Crossing Over

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – September 21, 2018

I am surrounded by waves. Lake Huron on the right. Lake Michigan on the left. They roll back and forth across an invisible border. Becoming one. The unsettling hum of steel grates under my tires. Above, the iconic steel towers shudder. Below my wheels, the concrete sways. A lullaby motion that both soothes and disquiets. My eyes flicker side to side, then forward. My hands tighten on the wheel, not so much in fear as in determination. In 1989, a Yugo was blown over the side of the Mackinac Bridge. It took eight days to find the car and the driver, a thirty-one year old waitress from downstate. A life cut short by recklessness and weather. Tomorrow is the twenty-ninth anniversary of the accident.

My hands unclench as I approach the toll booth. A sigh of relief escapes. Days of sunshine or storm, it always feels like a victory to make it to the other side. It always feels as though I’m crossing over a point of no return.

I pull into the bridge view park and stare at the far shore, the Lower Peninsula. I push the door open and stride into the wind. Today is my fiftieth birthday. Half a century of existence. How on Earth did this happen? For most of my life, I felt like I was nearing the end. Wanted it to end. Now it feels like I’m just getting started.

Will Grant make it across before it closes? I left before he could drive up to meet me. The radio warned of high winds. The Bridge would surely close by afternoon. Now our meeting point is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We had planned to do a cruise, but Lake Superior is in turmoil today. It is not disappointment that I feel, but excitement. At last, I will witness one of the legendary gales.

Grant has no mobile phone, so we must revert to sibling telepathy to communicate. My youngest brother likes to be out of reach. As do I. I recently caved in to convenience and bought my first smart phone. In the world beyond, a flip phone was enough. Taxis, pizzas, and the rare text from students were the extent of my phone communications. Anyway, most of the Upper Peninsula is a cellphone dead zone. You are on your own.

The U. P. is as mysterious and daunting as any of the exotic lands that I’ve visited. It is a soul-swallowing place. Vast cedar swamps and impenetrable, claustrophobic forests. A place for those who wish to never be found. Plane crash sites remain undiscovered for decades. This territory is ruled by the beasts which wander within: bears, wolves, moose. Apocalyptic swarms of insects. And the Great Spirit of Ojibway legend, the Manitou.

It’s been eight months since my return to Michigan. The most difficult thing to get used to is being accessible again. Aunts, uncles, and cousins have re-emerged. Friends and acquaintances. The faces in my memory have morphed. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of younger selves. The in-between years that I lost. The people we were then and who we’ve become. Or, in my case, unbecome.

To them, I look the same on the outside, but I am somehow unrecognizable. You are so different. You used to be so judgmental, so condescending. You seem so content with life, with who you are.

The person I was really judging was myself. I pushed people away and withdrew into anonymity. A self-inflicted punishment for my nonconformity. I have no idea when or how the pieces of my life will reassemble. My adventures are now those of human connection. The most intimidating adventure of all. I’m not sure I have what it takes.

It is in the banalities of daily life that you truly get to know someone. The morning coffee, the home improvement projects, the errands. The female domestic rituals push me far out of my comfort zone. Bridal showers and weddings and baby showers. In this world, I am truly lost. However, I understand the vulnerability that parenting entails. Grant and my littlest sister Jessica were like my own children. I decided, long ago, that I would never allow myself to love that deeply. Ever again.

I add an hour to Grant’s promised arrival time. I have been on this Earth too long to put much faith in others’ timing. I find a tiny cafe in Grand Marais. The largest plate of nachos I’ve ever seen is set before me. The owner is from Bay City, where I was born. She mentions names of people she knows who went to my high school. People I used to know. People who never left. She’s had a hard time integrating with the Yoopers, the local people, and wants to move along. I ask her about Jim Harrison, the famous writer who lived in this tiny village.

“I never met him, but he frequented the local bar,” she says. She goes to the window. A wistful gleam lights up her eyes. Her voice drops to a throaty whisper. “The lake will be so gorgeous today.”

A chill moves through me. A thrill. Of all the lakes, Superior is my beloved. All those years ago, I stood on her shore, a child so lost and fearful. She taught me the meaning of awe and its connection to love.

Life is not segmented artificially by what we call days, months, years, dawns, noons, evenings, night; rather, life is segmented by our moods, impressions, traumas, odd transferences of power from inanimate objects- the aesthetic principle – dreams, linked by time spans of loves and hates and indifference, unexpected changes in the prism of our understanding, areas of passion or lust that disappear in a moment, lapsing into a kind of sloth, dread, and slowness. – Jim Harrison, Sundog.

I brace myself for the wind and push out the door. He better be there, dammit. I’m always on time. Let him wait for me for once.

