Our Trip Ends: North Country Roads to Fishtown

Day 6 Interlochen, Leelenau 279
All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

It turns out my head is still trying to be on vacation this shivery, rainy day in Oregon–one that will be repeated almost daily until spring’s reprise. I was perusing photos from the last leg of our northern Michigan jaunt and lo, there are more moments of rich color and curiosity to share with you.

Jutting north along the western side of Grand Traverse Bay (part of Lake Michigan), Leelanau Peninsula may seem a repeat of beauty that has been encountered before.  It gave me pause to consider that about 10,000 years ago, three different lakes were tiered here and there, at different levels. Now they are an invisible part of this far reaching Great Lake, one among the five whose basins were carved out by glacial ice sheets 14.000 years ago. Leelanau Peninsula, then, was geologically layered by that powerful glacial activity.

These forested lands are part of widespread color tours in the U.S. each October–some say Michigan has the best, who knows for certain?– but this terrain is easy on the eyes with vibrant yet soothing vistas (did you know oaks turn color later than maples?). It had not quite peaked when we were there. This is a prime area for artists to congregate and thrive, as well as excellent earth in which orchards thrive and many vegetables flourish. Lots of migrating birds arrive or pass this way. Once again bodies of water beckon me beyond low-rolling hills to that vast undulating cobalt blue. The five interconnected Great Lakes comprise the largest body of freshwater on earth, six quadrillion gallons, and is the longest freshwater coastline, as well. Lake Michigan alone is 22,300 square miles of water. However, there are also over 11,000 inland lakes, as well.

This peninsula, a popular scenic area, gives rise to much tourism which calms down a bit as temperatures and leaves drop—but then ski season opens and hearty wintering folks head up north. It may not be the Cascade Range (so near where I live) or other majestic peaks, but downhill skiing in northern Michigan is nonetheless a big draw, as are snowmobiling and sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating and more. For there is nothing quite like the northern Michigan winter that will soon arrive–ferocious, pristine and also playful.

We stopped by Lake Leelanau to look for more good stones and admire the clarity of water. We cruised by tiny Suttons Bay and surrounding lands. Our intended destination was Leland, on the western shore. Northport is near the tip of the peninsula; the slideshow below offers a glimpse at that lovely village and farm land. We also paused to enjoy Lake Leelanau’s musical sloshing waves, water so clear you could see the bottom.

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Relaxed and full  of visual treasures, we drove contentedly along in the breezy, sunshiny day.

After perhaps 45 dreamy minutes, we entered Leland late afternoon. I has been long known for art galleries, higher end shops and the historic Fishtown. Leland has been an operating fishing community since the 1850s (far longer when considering the fact that Ottawa Indians resided there until Europeans arrived). It still has a distinctive culture and is considered one of the last working fishing districts on the peninsula. One can visit old fishing shanties, smokehouses, canneries and walk the weathered docks, note the fish tugs. I thoroughly enjoyed poking about. The shops were soon to close so I saved a good deal of money, I’m sure.

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And so rounds out and ends the seven day tour of “up north” Michigan, a first trip after decades having been gone.

The mystique of many waters, and the pleasure boats and boats with fishing aficionados as well as working fisher persons…the delicate meat of tasty fish (planked whitefish, the best)…the great swaths of deciduous forest mixed with towering pines and the slim, short-lived birches and rustling poplars…the flattening land and open skies…the sweet tangy wind of the great and small lakes. It is an alchemy that makes me dream of cabins and night music and finding love and gliding in a canoe under a silvery, beneficent moon and tender-hot sun. It is all still there.

 

 

 

The Sense and Foolishness of Scent

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Perfume is like dark chocolate to me; I would only give it up entirely under great duress. It is a possession I think of as basic. It accompanies jeans and sandals as well as a black dress and sparkly earrings. Generally part of my daily ritual, I spritz it on when going to the store, taking a walk, after a shower following the gym. When working twelve plus hour days, I greeted early mornings with a good spray to finish my work attire, motivate, soothe and enliven my spirit all at once. It was and is an extension of who I am. On the job as a counselor I also secreted away a small spray bottle of something light or a fragrant candle to settle the atmosphere in case of emergencies, human or otherwise, physical or emotional.

I am among millions who adore fragrance–it is very big business– yet I find myself wearing it less as time goes on. In this day and age I am often quite unappreciated in a crowded room as someone, perhaps many, will find any scent offensive or dangerous. Or it may just be my beloved perfume they loathe. When I attend a concert or church, meet with friends or eat at a restaurant I must prepare accordingly, which too often can mean wearing none of nine (some small) bottles claiming a corner of my dresser. Of those, three are current favorites but I like variety. I want to choose from a smorgasbord of olfactory treats.

What is it about perfume and why has it become an unwelcome presence in a room? How come we are so often allergic to perfume now and were not decades ago? Are we fearful of being overpowered by a whiff of perfume? Or are perfumes being made with much more noxious ingredients than before? I would say the perfume Poison is just that, for me! But I still don’t think that is a reason to not explore what is out there, to have some fun with them. It is trial and error; it takes time for a perfume to bloom and deepen on our skin. What I like may not be what you enjoy. When I was growing up everyone wore a signature scent or two. Even boys and men–remember Canoe, Brut, Old Spice, English Leather? My husband likes Aramis but not often enough. These days it seems soap and water are preferred, and sometimes not even that. I am happy with the first but less likely the second unless I am camping. And those of you who have read my blog awhile know I am an outdoors fanatic and love physical activities. I am not trapped in a “feminine mystique” of yore.

