Have you ever wanted to live in the wilderness, in the woods, along the shore of a distant lake? Have you ever dreamed of chopping wood, building your own small house, raising babies among trees and deer and flying squirrel?
Have you desired to let go of the busy rat race of the city, pack your belongings and point the GPS of your soul to the Great White North?
Back in the “old” days of the late 1970’s, two young newlyweds in East Lansing, Michigan, had just graduated from Michigan State University’s journalism program.
They lived in a house doomed to be bulldozed for future development across the busy highway from a bustling mall. The bathroom floor had already determined its demise and sank into the earth. The wife took a temporary job as a secretary to a psychologist, and the husband painted cars in the garage.
Yet, they dreamed of moving to the Great White North. The wilderness of the soul. They knew–yes, they knew–that Life pointed north, and that the busy downstate Michigan life of psychologists and auto painters would soon be a distant memory.
Instead they would live as pioneers, carving a small cabin from a clearing between maple and poplar trees. They would soak cloth diapers in a white plastic pail. They would bathe in icy lakes. They would build crackling campfires and roast s’mores until the end of their days, oozing marshmallow and Hershey chocolate delights.
Ahhh, the dreams of youth! (You’ve dreamed a few of these dreams, as well, haven’t you? I can see it in the way you sigh and suddenly long for that lost innocence of knowing the world was your oyster–or polar bear–and you could do anything, anything, yes, anything!)
The young couple in the throes of college graduation–yes, I will now admit they were Kathy and Barry–wrangled about where to settle their northern bones.
First, you must understand more about the state of Michigan, upon which their feet trod. The bottom third of the Pleasant Peninsula (State motto: If ye seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you) consists of cities and farmlands. Your population has settled here, placing plows against the earth and planting beans and sugar beets. In the 1920’s, southerners set their inner GPS for the north and moved to towns like Detroit and Flint, working long hours at the Ford and Chrysler and Chevy plants.
Barry’s grandpa drove his young wife up from the hills of Tennessee, Cades Cove, to be exact, and found work in Henry Ford’s emporium. Michigan overflowed with folks assured of good work, a decent wage. It was a good time for the Mitten State.
Let’s return to geography. The second third of Michigan (we’re moving up now, folks) is known as “Up North” to those from the first third. People who have made a decent living in the southern cities of the state buy cottages in the upper half of the lower mitten (don’t get confused now), near towns like Traverse City and Kalkaska and Gaylord and Grayling and Charlevoix.
Barry’s folks had a place in Houghton Lake where our young hero had already ruined his knees using them as shock absorbers on snowmobiles, and my family swam in the warm waters of Intermediate Lake, near Bellaire. We paddled to disappearing islands where once a dance hall rose in the middle of the lake. We skied in the winter–except for our heroine, who whizzed down the Shanty Creek slope at top speeds and toppled into a fence at the bottom, and never set foot on another ski hill until another disaster later in life, which will perhaps one day be reported, if you insist. My brothers rescued a Catholic priest whose boat was sinking. (Fate then determined they would marry Catholic girls and convert from their good Presbyterian upbringing.)
But I prevaricate. I am still trying to point further north in Michigan, above “Up North”. That is the Upper Peninsula, more fondly referred to as the U.P. or the Yoop. This peninsula is accessed by the Mackinac Bridge, and then meanders at least five or six hours to the west. It rests above the Great State of Wisconsin, and many folks here furrow their eyebrows and think they shouldn’t be Michiganders at all. Yoopers live here, and they are mythological hardy folk, raised on porcupine and bear, or so downstaters sometimes scoff.
Barry and I tossed a coin. Would we move to Alaska or the U.P.? Alaska or the U.P.? Alaska was our first choice, but, gosh, darn, it was so far from our families. It was a little too far, wasn’t it? Couldn’t we eat our muskrat in the Upper Peninsula, please, Barry?
So Kathy headed for the Michigan State University Journalism board to look for job opportunities in the U.P. (She was also very tired of smelling auto paint in her falling-down house across from the mall. Barry disagrees with Kathy’s assessment. He thinks it was a fine house! It is an area of dissension in their marriage.)
And–sure enough–a journalism job existed in the Upper Peninsula! In a town called L’Anse. A newspaper called the L’Anse Sentinel was looking for a reporter. Hurray! The young journalism graduates shivered in anticipation. They agreed that Barry would interview the job and Kathy would, by golly, find something else. Yes, she would, because life always has a million opportunities, doesn’t it? Even in the woods?
