County Roads

River“Why did I listen to you? I was going to take the other road. You have no sense of direction.” (This is true.)

“You weren’t listening to me, you were listening to the GPS. This is the road the GPS said to take!” (Also true.)

“I wasn’t going to listen to the GPS. It thought that other road connected to something and it didn’t. It stopped in the middle of nowhere.” (Frightening.)

We were in the Upper Peninsuala of Michigan, alone. We had food, a tent, and other survival equipment with us in the car, but we were running low on water. The road before us was packed dirt, rough like a series of speed bumps one after another after another. We had no phone signals, and there was no sign of another human being for miles. If our little Toyota Camry got stuck in one of the low places made muddy from recent rain, we would be on our own.

Over Labor Day weekend, we put the dog in the kennel and set out on a grand wilderness adventure. From our home in southwest Michigan we drove to St. Ignace on the north side of the Straights of Mackinack. Our first day didn’t feel so remote: we had beakfast in town and toured around Mackinack Island on bycicle and foot. There were no cars on the island, of course, but there were plenty of people.

That changed on day two when we packed up camp and drove west along the coast of Lake Michigan. It seemed people only lived out there so they could sell us homemade pasties, jerkey, slim jims, and smoked fish, knit us cosy mittens, and sell us gas. The main road – which we were on – was paved, one lane each way, and lined by nothing but lake, sky, and trees.

We reached Pictured Rocks and hiked eleven miles through true wilderness. “All good things are wild and free,” they say, and that was certainly true of this place. After our hike we drove for hours along a winding, unlit road, watching lightning in the sky above the forest tunnel that surrounded us. We were in search of food, and found it, in the tiny town of Grand Marias on the coast of Lake Superior. But we were keenly aware that the brewery we’d found was likely serving the only food availible for hours in any direction.

We kept on that night to Tahquamenon Falls, camped, and enjoyed both the views and the hot food availible at the upper falls in the morning.

Which brought us to the dirt roads.

Our plan was to travel farther north up to Whitefish Point to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum before heading all the way back home. But we’d seen a sign not too far back for the Big Two Hearted River recreational area.

English major and literature junkie that I am, I’d brought a copy of Hemingway’s collected stories specifically for this opportunity.

So we backtracked a bit until we found the sign, and we followed the arrow.

Little did we know, the arrow was pointing miles back to the mouth of the river, which was hours of gravely dirt county roads away.

We drove until it became obvious that the sign had not been pointing to something nearby. There’d been a small bridge over a branch of the river, so we decided to go back there, snap some photos, and call it good. Time was beginning to weigh on us, and we still wanted to get up to the Point. So we plugged in the GPS and punched in our destination.

We were hours away. But the GPS found another route, one that shaved off about half the time.

“Oh, the GPS says to turn here,”  I said.

And Caleb turned.

And it was the scariest drive of my life. The adventurousness of our trip faded away as I thought about what it meant to be in the middle of the wilderness I often long for.

If something went wrong, no one would see us. No one would stop to help. And we could not call anyone.

I truly realized for the first time how dangerous travel was for generations before us, with their horse-drawn carriages and minimal supplies. As I gripped the handle of the passenger door and prayed while we bounced over the uneven road and took turns too fast out of fear that if we slowed down, we’d get stuck, I would have given anything for a glimpse of asphalt.

We made it out, thanks to Caleb (who does have a good sense of direction) and made it through the rest of our trip without mishap. But I will never look at a “County Road” the same way again, and travelers beware of what the sign for the Two Hearted River on MI 123 doesn’t say – miles and hours of dirt road, this way.)

Oh, but I got my photos.

Two-Hearted

How are the Roads?

Skunk cabbage

In Michigan, in February, there is one question I hear more than any other question – more even than “How are you doing?” What question is that?

“How are the roads?”

As much as people instinctively respond “good” to the first question, they seem to take an inexplicable joy in relating just how “bad!” their journey was in the snow. The roads were absolutely terrible, barely even cleared, there were at least a dozen cars on the sides of the roads, and visibility was zilch.

