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Posts tagged: summer

The Sweetest Season: Summer in the Northwest

    I haven’t set the kitchen table in weeks.

    Each morning I wake up, pour a cup of coffee, open the back door and step out onto my patio. Usually it is cool enough to wear a robe or the heavy man’s denim work shirt I sometimes slip over my gown when I'm too impatient.

     Lunch might be a salad while I work at the big table on the patio or idle in the shaded corner of my backyard. Dinner is eaten late, on the patio again, just as the sun slips behind the trees on the horizon. After the meal I leash the dog and walk to Manito Park to take a stroll around the gardens, where it is always at least five degrees cooler and the air is thick with the heady perfume of flowers. Then, at night, after the dishes are done and the dog and the cats have been fed, I slip out the back door again for a few more minutes. I sit on the glider, pushing myself back and forth with my toes against concrete that still holds the warmth of the sun, and I mark the end of another day.

    This time of year, my living area is always turned inside out. I eat, read, relax, work and daydream outdoors. When my children were all still at home, before we moved out of the big house in the country and into the cottage in town, I set up a daybed on the patio. During the day they would sprawl over it, reading for hours, surrounded by newspaper comics, crossword puzzles, Barbie dolls, Breyer horses and empty Popsicle wrappers. At night, after dinner, after the last bit of daylight had faded, my youngest and I would lie down together on the summer bed. Often her sisters and her brother would join us and we would lie there like puppies in a basket, gazing up, watching the stars come out and the Milky Way spread like spilled paint across the black night sky. We pointed out the Big Dipper and called out when shooting stars streaked across overhead. We counted satellites. Sometimes we spotted the flash of the Space Station’s solar panels as it orbited, and once an owl startled us as it flew low and silently over the backyard.

    Eventually the others would wander off and the youngest would drift off to sleep in my arms. But I would always lie there a bit longer, breathing the shampoo-and-green-grass fragrance of her hair, reluctant to let her go.

    Finally, around midnight, I would rouse her and help her stumble up to her bed and then climb into my own.

    Anyone who has ever lived where the humidity chases the temperature up the thermometer and the mid-summer air—day or night—is as uncomfortable and heavy as a damp blanket, will understand the way I delight in the season here. I grew up in the South. Summer could be long and cruel. But here in the Northwest, where the season is short and sweet, mornings are deliciously cool, afternoons are hot and bright and the twilight is long and slow and luxurious.

    I can’t bear to waste a minute so I take my cup of coffee out to meet the sun and I’m there to watch the moon rise. And one by one these beautiful days go by while I sit and watch, and think of children whose hair smelled of green grass and lavender shampoo.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Celebrating the Seasons at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   Just today, the rattle of someone pulling a boat and trailer, bouncing over the patched pavement of the street in front of my house, was a familiar and significant sound. I know it well.  And I know what it means. When neighbors start bringing home the boats and campers, when outdoor toys are put away so that winter tools and gear can take their place, I know we’ve really reached the end of Summer at the Lake season.

   Every place I’ve ever lived has claimed bragging rights for being the lake-loving mecca. But the truth is, wherever there is a lake to get away to, and most states have plenty of them, people will get there. Cabins become family heirlooms, passed down and cherished, and a unique culture—peculiar to that particular place—grows and evolves.

   I’ve been thinking about this since I spent Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin exploring historic Elkhart Lake. First settled in the 1860s, Elkhart Lake boomed in the 1870s when the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad added a stop at the downtown depot. At its peak, more than 2,000 visitors arrived each week, pouring into the sprawling resorts that built up at the edge of the lake. By 1894, Elkhart Lake was a true village.
Today Siebken’s Resort, the Osthoff Resort and the towering Victorian Village are all built on the bones of those earlier hotels and summer resorts.

   Late one afternoon we climbed onto a pontoon boat and circled the scenic glacial lake as our guide filled us in on the unique history of the community.

   The beautiful spring-fed, rock-lined, glacial lake covers almost 300 acres. Just over 120 feet deep at its deepest point, Elkhart Lake is ringed by Wisconsin forest. Most of the homes and summer cottages have remained in families for generations. While its history is uniquely American—Speakeasys, road races and summer stock theater—there is a quaint European vibe that reflects the German heritage of early developers.

