(Silent blogger’s note: Please give a warm, warm, super-warm welcome to our guest blogger, Suzi Banks Baum. And do stop by to visit her blog Laundry Line Divine!)
I am a northern girl.
This has nothing much to do with my bachelor’s degree from Northern Michigan University. It has much much more to do with warm sand, ticks and bobcats; much more to do with growing up in a small town where I know everyone I see at the supermarket and bicycling no hands for miles on flat roads. It has everything to do with my first jobs, one at a camp on the shores of Lake Superior where I learned the power of thunderstorms, green sky and terrific winds. It has everything to do with my parents’ decision to raise my sisters and me in that town, where my Mom died last year, celebrated with Jell-O salads of many colors and a chorus of familiar hymns.
I am of and from the North.
I head north whenever I have a chance.
To the citizens of Alabama, I live in the north.
And to my parents, I was born in the north.
I am a guest here today, of my sister of the North, Kathy Drue. Here at her website Lake Superior Spirit, Kathy invites us all to see more of the northland that she calls home. I found Kathy on the www. because of our mutual love for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She lives there and I am from there.
My grandmother Mimi, Marguerite Catherine Crooks Banks was born in Swanzy, Michigan. The actual spot where Mimi was born, a station stop on the train that ran through there, has been consumed by the wild land, on longer a building beside the tracks, but a shrubby haven for birds.
I did not come to the UP until I was nine years old. I was born in Evanston, IL where my Banks grandparents lived at the time. My Mom’s parents lived in DeKalb, IL. My own small family of my Dad, Mom and 2 sisters lived on the north shore of Chicago until we headed further north.
For reasons I have romanticized the summer of 1968 took us around Lake Michigan one and a half times in our VW van. My 2 sisters and I loved camping and swimming all around that big lake while our Mom looked for teaching jobs. She found one in Escanaba, and so we relocated there. The stories of this journey are enough to fill pages, but for now, rest assured that my passion for the UP began then and there with the cedar trees, birch groves and sandy shores. My sisters and I started school while we lived out of our new house, furnished only with the minimum of our furniture and camping gear.
I began my life in the UP simply.
I sprouted there. The soil is rocky and sandy. Not much grows in the UP but wolves, trout and fishermen. My Dad became an avid fisherman, for a time running a fishing boat for city folks out of the harbor in Escanaba. I traveled on those trips a few times, but a young girl was not really suited to forays for pleasure and lake trout. I settled in to my life on my bicycle, with my now 3 sisters and our friends on the flat streets of our town where playing tag at night, kick –the-can on slow lazy streets and lightning bugs became our summer occupations.
As I pawed through my photos, looking to illustrate this post, I could not decide what to share with you- my family history or my own passion about the north. I am about to embark on my yearly trip to the UP with my husband and kids to join 2 of my sisters in a rented cottage. This year we will be on Spruce Lake, way up north, beyond Marquette, west past Ishpeming. I surely hope the black flies have moved on by the time we arrive.
I cannot even begin to tell you all that sews my life together that was woven in the UP. My friends, my family, and my firsts- the roster of experiences make up the strongest fibers of my being. If you polled my Face book friends or my email contact list, the most common factor would be the Upper Peninsula. Or theatre. Or a few other things, but the UP would be up there.
In E.B. White’s Stuart Little the last pages are a discussion between Stuart, who has been travelling for most of the book and a telephone repairman. This man, who Stuart encounters on a northbound road, repairing a telephone line, expresses my most heartfelt thoughts about north. Here is part of his conversation with Stuart, who, if you don’t know, is a mouse, a well-spoken, kind mouse.
“There is something about north,” he said, “something that sets it apart from all other directions. A person who is heading north is not making any mistake, in my opinion.”
“That’s the way I look at it,” said Stuart. “I rather expect that from now on I shall l be traveling north until the end of my days.”
“Worse things than that could happen to a person,” said the repairman.
“Yes, I know,” answered Stuart.
