Outer Banks

Tears streamed down my face as I huddled in my corner of the backseat of our wood-paneled station wagon. I was crying as quietly as I could, not wanting to attract concerned attention from my parents, or ridicule from my two younger brothers. As the car sped north and west—across the causeway to the mainland, away from the Atlantic Ocean and toward my western Pennsylvania home—I was convinced that my 12-year-old heart would break.

The Best Week of the Year had come to an end.


I was nine years old the first time my family vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That first year, it was me, my parents, my two younger brothers, and the family of a man my dad worked with. Three years later, my dad’s three brothers and their families had joined us on what would become an annual pilgrimage and a de facto family reunion.

Every year, we journeyed to Kill Devil Hills, to The Cavalier by the Sea motel at milepost 8.5 of Beach Road. It was a week I looked forward to all year, when I would reconnect with cousins who were so cool, they probably would never notice me in the school hallways if (a) we lived near each other and (b) were not related.


A typical day in my life during the Best Week of the Year went something like this:

The aromas of brewing coffee and frying bacon would greet me when I awoke, mixing with the scents of saltwater and Coppertone suntan lotion.

I would emerge from my bedroom, hair hastily combed, swimsuit on, to find Mom and Dad sitting in bamboo chairs at the Formica table of the main room, finishing breakfast and watching morning TV. My bare feet would shuffle across the grainy, sandy texture of air-conditioned linoleum. After slurping up a bowl of cereal, I would be out the door, a brightly colored beach towel slung around my neck.

A quick stop at the pool in the courtyard to see who was already swimming, and I’d continue on, under the archway and onto the beach. Stumbling across the already hot sand toward the crashing waves of the Atlantic, I would drop my towel next to the cluster of beach umbrellas where my tribe had already set up camp for the week.

nags-head-family-picUncle Mike and Aunt Mary would be sipping their morning coffee. Uncle Paul and Aunt Barb would be slathering suntan lotion on my littlest cousins. Cousins closer to my age would be stretched out on towels—exposed skin glistening with baby oil, as was the naive custom of the 1970s—or jumping the waves.

After lunch, my cousin Mike would start his latest sand sculpture masterpiece, and my brothers would help our younger cousins fill plastic buckets with plastic shovels-full of sand, building castles and digging moats.

As shadows grew longer, we would wander back to our rooms to shower and change clothes before dinner—hot dogs and watermelon by the pool, or fresh seafood at a nearby restaurant, or spaghetti and meatballs prepared in one of the kitchens.

Later, we would return to the pool, or pile into cars for a trip to ride go-carts or bowl or see a movie. We would play cards until bedtime.

Then the aromas coffee and bacon and Coppertone would signal the beginning of the next day.


Around the time I graduated from high school, our family stopped going down every year—but the uncles and aunts and cousins did not.

While I loved these beach vacations, and so did most of my family, my mother was never a fan of the sand, and she wasn’t a swimmer. She didn’t like the beach, but she knew what this week meant to the rest of us.

The last time my whole family made that trip together was in the mid-’90s. My brothers and I were now young adults. It was a hotter-than-usual summer, and biting sand flies and stinging sea lice and the lack of a discernible ocean breeze served as the proverbial heavy last straw. Mom made it clear that we were welcome to go back again—but she was done with beach vacations.


In July 2007, it had been more than a decade since I had spent that summer week with my cousins. As we approached the first anniversary of losing Mom to cancer, my family returned.

Everything felt so much the same. And completely different.

The swimming pool and the beach were mostly unchanged, as were the Cavalier’s cottages—even with cosmetic upgrades of indoor-outdoor carpeting and fancy new pleather furniture. Traffic on the Beach Road was heavier, and there were more restaurants and hotels and houses between the causeway and milepost 8.5. Cousins I had played with as children were now husbands and wives and parents, and their children looked forward to this week as eagerly as we had at their age. Our tribe still set up camp under the rented umbrellas near the ocean, and we now spanned three generations and seven decades.

But even as we made new memories, introducing my new sister-in-law to the Atlantic Ocean and teaching my 12-year-old niece to play euchre, I missed my mom. I was aware that memories had been made in my absence that would never be mine. I was 40 years old and way past the age of wanting to live in my bathing suit.

