Summer vacation, north of the ‘Tension Line’Written by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a busy couple of weeks up here in Northern Michigan, above the “Tension Line.”
There’s some debate, of course, as to where this mythical border actually begins. But for us it starts on I-75, north of Bay City. Where the highways are less traveled, the pace of life slows dramatically and urban sprawl is increasingly replaced by fields, farms and forests.
Anyway, our chinkered log cabin — circa 1931 — is firmly fixed above the Tension Line. And we’ve been spending the past several days watching a pair of busy robins feeding their young in a tall, white pine outside our back porch, reading books set aside for just such occasions (books like “Leni,” a scrupulously detailed and chilling biography of Hitler’s documentary filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl) then lightening up via a delightful romantic romp through the City of Lights with “A Weekend in Paris” by Robyn Sisman and figuring out the large cast of colorful characters in the latest Elizabeth George, “Careless in Red,” set on Cornwall’s South West Path.
As an antidote to all this sedentary luxury, there’s still plenty of heavy mowing to be done around the cabin, as well as long walks along the forest trails with our black and yellow Labs, daily bread to be baked and the obligatory Wednesday karaoke night at Ma Deeter’s, a log cabin hostelry/bar that’s been fueling locals, bikers and summer flatlanders like us since the 1920s.
Owned by Ray and Sunshine, who sensibly winter down in Arizona, it’s run these days by Brian, an ex-army type, who keeps the place shipshape and wields a mean spatula. Mike does DJ duty for the would-be vocalists filling in with some Johnny Cash when things get slow. Dell, an ancient cowboy, regularly pitches in with “Waltz Across Texas.” And the steaks are still $2.99!
But man can’t live by bread … or steak … or karaoke … alone, so there are also runs to nearby Mio for provisioning at Glen’s Supermarket and to the Amish Bulk Food Store for baking flour and other bits and bobs.
We have some 50 Amish families in the immediate area, farmers and woodworkers mostly, who roll the country roads in their iconic wooden buggies, converse amongst themselves in deep dialect German and add a whole lot of Old World color and charm.
Then one day short of Independence, our 9-year-old grandson Casey Jr. and his dad arrived from Toledo, and snores changed to s’mores.
The sounds of turning pages were replaced by the persistent popping of BBs, the whiffle of backyard baseball, the raucous cries of nightime UNO tourneys and storytelling round the campfire.
There were unfulfilled fishing expeditions to the nearby Au Sable River. (Fish 1. Fischer 0); trips to Grayling to admire the last stands of tall trees at Hartwick Pines; to the fish hatchery to see rainbows, brookies and browns in action; and to the July 4 parade in Mio, where four-wheelers and fire engines stand in for floats and marching bands.
A stripped-down version took place at our Luzerne four-corners just two hours later where Ray and Sunshine were grand marshals, a guy from the American Legion belted out the national anthem and Dave from Luzerne Hardware rode around in a golf cart collecting funds the evening fireworks display.
This year’s Independence Day, however, will always have special significance. For no sooner had the “rockets red glare” faded from the sky than word came from London that my mother, Ingrid Holliday, had died just two months short of 102.
She would have certainly appreciated the timing and the symbolism, because she so enjoyed her many visits up here in “God’s country.”
But life must go on. Even above the Tension Line.
And so, at the local Big Creek Bump and Paint (that we had reason to visit due to an errant deer), the Smutek family were busy readying one of their $4,500 carbon fiber canoes for the July 25 Weyerhaeuser Au Sable River Marathon, a mind-numbing 120-mile race from Grayling to Oscoda that runs through the night.
The Smuteks — Frank, Amy and Ted — are all regular competitors. And patriarch Frank, 75 and fit as fiddle, is going for his 18th marathon. But now with a new partner, Greg Nelson, a chiropractor from Marquette, he’s hoping for a time of 16 and a half hours or less.
We wish them all well and a “Bezpieczna podró — safe journey.
You can learn more about the canoe race at the Web site www.ausablecanoemarathon.org/.
E-mail Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at email@example.com.