Last weekend, my family and I took a day trip to the northernmost region of Michigan, way up along my beloved Lake Superior. On the map below, we were at the tippy-top of the Keweenaw Peninsula, in Copper Harbor.
In other words, here:
We were UP THERE. Michiganders call this “Up North.” (Really. You can Google that.)
The whole ride Up North was like driving through a painting. My husband must have grown weary of my gasps and commands to PULL OVER RIGHT NOW HONEY so I could take a picture of “that pretty tree over there.”
Like this one…
I mean, come on. You can’t just drive PAST that.
I’ve long been fascinated with trees, so naturally, autumn is my favorite season. I get it from my dad, a self-declared “fall color connoisseur.”
Dad has checkpoints all over Michigan for gauging the changing colors. He sends my siblings and me texts like these all throughout the season:
Stace, the tree by the gas station in Quinnesec is at 50% color.
Mark, peak color is October 1, give or take three days. We are a few days behind this year.
Kristin, the Eastern UP is at 75%. I’ll be on the GS [his BMW motorcycle] this weekend.
But the finale of fall color occurs when Dad stops speaking in mathematical terms and begins using adverbs and adjectives.
Stace, I rode Brockway Mountain at sunset. It was FLAT-OUT GORGEOUS.
Let me tell you, friends, when a gear-head auto mechanics teacher from Detroit calls something FLAT-OUT GORGEOUS, he means it.
And he’s right.
Brockway Mountain Drive was simply stunning this week.
Really, the whole peninsula is stunning.
Autumn is stunning.
The sky appears its bluest beyond orange and crimson treetops.
The afternoon light gives every leaf a chance to show off.
The season brings to mind a poem my mother and I memorized together– I’ve been reciting it so much lately that my boys have begun picking up bits and pieces of the lines.
A Vagabond Song by Bliss Carman
There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
I recited it last Friday from the top of Brockway Mountain as I looked out across those hills of flame. The sky too, was aflame. Hot pink. Fuschia. My attempts to capture it with a cell phone camera were ridiculous.
I slipped the phone into my pocket and reminded myself to see…
The vastness of Lake Superior wrapping the peninsula. Striations of color marking the sky from horizon to the realm above. The last kiss of daylight on the faces of maples in the valley below.
No photograph or painting can adequately capture experience. Yet, we try.
We don’t just want to remember how it looked — we want to remember how it felt. How it made us feel.
Mary Oliver, the wise and well-loved poet, wrote, “Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled—to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.”
Willing to be dazzled.
Every frame of creation, it seems, offers another opportunity to be dazzled. From the single leaf to the whole grand spectacle, there’s wonder to behold for those who show up with open eyes, willing.
We stood on that mountain until the pink swath on the horizon narrowed to a sliver, then we loaded the kids up, pointing the car south. To the jubilation of three young boys, we stopped for an impromptu ice cream treat at a walk-up dairy bar ten minutes before closing time.
The air had cooled, and we giggled about licking ice cream cones in hats and down vests.
An hour later, as we drove home through the darkened peninsula, I recalled the colors of the day — the brightest oranges and deepest reds, and just when I thought it couldn’t be any more magnificent, that electric finale of pink.
These recent months, for me, have been eventful and intensely emotional. I lost a dear friend under shocking circumstances. We moved to a new home in the country. We said goodbye to Chad’s grandmother before leukemia claimed her life. Then I returned to New York with a group of friends to pay tribute to the friend we lost.
After so much tumult and catharsis, a slow-paced day in nature with family was an unexpected, much-needed remedy. For the first time in months, my heart sustained its own steady rhythm.
This week, I’m staying home.
I’m digging out my sweaters and poetry books — trading morning coffees for giant chai lattes with extra cinnamon.
I’m resting. I’m seeing.
I’m opening my arms to October, to autumn– basking in its bright extravagance and welcoming the warmth of healing.
If you enjoyed this post, read more personal essay here.
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*Michigan map image courtesy of yoopersteez.com