Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Partridge in a Bare Tree

On the fifth day before Christmas, I loaded my truck to "give". Home-made wreaths were snuggled in the bed, teddy bears and dolls filled a big bag, and Christmas cassette tapes lined a basket. Yes, I was going to give all this away, but mind you, most of it was left-over. The wreaths were no-sells from my sale (see blog post below: A Tribute to Old Blue), the stuffed animals were like-new garage sale discards, and the Christmas music cassettes were replaced by CDs. No skin off my back except for the time I put into making the wreaths, a few supplies, and some bucks dropped at garage sales last summer.

I didn't know where I was going with this load except that I was thinking about people who had health issues piled on top of economic woes. The road I live on in the suburbs heads straight into the inner-city. The 12 miles should have been an easy drive, but I was feeling very uneasy. Where am I going? Why do I think people in the city would want these wreaths? Why am I afraid? Why do I feel foolish? Why in hell is it so hard to give to people that I am feeling something for? The only thing I liked about the drive was its sense of adventure.

Nearly a half-hour down the road I noticed a building with big letters on its side, something like Family Health Center. I turn into the parking lot thinking this is a really stupid idea. There weren't many cars in the lot and I didn't see a single person. Why am I here? "OK, just pull up in front of the entrance," something was directing me. "Now, get out of the truck," it persisted while I wanted to hide. So now what? There is still nobody around. "OK, walk around to the back end of the truck and put down the gate." I followed these silly directions while it seemed like I was the only person outdoors in the whole city that winter day.

Whoa!! The gate came down and the people came out... from buildings, cars, and taxi-cabs. I invited them to select a wreath assuring them that they were free. As they reached into the truck to pick out their personal favorite, I was stunned with their pleasure. In the urban greyness, these coils twisted with branches from my dying spruce tree and adorned with big red bows, looked magnificent; 100 times better than they had in my wooded suburban yard. These simple rings entwined with prickly spruce needles curved the complex, worried creases out of the recipients' faces and weaved them into awe-struck smiles. Meanwhile, the stuffed animals were shuffled through, finding new homes in the arms of gleeful young caregivers. I felt like Santa when a woman in a well-worn coat and missing her two front teeth came straight up to me with a specific request, "Do you have Oh Holy Night with no singing, just the music?" I filled her wish with a cassette tape that hadn't been played for years at home. In 10 minutes, even before the security guards arrived to see what was the flurry, everything was gone, gone in a hurry. How much easier can giving get?

What about receiving? Sometimes I feel hesitant about receiving---especially in accumulating more unnecessary stuff, and gifts perhaps given out of obligation. The parking lot wreath exchange was different. I joyfully accepted the unexpected robust hugs, the "God bless you, ma'am!" and "Merry Christmas" wishes. These givers waited in line, and I am not kidding you, to give me hugs! I made an enormous haul at this gift exchange.

So with the last bit of green from a dying, half-naked Blue Spruce tree, I drove myself into the scary woods of urbanocity. It was a poorly planned adventure, but very enriching. That's where true love gave to me......and I saw a partridge in a bare tree.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Tribute to Old Blue

A Tribute Looking for Warmth

Self-serve Christmas Wreath Stand

Painting of Old Blue Guarding Our Home

Do you see the painting of the cabin above? Look at the tall Blue Spruce to the left of the door. That is the tree that has guarded the front door of our home since we moved in 26 years ago. It is one of the reasons why we bought the house. We use to bend beneath it's branches to enter the little cabin, our first home. It watched us bring home two new-born babies. It guarded their growth and all our family's activities to and fro, beneath it's wings, for 26 years. Early on, as the family grew, we added on to the little cabin, ultimately building a large home in a U-shape around Blue Spruce. We thought we were preserving it, but we may have helped contribute to its demise......building too closely and smothering it to death. We thrived, and it died.

Sadly, this week we had to cut it down as 2/3 of it had already died. Two tree specialists from Savory Tree Service in Toledo, Matt and Brian, did a great job dropping this 70 foot giant so that it didn't go through the roof or windows. I pruned the green branches and my husband salvaged firewood, determined not to waste any bit of this friend. (see middle photo....self-serve Christmas wreath sales stand on our side-porch). As the tree specialists held their chain saws over the last section of felled trunk, it dawned on me how to pay my respects to this oldster.

