Revelations from the Road
Road Trip in the United States--
May through September, 2012
Taking a long-sought road trip, I left Michigan in May 2012 and am traveling to Ontario, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, briefly back to Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada. I'm reconnecting with old friends, working with clients on book editing projects, and making speeches about my experiences in India in 2011-12 and other travels. I'm having fun and making new friends. Here are the few stories I'm writing on this trip.
"Such good reflections. You touch the heart with your writing." —L.D.
"I have relished receiving these emails. It's a bit like Christmas when they arrive." —M.G.
"You make your readers feel as if we were traveling beside you, and perhaps we are." —M.C.
"I always smile imagining you and the world spreading love and light." —R.R
"You are a Peace Pilgrim in the making." —K.L.
Stories within this chapter:
Wheat harvest in Oklahoma (posted July 24, 2012)Rafting on Colorado River (posted June 24, 2012) Ingredients of a good conversation (posted June 24, 2012) Mountain paradise (posted July 31, 2012) Memorial to "just another tree" (posted July 31, 2012) Redwood energy (posted July 31, 2012) The spirit of Mt. Shasta (posted July 31, 2012) Censored in Snohomish (posted July 31, 2012) Home again ... Michigan! (posted September 14, 2012)
Wheat harvest in Oklahoma—June 20, 2012
Oklahoma's wheat fields were being harvested by great self-propelled combines, one to four per field. The colors of the grain stalks ranged from brilliant orange-gold to pale yellow, a hue I associate with angel grace. Fields of growing corn, with ear-less stalks, provided deep green accent as did occasional splashes of clover with its muted red blossoms.
The fields were huge, a mile square, and most of the crops were planted in circles to accommodate the arc of expansive, revolving, above-ground irrigation systems.
At one field along a "blue highway" I stopped to take photographs of three combines--a gray Gleaner and two red Case-International Harvesters--and a grain wagon pulled by a green John Deere tractor.
The Gleaner turned toward me, harvesting small swatches of grain left standing when the behemoths turned the corners a little too sharply. It came beyond the last small swatch, directly toward me, then stopped about 80 feet away. The man in the cab beckoned, so I ran toward him, climbed the five ladder rungs to the cab platform, and climbed in. It was cool inside, air conditioned.
The man was Ralph, probably in his 60s, as am I. He's a retired commercial crop duster pilot who now runs an insurance agency. He owns two combines: with this one, he was helping a friend harvest; the other was in use on another farm 20 miles away.
These are family farms, not corporate entities, Ralph stated, bouncing comfortably in a well-cushioned, spring-supported seat. His grandson, at age 11, was driving the John Deere tractor.
Ralph reached for the CB radio microphone in the cab and called the lad, asking him to pull alongside. The two drivers matched ground speed, just like in the documentary films, and passed hundreds of bushels of golden grain from the combine to the wagon---on the roll.
This generated memories. Not that I harvested as a boy, but my father sold farm machinery in rural Michigan where fields were much smaller, combines were pulled by tractors without cabs, and farmer's skin became reddened and dirty with dust, sunlight, and sweat. Our family business was part of the agricultural infrastructure, and I, at a young age, learned over-the-counter service/sales, finding the parts farmers needed to repair their machines and return to their harvests.
Ralph made one more round. Then the work here was done, the last grains harvested. He dropped me off where he had picked me up. I thanked him and marveled at the opportunities that come our way when we slow down, stop to show an interest in someone else's endeavors, and make ourselves receptive to opportunities.
Rafting on Colorado River—July 8 through 13, 2012
Sometimes we observe. Sometimes we participate.
Standing in a primitive camping area on Grand Canyon's North Rim on Friday, July 6, I observed the expansive, Nature-hewn rock cliffs before me. But I couldn't see the raucous Colorado River that roared through rapids along the canyon floor. And I wanted to.
A couple happened by. "Do you know about rafting through the canyon?" I asked. They did and recommended Arizona River Runners (ARR) but added, "They're probably full. Those trips fill up months in advance."
Not deterred, I drove from the rim in search of a cell phone signal that was not to be found. But a remote general store had wifi and a pay phone. I used the wifi to get online and obtain the ARR toll free number and the pay phone to make the call.
They had one empty seat among a six-raft group. The price was reasonable. And I said, "Book me."
