This morning, the weather is clear. It’s time to go.
Everything mom does is slow. Maybe not slow-slow but slower than I would do it and it’s frustrating me. Why can’t I be patient? Why do I see in each moment an opportunity to show her what she could be doing better? I feel out of control. There has never been a car with so much steering from the backseat. “Maybe you’d like to drive?” Mom says and I agree but we don’t switch right away. We are going the same place, we are going there together, and when we get there, we will still be together. Breathe. Two minutes later, a car slides down a hill into our lane and smashes into us.
This is the third “car accident” we’ve been in since arriving here three days ago. The second run-in was my fault. I had a low-speed smooshing with a snow bank in the parking lot of our motel in Paradise that actually managed to deflate the tire and pull the wheel out of line. The nearest auto service station was 60 miles away in Sault St. Marie and the cost to tow it all that way would have been absurd, the time would have been obnoxious and the direction all wrong. Instead of fussing with all that, the innkeeper (believe me, the term applies) called her middle-aged son who, with bare hands in sub-zero weather, removed the tire, took it back to his shop, used his generator-powered compressor to refill the tire, inspected it, patched it, and then put it back on. All this, within 45 minutes and free of charge. It was something to behold.
This accident is somewhat worse. It’s not serious but it’s not nothing. Mom exchanges insurance information with the other driver.
I think about money and what it is to live up here. It costs more to get from place to place because things are father apart. It costs more once you get there because the gas and the food and the products have to travel farther to get there too. Utilities cost more because there’s more cold to counteract. People need more big-ticket items like snow-blowers and snow-tires and snow-boots. And those are all just the basic expenses. In places with weather this severe, the extreme stuff happens more often too. Pipes burst, appliances give out, cars run into stuff. It must be expensive just to live. Money creates a nice cushion between the inevitable problems and total catastrophe but people here are not wealthy, not by any means. So, when the world asks a question that the wallet can’t answer, people find another way. The result is a beautiful blend of acceptance and self-sufficiency comes in. In this case, that approach means living with some scratches on the car but also knowing how to fix them yourself. I want that for myself. It’s not that I want to constantly work and fight for basic comforts, but I want to be able to satisfy them if I need to.
In light of the horrible road conditions, mm decides it’s best that she continues driving. I understand, but I still need to deal with my own frustration about the lack of control that I’m feeling. When the weather limits me, there’s nothing I can do about that so I accept it. When people limit me, though, I have a much harder time. It’s not that they are exerting themselves on me and taking away my rights, just that they have different ways of doing things. I know it’s their right to do it their way but I tend to take it personally, like their way is being done to me. If someone is physically slower, the faster person will technically never get their way. I either need to slow down or learn to enjoy the wait at the end.
I think about acceptance. I know that a person can always find a problem if the want to. Dad gets upset when the dishwasher needs to be emptied and when it needs to be filled. He doesn’t realize that life is being lived in the kitchen and the cycle never ends. It’s like getting mad at the lungs for needing more air and mad again for needing to get rid of the air. In and out, there’s always something that needs being done, there’s always something “wrong” if you see it that way. I have been living that way but I don’t want to. I don’t want to be in conflict with life or to be mad at reality. I will be trapped forever if I do. Breathe.
The drive is gorgeous. The sky is clear and crisp and the storm has blasted snow on the trees in ways I’ve never seen. It looks like a badly done winter scene in a Hollywood movie with a director who’s never left LA and yells to the set designer: “More snow! It doesn’t look real enough! Make it look realer than real!” Mom sees it beautifully; she says the storm has birch-ified every tree.
We are still taking an alternate route back to Paradise because of the road closures, but this means we will pass by the Eben Junction Ice Caves (the ones that creepy sauna guy told me about). Like everything here, the caves aren’t difficult to get to, and it will be a longer walk than grandma can manage. Weighing my options in the parking lot, I ask a couple if it’s worth the walk and they say “honestly, no.” By their assessment, the walk is too far and result not that impressive. Well, shit. I’m here. I’ve never seen ice caves. I have to go. Now mom and grandma will have to wait for me, I’m humbled.
I leave them behind and start running down the trail. I relish the change to go my own pace. I’m thankful to be in the woods again.
The caves are gorgeous. They are closer to frozen waterfalls than caves but that doesn’t diminish their beauty. I think back about the negative review in the parking lot and something in my brain clicks– those people were snowmobilers, they are used to rushing past the scenery, not taking it in slowly. They have a different set of values so no wonder they didn’t like this. I don’t want to be like them. I make myself a promise to walk on the way back and enjoy this place.
Back in the car, we listen to James Taylor. I marvel at the simple beauty of the songs. The slow-dropping words hit me in a way I haven’t experienced before though I’ve heard them many times: “I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end, but I always thought that I’d see you again.” I choke up. In an instant, I become aware that mom would die someday. My own mother will die. Of course I know that she, like everyone, will age and then die, of course. I have known this intellectually for years, have thought about it, worried about it– it’s a fact. But before this moment, I feel like Nick Adams suddenly seeing the world for what it is. The reality won’t give in. I am envisioning myself at mom’s funeral, utterly wrecked and alone. I clutch her hand from the back seat and feel my eyes well up with sadness for that time and gratitude for this one. Finally, I’m not in a rush at all. I’m so glad to be here on this sunny day with her.
We take one more stop before we reach the cabin- this time to Tahquamenon Falls. It is -12 degrees and a short walk to the water.
We are accessing it from the world of people– where you start in your car and walk through the parking lot past the gift shop down the paved path to the viewing platform to observe nature. The last time I was here, I accessed it from the world of nature– where you start from the dirt trail and walk to the scenic overlook to the paved path to the gift shop to observe people. I felt guilty being there, inauthentic as a hiker, lazy even. Never mind that I’d already hiked a few hundred miles, never mind that I was driven there by crushing rainfall, never mind the campsite was flooded and evacuated– I felt how I felt. I couldn’t handle the lack of control. I couldn’t handle my seeming failures.
That day, as I sat there, I watched the rain, and I ate. I ate a snack and then all the snacks. I ate a meal and then all the meals. I ate the pita bread and peanut butter, the packs of tuna, the chocolate, the nuts and the beef jerky. I ate all the food I had just purchased for the next leg of the trip that I was now prevented from embarking on. Only two weeks after I had solemnly and passionately given myself over to a new life without bulimia, I relapsed on that bench right there.
The next morning I shared a breakfast in Paradise with a man who dropped my off on my trail and said to me as I left “I can tell you’re carrying a heavy load.” I walked that damn paved path from the parking lot to the trail with tears in my eyes because he was right. I wasn’t “better” yet.
And that was almost two years ago now. In so many ways, my life has changed from what it was at that time, but I am still carrying that load, I am still on that trail, I am still not better.
The falls are beautiful but it’s extremely cold and we all want to get back to our cabin. I lay in bed that night and ask myself if it is possible to pick up from where I left off.
Just one more, if you care to aim your clicker and click your trigger right here