The image was clear in my mind. I ran up to Matt and shouted over the noisy saws, "Wait! Could you just leave this section lay as it is, and plane the top couple of inches off instead?" Matt was skilled with the saw and smiled when I invited him to do the chainsaw art. In five minutes I had an eight foot bench which nobody was going to move - ever! The trunk had homed itself right next to its stump, on an inviting angle to the front door. I further suggested that the remaining stump be leveled off. Now I have a table at one end of the bench!

In the spring when it warms up, I will sand the bench and table and protect them with a sealant.......maybe. What I really look forward to doing is sitting on the bench. I want to watch the tulips break through the earth near its base. I want to use its table to hold my cup and give thanks for the 26 years of wellness we've had as it stood over us. Maybe Old Blue will feel honored that my little bottom is warming its big heart-wood. Ya think?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Girlfullness Goes Whitewater Kayaking

Cheryl receiving instruction from Eric on the Youghiogheny River in SW Pennsylvania

Maria focusing on her next move

Cheryl enters the rapids with Tara coaching

Devin surfing a wave

Cheryl and Devin resting in an eddy

"Hi, I understand there is a whitewater kayaking trip this weekend.....I thought I might come along!," I playfully exclaimed as I entered my son Devin's classroom at Ohio University where he is a second-year student. It was fun to see the students turn in union with surprised expressions and chuckles when they heard this voice projected from the doorway. It was more fun to watch them rotate toward the front of the room in anticipation of how their professor would respond to this unannounced guest. It was most fun to watch this respected, middle-age professor at the head of the class stammer, "Well......well....well I suppose that would be alright."

This was not the scenario I expected when Devin invited me to come to class with him Thursday afternoon. Our plans to spend the weekend together got shipwrecked when he was required to attend a 3-day whitewater kayaking trip over Parent's Weekend, but we were satisfied with having Thursday afternoon and Friday morning together. I explained to the professor that I was just kidding when I suggest that I come along. He said he felt bad that he had planned this trip before he realized it was Parent's Weekend, and assured me that it would be ok since the class wasn't full. Wow! Now I am surprised!

Friday morning I did a one-stop shopping spree at the local thrift shop to outfit myself with water shoes, swimsuit, and non-cotton clothing. The professor, Mr. D, and his assistants had already loaded a kayak, paddle, helmet, skirt, wetsuit, life vest, and tent for me. I climbed aboard at 1 pm as a passenger in one of two vans loaded with students and graduate assistants. An unplanned adventure ahead....all because I dared to be girlfully playful! This youthful feeling was supported by the welcome I received by some of the students who were amused that I actually wanted to come. They laughed at the thought of their moms white-water kayaking. I did wonder to myself why there were only 2 girls in this class.

I had never been whitewater kayaking before but felt excited about expanding my skills. I had some experience in big water like ocean bays and Great Lake shorelines, but most of my limited time in kayaking the last two years has been in small inland lakes and slow rivers. Now I would get familiar with different styles of kayaks and kayaking, have a guided trip to another area of the country, receive hands-on instruction with talented and confident instructors, extend my camping season with a full moon to boot, and savor time with my son without cell phones and campus commotion.

We travelled to southwestern Pennsylvania and set up camp on the shore of the Youghiogheny River. Saturday morning we suited up and I was thankful that one of the female students, Cassie, who has taken a class before, offered me a special shirt to wear for warmth under the wetsuit. We spent most of the day on the river. We learned to ferry across fast water; to eddy-in where there was safe, quiet water behind boulders; to peel out or eddy-out into the fast, riled current with intent and focus; to surf a wave with finesse, not power; to use the hips, knees and paddles to face gaping, roaring holes; and most importantly how to muster the courage to face it all again after recovering from a few long seconds upside down underwater.

