On Sunday (our nineteenth anniversary), Clara and I will be driving with Peter, his friend Connor, and the idiot puppy to the eastern Upper Peninsula. The journey is about 550 miles and takes between ten and twelve hours—across Wisconsin (through Chippewa Falls, Wausau, Antigo, and Marinette) and the western U.P. (through Menominee, Escanaba, and other points along Route 2) to the little villages of Hessel and Cedarville, about an hour south of Sault Ste. Marie. In Hessel, we'll take a boat to an island three miles off-shore in Lake Huron, where we'll spend the next three weeks. (Click photographs to enlarge.)
The western half of the island was purchased by Clara's great- grandfather in the first years of the twentieth century. He was the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and the business was booming. In Akron, he built himself and his large family a stunning Tudor Revival manor house; on the island, he built a set of beautiful Adirondack style buildings (shown here in an early photograph) where five generations of his family have spent their summers. Last summer, when we were in England, was the only summer in 20 years in which I haven't spent at least a week on the island; for several summers during the late 1990s and early 2000s, we regularly spent as many as six weeks on the island. Ah, the academic lifestyle!
Built by a millionaire, Cedar Lodge has been passed down to a bunch of teachers who don't have enough money to maintain the buildings in their original style. The porch roofs are covered with moss, and nearly everything is patched together by liberal arts graduates. The old tennis court is overgrown with cedars. There's always plenty of work to keep us busy each summer: dock repairs, roof repairs, cutting firewood, etc. The work begins with opening: setting up the solar-powered pump and getting the water running; lowering the motorboat into the water, hooking up the marine battery, and getting the boat running; removing shutters (behind most of which there are little brown bats lurking); starting the water heaters and refrigerator. When all that is done, if it doesn't send me into emergency surgery for a strangulated hernia, I plan to sit and read Sophocles' Antigone, finish Margery Sharp's Rhododendron Pie, and start Bill McKibben's Deep Economy.
We're "off the grid" on the island. The only electricity is supplied by a solar-charged battery that runs the water pump and by a gas generator that runs the washing machine. No telephone, no television, no light switches. At night, we light up kerosene mantle lamps. The pump fills the toilets with water from Lake Huron. Our drinking water is lake water run through a ceramic filter system. The moonless nights are very dark, but there are often shooting stars and Northern Lights.
Clara's Mom will be with us the entire time, and we'll have a few visitors: a boatload of friends from Louisville, Kentucky; a friend of Clara's from high school; a freshwater biologist gathering samples of local crayfish for her research. For most of the time, it'll be just us and the birds: redstarts, cormorants, ducks, gulls and terns, thrushes, yellow-rumped warblers galore. Most of the island is under a conservation easement, and covered with a beautiful cedar forest, carpeted with moss, and embroidered with twinflowers. It's one of my favorite places on the planet.
You can read my essay about playing catch with Will on the island in the Northfield Arts Guild Writers' Night e-zine All in the Family (Fall 2004), available for download (.pdf format) here. The essay begins on page 15). A slightly longer version of the essay appeared in the New Letters special baseball issue in 2002.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
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