Local Writers

Back in My Home State

by Liesa Swejkoski

Towards the end of his life, my father and I would spend evenings on the balcony of his home in Saint George, Utah where he had retired fifteen years earlier. “Why would you want to leave all this beauty?” he would ask, gazing east to the red sandstone mountains as the sun set behind his home. The sunbeams cast an ever-changing light show, more beautiful than words can describe.

After several years in the desert, I’d become disillusioned with the harsh, dry climate.  I turned to my father and said, “I miss Michigan.”

Flabbergasted, he asked, “Why would you miss that place? It’s humid in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!”

What did my dad expect me to say? How could I express to him what I felt?

Yes, I’d been raised to hate the state. For decades the man complained about sticky heat whenever he was doing yardwork or repairing the barn. In the winter he would put an electric heater into his car to knock off the chill before driving to work in the pre-dawn hours.

In the desert, all I could see was drying grass and a lack of trees. Year after year I would start a garden, just to watch it dry up. Some years I would have a little success at the start. Then just as my tomatoes, green and plump, would look like they had some hope, a sandstorm would raze Saint George, scouring my little plants down to one inch nubs. Finally I just gave up. Growing a garden in the desert wasn’t worth the tears.

I went to a couple reservoirs because I love to swim in lakes. I tried to make the best of it, but it just wasn’t the same; not by a long shot.

I remember the summer I returned after five years away from Michigan. Dad, his grandchildren, and I drove eastward and watched as day after day, we’d see more trees and grass. One night we made it to our home state and stopped at a hotel in Saint Joseph. The next morning, I put swimsuits on my children to spend the morning at the beach along Lake Michigan. Nine-year-old Kay looked out to the west and gasped, “Mommie! Was this lake here when you were a little girl?”

I answered, “Why, yes, it was!” I realized she only knew about reservoirs from our picnics and a few school field trips. Then I said, “People didn’t make this lake, Heavenly Father did.”

She had a look of amazement and spent a long time playing with her little sister May on the shore. More than once she would stop to gaze at the horizon, awestruck.

I’d spent five years trying to love the desert. Now that I was back in my home state of Michigan, I realized I’d been gone for too long.

My birth took place at Zieger Hospital in Detroit. My own babies each came into the world along the Detroit River: Kay at Wyandotte General Hospital and May at Riverside Osteopathic in Trenton. It’s as if the river is flowing in my blood!

Each season in the Great Lakes has its own splendor. Fun for me growing up was lightning bugs, jumping into piles of leaves, building snowmen. My memories were filled with watching freighters gliding up and down the Detroit River, fishing with my father, and sitting on his shoulders watching boat races. I can’t do any of those things in the desert.

When May and Kay were tiny, we still lived in Michigan. When the snow came, I pulled them on a sled in the woods. The near silence, the muffled sounds in the snow, delighted a place deep inside my soul. Sure, driving in a blizzard can be a challenge, but that doesn’t happen every day. (Then again, man-kind in his wisdom built snowplows, so why worry?)

Still, with the urging of family and a heavy dose of anti-Midwest brainwashing, my husband and I made the move to St. George, Utah. The first thing Kay and May did in our new sandy backyard was dance in a sudden unexpected downpour. The monsoon had come. All the way to the desert and my kids played in the rain!

That was another thing: People would call and ask, “How do you like the desert?”

I’d reply, “It’s ghastly hot!”

To which I’d get the comment, “but at least it’s a dry heat!”

Then I’d explain that since mid-May it was 90 degrees and then 100 degrees plus in June. As soon as we got into July and August, the hottest months at about 115° to 118°, the rains started up, mainly in the surrounding mountains. This added humidity to the weather.  Many times we had to deal with the mugginess, but no rain, unless it came in the form of a downpour resulting in a flash flood. That first summer we lost a couple hens to the heat and a rabbit, too.

Year after year we could see the clouds in the mountains but we’d seldom get rain in the valleys. People from out of town called it a drought. I said, “It’s not a drought. Welcome to the desert.”

Countless times, lightning storms would strike the mountain woods twenty miles away, setting off massive forest fires. The smoke pooled in the valley where we lived and everything smelled like a campfire. I had no problem with the smell—I had issues with breathing in the ash. (California gets all the media attention, but I can verify it: the entire west is a tinderbox.)

To sum it up, when someone says, “At least you have a dry heat out there in the desert,” it’s all I can do not to reach out and slap the assuming face those words come from.

So, now that I am back in Michigan, I breathe in the moist air and give thanks for the woods, four seasons, and the Great Lakes. After all, I was raised in all this grandeur. I just didn’t appreciate it when I was a child.

I am back to stay. It is with great pleasure and satisfaction, that I now call west Michigan my home. I had to journey through desert Hell to return to my first love here in the Great Lakes. Maybe some folks don’t feel the same way that I do, but I am willing to bet many people reading this will smile – and agree.

