I’m in Love With a Great Lake: Everyday Magic, Day 946

I’m in love with Lake Superior, and the more I visit, the deeper I fall. Not only is this the greatest of the Great Lakes, containing 10% of all the fresh water on earth, but it’s wildly ancient, mysteriously mutable, and stunningly gorgeous in all its colors and moods.

Having just perched on the side of the lake in a cabin for a week, once again, I saw this inland sea turn pink, gray, navy blue, baby blue, black, brown, orange at the edges at sunrise, and purple in the center at sunset. Always in motion, the waves incessant, this lake calms to a purr of itself at moments, then roars into hard slaps of water on the lava rock of the shore.  The Ojibwe got it right in naming  this lake Gitchi-Gummi, which means “the shining blue sea water” because it’s truly an inland sea that surely holds many, if not all, of the secrets of the universe.

But the macro sings through the micro too, especially in the rocks which, depending on what beach you explore, range from cobblestone of similar size and shape, black flat ovals artfully spread among themselves, or the rainbow of agates threaded through many beaches. I found milky white nubs, green slant-specked squares, reddish ovals, and dozens of other variety. Coming through these precious sweethearts of time, compressed and tossed back out by their maker onto each other, I found treasure upon treasure, some shining, some quieting, some rough skinned and speckled.  No matter the rock, every edge tends to be rounded, smoothed, making each stone good to pick up and hold.

I love the sound, the light, the smell, the whole way of being there with this being of a lake that always seems more like a mythical animal, so alive and dynamic, hurting and healing, giving its all every direction across its 350-mile expanse and dancing in place. Every view is a good view, reminding me that this is usually true if we can open up our vision to see the periphery, depth, or height of our times and places. The gift of life, even and especially in these times of hollow-your-hope news, is so beyond what we think, and to some extent, do that we can only see a glimpse of ourselves, so look around, says the la

I look into the lake unable to fathom its average depth of 500 feet with its deepest point at about 1,300 feet. That it’s crazy cold (40 degree average temperature) and holds the bones of many ships and humans, not to mention other forms of life. That it cracked, yes, cracked, into existence 1.2 billion years ago because of the North American Mid-Continent Rift, an outlandish volcano, which left a half-moon-shaped scar from Minnesota all the way down to Kansas with all the lava-pressed rock to prove it.  That it’s home to over 80 species of birds, thousands of  birds, and so many other animals, like the three otters I saw swimming by some years back. That it’s utterly alive, alive, alive — a heartbeat of energy and presence. 

Arriving, I sat on the deck of the cabin and watched. Middling, I watched and walked. Leaving, I stood on the deck and took more photos of this beauty in action being, this freedom and depth lighting up with the sun and moon.  I’m deeply grateful for my time there, and already, and just a few days past, I dream of returning to where the Iron Range tumbles down to the sea, and the power of the life force sings in harmony and dissonance, waking us up to what is.

 

On the Cusp of the Vacation: Everyday Magic, Day 945

I’m lucky. I get to go on a vacation, not something everyone has the privilege of doing so that they can enter into a great un-doing or other-the-usual-doings in a new or old place. For us, it’s a particularly ancient place, on the cool shores of Lake Superior (truly superior!) by way of Ames, Iowa tonight, where we will luxuriate in temperatures 10 degrees cooler than the holy hell of the weather here, then Minneapolis, which is cool in multiple ways.

At this moment, the car is packed except for the vitamins, which would melt. The gas tank is full. I have a little cash in my wallet, and plans for a eat-as-we-drive dinner (hello, cold burritos!). Most of the errands, at least the ones I can remember, are done, and within an hour, we’re off. Within a two or three hours, we’ll remember what we forgot, shrug, and keep going.