Interjection! Interjection! Kathy, you forgot to tell something important. About the trip around Lake Superior the previous year. You know, when you loaded Barry’s Honda motorcycle in the back of your pickup truck, and did the “circle tour” around the lake. You have to tell your readers these things. You can’t let them assume you’ve made the move without viewing the “wilderness” to which you are moving.
Another interjection! You have to go back even further, you delinquent story-teller. Go back to age twelve, when your parents loaded you and your brothers in the back seat of the your eternal station wagon and drove to the Upper Peninsula. You can’t forget that fateful trip.
That’s when you stayed in an A-frame cabin in Mass City, the cabin of one of your parent’s friends (they call them cabins in the U.P., not cottages). It was about 90 degrees and the cabin featured no indoor plumbing and you slapped fierce biting mosquitos the size of bats and swarms of black flies taller than Paul Bunyan and you prayed to God–I swear this part is true- “Dear God, get me out of this Godforsaken Place.”
God has a sense of humor, I swear.
When we were trying to figure out whether to move to Alaska or the U.P., God was grinning. He remembered the prayer.
“Yep,” He said, “that’s where she’s going to spend the rest of her living days!”
**Even though you maybe didn’t realize it, you are in the middle of reading Kathy’s memories of her early days in the U.P. You are hearing about why and how she ended up in her little house in the Big Woods on the shores of Lake Superior. You are going to hear about their attempt to leave the U.P. and their flight from a Southern-Mafia-type boss in Texas. You’re going to hear about their half-coyote dog. You’re probably going to even here about how the God-forsaken place became…well, I can’t tell everything in this paragraph. More to come, as they say. (Although when the next segment of her memoir appears in blogging print is still up for grabs. It may come tomorrow or, gosh darn, she may forget she promised to tell you more and write about other topics such as taxes, health care or snow.)**
Love it love it love it! 😉
This was such an amusing, semi-archaic style of writing – you had me hooked on every word, Kathy.
Well-written, and the pics are fantastic – bears and a moose? Gosh!
Impatiently awaiting the next instalment. Now don’t get sidetracked by taxes, healthcare or snow, Kathy! 😉
Semi-archaic writing! I love YOUR description of it, Reggie. (Those pics were from the outdoor blog, you know. Ancient photos from 2009. A state wildlife camera…not mine.)
Good Morning Kathy 🙂
Thank you for sharing how you began your journey to the UP ♥ I am so anxious to hear more! We attempted a circle tour as well but only made it as far as Nipigon (in Canada) from Duluth and as far as Grand Marais,MI toward the East. I still dream about making the complete circle, just as I dream about living in the northwoods, someplace near my favorite lake of blue ♥
Are the animal pictures from the woods near you?
Can’t wait to hear more…I am hooked!
The animals are from the woods near us, Brenda. A state wildlife camera caught them. Aren’t they cool? I know you will rest yourself beside this favorite Lake of Blue sometime soon. I hope you make the circle! And I hope you remember it, fully…something I seem not able to do.
It is my prayer to live up there someday ♥
Kathy – This is WONDERFUL and I am impatient to continue with the story! We made that circle route around Lake Superior as well and it brought back such fond memories. I also had some not so fond memories when you mentioned the black flies. I recall a visit to a beach near Marquette when I was attacked by them. My brother-in-law ran along behind me (racing to the car) trying to scrape them off me and apologizing (as though he could be held responsible for black fly monsters!). Your pictures are so gorgeous…I really loved the bear one! More…More…More!!!
Oh! Susan I remember a trip to Marquette with the black flies too! We were exploring the area and were north of the city at this gorgeous beach…had to walk through the woods (pines and sand) to get to the water and we wondered why there were no people. We thought we had hit gold! It was so beautiful and so secluded! And then…just as we got all settled….they hit. They swarmed. They bit…and bit…and bit…and bit. The baby was crying, the dogs were frantic, and we were scrambling to get everyone back to our truck. And no one can move fast in all that sand. I can laugh at it now but oh man it was torture! And just the day before we had been snickering at some people we had seen at the campground who were all decked out in the bug gear…they were totally covered…even had nets over their hats. Guess they were snickering at us the next day…bleeding all over from the fly bites. Ha..tourists! LOL
Susan–and Brenda–did you ever read my blog about the Attack of the Killer Flies? I will go a’lookin’ for it right now in case you haven’t seen it.