At the end of the week, driving my own car across the causeway, away from the Outer Banks and toward western Pennsylvania, I let the tears flow.

This was still The Best Week of the Year for my cousins. It just wasn’t mine anymore.


Amy bio YAH

Creeping Myrtle

I’m puttering happily in my yard, hand-picking dead leaves from around newly-sprung bulbs and perennials. Sometimes a new shoot bursting from the earth has, in its green exuberance to reach the sun, pierced a dead leaf: a sword slaying winter. Those are my favorite leaves to gently remove—an affectionate greeting, like tucking a wisp of hair behind a daughter’s ear upon her arrival home from school.

IMG_4155Hello there, fierce beauty. It’s good to see you again.

Late spring is my favorite time to garden. It’s more leisurely and satisfying than early spring, when there is at once so much to do—so many soggy leaves and fallen branches to gather—and so little you can do other than wait for the sun to do its work. And by mid-summer the heat has risen and I’ve lost much of my initiative; all I want to do is sit back and sip iced tea, not face the dull but pressing work of weeding and watering.

But in April and May, nature has begun to give the garden shape. Visits to my yard remind me which returning plants I’ve rooted where, while the gaps between them spark ideas about new plants I might want to try. I’m energized both by what’s there and what’s possible, and the dreaming takes me often to the brick patio where my iced tea and go-to gardening book wait.

13162129724_05e0aa9e05_bAs I sit at the table flipping through the “Annuals” section of my book, the groundcover that borders the patio on two sides seems non-threatening and innocent. It has no plans for the summer, it seems, no big goals or bucket lists. It’s just hanging out, looking green like it should and showing off the pretty little blue flowers that earned it the name “Periwinkle.” For the moment I’m able to forget another name the plant is known by: “Creeping Myrtle.”

So I ignore it. I’m busy deciding how many flats of annuals I can reasonably justify buying to add spots of color to our shady property. I’m also daydreaming about our family’s first al fresco meal of the season, and what I might ask my husband to cook on the grill. Meals on the patio are, to me, the closest city dwellers can get to a family getaway without packing up the car and leaving home.

There’s something about physically separating ourselves from the dirty dishes in the kitchen, the laptops, our separate places behind separate closed doors, that touches on the many meals of my childhood that were cooked and consumed under the shade of tall trees at campground picnic tables, and the playground picnics we spontaneously put together when our girls were little. Meals outside are meals that say, “This is just about us, here and now. Everything else can wait.”

 *   *   *   *   *

If only time and nature knew how to wait.

In my garden, by late June, the Periwinkle has morphed into Creeping Myrtle mode and is well into its insidious advance into my territory. The precious borders of the patio begin to diminish. Gradually, as the vines inch onto the bricks, chairs are inched away by guests. As a result of the shifting chairs, the large rectangular table eventually gets pushed out to make more room.

It’s an imperceptible migration from one week to the next, until, one day, I walk out to the patio with plates and silverware and notice the table seems almost centered on the rectangle of bricks rather than shifted to the south edge, as intended. In fact, that rectangular foundation is looking rather square. I set the plates down and walk over to grab and lift a handful of vines.

They look as if they’re rooted where they lay, but they easily lift up, exposing a surprisingly wide swath of bricks below. I keep lifting the tangled growth, revealing more and more bricks, until finally the roots—in soil, where they belong—are exposed.

Those territory-hungry plants can infringe on a foot of patio in a month, it seems! What they see in bricks is beyond me, but it seems they haven’t put much thought into it. They’re motivated only by a vague sense of world dominance, without any concern for the path they’ll take or what they’ll do when they arrive.

“You can’t turn your head to focus on the flowers for even a couple of weeks without some aggressive vine trying to ruin everything,” I think to myself, heading to the garage for gardening gloves and clippers.

I ruthlessly attack the Creeping Myrtle, extreme in my hacking as I know it’s only a matter of time before nature’s wild, raw inclinations begin again to dominate, erasing subtlety, variation, and any boundaries I’ve decided to draw. It is, of course, worth it—all the battles waged against the encroaching weeds as well as all the coaxing and care of what I find beautiful. In the end, it’s all about the table we set and sit down around, to claim what is ours.


 *   *   *   *   *

Kristin bio YAH

The Future Syrah

I stood with the bottle in front of me, corkscrew in hand. The note on the bottle, written in my own handwriting, told me that it was “not to be opened before May 22, 2015.” I cut the foil, and slowly rotated my key into the cork.

