Tag Archives: Michigan

Mi casa es tu casa

Lake Superior sunset

Eh, not so big.

Note: For varying reasons, my husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 29: Every year when we journey to Michigan, there is always that thrilling moment when we first see the Lake. Usually, we get it driving up from the south: topping a hill we see a dark blue horizon, almost indistinguishable from the sky. Smudged, indigo, almost invisible, it’s not an object, it’s an expanse.

My husband and I have been trying to prepare our grandson for the enormity of Lake Superior. Like most people, Shine thinks of lakes as small bodies of fresh water where you can see the other shore. We’ve seen a lot of those on our cross-country trip, especially in Minnesota — land of 1,000 of them, after all. (But who’s counting.) We’ve explained that Superior looks more like an ocean, like the Atlantic and the Pacific, which he knows well: no land on the other side, as far as you can see.

Because we are coming in from the West this trip, we first see the Lake in the port towns of Duluth/Superior, as a finger of water between ore docks and marinas. “There it is: Lake Superior!” Bud and I exclaim. “Eh, not so big,” shrugs Shine, ever the skeptic.

It is not until we get that northward view from the hill on M64, and then arrive upon the Superior shore itself in Silver City, Michigan, that he really sees the Lake — and is finally suitably impressed. Still, “eh, not so big” becomes a running joke of the summer.

Ashland Food Coop

Evidence of the pandemic has been unavoidable on this trip, constantly made palpable by presences (masks, radio commercials for online education, “closed” signs on stores) and absences (seats at restaurants, international travelers, traffic). Less evident have been the other seismic crises and changes affecting our country, namely police violence against black bodies and the resulting protest movement. In Los Angeles, the uprising had largely eclipsed the pandemic for weeks before we left town. Black Lives Matter signs, or their close kin, were everywhere, on stores, cars, homes, lips, and airwaves. I don’t think I’ve seen one BLM message since I left California — so I was elated to find a rainbow flag with the message “Everyone welcome” at the food coop in Ashland, Wisconsin. Finally, a sign of progress.

I haven’t even seen Biden signs across these nine states. Trump signs, yes. The only good news I can offer in regards to this admittedly unscientific evidence of America’s current political state is that there are fewer Trump signs than four years ago. Still, the change that seems necessary and inevitable on the coast is at best a whisper in the heartland — and that scares the shit out of me. Much work needs to be done if we are to wrest this country out of the hands of a maniacal hatemonger, and it won’t be achieved through silence.

We arrive at our cabin around 5 p.m. I’m always amazed just how beautiful this tiny house, with its natural edge pine siding echoing the waves of the lake 50 feet from its door, is. Built by Bud, it is filled inside and out with small tokens of love and beauty, from driftwood door handles to an Italian chandelier he salvaged from a Greek client to a leaded glass window we found at Habitat for Humanity in Miami.

The cabin that Bud built.

Above the door on the inside is a sign that I had bought on LA’s Olvera Street for Mom, a sign she had told me she always wanted, and that I inherited — along with the land on which we built this cabin — when she died: “Mi casa es tu casa.”  Imagine if this familiar welcoming Spanish phrase were America’s and Americans’ motto, hung at every portal to and in our nation: My home is your home. That was certainly Mom’s philosophy, as a public high school teacher in a small Midwestern town, and the philosophy Bud and I try to carry with us wherever we go, as we cross a country we still believe is great, albeit imperiled.

Welcome home.

Coda: The day after our arrival in the Upper Peninsula, we got drive-through coronavirus tests at Ontonagon High School. Not wanting to bring the pandemic to a county that at that point had yet to have a single verified case, we quarantined until we got the results two days later: negative. Sadly, Ontonagon County did get its first case a few days after that — but so far, just the one.

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Welcome to the Pandemic Road Trip

Note: My husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 25: I know, we’re crazy: We are driving cross country during the worst pandemic of the century. (“Worst pandemic of the century so far,” Homer Simpson whispers in my ear.) It’s our annual road trip, from our home in Los Angeles to our cabin in Michigan, where my husband was born and I have summered for 50 years (!).  In the past half-century, you can count on one hand the number of years we have not spent time in the Upper Peninsula. It’s our individual and combined Ground Zero, our happy place, our Walden, our home. Nonetheless, we seriously considered not going this year, for what I thought was an obvious reason: that five-letter and two-digit word, Covid-19.

