed in an activity, I try not to let it interfere with the rest of my life. Which brings me back to Ruth Daly's post on photography. After reading it, I asked myself, Do I have a "problem" with photography?
Not yet. Right now, it's a pleasant pastime. I pore over photography magazines and books; I practice almost daily, in an attempt to improve. But I'm not turning down invitations to make time for my passion.
I will admit, though, I'm really happy when those invitations take me somewhere I can bring my camera.
What are your passions? When did you know they were more than mere interests?
As a kid, summer was one long stretch of opportunity. More time to play—yay!—but even better, more chances to make stuff. Popsicle stick baskets at Girl Scout day camp, Plaster of Paris plaques at vacation Bible school, clay doodads and woven plastic lanyards at my school's summer recreation program. Plus an imaginative assortment of creations my neighborhood playmates and I dreamed up, like costumes for our backyard circuses and hula hoop shows.
Back then, none of us needed tips on how to boost our creativity. It just came naturally in those early years, before we felt the need to justify time spent on such pleasant pursuits. Before we learned to fear criticism and failure.
I still see summer as an ideal time to pursue creative projects, and I guess I'm not the only one. The cover of the latest issue of Writer's Digest, billed as "The Creativity Issue," hooks readers with such headlines as "Train to Be Creative on Demand: 7 Ways," "Turn Your Inner Critic Into Your Greatest Ally," and "3 Artist's Techniques Every Writer Should Try."
Inspired by the magazine—and those summer breezes wafting through my open windows—I went on my own quest for ways to kick start creativity. Here are seven suggestions that appealed to me. (Sources are at the end of this post.)
Be a hunter-gatherer
Collect ideas, images, random thoughts, quotations—anything that catches your attention—and stash them where you can peruse them at your leisure. That place might be a pocket notebook, a file folder (physical or virtual), a drawer filled with paper scraps, a box on your desk or a bulletin board in your studio. Resist the urge to organize your collection. Random associations that emerge from the jumble just might trigger original ideas.
Speaking of random associations, you don't have to wait for them to appear, you can prod the process. On a blank sheet of paper, write down whatever words come to mind. The words can represent ideas, categories, topics or objects, or they may just be interesting in their own right. Randomly draw arrows between pairs (or groups) of words. Use the results to inspire a poem, a story, a collage or a painting.
I know—you got in trouble for doing this in school, but now doodling is in vogue. Witness the recent book, The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently, which posits that doodling is no mindless waste of time; it's a focusing technique that helped Einstein, Edison, Henry Ford, Marie Curie and other brainiacs innovate and problem-solve. Last year I got hooked on Zentangle and found it relaxed and cleared my mind, making room for new ideas. And by the way, daydreaming is also allowed—it's a pathway to insights, a 2012 study suggests, because it helps us tap into memory, even in the face of distractions.
If you're a writer, try your hand at painting. If you're a musician, write a story. Push beyond your comfort zone, and you'll exercise new creative muscles. In the process, you're bound to encounter other creative types and benefit from cross-fertilization. (For more on crossover creativity, see this blog post from last summer.)
Establish a routine, then break it
A regular warm-up routine—say, sharpening pencils, doing a few stretches, reading something inspiring—can be a wake-up call to your muse. But be sure your routine fits your rhythms. Maybe you're at your creative best first thing in the morning; maybe you don't get fired up until after midnight. Find your personal golden hours and make the best of them. That said, don't be afraid to shake things up from time to time. While routine can get you in the zone, monotony can turn you into a drone.
For years, my morning routine has been some combination of meditation, yoga, reading over breakfast, then buckling down on whatever writing project I have in the works. But lately I've been altering the pattern—sometimes taking my camera out on the back porch for an hour or so before breakfast, sometimes doing my yoga just before lunch, sometimes writing in the evening. It's amazing how refreshing those small changes have been!
Decisions, decisions—every creative project seems to require a slew of them. Should I start my novel at the beginning of the heroine's ordeal or midway through? Should I add one more image to this collage or take one away? The urge to make a choice and move on is powerful, but sometimes it's best to sit with the uncertainty as long as you can. As one of my writing mentors advised, "Don't be afraid to get in there and make a mess." Eventually, clarity will come.
