Summer, Sunshine, and Sunflowers

Summer is my favorite season. I love Wisconsin summer – Up North during the summer means family, beach time, and camping. And I love living in Texas, where even the sun seems bigger, and where it’s acceptable for everyone to be sweaty all summer long and not have to worry about being judged. No matter where you live, summer means grilling out, traveling, and early morning sunrises.

Summer 2020 (and the year in general) has been a roller coaster for many reasons and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In addition to social distancing, allergies, humidity, and high temps can force people inside during the summer.

For work and personal reasons, I am not traveling this summer. I would love nothing more than to pack up, drive north, and stay with my parents for a while.

A view of home

In a time when the healthy and safety of everyone is of the utmost importance, how can we still have a fun summer?

In no particular order, here’s a list of things you can do:

  1. Have kids or dogs or both? Play in the backyard
  2. Flying solo or chilling with your roomies? Set up a tent in your backyard and go on a staycation: grill out, order take in, and break out the fancy wine (no one’s judging if you play Slap the Bag, though)
  3. Take a walk in your neighborhood- this is a great opportunity to phone that friend you’ve been meaning to call
  4. Get up early and drink your morning coffee while you watch the sunrise
  5. Set a new bike riding goal – can you beat the 20 miles you did last week?
  6. Go to a recreation trail before peak hours – Google Maps shows how busy locations are by time of day, taking out all the guess work for you
  7. Give your green thumb some time to shine – those plants need some love, too!
  8. Any outside projects on your to-do list? Clean those gutters! Paint that trim!
  9. Sit on the patio with your mimosa and write your bucket list

There’s so much to do and there are ways to do them safely: bring a water bottle, wear your mask when needed, tell a friend where you are in case of emergency. Plus, going for a walk is free. The only thing you are spending is time on yourself.

I’m adding a few things to my Texas Bucket List. Eventually I’d like to take a trip to every state park but that’s a long-distance goal. In the meantime here are a few other Texas destinations I plan to visit:

Wildseed Farms: In addition to beautiful fields conveniently located in Fredericksburg, they also have a Biergarten and wine tasting room.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Dallas Arboretum and Botanic Garden: I have yet to explore this metropolitan area and both of these gardens are in the American Horticulture Society reciprocal admissions program – if you have a membership at a participating garden, you may be eligible for special admission privileges and discounts at other member gardens. More on the reciprocal admissions in my upcoming three-part botanical garden series!

Galveston: This is an historic city full of old homes, monuments, and perseverance. According to the site’s history page, it has 2,000+ buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Above all, Galveston is the birthplace of Juneteenth. To learn more about African American history and Galveston, click here.

In the featured image at the top of the page, you see an imperfect sunflower: pieces of a couple petals are missing, the leaves aren’t blemish free, and you can tell that the background isn’t especially exciting (that particular piece of land is under construction). How like this sunflower are we as humans?

Sunflowers have this amazing ability to grow along the edges, in unlikely spots. The imperfect sunflower above was the only flower growing along the edge of the lot I was parked at.

A burst of sunflowers from a recent walk

Sunflowers typically follow the sun all day long and rest at night. They keep their eye on the prize.

We, too, are blemished. We are not perfect. We make mistakes.

And we can also follow the sun. We can also keep our eye on the prize and not let outside things distract us.

I’m focusing this time on relaxation and reconnecting with my passions. We’re staying local and taking plenty of walks; my son has lots of energy so any way I can wear him out is a plus! The ultimate prize is next year’s vacation to visit family.

How are you staying safe and practicing wellness this summer season?

About the Writer

The Ecocritic

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was blessed to be surrounded by trees, the sweet smell of hay, and some avid skiers. Thanks to my body’s sometimes-painful aversion to the cold, I didn’t quite take advantage of everything the outdoors had to offer, but the good news is there is much to be offered! Despite the extensive timber industry in its past, Wisconsin still has 17.1 million acres of forestlands1 and over 80 state park and recreation areas.2 Lots of wilderness to explore!

Crisp fall days call for crackling fires

Other than my blatant refusal to go ice fishing or sit in a deer stand for longer than 30 minutes, I find the Wisconsin outdoors to be very serene. So many pines, so many lakes, so many cows.

Fun fact: “At the federal level, the U.S. Geological Survey does not have an official definition of lakes, but it does lump together ponds and lakes as water body features. The USGS counts 124,522 water body features in Minnesota and 82,099 in Wisconsin.”3 You win this time, Minnesota.

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to explore the relationship between literature and nature, and there is a term for this: ecocriticism. So, am I an ecocritic? I am willing to say yes, because we can all be ecocritics when we explore with an ecocritical mindset. I am a novice just beginning to orient myself on this new path – and there are tools we can use to view our surroundings through the lens of ecocriticism.

What is ecocriticism? The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) notes the following definition: “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.”4 This includes more than the pastoral-themed essays I had once thought encompassed all environmental literature. In fact, rural settings are not just a getaway for the stressed urbanite. The Purdue OWL presents the following specific tropes: pastoral, wilderness (something to be conquered), and ecofeminism (“interconnection of the oppression of women and nature”).4

Click on the Purdue OWL link in the references section to see a list of questions we can use when practicing ecocriticism – I’ll utilize some of those questions as I read the above books

My next TBR theme is environment-related. Are you, like me, a more consistent reader when you read books thematically? (More posts about that to come!)