But there were compelling reasons: Number one, my mother-in-law’s failing health. Heart attack, heart surgery, stroke, carotid artery surgery, kidney stones, etc.: She has suffered a litany of ailments in the past few years, and my sister-in-laws have shouldered the burden of care. Also, Bud’s daughter is there, his siblings, his friends. And I am hoping against hope that I might get to see — at least through a window — my father in his nursing home in Wisconsin. Usually, summer is the time my immediate family and my extended “Lake family” of friends convene here in Michigan. This year, I don’t know if I will see any of them.

At least I have my grandson. The novel coronavirus has caused all sorts of novel plot twists in people’s lives, and for my husband and I, it has meant taking care of Shine, 9, only child of my stepdaughter Kenda, this summer. After four months of home school and care, his parents, in Miami, must get back to work. So unexpectedly I’ve gotten something I have wished for but never thought would happen: I’m co-director of Camp Gramps. Shine has only been to visit his Michigan family once, when he was an infant. It is time he meets them. So not only are we driving through nine states and half the breadth and depth of the country during a pandemic; we have a grade schooler with us.

Road dogs

Road dogs Shine Hoover and Alexander Hamilton

We are not completely insane. While it is not why we are going, the thought of leaving  a county that is constantly in the news as a Covid hotspot, for one that has yet to have a single recorded case of the virus, is certainly appealing. (Update: The first case was confirmed over the July 4 weekend.)

The 2,000 miles in between are admittedly a deterrent. Yet in general, the route has so far been  refreshingly virus free, especially compared to LA. Sure, on the infection maps, there are a few orange and red hotspots, but they can easily be driven through — don’t even gas up. We are driving, not flying, and we have planned a trip with as few interactions with people and surfaces as possible. We have a picnic basket and cooler full of food. We are carrying a special purple coronarivus backpack, full of masks, sanitizer, gloves, wipes, etc. We love to experience the American West every summer. But this year, we will enjoy it primarily through the truck windows.


Still, if there is one lesson I would want to convey at the end of our journey’s first day, it’s this: Don’t go to Utah.

We stopped just across the border in St. George, one of our usual haunts, perched as it is amid the beautiful red and black rocks of canyon country. But I was shocked when I entered the gas station/Burger King. The usual Mormon broods of seemingly endless blond children always freak me out, but this year they were like pandemic panic horror show poster children, as they filled the tiny bathroom — no social distancing, nary a mask in sight. At the food-ordering line, I had to ask them to back up. Maybe Utahns have so many children they consider them expendable, but I value my only grandson.

Basically, no one in Utah wears masks. Not the desk clerk at the La Quinta Hotel in North Orem, nor the guests, nor the gas station attendants.

No wonder the infection and death rates in Utah are rising — as of June 25, 164 per 100,000 and 5 per 100,000 respectively. The test positivity rate is even more alarming, currently 13.2% and rising.

111 in the desert

Don’t go to Utah.

We loved the scenery as usual, though found the highway surprisingly full. But we sprinted to our hotel room and will slink out in the morning. Here’s hoping the people of Wyoming are a little smarter.



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Post-Lockdown To Do List

When I get outta here, here are the first things I’m going to do:

1. Swim.

2. Kayak.

3. Walk to the end of the fishing pier at Cabrillo Beach .

4. Paddleboard.

5. Eat out at a different restaurant every night for a week and tip 40 percent.

6. See a movie or five.

7. Shop at House 1002.

8. Have a beer at The Sardine.

9. Go to Michigan.



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Stormy Weather

Storm comingAug. 7

They call them the plains states because they’re flat planes and because they’re plain Jane — except for the fields of sunflowers that Cole says look like someone has painted the Earth yellow. We’re on the last leg of the trip, the final journey home — which is unfortunately a bit of a beeline through parts of the country in which we’d prefer to linger. But enough is enough. It’s time to go home. I have an apartment to set up and a job to start.