The next afternoon, I again observed the canyon from its more popular South Rim. From one vantage point, I could see the Colorado River flowing through cleft cliffs below. I felt it drawing me. "I'm coming," I whispered.
For the next six days, I and 23 other guests and seven guides enjoyed floating the current and shooting the rapids. This was a non-motorized trip--much to my joy--and the guides, their long oars steadily in hand, did an excellent, skillful job of rowing us through deep whitewater troughs, fast-paced flat water, whirlpools, and eddies.
After six days on the upper half of the river, 15 of us hiked up--5,000 feet of elevation gain in eight miles--to the canyon's South Rim as our replacement passengers hiked down. They and those who had signed up for the entire 13-day run would continue from there through the lower half.
Our time in the canyon was awesome. Bitter cold water that chilled to the core. Strong winds that oscillated from "oven heat," warmed by the sun-soaked rock faces, to "refrigerator cool." Occasional sand beaches for lunches and camping with radiating rocks to dry wet clothing. Body surfing through small rapids on the beautiful turquoise-tinted Little Colorado River, a tributary to the Colorado River. Delightful overnight temperatures that precluded a tent. A few lizards here and there that might scurry across feet and legs. A dark sky dotted with millions of stars and the Milky Way then a waning moon that rose after midnight. Caring, careful guides who rode/rowed the currents with ease and safety-conscious determination then, amazingly, prepared and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner of eggs, pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausage, muffins, cold cut sandwiches, fresh fruit, salmon, pork chops, chicken cordon bleu, steaks, potatoes, vegetables, salads, and baked deserts.
Best of all were the people from various parts of the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland, Brazil, China, and Kenya; ages 18 to 64; singles, couples, families, friends; everyone mixing and mingling, riding with different guides and different boat mates each day, camping and conversing in different combinations, enriching each other's lives.
If you haven't done Grand Canyon yet, do so. Go there. Observe from the rim if you must. Ride the rapids if you can.
Your options include trips of six to thirteen days, four-person rafts with an oarsperson or larger rafts with two dozen people and a motor. There are several outfitters, but for my money, I'm glad I chose Arizona River Runners.
Ingredients of a good conversation,—Red Victorian Bed & Breakfast and World Peace Center, San Francisco, California, USA, July 21 through 23, 2012
Sami Sunchild came to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in 1976 with a vision of founding a place where people from around the wold would gather and converse about issues of importance to them and, thus, attain a level of peace through international understanding.
After many obstacles, including building inspectors and expensive repairs, her dream manifested in the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast, a 1904-vintage hotel with 22 thematic rooms, at which she hosts Sunday morning peace conversations.
On Sunday, July 22, 14 of us joined in the conversation. Some were locals from San Fran; I was from the U.S. but not California; and others were from South Africa, New Zealand, and France.
Once again, as it has every Sunday for nearly 40 years with over 5,200 people from 72 countries, Sami's vision became reality.
She asked us to describe our homes and the wildlife we see outside our windows. We told stories of activities we've performed that bring peace to the world.
We talked and shared for two hours. With each speaker, Sami, at age 86, asked probing questions to elicit more detail while reminding us of the value of brevity. We listened, really listened, and we smiled--as did Sami.
Sami is living her dream that travelers and neighbors can bring peace to the world by gathering around a table to talk. Hers is a beautiful dream and an exciting reality--that can be practiced anywhere by anyone. She invites you to give it a try.
World Conversations offer opportunities to:
Ingredients of a good conversation:
Mountain paradise—Lake Chelan and Stehekin, Washington, USA, August 31, 2012
Greetings from the passenger ferry Lady of the Lake II on Lake Chelan in the central part of the State of Washington. The ferry runs 55 miles between Chelan on the southeast end to Stehekin on the northwest end. Accessible by only boat or seaplane, Stehekin has been on my list of places to visit for nearly 40 years. Today, I’m finally here.
Stehekin is a small community of 95 year-round residents. From the boat landing, the only road extends 13 miles, most of that is gravel. The few automobiles and everything that weighs more than 75 pounds must be hauled in on a barge that runs only in the summertime. While a small store has convenience items, the nearest grocery is in Chelan; residents send a shopping list and blank check with employees of the Lake Chelan Boat Company. Cell phones don’t work here and the only community phone operates with a satellite connection. The summertime tourist trade includes day visitors and backcountry hikers.