On Sunday we practiced it all again. Maria, another female student, had never been in a kayak before this trip. She rolled with the dozens of unintended Eskimo rolls, smiling more as she gained proficiency and confidence. I admired her courage. I was admired in turn by Tara, a female instructor, who complimented me on my efforts to try something new and thought it was so cool that I came along. I admit, I was scared alot, and often.

I am grateful to Mr. D for taking a chance on an woman whose skills he did not know, to the instructors for patiently sharing their expertise and keeping me and my son safe, and to my son, Devin, for his bravery not only on the river but also on land where he could have been ridiculed by his peers for letting his mom hang out with him all weekend.

Also I am thankful for the students' exuberant and courageous spirits which brought me a little closer to my own youthfulness. I am thankful for my general fitness which let me enjoy 3 days of unplanned activity and lead a 17-mile hike on Monday morning after 4 hours of sleep. This is a lot to be thankful for, but really, to play, like decades ago, in a brilliantly authentic and absorbing manner, with curiosity and courage..... this is the gift. This is girlfullness and its' spirit runs deep and clear. Peel out, girls!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oak Openinigs Backpacking Opens Lives

"I have a problem, I never put up a tent before," confessed Darlene, age 56, on the other end of the line. I assured her that's what the weekend adventure was for -- beginners. Another caller asked, "What do we do if it rains while we are hiking?" My one word response "walk" hung in silence until this 47 year old decided she would check the weather again and call me back.
These were some of the concerns the women brought with them when we gathered Saturday morning, October 20, at Oak Openings Preserve ( to stage our two-day backpacking trip.
Eight of us, ages 12 to 57, met at the park and after a discussion about opportunities in backpacking, hostelling travel (the weekend was co-sponsored by Hostelling International,, using Metropark trails for fitness and pleasure, safety, and the weekend's itinerary, we were fitted with gear. Two hours later, our packs fully equipped with tents, sleeping bags, pads, food, mess-kit, stove, first-aid and other supplies, we excitedly hit the trail fully self-contained. A short two-day trip meant we were only carrying 25 to 30 pounds each, but we did have longer average daily distances than what most beginners would attempt, 8 to 9 miles instead of 5 to 7 miles. This allowed us to complete the entire historic 17-mile scout trail plus an additional leg to our remote camping spot.
So how did it go? The mileage went fast the first day as we talked while we walked in order to learn about our new friends. After lunch at Evergreen Lake, the kids and one of the moms were climbing trees....a good indication that there was easily enough reserve to get to camp and set-up tents before dark. After pitching the four two-man tents in the pines, we built a cook fire. Burritos packed with black beans, rice, cheese and fresh cilantro were accented by candlelight for dinner and the campfire toasted our sticky dessert perfectly, enticing us to eat
"s'more". What was most eerie.....the coyote-like call in the nearby woods, the scary story, or the noise back by the outhouse?
There was less talking on Sunday and more focus on completing mileage. We took breaks while LaRae, a naturalist, spoke about the unique features and habitat of the globally-rare Oak Openings. Lunch put hikers flat out on the grass with bare-feet perched over backpacks. But no complaints! I'm proud of you ladies!
Everyone finished in great shape with a potpourri of memorable experiences:
Emma talked her mom, Barb, into sleeping without the fly over the tent so they could view the stars; McKinzie liked the gnome-home deep in the pines; Stephanie had the strength to carry extra gear for others; Darlene slept in a tent and sleeping bag for the first time; Mary still had enough energy to attend swim practice Sunday night; LaRae enhanced everyone's experience with her knowledge of the Oak Opening Preserve; and Cheryl? Well, I had another delightful chance to see women accomplish something they had never done before, and find themselves living simply and closely with the land. Oh, by the way, can you believe one of these ladies had never roasted marshmallows over an open-fire? Ah, the simple life!
Group photo around sign (left to right):
Darlene Dunn, Barb Cubbon-Beale, Emma Beale,
Mary Ensman, Stephanie Micham,
McKinzie Smith, LaRae Sprow, Cheryl McCormick

