Variations on a weekend

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

It felt good to get back to our Wright house in St. Joseph this weekend. Work and family obligations got in the way of our good intentions this summer, so we didn’t drive out to the house as often as we’d hoped. Meanwhile, fall chores were piling up as quickly as the oak and maple leaves on the property.

While it’s certainly a privilege to own a second home — especially one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — the fact remains that no house cleans or maintains itself while you’re away.

So, finally, Doug and I headed to the west side of Michigan on Thursday morning, the mid-October sun illuminating foliage and farmland along the highway. While we knew we’d check off a few chores and repairs on the Wright house to-do list, we also promised each other that we’d make time to enjoy the house — and even do some exploring beyond downtown St. Joe. It was the best decision we’ve made this season.

We spent all day Friday in South Haven and Saugatuck — two charming Lake Michigan towns known for their art galleries, independent bookstores, boutiques, and good restaurants. Browsing through a small antiques mall in South Haven, we stumbled on a few treasures, including a vintage crystal bracelet (had to have it) and some doodads for art projects.

Chicago side trip

Few opportunities make me happier than scouting for clothes, books, art, and old junk in adorable small towns. And one of those is visiting our son Nate. Our decision to purchase our Wright house in St. Joseph was influenced by the fact that Nate moved to Chicago after college graduation, and St. Joe is less than two hours away.

On Saturday morning Doug and I drove to the train station in Michigan City, then boarded the South Shore Line to Chicago. It was another mellow afternoon, weather-wise, and we enjoyed having our little family together again. Of course, Chicago is always more fun when you experience it with someone who lives there and loves it. Nate introduced us to one of his favorite restaurants, the Southport Grocery and Cafe, which features a savory menu of creative brunch dishes. I can’t think of a better balm for a mother’s soul than to share bread-pudding pancakes and cinnamon butter with her grown son — a son who clearly feels at home in his world.

Back at the Wright house on Sunday, Doug and I did some housecleaning and yard work. Taking a short break before packing up, I walked behind the house to get another look at the ravine and the St. Joseph River beyond it. It’s a view that never fails to calm me down; to remind me of what’s truly essential.

Only a few of the poplars have turned gold at this point, so we’ll have to come back soon to see the maples at their peak. But some of the trees in the woods below are already surrendering their leaves, reminding me that autumn — and this season of my life — is all about release, letting go. Meanwhile, I discovered the perfect spot for a meditation bench, overlooking the river. Once I find the bench, I plan to sit and savor more moments like these.

We really couldn’t have planned a lovelier weekend, all in all.

Amazing, even to me, is the fact that I allowed our time away to meander at its own sweet pace. I let go of my need to plan things down to the minute — and stopped worrying about problems beyond my immediate control. I didn’t dwell on my mom’s series of pending doctor appointments or her new dementia symptoms or her recent fender-bender. I didn’t think about my chores or deadlines back in Royal Oak. And I lost the ridiculous urge to check my e-mail every hour.

“It occurs to me that perhaps I don’t have to push at life quite so hard after all, that sometimes the best thing we can do is allow our lives simply to take us where we need to go,” writes Katrina Kenison in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, a motherhood memoir I finished reading on the train.

Kenison’s words resonated all the way home. Driving back, I thought about the “major” vacations I’ve taken with my husband and family over the years. An anniversary excursion to Paris. A family cruise on the Mediterranean. Back-roads tours of New England. I don’t take those trips for granted, nor would I trade them for other experiences. Yet few of them shimmer in my memory as brightly as the simple pleasures I enjoyed this weekend.  — Cindy La Ferle

— Top photo: View of the St. Joseph River from the back of our property. Middle photo: Doug and Nate. Bottom photo:  The rear view (terrace) of the Carl Schultz House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photos by Cindy and Doug La Ferle. —