The sinister downward slide of a car window. “Hey. I knew that was your car.” That goofy grin under those dark sunglasses.

I am unable to maintain my scowl.

Down to the lakeshore we go. He struggles to stand upright, to walk against it. His long, gaunt limbs ripple in the wind. For a split second, it appears that he might blow away. My breath catches in my throat. I restrain myself from reaching out. He doesn’t need me anymore. It is far too late.

Pictured Rocks to Munising to Ishpeming. We leave my car at the hotel and take his beige Lincoln Continental. I brush aside mechanic detritus and settle into the grimy leather seat.

“I never spend more than four hundred dollars on a car!” he proclaims. Several similar models, which he mines for parts, populate his front yard. “As long as you move them around every once in a while, the city can’t make you get rid of them!”

Grant has the IQ of Darwin, while also being a prime candidate for the Darwin awards, which honors those who die in the stupidest ways. His cigarette bobs up and down on his lower lip as he barrels from one topic of conversation to the next. He recently purchased a hundred acres in the same area as my parents, our brother Billy, and myself. His trail cam has captured elk and a seven-foot, five-hundred pound bear. He has big plans for his vast property. His future house will be mostly subterranean, built into one of the high ridges. He will hang huge speakers on trees and blast elk bugles across I-75 in hopes of luring more of the beasts onto his land. He will put up a billboard slamming his employer, one of the big Detroit auto companies, and then make them pay him to take it down. He shares his life with five chihuahuas. He works as a master mechanic. He subsists on a diet of Red Bull and organic chocolate milk. He scrapes his teeth clean with a razor blade. He was born on Valentine’s Day. He is thirty-nine years old.

His exuberant shriek haunts my memory. His favorite television show was the Weather Channel. Blazing brown eyes and a Koolaid mustache that reached up to his eyes. Life was a constant source of wonder.

His voice is deeper and quieter now, but still filled with exclamation. “If you see a dead porcupine on the road, call the local tribes! They’ll pay you up to four hundred dollars! Did you know that scavengers always go for the anus first?!”

Our conversation trajectories are as much of a surprise as the roads we meander. The comical sexual exploits of his coworkers, obscure economic theories, the origin of new slang of which I’m ignorant. All of it is interspersed with random, but relevant, lines from offbeat movies. Little is said about our childhood. He remembers the policemen talking to our mother on that night. He remembers nothing of the road trip around the U.P. that we took soon after. As soon as school let out, my grandparents loaded us up in their vans and ferried us across the Mackinac Bridge. To safety.

June 1982

We follow Highway 28 across the Upper Peninsula. For hours, we see nothing but the woods, gray sky, and road signs advertising homemade pasties, which Grandma says are tasteless, doughy meat pies that are not all they’re cracked up to be. I ride in Grandpa’s work van with Billy, Grant, and the dogs. The radio is tuned to an AM talk radio station, because it’s the only one that comes in. The weatherman announces that there’s no end in sight to the abnormally wet and cold weather.

Grandpa blows his last lungful of smoke out the window and stubs out his cigarette. “Cold weather keeps the black flies away.”

Billy sits on a large toolbox and reads a Popular Mechanics magazine. He hunches over the magazine and gnaws on his fingernails. He seems unaffected by the problems with our father, except that now he gnaws until his cuticles bleed.

Grant sits on my lap in the passenger seat and stares out the window. Slow motion blink of his big brown eyes. He mimics Grandpa. A deliberate slouch, a thoughtful nod. He takes phantom sips of coffee from his identical cup. Every day that he’s around Grandpa, he regains more of his enthusiasm. Joy replaces the caution that has crept into his voice.

My throat tightens. Please let him go back to how he was before. He is three years old. Maybe there’s time to erase all of the bad stuff.

Cruncher and Bigfoot lie at the very back of the van, next to the box that holds the air mattress that Grandpa and Grandma sleep on at night. The smell of wet dog and wood shavings fills the van.

I take the road map out of the glove compartment and secure the seat belt around Grant. I move to the back of the van, spread the map out on the floor, and trace my finger along the thin red lines that crisscross the U.P. Munising, Marquette, Iron Mountain, Ontonagon, Escanaba, Copper Harbor. Unknown places with unknown people. So many places to start over.

Grandpa glances over his shoulder. “Would you like to go everywhere?”

I can only stare at him.

“I can’t promise you that we’ll go everywhere this time, but we’ll see as many places as we can.” He winks at me.

I clutch the map and allow myself a smile.

I place my hand on the road atlas that sits between us. I haven’t gone everywhere, but close enough. My days of running away are over.

My mother says that Grant and I were the most affected. We closed ourselves off, lashed out. Turned our backs on the world, our middle fingers raised in defiance.