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Frog Town

Lately I have been doing a lot of work helping home owners close their water gardens for the winter. The plants have to be cut back, debris cleaned off the bottom or drained completely, the filter and pump cleaned and stored properly, and the water garden covered with a net if there are a lot of deciduous trees nearby. This can be a mucky job and I guess that is one reason why people hire me. But I have been enjoying the work. The owners often help or visit with me while I work; sharing their lives, their gardens, and sometimes their homes and home-made cookies! But even if nobody is around I always have company.
Frogs. I can't believe the numbers. They don't seem too worried about me invading their habitat, and once they get accustomed to me will even come closer and watch me work. They are usually green frogs (rana clamitans melanota) but on occasion, if there is a nearby farm pond, I will find bullfrogs (rana catesbeiana). Last week there were 3 bullfrogs nearly the length of my boot in one pond, but I didn't have my camera with me to show you. The easiest way to distinuish between a green frog and a bullfrog, besides a bullfrog being nearly twice the size of a green frog (up to 6 in. compared to 2 1/4 - 3 1/2 in.), the green frog has two pronounced ridges down the length of its back. The green frog will utter a short, high pitched cry when it is disturbed and jumps. When I entered that pond last week with the bullfrogs, they stayed put and looked like baby alligator heads mixed in the lily pads and rocks.
The pond owners are delighted to have frogs in their backyard habitat. They usually have fish which they have purchased but none of owners have intentionally put tadpoles or frogs in their water gardens. So where do all the frogs come from? Well, Toledo isn't called Frog Town for nothin'! Toledo is in Northwest Ohio, site of the Great Black Swamp. This is a glacially-caused wetland, which has been drained and mostly converted to farm land in the last 120 years. There are still some natural swamps, marshes and creeks, plus miles of man-made drainage ditches and hundreds of farm, recreational, and drainage ponds. These all provide habitat for frogs and nearly every backyard is within 1/2 mile of one of these. Those rainy days and nights help the frogs migrate through wet lawns. Also, frog eggs may have been deposited by birds which visit the water gardens or attached to plants which the home owner purchased and placed in their water garden. The only complaint I ever hear about the frogs is that it sometimes is too noisy to sleep with so many frogs calling on warm spring nights. Wouldn't you enjoy staying awake for that symphony? I bet water gardeners in drought-ridden States would.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Chicago Marathon was Hot!

If you haven't heard and have any interest in marathons, you will hear that today's 26.2 mile race in Chicago was one that broke many records, but they weren't time related. It was a record breaking scorcher of 87 degrees and high humidity. Runners were begging for water and walking as early as 5 miles into the race. I saw many leave the course in Lincoln Park to stand in line at a public drinking fountain, and others left the course for a few splashes to wet their heads at an ornamental fountain and they still had 21 miles to go. It was tough day for the 45,000 runners and not so easy either for the 1.5 million spectators on the sunny sidelines. I rode bicycle along most of the course but was stalled often due to the crowd and never connected with Livia, my daughter, until she was finished.
Livia crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 8 minutes, a very respectable time in the best of conditions, but she really wanted to break 4 hours. In the last mile of her run, she heard the police tell the runners to walk, that it was just a fun run. Livia couldn't understand why in hell they would call this run fun, and determined to complete it with the gumption she had given it the previous 25 miles, ignored their plea to walk. She didn't realize that the race had been canceled due to so many emergency calls and lack of water on the course. They diverted slower runners through a huge short-cut and Livia couldn't figure out why so many runners were coming in to the finish line from the opposite direction. It got very confusing; runners were collapsing left and right. One of Livia's friends who was watching the race near mile 21, caught a woman who collapsed in his arms and observed 4 others fall nearby. I honestly didn't see anybody collapse but I was near the front of the group where perhaps the runners were better trained and had access to more water to drink and pour over themselves. I stopped twice while riding my bicycle to help give water to runners which was hurriedly made available with hoses running out of local restaurants. The runners looked like they had been roaming the desert for days, and I couldn't believe that nearly every one of them thanked us.
I want to catch the news soon to get the details. All in all, I think it was a great event, with thousands of volunteers, cheering crowds, polite and friendly spectators, an unbelievable force of determined athletes, in a remarkable city along the shore of Lake Michigan. I hope the news doesn't mar my appreciation of this record-breaking marathon, a hot one for sure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