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I was thinking about all this during today’s walk. I had my nose shoved into a daffodil–they have a faintly fresh scent–as well as hyacinth, daphne, magnolia and many other flowers. It’s true that unadulterated scents, those right from the earth, are usually the best, the most pure and simple. Vanilla is used in countless perfumes. How long has lavender gifted us with its pungent sweetness? From great-grandmothers’ drawers to baby talcum to sleep masks, the scent is still found in countless products. And roses are so popular that sitting above Portland’s International Rose Test Gardens a whole store is devoted to the flower and its bewitching fragrance. The place is usually packed. I wasn’t drawn to them until I lived in a place where roses are ubiquitous; I now appreciate their vagaries of scent but rather more freshly on the stem than not.

My mother wore White Shoulders sometimes but it was Evening in Paris that drew me closer. An industrious, good-humored, down-to-earth woman, she didn’t fuss with her appearance beyond a brush through her wavy hair and a swipe of lipstick. But when she attended concerts my father conducted or other important occasions, a dab behind each ear topped off her elegant, often floor-length gowns. At the time she had not yet visited France but it seemed to transform her into one who had, from a long ago farm girl to a very chic woman. Since our sense of smell can transport us to places and persons we knew intimately, that perfume will always bring her back to me.

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When I became a teen-ager, I fell in love with drugstore perfumes, or eau de toilette (funny name), and my friends and I could purchase these for a few dollars. The names elicit sharp pictures of Community Drugs where I bought them and my pale lavender and white bedroom as I readied myself for a hopefully adventurous evening out: lemony-fresh Jean Nate’, cloyingly rich Tabu and Emeraude, delicate yet tantalizing Arpege, Heaven Scent or Chantilly. How could I not be sophisticated, cheerful or alluring wearing perfumes bestowed such names? It was clear this was one secret of successful young women everywhere. Extravagant advertising informed us of this and responses from bumbling boys were in agreement. But even then I wore perfume for myself. It let me try on a different feeling or personality at times. It seemed to impact mood: calmed frayed nerves, provided pep, wrapped me in an invisible shawl of exotic warmth.

As I left my adolescence behind I gravitated to my oldest sister’s perfume. She had brought back Shalimar from Europe, and its headiness made me swoon. In Sanscrit its name means “Temple of Love” and was created in nineteen twenty-one in honor of the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was made. A complex, captivating perfume, I fell immediately and wore only Shalimar for many years. I still use it sparingly.

Now I enjoy several perfumes, and most frequently wear three: Florabotanica by Balenciaga, Amber by Prada, 10 La Roue de la Fortune by Dolce and Gabbana. They are not drugstore items, I admit, and perhaps luxuries. They were each a gift from my husband. He knew I liked them–and so, I might add, does he. I use them less than when I was working full-time, I admit. It was part of “being dressed” in a more formal manner. But I will remain loyal to fragrance through the coming years. Good smells are a delight and we each are charmed by an assortment–maybe you, as I, are moved by fresh cinnamon rolls or a wood-burning fire, chicken and dumplings or ocean breezes. And your loved ones as you hold them close, adorned by nothing but themselves.

Sometimes I wonder how it would be if I could grow a large garden or lived in the forest. I suspect I might less often add scent to my life. Instead, I would stroll between the luxuriant blossoms and watch the bees at work, absorb nature’s seasons up close. I would put my hands in the earth and help along the blooming, sit and let the sun heat it up, a natural perfumery. I would be in a heavenly spot and peace would reign over all, if only in that moment. But I live in a city apartment. This spring we will again pot sturdy plants and flowers for our balcony and bring home bouquets from the bountiful farmer’s market. And I will likely put on a little Amber as well as a sweater before heading out on the train. It won’t help me accomplish anything noteworthy but I’m not out to save the world with perfume, just enjoy an innocent yet powerful delight.

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Anita’s Busker

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“Well, there you go! You never know who you’ll bump into. See that guy over there? The busker. Blue shirt and sharp little cap? I knew him once. Yeah. He played around. Anywhere there was jazz of some sort, he’d hang around the edges, inching his way in so that by the end of the night he’d be sitting in. You know, when everyone else left and the real music started up. I wonder what happened to him?”

Anita pulled her sweater close around her. It was sunnier than it had been in days. She and Chilla met at the park on Saturdays. Chilla brought the donuts, Anita brought the coffee.

“I might know him,” Chilla said, mouth full, lips rimmed with powdered sugar. He ducked when she tried to wipe it off.

“Naw, you don’t  know this one. Right before your time. You came- when? Nineteen seventy-nine? This was when I was just twenty-two. When I was starting to make money. I was with Zero to Ninety. We’d made our first record and I was busy. Making the rounds, getting into good joints like suddenly we were something hot. Always hot, always something. Took some folks off guard but I had it goin’ on.”

