Friday, August 13, 2021

Life Between the Lakes, the lost chapter



Deer Park, MI.

I’ve been living on a county road made of dirt and gravel that sees most of its traffic in the summer. These last few months, I could have made a fortune selling maps to Grand Marais and Munising, as someone stops me on our walk almost every day asking for directions. But better than money, I love the look on some on some of their faces when I ask them if they brought their passport, explaining straight-faced that if they make a wrong turn, they might end up in Canada.

There was a brief, midweek storm that brought enough rain to ripen more of the blueberries which just started to ripen over the 4th of July. Prior to the rain, an honest afternoon’s work would get you enough for pancakes and a maybe a small pie if you had enough time and patience. The black flies stayed away, the mosquitos were few and there was an abundance of “sunny and in the 70s” in the forecast.

A couple of black bears have been sighted around Deer Park on the Seven Mile and on CR 407 on the way to Grand Marais. A moose made a rare visit to Muskallonge Lake State Park around the 4th of July.

Deer Park has had more than its fair share of great weather and calm evenings this summer. I contend that the best bonfires in the world are found on Lake Superior. Far below the bright glow of the Milky Way, I often wonder how they look to the vessels out on the lake.

Day or night; I am always thrilled at the sight of a freighter. During late nights under the stars Lake Superior boasts massive ore freighters, lit like moving bridges, punching holes in the skyline on their way to Sault Ste. Marie. They appear on the horizon out of nowhere and vanish on their own terms.

We finally had some significant rain on Friday night. It was the first real storm of the summer came and went quickly. The rain was steady and the thunder sounded like God was bowling a 300 game.

Mid-morning Saturday, the rain came back, gently moving through the area with distant, rolling thunder. Nature’s history dictates that when the weather warms up people should have no problem filling their coffee can with fresh, plump blueberries; enough for pie and enough to share with people like me.

Of all the places in Michigan, the Upper Peninsula gets cheated the most when it comes to weather. We often describe summer as “six months of bad sledding.” But if the summer season were six months long instead of three, the Upper Peninsula would be the Midwestern Rivera and financially out of reach for most.

The short season makes it special. I hope your summer memories were too.

Life Between the Lakes, Part 59



Anita Wood (Needa Lou) turned 12 in early May and Tiger Jack Burke is less than 3 months away from becoming 14, or the human equivalent of being in his mid-90s.

While writing “Life between the Lakes,” has been an inspiring experience for me, I am not sure that my dogs have taken the same shine to what I consider an inspiring environment. It is impossible to know for sure, as many of their actions often point to the contrary.

They have loved the walks (three per day) and love the quiet environment we experience, but I know they miss being around people. Socialization in this rural area has been very limited for us.  It is so quiet that Needa can hear a car a half mile down the road; stop, look, listen and wait before I see it. She is kind of like Radar on M*A*S*H*

Greyhounds are a rare breed in general; especially when found walking across a road at the top of the UP. More people than I can remember have stopped and admired Jack and Needa or got out of their vehicle to pet them and learn about them.

Since the day I’ve had them, nobody who has stopped to chat has ever left the conversation without huge smiles and a gratuitous amount of thanks. 

Jack and Needa are both slowing down. 

Jack has never kissed or shown any sign of “mushy kissy affection” toward me. But he owned the couch.

For years, he used to lie on my lap, warming my feet and legs. But the closest I felt to him was when he slid between me and the back of the couch; his warm body soothing, while the feeling of his head on my chest was as great as you would expect a loving dog’s to be.

Jack is like every Clint Eastwood character. He’s tough, funny, not politically correct and was rugged on the track with scars to prove it. He is stubborn but a completely lovable dog, 24/7. The best he can do to show affection now is walk between my legs or sidle up to me because he knows an ear scratch will follow.  He owns the house.

Jack is beginning to lose his balance on uneven ground and when it happens, his helpless look invades my eyes. It accentuates the desperate look in his eyes which has been deepening. He owns my heart.

I just started Jack on an inject able schedule we will try for the next four weeks for his advanced arthritis. I never thought the legs that propelled him into flight would ever weaken. We’ll see how it goes.

Dogs are much like people. You can decipher and understand a good chunk of their life, current mood and intentions when you look into their eyes.

Jack’s eyes continue to sink slowly into that unfair canine aging machine, as my crying machine follows. I can’t imagine what life will be like for Needa without Jack. But we have been put on notice.

I'm just not sure if I am up to, or how to begin discussing it with her.


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 60

                                                     The final chapter?

Life between the Lakes, part 60. The final chapter?

It has been both a pleasure and a privilege living in Deer Park, MI for the past eight months. I never imagined my stay would last this long (and neither did my gracious landlady and her family.)

The experience of living in this area has been nothing short of amazing. But all good things have to come to an end. Thank you Aunt Carla and your family for allowing me to borrow your sacred place. Being here meant a lot to me and inspired me beyond belief.

So much of life is noise, much of it of our own making. And much of modern humanity worries what will happen if they take the risk and wonder what they will find when the noise stops.

The Upper Peninsula became a place for me to plum these thoughts and ideas that I have always felt and known I’ve wanted to explore.

I’ve witnessed the changing of three seasons, have seen hundreds of birds and watched the eagles help themselves to free fish almost weekly.

I’ve fed the chipmunks and felt like a giant.

I’ve faced the roar of Lake Superior and felt so small. 

And I’ve walked with Jack and Needa almost 500 miles up and down the county road we've been living on.

I’ve seen light from ancient starts illuminate the night and falling starts lite the sky like bursting pearls that burn out in a flash. I’ve seen a flock of cute fuzzy goslings grow into adult geese and take flight.  I’ve watched the coyote, fox and deer do what they can to survive and I’ve watched Lake Superior slowly freeze and thaw.

I’ve seen the way the sunrises and sunsets around the lake shift as the axis of the earth changes. But more importantly, I’ve read and reread every poem Jim Harrison has ever written and have upped my writing game as a result. I’ve written more in the last 8 months than I have in the past 8 years.

Between the lakes you’ll find cabins, forest and shoreline. But within them are places you cannot find with the point of a finger. No photograph completely captures the patchwork of stories passed down, but rediscovering them helps us remember them or perpetuates our dream about them.

I’ve walked for hours on the roads, shoreline and in the woods, watching life in the forest unfold as the seasons change and I am unsure all of me will leave when I do.

And that pretty much sums it up for now.