“Following a broken telephone line north, I have come upon some wonderful places,” continued the repairman. “Swamps where cedars grow and turtles wait on logs but not for anything in particular; fields bordered by crooked fences broken by years of standing still; orchards so old they have forgotten where the farmhouse is. In the north I have eaten my lunch in pastures rank with ferns and junipers, all under fair skies with a wind blowing. My business has taken me into spruce woods on winter nights where the snow lay deep and soft, a perfect place for a carnival of rabbits. I have sat at peace on the freight platforms of railroad junctions in the north, in the warm hours and with the warm smells. I know fresh lakes in the north, undisturbed except by fish and hawk and, of course, by the Telephone Company, which has to follow its nose. I know all these places well. They are a long way from here- don’t forget that. And a person who is looking for something doesn’t travel very fast,”
by E.B.White Stuart Little Harper & Brothers 1945
My trip to Michigan will be the first since my Mom died last October. I don’t really have anything in mind to look for, but I do yearn for the ‘warm smells’ of sweet fern and blueberry-covered hills. My sisters and I will spend our days next to a small lake with our families and play Scrabble. Listening to the hum of mosquitoes and the cry of the loons will be our evening orchestra.
I don’t expect much. Being from the UP, I learned that I do not need to expect much. That land considered barren by some, backwoods and too rural, is rich to my eyes. My soul lands fully there in the wilds of the UP. As readers of Lake Superior Spirit, I am sure you can appreciate this truth.
What about you? Where does your soul land?
By Suzi Banks Baum July 18, 2011
THIS is it. You said it. Northern Michigan. I was born in South Dakota, but Michigan has been my home for decades, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. North–yes! My home county of Leelanau on Lake Michigan or my home away from home, Grand Marais on Lake Superior. I am going to send this link to my sister and to a friend who is headed this week for Lake Superior.
P.S. That telephone repairman brought tears to my eyes! What a perfect excerpt with which to close your post!
Also, great pictures! Can’t pick a favorite but love paddling the canoe on Mehl Lake, along with families at Gilas Lake.
Good morning PJ. Yes, that telephone repairman has it right. Reading that passage of Stuart Little to my kids always made me cry. I am glad you found your home in the UP. If you are in Grand Marais, does that mean you know the author Ellen Airgood at the diner there? Here new book “South of Superior” just came out. I would love to meet her. I love these photos too. Thank you Kathy for hosting me! xo S
Suzi, my HOME is between Leland and Northport in the Leelanau peninsula, i.e., northwest lower peninsula. Grand Marais is where we go when we go Up North on vacation. Yes, we know Ellen! She came down and did a reading and signing at my bookstore, Dog Ears Books in Northport, and everyone adored her. We were very happy to have her as a houseguest for two nights, after all the times she has waited on us at the West Bay Diner over the years.
Wow PJ, that is so cool. And thank you for clarifying where Leelanau is. I suspected it was downstate, but I was not sure. I just finished my friend Sharon Pywell’s book “My Other Mother” , which is a really good read. And next, tonight, I start Ellen’s book. I have a dear friend in Traverse City but I do not get to that neck of the woods at all these days. I hope you continue to enjoy your summer there. I will check out your bookstore on the web. xoxo S
Nice to meet you, Suzi!
My soul lands on another peninsula, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I think there is something enchanting about peninsulas, and from reading what draws you to yours (and from reading Kathy’s blog!) I do want to visit it someday.
I love this part of the passage from Stuart Little: “And a person who is looking for something doesn’t travel very fast.”
So sorry about losing your mom… Your picture memories are lovely and it was fun taking a little peek at your family history found in them.
So you play Scrabble? Do you play it on Facebook or just with your family on vacations on a real board?
Will have to go check out your blog!
Wow, that was spell-binding, Suzi. Really liked the old pictures, thank you for sharing these snippets of your past with us. I love these guest posts on Kathy’s blog.
Thank you Reggie and Barbara. Did you know that Michigan’s motto is “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you”? I love that. When I learned that motto, in 5th grade, I had no sense of the magnitude of peninsulas.
