For the last forty years or so I've been heading to northern Michigan but never quite made it beyond the big city limits. Something always kept me there: responsibility, family, finances, ailing parents, career. It was though I had this big rubber band around my neck and it would stretch so far before it yanked me back. Once it stretched all the way to Big Rapids which isn't really Up North but it was close. That time I was pulled back kicking and screaming, truly angry at circumstance.
I learned long ago that too often we just can't do what we want to do, no matter how determined we are. The timing is wrong, the planets aren't aligned or we are stuck, deep in the mud of our own making. I think usually it's that. We do have free will, it's just that sometimes that will becomes won't. Our lives are crafted by our choices and no matter how hard we struggle, we have to play each one out. After a while they become so intertwixed, so intertwined, that free will seems just a memory and we slog ahead just trying to survive.
I spent a lifetime fighting crime on the mean streets of Motown, first as a cop then as an undercover guy in the private sector. I'm telling you the truth when I say that I forever fought to keep my spiritual head above water and hope in my heart. Vietnam was an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone and I was lucky to come home sane. Well, relatively sane anyway. I know a lot of guys who didn't and suffer to this day.
After so much of that you begin to wonder about the big guy - or girl - upstairs. Is anyone really minding the store? I knew I had to get away but that rubber band just kept pulling me back. I needed sanctuary. Faith was an elusive thing but once I found it, there was no way that I was letting it go. It was during the dark night of my soul that it first touched me and assured me that my promised land was still there. I kept it close, seeking, always seeking that light at the end of the tunnel yet secretly hoping it wasn't another train.
I learned to go with the flow and follow my intuition. I learned it is true that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, that challenge is growth and that dreams fulfilled are not always what we've imagined. And I learned that 'someday, someplace, somehow' will come but not until we are ready, and wise enough to recognize them when they appear.
Amazingly, at least to me, they came just over six years ago. The somehow and someday came when my health went south, as events in Vietnam caught up to me and I discovered retirement. The someplace came when I drove north one day and came back the next as the owner of a new home near the shores of the Sweetwater Sea.
Ever since I was a child, vacationing with my family every year at Fireside Inn on Grand Lake in Presque Isle County, I dreamed that someday I would return permanently. That I needed to live Up North where nature held sway became a mantra, an endless ripple in the tides of my consciousness. Wherever I was, wherever life took me, I always imagined that I could smell the wood smoke, sense the water's edge and the sound of the loons on the lake. I yearned for it but, as we know, our choices create the roadmap of our lives, complete with detours and dark alleys.
I negotiated those roads, over years and years, sometimes blind, sometimes focused until I found myself, by chance, in Ocqueoc. I had never heard the name but in the language of the Anishanabe, a long ago tribe of native Americans, it means 'sacred.' Sacred was exactly what I had been looking for. Sacred, sanctuary, peace and tranquility, a place where I could celebrate the Self I had slowly discovered along my epic journey.
Ocqueoc is located equidistant between Rogers City, Onaway and Cheboygan. The heart of the township is a seven mile stretch along Lake Huron, or the Sweetwater Sea as it was called by the Huron Indians, who once lived in a small village at the mouth of the Ocqueoc river where it empties into the lake. Isolated, even today, the banks of the river were once used as a burial ground. History writes that as the tribe prepared for the long winters when the food was scarce, the crippled and infirm would throw themselves from those high banks into the river, their bodies floating into Lake Huron, in courageous attempts to insure the survival of the village.
Called Huron Beach now, the sandy shores of Hammond Bay are pristine, home to a loosely populated group of year-rounders and summer residents, and beckon to those seeking peace, solitude and quiet recreation. Infrequently, one can hear the muted sounds of a few jet skis and powerboats but mostly one sees the kayaks and sailboats as they silently skim the gentle surface of the bay.
The Huron Beach community is a private association of homeowners and ingress is limited to residents and guests. On the beach, more often than not, I find myself the only human for three miles in either direction. The bay itself, on the lee side of the state, is quite frequently calm as glass. The colors of the water on sunny days rival any view I've seen of the oceans of the world, even the Caribbean. A pure sandy bottom stretches out farther than you can walk or swim and in summer, because of the shallows, the water is nearly warm.
There is no town, only the Hammond Bay Trading Post, located near the banks of the Ocqueoc river on the site formerly populated by the Hurons and Anishanabe. I'd often dreamed of a place like this, where I was known at the local store in a small, tight knit community. Where I could find company if I needed it, yet live in quiet seclusion when I didn't. I had had enough of jet noise, trains, traffic, horns and the overpowering decibels of city life. Now, I turn onto U.S. 23, set the cruise and sometimes don't see another car for 15 or 20 miles until I reach a town. I have close to a hundred thousand miles on my Dodge Dakota and still have the original brakes. That should tell you something.
During the summer I can relax on what is essentially a private beach or paddle my kayak out into the bay, meditating while I float on the beautiful, calm waters. The sunrises are magnificent and often, at dusk, I will drift a half a mile out watching the sunset to the west, content, serene and basking in my connection to nature.
Winters are my favorite as the forest around our home grows white, heavy with sparkling snow. The quiet is so absolute you can hear your own heart beat and the deer gather every night, just outside our windows, for dinner. Sometimes there are three, sometimes fifteen but they always come on schedule. I love to sit in my chair by the window and wait for the first one to bound through the woods. They are so beautiful, so guileless, though sometimes competitive about sunflower seeds. I've learned that everyone loves sunflower seeds; the deer, the birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks and skunks and especially the raccoons who will defeat any security you construct. The badgers, well they must love badger food because I rarely see them outside the tunnels they dig.
I haven't seen any bears but I await my wolf when he arrives. The wolf is my totem and very close to my heart. The name of my investigative company was "Wolf's Run," and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. They say there are no wolves in the lower Peninsula but two were found, last winter, trapped just outside of Rogers City. He will come, I have faith, to be sure. In the meantime, the hawks and eagles keep me company.
I have discovered my paradise, my Nirvana, our personal Garden of Eden. Every day my family is awed by the majesty of the north. Each morning I look out at the forest and know the essence of life is truly with me and that my friends, the animals, will never do me harm. And I can float my kayak in the stream of consciousness finding inspiration as it meanders, gently, in spirit.