Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letter from our Far-flung Correspondent

Growing up in Michigan was a treat of sorts.  Mixed treat.  It was a time that education was more than valued but bordering on priceless and had a string of Universities stretching all over the state that gave us all a choice and a potential to pursue what we wanted or thought we needed.  A lot of the petty political struggles were over-ridden by the national calamity that was Vietnam and the draft coupled with the civil rights issues that sat pretty much on top of everything.  It wasn't conceivable that the black population had a rough go of it until we got educated about the problem and presented with a solution.

We thought of our state as some sort of complete entity; water in nearly every direction, small towns and metros, airports and logging streams.  I was pretty lucky to have a father who traveled all over the state and was far away from headquarters that no outing was complete without golf clubs or fly rods in the trunk. Mother was the reader in the family.  My dad was the explorer.

We headed north one morning in the fall so that we could fish in the morning some and perhaps get a round of golf in later or the next morning.  We had fished the Two Hearted River, of Hemingway fame, and my mother was a particular fan of his writing.  In her endless collections, she had a series of his short stories, vignettes actually, that had a lot of writing about Hemingway in Michigan so she made a special point of reading one called "The Battle" before this particular trip.  It was to an oddly name town called Kalkaska, which is close to the Chippewa word for "burned over area". There are other theories but we liked that one as it seemed to fit the logging history of the area as well as the town itself having had a history of burning down on several occasions.
We went out to find a good fishing hole on the Rapid River which gave my mom an "aha!" moment as the short story cited above was supposedly written by Hemingway while he was fishing at a dammed up pond called Rugg Pond, just north of Hanson Road.  We were looking for the historical marker (which we found) stating that Hemingway fished here so we had to as well.

I can't imagine that I or we caught anything at all but that wasn't the point of the excursion. It was to just go and do something interesting and take advantage of what is around you (us).  I don't remember Rugg Pond one bit. Kalkaska is just a blip in my memory - a boom town of sorts as there was a local oil field discovery so it caught my dad's eye.  I do remember that there was a railroad that crossed the state from where we lived up toward Traverse City and ran smack through town.  It was for freight of course - but probably had passenger service when Hemingway visited and most of his stories featured a railroad story within the story, which was part of the opening of The Battle.

So why this on this fine Sunday morning as there are a thousand topics that are, well, topical. Romney is getting beat like a rented mule and the beater isn't much of a prize either.  The world and the nation are in the petty squabbles and big wars, riots and ignorance mode, where black is white and white is some shade of grey.  Human vignettes are replaced by movements and wholesale struggles and I think that is the key to my remembrance of all this.

There is a certain grounding that a trip to nowhere special to find a monument (historical marker) on a fairly out of the way pond, with a family that was as desperate as night and day in interests.  My dad found the sign for my mom.  My mom read the book so she could tell the story. I got to see a railroad station (train tracks are a passion) that actually ran through our backyard at the far end of the line.  That was education of being human and sharing - something in powerfully short supply nowadays. 

We might get some perspective on things by learning broadly and not being confined by intolerances small and large.  We can still think about the big stuff but we can also find a way to put it aside for a few, gaze at a marker, cast a fly into so still water and think of Nick and getting thrown off a train and finding yourself there.

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