Dane and I are home from a relaxing and much-needed vacation up north, commonly referred to as “the U.P. (Upper Peninsula).” As the novel coronavirus has raged in our great state, we’ve sheltered in place and have mostly kept to ourselves. I say “mostly,” because I’d reported to my physical work place every day of the work week, save for a day here or there when I worked from home. It’s true, there’s no rest for the wicked … or, more aptly, the weary. COVID-19, you see, has demanded my full attention at work since March 10. Relentlessly. Unceasingly. And I’ve embraced every moment, because the work my colleagues and I do is fulfilling and meaningful. Dane and I committed to following our governor and county health officer’s masking, hand-washing, distancing and sheltering-in-place orders. After seven solid months of challenging and rewarding work, I was in dire need of a break.
In September, Dane and I decided we needed to plan our annual Get Out of Dodge Anniversary Getaway or resign ourselves to a getaway-less year. He searched for hotels in the U.P., which resulted in exorbitant per-night rates. With COVID-19, tourism in our state (along with everything else) had waned, and the hotel industry was scrambling to regain lost revenue. Dane asked his friends, Roger and Lee, who own an adorable two-story lake cottage in St. Ignace, if they would consider renting “The Tree House” for a week.
“If you bring the furniture in off the deck, throw out all the condiments in the refrigerator and unplug it, you can stay there for as long as you want,” Roger said. He refused to allow us to pay for our stay.
It was about a 3.5-hour drive. We arrived shortly after 6 p.m. The house was cold. Dane opened the blinds and let the sunshine in, then wandered down to the basement to turn the water on. He read the owner’s manual for the gas stove, and the house started to warm up. I spent the next couple of hours stripping off the bedsheets in the master bedroom and washing them; organizing our toiletries, electronic devices and clothing; cleaning the stove, countertops, tables and bathrooms; sweeping and wiping down the kitchen floors; and freeing all the leaves from the foyer and the garage entrance. Dane helped me remake the bed. The Tree House gave off very cozy, well-lived-in vibe.
Our first night in St. Ignace, we made a grocery run to Family Fare. It was late, so we grabbed dinner at Clyde’s – an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant on U.S. 2. I ordered the whitefish dinner and Dane ordered a burger. We each got a milkshake – his was chocolate malt, mine was strawberry. Fifteen minutes later, we were back at The Tree House, sucking air through our straws. We sat at the small kitchen table and ate our entrees, which were forgettable … but the milkshakes, I confidently proclaimed, we would indulge every single day of our vacation.
Our unspoken goal was … to do nothing. By “nothing” I mean, we placed no expectations on ourselves or each other. We had nothing specific that we had to do and nowhere in particular to be. If we wanted to sleep in the entire morning (Dane did), there was nothing and no one to stop us. I got up before the sun each day – by habit rather than by plan, and I couldn’t wait to fill my mornings on my terms … beginning with a cup of sugar-sweetened hot tea and a healthy splash of whole milk. Breakfast was a slice of toast with butter and jam, a couple of scrambled eggs or a handful of peanut M&Ms. I watched the sun rise as I knit, read the news, caught up with friends on Facebook and Instagram, listened to a podcast or Glenn Gould’s Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – accompanied by the rustling of trees in the wind. We went for long walks on the beach, skipped stones, held hands and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.
I cooked twice – spaghetti (and milkshakes from Clyde’s) for dinner on Day 2, which was also lunch and dinner on Day 3. Day 4, lunch was a pastie from Lehto’s on a ferry to Mackinac Island; dinner was beef stew (bought a beautiful chuck eye roast – an excellent, leaner, more tender and less common cut of chuck). We had McDonald’s for dinner on Day 5, and another round of milkshakes. Leftover beef stew was lunch on Day 6, and before we knew it, we were homeward bound.
It was a wonderful escape – a desperately needed break. Home, they say, is where the heart is. No matter where I go, my heart remains with the people I love. When I’m having a great time, I miss the kids, because I want to share the experience with them. I missed our firm bed and the familiar comforts of our home. I missed drinking water straight from the tap, and washing my hair and cooking with municipal water. In fact, I went six straight days without washing my hair at all, because the tap water was extremely hard and I just didn’t want to bother. I forgot to pack my pottery works in progress, so I missed the rejuvenating and creative benefits of my clay play.
I’m going to pack a go kit for my throwing, trimming and sculpting tools. I’ll chuck it in the hatchback of my Subie II, along with a bag of clay. I’ve also got my eye on a sweet little portable pottery wheel – the Shimpo Aspire. It’s 25 lbs. with a 1/3-horsepower motor, capable of handling 20 lbs. of clay.
I’ve been working on little fairy houses (for fairies, frogs and toads), which will go in the fairy garden next spring. I’m not sure yet, but I think I’ll do a Cone 6 firing for them, but need to make some test tiles first.
For the kiln at the Red Barn in Williamston (where my studio is), we potters are making kiln gods. I, on the other hand, made a kiln goddess to watch over our pots and ware while they’re being fired. “Protect all within,” is inscribed in her base. Elements of my original warrior goddess are present – she’s tall, with an elongated neck, representative of her inner height, strength, power and pride. Familiar spiral rosettes are pressed into her shawl but also randomly added as reliefs – she is feminine and a feminist. Unlike goddesses my traditional goddess, however, she is largely unclothed and bald – her nakedness represents honesty, truth and acceptance.
I looked forward to going home after a restful getaway, so that I could work on this unfinished projects, which calms and fulfills me in a very different way.