A Quarter of My Life

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My husband and I have been fans of Lord Huron for quite some time. When we lived in Cleveland and found out their tour was bringing them to town we set reminders for ourselves to buy tickets the minute they were on sale. Then we moved to New Hampshire about a week before the show, giving up our tickets to people I barely knew. A few weeks later they were going to be in Portsmouth performing a free outdoor concert at Prescott Park. The night of the show an intense storm rolled through the area. It poured buckets. Lightning and thunder. The whole bit. We didn’t see them that night either since the show was canceled on account of dangerous weather.

And so we found ourselves driving to Portland, Maine one night back in July. Another chance to see Lord Huron! Another outdoor concert, too, but this time it wasn’t free. We bought tickets, booked a hotel, and watched the weather reports all week. The night of the show we reveled in our good luck. The weather was nothing short of spectacular. As was the show itself.

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Lord Huron sings about the places where I grew up. I literally just did the math and even I’m surprised to learn that I’ve lived a quarter of my life on the Great Lakes – first Huron, then Superior, then Erie. In between I spent holidays and summers with my mother’s family near Lake Michigan. A few years ago my husband and I spent a couple of nights in Buffalo, New York, and made a point to drive to the Lake Ontario shoreline. She was my last lake to visit, a final check on the Great Lakes bucket list. On the way home to Cleveland we talked about me getting a Great Lakes tattoo for my next birthday. I never did.

My birthday is coming up and I have yet to shake the idea. Clearly those lakes mean a great deal to me. I have yet to shake them, too, I guess.

Home(s)

It was a little more than a year ago when I touched Lake Erie for the first time. The next day we returned to Oklahoma with a handful of lake rocks (I grew up near Lake Superior calling them dinosaur eggs) and a sense that I was getting excited about something that might never happen. I wasn’t sure I would ever have the chance to visit Lake Erie again, so I made a big deal about seeing it while we were in Cleveland for Matt’s job interview. There was some sentimentality to that – Lake Erie would be my fourth Great Lake! How could I go back to Oklahoma, and wherever the job hunt landed us from there, having been so close to Erie and doing nothing about it? So I did something about it. I insisted we see Lake Erie, so we did.

Shortly after we moved here, I started thinking to myself: Why not visit them all? I was only one lake away from completing a HOMES checklist. Lake Huron was my first, as a toddler; Lake Michigan came next as we ferried back and forth to visit family in Milwaukee; then Lake Superior, practically an inland ocean; and, finally, Lake Erie. I had to find a way to make it to Lake Ontario.

(Some people are unfamiliar with the HOMES acronym. Each letter represents one of the Great Lakes, making it easier to name them all. Because of my childhood in Upper Michigan, I have always been familiar with HOMES, even when the maps in our social studies class didn’t even include Michigan’s upper peninsula and, therefore, erased Lake Superior’s existence altogether. I always look for this mistake on every map I encounter. Did they forget the UP again? Why is half of Michigan missing from the map? It’s practically a habit by now, forged by years of being part of a population ignored by mapmakers.)

I like it here in Northeast Ohio. No, no, no. I take that back. I love it here. There was a sense of homecoming for me, of returning to a place I’ve been before but not really. I can’t quite give this feeling over to hiraeth, seeing as I never longed for this place. Perhaps there is a different word out there, formed and better understood by a different culture, but this feeling, for me, is more like finding home in a place I never knew I wanted to be. I’ve spent so much of my life in Michigan and Wisconsin, surrounded by these Great Lakes, that it was like returning from a thirty-year trip across the country. These lakes are all connected to each other. Being here is familiar. Being here is like being home.

So when Matt and I began our drive on I-90 to Buffalo, across Pennsylvania and New York, I never felt like we’d really left home. Lake Erie was never far away. In fact, during some stretches of highway, like in Erie, Pennsylvania, or across the New York state line, Lake Erie was right next to us, showing off her shades of blue during the breaks in the rain. We rented a gorgeous historic rowhouse apartment in downtown Buffalo for two nights, and our only plans involved eating authentic Buffalo wings, seeing Niagara Falls, and touching Lake Ontario. Again, I couldn’t stand being so close to my fifth, and final, Great Lake and doing nothing about it. So I did something about it. I insisted we see Lake Ontario, so we did.

