Circle UP

When we left Chicago for a short trip north, to return again to see Natalie and Drew and Tate, it was like reading a new chapter in a favorite book. It just feels good to be along for the ride. We did the same thing again. We left for a longer short trip, up into the Great Lakes along Lake Superior and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), where, after driving through forest that rivals the existential crisis of a Pennsylvania crossing, we mispronounced ’pastie’ and saw the storied cliffs of Pictured Rock National Lakeshore.

We headed due west from Chicago, toward Des Moines, Iowa for the first leg of this loop. We’ve learned a lot about insects in our travels. In fact, insects have run us off from otherwise enjoyable spots. We encountered swarming mayflies along the Mississippi River in Bettendorf, IA. We had our ankles bitten by ’ankle biters’ in Ontonagon, MI. We had lovely dinners interrupted by regular old flies just about everywhere. We’re happy, at least, that birds are probably eating well.

Our parking spot in a cornfield in Iowa.

The highlight of this part of the trip was visiting Jeff and Sarah and Erwin in Minnesota. Jeff is a dear college friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in (fill in with a large number of busy, fitful, distracted) years. He and Sarah have been just wonderful at keeping connected through cards and notes and queries over the years. Erwin is their youngest, and we missed seeing Sophia and Isabella, who were away.

Jeff and me

I’ve written about how our travels have allowed us to enjoy the ebb and flow of the lives of everyone we visit. This has been true of people we were used to seeing regularly, long-lost friends, brand new friends, even those who host us just fleetingly. (I’m typing this at Rambling Rose Farm in Carney, MI where Vern and Alison are hosting us. They have made a beautiful home here for people and critters – except for murderous weasel, who, with an ingenious plan involving chicken gizzards and a motion detector, will soon be dispatched.) This was adamantly the case at Jeff and Sarah’s house. They have built a magical home full of chickens and dogs and art and Sarah’s stunning upholstery and warmth.

It was especially enriching to meet Erwin, who, at 15, is grounded and thoughtful and super hard-working. When I thanked them for being so open about art and life in general, they thanked me for showing genuine interest. I said it was easy because they were genuinely interesting. We tackled matters that help us know our place in the world: the artistic process, literature, characterization – and how it unfolds – the importance of having a vision and letting it mature, solar-powered cars, anime, skulls, commissioned versus personal work. These are the tings that place a person in the world, and it gave us joy that Erwin was so gracious to share with newcomers.

Erwin, with an early work showing the number of skulls – real and depicted – in their home. (89)
Holly (Tevas), Erwin (Vans), and me discussing solar-powered cars, anime and the artistic process.
Me, Holly, Jeff, Erwin, Sarah.

We were unsure of what we’d find along Superior. We did realize, and were disappointed by, the fact that there is no free dispersed camping along the lake. We’ve been spoiled by time in the west. Rather, we used small paid campgrounds for our stays. Generally, these were OK, but we have developed an aversion to the human proximity (and humans) that we find in campgrounds. That said, we found some charming towns: Solon Springs, WI, Washburn, WI, Ontonagon, MI and Munising, MI. Munising is where we mispronounced ’pastie.’ (And Munising)

We moved along through Ontonagon – not much to note except unruly neighbors jamming More Than A Feeling at 3:30 am. In fact, these poor neighbors reminded us that we have enjoyed security and tranquility at all of stays, be they parking lots or open western expanses. We continued east, the landscape unfolding relentlessly, like a Jacob’s Ladder toy, mile after mile. While I felt constrained – strangled, really, by the Michigan woods, I had to wonder why Mitt Romney, in his failed 2012 presidential bid, fixated on the apparent (to him) correct height of Michigan’s trees. Did he mutter, as I did, about their stoic but taunting presence? Did a 28 year old spinmeister retool his aspersions as kindness, losing control of the motif until it had a life of its own? I had plenty of time to think about this, and I did. Hanson O’Haver’s essay on the topic is illuminating.

It had occurred to us earlier that if we wanted to see the cliffs of the Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, we had better get on the water. Holly gave up her paddle board when we started our travels. That was a mistake, and will be corrected. For now, we booked a cruise, and it was stunning. Lake Superior is huge – big as Maine – clean and rough.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

For now, we are heading back to Chicago to see Drew and Natalie and Tate. Holly and I will have our first babysitting job on Sunday when Natalie and Drew have a painfully early golf date. We’re waiting for Natalie to drop JK regarding their 5:30 am tee time. When we see Tate again, he will be twice as old as when we left him. We have a lot to think about.


In other new, Adrienne has moved back to Connecticut! With the amazing generosity and support of our dear friend Linda, Adrienne is getting re-established up north. We’ll be back among our home base friends and family shortly, giving us time to build something new, to count all we have gained in the last year, and to get ready to move on, again.

2 thoughts on “Circle UP

  1. I’m not much of a reader but I find your journey fascinating and inspiring. This is the first time I’ve read one of these stories. The photos and the sketches Holly draws of people you meet along the way are truly beautiful and amazing and I show them to people all the time. Happy and safe travels to you my friends ❤️ you guys.

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