Anita added more sugar to her coffee, blew across the top so that the steam floated away, ghostly feathers. She listened hard. The man sounded pretty good from where she sat under the aspens.

Chilla shrugged. “You had it, I had it, we were smart and bustin’ out. ‘Course I was particular about my tunes; you were about whatever you needed to be.”

She turned sharply to face him. “What do you mean? Versatility! I had chops. Fluidity. Yeah, sang anything you wanted.” She took a gulp, frowned. “How would you know, anyway? You were a drummer. You were so full of sound when we played together you could barely hear me.”

“Oh, I heard you. How could I not? ” He smiled. “Want a chocolate creme? Or maple log?”

Anita took a bite of the maple log, then watched the busker. Two couples had tossed money in the coffee can. She smiled. She liked that, liked him more. Coffee cans were hard to find these days. Maybe she should edge up closer, sit so she could catch all the notes. The tunes were a mix, old and newish. His shirt looked fresh; he was clean. Where had she last heard him play? Was it with Smithy Levin’s band? Forty years ago…

“You know I don’t think about all that much.” Chilla leaned against the bench, put his arm around Anita. “What’s the point? I can’t play, anymore. Even if I beat five minutes on one of my drums, the landlord would set me free in the world and no, don’t want that again. Did enough travelling once. I like my place. Like my peace.”

“So you say. I like remembering. Cheers me up. What’s going on now, Chilla? We watch the pigeons sneak up on every crumb. Watch the kiddies endanger their lives on monkey bars. You have your t.v. shows. I have my books and fish. Well, that’s nice. Oh and we work together–too much. I’m so glad we don’t live together, anymore. I can’t abide television on every day. What about more fun? Music was fun!”

He looked out over the street. Chilla didn’t care so dearly about music. It used him up, spit him out, so he was done. Maybe it was mutual. No matter. Anita knew all that but she had to make a fuss about the past, anyway. It was true she was good. She made the room hold its breath sometimes. She managed to acquire admirers faster than decent money. That came later, a good ten years of success. And then. A car accident, months in the hospital: her voice on its way out. She said she’d sue the EMTs who did the tracheotomy but, really? They saved her life. So he got it. She was still sorry it all ended. He’d played for thirty years but everything ended sooner or later.

Now they did alright with their part-time tax business. Musicians had a talent for math.

He brushed away the dusting of sugar on his lap and looked at her. Lines around her eyes and her deepening dimples made him want to plant a kiss on her cheek.

Anita raised her hand, as if reading his thoughts. “Wait, listen. That’s ‘Stairway to the Stars!’ Oh, I do love that old big band number.”

She sang along, the tune rolling out, voice rough but rich in timbre. Closing her eyes, her face tilted in amber sunlight, she was transported. Her long grey hair flew off her shoulders in the breeze, then caressed her face.

Chilla shut his eyes and was back in the blue smokey depths of Night Cap Lounge, his beats sure and deft, underscoring a grand design of sound. His hands were so limber they belonged to a superman. He felt the thrill of liberation. Anita was making a statement in a blue and silver dress, her voice grabbing them all with its saucy beauty. She was dangerous, that woman, her warmth a beacon, her vocalizing a bearer of adventurous messages. It was another world and it was theirs for the asking.

After the music stopped he sat still. The wind picked up; the trees answered each other with rattles and sighs. When his eyes blinked open he saw Anita walking rapidly toward the guitarist. He pushed off, eased onto his aching feet and followed.

“Why, Griff Baxter! Of course! I was saying to Chilla–I know that man. How long you been around here?”

They were chatting it up like old friends. Chilla held out his hand.

Griff looked uncomfortable. “Not so long. I was in Baden Baden the last big gig but then had some problems. The last three years, see, I’ve had two hip replacements and then medical bills came in and now, well, I’m staying with family, a daughter. Just for awhile, though.” He took off his cap and turned it in his hands, then resettled it with a nod.

Chilla felt embarrassed for the guy and looked down. Anita put her arm through the crook of Griff’s and grinned up at him with her toothsome smile.

“Well, imagine, you in our neighborhood. You ought to come by. We have two apartments, both in the same building. We could have dinner. I have a piano, old upright. We’d share a modest feast and then play a little.”

“Or not,”Chilla said. “I was a drummer.”

Griff laughed. “Or not. Yes, it’s not quite the same in a small room without the blue haze and ice cubes clinking and talk so thick we could barely hear ourselves sometimes. Right?”

“Oh,” Anita laughed, “we can light candles and make some drinks with little umbrellas and have a go at it.” Then she put her other arm through Chilla’s. “Or not.”

Griff chatted amiably and then took a request from passersby. Anita and Chilla left him their phone numbers and started home.

“Now who was he? I really don’t recall that name,” Chilla said. “Seems I’d know of him, Baden Baden and all.”

Anita shrugged. “Me, neither! He’s younger than I thought, but that face…had a head of wavy hair once, I think. Thing is, he sure can play, Chilla. Beautiful soul in those fingers, right? Just got to love how good music compliments a sunny day.”