Every once in a while a person needs to get away and leave all cares behind. That is exactly what we did for a few days last week as we headed north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my favorite getaway destination.
Michigan is unique in that it is the only bi-peninsula state in the country. Both land masses separated by the mighty Mackinac Bridge are considered peninsulas. The north is bordered by Lake Superior, the east by St. Mary’s River, the southeast by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and the south by Wisconsin. Michigan even gets her name from the Chippewa Indian word meicigama, which means “great water.” When in Michigan, one is never more than six miles from a natural water source or more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes. The Upper Peninsula has 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and 4,300 inland lakes, giving it the distinction of having ten percent of all the fresh water in the world and the most coastline in the continental United States. Hello, fishermen!
It has been a long standing joke that if you live in the lower part of the state (under the bridge) you are affectionately known as a “Troll,” while those in the Upper Peninsula are “Yoopers.” Incidentally, the word Yooper was first published in 1979 and was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014.
Besides all this water, the Upper Peninsula has acres and acres and acres of pristine forests and more than 100 waterfalls. Even though the UP (as the Upper Peninsula is known to us natives) has twenty-nine percent of Michigan’s land area, only three percent of the state’s population lives there. From its most northern point to the most southern is only 125 miles, and from east to west is only 320 miles. Yet, driving anywhere in this area, one can go for miles upon miles and never pass another vehicle or see any human life.
There are two thoughts when it comes to this vastness: either there is nothing up here, or everything is up here. To me, there is everything. It's a whole different way of life here. People take their time and are not always in a rush. After all, where and what is there to rush to?
The best example of this nothing/everything is in Whitefish Point, located on the rugged Whitefish Bay on the southeast corner of Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the Upper Peninsula Bird Observatory — which is the premier migratory bird hotspot in Michigan — is here, as well as shipwreck diving opportunities. Outside of these, there is nothing: no restaurants, no places to stay, no shopping … nothing except miles of rugged shoreline.
We spent hours walking that shoreline that offered the most varied array of rocks I have ever seen. Because of so few local inhabitants, this shoreline is clean, and the water is so clear you can see the bottom. If you are real lucky, you can find Lake Superior agates — semi-precious gemstones with rich bands of color.
My personal favorite is the smooth, round, black rocks that washed on shore. They are perfect for painting and using for decoupage. But perhaps the best part of this corner of the world is the end-of-the-earth feeling you get here. It is a great place to reflect and gather your thoughts. The crashing waves have a humbling effect that helped me remember that I am only a small part of something so much larger. We all need that reality check once in a while.
Driving back down the coast, we stopped in a little store in Paradise. When we mentioned rock-hunting to the store’s owner, he told us to wait a minute while he got his wife, Joann. He said that she loves to talk to passers-by and show them her rock collection. We left 30 minutes later. What is so great is that this is the norm and not the exception in the UP. People take time for each other, just like it was meant to be.
It’s almost like stepping back into another world. Two nights we stayed in small “Mom and Pop” cabins. They weren’t locked, the keys were laying in the room waiting for us while the owners were going about their business. One place only dealt in cash. Can you imagine no credit cards? It was nice to see that there was still a part of the world that knew another way besides plastic.
This is a rugged area. We saw dozens of signs about places for sale. It's a nice thought to go back to nature, to live in this rugged vastness, until you actually try it. So many people find that it is a nice place to visit, but they don’t want to stay. Others come for a visit and never go back. Kim, my bonus daughter (I despise the word “step”), is a prime example. She moved up right after school and is now in her 40s and a true Yooper. It’s all what you want out of life and where you see the real beauty.
I was pleasantly surprised when we got back home and discovered that, although we packed them, we never once took out our laptop or tablet. Yes, you can live without them. This is not to say that they don’t have their place in life, but sometimes we get too wrapped up in being connected all the time.
It rather said it all when we stopped and asked where we turn in Munising for the Pictured Rocks tour boats. The gal told us to just turn right at the light. I asked which light. Her answer was, “There is only one light in town. As a matter of fact, there is only one light in the county!”
Although life and family dictate that I live in the lower, my heart resides in the UP. Yoopers like to say that they have Paradise (the town) and the lower peninsula has Hell (the town). I try to remember each time I come back from the UP that I don’t have to actually live there to be there. “Up north” is more a state of mind than an actual location.
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 taller, and the people smile a lot more … it’s then that you know you’re “Up North.”