Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Porkies

Went hiking in the Porkies this weekend, but I have no photos. The group consisted of myself and Stacey, Ajani, Elizabeth, Kevin, and Sarah. It was an incredible time. Stacey and I had to leave a day early for her class, but it was great nonetheless. Rain started as our vehicles entered the porcupine mountain range, after a short night, hungover morning, several stops to UP gas stations, and typically fantastic conversations. We hiked in, breathed in the musty hemlocks and cedars that carpeted the emerald range. The cabin we had rented was warm from the previous visitors, rustic with no electricity or running water. Soon after our arrival, the guys bore axes and the girls, cutting-knives, as we worked on dinner and firewood. Jokes about gender roles ensued. Through the rain, we paddled out on Mirror Lake, and I caught my first ever Brook Trout. I let it go and regretted it. Was stricken by how beautiful the fish was, with its speckled red and green belly. But I also figured that it was better off swimming in this pristine lake than sizzling over our cabin's wood stove. We battled the low forty degree temps and drizzly rain to pull at old saws against fallen trees and hack at kindling with dull hatchets. Soon, euchre was established at the cabin table as Kevin and Sarah's delectable veggie stew simmered atop the wood stove; the aroma of carrots, radishes, rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, squash, onions, curry, and one and a half chicken breasts pervaded the cabin as we played cards under headlamps and candles (originally, only one chicken breast was to go into the stew, but K and S had a leftover chicken breast from their dining out the previous night and, what the heck, throw it in the stew).

Though I brought my fishing pole, and broke the line, losing a bobber on the way in, I did not bring any bait. I thought for sure I would be able to find some crawlers in the soil throughout the rain-beaten forest, but the sandy and mulchy earth provided no worms. I caught the trout with a piece of curried chicken. After several more attempts, we realized the catch was a lucky one. We tried threading chicken, potatoes, carrots, corn, raisins, jelly beans, and finally beef jerky to our hooks, but could not catch anything else. I would've kept the trout, but was so anxious after catching it - i wondered where I'd put it on the boat, I cursed myself for neglecting to bring my stringer, I wasn't sure how to cook it, or whether we had any sort of butter or oil in the cabin, and I held it in my hands as it flopped within my tight grip, and thought that by the time I answer all those questions, it would have suffered a great deal out of the water. So, I threw it back in.

Later that night, out from the backpacks, came bottles of Evan Williams, Dewars Scotch, Jameson, Vodka, and Coconut rum. Some Keweenaw Red Jacket was there as well. We twisted at the bottletops as we took the chill off and more. Some phenomenal chocolate - dark chocolate with mint, and Dark chocolate with orange peel and almonds - was placed around the table for the taking. Afterward, as I lay in my bed the following morning, I thought about the people I was there with. It's so odd that only three years ago my cabin mates were in such places as New Hampshire, Indiana, New york, Alaska, and that at some point, in their own hectic place they decided to study Literature along the coasts of Lake Superior - by far the greatest of the Great Lakes - and we all met at a night at Vangos, or a graduate student union meeting, or a book-heavy pedagogy class. There seems to be so much history there, or rather, within this group. Kevin was my office mate, and Ajani my Stucko's mate, Elizabeth, the first person I spoke to as I began my first preparations for teaching English, and Sarah, the techie for the 504 class. Stacey, of course, my partner as all of it went down. As the light subsided, and the dishes done - another gender battle - we put a pot of water on the stove to serve as a washing basin, we played cards late into the night and planned to return again to this cabin the following year.

The next morning we woke in intervals. Stacey woke to stoke the fire and put a spot of coffee in the percolator and on the wood stove to fill the cabin with its rich aroma. I set my hiking stove to boil another pot as the group, now one functioning body, woke to pee, brush teeth, grumble, and take care of business out in six inch holes in the woods. We had predetermined to use a group-meal method, where each two-person group was responsible for a 6-person meal. Kevin and Sarah provided the wonderful veggie stew the night before and Stacey and I had breakfast duties. The previous day we had stopped at the farmer's market and bought fresh baked baguettes and polaine bread, and went to the food co-op for some organic apples, oranges and mangoes, as well as some toxin-free raw Colby, Swiss, and smoked Gouda cheeses. We peeled fruit skins and tore chunks of bread off as Ajani personified his ridiculously large survival knife to cut cheese. During the feast of carbs and aged dairy, we sat around the table journaling and reading Willaim Gaddis, Richard Powers, and Annie Dillard.

Finally, after one more unsuccessful fishing attempt, we rowed back into shore and Stacey and I began packing our wares. We had a tremendous hike back to the car in the damp woods and emerald foliage, stopping once to pee and take pictures with various cameras. Our talk rippled through the crooks of Northern Michigan's only mountain range and reassured us of what engulfing comfort married life has the potential to provide. There has been a dry spot recently, between Stacey and I's relationship, that has festered through complicated endeavors and conflicting schedules, that seems to heal through time spent in the Northern woods. A week ago we took a trip to see a couple of waterfalls in Big Bay, and it was so relieving to be, if only for a moment, outside of our role's demands. This, I am certain, was the same thing we felt in the Porkies.

In five days I will be boarding a train to follow through with a grant-funded research trip that will lead me to Albuquerque, Portland, New York City, and Los Angeles. The trip will take approximately five weeks, at which end Stacey will meet me in LA after a long, solo, photography-filled road trip. We're both excited to go for various reasons: to see the landscape from a train, to camp alone in the brutally hot South Dakota badlands, to spend over 120 hours on a train, and ultimately, to feel untethered from the complacent feeling of doing things ordinarily. Just to breathe different airs, and to stalk different urges, and to get off track. To step out of one's hole and live as though, to remember, first experiences. It has been a long time since I've sat in a construction site, with a haze-covered moon dampening Beck's Sea Change album with my soon-to-be-wife, or smoked my first cigarette at a municipal airport in Indiana with my close friends, or, for that matter, had sex for the first time ever with my wife after our wedding, or slept through the day to awake to the curious liveliness of nighttime, or to read Carl Sandberg's poem "Happiness" in a strange and yearning motel room. During the waking hours of this cross-country trip, it is difficult not to feel lazy and complacent. It is easy to take for granted my warm office, the internet, my backwards sense of direction and time. It is easy to take for granted companionship, my best friends and the excited tone of my wife's expectant voice. This trip, however, this short hike through the porkies, the heavy thought of what is right now, this feeling of walking and existing from today until tomorrow is precisely, or rather, seems to be the perfect chapter break for the page number to which we've arrived. We live in an awesome place, probably the greatest place on the earth, and we have the best companions we could ever desire. It shouldn't, I suppose, be surprising that these two things are the remedy for complacency.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I had an awesome time too. Sucks that you had to leave, but I'm glad you were able to come for a bit.

See you soon.