First day of Spring, 2008
Driving north on I-75 late at night relaxes me. There are very few cars on the road after two in the morning and on a clear night my radio pulls in AM stations from far away places while signals skip through the atmosphere and bounce over the great lakes between the ice and the static many just call "life in Michigan." While driving north early last Thursday morning (the official first day of spring) I got weather reports and local news from places as far away as Boston, Toronto, St. Louis, Minneapolis and a French Canadian station (presumably from the far reaches of Quebec) where the only random words I could understand from the sultry woman’s voice in the song were: (in no particular order) J’taime, (I love you) toujour (always) and oddly, l’argent money).
Soon I was crossing the 45th parallel through the cold, dark morning. The "45-P", as some call it, is a spot half way between the equator and the north pole and is marked by a sign known only to people who vacation frequently or live in northern Michigan. The drive was without incident except for the brief encounter I had with a large wolf, who, out of darkness decided to play a sideways game of chicken with me just north of Gaylord. It tested my braking and swerving abilities and fortunately we both won, but not by much.
The first day of spring was waiting for me when I arrived in Deer Park. It came by way of a stiff wind out of the west. It was the kind of wind that made your eyes tear-up, causing you to squint and try to shade them with your gloved hands because you didn’t think sunglasses would be necessary with a forecast of only 24 degrees. The wind gusts made the snow scatter in puffs that subsided almost as quickly as they came. There were “snow ghosts” moving across the lake that were like maverick squalls raging randomly, sometimes in opposite directions even as close as thirty feet. Meanwhile, spirals of snow, like tiny tornados, danced across the yard to the sounds of the north woods ballet, still to faint for me to hear.
By mid afternoon the smell of fresh home made bread filled my cabin as the wind wrapped it in muted groans that tried to make their way through the windowpanes and doorway. I looked toward the lake out of habit but a ten foot snow drift obscured my view until I went outside and cleared it away as best I could. (I knocked it down to about four feet). The first night was overcast and it was pitch dark outside. When night came I sat at the table and the groans of wind became a bit spooky. I was tired, so I washed them out of my mind with a few belts of Famous Grouse scotch and slept until morning.
Luce county’s Muskallonge Lake is the centerpiece of my next book. Both the lake and the cabin have been a tonic for my life like few other things can be. The hand-built wooden structure has been a vacation spot for family members as well as a refuge for me when the world becomes too blurry. As a kid I’d take photos with my Kodak Instamatic camera and each year they’d get better. They were of the usual things found on a roll of film from a summer vacation of a 10-13 year old; the setting sun, fish that were caught, secret places and the smiles and unpredictable faces people made when the camera was pointed in their direction. As I got older, my brother's influence helped me to develop a better eye for photography. The pictures got better and I’d keep them---study them---dream about them--- and wear down the corners of them while listening to Gordon Lightfoot records counting the days until we’d return to the cabin.
The cabin has changed little over the years and the same can be said about many of our family traditions. A favorite of ours is cranking up the 1940’s era victrola in the in the morning. The selections are limited to Sousa marches, polkas and a favorite of mine to this day, the DeCastro Sisters (think the Andrews Sisters only brunettes from Cuba). These scratchy 78's still wake the late sleepers so we can all enjoy breakfast together, which consists of pancakes and bacon, stacked high on a paper towel and too crunchy for anyone to pass up. Following breakfast, we talk over coffee and wait until the final teenager finds their way out of bed in time to eat the last 3 slices we’ve been eyeing but saved for them as the final drops of pancake batter sizzle on our cast iron grill.
Today those Kodak Instamatic photos are a treasured time capsule as I look at how the family has changed, grown, aged and in some cases passed on to a better place.
Today there are permanent snap shots of the north woods in my mind that "daydream me" through tense moments and help soften the hard patches of life when I'm waist deep in them.
Today my memory is a camera that takes new pictures with yellowed edges.