Falling For You

Each fall, I remember why I live in Michigan.

At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, I have to say that Michigan is a beautiful place in all seasons.  Sure, we’ve got some of the worst roads in the nation, and there’s a public perception out there that we’re all a bunch of lumberjacks, hunters, and hillbillies. Our winters are brutal; in fact, the weather is unpredictable and often violent all year ‘round. And the wildlife? I’m not even going to talk about the random bear and cougar sightings around here, or the fact that the mosquito is close to edging out the robin as our state bird.  But not even the mosquito is as annoying or irritating as its friends: the gnats, black flies, deer flies, and that most mysterious of all insects known as the No-see-um.

Wait. Where was I going with this?  Ah, yes. Michigan in the fall.

It’s all about change. Driving down the road one day, I’ll suddenly notice an orange leaf here, a red one there, and somehow, it always manages to surprise me. I know it’s coming every year, but there’s always that one day when I say, “Is it that time already?”

Right about then, the smiling weather reporters on the nightly news shows start talking about “Peak Color.” They point at pretty charts and start running all the facts and figures to tell us all where to be and when to be there in order to see the brightest display of Michigan’s best fall colors.

Folks, we don’t need the weatherman on WWMT to tell us when the colors are pretty. Just look out the damn window or head north.  Red, orange, yellow and brown, in more hues and tones than can ever be recreated in a Crayola box of 64 colors. Bright, vivid, riotous shades that stand out against a clear blue sky, or sometimes against thick gray storm clouds that swirl and poke at each other like teenagers looking for a fight.

The trails around Tahquamenon Falls, already orange from the tannic acid in the water, become almost ethereal in their autumn beauty. The Mighty Mac – the Mackinac Bridge – becomes a road to a land of such indescribable beauty that it must be seen to be believed. And Mackinac Island itself becomes Heaven on Earth, and that’s all there is to it. The Island is pretty darn amazing in the spring when the lilacs are in bloom, but even that doesn’t compete with its October beauty.

Colors always reach their peak earlier in the U.P. Or as you non-Michiganders refer to it, the Upper Peninsula. Here in Lower Michigan, we tend to think of those folks up there as sort of a different tribe, distant relatives of our family. We call them “Yoopers” and they call us “Trolls” because we live under the bridge.

That’s okay, though, because at least we go out at night.

The stereotypical Yooper wears flannel, plays Euchre, and says “eh” at the end of every sentence. They even have their own local celebrities – a very funny, very talented band called Da Yoopers, who have songs like “It’s The Second Week of Deer Camp” and “Da Couch Dat Burps” among other treasures.   Da Yoopers also have their own store and outhouse museum in Ishpeming.  My ex-husband and I went there as part of our honeymoon tour of the U.P., right after a stop at the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.

In retrospect, I think it says an awful lot about us that our marriage began with a trip to look at shipwrecks and toilets.

Back down here in the Lower Peninsula, fall brings football season and bonfires, and an almost frantic rush to get in as much fun as possible before the snow hits. It’s not quite time for hot cocoa yet; we demand hot cider stirred with a cinnamon stick or sprinkled with tiny red-hots.

We have corn mazes here in Michigan, like many other Midwestern states. I used to take my kids to the one at Crane’s Orchards in Fennville, but it got embarrassing when the owners had to send in a rescue party for my kids and me year after year. The one year my ex-husband joined us, his perfect sense of direction whisked us through the entire maze in ten minutes flat.

Good man to have around in an emergency, not so fun in a corn maze.

After the maze, we hurry over to Crane’s Pie Pantry, where they serve the world’s best homemade apple pie ala mode. Since I don’t really like apple pie, however, I am usually content with the heaping platter of tiny apple cider doughnuts they plunk down on every table. Add a bottomless mug of icy apple cider, and I’m in absolute bliss, especially since Crane’s idea of a “bottomless mug” is a Mason jar.

Just outside the Pie Pantry, there stands a tiny log cabin made out of railroad ties.  It is over a hundred years old; the Crane family bought it and hauled it here from the little town of Dunningville, where my grandfather and his half-brother Jim built it.  Just inside the door, there are two pictures on the wall. One is a picture of Grandpa, Jim, and their dog Bowzer – who, according to family legend, simply lay down and died a few days after Jim died from a ruptured appendix.  The other is a picture of my four aunts in their heyday.

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If the Pie Pantry isn’t too busy the day we visit, I’ll tell the Cranes that I’m Mr. Hyde’s granddaughter, and they’ll let us go inside the old cabin instead of just peering through the windows with everyone else. My sister and I once held hands in the center and easily reached out to touch the walls, marveling that two grown men once shared that tiny space.

I never met my Grandfather, of course. He died when Dad was just a little boy, somewhere in the 1940’s. From everything I’ve heard, he wasn’t a very nice man, and there are many, many stories about him that I probably shouldn’t have been told. But I love to go to his cabin in the fall because it makes me feel connected.

You see, they’re all gone now. Grandpa, Jim, the aunts, even poor old Bowzer. Mom and Dad, who aren’t in any pictures at the log cabin, but still connected in their own way. It’s been too many years since I held hands with my sister in the cabin or anywhere else, for that matter.  Sometimes, even with my kids and my friends and those few family members who are still here . . .sometimes, I am so alone in this world that I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to draw the next breath.

But each fall, I go to Grandpa’s cabin and I find that connection again. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my feet, and I try to whistle through acorn caps the way Aunt Marian used to do, and I’m not alone any more.

Each fall, I am reminded that everything ends. There is always a sense of wrapping up, of tying off loose ends, of saying farewell. It’s a last burst of color before we’re all buried in snow. In a sense, fall is a preparation for death. But it’s also a promise, because fall’s beauty reminds us that spring is just around the corner and things are going to be bright and colorful again someday.

It’s all about hope.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “Each fall, I . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Julie Martinka Severson from Carvings on a Desk and Danielle Dion from https://wayoffscript.wordpress.com/. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!