Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Unscripted: Same State, Different World

Near the end of the summer that never ended up looking like the summer I had planned for and imagined through the long, dark months of last winter, we made a pilgrimage to a land faraway, home to my clan. Although the same currency in your wallet buys you familiar meals at McDonald's (though they are counties away from the next rather than down the street...) and the same " Stars and Stripes" fly on flag poles, sometimes with a Green Bay Packer flag below it, you cannot shake the very real sense that you have entered another country..."da U.P."...and here is one of the first MAJOR clues to hit you on your first stop just over The Bridge. People talk differently.Your first restaurant or convenience store stop may result in a few "Excuse me's" as you attempt to understand what seems to be a different language. The dialect can be slight or so heavy that you worry you might be offending the locals as you acclimate yourself to the strange "tongue". SOME Yoopers have their own, distinctive pronoun usage. ( Examples: "What can I get for youse?" "How are youse guys?" "Thems good fish." The subject matter of conversations I found myself engaging in....'er listening to surprised me, too. Steve and I sat through a whole dinner as the conversation of the fourteen or so seated around the table centered...intensely, on fishing. Men AND women contributed to this conversation, sharing best spots on the river to catch certain fish they obviously prized. We kept our heads low and intently shovelled food into our mouths. IF we had somehow lost our "invisibility" and were asked, our only contribution to the conversation could have been...." Well....We EAT fish, sometimes...not often...none in our freezer...well, we WATCH people fish in the lake outside our summer place."

Nature plays a big part in it all. Nature is all around, controlling lifestyles more than it seems in metropolitan areas under The Bridge, in the land of the Trolls. The vegetation is lush and dense. The clumps of birch trees , expensive and temperamental in suburban landscapes, flourish for miles and miles along the sides of roads in the North. Rural buildings abandoned by once hopeful pioneers are rapidly swallowed up in vegetation as nature rushes to reclaim it's own. It's always impressed me as having such a sense of isolation. The Big Lake...Michigan, rolls in and briefly out of view, mile upon mile of breathtaking views, sans boats, sans people, sans anything but nature as it's always been there. It grabs your attention and humbles you somehow. The lake could be the ocean, deep and dark, beautiful and dangerous. We drove past the area my family always referred to as "Up on the shore". There, nature's harshness caused my great grandfather and his young sons recently emigrated from Sweden to throw their lot into commercial fishing with the neighboring Frenchmen when homesteading around the original sod home failed to support the family adequately.

And interestingly,"Cultural Diversity" takes on a new "complexion" when you drive over The Bridge, as well. It was never difficult for me to understand "Dutch Pride"and the tongue in cheek,"if you ain't dutch you ain't much" when we made the move to West Michigan because I grew up with pride in my Swedish heritage well blended with patriotism for America. But once over The Bridge, the sensitivities of anyone at all schooled in "political correctness" are quickly aroused. In the land of the Hiawatha National Forest, where roadways, lakes, and a multitude of town names point to Native American origin, there is grumbling about how the Indians ruined perch fishing with their indiscriminate use of nets, over fishing resulting in almost no perch left in the lake. Conversations with older people recounting some incident in the community will quite naturally add that a person is part Indian. Driving along a stretch of stunningly beautiful wilderness highway where signs warning motorists to watch for ELK pop up now and again also provides prime commercial frontage for "Honest Injun John's ReSale"... a rickety, hand painted sign in front of a rickety-er, unpainted house with heaps of all sorts of junk...'er "merchandise". Then there's the shock of contrast...encountering the offense of gaudy, blinged-up signs advertising the local Tribal Casino sitting in the middle of the stunningly untouched wilderness..the "forest primeval."

I'm not certain why this trip hit me in a more intense, emotional manner. Maybe it was the unsettling, totally "unscripted" nature of our IMPROMPTU summer leading up to the trip...or that I was attending my 40th High School Reunion ( how did THAT happen???). All I know is that a month later I feel as though I am still "processing" the powerful emotional dichotomy of being drawn to the incredible beauty and peace of the place ; hearing of old classmates retiring from careers around the country to return "home" ......with the sense that I needed to run as quickly as possible to escape the visceral pull of that undeniable peace and stunning beauty before I got somehow sucked back. It'd be so easy, maybe, move to this very foreign land.