Our itinerary is different than the one we followed so many years ago, but no less mesmerizing. Tannin-tinted waterfalls. Mt. Arvon, Michigan’s highest point.

At Marquette, we encounter Lake Superior surfers. It is said that the best waves are in the deepest winter, beyond the ice that gathers at the shore. Crazy Yoopers.

Down old logging roads, deep grooves in soft dirt. The car bottoms out. The undercarriage scrapes the ground and then springs back up. Grant whips the car to the side as a trio of slick SUVs pass by, headed in the opposite direction. Faces turn to stare, heads shake. Grant and I look at each other and laugh. I’d so rather be us than them.

Silence falls between us.

“You never listen to the radio?”

“They play the same crap they’ve been playing for thirty years!” His lips pull tight for a quick drag. The cigarette snaps to rigid attention. He twists his mouth to exhale out the window. “I prefer to listen to my thoughts.”

Journey. Led Zeppelin. And, of course, the obligatory Bob Seger and Ted Nugent. It’s been decades since I’ve heard most of what floats over these airwaves. It was already classic when I was young. Shouldn’t more music have been added to the playlist over the years? Music from the eighties and nineties. What’s popular in America these days? I stare out the window. I don’t know who anyone is anymore. I lean my head against the cool glass. And I don’t care. An endless parade of forest fills my vision. Autumn’s first tinge graces the treetops. I’m not sure I know who I am anymore. But I’m getting there.

I flip through the atlas. Grant enjoys driving backroads for hours. Just to see where they lead. There is no such thing as nowhere. Before I left America, I would do the same on my solitary days off. In Michigan, Southern California, and Arizona. There was always a folded map by my side, such a perfect companion. Endlessly captivating, never judgmental.

I place the atlas on my lap and swallow hard. “Do you ever feel like you’re not one of them? I mean, not part of humanity?”

“Oh, God, yes! They did a study and discovered that two-thirds of people have no internal dialogue whatsoever! They call them NPCs, non-playable characters. Like in video games. They’re just running on a program with no self-reflection at all!”

I roll my eyes. “And no one wants to deal with the least bit of emotional discomfort. It’s character-building to have hardship, loss. It’s part of life.”

His eyebrows shoot up. “Reminds me of that scene in Star Trek V, the one where they search for God. The Vulcan takes McCoy’s and Spock’s past trauma away, but Captain Kirk refuses. ‘Pain is what makes us who we are!’ he says. ‘I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!’”

I smile. Confronting trauma and regret is not for the faint-hearted. And there are some things you just never get over.

Grandpa died just days before my high school graduation. That long drive home from the Cleveland Clinic. How were we going to tell Grant? He was waiting at the door with a new card he had made for Grandpa. He was seven years old. We didn’t have to say it. He could see it on our faces. His hands crumpled the card. A hard sheen of rage snuffed out the soft ray of hope in his eyes.

A letter tucked into a casket:

Dear God,

Grandpa was very sick. I missed him very very much. He was very nice to me. He was a very good person. This was written by Mr. Grant W. Douglas II. God please give this to Grandpa when he’s with you. Please God. I’m sorry I said I hate you.

Dad went crazy. Grandpa died. I took off for California. My visits home may have caused more pain than happiness. The distant echo of his voice still tears through my heart. The serrated edge of rage. Please don’t go! Why do you always have to leave?

Why did I? My mother insists that they respected me for it. They were not my responsibility. Such a fine line between helping and allowing others to take responsibility. I sigh through the knot in my throat. It would have been worse if I had stayed. The alcohol and pills and other drugs I took to cope. The harassment from my peers which had started to involve my family. My departure certainly saved us from yet another tragedy. All I can do is cherish the time we have left together. Cherish the nows that remain. This is why I came home.

We emerge from the forest. The mouth of the Huron River gapes. Murky, sluggish, it bleeds into the lake, which now slumbers. A mirror-like sheen glimmers in the diffuse sunlight. Two campers sit side by side on the beach. Not a sound emanates from either.

We stare across the river, the border of the mysterious Huron Mountain Club. Grant breaks the silence. “Next time I want to pan for gold! Bring a kayak and go along the shore! Most of the time you’re escorted away, but sometimes people get invited inside! Or I can just parachute into one of the lakes! They don’t own bodies of water!”

“What would you do there?”

“Fish, probably. I’ve heard that there still might be grayling in the lakes!”

Back in the car, we creep along the perimeter of the Huron Mountain Club. Established by wealthy industrialists in the 1800s, there are only fifty members who are allowed to own cabins. The members are notoriously secretive. They refuse to speak to the press. The land has become one of largest tracts of primeval forest in the Great Lakes region. The only outsiders who are allowed in are seasonal workers and researchers. The focus has long since changed from hunting to conservation. The lakes and rivers and forests are absolutely pristine.