For once it wasn’t painful to pull ourselves away from the Lake, thanks to a series of mishaps. Tuesday we were returning from a lovely dinner and beach fire at Bud’s old friends Dave and Dana’s. They’re just three miles down the beach, it was late, we were tired, and we were stupid. Cole had hurt his foot and I was sitting on the back bench holding him, instead of riding up front on deer watch, as usual. Bud had had a few drinks and didn’t see the doe until he was right in front of her. He braked and swerved — missed the deer and stopped just fine. But seatbelt-less, Cole and I went flying against the side door. I got a nice bruise and general soreness to show for our carelessness the next couple of days. Cole was upset but fine, once he realized we hadn’t hit the deer.

Wednesday was a beautiful day but the Lake kept getting rougher, as the wind increased its force. One moment, Superior can be flat as glass — then it can rival the Pacific for surf and tempest, capable of sinking freighters. (Sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” here.) Cole and I went wave riding on his inner tube. We had a blast getting knocked around by the waves on the sandbar. A little later, he went out again with our 11-year-old neighbor Melanie. I fretted right away that I should go out with him, but I didn’t have my swimsuit on, and I didn’t want to lose sight of them by running up and changing. Sure enough, within 10 minutes, Cole had lost control of his inflatable. He started to swim after it, and I worried he would follow it out of his depth, exhaust himself, and have nothing to hold onto. But he’s a smart kid: He realized it was out of reach, turned to look at me, and I waved him in. He swam straight back, and we ran down the beach, chasing the floatie. He swam out two more times to get it, always wisely gauging his chances and the risk. The second time, he got it. I was proud of his judgment, tenacity, and endurance. But a little mad at myself for not being more careful.

Later, Bud heard on the radio that four people drowned and two boaters went missing in Lake Superior during the past week.After storm

The wind kept getting fiercer Wednesday, as we started our last beach fire. The sparks blew dangerously into the woods, but we weren’t too worried about igniting an inferno, as we watched rain advance across the lake. Shortly after John and Judy arrived for the hoped-for marshmallows, the drops started falling and the wind began gusting. I was heading to check the tent stakes when I heard a crash behind me and something hit my leg. I turned to see that a 12-foot dead birch — the one Bud worried he should have pushed over before we set up camp — had fallen a foot behind me, landing on a tub of dirty dishes, some of which had flown up and hit my calf. I was relieved to see the tent still standing. Then I saw Bud, who was inside the tent, reach his hand through the three-layered hole the tree had sliced through our nylon home.

If I had been in bed, the tree would have landed on my head. As it was, I narrowly missed an ugly blow. I admit I kind of freaked out. Last year, I almost got struck by lightning. I’m tiring of near-death experiences in what’s supposed to be my Eden.

The rain passed quickly, and Bud was able to cover the holes with a tarp. But the wind remained about as strong as I’ve ever felt it there, and the sound of it whipping our wounded tent kept us up most the night. We decamped the next day. If I never sleep in a tent again, it will be too soon for me.

Tree on TentPaleface was naturally freaked out by the storm and the strong surf it whipped up, bringing water close to our bank. For the first time all trip, he disappeared that night. Now, Paleface has been the bedrock of this trip. He’s a sterling traveler. He makes himself home wherever he goes: van, motel room, friend’s house, tent. He throws his big body down and whips his tail contentedly. With that belly of his, he is our Zen master. Traveling has given us new appreciation of our 8-year-old pet.

He loves the woods. He’d never been in wilderness like this, and it clearly brought out his animal nature. He became fully nocturnal. Every night, he would prowl the forest, periodically letting himself in the tent’s pet door to lie next to Cole and purr loudly. The road outside our tent was his living room. He’d lie in the dirt and whack his tail, reluctantly moving if a car dared want to pass. I worried that the coyotes we heard howling would find him to be a filling snack. Instead, I had to rescue a field mouse from Paleface’s torture.

