Up North Life

I wonder how many times the words “up north” are spoken by people who live in Michigan.

“Are we going up north this weekend?”
“We’re taking a vacation up north.”
“We have a cottage up north.”
“I wish we had a cottage up north.”
“How much would it cost to get a cottage up north?”
“We’re going canoeing up north.”
“We’re hunting up north this season.”
“Why can’t we live up north?”
“The fishing is better up north.”
“Remember that little restaurant where we ate up north?
“Do we have to go to Florida? Can’t we go up north? It’s closer!”
“The trees are so pretty up north?”
“Where is up north?”
“We’re going where? Saginaw? That’s not up north! Gaylord is up north! Why can’t go to Gaylord?”
“You’re not up north until you get to Mackinaw City.”
“You’re not up north until you get to St. Ignace.”
“Marquette is up north.”

I wonder how many people in Michigan don’t care about up north. I guess not many. Probably everyone who has lived in Michigan most of their life can tell a story about being up north. I sure can.

I think my parents were born up north. Actually, my mom was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My dad in Detroit. But my dad must have had enough up north experiences growing up that he tried to pass them on to us.

Several years ago, I learned my dad would have been raised in Amherst, Nova Scotia, if my grandmother hadn’t refused to go. My grandfather left Detroit to go back to Amherst because his mother was dying. When he returned he told my grandmother he was moving the family to Amherst. She said, “I’m not going. My children are not going to grow up in Canada.” He went back. Amherst, Nova Scotia is way, way up north. I never met my grandfather, even though he lived twelve years longer than my dad.

Most of our family vacations were up north. Traverse City, Grayling, Cadillac, Hartwick Pines, Marquette. There was one memorable fishing vacation to Canada that remains high on the all-time-best-memories list.

My brother and I went fishing with our dad to Wawa, Ontario, for a week. I never caught anything. I don’t remember whether my dad did or not. We went in June, so the black flies nearly carried my older brother and I away. It was close. If it hadn’t been for the boat anchor, I think the flies would have taken me to the woods for dinner. Instead, they had to chew on my ankles. When we returned home I looked like I had golf balls in my socks.

Since we had such a terrific time, the next summer my dad decided to take us back to the little cabin in the Wawa woods, but this time included my mom and three-year-old sister. My mom was a pretty good sport on other up north trips. She slept in a tent, cooked on a kerosene stove, sat by the fire, and always looked pretty. So, my dad convinced himself taking my mom and sister to black fly heaven would be wonderful.

The cold rain soaked us as the 15 hp Johnson pushed the small row-boat to the cabin. My dad took as much luggage as he could with my brother and I on the first trip. The second trip was more stuff. On the third trip he brought my mom and sister. Mom was crying, dad was quiet, neither of which was a good sign.

The next morning my parents packed up. After three boat trips to the car we drove all the way back home, a silent trip of 390 miles and seven hours. My dad gave the boat he borrowed back to the neighbor. We never went fishing again. Never talked about it, either. As I recall, all of the family vacations after that summer included hotels.

We have carried on the up north tradition with our own family. Unlike my mother, my wife loves camping, and so do I. The draw of sleeping in a tent is not as strong as it once was, especially since we owned a camper. Why do I say “owned?” Well, that’s another story.

Our first camper was a 15 foot Nomad we purchased from my wife’s mother. The little trailer sat in her yard at her cottage for eighteen years. We loved that little camper. We used it frequently over several years. Finally, lacking a vehicle to tow the trailer, we sold it.

Our second camper was much nicer. It was a twenty-five foot Rockwood Pioneer, double-axle trailer. What a beauty! We used it right away and I discovered all the things I didn’t know about owning a camper. The first time I emptied the waste tanks, black water spewed from a crack in the hose. I quickly closed the valve and we went to find a new waste hose.

Over several years, we only used the trailer about five times. We could no longer pull the camper with my old pick-up. The vehicle we purchased, just to pull the camper, turned out to be a lemon. A very large, juicy, yellow, over-ripe lemon.

On a warm day last spring, I decided it was time to pull the cover off the camper. Standing at the top of the aluminum ladder, as I was rolling the cover back, the main legs of the ladder folded in and I fell. Luckily, I missed the ladder when I landed on my side. I thought I broke my wrist, and I definitely cracked ribs. My wife heard me yell and came running. We laughed a little bit after I was able to stand up. I said, “That’s it! We’re selling the camper, and tomorrow we’re going to look for a new car. We were successful with both.

Up north is a feeling that’s hard to explain. But everyone who knows up north knows that feeling and will do anything they can to get it back. I know I will.