It feels strange to be writing a letter to a state. You are the state that I call home. The state that when the glaciers clawed their way through, shaping the land in the way that best fit their movements, created the space for the five Great Lakes. You rested right in the middle of their many waves. It wasn’t until people started to move into your forests and fields then parceling you off and cartographers started putting you on their maps that we realized you look an awful lot like our human hands stuffed into mittens to protect our fingers from the cold winters that you seem to love so much. It’s been ever since then that people started holding out the palms of their right hand for the lower peninsula, or their left hand for the upper, and pointing to a spot somewhere in the lines that cross over their skin to proudly proclaim: I’m from here. No matter where they point, the people who are also from somewhere on the hand will smile and hold up their own hand to give a vague idea of what part of “The Miten” they too are from. Others from less appendage-looking states will look down at their own hands and begin to wonder what you mean, often trailing off, not wanting to know the secret.
Growing up in Northern Michigan, I know that I experienced you differently than friends who lived in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Kalamazoo – many of the cities that come to mind when people talk about you. But, regardless of where a person is situated in this state, they are no more than six miles from water. Water surrounds us and that is often something that is taken for granted. I’ve, admittedly, never given it a second thought because it just is. We are surrounded by 80% of the continent’s fresh water. This is why other places feel so dry, the air and land aren’t full of water like you are.
By the time I’ve sent this letter, winter will be in full swing. The cold November air will have started freezing into the snowy days of December, and the ground will turn to ice. Most of the people I’ve spoken to about winter think that it is a foul season, and say things like, “If it would only snow from December 23rd to January 10th, we’d all be better off.” When I hear this, I have to disagree. Winter is hard, but there is nowhere that does winter better than you. From the first bite of cold wind in the fall to the lingering dampness at the end of Spring, you somehow are able to keep us both on our toes and utterly relaxed because it will get colder, there is going to be more snow, and this isn’t as bad as it was last year.
While searching for inspiration to write this letter, I had to remind myself of my favorite things about you, Michigan. Getting lost in the woods behind my house, watching the deer that were fawns last year trot through the yard, the smell of pine trees, and the sun setting over the lake at any time in the year. I’ve recently been listening to a local musical group, The Accidentals, and their song, Michigan and Again, sums up how I feel about you, Michigan, as well as I could ever hope to. You’re home. The trees, the lakes, the grass, the dunes, every part of you is home.
Thank you for being you, Michigan, thank you for being home.