Monthly Archives

August 2013


Caving in to being accustomed

I’ve looked at kayaks with fear and trembling and enticement.

Over the past few years I’ve allowed less to scare me, but I suppose there is residual fear from a lifetime of being accustomed: accustomed to the worry that somehow my body will halt me from continuing (“what if I don’t fit?  what if I’m too heavy?  what if I’m laughed at?”) and the ‘what ifs’ (“what if I roll and get stuck and drown and my face gets pecked off by a pike?”).  These things initially flood my thoughts against my own will; a hefty portion of the beginning of my life was spent collecting a magnificent array of nicknames and embarrassing moments from being obese.  My twenties have been embellished with a stream of “Smokey Drives a Cadillac” experiences that have helped rid of that habitual expectation of worry or fear of judgement, and I’ve submitted myself to some of the most amazing opportunities.

Thankfully, while the body has mostly remained on the same end of the spectrum – though with some positive changes – I can say that I’ve shed the majority of the fear.

All of this intro to one little piece of heaven: I went kayaking for the first time.


Let me start by saying that I’m in love with canoeing.  Every year when I come home to visit Michigan, my best friend (of 24 years!) and I canoe the AuTrain River.  There is something so empowering about steering my way down the river, and having the strength to carry us out of any sticky situation.  Arm strength, core stability, positivity, it all counts.

But I’ve been dying to kayak.

Kayaking was like this cool elitist thing to me, kind of like running.  I try to run, I want so desperately to run, but I can’t sustain mileage.  I’m more of an interval girl.  But I still count it as running!  I am infatuated with runners and as they jog by I study their faces, their form, their feet.  They are part of this club I try to mimic, but just am not yet able to be a part of.

I am the canoe and they were the kayak.

But now I’m the kayak!

Dale was one of my substitute teachers in junior high, but we have kept in touch over the years.  She was also my group leader when I was a part of Youth Volunteer Corps and we spent summer days volunteering to help clean up the forest.  She’s always had a great love for nature and not afraid to share that.  Being that I work with the U.S. Forest Service this summer, I have heard about her avid attendance at a slew of our summer programs.  It was on the Night Hike and Owl Calling put on by my counterpart Kelsey and me that I finally got to see Dale.  We chatted after the hike and planned on kayaking the next day at Pete’s Lake “because it’s a clear lake and just in case I roll I can pretend I’m swimming.”


It ended up being extremely windy and sprinkling on and off, threatening lightening, so we postponed a couple days.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful night!

We arrived at Pete’s Lake a bit before 7pm, welcome by the twilight’s outreaching arms.  I was excited and both extremely nervous, and I knew I wouldn’t chill out until I sat in the kayak and knew it wouldn’t feel like sitting on a flight on a puddle jumper for two hours (hey, my hips don’t lie…true to size).  She gave me a lesson on getting in and out and how to paddle, and in I went.

It was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever sat in.

She pushed me out into the lake.


The word “bliss” is perfect.  It feels like a word that would actually seep along the water from the base of the bow cutting the water, glimmering out in perfect ripples along the side of the kayak.  Blissssssssssss.


We spent the next two hours paddling around Pete’s Lake, chatting about life and the value of having nature as your drug.  It was oddly quiet; usually it’s one of the busiest campgrounds.  Our kayaks cut the glass surface of the lake.  Common loons wailed in the southern corner.  The sun shone for the golden hour and began to create silhouettes as it tucked behind the trees.  It was amazing to see the lake from this perspective.  I spent my childhood summers swimming at the day use area, but never going beyond its bordering buoys (fear of drowning, fear of mucky water, always fear).  The lake was much bigger than I thought it to be, with various bays and treasures along the shoreline.

I could’ve spent a lifetime in that kayak.

I’m considering selling all my possessions and living in one.


She’s a moody one.

Today was my Monday, the start of a streak of four 10-hour shifts in the Interagency Visitor Center talking to hundreds of people daily about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Hiawatha National Forest and Grand Island National Recreation Area, along with a slew of random topics and questions that catch me like a whitetail deer about to jump to its death.

I was born and raised here in Munising, Michigan (population approx. 2,500), and after 23 years I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.  I grew up passing in and out of the Hiawatha National Forest on a daily basis and hanging out in the National Park in my free time without much thought.  Free days were spent swimming at Pete’s Lake, nights were passed eating chocolate ice cream and watching ore boats from the shores of Lake Superior and all-nighters were capped with sunrises at Miner’s Castle.  The nature has always abundantly shared its treasures with those of us blessed to have been raised in this place.  While I always freely took part and was a natural ‘flower child’ who ran to the forest a block away when she ran away from home, I never quite felt the heart of this place.

Seven years after my move and a B.A. in Spanish later, I found myself at liberty.  In true form, within a 24-hour period I had found, applied for, been interviewed for, and accepted an interpretive internship with the U.S. Forest Service sponsored by Hiawatha Interpretive Association.  I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I’d get four months to spend summertime in Northern Michigan. (You’re singing a Kid Rock song now, aren’t you?)

Today while meticulously maneuvering a sloppy joe in order to avoid spilling on my uniform, my lunch buddy Dick had come down and sat at the veneer table in the office basement.  Dick has been with the U.S. Forest Service for a solid 30+ years and is about to retire.  He always asks me how my internship is going, and today I told him I finally purchased my plane tickets to leave Michigan in September and return to Utah.  Dick himself will be leaving the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) after retirement and has shared how it breaks him to leave this place.

I empathized.

I told him how I never truly appreciated this small corner of the U.P. until I left, and especially until I came back.  This internship has quadrupled my knowledge of this area in just a couple months, and just as happens as you spend time becoming reacquainted with a stale, former lover, I have fallen desperately in love with this place two-fold.  I want to spend all my free time with it.  I want to explore its trails and get lost in its secrets.  I want to breathe in the damp smell of earth and leaf litter and the sour smell of ripening berries.  I want its humid arms to caress my skin and heal my wounds.  I am obsessed and infatuated.

sand point

Breathing in Superior


Dick asked me what my bucket list contains for the remainder of my time here.  I rambled off a list of hikes, hopes of recreating, and a possible further exploration of Grand Island.  I shared my experience meeting the Grahams and being invited into their home at the North Light.  Mr. Graham had stated that it was too bad the sun wasn’t shining while I was there as it makes the cliffs shine.  Being a gray weather girl, I told him how it was perfect weather for me, because it really captured the unique mood of Superior.  Dick and I mused over the individual beauty of Munising with its layers and dimensions of various shorelines jutting out in front of one another to create an incredible harbor.  I told Dick stories about how I loved visiting Lake Superior beaches in dreary weather because she is violent and saturated in mood and color.  She’s Aphrodite on a beautiful day, with the capacity to morph into Medusa.

five mile

Temper Tantrum


Upon sharing this, Dick flattered me with the following:
“You really get the moods of the Superior.  Not a lot of people do, but I can tell by how you talk that you really understand the Lake”.

In that moment, every memory of time spent on Superior flooded my mind and I felt latched on to this place.

I also felt confirmation that this was a perfect example of why I started this writing project: I hope that by sharing the world through my Smokey-colored glasses, I can inspire others to feel and experience nostalgia and to have a desire to cultivate a rooted appreciation for simplicity and beauty in the ‘everyday’.

Leaving the Hiawatha feels like willingly exposing an open sore, but as is tradition, I remain warmed and inspired by the memory of people and place and stripped for the next chapter.