The landform of Lake Chelan, formed by glaciers 17,000 years ago, is the deepest gorge in North America. Pyramid Peak, the highest surrounding elevation, is 8,245 feet. The water depth in nearby Lucerne Basin is more than 1,500 feet, 386 feet of which is below sea level. The water temperature of this crystal-clear lake in the winter is 45 degrees F and 65 in late summer. Today is July 30; that’s late summer, so after a sun-drenched cliff hike, I jump in. Let’s just say the water is “brisk.” So I rent a kayak for an hour of paddling and lazing in the sun to dry off.
I had bought the combo ferry ticket, taking the faster 65-foot-long Lady Express upbound and the slower 100-foot-long Lady II downbound. This expands my time in Stehekin from one hour—had I made the round trip on the same vessel—to three hours. While lodging is pricey, I learn while here that camping is free and dockage for boats is an amazingly low $5 per night. So, next time … . Yes, next time. After all, it is permissible to have something on a bucket list … and keep it there.
With three hours on the express ferry to Stehekin and four hours back to Chelan, I take my laptop and select an “office” seat by a front window. Even with frequent wanderings to the sundeck to capture photos and memories, I craft the following four short stories based on experiences of the past three weeks in the Pacific Northwest. They’re stories of interactions—with giant redwood trees in Northern California; with spiritual energy on Mt. Shasta, California; and with a barber in a small Washington town. They’re mostly positive, but one leaves me wondering how we, as a people, can be kinder and more compassionate.
"The world is truly a loving place for those of us who know how to attract beauty wherever we venture." —N.A.
Memorial to "just another tree"—Orick, California, USA, August 31, 2012
The log in Orick, California, a memorial to the giant Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens), measures 9 feet, 6 inches across and 11 feet, 3 inches in height. Its elliptical shape, according to an interpretive sign, was possibly caused by another tree leaning into it. The growth rings indicate that it sprouted in 1000 AD and was nearly 1,000 years old and 120 to 150 feet tall when it was felled in 1986 to make room for the Redwood National Park Highway Bypass. “What would they have thought when they felled this tree?” I wonder.
Another tourist comes along, and we take pictures of each other standing in front of the log, our stance and outstretched arms covering only half of its height and width. I pose my question to him. “Probably how much money it will bring,” he replies. Ah, yes, the economic factor, something I had thought of when considering the death of this ancient fibrous being, a once-living specimen akin to Tolkien’s wise Ents.
A dark purple Kenworth semi pulls into the parking lot and stops near my van and the other man’s RV. The trucker, a spindly man with sinewy muscles showing from his sleeveless shirt, approaches. “I was a logger in the 1960s,” he says by way of introduction. “We felled a tree bigger than that. It was 13 feet at the base and still 11 feet across more than 100 feet up.” “What did you feel when you cut that tree?” I ask. “It was just another tree.” Well, I guess that answers that.
One by one, the three of us walk across Highway 101 to a little diner. One by one, we sit on swivel stools at a well-worn Formica-topped counter, the kitchen directly in our view. The waitress who offers coffee appears to be in her 60s, of an age similar to the three of us. The kitchen staff are thoroughly gray-haired, and the main cook, with her hair pulled into a bun, reminds me of my grandmother when she was in her late 70s. “The owner is 92,” says the trucker sitting to my left. “She bakes all of those pies every day.” The top crusts and meringues are stacked twice as high as that of normal bakery pies, indicating a wealth of ingredients inside, and they did look delicious even at breakfast time.
The trucker’s name is Tom, and the RV man is Bob. The latter is on his way home to Virginia, having invested this summer in Alaska. Tom was born in Oregon but now lives with “the wife” in Montana. He stopped being a logger while still in his 20s due to an injury, but his flatbed trailer on this day is loaded with 2x6 redwood boards he has picked up from a nearby mill. “So you’re still in the lumber business,” I offer. “You might say that,” he agrees before adding that, on this trip, he’d also hauled cement blocks from Montana to Seattle before dipping down into Northern California to pick up these milled redwoods.