Your creations may not be all sunbeams and rainbows—how boring that would be! But whatever you're creating, I hope the process brings you satisfaction and a sense of joy. For me—and I'm guessing I'm not alone—joy is the juice that keeps the muse amused.
What are you creating this summer? What are your favorite ways of summoning your muse?
"A Few Short Rules on Being Creative," by Thierry Dufay, HuffPost, August 14, 2014.
"18 Habits of Highly Creative People," by Carolyn Gregoire, HuffPost, November 15, 2015.
"How to Be More Creative," A.J. Jacobs, Real Simple.
"9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes," by Larry Kim, Inc.com, August 11, 2014.
"7 UP: These 7 simple exercises will build core strength in your creative muscles," by Gabriela Pereria, Writer's Digest, September 2017.
"The Benefits of Daydreaming: A new study indicates that daydreamers are better at remembering information in the face of distraction," by Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian.com, April 3, 2012.
"30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity," by Joel Falconer, Lifehack.
All but the first two images on this page are free-use, stock images.
I've been to reunions. I've been to festivals. I've even, in my day, been to a fair number of hippie love-ins, be-ins and other gatherings of the tribes. But nothing quite compares to Creekfest, an annual event hosted by our friends Paul and Valerie.
Now in its 25th year, Creekfest is a reunion of "kin," who may or may not be related in a strict genetic sense, but who all share genes for enjoyment of good music, good food and good times.
Held on Paul and Valerie's wooded property on Coolbough Creek, the event goes on for a full weekend, with many of the 150-200 or so attendees camping on the premises.
Things get rolling Friday evening, when local chef Tracy Murrell offers Thai specialties. Music and merriment typically follow.
Saturday is activity-packed, with a kids' craft and painting party, tie-dye for anyone who wants to get colorful, and a rubber ducky race on the creek. This year, Ray and I arrived just in time for the tail-end of the pre-dinner talent show, an impressive display of musicality by youngsters and not-so-youngsters.
Part of the fun is just taking in the setting. The "cabin," its additions and outbuildings have been constructed over the years with the help of friends. And everywhere you look are Paul and Valerie's creative touches, from Paul's metal sculptures to Valerie's moss gardens, to various intriguing objets d'art placed here and there. You could wander around for days and still not see everything.
After Saturday's talent show came a potluck to top all potlucks. I swear the spread was half a block long. Well, maybe not quite, but it just kept on going. All the dishes got rave reviews, especially one beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts. (Did you make that, Erin? We all want the recipe!)
Still more music followed, and went on until the early morning hours, long after we'd gone home to bed. We would've stayed longer, but Ray had another festive event to attend the next day—a car show in New Hudson—and he wanted to be up by 4 a.m., about the time things wound down at Creekfest.
Once the weekend was over, I asked Valerie (who twenty years ago declared herself Creekfest Queen) for her thoughts about this year and all the years leading up to it.
"For one reason or another, each Creekfest is the best ever," she says. "Sometimes I've had to stretch a bit to say that, but each year has its best-ever moments, this year included."
Every year also has its share of "oh, s**t" moments, this year included. Like when Valerie lost her birthday kazoo at the ducky race and dropped her iPad into the creek. But by last Tuesday, when I touched base with her, The Queen was chipper as ever and recalling the best-ever moments as well.
"The music, the kids, our kinship and love, the camaraderie. Even the dogs keep things fun and lively."
Another highlight: Creekfest's first-ever silent auction, which helped defray expenses—higher this year due to some necessary repairs and replacements. "We were ravaged by rodents last year," says Valerie. "They took down our inverter for the solar, the generator that pumps our water, the golf cart. They got into the wiring and trashed things."
All things considered, though, this year was the best ever. And next year? Better still.
Do you have an annual event with its share of best-ever moments? What makes you look forward to it?
More scenes from Creekfest . . .