Five years prior, I was getting ready to leave a job at a local winery as the summer waned. It was my first post-college job, the answer to the question about “what I was going to do” after graduation. I attended a small conservative Christian college, and I got quite a few raised eyebrows when I said: “I’m going into the wine business.”

The long hours and the free wine created an experience I will never forget, but not a sustainable one. My career in the wine business was short.

As I worked my way through the summer, getting more comfortable with our wine offerings and going tasting with co-workers on the weekends, I noticed that my sense of smell was heightened. On evening walks, I could smell subtle flowers and herbs. I was overwhelmed by the smell of laundry. I could sense the faintest hint of smoke in the air.

That summer, I went on a few dates with someone new. I’d always fallen into relationships somehow, skipping the first few steps of courtship. When he asked me to dinner, it was my first real first date. He came to pick me up and we walked a little ways to a restaurant not far from my parent’s home. We sat on the patio and talked and laughed without looking at the menu. I kept smiling apologetically at our server, but if he was frustrated with our indecision, it didn’t show. Finally, we ordered a bottle of wine.

It was a Washington Syrah, smooth and supple. I hadn’t yet learned then that when I drink wine, I like to eschew the hard edges. I look for something silky that touches my tongue tenderly without a trail of tannins. This was one of the wines that taught me that, one sip at a time. That Syrah is still in my top ten wine experiences.

During my summer of wine, I looked for a way to commemorate the momentous nature of that season. I decided to buy a bottle of wine to store for five years, opening it near the anniversary of college graduation. I consulted my wine stylist, a person I still keep on speed dial, a local wine whiz who occasionally chills bottles for me when I text him so that I can pick them up later. He suggested that a Syrah would hold up well over time. Washington is known for her Syrahs and it seemed the perfect choice, something that would remind me of lunch breaks in the vineyards and my swirling glass in the evening after I got off work, paired with oyster crackers.

When my wine stylist suggested that particular varietal, I knew that I would buy the same vintage as that first date. I wrote the date it was to be opened on a yellow sticky note in the shape of a star before covering it in tape.

That bottle followed me from my parents house to the light-filled one I rented with a purple-painted porch. Every time I went to find something to open, for a date or dinner with friends, I noticed that gently sloped bottle, designed for Syrah. It lay in my wine rack, surrounded by bottles of table wine, Perrier, and other special bottles, waiting for its moment. Though new jobs, publications, relationships and breakups tempted me, I never reached for my corkscrew.

This May, I brought the bottle back to my parents’ house and my mother and I made bruschetta from fresh tomatoes and basil. I opened the wine to let it breathe and immediately, I recognized the scent, my nose still sensitive to all of those stimuli. The wine had mellowed over time, but there was no mistaking it. Even though that restaurant has closed and reopened twice under different names, I was back on that patio with my cardigan draped over the back of my chair. I was hopeful about post-college relationships and jobs and life.

I poured myself a glass, a little nervous that five years was too much after all, that this wine was history. One sip was all I needed to realize that the future Syrah was not ruined, as I had feared. She had not passed her prime sometime in the midst of those years. In fact, she was smoother than I remembered.


caraCara Strickland is a freelance writer living in Spokane, WA. She writes about food, faith, singleness and relationships for a variety of publications in print and online.

She’s delighted that her current career allows her to drink wine (and write about it).

Scents of Summer

“Watch out for the cow piles,” my grandmother said as we headed to the barn for milking. I skipped behind her, hopping over and around the cows’ contributions to the fertilization of the earth. Even a smidgen of one of these smelly deposits on my shoe would necessitate a thorough scrubbing to remove the odor.

Nannie stepped briskly in her black rubber boots, leaning forward with her bonneted head two feet in front of her body. Two wooden telephone poles, lying flat and butted up against one anotherFullSizeRender(27), formed a bridge across the creek. A thick wire was attached to the trunk of a tree on each side of the creek to grab hold to as we walked across.

Nannie made short work of walking the telephone poles, without using the wire, and continued the trek to the barn. I pulled up short, clinched my teeth, clutched the wiry life-line, lifted one red, dirt-stained sneaker, and stepped on one of the poles.

