Cookery Maven Blog

2017: Leave-takings, Regeneration, Legacy, and Bearing Witness


Work Song Part II - A Vision (Epilogue)

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…

The river will run
clear, as we will never know it…
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields…
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

~ Wendell Berry


Poetry has the power to take my breath away and Berry's poem did just that when I read it a few months ago. His words captured what I've been feeling -- that struggle and hardship are (and have always been) intricately tied to creation and redemption. 2017 was a strange brew of heart-rending and heart-opening moments and I've been struggling to find a way to wrap my arms around it -- to find peace with a year that delivered leave-takings, new beginnings, and opportunities to bear witness as the world, and our place in it, changed. 

It was a year that left me reeling in a number of ways -- good friends and a beloved family member walked on, Sadie graduated from high school, Jack graduated from college, my cookbook Life in a Northern Town was released, we hatched a plan for a cookery school in our kitchen, I settled into a fulfilling job at the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, and the political scene at the national and state levels left me, by turns, deeply discouraged and cautiously hopeful. Talk about being shaken, stirred, and rattled -- it was a regular smorgasbord of emotions. 


To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to carry with me into 2018. Looking back, it seems almost surreal -- the goodness was nearly always softened by a bittersweet awareness that new beginnings, by their very nature, involve leaving something behind. And that was a tough one for me, the realization that as I grow older there will be more leave-takings than beginnings and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it. 

It got me thinking -- can I make peace with grief, regeneration, and change that's out of my control? Where do I fit in a world that's become deeply divided and increasingly unstable? How do I, as Berry suggested, stand in this "ruined place, renewing, enriching it…then a long time after we are dead the lives our lives prepare will live there, their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides…" without losing my mind?


On a trip to Madison, I found my answer in the form of a podcast and an Irishwoman named Mary Kate O'Flanagan on the Moth Radio Hour. Mary Kate told the story of her father's death in Carry Him Shoulder High and I was struck by the following two sentences: 

"But thank God, if there's one thing the Irish do right, it's death. English you say, 'I'm sorry for your trouble' but in Irish we say 'Táim imo sheasamh leat' (I'm standing with you) and we mean it literally."

Leave-takings, change, and the inevitable moving on can be bitter pills to swallow....even when I'm headed in the right direction. The phrase 'I'm standing with you', as opposed to 'I'm sorry', implies solidarity and companionship. It's an active phrase, one that says I'm here, I'll bear witness, I'm not going away, we'll start where we stand and make the road by walking, together. It's an anecdote to division, anger, and grief -- something we desperately need right now. 

And that's what I'm carrying into 2018. The promise that I intend to stand with my family, my friends, and my community -- no matter what happens. I've abandoned any expectations for a smooth transition though the challenging days ahead in the political arena but I wholeheartedly believe that by standing together, we have a helluva shot at bringing the last stanza of Berry's poem to life, "Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its reality."

So, hello 2018 -- I'm ready to roll with whatever you toss at me because I'm standing with my people...and I'm exactly where I belong. 


A Photo Safari in the Porkies

The backlog of blog posts continues to grow (I keep eating and taking photos but can't seem to find the time to edit and write) and I've committed to try and spend a few hours a week on my website. Since it's technically spring and that means green will soon replace white in Bayfield, I thought these shots from our photo safari in the Porcupine Mountains a few weeks before Will left for Madison were appropriate.

Will's home for spring break and we went back to the Upper Peninsula today for another photo safari (at this rate, I'll get those photos edited sometime in August) and we were remarking that he's almost done with his freshman year...time has flown by.

What a difference 7 months makes -- he's had a great year and I've learned that sending kids away to college doesn't kill a person after all. These photos are a sweet reminder of our last photo safari in 2016 -- before Will struck off on his own and I became a mother of two college students. 

It was a humid and cloudy day and there were mushrooms everywhere. 

We hiked down to the Lake of the Clouds but it was the mushrooms that got my attention -- there were a wide variety and they were tucked into small spaces, scattered on the forest floor and perched on the tree trunks. 

Water drops suspended on a blade of grass. 

These were the most delicate looking mushrooms; their caps were balanced on impossibly thin stems. It was a feat of natural engineering that they were upright. 

We stopped in a meadow that used to be a school yard when Nonesuch was a active mining community and encountered these Suessian-looking flowers. 

We hiked down to Nonesuch Falls and found these old stone foundations along the way. 

The little worlds that exist amidst my oh-so-human fuss and bluster help me to be mindful and remember that magic is everywhere....even when I'm not looking. 

Cedar embracing stone. 

"Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made." David Whyte

I struggle with change, especially when it involves my kids growing up and leaving home, and I spent a good portion of this afternoon in the Porkies thinking about dropping Will in Madison and then turning the car north, without him. I wish I could say I had some sort of epiphany in the woods that August day that settled my mind and heart but I didn't....and as it turns out, I don't need epiphanies to muddle my way through letting go. I just need to be brave. Brave enough to know that Will would be fine (and trust me, it's clear that Madison is exactly where he belongs) and that he'll carry the smell of damp pine needles, the sounds of running water and the memories of tiny mushrooms nestled in the crooks of giant red pines with him as he moves along. He knows to stay close to the way he was made.