But for this moment, I want to take in all that’s here and now: Shay the dog sleeping on the cool floor beside me, the wind ruffling Cottonwood Mel, grown so big that he fills two winds, and Dar Williams singing “Closer to Me” on itunes (aka WCMG’s private radio station playing my favorites all the time). The air conditioner sings its low-hum enchantment, and the glass of some fizz water and mostly ice is covered in the cold film of condensation. Stepping outside to ready the tarp for covering the new tractor, I’m reminded what it is to live in a giant Midwestern dryer, tumbling us with bouts of heat and wind. The mountains of clouds to the south tease us with the illusion of rain one day before melting away like everything else. The tomatoes in the garden hang on for life after a good watering in the dark last night, and the lilies sheepishly open smaller-than-usual petals just enough to exhaust themselves.

What Lake Superior Looked Like (for a moment) Last Time We Were Here

This is the life I’m leaving for 10 days, a good life although lately a hot life, in the hands of our son and a friend who will keep animals and plants watered and fed. This is the place I love to return to, and although even swimming in the pool last night was almost too warm to enjoy, it’s a place I always feel a little sad to leave. Then again, I always feel more than a little excited to hit the road and see what new homecomings each turn brings into view.

Annual Pilgrimage to Our Patron Saint: Mary Chapin Carpenter: Everyday Magic, Day 944

“Show a little inspiration, show a little spark,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings in her song “The Hard Way.” Kelley Hunt, one of my beloveds and my songwriting partner, happily obliged her by summoning up the inspiration and spark to strap ourselves into my peanut-butter-colored car so we can once again worship at her feet and replenish our songwriting well.

This year we trekked to Wichita for a long day’s night to the Wabi Sabi (beautiful, decaying, and full of soul and vibrancy) Orpheum Theater to see  this shining soul sing some of the greatest songs we know, such as “Stones in the Road,” once the best songs I know of about America. Listen to it sometime, and hear what she says about all that’s on fire in our history and lives, including lines like these: “And now we drink our coffee on the run, we climb that ladder rung by rung/ We are the daughters and the sons, and here’s the line that’s missing.”

When Kelley and I write our own songs together, I like to think there’s always an invisible and palpable icon of Mary Chapin in the room, right on top of the purple piano where we compose music, occasionally nodding at us and always making eye contact. So many of our songs — such as “Love,” “You’ve Got to Be the Vessel,” and “Let it Rain,” — speak to some of the deep-river themes of hard-won love, healing, and courage flowing through MCC’s songs, such  as her song “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” and “Jubilee,” in which she sings:

And I can tell by the way you’re searching
For something you can’t even name
That you haven’t been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

So it’s no wonder that we drive, drive, drive to be with MCC and her kick-ass, open-hearted band, including many bandmates she’s played with for decades. She’s someone I would leap over long highways and through 100-degree days to see, well, her and Bruce Springsteen, and you know what? This year, Mary Chapin ended her concert with a Springsteen song, “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Sitting in an ancient theater with one of my best friends, witnessing this moment and many others together — like when she sang “This is Love” — my heart overflowed and my being exhaled in pure joy. As she sang, “The wrong things aren’t supposed to last,” and “You would’ve thought a miracle/ Was all that got us through,” I realized how some moments, maybe all if I was awake enough, are the miracles that get us through, leading us to do and be all the rights that do last.

Bonus song: You’ve got to hear “Jericho,”  a song that inspired Kelley to write a song and me to write a poem of the same name. Here is Kelley performing this live on Kansas Public Radio (and you can support Kelley writing even more amazing songs by supporting her Patreon campaign here), and here’s my poem:

Jericho

How long have you been lost? All your life?

Then you’re getting somewhere.

The walls don’t fall for those who think

they know where they are.

It takes music, low and from the bottom of pain,

like what I sang out in childbirth, each call

a plea to open and let the new one come through.

Or the sound of the handful of dirt the new widow releases

slowly quickly the long way to the top of the wooden casket

where a thousand hands hit the same drum at one moment.

Or the breaking laughter of a two-year-old running for the first time,

about to trip. Or the inhalation of surprise and verve on the cusp

orgasm in a cold room where all the blankets are kicked off.

Knowing the path has always been overrated

although washing the dishes and cleaning the counters helps.

Loving and looking for clues is all we have–the slant of the sun

across the dusty wooden floor, the ache of leaf toward earth,

the weary smile of the stranger who gives you his parking space.

