My Dad might have said it – or my mom – or my Grandpa – or an aunt or uncle. Someone always said it as we went “up north” to Grandpa’s cabin in L’Anse of the Upper Peninsula: “The North begins at Clare.”
All these years later, each time I travel a lengthy distance in that direction, I look for the beginning of the north. And I always find it.
Today, we leave our home in lower Michigan near the cuff of the mitten, and we head North. Pulling our travel trailer, Ron drives steady but slow enough to take it all in as I search for the North. For hours, we drive past farms – on both the east and the west sides of our highway. Today, an Amish farmer is cultivating his corn field. Big old barns dot the countryside amidst green fields of corn and beans and an occasional golden wheat. Many things remain the same as all those years ago, but several things differ. Instead of driving two-lane US 27, we now drive four-lane US 127 and I-75. The speed limit, once probably 50 mph is now 75 mph! Gone are the small picnic table pull-offs or an occasional small roadside park with a water fountain and pit toilets. In their places are lovely large Rest Areas, spaced 30-40 miles apart, marked on both the map and the wayside signs. Miles and miles of white metal windmills now intersperse the landscape like alien landing signals. This countryside mural continues through the Mt. Pleasant area, but once we reach Clare, the north begins, its seeds and its roots unchanging from those many years ago – even from centuries ago. This is where I find it – again!
“The North” opens the door to a different world – one in which a person can go back in time, at least as far as I want to go. The four-lane eventually angles toward Sault Ste. Marie and on into Canada, but we have turned west onto Highway 2, the road we will travel for 2000 miles, the road that will take us along the edges of Great Lakes Michigan and Superior, across the Northern Great Plains, and into the mountains of the Great Continental Divide. The road that keeps us in the north.
I want to see wooden placards along the way, designed and placed by the Conservation Corps and maintained through the years in their original form, welcoming me to the National Forests, to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, North Dakota, or to Yellowstone National Park.
I want to unfurl a red-checkered tablecloth across a wooden picnic table or spread an Indian blanket on the grass and eat sandwiches and drink cokes with Ron.
And it’s all possible . . .
. . . because, you see, “the North begins at Clare.”