Sometimes that sounds like the answer to the other question. The answer we never give.

Winter tends to have the same effect on my creativity as it does on the roads. It’s hard to find inspiration when everything around me is white or slush brown, and there’s no end in sight. It’s hard to be productive when all I want to do is curl up under every blanket we own and hibernate like a bear until spring.

I think it would be better if I forgot about the bear and tried to be more like skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage?

I’d never heard of this plant before moving to Michigan, where it grows freely in the ravine behind my house and my in-laws’ house, and in the local nature center where I like to walk. No one much cares for it, but I think the purple, wild, beak-like flower is really beautiful. What I didn’t know about skunk cabbage until just recently is that it has the ability to generate temperatures 20-60 degrees above the temperature of the air around it.

I know, it’s crazy!

This means that these little green plants started growing in the nature center last week, during the middle of our heaviest, longest snow of the season (so far).

So I want to be a skunk cabbage, and grow, and be green, in February, so I can tell people that the roads are just fine.

Sand is a Verb

A week ago today Caleb and I became homeowners! Since then, every spare second of our time has been spent working to get the house move-in ready. The last owners were unfortunately not very up on maintaining things, and they owned three cats. (We’ve probably vacuumed up about eight.)

The first thing we did was rip out the carpets so our vacuum would survive to live a good long life. Underneath are original hardwood floors that I am in love with – it’s been too long since I walked on wood every day! After this the weekend was spent tearing up tack strips, ripping out nails and staples from the floor, and taking every screw, anchor, nail, staple, and piece of scotch tape off the walls. The fun part came Tuesday when I spent twelve hours sanding every surface in the house – except the floors. Walls, baseboards, quarter-round, doors, trim, and window sills are now all covered with a fine dust that means after a little vacuuming they will be prepped to paint!

So here’s some photos of the worst it gets, folks. From here on out, our busy hours will be spent filling, priming, painting, and improving!

Living Room

Guest Room

Bathroom

Library

Upstairs hallway

Master bedrom

 

The one surface we haven’t sanded yet – the floors – will be waiting for us and a rented drum sander this weekend. That’s right, we’re refinishing all of these floors. And the end results will be be-a-u-tiful.

P.S. – Since this post was written, we’ve done a lot more sanding (this post title is so true) that got us some floors that are even prettier than we hoped!

After the Storm

If you live in Michigan, or anywhere nearby, you know what a great storm we had last night. And if you’re anything like me, that means that your first thought this morning was “Let’s go to the beach!”

I like sunbathing and beach reading and lovely wave-narrated naps as much as the next person, but I wanted to go to the beach to find out what had washed up in the night. Unfortunately, because I want to get a graduate degree (I do I do I do), I had to spend the morning inside a really great coffee shop down the road working on a piece for my next packet. (Not really such a sacrifice, come to think of it.) Coincidentally, the piece I’m currently writing is about Lake Michigan and the wide variety of things that can be found along the shore there.

Because of this, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading about Lake Michigan. Everything from books about beach glass and rock picker’s guides to books about shipwrecks and Chicago. So walking along the beach today, there were a lot more facts running through my mind, and my eyes were looking for a lot more than just the usual beach glass. As luck would have it, this meant I found almost nothing (luck, or the dozens of people who scoured the beaches prior to 1PM). Caleb found most of what is in the photo below, while I hunted and shifted and dug and found maybe three pieces.

Hunting for beach glass and fossils is a pretty enjoyable hobby, and it helps that beach glass is far more plentiful here on the lake than it is on the Chesapeake Bay. There is almost always something waiting to be found on the lake shore. And after a big storm, there’s a really good chance of finding it. (As long as you’re not looking too hard – like me.)

treasure

When You Have No Office

Five months after our move to the breezy north, Caleb and I have yet to move above ground out of our chilly burrow. Because we are still in this apartment I’ve still been having trouble working on writing from home. Hopefully once we do move I’ll be able to set up a nice writer’s room and things will get easier.

