Usually summer aims me west, the direction any self-respecting Kansan wants to go when the temperatures heads for the hinterlands of triple digits. This summer was a northerning thing instead with three trips to the Twin Cities (visit our daughter, help her move, and attend a newphew’s wedding), a lovely vacation in the northern pinky tip of Michigan (to see a friend), and the usual airport-infested trek to Vermont and back to teach. Whatever the reasons, it seems I as just getting back from one northern catapult when it was time to pack (or just not completely unpack from the last trip) for the next one.
There’s a lot to said for getting in a tiny car early in the morning, guzzling ice coffee, and driving from 90-something degrees to less than 80 degrees. Just that shift in temperature can shift perspective, not to mention what’s blossoming up yonder that thoroughly finished its gig here months before. I inhaled lilac in June in Michigan and July in Minnesota after lamenting it finishing in Kansas by late April. There’s nothing like a little travel to scramble seasonal markers and wake me up to how much “whatever is” isn’t necessarily so. Of course, there’s also the Twilight Zone restaurants in Northern Missouri or Iowa we have a talent for finding, but that’s another story.
Cooler bouts of air also meant wearing pants frequently all summer instead of shorts. I’ve lived many Kansas summers when slipping my legs into jeans in September felt positively exotic.
Mostly though, all this northerning brought me face to face woods and water. Everywhere I traveled, I inhaled the smell of pine and glimpsed (or waded hesitantly into) clear water.
The lakes of Minnesota spill out across the landscape and throughout the cities. A few weeks ago, as Ken and I walked a Minneapolis neighborhood, we happened upon one lake (Lake of the Isles), that seemed a pond until we turned a corner.
The northern climes of Michigan are surrounded of course by Lake Michigan, which I hadn’t really seen up-close before with its Caribbean blue of the turquoise water, the jewel tones everywhere. Having spent some time with Lake Superior, which is a living being that changes pastel tones all day, I was surprised by the different look of this lake. I wasn’t so surprised by the crazy cold of the water though, and only made it in up to my knees (although I did swim in a cold and white-capped pond later on).
In Vermont, I spent a day hugging the shore of Lake Champlain, one of the loveliest places I know with the Adironacks to the west and Green Mountains to the west. The wind is always big there, and I slept in a darkness interrupted by the heartbeat flash of a lighthouse. I also swam daily in this pond surrounded by woods and sky, and often shiveringly cold. Even when well-immersed and swimming for a while, I could skirt pockets of deep cold from the depths.
Back home, my northerning ways come full circle. The fog that enveloped the world this morning, the cool and damp air, and the recent rain bring me back and forward at once. The lakes around here are muddy and surrounded by a protective army of chiggers. The pine I inhale is only from an essential oil. I’m happy to be finished, for a while at least, with propelling myself north. As for that desire to get on I-70 and drive a long way west, I tell myself next summer can be for westerning again.