An Icy March Sunrise

One of the benefits of taking Meghan to Washburn for a 6:15 AM bus ride to a volleyball tournament? Catching the sunrise on Bayview Beach. A late winter beach is constantly changing -- one day the beach will be socked in with ice and two days later, there is open water and small icebergs bobbing a few feet offshore.  The interplay of the Lake and its ice, the sun and its golden-orange rays and the pups running along the ice-strewn beach was a helluva way to spend an early March morning. 

There is something about ice as it's melting its way back to its beginnings that is delicately beautiful. It reminds me of lace -- a weblike pattern fashioned by winter's loosening grip as we move towards spring.

There was a thin skim of ice over the Lake and the cracks were delineated with ice crystals, lit up by the rising sun. 

We're going to have an early spring -- it was a warm winter and the Lake didn't freeze completely. The snow is nearly gone and I bet the Lake will be open by early April. Ice is ephmeral and in a changing climate, becoming more of a rarity than a guarantee. 

I'll witness many more sunrises over this beach but this one will stick with me. The world seems to have lost its mind and we are in the in-between of a great awakening and a great turning...and it feels chaotic. I have no idea where we are headed as a country and I'm watching the horizon for what's next. Thankfully, the sun rises each morning, bathing the world in its light, and winter's melting ice will become the summer's liquid waves -- there is comfort in those watery rhythms and I'm thankful for the peace it gives me.  

Michigan Island Camp

Spring is in the air, even though it's mid-February and we should have a couple of feet of snow on the ground, and that means a couple of things: I start to plan the garden and Ted starts to plan our May BWCA trip. In honor of this annual rite of spring-in-the-middle-of-winter, I thought I'd share some photos from our August trip to Michigan Island.

It was a momentous trip -- Will was leaving for his freshman year in a few weeks, it was our first time camping as a family in the Islands and it was the first time George and Gus had been invited to come along for the ride. A trifecta of 'firsts' played out on one of our favorite islands. We packed the Karl with enough provisions to last a couple of days and headed out on the Lake. 

Ted is a big, and I mean BIG, fan of camping preparation and that means he has bottles, jars, packages, stuff sacks and baggies for everything you can think of.....including Ulf's curry powder. Our friend, Ulf, makes his own curry powder in Washburn and it's the gold standard in our kitchen and in camp. 

Bordeaux, red vermouth, whiskey and a roll of paper towel -- essentials for a Dougherty camping trip. 

George and Gus took to the camping life remarkably well until they realized I left their bed at home and they had to sleep on the ground. That was clearly troublesome for our two little princes but they managed to find ways to cope -- like sitting on top of the picnic table. 

Michigan Island has a single campsite and it's a sweet one. Tucked back from the beach among the pines, it had two level spots for the tents and a fire ring with huge pieces of driftwood re-purposed as benches. The bear locker made a great cooking surface and the picnic table was a nice touch. My camping experience is limited to the BWCA (where tables are improvised) and I have to admit, there's something about a picnic table that seems mighty civilized when you're in the woods. 

We got up in the morning and headed out for a walk down the beach. While I'm not the biggest fan of camping (sleeping on the ground and pit toilets in the middle of the forest require a open-mindedness I'm not always ready to embrace), I do love the slower cadence of life outdoors.  We spent three hours exploring the beach, watching the fishing tug pull their nets and hollering for George (who was having the time of his life eating seagull poop...more about that later). 

It started to rain while we were walking on the beach but we were resolute in our commitment to camping. Well truthfully, Ted and Charlie were resolute --- Meg, George and I were ready to abandon ship. But Ted set up a tarp, George got up on the picnic table and Meg and I decided to play was actually quite pleasant until George jumped up on the table and sat down on our game of gin rummy. I think Meg put him up to it because I was winning. 

Gus needed a helping hand to get around the logs that littered the shoreline. He's a sturdy little dog but swimming, given his short legs and wide girth, is not his idea of a good time. 

You'd never know it from this photo of George, looking oh-so-regal and self-composed, that he threw up sea gull poop (that he was eating on our morning beach hike) in our tent at 2 AM in the middle of a rainstorm. There's nothing quite like a heaving 80 pound Lab, a bunch of zippers (between sleeping bags, tents and rain flys...camping is a zipper-lover's dream), pouring rain and utter darkness to get your heart pumping. It was yet another unforgettable experience thanks to Handsome George....hopefully he'll go back to rolling in poop instead of eating it. 

The time flew and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head home. Will had to get packed for Madison, Charlie had soccer practice, Meg's iPhone was out of juice and I had a serious hankering for a shelter without zippers. With the smell of wood-smoke in our clothing, we loaded the Karl and headed home. Even with the rain and George's puke-a-thon, it was a good way to mark Will's last week at home before he started his new life as a Badger. The islands and Lake Superior have been the backdrop for many funny, tender, chaotic and trying Dougherty stories and thank God, we're still composing chapters in our tome about life in a northern town. 