In the meantime, however, my desk is not an ideal place to work due to the lack of natural lighting, and I can’t sit elsewhere in the apt. because then I can see all of the dishes, the laundry, the housework I should be doing. (If you’re looking for guilt-free procrastination techniques, this is for you.) So lucky for me, the beginning of my first semester at Spalding coincided with the opening of a great local coffee shop not five minutes from my house.

The shop happens to be owned by some friends of ours, and they arranged for me to write blog posts for them in order to get the word out without adding to their already busy schedules. In return, what do I get? A tasteful, caffeine-rich new office full of natural light!

It’s a pretty great deal – and I get a lot more work done!

image

If you’d like to check out the blog, click here.

 

Bonfire?

Bonfire

The other night Caleb and I arrived at the beach at 7:36, fashionably late for a 7:30 bonfire on a balmy June evening of 61 degrees.

Only, we were the first ones there. And there was no fire.

Aside from a single carload of friends equally perplexed about the plans that fell through, we remained the only ones gathered around a pile of unlit wood until 8. Fortunately when they did finally arrive they brought blanket, marshmallows, and all of the required accouterments for smores.

Except, of course, the fire.

By the time Caleb went home for a lighter and came back, it was 8:30, and we finally had that greatest symbol of human progression.

I found myself critical of the “wasted” time. An hour on the cold beach with no fire or friends? After all, I could have been home writing or revising or reading or working on any number of things (including the dishes that somehow piled up WAY too high this week…). But instead I was sitting at a beach doing nothing. (To those of you to whom this sounds like heaven, might I remind you of the temperature? I was wearing jeans and a fleece. Summer, my foot.)

As Caleb’s fire began to warm us, marshmallows were finally roasted, and many friends suddenly gathered around, I realized time spent doing nothing can be valuable, in it’s own way. This is something I’ll always readily admit, but usually my nothing time is time during which I planned to be doing nothing. Surprise nothing is not something I’m totally comfortable with. But with all those dishes on the counter when I got home that night, I realized I might not have been planning nothing for a while.

So thanks for nothing! =) And the pleasant warmth, music, and company that followed.

Even if 61 is WAY too cool for June.

 

Goodbye to Appalachia

“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
– Isaiah 54:10

My feelings about returning to the University of the Cumberlands for commencement were mixed at best. It was a fun time, and great to see family and professors and all that, but there was a bit of pointlessness behind all of the pomp and circumstance. After all, Caleb and I have already had our diplomas for nearly five months, were are both employed in exactly the areas were wanted to be employed in doing things that we love, and we have moved to another state. As cool as the ceremony was, there was a distinct feeling that we were beyond it before it began, and our excitement was not the electric pulse that seemed to course through the May graduates.

The real feeling I had while at UC was a sense of final goodbye. When we left in December, it was sad in a way, but mostly just exciting. We knew we’d be coming back for ceremonies. Instead of goodbyes, we said “See you in April’s.” In April, it felt weird to come back and realize life in the ‘burg had continued on as normal without us. I thought of other seniors I had known who left while I remained, and knew that just as life had not changed for me then, no one’s life had changed for them now. It was great to see old co-workers and professors, but once again instead of goodbye it was “See you in May.”

That May trip has come and gone, now, and at the end of it we had to truly say goodbye. For the first time in my life, I left UC without having even an idea of when I might return – much less with the knowledge of the exact date of my arrival back on campus as I have almost always had in the past. This uncertainty led to my first true “goodbye” to UC – not see you in the spring, have a great summer, don’t have too much fun over break. Those English classrooms, so much learned within them; those sidewalks, so many conversations they overheard; those mountains, so many adventures they have given me, but so many more they still hold. On my next trip, all might be entirely changed. The girl I was when I learned those things, talked to those sidewalks, adventured in those mountains – she’ll be gone too.

For the first time I feel I know what it’s like to truly leave a place, a place that has sheltered and fed and given life to me. I will miss you Appalachia. Now let’s see what I will be when I do return.

Graduate