When the big wind knocks you down, look carefully

for what’s ready: the horizon suddenly flashed by the brilliant

wings of an Indigo Bunting vanishing into the future

in a stand of cedar where you’ve always lived.

Jericho was never forgotten and never forgets.

His feet remember how to follow the outline of the city

ready to unmake itself into something better. Let yourself

stop trying to hold up all that weight. Come and sit

on this beautiful, cold ground. Be as lost as the rain

making its way, through the veins of the universe, home.

Recipes From (and For) the Journey: Everyday Magic, Day 930

Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is  surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.

No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in

Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner always offer a dose of sunshine (and pie)

About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author of The Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook; Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.

Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel.  The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.

Please consider getting all the recipes and the whole novel through my Indiegogo campaign to help fund my national tour for the book — you can get advance copies of the book (and at a discount) here (other cool perks abound) until the campaign finishes on March 9.

My grandmother beholds the turkey, but she also beholded a whole lot of stuffed cabbage in her life

Batty’s Stuffed Cabbage

Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.

1 large green cabbage

1 lb ground beef

1 cup uncooked rice

1 large onion chopped into large slices

2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes

1 cup water

1/8 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup honey 

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire  Add in lemon juice and honey and  raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.

The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups zucchini, finely shredded

1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.

12 to 16 servings

Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook

More recipes and the whole enchilada of the novel, Miriam’s Well, available through the campaign here, and you can see early reviews here.

In-Between Time: Everyday Magic, Day 929

Between terminals in Detroit

Yesterday was an in-between day taken up with driving, flying, walking long underground vortexes of color and sound, flying some more, and a whole lot more driving to go from Lawrence, Kansas (aka Center of the Universe) to Plainfield, Vermont (aka Another Center of the Universe).

On such days, I try to be present for what sweetness might lurk in travel tensions, plus I’ve learned a few tricks from making this trip back and forth to Goddard College residencies over 40 times in the last two-plus-decades. I pack high-quality apples, a sturdy supply of magazines, a few good books (this time I’m re-reading Elizabeth Erdrich’s marvelous memoir, Miriam’s Kitchen), some energy bars (the kind that aren’t exactly candy bars but don’t taste like dog food either), antibacterial stuff to wash the seat-back tray in the planes, and a tiny Ipod-thingie with soothing music I can blast at 30,000 feet. I also have all manner of sinus remedies because planes can shake up a gal’s face some, and candied ginger for too much turbulence.

Transitions turn green

When the announcement at the airport says crazy things, like yesterday’s “Sorry, folks, but we’ll be delayed boarding the plane because the heater is broken, and it’s only 2 degrees in there,” I sigh, eat my salad early (having learned it’s a bad idea to eat too-rich food before being flung through space at 500 mph), and catch up Facebook. When my pal picking me up is so engrossed in conversation with me that he drives down beautiful country roads instead of aiming for the route to get us toward the college, I take photos of what I see along the way, including the most daunting sun dogs (my photos don’t do them justice) I’ve ever spied.

Once unloaded in the dorm, back out to the Wayside Diner for down-home goodness, and back to the dorm room, I morph into old routines of putting the socks and underwear in this drawer, piling the two mattresses in the room on top of each other for a higher and firm bed, and draping scarves here and there to brighten up the big blank room. Most of us who teach here have our assorted furniture-moving and, for the ones who drive, rug-unfurling habits to make our home for the next 10 days homey.

But in the middle of it all — a middle that extends from leaving the house at 8 a.m. and trying to shake off the dim or sparkling travel dust at 1 a.m. when I’m still friggin’ awake — there’s that in-between time, still potent with its varied nuances of color, light, temperature, and texture.

The current view, plus don’t stand under icicles

Truth be told, it’s always this way: we’re in between who we are and who we think we are, where we imagine we live and the real earth and sky we actually inhabit, the meaning of the work or relationships we inhabit and the greater mystery beyond meanings we label and box up. Landing is a continual process in travel and in life.