OK, here it is: https://upwoods.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/the-attack-of-the-killer-flies/
I know EXACTLY what you mean!!!
Oh gosh, that really shows it all. I was so covered too and wondered why they chose me over the others to completely swarm. I later told myself it must have been cause I was the “sweetest.” (hahahah) But it really was a horrible experience. Your pictures bring it all back. No wonder animals are driven out of the forest going mad from those darned flies!
just read that post…wow…I didn’t get pictures of the little buggers and when I think back it seems like the ones that were attacking us were little…tiny little black flies that had a thirst for human blood! and when they bit it left a little spot of blood that wouldn’t clot and thus attracting more to feast. it was horrendous and they loved my little boy (age 2) but it didn’t stop him! he just brushed them away and continued playing. lol…a true northlander maybe! somewhere I have pictures of his swollen and bug bitten face.
I still want to live up there though…even with the murderous little devils! 😀
Love hearing about how you decided to move to the UP! I have lived in Michigan my whole life, and (as far as I can remember) the only time I’ve been to the UP was on a casino weekend getaway to St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie! Someday I’ll get up a little further… 😉 Can’t wait to hear more!
I used to enjoy a weekend casino getaway. Have even been to the one in St. Ignace. I hope you can come a little further west one of these days. It would be lovely to meet you!
I love hearing about how people came to the places they choose for their homes. We had some similar fateful trips that brought us “Up North.” In case you were curious – Tony and I just got our season passes to Shanty Creek 🙂
Looking forward to the next installment. Or info about taxes. Or perhaps about that incident with the fence!
Heather, the stories about our moves “Up North” or “Father Up North” are often fascinating! OK, I hope you have fun at Shanty Creek. You just watch that fence at the bottom. No plowing into it. (Maybe it’s gone after all these years!)
Now that is a good read. Yes indeed.
Glad you enjoyed, Gerry. It was fun writing it!
Ahhhh, Michigan, my Michigan. It’s funny how the funny shape of our great state shapes our perceptions. A great read, and great photos.
I’ve had a few of those “Dear God, get me out of this Godforsaken Place.” moments myself, usually when the swarms of insects attack me while I’m out in the middle of a swamp someplace. The wilderness, where you shower in “bug spray” several times a day, and you can tell the new arrivals because they still smell like humans. After a day or two out in the sticks, every one smells like a combination of insect repellent and campfire smoke. I love it, and I still have the dream of moving there someday.
Gosh, I’ve had those swamp moments, too. Crazy! It’s funny how challenging those moments can be…yet how many wonderful memories they create. I hope you can live your dream.
How fun, Kathy! I have always wanted to tackle the wilderness, and some might say we did just that in Haiti. However, Haiti wasn’t wilderness. It was crowded, desperate, impossible–but not wild, really. At any rate, I can’t wait to read more about your journey.
Tackling the wilderness is, indeed, a trip, Kathy. I would love to visit Haiti, although I can feel my heart-strings tugging in many directions just thinking about the challenges of it.
Hi Kathy – This was some mighty powerfully interesting writing, yup! There is a part of me that loves the wilderness – for nice long vaca’s. the rest of me says I need otherwise. I grew up on an isolated farm and loved it but it was all I knew. Came to the “city” and couldn’t go back to the farm – except for vacations. To each his own I guess!
Susan, I am glad you enjoyed the writing! I had a blast, writing it this way. (Or, rather, watching how it came out in a Zen-like fashion.) It’s interesting that our kids have chosen the same path as you. They are–so far–enjoying the cities. It will be interesting to see if they ever choose to return to the wilderness.
Love it — definitely a two cuppa!
Or a three cuppa, Laurie! But what kinds of cuppa? I am drinking white peppermint now. Mmmm….
Kathy, this is a great story!! I’m so looking forward to the next installment. And wondering if you have ever been to Alaska. And waiting to hear about coyote dog and the Texas mafia. And questions about your trip around Lake Superior! And in the meantime, thinking how nice it would be if you just happened to be visiting Chris and we could meet someplace for cofee this morning!
Colleen, I am glad you are enjoying. No, have never been to Alaska, not yet. Gosh, are you really truly in San Diego?? Oh how lovely would a small meeting be. We would drink our coffee and share of our lives. It would be so special. I am pondering a non-duality conference there next April. Are you interested?