On the opposite bank, Nannie must have smelled my fear because she turned and coaxed me across in her low, comforting voice. “Don’t look down.”

I looked down. The crawdads were having a party in the water below, skimming and swirling along the silty bottom. Lazy leaves floated like tiny, green boats. It seemed miles lay between my feet and the life of the creek.

I sat down. Relief slowed my breathing. I sucked in air, exhaled, and began vigorously chewing the petrified piece of Juicy Fruit gum tucked in the back of my mouth.

Splinters posed a hazard to my palms and tender behind, yet I chose to scoot across. I pressed my palms and lifted my bottom, inching across until my fingers squeezed Nannie’s outstretched hand. I fell into the folds of her faded, calico work-dress, breathing in the fresh scent of washing powers. Together we walked to the musty barn where Granddad already had the cows attached to their milking machines.

My assignment was to stand sentry beside a large plastic bucket and shovel, its blade as wide as a toilet seat. Cows warned of impending bowel action by raising their tails. I watched. At the ready. Tails twitched. Lifted. Action! I moved with the shovel; the heft of it almost pulled my slight, eight-year-old body down. Granddad joined me. Leaning over, his hands gripped the handle above mine; we joined forces to catch the imminent splat.

The deadly odor of the thick, greenish-black ooze, coupled with the straw-dust tickling my nose, provoked a fit of spasmodic coughing and laughing. Delivered of her load, the cow mooed. I mooed back.

We maintained distance between excrement, barn floor, and milking machine. Teats—freed from the suction cups attached to them—dangled from udders, no longer swollen. I looked on as Nannie and Granddad poured the creamy milk from clean buckets into tall galvanized cans.

Granddad released the cows from their individual stalls and gave a holler to the line of bovine. They filed to the pasture to laze in the shade and chew on sweet-smelling grass.


Laundry was done once a week—more often during stifling Southern summers—after early morning chores. Soil, sour sweat, and animal smells wove into the fabric of garments, socks, bandanas, towels, and washcloths. Nannie’s washing machine was an old-fashioned vessel, large and round, situated in the center of her small, screened in back porch. I imagined it as a tub in which cartoon characters were riding the rapids.

Nannie fed sopping wet laundry through a wringer between two rollers that pressed out the water. With my bare feet planted on the smooth stone floor, I caught flattened pieces as they came through and tossed them in a basket. Nannie toted, I followed and watched as she pinned a parade of color to the clothesline.


Nannie ran a bath for me at bedtime. Splashing in the tub, I created an ocean of bubbles with a slippery bar of ZEST soap. Capturing it in my washcloth, I gave myself a vigorous scrub from head to toe, then grabbed the stopper’s shiny beaded pull and watched as dirty, brown water swirled down the drain, exiting with a loud gurgle.

Days lingered long those summers. Friday evenings, Granddad reclined in his easy chair and listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, while rubbing his sore hands with Cornhusker’s Lotion. As strains of Bill Monroe’s fiddle drifted into my bedroom, I grew drowsy and snuggled under the sun-kissed sheets. Nannie’s moonflowers hugged clapboard along the side of the house. Blossoms opened large in the lunar light, offering their incense as a benediction to the day.

Scan 3Nannie and Granddad’s barn—worn by disuse and time— photographed in 1984 by my mother. 

Photo (above right)

Nannie’s Bonnet



The Creek Less Traveled

There were many bodies of water to enjoy and explore at my grandparents’ cabin—it was Northern Michigan, after all, where bodies of water are as common as fields of corn where I live now, in Central Illinois.

The small, inland lakes had their appealing features: sandy shores for digging, floating rafts to dive from, and glass-like surfaces that perfectly mirrored the evening sky until the canoe you paddled broke through the stillness.

But of the many tempting bodies of water, it was the creek that enticed me most. The creek had something the lakes didn’t: It had mystery, a destination.

*    *    *    *    *

We called it simply The Creek, but on a detailed-enough map it has a proper name: Canada Creek. It probably winds for miles, but our encounters with the creek took place in the far upper-east corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula—right where the cuticle of your index finger would settle in the mitten-shaped map.

As elementary-aged kids, my older brother and I were allowed to walk together down a curving sand road until it became a one-lane bridge at the creek. The road was rarely traveled, like all the roads in the area—we were somewhere in the midst of 20 square miles of woods and water known as Canada Creek Ranch (only a fourth of which was dotted with a few hundred cabins).

