It has been said that without sadness, we would not know happiness. Without pain we would not know comfort. And without the brazen Northern winter, we would not know the joy and relief of summer in TC. Every year as we ponder this onerous cliche we realize how unrelentingly true it really is. It’s the inescapable truth of the climate in which we live, the calculation we make in order to call this place our Home.
My first escape from this dichotomy was college. The decision I made to attend Indiana University was based solely on a proverbial gut-feeling. After visiting that campus, I knew I would spend some time there. Four unbelievably expensive and tumultuous years. The winter was shorter, the spring and autumn longer, and the summer hotter and thicker than Home. What I noticed most was the Magnolia trees. Bloomington is aptly named, but those trees are a real spectacle. One day, they’re a greenish brownish gnarl, like any other tree. Then, some time in May, they flamboyantly flash and display their sweet smelling white and purple glory. It lasts for about a week, then they all sarcastically die and turn brown. It’s ludicrous. It’s as if they’re giving you a beautifully grand and heartfelt hand-wrapped gift, then jealously burning it to dust right in front of you. I love Magnolias. They make me laugh.
When we got bored with the hills and limestone of southern Indiana, we turned our attention West: towards dense forests, the land of volcanos and mountains, all blanketed in fog and mystery. The misunderstood and often misrepresented state of Oregon became home for us for three years. In my short life, spending three years anywhere constitutes a significant portion of my time on earth so far. So it was in Oregon. Winter was generally rainy, not nearly as terrible as one may think, with some respite in form of a few days or weeks of snow below 1000 feet. (The mountain winter lasted until July). Spring was absolutely breathtaking; the amount of living matter bursting and exploding in the Willamette Valley is a wonder of Earth not to be missed. Then came Summer. The first bit was lovely with more plant growth and high water, hot days made tolerable with swims in deep rivers. The latter part turned the world brown. No rain for 100 days. No thunderstorms. There was only grass and woodland fires, heavy dreadful smoke, dead rivers and dead wind, temperature inversions, burn bans, harvesters, heat, and death. Death everywhere.
We traveled back to the North a few times a year. A new nephew or niece every now and then, holidays, weddings, funerals, each trip a heavy tax on our bank accounts. It’s no easy task to get from Eugene to Traverse City. We’d usually get in a car to drive 2.5 hours to Portland, fly to Chicago, borrow another car and drive the 4.5 hours Home. Less on airfare, more on drive time. Other times we sprung for the spendy seats and went from Eugene to Grand Rapids. Any way we did it, it was silly. We had our friends out there, but it was our family that ultimately drove us Home.
So, last August, we drove. My partner Ingrid, my red puppy Frances, and me. My girls and me. Back Home. We got jobs and hunkered down in a one-off rental for the winter, gorging on Netflix and as many free meals that my sisters or parents would offer. The dread of winter was exponentiated by the restlessness we felt in that house. We needed to have ourselves back, to have something of our own. To get working on something real, something lasting. So, we jumped through the hoops, bought a little house downtown, and started working. Construction in the winter is hell, and mostly unproductive. But I knew it would come. It would come eventually. Just a few more weeks and it’ll come. Just a few more weeks and the snow will start to melt. My least favorite Northern season, wet dirty smelly stunted Spring, will be here. Our house will thaw and become a home, we’ll do some landscaping and some repairs and it’ll all be fine. Won’t it? Or maybe…not. It gets to be March, then April, and I start feeling myself slip. Everything becomes a frustration. The most benign of comments sets off an over-reactive rage. Sleep is my only escape. Sweet slumber. Why can’t we just hibernate like normal, smarter mammals? Anticipation and anxiety set in with their typical fervor…..Will it come? Will Spring or Summer ever arrive? Will the purgatorial deep freeze release us? No….
And then, prodigally, it’s here. 70 and sunny. 74 and sunny. Thunderstorms on Friday. Chance of rain, 76 degrees. Humidity 86 percent. 77 and sunny. 82 and sunny. 84 and sunny….Now she’ll be able to see what this place is all about. Now we can start going to bed at midnight because that’s when it’s finally dark. “How is it still light out?! Wow! It’s so late and it’s still so bright!!”
That’s because it’s the North. It’s not the Midwest. Midwest be damned: that’s the land of corn, soybeans, corn, wheat, and corn. That’s the land of freeways and flat land. That’s the land of clay and drought.
This is the land of grapes, hops, apples, and pears. Of White Pine and Red Cedar. Of brackenfern and bonfires. This is the Land of Big Water. The Great Blue North.
Our North. Our Home.
Dane @ 231 Outfitters
Respect. Restore. Recreate.