Up North, 2016
We come today to the north shore of Lake Huron, near the eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Waves lap in a relaxed fashion onto the cobblestone beach just a few feet away. Ash-grey sky blends with blue-grey water on the southern horizon. There is a gentle, welcome breeze of air, like silk. Sunshine dances onto the deck like patchwork through the green of the cedars overhead. Seventy-something degrees. Morning. Some places on earth are magic, and “Up North” is one of them.
This opportunity to visit friends came spur of the moment when other plans abruptly changed. I apologized for the imposition, but they insisted I was simply honoring an open invitation to come any time. A hurt knee limits my activities to a basic hobble; life has come to a skidding halt while awaiting a surgical consult.
I didn’t realize until a couple of hours into the drive here the magnitude of the grip with which other demands had been holding me in place. It was then that I felt the magic seep in, the load beginning to shed, my shoulders starting to lower and soften. Suddenly, it was possible to exhale. As I crossed the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, a palpable sense for the possibilities of the road beckoned to me. How long has it been since I had a road trip like this, without purpose or mission? Too long.
There’s a pace here in the northland that I wish everyone could find, at least once in awhile. You wake up and there’s no need to jump up. To linger in bed is so unlike me; the first morning, I stayed a full hour, studying the designs in the pine planking of the cabin walls of my room, watching the light change as the sun rose from where I first saw it peeking through the trees from the eastern horizon. Once in awhile I’d sit up, but the coziness of my covers called me back against the morning chill. In a place like this, you can ease into the day, and then figure out what else to do. There’s not much need for watches, or smart phones, or any external intrusion. It’s not really a vacation so much as a very welcome chance to Just. Slow. Down.
When I first moved to Michigan nearly thirty years ago, I didn’t—couldn’t—understand the attraction of the place simply referred to as Up North. Over time, I discovered that the term meant anything from nearby Cadillac (or less), to places such as Northport and Traverse City at the top of the lower peninsula, to the sparsely-populated area across the Mackinac Bridge: the U.P. Back then, I was a mountain girl; I just wanted to go home. Now, with the gift ot time, I get it. I appreciate this quiet place and everything it represents.
Being here is enough. Being here is healing. Being here is a chance to remember that this lake, these waves, this breeze, this sun have been here for eons. There’s immense freedom in knowing that I will be able to evoke the peace of this visit in the months to come simply by closing my eyes and reminding myself of this day. Just like my beloved mountains, this and natural places of every ilk will be here long after I am gone. Their essence is necessary to us humans, even though we often seem collectively to forget or ignore that fact. I offer this glimpse of it as a small offering, a way we can all remain mindful of the power of the natural world, wherever it is and however it presents itself to us.