Thursday, April 10, 2014


In my grandmother’s day a good dose of blackstrap molasses and sulphur cleaned out the human system, warded off any lingering malaise from winter’s icy clutches, and tuned up the body for three seasons of hard work on the farm.

In my youth, the Spring Tonic on Grandma’s shelf was replaced by a few cups of Sassafras tea or stewed rhubarb, which pretty much worked the same way as the dreaded tonic. By the time I became a grandmother, a week in Cancun or Barbados or Aruba was the remedy. Or if your pocketbook resembled mine, five days in Kalamazoo.

Some of my friends—whose pocketbooks may be anorectic—swear by a day at the spa.

Say “spa day” and right away you’ll conjure up a jumble of images—pummeling and pomading through ten hours of sauna, massage, styling, tweaking, manicure, pedicure, every-kind-of-cure for the common blahs and disenchantments of the face and figure. Wintertime, springtime, anytime.

View of one of the "Chain"
By happy accident, I discovered another kind of spa day.

We drove from Auburn, my friend Janine and I, in her 4X4, to Chain-O-Lakes State Park about 30 minutes away. Picture a day in late April. Spring sunshine, leaves taking their time unfurling their shades of green. Water standing in fallow fields, running in ditches, swelling creeks, all from late winter snow that had no chance against a young spring breeze and honest-to-goodness sunshine.

In northeastern Indiana we celebrate the first day of spring with the rest of the civilized world—around March 21st when the spring equinox shows up on the calendar. We know that’s a token celebration—on a par with a green Christmas—because real spring, the one worth celebrating, comes on a day when you least expect it. It’s a mid-week day, when offices and schools and businesses are up and running, expecting their employees and clients and students and customers to show up as well.


On a real spring day, some of us are privileged to get in a 4X4 and cruise the trails and roads of a state park. 10 mph cruising. No hurry. No agenda. Only the journey.

The 4-by heads into the park, makes a loop around one or two of the lakes in the chain, from which the park gets its name, and climbs one of the steep hills into a wooded area. Campground, cabins, fish-cleaning station…. Down another hill into the valley floor. What used to be a racing creek has expanded into a flowing meadow. The water’s nearly level with the bridge over the no-longer-dashing waterway.

We stop and park on the side of the road. Janine takes out one of her cameras, a monster thing with a long lens that allows her to poke her eye into Nature’s intimate business from a safe distance. I watch last autumn’s leaves float down the lazy stream and let the sun fall on my face.

Our only companions are woodsy inhabitants, too shy to come out.

When Janine winds up her photo op, we continue our loop around the park, and end up at one side of the biggest lake where a pier juts out into the main channel. I stand in the sun, my arms propped on the side supports of the pier, while Janine snaps photos of me in various hats and scarves for future use as publicity pics.

We’ve spoken fewer than fifty words since we entered the park. No pummeling, no pomading. No need for the delights of the day spa.

Because here, in this natural setting, we’ve bathed in warm spring air so delicious you can almost taste it, spied out elusive greens that will soon be in full leaf to delight the eye, caught the springtime perfume of sun on old leaves and new growth. Our souls have basked in Nature music: bird song, trickles of water running over stones, dry leaves from a year ago whisked away by a sudden breeze.

We’ve spent no money. Yet we’ve received simple gifts: cures for the common winter blahs, and disenchantments of the spirit. You can’t bottle this tonic and sell it for profit. This cure is free for the taking. If you want it.

Autumn @ Chain-O-Lakes
Another inspiring season



  1. Just reading this is a tonic. Made me feel better, even though it's 90 degrees here this week.

  2. Spring seems to do that for a lot of people--make them feel better, even just reading about it.