“Did you try the blackberry jam?” he asks. I had and quickly identified it as homemade. “The owner makes the jams, too. Try the raspberry jelly and the apple butter.” I do, passing them on to Bob who looks up from his electronic pad to ask questions about what sights to see between here and the Grand Canyon. Tom has plenty of suggestions, and I tell of my spontaneous rafting trip on the Colorado River.
Then, one by one, we finish our breakfasts, depart the diner, and return to our vehicles. We leave the parking lot and leave the fallen redwood to greet other visitors. What did it feel when it was felled? What does it think of us now, stopping to either admire it or dismiss it as just another tree?
"What a treat to read some of your stories. I have copied this page off to send to my dad. He and I have a tradition going with trees, anything to do with trees, and your story is perfect! :)" —K.R.
"The redwoods silenced me much like Wounded Knee. No words were adequate." —C.J.
"Thanks for your 'notes from the trail,' Robert ... and in your travels being able to find places where 92-year-old women still bake pies!" —S.B.
Redwood energy—Redwood National Park, California, USA, July 31, 2012
Later that morning, I walk among some of that memorial tree’s still-standing brethren in the Hunnewell-Donald Memorial Grove. Here, the Coast Redwoods have grown for about 20 million years, outliving dinosaurs and surviving geological and climatic changes. These are the tallest trees in the world, reaching heights of more than 350 feet with a life span of 2,000 years. People are dwarfs next to them.
Even the younger mature trees are many arm-widths around. Some of these grow from the upper side of “nurselogs,” wrapping their roots around the breadth of their fallen elders, which provide support and nutrition as they slowly transform from solid carbon to decomposing gasses. Upright and growing or lying on the ground from either human or natural forces, these trees are alive, hosting hundreds of flora and fauna species.
I step inside one tree, its core hollowed and charred by a lightning strike, its remaining outer shell still stretching dozens of feet skyward. The interior texture is that of campfire wood that’s been scorched then doused before flames could complete their task of consumption. Streaks of black sap attempt to salve the wound while small leaves, enmeshed in thin spider strands, flutter in an upward chimney breeze.
I stretch my arms, unable to touch either interior side. Seeking the tree’s seared spirit, I press my third eye against the standing coal. What wisdoms do these giants have to tell us?
They do have stories, you know: stories told in the languages of biology, botany, chemistry, weather patterns, and changing climates. Artists draw beauty from bark, needles, ferns, fungi, moss, clover leaves, or gently flowing water in gurgling brooks.
I see faces.
“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always … from them comes silence and awe.” —John Steinbeck
"I particularly was drawn to the sacred Redwoods. I have dreamed of visiting them since the 5th grade. I'm sure the energy there was amazing!" —L.U.
"On one picture you send an image, taken inside the tree where a beautiful light being is shining through ... very inspiring ... also the sweet elemental beings come through the bark of the trees very beautifully." —M.F.
"Your descriptions are wonderful and poignant." —S.D.
"These updates are awesome!" — A.S.
The spirit of Mt. Shasta—Mt. Shasta, California, USA, August 5, 2012
Mt. Shasta, California, is a sacred place, many people have told me. You must go up on the mountain, they have stated repeatedly. So, I do … in the company of a new friend from Switzerland who gave up her career in allopathic medicine to practice the healing energies found in nature and astrology. Meandering through the coniferous forest, we find clusters of boulders and circles of trees where vortices are greatest. We pause and meditate there.
Then we walk across the Panther Meadow where a plethora of red, gold, and violet foliage blankets moist, rock-spotted soil. A highlight feature is The Spring, accessible only by walking on well-placed stepping stones and past signs that remind us that the vegetation is sensitive.
Two stones rest on either side of the spring, their distance comfortable for straddling. The water flows from the mountain above, bringing energy from God or gods, depending on your belief. It gurgles here through a trough more than a foot deep and only inches wide. I feel its Source beneath my feet. Its energy lifts my spirit and causes me to look down then close my eyes and lift my inner vision upward. A light breeze caresses my face. Sunlight warms my back as the last vestiges of Sol’s daily gift stream over a distant western ridge.
Mountain—the rock of creation. Water—the juice of life. Air—the vapor of inspiration. Fire—heat to warm body and spirit. All the elements are here—powerful here. What is different about this place than other places? Is it the light beings who are reputed to reside or visit here? Is there truth in the legends that their presence is a beneficial gift to humanity’s collective spirit?