17 Mile Hike

What a day! Five women, ages 26 to 63, completed the 17 mile scout trail at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Toledo, and one woman walked 8 miles.
The pace was steady, but the rain was steadier. It was hard to talk over the rain sometimes, but there was a lot of conversation and laughter which helped the miles roll. The exception was the last 2 miles in which each of us seemed to be holding our whines about tired legs, wet bodies, and general weariness to ourselves. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" prevailed.
The trees didn't offer much color on this first day of October, but we couldn't overlook the color of the fungus which Karolina posed next to.
We all finished strong, cheers and high-fives extended (and one low-dive from Patty!), completing early enough in the day (2:40 pm) and with enough energy to enjoy the afternoon at home in the SUN! Karolina (from Poland) and Jenny (from Ireland) were not planning on missing their Latin dance lesson in the evening. I'd say they were cramming a lot of culture into one day....spending 6 hours during the day walking 17 miles with a group of wild American women in the forests, floodplains, and prairies of the globally-rare Oak Openings region, and moving to a different rhythm in the evening dancing with Latino friends to the rumba, samba and salsa. Isn't life refreshing when we step out!
Congratulations (in order of descending age!) to Judy, Patty, Mary, Karolina, and Jenny.....I sure enjoyed spending the day with women who demonstrate Out is In! and Fitness is Fun!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Training for the Chicago Marathon

The Chicago Marathon is coming up on October 7th. My daughter Livia, who lives in Chicago, decided several months ago to do it. She has kept a very rigorous training schedule all summer. I know she just completed a 20-mile training run last weekend. She said it was fun because a large group did this run, and some of the course passed along the shores of Lake Michigan. There was music and food afterwards, but I don't think it would be worth the effort even if there was a lot of chocolate!
I want to show you these photos I shot of Livia when she was Up-North in Michigan with us at the end of August. I know Livia has been training hard, but does anyone have the right to look this good after running 13 miles on hilly, dirt roads in 85 degree heat?
This won't be her first marathon. She did one in the spring of 2004, in Tennessee, I think. And she did another one before that in which I remember the date and location very well. It was in May, in London, in 1982. She was born 5 months later. You don't have to be an obstetrician to figure whose legs hauled her across the 26 miles of cobbled, pub-lined streets of London-town. And if you can't figure this, I will tell you for certain, that those legs never, ever did it again!
But I am forever thankful that they carried her for 9 months, and it is certain that those ol' legs will be dancing a jig in Chicago-land when Livia McCormick crosses the finish line October 7 th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Paddling Festival

I attended The Hiawatha Paddling Festival last weekend. As I'm just beginning to get into coastal kayaking (ocean and Great Lakes), I thought it would be useful to learn more about it in a fun, safe way. This event was held in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Les Cheneaux Islands of Lake Huron. Jessie Hadley, owner of Woods & Water Ecotours, organized the event, and she did a great job. There were very good instructors, a wonderful place to stay on the shore of a bay, good food, and a program packed with learning about gear, first-aid and survival, and fitness exercises for paddlers. The evenings had enjoyable and informative programs about nature and kayak-travel, music, sauna, and campfire.
Hands-on, we learned paddle strokes and rescues. Of course the rescues meant getting in the 57 degree water; even with a neoprene wet suit, it was chilly. Jessie loaned me a sea kayak, 17 feet long and very skinny, much different than my wide, tanky Hobie. So I got to ride waves higher than I'm accustomed to on the small inland lakes and that skinny sea kayak handled them well.

There were more women than men at this event. What intrigues me about this group though, is that the majority of participants chose to camp when the fee for indoor accommodations was only $12 more per night. And we had cold nights, one with frost. I didn't hear any complaining in the mornings; just suiting up to jump in the cold water. Awesome outdoorsy people, this kayaking lot. Guess they know, out is in, even if it's in cold water!

