In the last chapter of my 2018 memoir, Uncharted Waters, I wrote:
The sun, once a fist above the shore, is dissolving into the golden streaks of sunset. I reach across the cockpit for his hand and squeeze it gently. Someday with misty eyes and a sad heart, I will help him hang a “For Sale” sign over the stern rail of Balance. For he, too, must be safe. Together we will climb on and off dozens of boats, looking for our next piece of waterfront property. Most likely, it will be a newer sailboat or trawler with push buttons for anchoring, bow thrusters for docking, something easier to maneuver and ideal for those with gray hairs and wrinkly, scarred skin.
Someday the stern of our boat will read, The Inevitable II.
But that day is not today.
However, four years later, it is today. It is with heavy heart that we say goodbye to Balance, a sailboat that was my residence in Illinois for three years, our waterfront property for another twenty-two. Our holiday photograph is of our last adventure on Balance, sailing out the White Lake channel into Lake Michigan. This month, we purchase a 2018 Catalina sailboat with all the features needed for us to continue to sail safely into our seventies. It was inevitable. Rubin is as excited as I’ve seen him in decades. I’m getting there. Remember that white Maxima I drove with delight for twenty-two years, the one about which I wrote a poem?! It’s always been difficult for me to let go.
Home is not the house
in which he told me no paint brush
fit the palm of his hand
and the mosquitoes chewed
a hole in my back
as I singlehandedly
painted the exterior trim
of the two-story structure
in the woods of Wisconsin;
nor the one in which he gifted me
a crowbar and coveralls
so I might learn
the true meaning of filthy
when I punched a hole
in the plaster and the remnants
of a 1914 mouse nest showered
my head and shoulders
with trinkets and dust
thick as a cloud of gnats;
nor the one where he taught me
electric wiring and how
my jog became a sprint
down Ohio streets
when I heard fire engines
screaming like angry hornets,
saw them line up like carpenter ants
alongside our driveway,
and how relieved I was the source
was a neighbor’s alarm;
nor is it the Brentwood box perched
on top a hill so steep he surprised me
with his and her lawnmowers
so we might spend more time together—
chased by the 17-year cicadas;
nor is it the small Nashville house
we remodeled to offset
the biting winds of Michigan winters
until he decided to “test the market”
and priced it so high our friend
refused to list it but people
descended like fruit flies on wine
and it sold in less than five days;
nor is it the Victorian tucked in the dunes
on a piece of land no one thought buildable
but he had a machete on board the boat
and sliced through the forest to find the spot,
just like the web-spinning spiders
who discovered it first.
Home is not the house but
is the soft hair on his chest
where I place my cheek
to hear the irregular tap, tap, tap
of his fragile and damaged heart
and know he is with me still,
unlike any insect that dared
cross his perimeter
into one of our many houses.
A Mother/Daughter Presentation to the Petal Pushers Garden Club of Kalamazoo, MI
To see a one-minute video excerpt from the presentation, click on the link as Jane McKinney reads a poem from her most recent book, Joy in My Heart, published in 2022 at the age of ninety-five. The mother of six children and former Director of Public Information for the East Lansing School District for eighteen years, she is the author of ten books including a children’s book, a memoir on motherhood, a collection of essays, and seven books of poetry.
The man soldiers beneath an overstuffed backpack
towering above his head. Oblivious to the sultry
mid-morning sun, unaffected by sweat dribbling
down cheeks grayed by a closely-cropped beard,
lost in sounds emanating from white earbuds,
he is not a familiar face encountered on my jogs;
not a walker, fellow runner, poop-picker-upper.
I pause mid-stride to raise a questioning eyebrow.
When I hear wilderness training, I remember
a 44-pound forest-green backpack that included
a Dutch Oven so the girls could bake their first
pineapple upside-down cake over a campfire;
rain tarps to stretch between trees at night--
knowing on clear nights, we would inch our bags
from beneath the tarps to sleep under the stars.
And the moon. Especially the moon.
I remember ascents up rocky trails,
finally reaching that place above the tree-line
where the air was crisp and clouds floated below us;
where the earth seemed silent, peaceful, divine.
Such a long time ago.
Today, there is no pack on my shoulders
and yet sweat rolls in rivers down cheeks
the color of Ida’s red as I ponder my mortality,
my husband’s, mother’s, and the choices
that braid our lives together.
The hiker asks for what am I training,
and to his surprise and mine
I reply, life.
