A Great Lake State of Mind

Reflections on the seasons of our mortality, by L. E. Taylor

Fall comes early to my home state. It’s a fact of life’s rhythm that we carry with us wherever we roam.

Driving north out of Ann Arbor in August with the summer sun behind you, it’s not unusual a couple of hours out to suddenly spy a patch of red leaves high up on the deep green of a passing forest.

For a mile or so you work to reengage your denial of what that means. ‘Nipped by a freak night frost,’ you think. ‘Must be the lake effect,’ you mutter.

Inland seas on three sides define and temper our two peninsulas. Air off the fresh deep water cools and hydrates in the summer, moderates the frozen inland in winter. The bracing harshness of ever changing elements can invigorate and nourish. Then again, too much of any good thing can also kill you. In life as in poetry, that’s where the drama lives. The risk of joy too soon. Of inevitable disappointment.

‘Seasoning’ is an apt word for the wisdom we acquire along our way.

Thanksgiving has been a favorite holiday of mine since childhood. Cozy warmth in a candle- and hearth-lit house, jammed with young moms and dads and kids with a World War just over-with, a future ahead of them, and much to be thankful for. The cliché always dwells on the turkey and stuffing and cranberries; the pies and the glorious fragrance of it all.

I, outlier that I am, tend to remember instead the primal contrast of a warm, safe home secure against the bleak November winds that threatened, always out there howling but never gaining entry. Praise God.

One of the best of those Thanksgivings blessed me not as a child but as the father of two nearly grown teens, as the brother of a young Navy veteran with two of his own, and as the son of a gloriously young and funny 65 year old Mom. One late November, we were our family’s only survivors of loss and disappointment, of failures both unavoidable and self-imposed. We had decided to trundle ourselves Up North to gather in a modern retreat where I used to own a condo. It was tucked into a great native-growth forest of pines and cedars right on the dune-fed shore of the “Big Lake.”

The drive up began in a steely overcast. A two-car caravan held the folks and the supplies. Snowflakes began as soon as the night came. Soon dense flurries swirled hypnotically past our headlights. Just two hundred more miles to go, give-or-take.

Still rollicking in high spirits, our two carloads finally crunched through the untracked snow of a winding forest road and we came to a halt before the darkened summer retreat, now silent witness to the winter’s first snowfall.

We had landed.

The silence was palpable. Even as powerful lake winds troubled the giant pines overhead, the building itself shielded our merry band and baffled the roar of storm and surf as we trudged through the drifts to our door. Quickly the ancient midnight woods echoed with honest, rowdy gaiety, produced mostly by the youngest and the oldest of the last of the Taylors.

The Thursday feast, home cooked with everyone either helping or staying out of the way, was wonderful. The blizzard howled steadily out of the northwest, straight off the Lake. Next day, we drove the deeply plowed state road further north to “Fish Town”. We bought fresh caught white fish for dinner and smoked lake trout for Saturday lunch.

Firewood was stacked and sheltered outside so the hearth was always going. Nearly the entire western wall was of glass; tracked doors floor to ceiling. We kept them ajar for the pure air and as draft for the fireplace. The view framed the wild dark sea, an ever-present context to our doings. Even in the full black of night, we could step out onto the deck and in the moonless void could make out fearsome white-caps rolling in and crashing on the beach. We played poker and gin rummy. The youngsters, each bright with their own quirks and personalities, read and entertained each other. I don’t recall any television, but it must have been there. Somewhere.

As I revisit that November thirty years ago, I’m heartened. With years of bleak winters and lazy summers and crisp autumns in my wake, I’m reassured that much was learned from the dramatically changing seasons that would have been diminished without them. Summer is a brief chimera; winter, the norm. Live with it.


Happy Thanksgiving.









Notes & references.

Hemingway, Ernest; The Short Stories; Scribner; New York
- The Three Day Blow (one of the “Nick Adams” stories)
Hemingway, Ernest; A Moveable Feast; Scribner; New York
Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald (ballad; performer: Gordon Lightfoot)

3 comments to A Great Lake State of Mind

  1. Connie Martin says:

    You’ve done it again! I felt like I was there. You shared the story but decorated it with show, show, show!

  2. John Dayton says:

    Manufacturing books is a complicated and sometimes exasperating undertaking. I was on my way to work at a book manufacturing plant in Indianapolis when I heard the news flash, “A large ship has been lost in Lake Superior” My mind left books and raced back to my home State of Michigan.

    “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
    of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee”
    The lake it is said never gives up her dead
    When the skies of November turn gloomy”

    It was mid November and we were in the process of getting State approvals for a new series of textbooks. State certification could make or break a publisher and a manufacturer.

    “The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
    And a wave broke over the railing
    And every man knew, as the captain did too,
    T’was the witch of November come stealin”

    At school in Big Rapids we would do a “road trip” on weekends
    and drive to Ludington to explore the pier and the loading ramps for the C & O railroad car ferry’s that carried cars and fright over to Manitowac, Wisconsin. Camping out on the small dunes and doing what college kids do was our mission.

    “Does anyone know where the love of God goes
    When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
    The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
    If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.”

    As a senior in High School in Battle Creek, Michigan I read with sadness about the wreck of the Carl D. Bradley off of Beaver Island in the upper part of Lake Michigan. The loss of life devastated the small port town of Rogers City on the Lake Huron side of the State. Thirty three men from a town of only 275.

    “In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
    In the Maritime Sailors Cathedral.
    The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
    For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald”

    “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down”

    *The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” Gordon Lightfoot.

  3. [...] couple of months ago, I was moved to write about the changing seasons in my native state and how it affected my [...]

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