We now return to regularly scheduled programming

S. and I have returned from nearly ten days without cell phones (or any kind of phone, for that matter), air conditioning (or heat), computers or easy kitchen appliances. We had a wonderful trip, and it is good to be home.

Sometimes it occurs to me that I give perhaps an ever so slightly exaggerated idea of just how back woods rustic I am. It’s not that I am intentionally trying to deceive people – everything I write is true, from my history with hunting dogs to the hundreds of hours I’ve spent walking in the woods, but over the last ten years or so, I’ve begun to realize my appreciation for nature is a bit more removed than it used to be.  Conceptually, I love, you know, the idea of nature…the fact that trees sway and waves lap shores and fish leap and coyotes howl…but when all of this is put into actual practice I soon find myself longing to don a pair of my beautiful high heels and running out for a double vodka and some sushi. Oh, I wasn’t always like this – sort of materialistic and food-snobby. It took years, YEARS, people, to cultivate my own particular kind of caustic, which I think I began in college, developed in North Carolina, but really honed in Pittsburgh.  Before that I think I was more than comfortable calling myself a northern Michigan girl, the kind of girl who understood the nuances of each season, the kind of girl who more than expected to become, not a golf-widow or a football-widow but rather, a widow to the woods, the lakes, the rivers, tributaries and  great pine flats that seemed, growing up, to call out to all the men I knew. It was a surprise, in fact, to marry S. and have him around, so much of the time.

Anyway. The cabin that my grandfather bought well over fifty years ago sits on a private lake and 300 acres of forest.  It is near some of the best fly-fishing in Michigan, and is only six miles from a small,  quiet state park. I cast my first line into its lake, and I spent countless hours there with my family, both nuclear and extended, growing up. My dad taught me to identify different animal tracks and how to shoot a gun; my mom taught me how to roll out a pie crust and row a boat.  My mom considers the cabin and the land her legacy to D. and me. The cabin, undoubtedly, is one of my favorite places on earth – and I am fortunate to have a husband who regards the land of my family with something like worship. From quiet evenings watching the sun settle below the aspen trees to listening to the coyotes take up their unsettling songs late in the evenings, from greeting what I think of as the camp frogs or catching and filleting pike for dinner, certainly there is something wonderful to be found at our cabin in the woods.  There is the beat of one hundred ancient feet, who tread the floors before me – there is the protection of knowing a driveway nobody else could find. The cabin and the woods beyond it are capable of providing solace in times of sorrow, respite when the world becomes too much. I am quite sure I want heaven to be exactly this: me, on the edge of the dock, meditating in sunlight, listening to bird calls in the distance. 

But then again.

This trip, there were snakes. Snakes in the water, snakes in the land, snakes leisurely crossing the dusty road ahead of wherever (it felt like) I stepped. The upper peninsula was being torn up by an extensive forest fire, and we found ourselves smack in the middle of drought – so much so that we weren’t allowed to have bonfires outside.  Over the course of the week the temperatures dropped, the winds picked up, dust clouds barrelled down the roads like something out of a John Steinbeck novel, and a normally lush and lovely landscape turned haunting.

I found myself longing by Wednesday for the comfort of my own home, for a real shower and food that didn’t need to be grilled and perhaps a movie theater, somewhere. That’s not to say I wasn’t able to be in the present, to enjoy my husband and our time together, but rather that, sooner than most people, I need to feel concrete beneath my feet. The outdoors is wonderful, because it can be left.

I wrote this blog post in my head probably ten times during the trip, and of course each time it came out so fluently – so articulate.  Now that I am actually trying to sort my feelings out by writing I can my feelings are a bit more complex, or at least more difficult to describe, than I originally thought.  I guess I can make things pretty binary when I choose too – I am either outdoorsy, or not – either a city girl, or not – but never the twain of anything shall meet inside me.  I’m beginning to recognize, as I sit here at my desk, hair properly conditioned, all electrical gadgets (laptop, cell phone, ipod, etc) up and running, that already I am wishing for a bit of that dry, pine-scented air, the sound of the aspen trees dancing. Perhaps I will always be a bit, the grass is always greener.  Perhaps I will never be fully comfortable where I land.

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11 Responses to We now return to regularly scheduled programming

  1. Emily Barton says:

    Don’t worry, it’s beautifully articulate, and so, so familiar. So often, when I’m in the city, I long for the country, and when I’m in the country, I long for the city.

  2. Dorothy W. says:

    Beautiful post! I’ve often felt that I enjoy my backpacking trips most in retrospect — being out in the woods is HARD, but I do enjoy the memories.

  3. Katie says:

    Laughing about the snakes! When I was at kids camp a few weeks ago, I remember that with the girls it was all fun and games in the lake until someone encountered a small black leech.

  4. Emily – it’s such a catch 22, isn’t it? I keep trying to be “present” in the moment but am pretty lousy at it.
    Dorothy – I think you’ve hit on something here…being in the woods IS hard – it takes a certain stamina and a certain mentality, which can be hard to maintain.
    Katie – Ug, leeches are gross, too. The movie Stand By Me put the fear of God into me, about the leeches…

  5. litlove says:

    Gorgeous writing, Courtney, and yes, aren’t we humans hopelessly contrary? I always long for home from about three-quarters of the way through any holiday. It’s a kind of in-built homing mechanism, I think. And I wouldn’t have liked the snakes…

  6. hobgoblin says:

    This is a great post. Have you read Caroline Kirkland’s badly titled novel, A New Home, Who’ll Follow? It was written in the 1839, and is a lightly fictionalized account of Kirkland and her husband homesteading in Michigan. Your mention of the snakes made me think of Kirkland. It’s worth a read, if you can find a copy.

  7. Litlove, I like the idea of an in-built homing mechanism because that finally explains why, on day ten in Italy, I suddenly became fed up with bread and went searching for red meat, as embarrassing as it is to admit…
    Hobgoblin, I haven’t read Kirkland but I have just added to my list – it sounds great!

  8. I think it doesn’t have to be binary. You don’t have to be a city mouse or a country mouse, you can like parts of both. I’m definitely one who imagines she loves the countryside, dreams of the countryside and then gets to the countryside and finds it a little bit too full of awe and potential danger. We’ll need to find a new term, a crossover mouse perhaps.

  9. Kerryn says:

    Oh how I understand that feeling of being part of but not. Sometimes the urge to return to the country home of my childhood is so strong I can’t not obey. And yet, when I’m there I realise how deeply I am now a city person and in thrall to all the delights of the city (mmm, smog). One thing that doesn’t change is that feeling of connection and that’s what I sense in your post. Now matter how much you change you will always have that connection, because the cabin and the woods are such a part of who you are. Just like my family’s farm is a part of me.

  10. Charlotte – I love the idea of crossover mouse – I think that fits perfectly. And you are right – it doesn’t need to be binary – it just happens to be part of my natural tendencies…
    Kerryn – Beautifully put. I can relish the city but still feel okay about the connection I have with the cabin and the land…it doesn’t all have to be so disparate…

  11. Andi says:

    Welcome back! I’m much the same way. I always get on the nature train until I land in nature and a bug appears or a wind storm blows me over. Then I want to hole up in an air-conditioned cabin (with no TV or phone) with a stack of books and a stock of Jiffy Pop.

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