I do not know why he, a baseball cap beneath
his hard hat, silver-white beard, easy smile,
and wearing the lime-glow vest of construction,
stopped to tell me her story. I was lost in the fragrance
of the beach rose, savoring a sweet smell strong enough
to overpower the salty air of the ocean; a Japanese beauty
once treasured, now declared invasive. An outlaw.
Not on the top of the list, like the common reed
so integral to her plan to tilt the scales in the battle
between sea and land—which is what she was trying to do--
designing, patenting, constructing a simple terrace
to save their cottage. Standing 4’10” and nearing sixty,
the woman he called “sassy” hauled cedar boards down
a cliff of glacial moraine to create a structure for reeds
collected while scouring the beaches off Montauk Point.
When it held, she offered to terrace the beacon of light
perched on the point; a piece of history commissioned
by the first president to bring trade to the New World.
Tough of mind and strong of heart, she would not
take no for an answer. A town clambake netted money.
So did the musician renting a cottage for the summer.
And the senator’s son. And the reeds held. Until they did not.
Then he, a landscaper who volunteered alongside the woman,
enhanced the design with rocks, grasses, cloth strong enough
to withstand 100-knot winds. And the structure held.
Until it did not. Now he and the Army Corps are stacking
65,000 tons of boulders on the shore; $30,000,000
in rocks often so heavy only two can be loaded per truck
and hauled from a quarry upstate across crumbling bridges.
As the Arctic Sea ice disappears, the rocks are to repel
the inbound urge of the waves—warmer, wilder, higher--
seeking forever the changing shore; like the beach rose
sending rhizomes further and deeper into the sand.
A block away and still I notice your tousled hair,
rumpled overcoat too small to button, eyes riveted
on me. Seven decades of training chill the sweat
off my body and yet I continue jogging toward you,
a compass needle drawn to the magnetic meridian.
But imaginary you are not and my head automatically
turns to avoid eye contact, the palm of my hand raised,
a shield as I pass. I say “no” before I can decipher
your words. I was raised to not speak to strangers.
The map in your hand stops me two strides past.
My dad purchased a new Road Atlas every year,
a book of dreams with Northwest pages dog-eared
and stained by hopeful hands. You tell me you are 86,
one year younger than dad when death erased all roads
to Oregon and Washington. Visiting from Illinois,
you are searching for your son without car or suitcase,
just a downtown map, useless in neighborhoods.
Beneath your coat, your Sunday-best, but missing
are dentures that belong with that smile.
Yes, your son knows you are coming. No,
he is at work. No, they took your phone away.
We walk south, a straight line in a conversation
that zigs and zags like backroads through the mountains.
From an inside pocket, you pull your license.
It bears the same address as your son and I ask
if it would be okay and we wait together
at the corner for the patrol car.
Before climbing into the back seat,
you turn and shake my hand. I suspect
you are tired, ready to go home,
like the day my dad placed the Atlas
on the shelf, rather than next to his chair.
It is during the spring, when the honeysuckle’s white sliver of petals showers the roadside with sweetness, that the last mile and a half of my morning jog seems less formidable. This morning I violated all jogging protocols and paused to smell the bush’s fragrance. I wondered if the honeysuckle blooms in Ukraine.
For months I have felt helpless as I watched, from afar, the slaughter of the Ukrainian people, the rape of their woman, starvation of their children, demolition of homes and businesses, destruction of land, water sources, the killing of all things living. How does the heart endure?
It takes a special set of eyes to see a path that leads beyond helpless, beyond hopeless, beyond despair. I have rarely seen those eyes hidden beneath the rim of his baseball cap, but the voice of poet GF Korreck makes me laugh, helps me find delight in the ordinary, and stirs my consciousness . . . as he did a little over a month ago when he asked me and a group of poets to contribute to an anthology of poems about Ukraine.
Under GF’s leadership, 29 poets created a masterpiece titled Busy Griefs, Raw Towns: a poetic response to the brutality of war in Ukraine. The book is being published by Schuler Books—with 100% of the proceeds going to the International Rescue Committee aid in Ukraine relief efforts.
Poetry cannot stop violence. But it can awaken people. It can touch us. It can uplift us. It can remind us of our soul, our humanity, and what it means to be part of a world, GF writes in the introduction.
Please consider purchasing an advance copy at
I like to think poetry plants honeysuckle along the roadsides of despair.
Why Am I Here?
Here in this dinky room
stripped to the waist,
given a shirt that opens
in the back, doesn’t button,
trapped in a bed with bars,
while people are scurrying
about like squirrels on attack?
You tell me keep a sense of humor.
People masked like bandits
ready to rob me of decency
and who knows what else?
