December 8, 2014
Since 1980, there has been a landmark pinned to the middle of Michigan. Lost in a maze of back roads and trails, the blaring horns of the highway and hustle of city have long but disappeared. The peep toads become an alarm clock, coaxing you from bed at daybreak. The small, yet thriving apple orchard reaches over the window, temporarily blocking the sun's inevitable ascent into the sky. Here, frustration can be erased in a weekend-long meditation. Encased in a globe of flora and fauna, grandma's house has been a family sanctuary for over three decades.
The 180-mile trek to Rose City is three hours of quaint, desolate excitement. After I've evaded the congestion of metropolitan traffic, the tree-lined interstate becomes my only friend. The woody canvas landscape, untouched by modern society, is lightly brushed with crimson and gold; signs that autumn's arrival is imminent. I hit my blinker and veer off the exit - 202 Alger/Rose City. Like clockwork, butterflies hit my stomach. Cruising down M-33, a smile creeps onto my face. The dilapidated billboard for the local winery waves to me, pushing me closer to my destination. I pull off at Forwards to put a few gallons of gas into the jeep, and the pungent aroma of room-temperature grease and dry pepperoni wafts into my nose. Much to my chagrin, I succumb to the beckoning of gas station pizza. Down the road, the taxidermy sign clings for dear life to the fence, determined to remain the eye-catching road marker it once was. A quick left at the sign, and I'm on Beechwood Road - the home stretch. I eagerly zoom past the forgotten farms and down "the hill". The sudden drop releases all the butterflies and a hearty belly laugh, rehashing vivid childhood memories of my sisters and "the hill," giggling through the final minutes to Grandma's. Casually peeking over the horizon, I see a small, leather-brown farmhouse surrounded by long forgotten farm equipment. The rusted, stripped gears on the tractor are indicative of a barren land, devoid of crops for at least a generation. This is my cue to hit the brakes, for my tranquil haven is on my right. The two driveways, Enter and Exit, have remained unpaved for decades. The clicking of gravel catapulting against the underside of my car drowns out my giddy chuckles. I have finally arrived at Grandma's.
The clanging of small bells resonate through the foyer as I sprint through the door. Prized buck antlers double as coat hooks, happily accepting the garments of houseguests. I walk around the corner and drop my bags in the yellow bedroom, its banana hue the only color to ever grace the walls. Something is different about the living room this visit. The furniture is still earth tones, colors stolen from the natural palette just outside the front door. The couch is a new arrival, fresh from the showroom floor. The fading, glittery tiles of the ceiling have been replaced with a gleaming coat of paint, the cave-in of 2012 all but forgotten. Sprinting downstairs, I am ecstatic to see the basement unchanged. The soft shag carpet sneaks between my toes, ticking like a sheet of down feathers. The wall has become a colossal page of my grandfather's accomplishments. His hunting endeavors, pictures of notable figures he's met - including Jackie Robinson - leave lasting impressions on those fortunate enough to have known him. The open space of the basement is filled with a motley crew of weathered furniture. The creaky old beds are smothered in heavy quilts, ideal for fort construction. A homemade poker table sits by the walk-out doors, adding a beautiful distraction to family card games.
Outside the basement doors, a trio of ponds catch the afternoon sun. The calm water reflects the surrounding trees like a colossal mirror. The ponds' hatchery career has come to an end; scorching summers brought generations of rainbow trout breeding to a screeching halt. With no fish to speak of, these ponds are now home to cannonballs, snorkeling, and paddleboat rides. Buzzing like an old television, hummingbirds zip from flower to flower, extracting delicious fresh nectar. I head up the hill to the garage, hoping the golf cart is fueled up. To my surprise, the gas-powered relic has been replaced by a quiet, environmentally-friendly electric cart. Upon starting, I immediately miss the noxious fumes and screaming motor of the gas beast. The trails behind the house are freshly cut, bales of grass meticulously placed in two rows. I gleefully zoom onto the forest trails, zig-zagging for miles though Grandma's acreage. Through the twists and turns, the trail is marked with rotting stumps and fragile branches, keeping absent-minded travelers from going astray. A sharp rustle from the brush grabs my attention, and my eyes turn to the daunting figure ahead. A brown bear stumbled down the trail, disinterested in the frozen human in his wake. Like a fuzzy poltergeist, the bear vanished into the woods as quickly as he appeared. "This would be perfect time to call it a night," I thought. From outside the forest trails, I can see the sun slowly sinking below the wall of evergreens. Vibrant hues of red and orange splash across the sky like a smeared canvas. Stars begin to show their twinkling faces, no longer overpowered by the artificial gleam of city light.
Every day at Grandma's is a gamble. The snow may come down sideways, whitewashing the towering trees, or the smoldering sun can roast you like a country ham. The comforting constant will always be the beautiful landscapes and memories.