For me, here now, the benefit is my awareness of the spring, the water, the stone, the mountain, the wind and air, the sunset and pending moonrise, my friend. This is the energy of life in its various forms; its role is to be here. Our role is to be aware, to feel, to breathe, to be here now—wherever we are—and to experience our oneness with all.
"I really loved your description of Mt. Shasta and the head waters in Panther Meadow. I was there several years ago and it is a magical place!" —P.H.
Censored in Snohomish—Snohomish, Washington, USA, August 17, 2012
The sign on the barbershop window proclaims that Marines have preferential parking privileges. Okay. But it isn’t until I’m in the barber’s chair, with his apron snug around my neck, that I see the belts of automatic rifle shells slung over a wall divider. Well, okay.
“What are you reading?” he asks, looking at the book I had carried in then set on a shelf where I will remember to take it out with me. “It’s a book about how to change my thoughts and change my life,” I reply. “Jesus made you what you are,” he states. Okay, we’re not going to talk religion today.
When he swivels the chair so we can both see my reflection and he can ascertain how much hair to remove, I see the bumper sticker affixed to his cash register: An Obama logo in red, white, and blue with the words: “Trickle-up Poverty.” Okay, we’re not going to talk politics either.
Turning me back around, I see another bumper sticker on the inside of the entrance door. It reads: “Liberals are so open minded their brains fall out.” Okay, in the interest of a quality haircut and exiting with both ears in place, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut no matter what else he says. And I do—while he talks plenty.
Fortunately, it’s not until after the haircut that he slings a racial slur, using the vilest of words, at President Barack Obama. “See ya,” I say and walk out.
“See ya?” What kind of reply is that? Well, it’s what came to mind at the time. You see, I’m not often in the presence of bigots, thank goodness, and being unpracticed with how to respond, those weak words were all I could muster.
Outside, I think about what I could have said. I think about it a lot. I drive away and work online at a local library. I think more about what I could have said. And then I go back. He’s sitting in his barber chair, reading a newspaper—with no other customers in the shop, just as had been the case when I was there earlier.
“I’ve been thinking of your remark about President Obama,” I begin. “Yes?” “I find your comment to be unkind and cruel to President Obama as both a person and the leader of our country. I think your comment is a discourtesy to the people of the United States and a dishonor to your service in the Marine Corps and your oath to uphold the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”
He says, “Yeah, well, the American people need to vote him out of office.”
“I and many people will vote to keep him in office.” I pause. “But whether President Obama is elected or not isn’t my point. My point is that your racial slur toward another human being is just not right, and I want you to know how I feel.”
“That’s your opinion.” He raises his newspaper between us. “Good day.”
“That’s right. It is my opinion.” Exiting his shop for the second time today, I smile. “It is a good day.“ At least for me at this moment. But it’s not a good day to know that such demeaning racial prejudice still exists in the United States so many decades after the 13th Amendment of 1865 and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.
When will racial prejudice end? When will we honor all people regardless of the color of their skin? When will we elect a President based on qualifications rather than physical characteristics, including gender? When? When more people choose to speak up against injustice. And when we do, that will be a good day.
"Nothing good happens without moving out of comfort zones, as your story of returning to the barber illustrates. I agree that when we recognize, it we have an obligation, if we claim to be peacemakers, to
speak up against injustice. Peace is not possible without justice." —L.D.
"Your experience of addressing injustice and prejudice is a balm for my heart in the midst of the polarization of views and actions motivated by the Politic." —K.L.
"Happy that you expressed your opinion to the barber after your haircut. Expressing it took courage, it would have been so easy to let it pass." —M.D.
"The other day I saw a 1947 movie called Gentleman's Agreement, which is about anti-semitism. the point of the movie was very dramatically delivered: It isn't enough to think about wrongs in this world, it is necessary to speak out! Thanks for speaking out. —R.G.
"Racism will end when it stops being profitable or the main activity of the ignorant/fearful." —C.J.
"It puzzles me how different people think … what makes one person a Democrat and another Republican. We are indeed mysterious creatures!" —N.J.
"Thank you so much for having the courage to walk back into that barbershop. It is exactly what we need to do if we are going to teach peace and make the world a more beautiful place for all." —P.H.