I love the Cape too, Barbara. I live in the Berkshires and we spend the end of the summer in South Wellfleet. Another of my soul’s landing places. So glad you are here on Kathy’s blog. xoxo S
I didn’t know Michigan’s motto – it’s seems so appropriate – and I guess there must be many smaller pleasant peninsulas in the state besides the big upper one!
Wellfleet is beautiful, on both the bay side and the ocean side… Hiked with the kids a few times there in the national seashore. We used to drive through it on our way to Provincetown where Tim’s grandmother’s house was. My grandparents lived in Woods Hole when I was little and then in Dennisport when I got older. So many pleasant memories… I long to sink my toes into a sand dune…
Me too Barbara. Sounds like Grand Island is our common love on the Cape. We have hiked and swam and waded out as far as we could go…miles it seems in April low tide. I will keep you in my heart while we are these in August. xo S
Thanks, Suzi for being you – thoughtful, loving, unique.
Such a beautiful and transparent post! I feel transported to a place I have not yet been!
Thank you for sharing this.
To my favorite Northern Girl- thanks for sharing this great bit of YOU and the wonderful Stuart Little ( one of my Mouse Heroes) snippet about traveling North. Having just returned from the US & Canadian Thousand Islands myself- I can tell you that following one’s true North is a sure way to refill one’s creative well, replenish one’s landlocked spirit and bring back mosquito bites!
Like Ratty & Toad declare in Wind in the Willows, I agree that ” there is nothing so wonderful as messing about in boats on a river!” & especially the grand St Lawrence SeaWay.
I sure hope I will one day make this trip to UP with you and revisit your memories of living there with a worthy road trip and plenty of paddling!
Oh a line up of 3 of my favorite people here at Lake Superior Spirit! Uncle Jim, I am sure you found yourself in that group shot at Gilas Lake. What a gift it was to all our family to have the lakehouse to visit, or cabin, or cottage- whichever you called it! And Joanne, yes, I am glad you are transported on this hot day. And my Karen! For sure. I will take you to the UP and we can meet Kathy for an artist date! Painting on Superior or collaging at the diner in Grand Marais would be grand! Love and hugs, S
Your word pictures fit in nicely with Kathy’s 30 day theme. I share with you, Stuart Little and the telephone lineman my desire to go North. This year that I wanted to spend UP North I find my self in the office at State and Madison in Chicago, but hope springs eternal.
I have long enjoyed your comments here, Suzi, and must remember to visit your blog. Thank you for this beautifully crafted treat of words and pictures today! Just wonderful and I’m drawn back in repeatedly … gazing at the photos and re-reading your story. There is something especially delightful about the very first photo … of you. Such light in your face! Enjoy your next adventure up here … the black flies are gone but the “skeeters” are rather fierce this year. Still, as you know, they don’t detract too much from our paradise. As I end this, want you to know that I’m humming “I Am a Lineman for the County”…
Suzi, you have put into words thoughts and memories of the UP that many of us share. Thank you for sharing yours. Wasnt’ familiar with Stuart Little but look forward to meeting him. In answer to your question I would have to say that at least a part of my soul is on the shore of the Huron Bay. I feel the reconnection every time I get back there.
I was a Lineman for the county…..okay, now that song will keep me company all day! My friend Terri Bocklund wrote a song call “Superior” that has been filling my head for hours today, but now Glen Campbell has appeared! Thank you all for reading me here at Kathy’s site. I do believe that hope will get you started, John, but getting in the car will seal the deal. I hold the promise that you will be there in perfect time. What a joy to feel that connection to a place, where your jaw relaxes and ideas flow and all you can think of is “is there relish in the fridge to go with these pasties?”. So good to be read by all of you, Love, S
Hello Suzi, it is nice to meet you and reading your story today brightened my day! I live in southern MN but my heart belongs to the north. My Dad’s parents lived in northwest MN and I knew whenever we went to visit that my heart would be home. But, the first time I went to the big blue lake (Lake Superior) my heart was lost. I have spent time all along the north shore and up into Canada as well as all along the UP…it was heaven! Every time someone asks me where I would travel to, given the opportunity, I always say up north to my big blue lake! That is where my heart calls home. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your photos and a bit of yourself with us here at Kathy’s place. I love meeting her friends. I am sorry you lost your Mom, I lost mine in 2004. I miss her still. God Bless You Suzi!