Henry Ford was famously denied membership until he bought adjacent land and stopped a highway from being built through it. This highway, Blind M-35, is the focus of Grant’s attention. We drive as far as we can and then park. I note the fresh ATV tracks in the sand. I tense up. This is the heart of moose country, but I’m more wary of humans than animals. We are unarmed. My heart begins to pound. Grant’s fixation is no different from my infatuation with forbidden places: North Korea, Transnistria, Belarus. One sure way to get us to go somewhere is to tell us we shouldn’t.

The silence is so thick that it muffles our words. The forest becomes sparser, otherworldly. Spongy moss underfoot. Fluorescent orange lichen is splattered on the slender tree trunks. Around the next curve, over the next hill. But the only thing up ahead is more sandy road. We have no choice but to turn around and head back.

June 1982

I walk along the lakeshore, collecting pretty pebbles. Agates have distinctive bands and glow when the sun is low on the horizon. But there is no sun today. Gentle waves seep through the pebbled shore and recede. A merry tinkle. Water chimes. The lake ascends into mist. Somewhere, a foghorn blows. The lonely toll of lighthouse bells. The numbness that has imprisoned me since Dad’s breakdown ebbs away. Tendrils of fog reach out and enfold me, obscuring the world. Something special is happening. Something only for me. My breath catches in my throat. I bow my head. I am so safe here, alone. The fog drifts into the forest, a procession of phantoms carrying my fear away.

At Big Bay, I walk along the driftwood-strewn beach, stepping over the contorted tree carcasses. The power of the lake surges through me. Messages are churned up from the depths, transported in the waves, and hurled upon the shore. What would I say to that skinny little girl with the freckles and braces and shoulders slumped with so much burden? So many things. Do the best you can with the choices you make, some of which you will regret. Others will fill you with wonder. There will be help from that which runs the show. Life will both annihilate you and take your breath away. One day you will stand on this shore again, a survivor of so many apocalypses. Every atom of your being will be younger than ever.

And you, beautiful girl, what do you wish to tell me?

Please don’t forget me.

Grant watches me from afar. With a look exchanged, we head for the car. So much said in things unsaid.

It’s not possible to have certain epiphanies before middle age. It is a point of no return. We can crow all we want about how we’re never too old to do whatever we wish to do, but choices narrow. Minds and bodies degrade. But it’s never too late to open our hearts and reclaim our souls. To face our demons and learn from them.

The driver’s side door slams, jolting me out of my reverie. I glance in the sun visor mirror and cringe. It will take me forever to comb the knots out of my hair.

Grant lights a cigarette and starts the car. “Hey, you wanna take logging roads back to Marquette? I’m pretty sure it’s possible. Worse case, we turn around.”

I smile and settle into the seat. “Absolutely. The only roads worth taking are those unknown.”

87 thoughts on “Crossing Over

  1. Thanks for the journey, Julie. I really liked to tag along, as if I were in the backseat of the Lincoln. And thanks for finding a worthwhile quote from Star Trek: we all need to keep our pains, yes.

  2. First of all, happy birthday Julie. And many thanks for a really engaging narrative interspersed with pics and loaded with reflections on places and events. Places of yoopers and trolls connected by the mighty Mac, yoopers inhabiting a land of wonderful wilderness, with Marquette mountain summit panning out a pleasing mix of natural beauty, with beach and surfboards, dense pine forests and waterfalls cascading over tiered slopes. Needless to mention the shimmering waters of Lake Superior, the ‘big water’ that inspired the Hemingways and Longfellows, its blue water depths luring bald eagles to plunge toward unseen preys.

  3. There’s no such place as nowhere! 🙂 🙂 Unless you’re there. I’m glad you’re building bridges with your family. Never an easy thing to do across the span of years. And welcome to 50 and beyond, Julie 🙂

  4. What a fabulous journey filled with contemplation and visuals from your past and present. Happy birthday Julie. May your future be filled with many beautiful adventures of mind, body and soul.💚

  5. Such a great read, Julie, and happy birthday. Great title, perfect analogy of crossing over from the somewhat reckless life of youth into a more intellectual period of life 😉 a crossing many people, whether they recognize it or not, is one of those points in life worth celebrating perhaps more than any other. A point in life where you get to play with all the wisdom and experience you’ve collected and figure out how to reassemble those pieces of your life all over again, building something new. I like how you approach certain journeys in life as “a point of no return” able to recognize it as such and with that ahead is a beautiful destiny and destination for you.