They’re poking me for blood,
swabbing inside my nose,
constantly squeezing my arm
with some gizmo that feels
like the first step to amputation.
And don’t they talk to each other?
Every person who enters
asks me my name, date of birth,
what year it is, and who’s president.
Why don’t they look at a calendar?
Turn on TV? And didn’t you tell them
we exercise every morning?
No need to repeatedly ask me
to point my finger to theirs,
squeeze their hands, lift my legs.
From the ER to the hospital room,
the same thing over and over.
I’m in great shape,
passed every test perfectly.
Feels like I’ve been here a month.
Why can’t we just go home?
Didn’t you tell them
my son drove from North Carolina
to see me? Brought his dog,
Bridget, to meet me?
I’ll tell them.
I have to be home by lunch.
And I was.
Copyright Ó 2022 Jane McKinney & Mary McKSchmidt
When I saw the effects COVID’s social isolation was having on my mother, the difficult physical and mental changes that occur with age, witnessed the deep sorrow lingering from the deaths of her husband and dog, and years later, from the death of her twin, I introduced the excitement of outdoor adventures into our weekly routine. Walking arm-in-arm through the city and county parks of Holland, we laughed, traded memories, discussed birds, flowers, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. But it was one flowering tree, in one park, and one bench, that showed me how nature can heal the spirit, and how important it is to make nature easily accessible to all seniors in all communities.
By 2050, one in four people in the United States will be over the age of 60. According to a 2007 report issued by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health, between 2005 and 2030, the 85-and-over population is projected to increase 151 percent across the globe compared to 21 percent for those under 65. While COVID-19 is not reflected in the numbers, chronic diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and diabetes are likely causes of death in those over 85. Such diseases often require long term care that consumes public and family resources. Worse, the diseases gnaw at the mental and emotional health of seniors and family members.
But nature has the power to heal.
An increasing body of research suggests regular contact with nature can improve short-term memory loss, reduce inflammation, recharge immune systems, diminish a sense of isolation, and lower the overall risk of early death. And it doesn’t take that much time. According to one study, just two hours a week can make a difference.
Not all seniors have a retired daughter living seven miles away, able to make nature accessible. Nor does every daughter or son have a parent or grandparent healthy enough to walk the sidewalks and paths of our public parks. And while Mother lives in an apartment with windows opening to wetlands filled with the lively entertainment of red-winged blackbirds and ducks, the soothing sight of water and cattails, not everyone is so fortunate.
Can communities make access to nature easier for the growing senior population?
When we began our outdoor adventures, Mother could walk unassisted for a long mile on any type of path. Over the last eight years, she has transitioned from walking independently to arm-in-arm to cane to walker. Uneven surfaces and cracks matter. So does the slope of the path. Grass, sand or woodchip trails are no longer a possibility, asphalt or concrete essential. Fear of falling haunts us both.
Over 23 public and private parks are within ten miles of Mother’s apartment making access to nature possible. But it’s not always easy. Favorite spaces boil down to paths, benches, trees, and safety.
Now over 95, Mother needs more frequent pauses, comfortable benches on which to rest, preferably benches shaded by trees that protect eyes sensitive to light and paper-thin skin susceptible to cancer; that open the door to sensory stimulation created by leaves that flutter, squirrels that dart, birds that chatter, and a vast array of colors and textures. The benches need to be comfortable, to include complete backs, preferably made of a wood-like product so as to be resistant to temperature variations, placed at the same height from ground to seat. Research points to the importance of placing benches every ten yards for a senior-friendly park. I’ve never counted the steps but know that more is better with each passing year.
While the majority of parks in our community are clean, wheelchair-accessible with ample parking, there is no “elder space,” a designated area where we do not have to worry about children accidentally running into us while chasing a ball, skateboarding or riding a bike. Our favorite park is Windmill Island—not just because of the Jane tree, a tree bearing her same name and a nearby bench placed on her behalf commemorating a poem she wrote about her twin—but because of the many docents on site who keep “eyes” on visitors to help everyone stay safe. And there are restrooms.
In statistical terms, Mother is an “n” of one. However, I do not think her needs unique. As the senior population mushrooms in our communities, it is to our collective advantage to solicit their input, prioritize their needs and find ways to create a more nature-friendly environment. And while the research shows nature can have a positive effect on one’s health, for Mother and me there was more. Nature brought us together on our respective journeys to find inner peace, to live with joy. Such journeys do not stop when one turns 65. If anything, they become more urgent.
As seen in the Holland Sentinel, April 13, 2022.
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