Our Morning At The Ice Caves

Jack leaves tomorrow— back to Madison to complete the second half of his freshman year. I wanted to do something epic to recognize his leave-taking; some collection of experiences he can bring to Madison, package away in his dorm room and pull out when he needs to remember why Lake Superior will always be home. 

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Wisconsin's Northernmost Sugarbush

There are all sorts of things I've learned since I moved North— don't call the cops when a bear is in the yard, there is no such thing as a perfectly ripe avocado in the grocery stores, saunas are clothing optional and maple syrup really does come from actual maple trees. Okay, I did know about the origins of maple syrup but I hadn't ever actually witnessed the process. 

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Spring Camp Falls

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

Will and I have visited quite a few waterfalls in the past year but Spring Camp Falls was one of the most lovely. We started the day headed towards Potato Falls but after failing to get close enough to the falls and climbing up the steepest river bank I've been on in 30 years (I'm terrified of heights), we decided to try and find Spring Camp Falls. I saw a description of it on the internet before we left and the sum total of what I remembered was it was outside of Hurley, somewhere. Since I knew how to get to Hurley, had a full tank of gas, at least 4 hours until dark and car full of adventurous people (and one yellow Lab)— we decided to drive until we got cell service, google the location, get directions and take a few photos. If only it was that easy.

After the hair-raising cliff climbing adventure, we thought ice cream would be the perfect way to fortify ourselves for the next waterfall hike. Except the DQ in Hurley was closed and, faced with a car full of nearly mutinous children, I turned towards Ironwood in search of another ice cream option. And then it hit me, the first place we stopped after I bought George (from a nice man in Bessemer) was the McDonald's on the highway. Since George was in the car, all grown up and handsome, taking a trip down memory lane at the McDonald's where he had his first french fry (he was a food hound from the moment he joined our family) was even more than physical fortification— it was a celebration of George. I was chattering away to the kids while Will looked up the location of the falls and in my excitement, I neglected to read the directions until we were out of cell phone range. Big mistake.

Here are the directions (from the Travel Wisconsin site):

'Heading south from Hurley on US 51, travel about 4.5 mi to County Road C. Turn right (west). About 1.5 mi west, the county road will take a sharp turn north-don't take that. Continue forward on the gravel road. About 1 mi, turn to the south, following the'

Following the...what?? Will and I, while I was driving down dirt roads to nowhere, tried to fill in the blank. Following the river, the yellow brick road, the pied piper, the big sign that says 'Spring Camp Falls this way'?? I hate asking for directions but it was getting late and after all this driving around, I wasn't going to let my bullheadedness get in the way of a waterfall photo safari. After a wrong turn into someone's deer camp (Meg had never seen a plywood stand with a toilet seat in the woods before), we took a right at an intersection with a bunch of signs on the corner. We drove and drove and drove until we finally saw an old man walking down the road. I stopped the car and asked if he lived around here, to which he answered, 'all my life, about 85 years'— at least I had enough luck to find a knowledgeable direction provider (unlike Travel Wisconsin). Back where we took a right (at the corner with all the signs), we should have taken a left. We thanked our kind direction giver and traveled back the way we came. Right back to the intersection with all the signs and the one sign we missed, 'Spring Camp Falls 1 mile ahead'.

Our day started out with Potato Falls as our destination and instead, we spent a couple of hours in the car driving through remarkably beautiful country, laughing about George stories, bickering about Will's music choices and breathing the same air, in the same space for a little while. As Berry said, 'It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey' and while a road trip to a waterfall is a small thing compared to finding my real work, I'm so glad we took the long way around.

Two themes that have played themselves over and over in my life's reel are surrender and acceptance. And believe me, my rudimentary understanding of those two words has been hard won. I don't like to ask for directions and I sure didn't ever want to surrender. Surrendering meant straying from the script I wrote, in my head, and allowing someone or something else to take the reins— not exactly my cup of tea (or more accurately, my glass of dry Spanish red wine). Except that when I did, because I was flattened by trying to orchestrate a life that had become unruly, I could take a breath without impediment. I knew whatever challenges, detours or roadblocks I encountered were there because I was ready for the next thing. The thing I hadn't even dreamed of yet.

It doesn't mean it's all rosy with rainbows and butterflies but it does mean the moment you think, 'I have no idea what the hell I'm doing' is the moment you are starting to do exactly what you should be. Obstacles are not deal breakers, they are a chance for re-calibration and to keep your eyes peeled for the sign that will lead you to your next destination. Impeded streams make the most beautiful music, especially when you have just come up for air after a ride down the waterfall.

On the 'wrong turn' portion of the photo safari, we discovered the Giles Flowage and we chose a route back to Bayfield that took us through it again so we could scout it out. Charlie and I got out to take a few last photos and I got my favorite shot of the day— Charlie capturing the sunlight on the water. Thank God for wrong turns, detours, kids with cameras and of course, yellow Labs.