This month's collection of tidbits truly is a potpourri. No particular theme, just whatever has caught my eye and mind. The first two quotations, though, really hit home, since lately I've been spending more time than usual staying in one place and sitting still.
We spend most of our time and energy in a kind of horizontal thinking. We move along the surface of things . . . [but]there are times when we stop. We sit still. We lose ourselves in a pile of leaves or its memory. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.
-- James Carroll, novelist
When we commit to a particular place, a certain element of choice is removed. We are free to dig in, and allow ourselves to be mentored by the life around us. We begin to see the world whole instead of fractured. Long-term strategies replace short-term gains. Routine opens the door to creativity.
-- Terry Tempest Williams, in The Open Space of Democracy
Readers have been changed by books--it is not such a large step to think that the world could be changed as well.
-- Sharon Rab, founder, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, quoted in Poets & Writers magazine, May/June 2017
There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
-- Douglas Adams, author
Ideas are contagious; emotions are contagious; hope is contagious; courage is contagious.
-- Rebecca Solnit, writer, historian and activist
Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced; stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit, and simply never leave.
-- Susan B. Anthony, social reformer and women's rights activist
Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone . . . The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
-- Lin Yutang, Chinese writer and educator
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the ploughshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring.
-- Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet and critic
Peace of mind comes piece by piece.
-- Message on a Yogi Tea bag tab
Break out the honey cakes and raise a glass of mead—it's National Pollinator Week! You probably won't find the observance pre-printed on your wall calendar, but it's worth penciling in as a reminder to honor those buzzing, fluttering, hovering creatures whose efforts are essential to so many plants we prize.
I learned about this celebration of pollination from an item in the summer issue of Michigan Nature, the magazine of Michigan Nature Association. From there I went on to find out more from Pollinator Partnership, a group devoted to promoting the health of pollinators through conservation, education and research.
Bees and butterflies usually come to mind when we think of critters that flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar and distributing pollen in the process. Those are important pollinators, for sure, but birds, bats, beetles and other animals also do the job.
And a vital job it is. Globally, some 1,000 plants grown for food and drink, fiber and pharmaceuticals depend on animal pollination for successful fruit and seed production. If you fancy chocolate, coffee or blueberries, if you have a passion for pumpkins, potatoes or peaches, if you're an apple or almond aficionado, if you treasure the tequila in your Margarita, praise pollinators!
But pollinators need more than praise. They need protection. In many parts of the world, including this country, pollinating animals are suffering the effects of diseases, parasites, harmful chemicals, habitat loss and invasive plant and animal species.
How can you help?
One of the biggest ways is by making your piece of the Earth—whether pocket garden or multi-acre spread—pollinator-friendly. Reduce pesticide use, install bee and bat houses, and cultivate native plants that attract pollinators and provide nectar and larval food. (You can find a guide to appropriate plants for your area by entering your zip code here.)
For several years, I've been buying native plants from our local conservation district's annual sale and encouraging the native species already growing on our property by saving and scattering their seeds and clearing away invasives that would choke them out. The lupine, coneflowers, columbine, prairie smoke, bee balm and black-eyed susans have rewarded me with floral displays and the entertaining antics of their winged visitors. I'm hopeful the milkweeds and blazing stars are mature enough to bloom this year.
I'll be sure to share the results when they do. And once my broken foot is healed and I'm more mobile, I hope to take you on a tour of my friend Sandy's flourishing native plant garden—a delight for pollinators and people alike.
Learn more about pollinators by visiting Pollinator Partnership's Learning Center.
For more about native plants and native landscapes, connect with the national, not-for-profit organization Wild Ones.
Useful books on native plants and their role in sustaining wildlife:
Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, 2007)
The Natural Habitat Garden, by Ken Druse, with Margaret Roach (Clarkson Potter, 1994; paperback Timber Press, 2004)
All photos by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski
It was the Friday before Memorial Day, that gateway to the good times of summer, and I was anticipating the weeks ahead. Sunny days for hiking, bicycling, kayaking, diving into household and outdoor projects, and just plain getting out and doing things without having to negotiate snow and ice.