    I also like your brother’s philosophy of taking roads just to see where they lead, “there is no such thing as nowhere.” And I think with all the travel you have done, experiences had along with this new connection of returning home, you can find/create connections to make an hour/the day/week/month etc… worth everything. The wandering and the hardships and pain experienced in life, as you say, are the moments in life that are character-building… in my life, I relish periods of time where there is a little hardship as a reminder to how good life is. Especially growing older, because we are not and never will be young again, the body/mind simply isn’t willing, and recognizing this is another important “crossing over” point. It’s part of life.” and I enjoyed the sentence: “The fog drifts into the forest, a procession of phantoms carrying my fear away….” along with your accompanied photo, it is perfect. No matter what the year may bring, you’re ready and moving forward with confidence.

    The final thing I would like to say, ever since I was a kid and heard the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, I have also wondered how rough those lakes could get and have dreamed of seeing Lake Superior in one of her moods. May you safely witness one of those legendary gales ~ and take care!

    • It’s true that so many view the big 5-0 as a reason to grieve rather than celebrate. But, from what I’ve observed, these are the people who listened to society rather than their hearts/souls. I encounter so many who feel trapped in their lives, who are so old in spirit. Who see the point of no return as a reason to give up and regress. I can’t believe I’m the same age. I went against the norm, and there are financial consequences, but I prefer this to regret at not exploring the planet. Especially now that the future of travel is so unsure. I believe it’s in middle age when we can truly start to understand the reasons why some things had to happen, recognize the consequences of our actions, and hopefully forgive ourselves and others. While I wish that certain things hadn’t happened, I’m grateful that I can see the point of loss and struggle. This is something that we are losing in our culture.

      I live so close to the U.P. now, it’s a gift. It’s as wild as any jungle, for sure. Especially the insects. 🙂 And the gales are magnificent. The video I posted shows the one we saw on that day. We had to brace ourselves on trees to watch it. There’s a great shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point, with a really nice tribute to the Edmund Fitzgerald. The bell is displayed as well. I remember when the wreck happened. So tragic. I grew up close to Lake Huron, and learned respect for the lakes at a very young age. Most first time visitors are astonished at how massive the lakes are. Like freshwater oceans. Superior is the queen of them all. Maybe one day you will be able to stand on her shore and behold the magic. 🙂 Thank you so very much for your kind wishes, Dalo. I am going to celebrate my 52nd today by going on a solo hike in the nearby Pigeon River valley. Elk country! 🙂

      • So true, I think when people hit middle age, there is a sigh and immediate feeling of letting go of the youthful mind, as if the time to shine in life is over. Whereas in reality, it is almost a gift to move to a higher level of age ~ granted, the physical skills and abilities have degraded with time but the wisdom acquired through experiences and open-mindedness more than make up for this shortcoming. It can be a hurdle, no doubt, but in a way this is exactly what life is about; take what you have and move forward boldly 🙂

        Lake Superior is something else, I do remember learning about how it reacts as if it was an ocean because I was so curious about the song and how the Edmund Fitzgerald could sink in a lake… 🙂 You do live in a very special part of the world, and I hope your birthday hike went well, did you see any elk?

        • Hey, my friend. I never did do the hike. My best friend called to wish me happy birthday and then my brother Billy moseyed on down to see me and was in a rare talkative mood. (I always say that Grant is Billy with the sound turned up to 11. 🙂 ) I keep trying to make it to the trail, but the weather on my days off has been rainy. It’s elk mating season, so they are said to be more solitary and visible. Otherwise they tend to keep to the herd. If I ever see one and capture it in a photo, I will most certainly post about it here. 🙂

          I admire and agree with your outlook about middle age. I refuse to stagnate and instead I am exploring new realms of being. I hope you are having a fabulous autumn and enjoying many long bike rides through the Czech countryside. Cheers and take care.

  6. My first reaction – beyond wanting to wish you a happy birthday – is to marvel that you’ve only been back in Michigan for 8 months! I feel like you made that crossing much longer ago; perhaps it’s the amazing personal growth posts you’ve written in this time period that make me think that. Your part of the world has settled back into your bones, happily it seems, or at least satisfyingly.

    • Hi Lexie – this voyage actually occurred exactly 2 years ago, in 2018. Like most of my posts, this is a memoir. I’ve been back for almost 3 years now. There’s no way I could have written this in a day. I started writing it a year ago, set it aside for long periods, and came back to it. I managed to finish it last night. I consider it the perfect birthday gift to myself for this much more difficult year. 🙂

  7. “Such a fine line between helping and allowing others to take responsibility.”
    Sigh, how true.