Just reading this makes me feel cooler, and I’m filled with yearning. Yearning for the north, yearning for the time to just look, and not travel fast. I even yearn for black flies, a little. The closest I’ve been to the UP was when my father and I traveled west from Stratford, Ontario, one day and ended up wading on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. That was just a few months after my mother died, come to think of it. I remember the worn brown tee shirt I was wearing, and the dry warmth of the day, the endless offering of my favorite combination of Queen Anne’s Lace and periwinkle blue cornflower (a.k.a. chicory) along the straight and dusty dirt road.
I, too, look forward to the time when I can come with you to the UP and you’ll introduce me to the rippling waters, the bear tracks in the blueberry haunts, and, of course, your many eagles, flying high.
Oh yippeee! Lydia is here! And Brenda, my condolences to you too. Where our mothers lead us makes a deep groove in our hearts, yes? Yearning for the blue lake is a condition of all witnesses to the Great Lakes. When I lived in Louisville people did not understand why I went nuts, really whacky, without an expanse of blue within easy getting to. Chicory and Queen Anne’s lace are my Mom’s favorites and were in my wedding bouquet, Lydi…which you know we are celebrating our anniversary this Monday. Cool thoughts and thanks to you each for visiting here. Love, S
Lovely Suzi. Thanks for sharing. My heart will always belong to the UP, though I only lived there for 6 years. Once it gets into your blood it stays. I feel such a yearning when I read the blogs of people ‘up north’ be it the UP or northern lower Michigan. To be near one of the lakes…well, I’m in love with all of them.
I’m so sorry about your Mom. That’s so hard, I know. I don’t think we ever stop missing them, but weren’t we lucky to have them as long as we did. Still…I wish they were still here.
Hoping over to your blog now…
Thank you Dawn. I can feel your full heart from here. Wherever you are, the lakes stay with you. I would be thrilled to have you at Laundry Line Divine. Sometimes Kathy and I do playdates of art there. Come by again, please and until then, Love, S
Without your words, I would scarcely believe that there existed such a cool and tremendous place in the same country as the hot, humid, wide expanses that raised me from birth. Long, cold winters shrink my skin too tight and make me cranky. I come from hurricane drills in elementary school, thick, crackling thunderstorms through wide skies, suburban sidewalks, and hu-mi-di-ty. (I credit my spotless skin to the heavy wet air of Houston.) I come from plates loaded with greasy enchiladas and refried beans, of green, green Christmases, and summers immersed in any body of water available. Even with 68 days of temperatures higher than 100 degrees F, I feel at home.
What a sumptuous feast of words and dreams you’ve woven here for us. Thank you for a Friday treat. Safe travels on this first trip to your new old hometown.
You are right, that smooth unblemished skin of yours is borne of a landscape I have visited and know as vastly different from my home. I long to be in your kitchen for one of those green green moments of enchiladas. And to go to Hamilton’s Pool with you, if that is still a swimmable location in Austin. Thank you for stopping in here JGle. Here is love to you from the mountains, S
I’m glad I got to read about you. I’m Sonali whose soul lands oceans and oceans away from your place.
From the pictures that I see of U.P. , I thinks its one of the wonderful places. The pictures which you have shared are very pretty, I liked the last one the most! 🙂
I’m sorry to hear about your mom.
Thanks for sharing Stuart Little’s story. I have seen the movies. Living in the north is indeed a precious gift. Will I ever get to visit your place? *Dreaming* 🙂
Sonali (from India)
Dear Sonali, We are both dreaming of each other’s homes I guess. Me of yours, a colorful diverse chaotic creation…which is only what I know from photos and books. And you of mine now. Full of dreaming we are. I am sending you love from across the oceans. I have been in the Indian Ocean while in Perth, Australia once, so my body shared the waters of your homeland. Hugs, Suzi
Joining the chorus of Suzi lovers….