At the creek, my brother and I stood on the bridge for a while, tossing stones into the water to hear them plink and plunk their varying notes. Then we slid and scrambled down the gravely bank to the creek’s shore, where we inevitably ditched our canvas sneakers and sweaty socks to wade in the cold, clear spring water. It was sandy and shallow by the bridge; I liked to stand very still, hoping a dragonfly might land on me, while the tadpoles investigated my toes.

But how long could a kid stand still in a creek? After all, the creek had places to go and things to show us.

*    *    *    *    *

PICT0023I’m guessing that we schemed and planned our first creek walk when I was about seven, sitting around Grandma’s breakfast table, pancakes piled high and studded with wild blueberries we had picked the day before. I’m sure my brother and I were persuasive in our desire to follow the creek. Not only did it beg to be further explored, but the creek held potential for so many stories. The grownups were apparently just as intrigued, because a new summer tradition was born (one that continued into our teen years, as seen in the photo): The Creek Walk.

On Creek Walk day my brother and I set out as adventurers, eager to play the characters in our favorite books—to live out their stories, or more likely a compilation of their stories. Laura Ingalls, Davey Crockett, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea each took a turn being embodied by us as we forged the stream.

Sometimes we talked through our stories as we walked, staying in character as we navigated over or under a fallen tree. At other moments I broke from character to yelp as I slipped on a rock and nearly went under, or to complain when my brother, leading the way, fooled us with his favorite trick: gradually bending his knees then walking on them until the water was up to his neck, which suggested it would be well over my head. (A few times he wasn’t joking, and it actually was that deep.)

And then there were spells when all of us were quiet, amazed by just how quiet the world could be, save for the swish of our legs displacing the water as we walked, and the song of a Goldfinch from somewhere above. Now that I think of it, I don’t recall ever encountering another person on our many creek walks.

*    *    *    *    *

After three or so hours of pressing on, the heat and deer flies became more bothersome, as did the ache in our legs and the rumble in our stomachs. Grandma began searching for a place to exit the creek—an opening in the tangle of brush where the bank wasn’t too steep and we could make our way from the creek’s winding world into the woods.

How Grandma had any idea where we were, I’ll never know. But she had hiked and skied those acres for years, and could confidently point us in the direction of Little Joe, one of the remote lakes on Canada Creek Ranch. We followed deer paths or forged our own way in the direction she pointed, motivated by what we knew we would find at our destination: Grandpa, firing up the grill for hotdogs. Each year on Creek Walk day he put the cooler Grandma had prepared into the car and drove the two-track roads through the woods to meet us at Little Joe’s lone picnic table.

After our feast, we all packed into Grandpa’s car, soggy and worn, to drive back to the cabin. The hotdogs and the lift home were luxuries Sacajawea never had, but by that point I was ready to be a modern-day little girl again, tucked into bed where more creek adventures could be spun in my dreams.

A Beggar in a Summer Storm

My favorite word is ‘jaded.’ I love the odd flowiness of it and its root reference to a beautiful stone. But its meaning is what really gets me. Webster defines it ‘as made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience.’ This seems like such an apt description of myself and many others. We are thoughtlessly wasteful of the joy and wonder of the world. Even if we are aware, we are often only viewing it in reference to what it has to say about us, who we are and how we are seen. We fear the sacrifice and suffering which might end this self-centered apathy and make us humble beggars seeking a wonder we do not own. Instead, in the midst of the abrading banality of life we lose vision, we numb ourselves, and we fall asleep.

During the summer months, I am jaded. The oppressive Texas heat shuts me inside both my house and myself. I find little joy in suffering through 105 degree days. If I have to walk or work anywhere outside during the summer months, my clothes turn into wet, salty rags.

Several summers ago, I was still at Texas A&M taking the last few classes I needed before I could graduate. The whole summer I walked to all my classes. This lead to the ruining of a few shirts after dreaded 20+ minute walks across A&M’s vast campus. The summer was full of heat, humidity, and horrible cricket infestations. Nature was a dank, fecund destroyer, but there was one day from the summer that I will always remember.