My mind was so occupied with such leisurely thoughts, I hardly noticed the ache across the top of my foot that morning. Around the time I was ready to leave for that afternoon's trek with the Wander Women, the ache asserted itself more aggressively, and I considered skipping the hike. But it was such an ideal hiking day—blue-skyed, cloud-fluffed, warm but not hot—I couldn't resist. And anyway, my foot felt much better in my hiking shoe.
Until about three miles into the hike. Then it really started to hurt. I limped the last mile and a half, drove home, iced the foot and brushed aside Ray's suggestion to visit Urgent Care. It didn't hurt that much. Not enough to interfere with our weekend plans.
After hobbling through the weekend and holiday, I finally admitted the foot wasn't getting any better. An x-ray revealed the reason: a fracture of the third metatarsal. I was fitted with a clunky walker boot, given a referral to an orthopedic surgeon and sent home to contemplate this turn of events.
Clearly, summer would not be quite as I'd envisioned. I didn't waste time moping, though. No siree, I sat down and made a list of things I still could do: writing, reading those piles of accumulated books and magazines, answering email, calling friends, making phone calls and writing letters in support of causes, creating collages, meditating, planning our fall vacation, organizing and editing photos, even shooting new photos of critters from the back porch.
Good for me! Lemonade from lemons and all that, right?
Yeah, about that . . .
A few days after making that upbeat list, I got restless and pulled out the list for inspiration. All those housebound activities didn't seem nearly as appealing as when I'd written them down—especially when another sunny day taunted me just outside the windows. Plus, I'd realized that the list of things I still could do also included things I'd just as soon not: paying bills, cleaning out files, and performing a surprising number of household and chores. B-o-r-i-n-g.
Then I moped. But moping got boring pretty quickly, too, so I figured it was time to give myself a pep talk on adaptability and making the best of a disappointing situation. Fortunately, My Self is something of an authority on the subject, having had ample experience with subverted summers: three previous foot fractures and a spinal fracture over the past 24 years, each one occurring sometime between Memorial Day and mid-July.
I'd even written a magazine article about the summer I broke my back—the summer we'd planned a month-long motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as weekends of Rollerblading and bicycling in the park. The summer with a few definite plans and plenty of room for following whims.
As I wrote in the article:
When I thought about happenstance, of course, I was envisioning the merry kind that brings opportunities and delights. But when serendipity stepped in and made choices for me, it knocked me flat . . . What I didn't realize was that fate, in fact, had intervened to give me the break I had longed for—not exactly the way I had imagined it, but a break all the same. With my choices suddenly so limited, life had to get simpler. Time had to slow down.
Then, as now, I occupied myself catching up on articles I'd clipped and saved to read when I found the time. One, on the unlikely topic of the benefits of poor health, made the point that having to step off the treadmill of everyday life and let things go on without your participation can be a chance to reflect and make needed changes.
That I did. I reflected on the work I was doing and how I'd like it to be different—a train of thought that led to a new, more creative way of working. I also used the time to experiment with various kinds of writing and explore visual arts in ways I'd not had time—or nerve—to try before. In the process, I learned to care more about satisfaction than accomplishment, to let interests drive me more than ambition—lessons that set the stage for the kind of life I'm living now (or trying to).
Back then, I was stepping away from a hectic, deadline-driven life. This time, the treadmill I'm stepping off moves at a significantly slower rate. Still, the shift in activities and expectations should offer a chance to reflect and consider new directions. I wonder what I'll discover this time and where those discoveries will lead.
Meanwhile, my change of summer plans also means changes of plans for HeartWood. I had envisioned gathering blog material in trips to festivals, friends' gardens, local labyrinths and other points of interest. Some of that still may happen, but for a while at least, I won't be venturing out as much as I'd imagined I would.
That's where you come in. I hereby deputize all HeartWood readers to be official correspondents. If, in your summer ramblings, you have experiences you'd like to share in words, pictures or both, I'll be happy to give you space to do that here at HeartWood. Just get in touch and we'll work out the details. I hope you'll take me up on the offer!
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.