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