When God put his hand on the earth –that was Michigan.
People know the tragedy of the Rust Belt and its two Michigan buckles, Flint and Detroit, but many don’t know that its hand print contains amazing natural beauty. On Mackinac Island the Gitchi Manitou breathed the world into existence through Arch Rock –but when the Europeans came, He departed the world and went to live in the Milky Way. Still, it is a beautiful world.
In Michigan above the 45 parallel, and you can watch the Northern lights sheeting a third of the sky. Just be careful during transit to the Upper Peninsula, as high winds can sway the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two halves of the state. Pronounced MAC-i-naw, as the French transliterated it from the Ojibwa. The town on the south side of the bridge is spelled Mackinaw City, as the English labeled that one. Wherever you go, there is linguistic and etymological complexity.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are a product of centuries of wind piling up lake sand —or the monument to a bear who lost her cubs swimming away from a Wisconsin forest fire: take your pick. There are pathways made of sand in the dunes on which you can slide down (if you are 12 and weigh 100 pounds, two conditions that never again in this life will I meet). You can leap down some of the dunes in twilight, the beautiful gloaming, when the blue of the air and the static beige of the dunes combine.
Highlights of my Michigan, where I lived from second grade through undergrad, and where much of my family resided and still resides. Kalamazoo College, a small and gorgeous campus devoted to learning, internationalism, and social justice. Inscribed on the wall of the chapel (K was founded by Baptists in 1833) is a motto: “The end of learning is gracious living.” Girl Scout Camp. Canoeing down the Au Sable, my brother and I in one canoe and mom with the two little kids in the other, occasionally plunging over the side to cool off or avoid a dangling spider. I’m not the only lover of Michigan’s water: Ernest Hemingway fished the Upper Peninsula as did his character Nick Adams, a fisher king. In the winter you can see the after effects of an ice storm in the birch trees, when the branches are weighted down into beautiful and glittering chambers.
And what of the Rust Belt? Flint reclaimed a park in a blue collar area and produced Shakespeare plays, until last year. In Detroit, the factories might have closed, with the monumental architecture their wealth generated fading, but parts of the city are blooming. Urban farming has redeemed empty lots and helped alleviate food insecurity.
Change is a constant. And so is hope.
Keep reading for more states! Indiana and a Grotto to Our Lady is up next.