It was early in the afternoon in the middle of July. I was walking back from my History of 19th Century England class where I would laugh at every other sentence my sarcastic, thickly accented British teacher would utter. As I traversed across a lonely part of the large campus hurrying to escape the numbing of another oppressively hot day, rain came pouring down on me from a sun soaked sky. I stopped, stunned… awake. I held my breath wondering at the intercession of rain. A moment passed in the brief shower before I found cover underneath a gazebo to wait for it to stop. After walking home and sitting down, I wrote the following:

The grey light sheds raindrops onto the motions of my weightless body. Falling drops tinge me with their bombardment and the sensuous smell of rain emanates a taste of life. The reigning clouds lift me out of the heavy weight of a Texas summer sun. The passing rain is not more than a breeze and a grey shadow, but swift, this life is poured into the world.

There are stories about blind men who can see the world through the echoes of pattering rainfall. The rain’s knocking on the sides of the world opens the eyes of their minds. Are we not blind souls unawake until we hear and feel a knocking on the hard surfaces of the world? Are the poignant passing of pain and bitter tastes of life a rainfall into our world? Are true moments of sorrow and joy, the depths of human experience that mingle together in the heart of the universe, not the heavy beating of a life-giving rain?

Now I sit sedately in my comforted chair and would pass this world away, but a merciful God acts sorrow and joy into my heart with cauterizing nails to awaken me to the cloud of His presence.

The thunder roams off in the distance admitting that it too is a beggar at His feet.

Eternal Summer

I was born in Eternal Summer, but after college in the early 90s, I packed up and moved to the Land of Rain. Grunge on the airwaves and flannel the style, a gray sky matched our melancholy moods. We were the newest tribe of grown-ups in the decade of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

My husband and I met in Land of Rain, just after he moved here from Midwest Farmland. We fell in love, had two kids, built a house and started to make a life. Four months after we settled into the home slated to be ours forever, a career-advancing job offer convinced us to sell and move the family back to where I spent the years of my childhood and adolescence .

Eternal summer was coming! I became giddy in anticipation of sunshine every day. I missed warmth. The damp and cold had been seeping into my bones a little too deeply. When the chance came, I wanted out.

We made the move South in January and entered Eternal Summer during one of the worst rain storms in history. Was this a sign? After a few days clouds passed. My skin received the sun’s welcome like a long, lost friend. Why did I ever leave?

Shorts and flip-flops made up our wardrobes. Our daughters, ages 5 and 3, had permanent white tattoos –  the shape of  bikinis – upon their bronzed skin. Neither left the house without sunglasses or they’d pay with headaches due to squinting out the brightness. Play-dates at amusement parks came to be as common as play-dates in the neighborhood park.

Soon though, I recalled why I left Eternal Summer in the first place.

Thousands of vehicles crowded the streets of Eternal Summer, traffic keeping you hours from your destination. Strip malls and cement lined the ten-lane freeway mazes. Hazy smog prevented pure skies and the corresponding landscape on the ground was dull, save for the well-placed palm trees spaced evenly apart.

Heading to the shore became infrequent. It came to mean loading up a day’s worth of food and toys and towels and chairs, and parking a mile away only to trudge all of said belongings to hopefully land a spot on the hot sand. This lost its appeal quickly. More days were spent at the pool, but even then for a mother it was more taxing than relaxing, ensuring offspring remained safe around the chlorinated water.

One afternoon while paying for my groceries, the clerk made small talk.

     Are you from here?

     Yes and no, I replied, I grew up here, moved North, and now we’re back.

     Aren’t you totally stoked? he asked. I could never live anywhere else.

     Where else have you been?

     Nowhere, he admitted, I’ve never been north of L.A.

I left, feeling pity for this clerk. He’d never experienced living room movie nights, family huddled together on the sofa during rainy Springs.

He’d never watched the leaves explode into brilliant colors before falling off limbs.

He never experienced the joy of waking up to a winter wonderland, hearing “School is closed for the day!” and sledding down hills in the neighborhood.

He’d never felt Summer as a gift from God, where every resident must be outdoors soaking up every bit of brightness and heat mindful this time precious. Folks living in Land of Rain do not take late-June through August for granted.


And it was then I realized: I didn’t want my daughters growing up without seasons. They needed to live through the changing sky, the re-defining landscape, the emotions of dark versus light. I feared my desire for them to grow as individual and varied as Spring, Fall, and Winter would be hindered by the surrounding messages to conform as though everything needed to be Summer all of the time.