Longtime friend of my soul, I love reading your history, seeing these pics, and sharing your love for these rugged, hospitable peninsulas. I must have a date with the UP someday…!
Indeed, please visit the Laundry Line – amazing photos and stories from a remarkable human.
Okay. 18 years ago, Danny, we spent this weekend together and you sang a gorgeous song to accompany JNB and I getting married. I am so happy that our friendship continues over all these miles, years, kids, phone calls, songs and seasons. Cannot wait to put my arms around you someday soon. xoxoxo S
What a lovely post and great comments. So nice to see folks connecting and sharing, particularly around someplace as magical and special as the UP is.
Growing up in Detroit, I had no idea what I’d find when I went north. I just knew I had to get away, and as it has been a theme in my life, I accepted an invitation. Always better to go where one is wanted, or at least requested 🙂
Countless surprises unfolded in those six years, including a lovely year in the woods north and west of Marquette in a cabin, with just me, my cat and a drum kit.
The people I met there and the quiet magnitude of the silence, particularly in winter, have shaped much that informs me to this day.
The slow, steady falling of snow for hours, seemingly never in a rush to land, but accumulating just the same, taught me about steady attention and patience.
The fierce waves on Superior creating peaks of ice that seems both beautiful and terrible in their frozen strength taught me about danger and beauty.
The same lake’s beaches in summer, when the flies had thankfully moved on and the water was teasingly almost temperate illustrated contrast and comfort and their fleeting dance with each other.
The woods playing host to innumerable lives, large and small, visible and only whispered taught me respect for life, its fleeting miracle of breath and speed and decay.
All these images (and so many more) I carry with me and remember, now, through your evocative posting.
Thank you for reminding me of where I come from.
The slow, steady falling of snow for hours, seemingly never in a rush to land, but accumulating just the same, taught me about steady attention and patience.
This is a perfect sentence, Andrew.
Your memory is painterly, and you, like always, stun me with your insight.
I hope you get to stand on the shores of Superior before too long.
That land longs for you.
All my love to you and thank you for much for stopping in,
Thank you, Suzi — for stirring up deep love and admiration on what looked to be an ordinary Saturday morning.
I feel the connection and the love, from Superior AND you — and sending you mine as well.
I’ve been thinking of a trip back for some time now and this pulls me closer.
Love, love, love!
So nice to meet you, Suzi! I enjoyed reading your story and following along with your beautiful photos. Now I’m looking forward to visiting your blog. 🙂
Yeah Robin! Welcome to my world. And Kathy’s! I hope your summer day is sweet and blueberries are near by! Sincerely, Suzi
Of course my soul lands in a faraway isle deep in the deep deep south of the Pacific ocean. Within that isle there are massive mountain ranges, big enough to be called the Southern Alps… and in a certain place, middle of wilderness of a craggy and rugged landscape, that’s where my soul lands, and since I live currently on the other side of the globe, it’s when I often go in my dreams.
I desire to travel where you live! I love your site and the grape salad intrigues me! I have been near you, or at least nearer you than here and I know the immense beauty of the Pacific. Thank you so much for stopping in to comment. Breathe in that beauty for me please! Love, Suzi
Suzi – I read your guest post the other day and then we were hit with another storm (send BIG one in two weeks, Crystal Lake, IL) — this one leaving us with more than 7-inches of rain overnight and we’ve been bailing our basement. So please forgive my delayed response…
I thoroughly enjoyed not only what you had to say, but the photographs that you shared as well. Needless to say, it’s had a chance to simmer on the back of my mind. After re-reading it again just now, I wanted to share the sentences that pulled me in — the “hook” so to speak:
“I cannot even begin to tell you all that sews my life together that was woven in the UP. My friends, my family, and my firsts- the roster of experiences make up the strongest fibers of my being.”
I’ve seen you posting here for quite some time, it was a pleasure getting to know you better.
Thank you for carrying me along as you mopped up the basement. I hope the rains have slowed and life returns to a new normal. I too enjoy getting to know you here at LSS and in your writing. I love your trips through the alphabet and photos.