   I’m sure Elkhart Lake is a great place at the height of summer, but I was glad to be there at that particular moment. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of lake season in most places. But that only means the summer crowds go away. The lake never closes. And, of course, neither do the resorts that surround it. By visiting in September, I was able to appreciate the beauty without the bustle of the busiest time of year.

   As we circled the lake, passing vintage cottages, picturesque boathouses and an occasional rambling mansion tucked behind the trees, I could see that the seasonal cabins were being swept and cleaned and closed. Boats were back in the small boathouses that perched over the water’s edge.  Thoughts were turning to autumn bonfires and, soon enough, ice skates and snow shoes.

   That is my favorite time at any lake. Sure, summer is fun, but there is something special about the silence of other months. When it’s possible to have the sunrise and sunset to yourself, with enough quiet time to think and reflect. Soon enough, the snow will fall, then melt. The birds will fly away and then return. And before we know it the summer at the lake will start all over again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Under a Starlit Sky

     It’s been a long time since I was invited to a backyard campout. My 
children are old enough to get in the car and go to a campground with 
friends when they feel like it. Or, to take a climb into the wilderness and do 
some serious backpacking without me. So when my youngest, the only one 
left at home full-time, pitched a tent in the backyard and threw in a sleeping
 bag for me, I crawled right in.


    It’s funny how a landscape you know so well changes at night. Lying
 in the dark, looking up at the stars, the world is a very different place.


     Suddenly, ordinary neighborhood sounds become foreign and exotic.
The dogs, stretching and shuffling in their sleep in the grass beside us. The
 whispery footsteps of the cats as they prowl in the shadows, sniffing around
 the tent, chasing bugs in the hedgerow. The Amtrak train pulling into the
 downtown station, as it does in the wee hours of every morning, sounded
 closer. The hollow sound of cars on the road and solitary footsteps on the 
sidewalk in the darkness.


    My daughter and I lay there, side by side, snuggled into sleeping
 bags and cocooned in the narrow tent. The clouds scudded across the 
moon. We watched satellites track and airplanes blink as they passed.


    Occasionally, one of us would point to the place where a shooting star had just streaked, already a memory. And we talked.


    Just days away from her 15th birthday, she has a lot on her mind.
One year of high school behind her, three more ahead. She’s beginning to
 think about college and leaving home. I’m starting to think about a life with 
no more children in the house.


    Darkness is a good cover for things you need to talk about but just
 don’t get around to, or can’t find the courage to tackle when the sun is
 shining. Words whispered on pillows, indoors or out, carry great power. 
I lay there, listening, offering advice when I had it and comfort when I
 could.


    As we talked, thinking about all we were both leaving unsaid, I 
realized once again that growing up, like growing old, takes guts. Neither is
 easy to do. Either way there’s a lot to think about. And, in the right place, at
 the right time, with the right person, a lot to talk about, too.


    There were longer silences between us until finally, I heard the slow,
deep breathing that told me she was asleep.


    I lay there, dozing, lost in my own thoughts, until the birds announced the coming sunrise.


    At daybreak I crawled out of the tent and she followed a bit later. The 
thread of conversation was put away, like yarn wrapped around knitting 
needles, to be pulled out again on another night starry night.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be
heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the
author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The Last of the Firsts

I picked up my youngest daughter from camp yesterday. This year, she wasn't a camper. She was a counselor-in-training.  She spent almost two weeks away, learning to think and act like a counselor. It's a big transition with a lot of responsibility. Growing up is sometimes hard to do.

As we gathered up her things and drove home, I was reminded of the first time she went away to camp. I wrote a column about that, too. It was first published on July 4, 2005…

I just want all these firsts to last forever

Cheryl-anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
July 4, 2005
 

My youngest child, the little one, went away to camp for the first time this summer. It was a big milestone. There were a few tears and there was a lot of separation anxiety. For me, anyway. As far as I can tell, my daughter is doing just fine.

I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time adjusting to her absence – the longest we’ve ever been apart – it’s not like I haven’t already sent three other children off to camp for the first time. I’ve been here before. I know she will have a wonderful experience. And I’ll survive. And we’ll both look forward to the next time.

But, you see, I can’t forget that this is my last child and that means every first is also the last.

One of the sweetest, least complicated, rewards of parenting is the pleasure of being the one who opens the door to a wide, wonderful world for a child.