"I appreciate the thought you put into your response to the barber. It would be interesting to discuss possible responses with our Nonviolent Communications group. What about something like the following, 'When I hear you calling President Obama a _____________, I feel sad and discouraged because I have a need to respect the office of President of the United States and to make political decisions on the basis of policies, not race or gender. In future conversations with your customers, you might want to consider the fact that we all need to have our opinions respected.' I am sure that this could be improved upon, but please consider whether or not the words 'unkind, cruel, discourteous' are themselves violent speech?" —C.D.
"I don’t know how or even if the world can change, but I agree with you that we have to do what we can, speak up, and act out our convictions." —M.K.G.
Home again ... Michigan!—Michigan's Upper Peninsula USA, September 4, 2012
Oh, Michigan, how dost thou love me? Let me count the ways.
Your “Pure Michigan” sign on U.S. 8 near Iron Mountain proclaimed your welcome as I crossed the Menomonee River from Wisconsin, having driven 2,000 miles from the Pacific Northwest across the Northern Great Plains in only three days.
Dining in Escanaba, you treated me to a view of my beloved Detroit Tigers on a large-screen television while I enjoyed a good meal and a local brew—and a Tigers victory as Justin Verlander outdueled the Chicago White Sox to knot those teams in first place of the Central Division.
In Manistique, you offered a remote beach-side place to sleep in forested quiet while Lake Michigan waves gently lapped the shore. And near there, a road-side park provided a place to wade waist-deep into that wonderful lake’s brilliant fresh water to cleanse my skin and refresh my spirit. Standing ashore and air drying, I watched the sun glow orange in the east, two fists above the horizon, while the moon, a day waned from full, hung one fist above the coniferous tree line.
This being the morning of Labor Day, you shared your beautiful Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere, with me and 45,000 other pedestrians for the annual privilege of walking this great structure that spans the Straits of Mackinaw and connects your Upper Peninsula and your Lower Peninsula—two worlds that are geologically diverse yet geopolitically bound.
The sun shone bright while wisps of high-level clouds formed a translucent umbrella to provide shade and minimize heat. Michigan welcomed me with smiles and words, “Good morning, sir,” from soldiers of the Army National Guard deployed on the bridge. Likewise, we walkers smiled and joked with each other, whether hustling as though to set a record, strolling with youngsters, or moving at tortoise pace in a wheelchair or with a cane.
The rain was polite enough to wait until late afternoon before rolling in from the west, giving holiday tourists ample time to have packed their camping gear and be headed homeward, most of them to the more populated Lower Peninsula. I was cozy in my campsite along Epoufette Bay when the night-long, air-cleansing showers rolled through. But pre-dawn brought clear skies with only a hint of distant clouds to the east as Sol rose again and illuminated the still, calm lake—and me, meditating on a rock.
My affinity for Michigan certainly stems from my youth. I was born and raised in the Lower Peninsula. Our most frequent family vacations brought us north across this “Big Mac Bridge” to the Upper Peninsula—or “Da U-P” as “Da Yoopers” call it. Every time, we would stop at another bridge, this one on U.S. 2 that connects two sides of a deep ravine through which the narrow Cut River flows its last few yards to Lake Michigan. “The million-dollar bridge over the ten-cent creek,” it’s called. As our family did then, I, today, descend the 162-step staircase from highway to stream banks, feeling sweet family-vacation memories as I draw breaths of fresh air filtered by river moisture and respirating forests.
As my family did so many years ago, I, on this trip, have passed through unique cities along Highway 2: Iron Mountain, Escanaba, Manistique, Epoufette, St. Ignace. Each name— coined by indigenous American Indians, French fur-trappers, English settlers, and copper miners—is like a poem comprised of a single word. Farther north, we have the communities of Grand Marais, Ishpeming, Marquette, Menomonee, Sault Ste. Marie. In the Lower Peninsula, Charlevoix, Pointe aux Barques, Port Huron, Muskegon, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit (pronounced Day-twah by the French). Each of these depict history and culture of this place. This place. Home.
The many beauties of my solo summer-long road trip include an increased awareness of the majesty of the United States, an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to make new acquaintances, the privilege to share my stories with new audiences in distant states, and fulfillment of a boyhood dream. The benefit of returning to Michigan now is my feeling of comparative appreciation. The benefit of all travel—domestic or international—I think, is to open our eyes to the beauty of people and places throughout our entire world, where we live and where we don’t. Instinctively, I knew this as a young lad growing up in the Catholic Irish village of Emmett and later captured the essence of my wanderlust in an autobiographical story called “Room to Play.” (published in Cobble Creek and on my web site.)
