Summer brings the open road, open skies and a canvas of new discovery, where the free spirit inside all of us has no boundaries. A place where there is no agenda and creativity has no limit. So open your minds and enjoy. Robert Redford
There is nothing like a Memorial Weekend road trip to catapult a gal into a summer frame of mind. And when her guy has made his own plans to take off for three days of fishing with childhood friends at a place dear to his heart, it gets her thinking about what would be dear to her own heart, what would be a rousing good time for her spirit during this weekend initiation into summer. And lo and behold, an idea emerges from somewhere within and this idea evolves into a plan and, before she knows it, this gal has signed up for a Law of Attraction Workshop in Buffalo, New York, and is placing suitcase and snacks and roadmaps into her old Subaru and is saying good-bye to her guy who she will meet up with again at weekend’s end at his special fishing spot on the western side of the lower part of this sprawlingly big state of Michigan. And that’s how it happens, a road trip is born and springtime slips into summer and the world is suddenly, stunningly green and inviting.
That’s how it happened for me Memorial Weekend, how I found myself driving east along the coast of Lake Superior, then south to a stretch of the Lake Michigan shoreline and over that mammoth eight-mile suspension bridge that brings Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together at the Straits of Mackinac and connects the Upper with the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. That’s how I found myself driving through a great stretch of Michigan in the early evening on my way to an adventure in Buffalo. But why wait for a weekend workshop for the adventure to begin? Isn’t the road trip itself an adventure? That was my thinking. It had been a long time since I had been on a weekend road trip and I wanted to squeeze the fun out of the hundreds of miles of open road, and squeeze it I did. There was the visual entertainment, the leaves unfolding before my eyes as I drove my way south, the deer drinking from a roadside pond, the family of turkeys and the baby geese and the groundhog standing on its hind legs in a bright patch of wild grass. And there was the perfect arc of a rainbow lit up in the eastern sky above the forests and fields of lower Michigan, the rainbow that traveled along with me for more than an hour. The visual gift upon gift provided a steady stream of pleasure until the last hour of my trip’s first day when the sun disappeared behind the farmlands, and the world became an assault of headlights and road signs and orange construction cones — and I needed a new sort of entertainment to keep me awake until I reached my bed-for-the-night at a motel in Port Huron.
And that’s when I opened the windows and let myself be blasted by the balmy evening air. It was a physical sensation, the car-speeding wind blowing against my face, a sensation that shouted halter tops and teenage joy-rides and end-of-the-school-year freedom. But it wasn’t the physical that awakened me wide; it was something else. It was the smell, the smell of the after-dark summery evening in lower Michigan, a smell I hadn’t inhaled in such a long time. I love the smells of summer, especially the smells of warm sultry evenings ! I can close my eyes and tell you what it smells like to breathe in summertime nights in coastal Maine. There is the salt and the moist dampness of fog, and the sea and a slight fishy smell mingling with the rockweed and the balsams. It is a smell that makes you both hungry and relaxed and a bit melty like the sea itself. And I can describe in detail what it smells like to step off a plane after traveling someplace else, home again in Upper Michigan in the warmth of a summer night. First, it is the pines, and then a freshness as clear and expansive as Lake Superior itself, and a wildness in the breeze that penetrates deep. In Boulder, it is the sage and the juniper and a crisp dry heat, even after an afternoon thunderstorm, that wafts through the high altitude red rock and beckons your adventuresome spirit upward. Like the connoisseurs who can distill the different elements in a glass of fine wine, I can smell summer’s clouds and lakes and stony cliffs in the places I love.
But this smell blowing in on a nighttime breeze as I drove that final stretch toward Port Huron, a smell startlingly familiar from my early adulthood — I don’t know if I can break it apart and tell you what was in it. There might have been water, perhaps the scent of a thunderstorm now over or a river or farmland pond. And a sweetness, maybe of roadside grass and flowers and leaves newly open. And heat. There was definitely heat in the smell of summer in lower Michigan on this evening in late May. Although I couldn’t describe it exactly, I knew just what this smell was bringing back to me. And it wasn’t Ann Arbor, less than an hour away by car, the place where my husband Cam and I had started our road-trip-adventure-of-a-marriage almost forty years ago, the place that was diverse and expansive and exotic to two young newlyweds. It was someplace else, and I think that is why I was so surprised, a place across the state that I realize now was a sanctuary for my new husband and I.
It was Grand Rapids that came to me through the open window, the nighttime smell when the windows of the perfectly-square and beautifully-built colonial brick home of his parents were wide open. And sure it was the smell of the neighborhood gardens and the flowering trees and the sweet heat that brought me to the memory, but it was the stability of the dwelling and of these people, my husband’s parents who welcomed us wholeheartedly, that was wafting in a few weeks ago. And don’t we need that as we set off on our adventures, whether a weekend road trip or a long-term marriage, a stable and loving base camp? So as the world tips toward summer, I eagerly inhale in the wild of the great lakes and the northern woods and the salty Maine Atlantic. And my feet are itching to climb those redstone Colorado Rockies. But, late at night, in the car, two weeks ago on my road trip through Michigan, it was my mother-in-law I wanted to call, to thank her for the stability of a sweet and loving base camp.