At this point you’re probably expecting photographs of Niagara Falls, but no. Niagara Falls was gorgeous. It literally took my breath away. But I am still blown away by the fact that every single Great Lake finds its way into the Niagara River, churning and swirling and frothing before plunging down 170 feet on its way to Lake Ontario.

And here she is…

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I think back on my years in Oklahoma, when I was grasping at anything familiar to make it feel like home. I begged that it be temporary, and it was. But even those short four years were made to feel longer by my need to feel at home. I might not have known where exactly I belonged, but I knew then, as I know now, that I didn’t belong there.

This is where I belong…for now. Back in the Great Lakes. Back where my earliest memories were formed. Collecting dinosaur eggs on the beach, staring out at the endless horizon, waiting for icebergs to flow by, crossing my fingers for an aurora sighting, and catching a glimpse of the giant container ships as they maneuver their way from one inland ocean to another. From Lake Ontario to the most northern reaches of Lake Superior.

This is familiar. This is home.

 

Great Lakes Magic

A friend and fellow blogger recently got in touch with me and asked, “Where ya been? You haven’t posted since April!” Mostly I’ve been nowhere, or right here, in the same spot I’m always in. There has been little excitement so, therefore, there has been little to share.

I take that back. But, honestly, the exciting stuff didn’t happen until recently.

For a few days back in early June, I was in Cleveland. We all were in Cleveland. A job interview for my husband morphed into a family vacation of sorts. The kind of family vacation where the husband goes to his job interview while the kid and I binge-watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Teen Mom OG in the hotel room, because we love our trash TV.

During pockets of free time, we visited downtown Chagrin Falls (where one independent bookseller proceeded to sing the first few lines from the title song from Oklahoma! to make me feel welcome) and visited a few homes for sale in the villages of Kirtland, Chardon, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. We like to be prepared, and the idea of having to rush a cross-country move with four large dogs and a teenager beginning high school motivated us to get our options in line ASAP. That is if the opportunity to move there was presented.

The first thought that crossed my mind was How are you going to deal with winter, Dena? You’re a big baby. Let it be known that I spent a total of 9 years of my childhood in the Great Lakes region, digging out of 8-foot snowdrifts, climbing trees, avoiding black bears in the woods, and dipping my little-kid toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Northeast Ohio has birches and blue spruce, rocky hills and waterfalls, black bears and chipmunks, and ridiculously friendly people who talk like me. Maybe there in Cleveland, I thought, I wouldn’t sound so funny to everyone else. My accent wouldn’t be an accent. It’s just how people talk up there.

One thing I had to do before we returned to Oklahoma, however, was dip my now-grownup toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Erie. This would put my HOMES checklist at over half! My mother insists I can also count Lake Huron as an early Great Lake encounter, but I don’t remember it so I don’t feel like that’s a fair statement. If I made it to Lake Erie during this trip I would only have two Great Lakes left in order to completely knock out my toe-dipping adventures: Huron and Ontario. But what if we didn’t return? What if this was my only chance with Lake Erie?

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So we headed out on our last night in town to find a spot for some toe-dipping. The water was too cold for toe-dipping, so I opted to rest my hands in it instead. And for about an hour, the family just enjoyed being…well, just being. We talked about fishing for lake trout and exploring local breweries, about the Cleveland Indians and how summers feel more humane there. We walked back and forth along the beach and picked through the shore’s smoothed rocks to find a few favorites to bring home.

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When I got back to Oklahoma City, I immediately placed my Lake Erie rocks in with one of my favorite potted plants. We have an interesting collection of Oklahoma rose rock and other unique pieces of stone in and around the garden and it seemed the right spot for these rocks to be.

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Each time I went outside to weed around the basil or pick the snap peas, I would venture over to my lobelia and lemon thyme, pick up a Lake Erie rock, and rub it with my thumb and forefinger. I wished on it. I talked to it. I treated it like it was a talisman that held some sort of Great Lakes magic. And, guys, it must have worked.

We are moving to Cleveland next month.