Hope Jahren, geobiologist and author of Lab Girl, released a new book this year called The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here and I’m excited to add it to my repertoire.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has published multiple books out about the importance of nature. His bio states “His books have been translated and published in 24 countries, and helped launch an international movement to connect children, families and communities to nature.”5 Community access to recreation programs is one of the topics I want to explore in my upcoming Master’s program, so Louv’s books will be making their own TBR pile on my bookshelf very soon.

No books were harmed in the making of this photo

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading snippets of The Singing Wilderness to my son before bed. It’s very soothing and enjoyable. Tthe last one we read was “The Red Squirrel”. They’re so mischievous and playful! Who doesn’t enjoy squirrels? I don’t have a squirrel tattoo for no good reason.

This little buddy goes with me everywhere

When I lived in California for a year, I was surprised when we went to a restaurant, asked for a round of waters at our table, and the response was, “We actually aren’t allowed to do that, everyone has to ask for their own water.” Years later, I’m a little more conscious about my choices (I have some reusable straws that I need to use more), but I want it to be more than that. When we view through the ecocritical lens, we learn new ways to interact with the environment and those around us.

Now that I’m older and no longer live in the frozen tundra, I appreciate the Northwoods in a new light, and I recognize that the landscape has shaped the people who call it home. Yet to be surrounded by such natural beauty and mainly taught the importance of recycling when Earth Day rolled around, is a shame but not surprising. It was a regular part of the lifestyle in California, sowhy didn’t it seem to be in Wisconsin? To learn the answers to this and my many other questions, I’ll have to dig a little deeper and develop my practice as an ecocritic.


About the Writer

The Coveter

What is the deal with wanderlust?

When I was briefly on the Tinder, it seemed like every guy was looking for a picture-perfect girl who would be up for spontaneous adventures to anywhere as if they had no other earthly obligations.

In the wise words of Ariana Grande, “Thank you, next.”

But there is something important here: Wanderlust.

I, too, have daydreamed about making over a camper van, minimizing my belongings down to a shoe box, and traveling across the country with my toddler, dog, and three cats, all the while convincing people that I am a free spirit and that I have made it.

Can you imagine three cats in a camper van? My cat Michael likes to chew on paper – paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, whatever he can get his cute little white sock paws on. With my luck, he’d get ahold of the TP in the camper van and THEN WHAT WOULD I DO? Don’t we already have enough flashbacks from the 2020 toilet paper shortage? *shudder*

Don’t be fooled – this nebelung wants to eat your TP!

If everyone didn’t have a case of wanderlust before COVID-19 hit, they certainly do now. I less want to wander than I want to participate in safe-paced vehicular travel on a 21-hour drive north to visit my parents. In my opinion, Wisconsin is best seen in the summer. Sure autumn has beautiful leaves but the threat of snow lurks just out of sight, leaving everyone waiting for the inevitable.

The Inevitable
Although it’s hard to beat the views of Lake Superior

So I decided to do a little searching on the Internet – why is wanderlust so trendy? Is it the FOMO? The YOLO? Is that what the kids are still saying?

I came across the thesis “Has Instagram Created Wanderlust: How Experiential Sharing Is Influencing Happiness” by Crawford D. Warrick. (By the way, Crawford Warrick, if you ever see this, I love your name!) He references a study in which the results found “the prime factor in choosing a location is the visual appeal of that destination. Users are attracted to locations that appear attainable and exotic; scenic landscapes and well photographed places ranked highest in user preference.”1

Social media is all about looking at stuff, and what better place to look at stuff than Instagram? Warrick mentions that 88% of IG users are outside of the United States.1 We are inundated with photos of the most beautiful places across the GLOBE – how could we not be afraid to miss out?

And there’s another factor in play: “As remote work becomes more and more common, travel has also become a part of daily life for millennials who choose to take their work on the road. This can mean that travel is not just seen as a vacation, but as a lifestyle, as well.”2

A lifestyle. An income! Theoretically in-between potty training my toddler and fighting Michael for the TP I would be able to drive and make money at the same time.

It should go without saying that my stress threshold is not that high. I opt for more local travel. Besides investing in your local economy, a night or two at a local hotel can still feel like a mini getaway.

Texas is my current home and it boasts 80+ state parks3 and 14 national sites.4 We live in the San Antonio area and are happy that many state parks are a very reasonable drive away. San Antonio also has an extensive parks & rec system – we have been here for two years and still haven’t made it everywhere. Plus the trail system is 80+ miles and still developing.5

I say all this to say, wanderlust is what you make of it. It is a feeling and it is a lifestyle. It can be far or close, big or small, new or familiar. Personally, I like to wander in the pre-trodden wilderness usually because I’m either by myself or with my son.

We’ll worry about forging a new path when he’s a little older

I am telling you – at the time if I had seen one more “let’s go on an adventure” in a Tinder dude’s bio, I was going to swear off men altogether. Now, I don’t judge quite so harshly, and I got rid of the Tinder. So I get it. Not all of us think an epic trip is going to the two-story HEB (on my bucket list) or the combined TJ Maxx & HomeGoods store (I could live in there). I am satisfied with my simplicity.

Castroville Regional Park

So instead of coveting my social media neighbor’s beautiful photos of mountains reflecting off a perfect-blue lake while their boho-themed van can be glimpsed in the foreground, I am happy with what I have: a child with Texas-sized energy and boundless local trails to whet our wanderlust appetite.