Photos: Jessie Hadley, owner of Woods & Water Ecotours, with her kayak trailer.
Prentiss Bay on Lake Huron where Hiawatha Paddle Festival was held.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Walk in the Weather

Mary, Peggy, and I were spending some time together Up-North in Michigan. We decided to walk to the site of the eagle's nest which they had never seen. You can drive there by dirt road from the house which would be a 6-mile round trip. We wanted a little more adventure, so we agreed to take the trails through the state forest. Since I don't know my way through the forest, except to lead by compass with a south and easterly bearing, and the maps don't have these trails marked, I could not inform them of what distance to expect. The brave souls still agreed to go.

We walked with several layers of clothing, rain gear, binoculars, raisins and energy bars. The weather got warm, it got cool. It got sunny, it got drenchy. It got calm, it got windy. It even got sunny and rainy and windy and calm all at the same time. We went up-hill, down-hill; we added clothing, took off clothing. We turned right, we turned left (we turned wrong also!). We walked through dry sand and muddy puddles. At one point Mary complimented Peggy on being so positive and non-whiny. Mary admitted to whining because she didn't like walking "aimlessly." I corrected that we weren't aimless; we were heading in a south and easterly direction.
After 3 1/2 hours I finally recognized an intersection of 2 dirt roads. Now, in a pouring rain, we had a decision. Should we continue walking further in a south easterly direction to the nest, or should we take the direct route home? It was Mary who most emphatically wanted to continue, since we weren't aimlessly "lost" any longer!
I had seen the eagle's nest three times in the last year, and it was always active with adults and young. Guess what......this time there were no eagles; there was only a skeleton of a nest. You could still see the framework of it's original 10 ft. span in the crown of a dead tree perched high above the surrounded forest, meadow, and wetlands. What I like about Mary and Peggy, is that they weren't disappointed, but appreciative of the remaining stick structure, advantageous site, and remote location.
Tired and ready to return home, we turned north-westerly and took the shortest route. We were nearly home when we saw an eagle fly over. We laughed. We could have stayed home, sipping "tea" on the covered porch, with our dry feet propped up, our heads and backs supported by hammocks, casually gazing into the sky and maybe, maybe notice the eagle fly over. But NO outdoorsy women would do that. Outdoorsy women walk 5 hours and 12 miles through 3 seasons of weather on a September afternoon and bring back wet feet, tired bodies, and experiential memories to know what, you may ask? To know that the eagle flew over the cuckoo's nest!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mackinac Bridge Walk

Fifty-seven thousand people, myself included, walked across the Mackinac Bridge last Monday, Labor Day. Labor Day is the only day each year in which walkers are allowed on the bridge. We start at the north end of the 5 mile bridge span in St. Ignace, Michigan and walk to the south terminal in Mackinaw City. Even though it is up-hill the first half of the walk, and down-hill the second, you don't notice the change much as it is amusing to watch all the people......big and little, young and old, abled and disabled. What I was most excited about though, were the 50 swimmers which were allowed this year, one for each year since the bridge was built in 1957. The 5 mile distance and cold water are grand considerations, but I don't imagine they expected such a current. Even though the Straits (water area between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron) was relatively calm, the swimmers were stroking at a diagonal in order to swim parallel to the bridge. It was amazing to watch them come in. Congratulations to all walkers and swimmers!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Lingering at Hall Road Bridge

My husband, Dan, and I completed a 13 mile kayak day-trip on the Thunder Bay River in northern Michigan, exiting at the Hall Road Bridge. Earlier we had spotted a bicycle at the take-out next to the bridge, and while Dan rode the bike back to the car I had some time to linger.