    Happy Birthday. It is you, however, who is bestowing gifts. The writing in this post is stunning. I was rapt from start to finish. And the story … whew! Thank you. 😊

    Now, a book I’ve recently read and recommend. “Across the Great Lakes” by Lee Zacharias. It’s fiction, a young girl’s reminiscence of crossing Lake Michigan on a freighter captained by her father.

    Be well, my friend.

    • John, thank you so much. It took me a very long time to write this. I started it about a year ago and worked on it from time to time, finishing it late last night. Two years have passed since I traveled these roads with Grant, and so much has changed. But I still gather strength from my beloved Superior. I haven’t been able to make it up there this year, but I keep a Mason jar filled with her water and pebbles on a shelf. 🙂 The book sounds great. Will look for it at the library. Take care, my friend.

  8. I’m new here, but you have a true gift for writing and expressing emotions and deep thoughts. I truly enjoyed this piece.

  9. Thank you for sharing the journey of your life with us, Julie. We all travel so differently. I remember wondering how you would go with returning home but now I understand why you did.

    For you and your brother:
    “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.” – Peter Pan

    “To die would be an awfully big adventure. To live would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan. Although in the movie, Robin Williams only said the second line about living.

  10. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your video Julie. Happy Birthday and welcome to a new decade of fabulous adventures. You are so right – this is the time when life becomes even sweeter, more joyful, more profound. Yesterday a childhood friend sent me an old photo taken during our late teen years. There are five us us, all at the brink of the next stage of life. We were so young. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that life would evolve as it was meant to be and everything would be okay. There would be a few bumps in the road, but “our” spirit would remain strong. I especially appreciated your words “My adventures are now those of human connection. The most intimidating adventure of all….”. Insightful! For at the very end, what we will remember is the love that we have received and and the love we have given.

    • Watching the gale, even for a short time, was incredible. I’m now 2 years into this decade and I must say that, despite some difficulties not related to age, it is the best so far. The things that once caused anxiety no longer matter. Yes, so many things I wish I could tell my younger self. Hope all is well with you, Rebecca. Take care.

      • In my guiding meditation practice this morning, this is the quote that came to me: “To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.” Jack Kornfield. I continue to learn! All is well on my side of the world. Take care and be safe.

  11. Happy, happy birthday dear friend!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! I LOVE the UP and I know there is much more of it for me to discover! I feel I have explored more than I actually have due to your vivid description, detail, and photos of your travels there!
    I love how you write from the depths of your soul. I remember you during the summer of 82′ (we were about to transition to high school from the tiny one-hallway Catholic school) and although I could see the sadness in your eyes, you never spoke of your inner pain. I had no idea until years later what you went through….as well as your family. You pour out your heart in your writing and it especially shows in this piece! Very well done! I actually had tears in my eyes! Bless Grant! He is a true gift!
    Miss you girl! Love you!!
    Shelly

    • Thank you, Shelly.❤️ Grant is a treasure, for sure. As are all of my family.

      We are so fortunate to have the UP as part of “our” state. I was not exaggerating when I wrote that it’s as captivating as any of the foreign places I’ve visited. I look forward to exploring it further. Take care, my friend.

  12. I stole some time from my work day to read this — and as always, got lost in your writing, the story, the images. So powerful. I’m ready for your full memoir! I hope you’re still pitching or maybe someone was lucky and smart enough to catch you. Happy birthday! xxx

    • Thank you, Tricia. So far no one has shown the slightest interest in the memoir. Those who have bothered to answer have said that they’re only looking for memoirs of current events. I’d like to think that the reading public is more multi-faceted than that, but the conversations I overhear at work tell me otherwise. I will finish off the query list, however, and if no one bites, I’ll self-publish. Hope you are well. Happy Autumn!

  13. Happy Birthday, my friend. “it’s never too late to open our hearts and reclaim our souls.” I love that line. And I loved tagging along with you and your brother on your adventure. As a woman with one living brother, I could relate to the immense love in your words – love that is grounded in history, unconditional despite all its messiness. Our siblings will often be the longest relationships of our lives. They’ll know us more deeply than we realize. They’re worth cherishing.

    • Thank you so much, Diana. I cherish my family so much. We have always been there for each other and each one of us owns our quirkiness. And thankfully there has never been an excessive amount of drama. Something I’ve found is rare in families. Hope all is well in your world, dear one.

  14. It is a certainty that you haven’t lived a dull, pointless life as reading about it is always an adventure; sometimes literally, always philosophically. I suppose in a way I too ran away from my childhood haunts, as did most of my sibs. But our reasons were not as troubling as yours.

    I remember the first time I saw Lake Superior, and being amazed at its endless horizon and knowing the waters ran on further still. It’s the only thing that compares to an ocean.

