Friday, October 10, 2014

Gone to Michigan....

     "Under what conceivable philosophical, moral or aesthetic system," I asked myself, shuffling forward in this line to escape the deafening, smokey, netherworld of Union Station this past Wednesday, "could you possibly even consider justifying being back here on Friday when you could instead be driving to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?"
     No answer came.
     Every year, I join my buddy Rick and a half dozen guys at his compound on the shores of Lake Superior. We hike and read and swim, briefly, in the chill lake, certain to be extra cold this time of year. We eat heartily and the other fellows drink heartily. We sit in his ample, wood-stove sauna and then leap into the frigid waters to cool off. I bring a couple cigars. We have deep conversations, sometimes pop into town—Ontonagon—for cheeseburgers. Last year I shot a composite crossbow and used a chainsaw, both for the first time. Regarding the latter, I prefer my Gransfors Bruks Swedish Forestry Axe, which I bring along with me, and put to good use, clearing the sides of the road. And there is firewood to split.
      This year, I don't know, why, but I paused, tired. I wondered, "Do I really want to do this? Again? The fourth time. Quite a lot, really." A seven hour drive up. That's a big drive for a long weekend. There's so much work to do here. The book deadline, already booted back once, looms. All those source notes to write. And the newspaper. And this. Every goddamn day. And tons of chores around the house. The spring cleaning of the garage which somehow never got done and became fall cleaning and, the way I'm going, winter cleaning, cycling back on spring again, undone. The porch needs painting. I tried to cobble together a rationale for sitting this one out. 
      But I didn't like the person who was making that argument. He seemed grim and old and tetchy and dutiful and drab. Frankly, the one who's going to the UP feels sorta grim and old and tetchy and dutiful and drab, too, but I'm expecting that to loosen up somewhere around the Wisconsin border. Then there's Held's, near Slinger, and the smoked deer jerky we'll pick up. Always do. Hacking into it as we drive, like gnawing on a wallet. "It tastes like a burned down house," Ross once said. It does, too, but in a good way. "Don't bring any home this time," my wife cautioned.
      After I subdued the impulse not to go, I picked it apart. The fuzzy blue blankie of routine. Wanting to do what you always do, always, even more than something which is demonstrably better. Minimizing your effort expenditure. Even something where you know what' it'll be like because you've done it before and liked it every time. It must be important to me, because on the windowsill is driftwood from the shores of Lake Superior, and in the corner, a perfect walking stick of birch, light, bleached gray-white in the sun, the top gnawed by a beaver. To keep it propped there all year, yet even consider not bringing it back for its annual excursion home.... stupid. Glad I dodged that bullet. Have to keep in mind: pause sometimes, often even, because before you know it, you'll be pausing forever, and wish you had paused even more, and hadn't worked so damn much.


  1. I used to love the UP until one time when I took my African-American girlfriend there. The early autumn warmth turned to a deep chill - you'd think we had traveled to Bridgeport. In retrospect not surprisingly, people were friendlier on the other side of the border in Canada. I still go up there frequently and on more recent trips I noticed it seemed like there were a lot more Amish vehicles on the back roads.

    Anyway, if you want to try something a little different on one of these trips, take an extra day or two and head up the Lake Superior coastline to Wawa - the scenery is spectacular and they have a statute of a goose in the middle of what they call downtown.

  2. You could also spin it this way: going up to the UP is part of your routine, a good part, not an exception to it. My family used to have a cabin in Chetek, WI and the spring and fall opening/closing weekends were sacrosanct until my mom's health made us have to sell the place (to the grandson of the guy my stepdad bought it from, completing a cycle of life gesture). My stepdad and his nephew and I still try to get up there once a year (offseason usually, to avoid the crowds). Nothing like the North Woods, even with Cheeseheads, to soothe the soul.


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