There's a lot of talk about "up north."
It's the place everyone seems to want to go
to escape the pressures and frantic pace of everyday life.
But where is "up north"?
For "up north" is not so much a location as it is a state of mind.
So, how do you know when you've arrived "up north"?
When you feel the cares of the world begin to slip away . . .
When you find yourself breathing a little deeper
because the air seems purer somehow . . .
When you notice that the sky is bluer, the pines are taller
and the people smile a lot more . . .
It's then that you know you're up north!
My mom has a watercolor of pines and a lake in her house on the shores of Lake Huron. On it is this poem in calligraphy that swirls like mist through the trees. It is a rather ordinary poem, without particularly poetic language or subtle meaning. And Up North is a common, ordinary concept, familiar to anyone in the midwestern United States. Lower Michiganders go Up North, either to the thumb, or higher up the mitten, or even across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula. Minnesotans have their Up North lake country, New Englanders have the Maine coast and woods, Massachusetts has the Cape. I suppose northern California is an escape to those who live in the more populated south. Are the Rocky Mountains another kind of Up North to the people in the western plains states?
My Up North is a stretch of woods on the shore of Lake Huron. The coastline forms a cove about 5 miles long. For a good long stretch, maybe a mile and a half, it's fairly rare to see more than a handful of people on even the brightest summer day.
The lake is a huge presence. Its waves crash or whisper ceaselessly, forming a silvery aural backdrop to daily life. Is that why the regular chores of cooking and cleaning seem so trivial here? At home, the household chores are a grind. The dirty laundry piles up faster than I can run it through the washer and dryer. I can't sort the fresh clothes into their closets and drawers before the laundry heap towers by the machines again. And the kitchen is never clean. Before breakfast, the late-night snacks must be cleaned up. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, plus constant snacking by the kids ensures a neverending state of sticky counters and a sinkful of dishes. Cleaning the floor is a horrendous task that hangs over my head, for it, too, seems to attract a steady buildup of dirt and debris. It is too much. My home demands my life as sacrifice if it is to remain even marginally clean and uncluttered and with food on the table at appropriate times.
But up north, a sandy floor is quickly swept, and mom and I can whip up meals, and clean up after them, without planning our day around them. These things are trivial, mere interruptions in long days full of beachwalking, kayaking, gardening, reading, sewing, painting, and just plain living.
And the kids aren't glued to computers and video games for hours and hours, as they are at home. Granted, they do get a video fix. Here at Grandma and Grandpa's, they watch cartoons on TV when they need a break from the sun or for half an hour before a meal. But most of their time is spent playing in the sand and water.
I love up north. I hope you have one, too.