We flew into Bay City, Michigan—my hometown, though barely recognizably so. All the empty shells of downtown buildings have been given new life with condos and boutiques and gourmet this-and-that’s. The long abandoned shipworks—gigantic, hulking structures with thousands of broken windows—have been replaced by “Uptown,” a shiny cluster of new restaurants, shops and office buildings. In a moment of surrealism, I have a chardonnay at a sidewalk bistro with luxury condos above that used to be the Mill End store with warped, creaking floors and an octogenarian elevator operator who took you to a basement full of wooden bins of hardware, fishing lures, penny toys and Army surplus gear, or upstairs to bolts of plain, durable fabric, cast iron frying pans and winter coats.
Sometimes the more that things change, the more they change.
With my wife and my mom, I drive up M-33 (avoiding the drudgery of the interstate, the “unfreeway”) into the heart of northern Michigan, “Up North” as we say around here. It’s a reunion with many old and dear friends: quaking aspen and paper birch, staghorn sumac and bracken fern, jack pine and white cedar. I’ve made some new floral friends in my years in Montana, hiking the Absarokas and floating the Yellowstone, but none have become as close as these northwoods companions and comrades. Every type of tree or shrub or wildflower here flushes a covey of memories.
After a fantastic lunch at a diner in Onaway, we buy a homemade rhubarb pie and finish the drive to a rental cabin on Lake Huron, almost at the very Tip of the Mitt (an expression that makes perfect sense to Michiganders). Directly across from our twenty feet of beach, Bois Blanc Island spreads out across the horizon. A magical place that I visit in Vagabond Song:
“Beneath the Wild Rice Moon / Drunk & dancing with bats / on Bois Blanc Island / a bottle in one hand / a million stars in the other …”
These waters of the Straits of Mackinac are among the most beautiful and magical I’ve known. And of course, like everything of beauty and magic in this world, they are threatened by short-sighted greed. Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines, built in 1953, carry nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas per day across the Straits–the heart of 20% of the freshwater on earth. The pipes show structural damage that Enbridge lies about or dismisses. This is the same company that caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, in the Kalamazoo River, then ignored it for seventeen hours. No amount of profit, or any other perceived benefit, is worth risking the northern Great Lakes. Please get informed and take action here.
My reading at Purple Tree Books started out slow. Slow as in, no one there. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to be indoors on the first day of the holiday weekend. But a few people eventually trickled in and we sat around a table and had a great chat. I read a handful of new poems and an excerpt from Vagabond Song. We traded road trip stories and memories of shared places. As almost always happens with a small turn-out, it ended up being one of the best. Intimate and filled with good new connections. The kind of reading where I can thank each person by name. And really, that’s the kind of thing that makes a book tour memorable and this whole writing game worth it.
Thanks Emily, Christine, Leea and Mom! And happy anniversary to my Love and Truth: Lisa.