Just as I did for my other children, I held my youngest child and dipped her toes in the ocean and showed her the mountains for the first time. I read the first poem and sang the first song she ever heard. I fed her ice cream, and peaches and chocolate for the first time.

She is almost 10 years old. We’ve passed first words, first steps, first birthday and first grade, forever. She’s gotten her first bicycle, and her first stitches.

I know it sounds melodramatic. I know there are still so many firsts to look forward to. She’ll move on to middle school and then high school. Then, all too soon, there will be a first date, first kiss, and the first broken heart. She’ll take that first drive, and before we know it, move away for that first day of college. She’ll get her first job, her first house or apartment and, perhaps, her first child.

She has a lifetime of firsts ahead of her, but more and more, what she will do and learn and experience won’t involve me.

Now, she is striding confidently out into the world, and I’m the one taking baby steps. I won’t be able to keep up.

She will be home in a few days. And when I pick her up I suspect we’ll both be a little more independent, a little more grown-up.

My daughter went away to camp and I cried. But it wasn’t just the thought of a long week without her that brought tears to my eyes. It was the reminder that the little girl who dropped my hand – the hand she had been clinging to – and ran off to play with her new friends, is my last child, and my last chance to get it right.

She is my last chance to see life for the first time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Summer wings

 
It's officially the last day of school, in my household at least. Although the weather hasn't cooperated, I'm looking forward to slowing down. To long walks and time to think. To watching little girls ride bicycles…
 
First published June, 2008

It was the best part of a summer day: When the long, cool twilight winds us down; when light plays with shadows and night moves up, painting the edges of the horizon. When the moon chases the sun across the sky.

When stars appear and the air is heavy with the perfume of red roses and green grass and hamburgers cooked on the grill. When cats pounce on imaginary prey and dogs bark, passing the word that the day is done.

I walked my own silly dogs, walking off a long day at work, walking off my dinner and shaking off the weight of everything that had settled on me since I opened my eyes that morning. They strained at their leashes, pulling me forward. I pulled back, dawdling, distracted by the scenes in the windows of the houses I passed. Golden windows that gave me glimpses of other lives. Other interiors.
I heard voices and looked up to see her coming toward me, riding under the branches of the tall shade trees that line the boulevard.

She was astride a shiny new bicycle. A helmet was strapped under her chin, her hands gripped the handlebars and her skinny legs pumped the pedals. Her face was tight with concentration.
Her father, home from work, still dressed in his crisp white shirt and dark trousers, trotted behind her. His arms were outstretched, ready to catch her if she lost control and crashed.
She raced down the sidewalk, passing me as I stopped on the pavement to watch, and was gone. Her father tossed a smile as he ran past.

Maybe it was the time of day, the shadowy, magical part of the day when time is fluid and plays tricks on us; when what was and what is stop for an instant and exchange glances. Perhaps it was my mood, tinged with violet like the evening sky.
But for a heartbeat, I was that little girl. For an instant I was 6 years old. I could feel the handlebars in my hands, and the pedals against the soles of my shoes.
The world rushed by me as I flew down the streets of my neighborhood, leaning into the curves as the wind tangled in my hair. I had wings. I had wheels. I was free to push myself as far as I dared to go, yet I was still safe. If I fell, there was someone there to save me.
The man and the child rounded the corner and were gone, heading home. My dogs, impatient with the delay, tugged at their leads, anxious to travel. They had things to see before calling it a day.

I walked on, but my mind was light years away. I was a girl on a bike. I was a mother, my heart in my throat, watching a child, wobbling and weaving, navigate the world without training wheels.

I could see who I had been. What escaped me, is who I have become.

And then, just as night settled around me, it was clear: I’m still a bit of both. I still have my wings. I still have my wheels.

And if I fall? I pick myself up.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at cherylannemillsap@gmail.com
 
 

Family Magic

Family Magic

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to PINCH

Jan 20, 2010

     One of the things I loved most about the Harry Potter books when my children were reading them, was the idea that photographs in newspapers, books and magazines were living images. The people in the magical photos moved, coming and going, talking, laughing and smiling at whoever was looking at them.

      Sometimes, when I walk past the framed black-and-white and sepia-toned photos that hang on my bedroom wall, I think about that. They are, for the most part, snapshots and portraits of my children taken when they were very young.  And most, although I’ve only just realized it, were taken in summer.

      I remember the moment each was taken…

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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