After only two years living in Eternal Summer, we returned to Land of Rain. Sometimes, I long for warmth I once knew. I wish to rid the amount of gear in which I’m clad to simply walk the dog.

However, once the mutt and I are on the trail surrounded by evergreens, small wildlife and friendly neighbors also bundled up but not too miserable for a smile and a wave, I’m filled with gratitude of all around me. For in Spring, I see new growth. In Fall, I reflect with the changing color of the leaves. In Winter, I hibernate. But in Summer, when the sun shines in the Land of Rain, I savor the orb’s rays and am reminded not to take any blessing for granted. In seasons, I can appreciate changes life brings.

* * * * *

IMG_8720 - Version 3“Eternal Summer” was written by Andee Zomerman. Andee is a teacher, minister, radio host, and writer who cannot decide what to be when she grows up. She has moved up and down the West Coast with her husband and two daughters, now making their home in Portland, OR. Andee spends her days encouraging others to volunteer in their communities via her blog, Nature of a Servant. She’s always on Facebook and tweets under @andeezomerman.

The Sunshine State

Florida has two seasons: summer and January. And flip flops can (and should) be worn during both.

Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and its more laidback cousin, the Gulf of Mexico, it quietly putters along while the states above it tromp through seasons and mark time in the usual fashion. Like Peter Pan’s Neverland, Florida is a green, sun-soaked playground where April is indistinguishable from October and a staggering array of flowers blossom year-round between gumbo-limbo trees and cabbage palms.

Jax BeachTo a nine-year-old child like me, born in the grubby northeast corner of Arkansas, Florida was a revelation—a land of limitless azure skies filled with cotton candy clouds and a salt-tinged breeze. I spent days hunting for sharks’ teeth at Venice Beach, trail riding through acres of slash pines and saw palmettos (always on the lookout for fat yellow spiders), tubing the Ichetucknee River, and prospecting for balls in the water hazards that dotted the state’s ubiquitous manicured golf courses.

Though I grew up, the landscape changed much more gradually than I did. Sadly, once empty property is now filled with the ubiquitous, inescapable trappings of modern society—chain restaurants and grocery stores. Gas stations and home improvement warehouses. A Starbucks on every corner. But my elementary school, the place where I learned about Seminole Indians and fell in love with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, is still there, a larger parking lot and bike corral its only signs of growth.

My grandparents’ home is still there too, a two-story structure of weatherworn bricks surrounded by a sun-bleached and slightly warped wooden fence. It’s the place where I perfected my backstroke in their kidney-shaped pool and lazed away the afternoon on a lounge chair, a bowl of Schwann’s rocky road ice cream in my lap. The place where we celebrated countless Christmases and birthdays and where my aunt and uncle—and later my husband and I—were wed by my great uncle James in front of the coquina fireplace in the living room.

In a state where the Fountain of Youth burbles away, The Mouse still turns a brisk trade in his Magic Kingdom, and the seasons never change, it’s all too easy to forget that time isn’t a renewable resource and that, for everyone who lives there, it will eventually run out.

Between the home I love and the school I remember is a small structure—one that has served both as a law office and a police sub-station. But it is now an assisted living facility for people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and my grandfather is one of the people who calls it home.

Like the beach he once enjoyed, which is siphoned grain by grain back into the sea, he is being pulled away from us by the tide of time. And there is no regaining what has been eroded, no reclamation project that can bring him back. It’s a hard truth to witness in a place filled with the delightful lie of endless sunshine.

I now live in Georgia and experience the passing of time as others do—season by season. Summer lingers longer here than it does most places, and autumn is far shorter than I’d like. There is winter too, a span of months where leaves wither and fall into doleful piles, leaving their trees naked and exposed to the same cold winds that slice through my bones no matter how many layers of clothing I pile on.

But because I experience those bitter months, I’m all the more appreciative of the spring that is sure to follow. I want to cheer when the Japanese Red Maple in my front yard once again dons its ruby-colored cloak and my husband’s bees begin the work of restocking their hives. Witnessing it all has helped me accept that for everything there is indeed a season, a time for everything under heaven. What is born will die. What is planted will be plucked up. I will weep and mourn at times, yes, but I will also have cause laugh and dance again. And one day, I’ll live in a land that knows no seasons and where death no longer holds sway.

