Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hard Stuff in Cheboygan

This week I loved my life, even its bedevilments of memory and sadness triggered by retracing old paths. I want to praise the "mutilated world" in the words of Adam Zagajewski, and I am grateful for the blessings of language. Driving the 280 miles north up I-75 on Thursday, I found myself marking treasured mileposts: the three "G's" -- Gladwin, Grayling, Gaylord -- the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the N. Pole, the turnoff for Hartwick Pines, where some of the oldest trees in the country still majestically survive. Then there's the exit for Topinabee and Cheyboygan, where my first husband and I used to get off 75 in our dash for the ferry from Cheyboyan to the property we once owned on Bois Blanc Island. It is hard not to reflect on the past, a past refusing to behave itself, an incorrigible past which sometimes still insists on nosing back into the present.

So, I did not successfully resist the flood of memory from those years. We used to have to leave at about 6:30 a.m. to make a 10:30 ferry, as I recall it. After pounding up the highway at about 90, keeping an eye out for tricky cops in the piney byways, I remember once making it to the parking lot just in time to meet two old friends who were joining us for a camping trip. I see us standing there in the morning dampness trying to catch our breath, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee spiked with whiskey from a green thermos. Man, I was younger then and could get away with such deliberate self-abuse and cherished decadence. I remember the gray water of the Straits, rippling and melancholy, and maybe some mallards or the occasional cormorant gliding up past the pier. I think we liked ourselves standing there in that parking lot enjoying strong drink in the morning, waiting for the ferry. I mourn the passing of that particular self-conscious wildness. I'm healthier now but less interesting to myself -- I suppose that is one of the disadvantages of growing up. Perhaps I simply haven't cultivated enough of a taste for moral and intellectual complexity -- pleasures available to an aging mind as the body retreats from the turbulent exertions of youth.

Now that I think of it, that's the moment I wanted to see again, from all the memories of my trip north -- the four of us huddled in a parking lot in the fresh and evocative Michigan fog, cracking wise, downing slugs of hard stuff, and waiting for the boat that would take us across the Straits to our next adventure.

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