    Happy Birthday, Julie. I’d wish you 50 more, but the way things are going I don’t know if that’d be a happy wish or not. Let’s just go for a hopeful future, and enjoy what joys we can find in the present.

    • Thank you kindly, Dave. I must say that I’m very glad to be this age right now, rather than just starting out in this world. At this point, the thought of living 50 more years fills me with dread. And I’m really thankful that I never had kids. People can call me pessimistic all they want. Everything is happening as it must happen, and eventually things will be much better, but that’s a long, long way in the future. Yes, let’s just try to cherish the memories and the simple joys we find in the present. 🙂 I remember that you are originally from Minnesota. I bet the Lake Superior coastline up there is magnificent. Hope you are well, despite your difficult situation. Take care.

  15. A very touching epic piece, Julie. You have a way to go – in my experience, your fifties and sixties will be your best. Cherish them. Hopefully you will see this – can’t seem to connect properly via WordPress. Using a smartphone on Camusdarach beach – I think you would love it here. All the best, R

    • Many thanks, Robin. I’m now 2 years into my fifties, and it’s true that they seem to be the best so far, despite some major setbacks that I’ve had to deal with. I have a more centered outlook on life, and I’m still in very good physical condition. WordPress seems to be acting up again. Looks like they’ve made some new changes to the interface on iOS and possibly all mobile, hence the obligatory glitches. Have a wonderful time on the beach!

  16. Happy Birthday Julie. You took me on a journey into your heart, both broken and healed, and I happily travelled along. Your narrative is compelling, telling a story of hardship and pain and grief without the slightest hint of self-pity or victimhood, but rather an unspoken rejoicing of where it has brought you. I admire that. I agree that there are lessons that can only come with the years, and for me a great gratitude that I actually managed to learn some of them.
    Alison

    • Thank you, dear Alison. I had a lot of self-pity in my early 20s, but it suddenly left me one day. One of the most incredible experiences of my life. That light, you know. I understand the gratitude of having the capability to learn from life. Truly learn. It’s been a recent realization that self-examination takes so much courage and determination. So few rise to the challenge. Those who do are absolute treasures. Wishing you a delightful autumn.

  17. There is always a struggle in your posts. Sadnesss creeps in. And yet, there is the – hidden -joy of the moment. (‘that you in the picture “Surfin’ USA”?)
    I’d heard of your brother Billy. Not Grant. J’hésite à demander: Il est toujours là?
    Bises my dear.
    🙏🏻

    • Ah non…c’est pas moi dans la photo. And, yes, my dear Grant is still here. In fact, I’m hanging out with him today. And Billy.😊 Take care, mon ami. Bises.

      • Very happy that you can reunite with your family. I haven’t seen my oldest brother (b.1941) in years. My other brother, Richard, (b.1946) I saw last year. Hmmm. I really need to go back to Paris. 😉

  18. Happy belated birthday. How beautifully you transport me to the back of that car and into those back roads. You also give me hope that perhaps we’re never too old to learn from our mistakes either.

  19. Happy Birthday Julie! I’ll be joining you in the 50 club next year and I’m much happier now than I was when I was younger. The lakes are truly impressive – I can’t quite imagine a lake that seems like a sea. This was a beautiful piece – I loved the introduction to the bridge and the mysterious surroundings, the very moving flashbacks and the wonderful quirks of your relationship with Grant.

    • Thank you very much, Andrea. The 50s are great so far. Who would have thought? I can’t imagine a better place to make the transition to this decade than the strange and beautiful U.P. And to have the company of my beloved Grant. I’ve always been proud of my family’s unabashed eccentricity. We definitely own our quirks. 🙂

  20. What a strange time, I couldn’t avoid to feel what I felt in one of those early stories of Arthur C. Clarke, in this story in the Earth only remains one family, the children know in two or three days they have to take the last spaceship to abandon the Earth, but they are playing in the sand in the beach where their home is, The world is empty and, as it is never told what was going to happen to evacuate all the humankind, the only certainty is that a stage is ending.
    I have found NPCs : ) I guess in some times I am one, when I need some rest. Although some persons are NPCs most of the time I can understand them. Without an anchor to maintain sanity to think can drive us to unhappy extremes, or lives and works so hard that the only way to escape is just staring a screen and seeing somebody, labeled as famous, dancing.
    There are many aspects to think about in what you wrote, Julie. Many memories, almost like a full movie where you can witness enough fragments to resemble a life in the same way twenty four frames give the illusion of continual movement. I cannot guess ages, there are people that confuse me because they are old but they speak with expressions, they believe, from children, but their ideas are set. You are the total opposite, you have really the curious heart of a child, or her eyes, discovering for first time this planet each time there is a new sunrise, and your words carry that gentleness but they reference so many places, persons and lessons, they have been experienced and then meditated upon. Maybe it is a silly way to wish you a belated happy birthday, dear Julie.