Where Are We?

by Charlene Lozicki

I have a large window in my family room that gives me a good view of my backyard which has an assortment of trees, small animals, and a variety of birds. When I look out into the yard I think about Mother Nature and how she cares for herself. The trees bloom in the spring and their leaves shade in the summer. In the fall, Mother Nature does her housekeeping. The leaves are windswept away and the trees go to sleep for the winter.

The animals and birds mate in the spring, and when their young are born they feed and protect them from harm. They teach them also to care for themselves as they mature, and repeat the mating process. Each of the species also prepares for the winter, some storing food and others migrating to more hospitable areas. They follow Mother Nature’s plan for them.

Then there are humans, the only species God gave free choice. Not all humans have the same abilities, but working together, and caring for one another, would be a perfect outcome. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

I think back to stories of my grandparents, they worked hard and prepared their homes with heat and food for the cold winter. Today we have more conveniences, and even though some things remain the same, we need heat and food. But we don’t have a day of rest and prayer like they did. Everyone is in a hurry, and there is so much to accomplish. Those that do have prayer and try for a time of rest are criticized, sometimes severely.

There was a time when a teenager saw a movie and that person was left with good thoughts. Recently many films are created only to make money, and they target the teenager who is with their friends and want a thrill. Television has picked up on the idea and goes for number of viewers. News broadcasters are reporting so much negative news and, many times, hate. These are repeated over and over. Hate and obscene language seems to be repeated the most.

If you are not accepted by the [in crowd] and are hurt and lonely, doesn’t all this negativity make the United States a troubled society?

We need to get back to prayer and maybe become less troubled. Stop, look around and see how we can better ourselves, and live the life we were created to live. Mother Nature does it well.

Mike Kraus Artwork featured at Art Cats Gallery, Muskegon

Art Cats Gallery is proud to feature the artwork of Mike Kraus. His pieces explore nature and our interaction with it. Using traditional paint on canvas, his work captures the vibrancy and solitude of our natural surroundings. “My focus is to extract the emotions of each scene and transform it on canvas by emphasizing the details that make the vision unique.” say Kraus. Visit Art Cats Gallery Tuesday – Saturday between 11am – 5pm.

About Mike Kraus
Mike Kraus was born on the industrial shoreline of Muskegon, Michigan. After earning his Fine Arts Degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he attended Grand Valley State University for his graduate degree. From there, he gained varied experiences from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, Hauenstein Center For Presidential Studies, Lollypop Farm Humane Society, and the Children’s Memorial Foundation. And every place he worked, he had his sketchbook with him and found ways to be actively creative. In 2014, Kraus became a full-time artist by establishing Mike Kraus Art. Since then, he has sold hundreds of paintings that are displayed in nearly every state and dozens of countries. Currently, Kraus lives in Rochester, New York with his beautiful wife and goofy dog.

Art Cats Gallery
1845 Lakeshore Dr
Muskegon, Michigan
(231) 755-7606

A Christmas Story

By Bob DeHare

Weeks ago my wife Debby and close friend, Naska embarked on one of many Saturday morning outings. First, a bagel and coffee at their favorite shop, then it’s off to do what good friends do best.

This morning the Eagles were having a fund raiser, selling donated items. The girls checked out all the unwanted treasures (Naska for some reason only known to her has to touch each and every item). They were soon drawn to the book section.

That afternoon after returning home, Debby showed me her new read. A most unusual titled book, with its dust cover in excellent condition for a book printed in 1996. Obviously the book had never been read or maybe even opened. The name of the book, “Who Were the Celts?” — Everything you ever wanted to know about the Celts, one thousand BC to the present, by Kevin Duffy. Chain armor, horseshoes, iron plough shares were just a few invented by Celts. The White House was designed and built by a man of Celtic descent. Their influence in art, literature, music, science, technology, warfare, and politics are written.

The year was 1996 an uncle had sent this book to a favorite niece, as a birthday present. The book never read, found its place in a corner bookcase. There it stayed for 16 years to one day be donated to a fund raiser. That afternoon Debby showed me her new book. My reaction was “REALLY…” Later that evening while sipping a cup of hot chocolate Debby loudly announced, “look what I found in my new book.” We both stared at a $1000.00 savings bond in pristine condition belonging to someone named Amanda, maturing in 2006.

It took some doing but with God’s help Debby located Amanda, now married, husband and two small children living in Ishpeming, Michigan. A small town in the Upper Peninsula.

Amanda returned our call and after answering several questions like what is the 7th number of your social security number, we knew we had the right Amanda. Amanda now 25 moved to the Upper Peninsula seven years ago because of a job offer for her husband. After only 5 years that job went south. So for the last two years, her family of four has been getting by on odd jobs.

Amanda’s savings bond was quickly sent with a promise of a Christmas card. I love a Christmas story.