I walked out to the center of the bridge on Hall Road, a little-used dirt road surrounded by state forest. I don't know what got into me, but it sure looked like it would be fun to jump off the bridge into the fast current which winnowed through the narrow culvert under the bridge. I decided the 12 foot jump would be foolish, not knowing if there were rocks below the current and no one to help if needed. Damn, if I didn't hear that nagging old voice, "Get serious Cheryl, you don't have the courage anyway."
I stepped back from the edge and noticed far down the road a group of 5 people walking abreast. It was a slow, lazy, summer stroll and as they finally got close enough I could see 5 teenage girls with towels wrapped around their waists. Well, at least I will be able to go swimming safely in the company of others, I assured myself. But instead, these rough-talking, spit-chucking girls walked to the center of the bridge where they made themselves comfortable resting on the guard rail. After a few minutes of lively and loud banter, 3 of them took off their towels and without much hesitation jumped into the river. They must have seen the glee on my face because they asked me if I would like to do it. "M a y b e......" , I coward. "You can get between us. We will hold your hand and jump together," the girl who spat the most figured. Not wanting to give up all control, I suggested that I just stand at the jump-off point and try it alone. So I was alone, on the edge. Two girls were below in the water to catch me, two girls were at the top to coach me, and one girl had my camera to get a shot. It looked more scary now that I was actually prepping myself for a jump. I hee-hawed around, until the girl who spat the most shouted, "Come on! You only live once!" I don't know why that remark from some young person who didn't even know me pissed me off, but it made me decide that I wasn't going to go to bed that night and feel disappointed that I didn't jump. So I sent myself off the edge, not a forceful leap but a step into a youthful burst of fun. It seemed like I would never hit the water. They caught me, pulling me from the center of the current, cheered, and gave me hugs. Then they led me by the hand through the slick culvert and fast current under the bridge to the other side where we played in the current. They were so sweet, protective and fun, their natural selves, I'm sure.
Still there were two girls who hadn't jumped yet, the two who spat the least. They wanted to do it and held hands at the jump-off point. For ten minutes they approached the edge, looked over it, backed up, chanted one-two-three, and went nowhere. Getting tired of this routine and shivering in the water below as one of the catchers, I finally hollered, "Come on! You only live once. You're not going to wait until you are 57 to do this, are you?" That did it. They jumped...and they yelled much louder than I did! Group hug.
By the time my husband got back, I was all by myself again. I asked him how the bike ride was. He said he enjoyed a beautiful, quiet ride through the forest. I didn't doubt it. He asked me what I did while I waited for him. I told him I jumped off the bridge with a bunch of new girlfriends. He didn't doubt it. He must know something about girls!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Love is in the Air

This was not the easiest heart to catch from a floating inner tube with a pocket digital camera. It was easier catching my husband 35 years ago. Today, we celebrate our 35th anniversary and we are still enjoying blue skies!

So, what are these contortionist doing making hearts in the blue sky? It is a mating pair of damselflies. They can fly around like this too. Wouldn't that be fun....add a little spice to a relationship?

Do you know the difference between a damselfly and a dragonfly? They both are aquatic insects, with most of the 407 species in North America laying eggs and passing the larval stage in the water. The adults are often brightly colored, which is uncommon among aquatic insects. The adults can catch and eat their prey while flying around, and happily their most common food source are mosquitoes, black flies, and other biting flies.
The larvae look entirely different than the adults, kind of like a caterpillar to a butterfly. I haven't taken any photos of the larvae, even though I often find them in the water gardens. The illustration of the larvae is from A Guide to Commom Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by J. Reese Voshell.
The easiest way to tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly is to notice how they rest. The damselfly holds its wings together extended above the body and the dragonfly outstretches its wings from the side of the body. In flight, the damselfly is delicate and a more feeble flier. The dragonfly is bulkier and flies more boldly. They are both beautiful and will not hurt you.
This summer, while you visit a lake, pond, river, or water garden, be prepared if one of these beneficial insects lands on you, even consider keeping a magnifying glass close by. Hold still, look at its huge eyes with 10,000 facets, observe its lacy wings, and admire its colors. Maybe it will even turn it's head 360 degrees. Bet that's a lot further than any human has ever turned its head for you, even with love in the air!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Water Lily Time

I got into a few water gardens this week to take care of the plants, fix a waterfall, clean a filter, and adjust a fountain. The water is warm and it is very pleasant work, though some of it was challenging problem solving.

