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 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.
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.
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.