But Thursday, with the wind and water howling, he was nowhere to be seen. It was so unlike him, I thought for sure a predator had gotten him. We walked through the woods calling his name. No sign. This is why I didn’t want to travel with a cat.

We had to leave — the water was way too crazy for swimming, and I wanted nothing of the beach that day. But I came back in the afternoon to see if he had shown up. No sign. I walked the forest again. No Paleface. By this point, sleepless, sore, and generally pissed off, I was despairing. I wrote down our phone numbers for our neighbors, in case the cat decided to appear, since we were planning to sleep at Bud’s mom’s in White Pine for the rest of our stay. I started to walk to their cabin, when Paleface appeared in the road, utterly nonchalant and perfectly okay, his green slit eyes looking at me and saying, “what?”

So we’re all back together, heading home, most of us happy that way. In fact, the last two days, as I unpacked, cleaned, and repacked the van in White Pine (I’ve never cleaned so much in my life as on this “vacation”), Otis kept crawling into the vehicle, ready to go — or afraid of being left.

Paleface is different though. Before Michigan, he never tried to get out of the van when we stopped. In fact, he usually hid. But he’s had a taste of a new kind of freedom, and it’s going to be hard to keep him in these doors these next four days.Sun down

Aug. 8.

Famous last words: Yesterday, after more than 12 hard hours of driving, we arrived at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota about an hour before sunset. I had agreed to sleep in the van, in order to keep to our budget — and enjoy this gorgeous Badlands campground. But when we arrived, there was only one space left — a walk-in tent spot. The motel in town was full, and I had to admit that, perched on an embankment above a babbling river, with the sweet smell of juniper wafting through the trees, it was an idyllic spot. So I found myself once again sleeping beneath nylon, this time in our little tent — the Wal-Mart behemoth is gone.

I didn’t know this park and it’s a find. It’s a much easier way to see the Badlands than the park of that name — it’s closer to the Interstate, less of a detour commitment. In the morning, we watched a herd of buffalo cross the road, listened to chattering prairie dogs, and even spied a wild horse. The town of Medora is a bit touristy kitschy, but it has a great bookstore, where I picked up a volume of cowgirl poetry.

Still, the camping gods hate me. As soon as we began to settle into our spot to cook, I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle. Thank god we’re staying in Thermopolis tonight: I think the world’s biggest hot springs may just be able to accommodate this bone-weary traveler.

Now I know why Teddy Roosevelt called his pals the Rough Riders. Must have been like traveling with Bud.

BuffaloWe have a national park system thanks to our 26th president, and the one named after him was our fourth on this trip. Our National Park pass is one of our favorite things, although I’m sorry we’ve decided to skip Yellowstone and Big Teton this time — no room in the schedule for crowds and traffic.

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Lautner Pilgrimage

MidgaardJohn Lautner grew up with ancient rock under his feet and towering pines above his head. His mother painted the walls and ceilings of their house with flowers and clouds, and his dad filled it with learning. From the family’s log cabin high on a bluff, you can see miles of Lake Superior water and Michigan forest. Midgaard lives up to its Norse name, meaning between heaven and earth.