I would like to share with you some photos I shot while I was in the water garden at the Toledo Botanical Garden. These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago, but there are still many water lilies blooming. These are the hardy northern, as opposed to tropical, variety which bloom during the afternoon. I hope you will make time to visit the Toledo Botanical Garden. It has 60 acres of display gardens and plant collections, including perennial, aquatic, shade, daylily, cottage, vegetable, hosta, rose, English, and more. Much is in full bloom now. It is open daily, 8 am to 8 pm, and is free. For more information, check

Consider a garden stroll next time you want to get a little exercise. The quiet and beauty will nourish you, besides taking in all that good air for your lungs. Oh, if you do go to the Toledo Botanical Garden, be sure to see my baby.....the water garden next to the gazebo in the shaded woodland garden.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Done for Another Year

I'm done. I completed the Sylvania olympic length triathlon yesterday, the only one I do every year. I always feel relieved, lighter (literally), and healthier for it. The draw-back to this mid-August triathlon is the realization that there won't be many more days of simplified clothing, bare feet, and outdoor swimming. But I feel good!
I'm happy with my time (3:08:23) and with my recovery. I came in fourth in my age group and received a medal. I am thankful that I completed the event in the heat without complications, and I wasn't ashamed to walk when I felt too overheated to run. It was exciting to be with 900 athletes from 32 states, some of the athletes being world class. You can view the results at
So after a day of rest, it is time to scrub off the body markings, hang the medal, and get back to work. More so, I want to feel the still-warm earth under my bare feet without thinking about running, to swim the still-warm waters with all the joy and grace of a relaxed frame, and to reap the benefits of a stronger mind and body on whatever roads I cross.
It is so nice to be done, but not finished!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Amy says, "It's a Celebration"

Tomorrow is the triathlon. I always feel nervous before this event even though it is my eighth time. The weather is suppose to be in the upper 80's to mid-90's and humid. That makes it tougher for me since I have a problem dissipating heat. The 1 mile swim will be fine, the 26 mile bicycle can be tolerable with the air cooling the skin, but the run......I have decided to take an umbrella and walk the 6 miles if I have to.
I remember three years ago standing on the beach with hundreds of other athletes donning swim caps and goggles preparing for the start. Many were jumping and shaking, trying to stay warm in the 7:30 am coolness and release some nervous tension. I noticed one woman who appeared to be relaxed, with a smile gracing her pretty, 30-something face. It made sense to me that I should hang next to her and catch her vibes, like some kind of athletic strategy. I had seen her at some of the training swims and knew her name was Amy. Wanting to know her secret, I inquired, "Amy, don't you get nervous before these events?" She turned to me with a bigger smile and total confidence. "No," she replied. "This is the day I look forward to. This is a culmination of all the hard training I've done and now I can see what I can do. It's a celebration!"
Those few words have helped me get through some hard training runs and bike rides, but I intentionally pull them to the front of my mind when I'm nervously anticipating the start, when I am hitting the brick in transition from the bike to the run, and especially on the run when I am most tired and wanting to quit. Then I hear Amy coming up behind me on the run. I know it is Amy even before I see her. It is a springy, higher pitched sound I hear, different than the heavy thud of a running shoe. Amy has one leg and a substitute prosthesis for the other. You may find that inspiring, but you really should see her joyful bounce and hear her cheerful reminder when she passes me by, "It's a celebration Cheryl!" That's the pull I need. Thanks, Amy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Kayaks and Fear's been working out pretty well this summer. I've had two girlfriends visit me up-north on two different occasions, both who said they would never get in a kayak.

Eve, 56, came from London where she has lived for 30 years. She had some kind of mishap in a boat when she was young and she thought she was going to drown. She was yellin' scared about going in the kayak when I suggested it.

Mary Jo, 57, the best stay-at-home mom of five lovely, now-grown children, has never had an interest in the outdoors and hates bugs, birds, and anything else that moves in the natural world (we ask ourselves how we could be friends for 38 years). It is amazing that she agreed to come to my house up-north in the "wild" and more, to try out the kayak.

Look at these women! City Girl and Super Mom both got out there......and each went kayaking again by themselves, with no prompting. They became very relaxed on the water. Watch 'em, soon they'll have their feet up like me in my blue roller. Mary Jo even got brave
enough to sit outside in the "wild" to watch the sun set. Bravo, Ladies!