Monday, October 17, 2011

Magic Michigan

Ten days ago, Patty and I drove to northwest Michigan for the weekend. Things were so busy last week that I didn't really get time to write about it, and I wanted to write more than just a few words. Patty was invited by the Michigan Writers Association, based in Traverse City, to do a reading and a workshop. It was also an opportunity for us to visit dear friends who live near the Sleeping Bear Dunes. They teach at Interlochen Arts Academy, and were responsible for getting us the opportunity to teach summer classes there.

We stayed with Anne-Marie and David for one night at the house in the woods, that they built themselves fifteen years ago:


Even though it was nearly the middle of October, it was hot during the day, and stayed warm long into the night. After dinner, we went walking through the woods and out onto the lane that leads back to the main road, the only light coming from the brilliant moon that made everything visible and yet occluded at the same time. I held my hands up at one point, and it looked like the moment in a club when they turn on the strobe light. I've been locked up in cities for so long that I'd forgotten what it's like to walk in a landscape with absolutely no illumination, not even from a single house.

The reading and workshop on Saturday went very well, with nine people attending, one of whom was the lovely Jo-Anne, who came to the Journal and Sketchbook class at the Interlochen Writer's retreat in June (link here to an interview she did on Patty's blog). After the workshop, we drove up to a resort in the Leelenau Peninsula, a place of hills, dense woods and lakes, surrounded on three sides by the waters of lake Michigan and the Grand Traverse Bay. It was a very Michigan-ish sort of resort, all wooden houses and cabins, with the main house originating in the early twentieth century. We were there to celebrate Anne-Marie's sixtieth birthday - hard to believe, if you ever see pictures of Anne-Marie:


There were nine of us: writers, an artist, teachers, a musician, a chocolatier, two psychotherapists. We had a long, Big Chill-style evening of food, wine, another walk in the moonlight across the lawns to the lake, midnight kayaking (for some, not for me), and talking, talking, talking. In the morning, we took a walk around the grounds, along a trail through the woods with the light slanting down and creating several layers of shadows on the sides of the trees and the canopy of ferns. The celebrations for Anne-Marie's birthday were set to continue throughout the day, with a lunch for nearly 100 people. Sadly, Patty and I had to head back to Chicago.

But even though we were only there for two days, the intensity of everything that happened made it seem like longer. Despite the awful political climate in Michigan, and its reputation not just of industrial production but also of lunatic right-wing militias, we always think of this colony of progressive artists whenever we think of that state. Maybe its the beautiful landscape, too, the nearby presence of that ocean-sized lake, that harmonises life a little more, and provides a space for these creative people to thrive. Maybe it's something in the air, or something in the drinking water. Whatever it is, we always come away scratching our heads and trying to work out some way that we can spend more time experiencing the magic.

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