Last night I was at a concert, part of a folk festival. One of my favorite musicians, Greg Brown performed on the mainstage. My family and I sat on our blanket under the stars, listening to Greg sing. He is a major supporter of the Yellow Dog Watershed in the UP, in Marquette county, about 45 miles from where Kathy lives. As I listened to Greg sing about the UP in one song, I felt those fibers vibrating with recognition. I was listening to the soul of another fueled by a common place.
I don’t think we all have to love the same place, but, in loving A place, in allowing a location, land, energy to penetrate our shells of humanness and fill our deep senses, we become community. Whether Sonali in India or PJ in the Leelanau or Kiwidutch making grape salad way on the other side of the Earth, we are beings that twang in harmony with this Planet. I am so grateful to know this.
Hope your day is lovely, Suzi
I am a Michigander who ventured west fresh out of grad school at Northern Michigan University. I kept heading west, S. Dakota, Montana, Utah until I meandered still farther north to Alaska where I have lived and raised a family for the past 30 years.
So much time has passed; I’m looking forward to seeing how Marquette has changed. Next week we leave for a Michigan road trip, and I plan to show my husband the beautiful Superior and Michigan lakes. Thank you for invoking so many raw feelings from my childhood.
Monica, we will be in the UP at the same time. I hope your travels bring you way more than you expect or are looking for and that your partner can see some of the beauty you see. Your site is gorgeous and your art work- really wonderful. I look forward to reading more of your work there. Thank you for stopping here, Love, S
What a nice surprise to see you here Suzi! I love your Northern appeal and how you’ve massaged all of these lovely memories into a loving tale of the North. I feel a bit odd having read it as I feel the same about more than one locale – the pines of Colorado, the dry red cliffs of AZ, the blue-green goodness of the Puget Sound. Thanks for sharing your lovely story.
Dearest AgriGirl! Yes, I hang around with Kathy as much as possible! If you have the appetite, read comment #24 because I think what ever land you fall in love with doesn’t matter, it is the falling in love that does matter. And you are champion at that. Hugs to you and thank you for stopping here, Love, S
I am so happy for anyone who knows, finds, and lives in the place where their soul is AT HOME.
Dear Anne, Not only do I enjoy your last name, but your site is lovely too. Your inspiration is palpable. Thank you for commenting here. Love,S
Thanks Suzi. BTW my first name does not have an “e” on the end 🙂 It is so great to see phone of you on your reply comments. You have a great smile…so happy and I can tell it comes from deep down.
Hey there Suzi, I loved the photos and I do know what you mean about heading north both literally and metaphorically.
When I lived in Minneapolis while going to grad school, going to the North Shore of Lake Superior was my way of touching base.
It is one of those miraculous places which reminds me that every living thing matters, and simultaneously, that no one thing matters.
The juxtaposition of those two keeps me returning time and again.
Thanks for sharing.
Oh my dearest Jan, We have always shared our enduring connection to the outdoors. I am writing about being outside today on my website. Having you in mind is always inspiring to me. Thank you for stopping in here! Love, Suzi
Hi Suzi, I enjoyed your old photos and memories of growing up in the UP. My best friend, Mary, is from Eagle Harbor, and I had my first visit there a couple summers ago – a magical place. I live in CO now, and the high mountains have claimed me. I hope you have a wonderful vacation when you go back “home.”
Hi Barb, What a great site you have. I am sorry about your friend’s passing. I am sure his memory will sweeten your days in the mountains. Eagles are such a big part of the UP wildlife and the mountains too. I will think of you when I see one next week. Thank you for stopping by here to read my post. Much love, Suzi
Nice Job Suz, you know my soul lies on the shores of Little Bay De Noc and in the woods of the UP looking for the next Buck.
You are a man in his right spot, Mac. It beams off your face, in that magnificent grin of yours. I am so glad to know you. Thank you for stopping in here. Love, S
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Lovely to meet you CAZ x
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love this Suzi, love the heading north, being of the north, not expecting much… the multi colored jello salads… xo\
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What a lovely journey to take, in part, with you. You guide us north.
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