Good morning! Yes, we were in San Diego, just getting settled back home and catching up. Thought of you often, knowing your connection with this place. I would be thrilled to drink coffee and share with you……a warm glow just thinking about it. Yes, let’s talk!
Wow, I forgot that I shared about that conference with you. OK, remind me…hoping the memory doesn’t forget there’s a conference altogether!
Interesting indeed. Always wonder what takes people in the opposite direction of the masses. You are probably aware that Michigan was awarded the Upper Peninsula as consolation for Ohio being given Toledo after the Michigan / Ohio war. Having been born and raised in Toledo I can assure you that Michigan got the better part of the deal!
Jeff, thank you. I did know about the Toledo exchange. Wanted to pull that fact out and insert it in the blog, but was too lazy to research the facts. Thanks for including it! I think Michigan is blessed with the UP, too.
Thanks Kathy, I really enjoyed learning a little history about you and Barry. An interesting thing about American’s and their mobility, they are often from somewhere else. When meating an American, there are always two questions to ask. “Were do you live now”? And, “Where are you from?”. Often there is a big disconect between the two. One of my school friends from Liverpool HS in NY now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. I don’t know whether or not she has a Scottish accent as we mostly communicate on Facebook. Apparently voice recognition with the new iPhone really struggles with the Scott’s brogue.
Geoff, you are right about so many Americans and their mobility! So many of us have moved to other places. However, I do think about my brothers who have never moved more than 25 miles from home, and many folks here in the Upper Peninsula, as well, who have stayed in their hometown. Fun that you communicate with your friend from Scotland via Facebook!
You think we’re going to let you forget your promise to tell the rest of the story ? Hardly !
Wouldn’t mind hearing about the drive around Lake Superior !
The animal photos are wonderful. Never seen any of those critters in the wild. You’ve not just seen them, but caught them, on film.
Sybil…shhhh….don’t tell anyone. I don’t REMEMBER the drive around Lake Superior! LOL! P.S. Those weren’t my pics. They were taken by a state (or local agency) camera. I was lucky enough to get access to them. Happy smile.
Ah yes, I was saying last summer, when we visited BEAUTIFUL Michigan, that I would move there in a heartbeat! Loved the Lake Huron side, and the U.P. The Lake Michigan side was nice, too, but a bit more touristy
Oh! Please move here, Michaela! I would like that very much. 🙂
Yes Kathy, it sure is me. Taking a break from filling prescriptions. Good pic of the Pharmacy!!! Love Dad
Dad, I always love seeing you. It doesn’t matter if it’s in photos or in person…you are one of my most favorite persons in the whole Universe!
I guess I read too much Hemingway, we took off for Europe. I wonder what it would have been like if we went North instead. Darn, I didn’t reread “Two Hearted River”, maybe that would have induced me. Waiting for the next installation!
Really? You headed off to Europe? You kinda sound like our daughter. When Barry first proposed to me, he was already talking about da North. I was just in love. 🙂
Funny how we forget the black flies and the heat and the cold and the snow when we dream of distant places. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!
Gosh, don’t we forget about those pesky elements? I am glad you are enjoying!
Wonderful! Hugs… looking forward to hearing more
I am glad you are liking it, Nicole. **hugs**
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Very cool idea Kathy! I’m sure Memoirs from the Mind of Ms. Drue could be just as popular as the Pioneer Woman’s “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels”! (PW is a popular blog about woman who became a ranch wife and started a blog – she’s now a cookbook author and has a show on Food TV)
Wow! That popular, eh? LOL! I will await Ms. Karma’s memoirs next. Gosh, isn’t this fun?
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This is fun. I love hearing some of the details of how you came to be where you are. 🙂
P.S. It worked (the read more thingy). 😀
Robin, thank you. I am glad 1) that you understood about the read more thingee and 2) it worked. Of course it worked. Because YOU told me how to do it! **big grin**
I love the way you write Kathy!!! Makes me smile. 🙂
Oh Tracy, HURRAY! You made MY day. A big smile!
Wonderful story-telling, Kathy! It sounds like you and Barry gave a lot of thought to your moves and it was interesting reading about how one thing led to another in your life together. But I don’t like the sound of those black flies!
I am glad you liked the story-telling, Barbara, even if you don’t like those black flies. LOL! (Neither do I…)