When I was a kid we would take our vacations at two cottages that belonged to my Grandparents in the upper Peninsula of michigan. They sat on Lake Brevort which was a medium sized lake right outside the tiny village of Moran, Michigan, about an hour north of the Mackinac bridge which connected the lower peninsula to its northern neighbor.
There wasn’t a lot to Moran. A gas station where I would buy soda and baseball cards and candy and my dad and his brothers would buy beer, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that was always changing ownership and names, and a Catholic church. Moran sat at the intersection of state road M-128–two lanes of black top that crossed the entire peninsula, north to south–and Dukes Road, which ran all the way down to the lake, passing machine shops and bait shops and trailer parks and abandoned farms and an apple orchard and two cemeteries before cresting a hill and bringing the lake into sight.
Brevort Lake was resorts and permanent homes on its eastern side, and all Hiawatha National Forest on its western side–a thick, dark wood interrupted here and there with tall sand dunes. The lake was fed by the Carp River but despite the name there weren’t a lot of fish in the lake. There was a small public swimming area, but our cottages had no sandy beach, just an inlet for my grandfather’s row boat and rocks which were made of the old concrete boardwalk that used to run along the shore but was demolished in the 1980s. There was a fire pit lined with stones near the lake on the southwestern edge of the property line.
The cottages were mirror twins: a bathroom, a main room which served as kitchen and living room, plus two bedrooms and a front porch that looked over the lake. The north cottage was brown and yellow and smacked of 1970s fashion, while the south cottage was comfortable and dark. Both cottages faced west into the lake and would fill with light in the late afternoons followed by sunsets over the lake that were always spectacular and at night the windows would be open and there would be a chill in the air and the only sound would be the waves lapping against the rocks and in the morning the sunlight would be speckled coming through the trees between the road and the cottages and the lake would be still as glass and the smell of fresh coffee would fill the air.
Every summer we would go up there for a week. Driving up the ten hours on I-75 from Cincinnati, my dad in his ball cap with his cigarettes singing Peter, Paul and Mary with mother in the passenger seat, and my sister and I and later our little brother in the back. Sometimes we went up with my dad’s brothers and their families, sometimes with my grandparents–my dad’s parents, who owned the cottages–and sometimes it was just our small family. While we were there we would take the row boat to the drop off and row back, we would go to Lake Michigan and swim in the tall waves of the big lake, we would fish, we would cook hot dogs over the campfire for lunch with the sun on our necks, we would take my Uncle Chuck’s power boat to the sand dunes and run up and down them for hours, we would hike in the national forest swatting away deer flies, we would play touch football in the cottage side yards, we would walk out into the lake until we reached the sandbar, broken sea shells cutting our feet and the water up to our chests, we would drive into St. Ignance and eat walleye at Huron’s Landing, we would get sunburned, eaten a live by mosquitos and eat ourselves sick with marshmallows cooked over the campfire as the sun went down and the lake and forest grew dark.
The summer I was ten years old we had just moved from Cincinnati to upstate New York. We went up to the cottages that year with my dad’s brother Chuck–the one with the aforementioned speedboat, a 1970 wooden beauty–his wife Randee, and their two sons Henry and Andrew. Henry was three years older than me and a year older than my sister. He was short and dark and talked non-stop and his energy was boundless. Andrew was a year older than me and was tall and thin and light and was just cool about everything. I worshipped them both.
That week it rained for the first three days we were there. We played cards inside and watched television on tiny black and white TVs that maybe got three channels if you were lucky. We drove into town and walked the streets of St. Ignace and bought fudge. Andrew had a bow and arrow set that he was dying to use but his parents wouldn’t let him out in the rain so he pouted the entire time. My sister and I fought. My brother and I fought. Henry and Andrew fought. My parents fought. Their parents fought. On the second day during a brief respite from the rain my brother was outside and crawling on my parents car and broke a windshield wiper so on day three we drove through the pouring rain with only one wiper to get the other fixed. Everything was wet. Everything leaked. It was miserable.
On day four the rain finally stopped. It was still deeply overcast and the clouds were low and the air thick with damp but it wasn’t raining. So we all got into our cars and drove to the head of the blue blaze trail in the national forest, nicknamed such as the trail was marked by blue streaks of paint about a foot tall on trees every 200 feet or so. We put on our boots and packed plastic to sit on if we needed a rest and put our rain jackets in backpacks just in case and headed out. We hiked for hours through the dense forest of pine and oak and ferns taller than I was. No one talked. The only smell was that of the damp forest ground.
We hiked for two hours before we came across a marshy clearing that marked our turnaround spot. Emerging from the tree line we saw the sky was dark and threatening above us. My father and his brother stood next each other, looking out into the marsh at the horizon and the blue-grey clouds. After a few moments the sky started to spit rain. You could hear it on the marsh and on the tops of the trees behind us. My uncle sighed and turned to my father.
“Damn rain,” he said.
“God damn rain,” my father replied, keeping his eyes on the horizon.