    • Your unique birthday wishes are anything but silly, dear Francis. I very much appreciate your insights into my words. They show me a new way of understanding. I believe there’s a difference between those of us who sometimes need to shut off from the world because it’s too much and genuine NPCs who don’t have the capability of being introspective. Which ones are the lucky ones? I really don’t know anymore. It has started to feel as though the time to depart the Earth is drawing near, but not in a spaceship. There will be 2 Earths existing in the same physical space, but separate realms of consciousness. In the meantime, I play on the beach and gaze into the horizon. 🙂 Hope you are well, amigo. Happy Spring to you.

  21. Oh my, what a beautiful read that was… It was like travelling thought your mind in the present as you delved back to pull up your past…. So many heart strings you pulled, my throat choking up several times.. And even now my eyes are moist….
    You have a wonderful gift of story telling, allowing your reader to be with you in the moment of memory recall..
    I am way late in wishing you a Happy Birthday…. my belated wishes Julie are sent none the less.. I remember back dreading my 30th, 40th and was so not looking forward to reaching my half century… Yet when it arrived I think it was the best decade yet… and 60 even topped that one.. LOL….
    Age is but a number , some are mature souls aged 5 lol… while others never grow up. 🙂

    Your pictures and video, loved the ones of you both.. all beautiful, adding depth and meaning to your words… Your Grandpa, came across as a beautiful soul, whose wisdom I can feel toughed both yours and Grants hearts…
    Grandpa’s have a habit of doing that…. 🙂

    Thank you Julie for sharing a slice more of your live through your memories in which you weave so well your thoughts and feelings….

    It often takes us many roads, and many detours, in which we travel to find our true selves… I am so pleased that little girl came home, and found peace within her reflection as she saw within herself, the beauty she had always been…

    Much love dearest Julie…. Such a great Honour to Know you kindred sister…
    Love and Blessings ❤ Sue ❤

    • As you know, the separation of time ceases to exist in the quantum field – past, present, future are simultaneously “here”…so your birthday wishes are not late at all, rather they reach me at the perfect time, dear Sue. 😉 I also remember dreading turning 30 & 40, but once 50 started to approach, I thought “Woah, I may actually live to see 50?!” And it was cause for celebration. There’s so much irony in the fact that we feel so much freer, and yet our bodies show the wear of age. For me personally, this lesson has taught me that I’m worthy of love for who I am as a person, not my superficial appearance. Something that should be obvious, but you know how so many of our demons hide in plain sight. I believe that I’ve finally made peace with that one. Or at least, I’m close. 🙂 This is all part of the roads we travel.

      My grandpa was the most gentle soul I’ve ever encountered. He carried an incredible amount of pain, from war and life, but it never corrupted him. I sometimes catch glimpses of him in my brothers, and I live in the place where his spirit roams.

      It is an honor to know you as well, dear one. Truly. You have helped me more than you know. Much love back to you. ❤

      • I agree, it takes us all of those years to begin to know ourselves, and see we ARE worthy… I relate to your Grandpa, mine was the same, he taught my young self the love of gardening, the love of reading, and the love of singing… He was always singing and had a beautiful voice… My Gran taught me how to knit, and the love of Home made bread… 🙂
        May their memories always stay alive within our hearts Julie…
        Love right back… ❤ ❤ ❤

  22. Your writing absolutely shimmers, Julie. I feel witness to all the holy here: in particular the journey out of tragedy and trauma that is so very human and unique all at once, and the treasure of a brother who can hold this space with you. And your relationship to this land! Such a gorgeous and wild place you have brought to life. I used to want to live in the wild and build a house in a hillside too, so some previous part of me remembered that feeling you described in your brother. I’m touched by the courage, the resilience, and the love that floats on your writing and your experience…

    Peace
    Michael

    • So nice to hear from you, my friend. A lot of love went into this one. Now that I’ve worked through all of that trauma – it no longer triggers me at all – I can truly know what a gift it is to have a brother (or anyone) who can hold that space with me. So unbelievably rare. And I can truly feel so fortunate to live so close to this incredible place. Maybe hardship and loss are necessary to feel such deep gratitude. I suppose it would be easy to lament all of the time lost in the darkness, but maybe it makes me cherish the now even more. Hope all is well with you, dear Michael. Wishing you a magnificent autumn.

  23. Very deep, and soul searching tale of your life, thank you Julie, like to say that Life it’s the journey where we find ourselves.

    Blessings and love to you. 🙂

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