I’ve written before about my obsession with Lautner, the mid-century modernist maverick architect and native Yooper. Sunday, I got to walk in his footsteps. Thanks to the generous time of his daughter Karol Peterson Lautner, I visited Keepsake, the house he grew up in, and Midgaard, the camp he helped his parents build in the 1920s. We even kayaked to see Midgaard from the lake. It was a last-minute visit to Marquette and a highlight of the trip, right up there with the eagle.
Midgaard Ceiling
Keepsake and Midgaard are both based on European styles, German and Norse. Lautner’s professor dad was of German descent, his artist mother Irish. And yet in their use of native wood (cedar and pine), anchoring to the rock (boulders lead underfoot up to Midgaard’s door), and fervent embrace of their landscape, these are thoroughly American homes — the America of optimistic embrace and progressive ideas. Marquette may be an obscure outpost in a remote region, but it’s also a university town. John’s parents were well-traveled bohemians, cosmopolitans in the American woods. They picked the site for Midgaard — perched among rocky spines atop a cliff — because it reminded them of the Alps.
Midgaard Fireplace
One can see the imprint his UP upbringing left on Lautner as he went on to Taliesin to study and work with Frank Lloyd Wright, then founded his own company in Los Angeles, building such landmark homes as the Chemosphere and Pearlman Mountain Cabin. For one, those boulders reappear — he uses them as furniture in houses he built in Malibu. Lautner wasn’t the first American architect to make a fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces central to his work — he learned it from Wright, for one. But I think he took it further than anyone else. There’s a spectacular, spiritual quality of the environment up here in Michigan that’s indelible, that shapes your outlook. It’s why Lautner embedded glasses in the ceiling of the Sheats-Goldstein house, to recreate the dappled light of the forest. It’s why at the Arango house in Acapulco, he embraced the same kind of limitless horizon you get on the widow’s walk at Midgaard. It’s why I return to the Upper Peninsula ever summer, this eternal quest for an Edenic restart.
Migaard Plaque
We also visited Bud’s brother Bob and Bob’s wife Kelly in Marquette. Cole jumped into their pool over and over, dancing and shouting, “I’m happy!” Kelly took him for spins around the water on her air mattress. He got mad when she dumped him but forgave her, and they sat on her front porch talking about pets. Cole doesn’t see his aunts and uncles all that often, but he’s been getting some quality time on this trip.Midgaard view


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The Porkies

PorkiesThis year we’re staying on the beach in Michigan. Last year, we were in the woods. I was an artist in residence in the Porcupine Mountains. Here’s an edited version of the journal I kept — yes, journal not a blog.We didn’t even have running water, let alone Internet — that was part of the Walden-esque story. I donated this text to the Friends of the Porkies, the organization that runs the AIRP. Though I keep thinking I should try to get it published — suggestions?

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Porch and Shore

Coles-houseI may hate camping, but I love the sound of Lake Superior waves hitting the shore mere yards from my bed. This spot of land in the Upper Peninsula — barely half an acre, no house, a dirt road, but 97 feet of beach frontage — is the place to which I feel most connected. It’s where I’ve spent summers since I was younger than Cole (though at least we had a trailer). Bud was born and raised in this neck of the woods (literally), as were his daughters. And Cole, too, comes into himself when his feet hit that sand.

Our days in Waupaca were restricted by rain. That allowed us to fully enjoy the addition and renovation to John and Judy’s “cabin,” which is bigger than most houses. Particularly lovely was the screened-in porch. Screened porches are one of the finer things in the world, and if Bud and I ever do build here — which I swear we will — a screened porch we will have. The best part of the trip was playing “Oh Hell.” Cole’s number smartness makes him good at cards. He loves playing with his uncles. As soon as they arrived, Cole grabbed Paul’s hand and led him down to the pond. Otis, the otter-dog, saw the water and promptly jumped in, not realizing it was green muck. My brother helped my son excavate dinosaur bones out of plaster and then assemble the T. Rex; I remember Brett patiently gluing together models when we were kids.
Waupaca’s turning into a cool little town, with nice, if a bit pricey, stores on Main Street. I coveted many items at a place called Panache, settled on some hip socks (damn travel budget). Gotta love a downtown centered around a library with farmers selling fresh produce on the weekends. We bought lots of meat — summer sausage, kielbasa, even oxtail — at Niemuth’s, the German meat shop that’s packed Saturday mornings. We celebrated both Judy’s and JohnWaupaca’s birthdays. Congrats on the first three quarters of the century, Dad.

I feel lucky that my parents are doing relatively well healthwise. For the first time I can recall, our old, close childhood friends the Von Eschens are not at their Lake cabin this summer. Liz is in the late stages of a cancer she has battled for two years. They are like a second family for me, and I’m heartbroken for them. So while the lake water is about the warmest I ever remember it being and sparkling clear, a bald eagle flew past yesterday, and the wild raspberries are ripe, this stay feels all wrong, like the fabric of my life here has been irreparably torn.Superior home

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