On this road trip, I’ve been literally from coast to coast to coast: The “Third Coast” of the Great Lakes to the “East Coast” of the Atlantic Ocean to the “West Coast” of the Pacific—and now back to the Great Lakes again.
I’ve experienced water in various forms:
But, honestly, there is no place like the Great Lakes:
The Great Lakes shoreline in the U.S. extends from Northeast Minnesota to Upstate New York. In Canada, the lakes border only one province, Ontario, from Thunder Bay in the west to Kingston in the east. The U.S. shoreline alone is 3,678 miles, and the Canadian is another 2,904 miles for a total of 6,582 miles.
These numbers are deceptively large. Compacted with bays and peninsulas, the shoreline looks small on a map. But straighten the Third Coast and you will find that, individually, both the U.S. shoreline and the Canadian shoreline are far longer than the Gulf Coast (1,631 miles), the Atlantic Coast (2,069 miles), and the West Coast (2,103 miles). Together, they are almost as long as Alaska’s Pacific Coast and Arctic coast combined (6,640 miles). [Sources: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and infoplease.
Of the eight states that border the Great Lakes on the U.S. side, Michigan is in the center with all four of the upper lakes touching its shore, creating sand or stone beaches that measure 2,147 miles (longer than any of the West Coast, Gulf Coast, or Atlantic Coast). Michigan is the only state in the union that is comprised entirely of peninsulas. It is no wonder that I, a Pisces and a sailor, love this place.
Of the five lakes, Lake Michigan is my favorite, and it is within sight of this great lady that I’m sitting and drafting this essay. She has inspired me since I first laid my eyes on her in 1968. I was a junior at Western Michigan University then, standing atop a 300-foot sand dune with college friends as we looked upon her turquoise grace that stretches as far as the eye can see until melding into the horizon. We held hands and raced down that dune, dropped our paraphernalia on the golden beach, and plunged into Lady Michigan’s embrace. I’ve since walked for days along her shore, camping on her more desolate beaches. I’ve sailed on her hundreds of times in boats of various sizes, including crossings of 60 to 80 miles from Michigan to Wisconsin. Every time, she offers charm, temptation, and tempestuous storms. In all of her various moods, I find her to be beautiful.
Lake Michigan was the subject of my first published article, which appeared in Michigan Out-of-Doors magazine in September 1995; mine was the first article that this well-read, statewide monthly periodical had printed about sailing in 25 years. The article has since appeared in Sticks and Rags, a sailing magazine in Oregon; it’s been selected for inclusion in The Great Lakes Book Project; and you can also read it on my web site.
Sitting here on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend with my laptop on a picnic table in an otherwise deserted campground, I feel at home—just as I also felt at home on the road this summer and traveling abroad for months at a time over the past three years. I am experiencing emotional confirmation of my affirmation: “I am a resident of Michigan and a citizen of the world.”
My purpose and passion at this point of my life is to share stories about people and places in other states and other nations. My desire is to foster the spirit of peace through understanding as we learn more about our brothers and sisters who experience life in other parts of our planet. For this opportunity, I am blessed.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for reading my work. Thank you for your comments and encouragement.
Mackinac Bridge facts
Total length: 26,372 feet. Total suspension: 8,921 feet.
Length of main span between towers: 3,800 feet.
Roadway height at mid-span: approximately 200 feet above water level.
Under severe wind conditions, the bridge is designed to move as much as 35 feet (east or west). The deck would not swing or "sway" but rather move slowly in one direction, based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsides, the weight of the vehicles crossing would slowly move it back into center position.
Source: Mackinac Bridge Authority
As if to confirm that these two Michigan peninsulas are my home, the nemonic way to remember the names of the Great Lakes -- Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior -- is HOMES.
"Thank you for your thoughtful and enlightening writing!"
"What a nice tribute to the scenic wonders of Michigan. It's nice to be reminded how fortunate we are here." —M.C.
"I enjoyed reading this wonderful essay about your love of our magnificent Great Lakes! You continue to inspire me!" —A.M.