I recently drove from Michigan to Idaho with Kathleen Stocking’s Lake Country as a literary companion… Let me clarify before I’m accused of being a reckless driver: I read and drank truck-stop cappuccinos while my husband Keith drove.
During the journey, I was caught between Kathleen’s lyrical essays about life in rural Michigan and my own memories, dipping in and out of my northern Michigan adventures from the past thirteen years: kayak-camping on Round Island in the Straits of Mackinac while freighters lit up the night like giant Christmas trees, mountain-biking up my nemesis Rattlesnake Mountain on a cool fall day to view an eruption of tree bouquets in red, orange, pink, and yellow, hearing the loons of Lake Emma cry out at night.
“We walk first down the sandy two-track… then to a meadow filled with sweet fern where the sun through the tall trees is making a lacy light,” Kathleen writes. “The sweet fern is abundant, lush, fragrant, and smells like expensive Shalimar, but better.”
And she’s so right: the north woods are more precious than any perfume or elixir, a place where clouds of neon-blue damselflies mingle with black-and-white dragonflies, fishing and kayaking are the only plans for the day, a place both timeless yet antiquated, invaluable because of that quality.
I finished Kathleen’s book as we entered the North Dakota plains. Trees no longer hid the sky nor protected us from wind. We drove across a scorched, exposed landscape, far removed from lake country. Still, the ending paragraph from Kathleen’s insightful book stayed with me, as true in northern Michigan as eastern Montana.
“… let’s say somebody asks me what America is like. I would tell them about John Shepherd and his surrogate grandmother who found him in some modern-day equivalent of the bulrushes in Detroit… his cat Neutrino, his cottage on Intermediate Lake with the space station growing out of it like a giant mushroom, the red Fiat with the lightning finder and then I would say… ‘America is like that.’ “