*   *   *   *   *

Jamie A. Hughes“The Sunshine State” was written by Jamie A. Hughes. Jamie is a writer, editor, and unapologetic St. Louis Cardinals fanatic who currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two needy cats. A former high school teacher, she now works as the managing editor of In Touch Magazine and is struck dumb by her good fortune. She blogs at tousledapostle.com and can be found on Twitter @tousledapostle. 

Where I Came From: 5,000 Miles and Back Again

When I was a little girl with two brown pigtails and bangs cut straight across my forehead, home was a grey-blue ranch-style house situated in the middle of Michigan’s palm. It was also a musty-smelling blue canvas tent, the sweaty brown vinyl backseat of a station wagon, and the open road, always leading to someplace new.

 *  *  *  *  *

If “home” is defined as a specific place, then my answer to “Where are you from?” is clear: I’m from St. Johns, Michigan, a town of about 12,000 people with a two-stoplight Main Street that’s anchored on the south end by a classic Midwestern courthouse. My parents still live in the house they bought when I was just five, and when we visit today, my own daughters sleep in my childhood bedroom.

All the kids who went to my elementary school lived in town like me, but by the time we were in middle school, our classmates were pretty evenly split between “town kids” and the “country kids” who grew up on surrounding farms. (My best friend Rhonda was a country kid with horses we rode on the weekends.)

Besides sleepovers and football games, there weren’t many parent-approved things to do for fun, at least not until we were old enough to drive the half hour to Lansing for date-worthy restaurants, movies, and malls. But St. Johns was a good place to be a kid. Growing up in a sheltered town meant plenty of freedom to bike everywhere—the city pool, friends’ houses, the library, and the bakery for custard-filled long johns. We didn’t wear helmets or lock our bikes—the only requirement was a wristwatch so we wouldn’t be late for dinner.

But even with such deep roots in a single place, I also grew up with an understanding of home that was nomadic: Home was wherever you stopped and pitched the tent when it was time to cook dinner. bluetent

My parents were both teachers, which meant summers offered more time than money. Flying from Michigan to visit relatives on the West Coast wasn’t in the budget, so each summer we packed up our wood-paneled station wagon and hit the road for about six weeks.

I was prone to carsickness, so there were just two ways I rode in the car: sprawled asleep across the backseat or awake and perched dead center, leaning forward until I was almost as much in the front seat with my parents as I was in the back. Luckily, my big brother was never the sort to draw a line down the middle of the seat and enforce it with punches or pinches. Besides, I think he was happy to let me chatter away to my parents, leaving him in relative peace with his books.

The ultimate destinations we drove toward—a visit with our grandparents in L.A. or our favorite cousins in Portland, a week spent hiking in Glacier National Park, or a few days exploring San Francisco—were well-worth the 5,000-or-so miles we covered each summer. But so many days were devoted to just getting there, driving through endless-seeming states like Nebraska or North Dakota, only stopping for gas, bathroom breaks, and to eat the sandwiches Mom had made at the campground that morning.

After a full day of driving, as the sun was lowering in the sky and Mom’s voice was hoarse from reading aloud Little House on the Prairie books, we pulled out a thick campground guide and chose a place to stay—with a pool, if my brother and I were lucky. At the campground, Mom pulled out the camp stove and started dinner while the rest of us got to work setting up the tent and filling it with sleeping bags and pillows. The next morning it all came down again, was packed back into the car, and we drove some more—to the next place we would call “home” for a night.

*  *  *  *  *

Now, when I think about where I come from, I still envision that ever-present grey-blue house, first. I am very much a small-town Michigan girl. But it occurs to me that my rootedness in that place has always been filtered through an understanding of other places—of treeless plains and impressive peaks, of rugged beaches with magical tide pools, and of Chinatowns and subways, operas and contemporary art. I knew where I was back home in Michigan because I also knew where I wasn’t.

And in that sense, I come from places that protected me as well as places that exposed me—from a small Michigan town and big Montana mountains; from the inside of a station wagon, where my entire family was always close enough to touch, to a crowded San Francisco sidewalk where strangers pressed in as I absorbed glimpses of the world.

stationwagonPhotographs by William E. Tennant