I had only been to northern Michigan a handful of times before moving up here. The city I grew up in, and spent most of my life, is an anomaly in the state, with three colleges a manufacturing and tech infostructure it is beyond how most of the state lives. There are the obvious advantages to a place like this, things come easily, jobs are not hard to come by, and whatever you want can be found in a short period of time. The cost of living in such a place, I am learning is high. Everything is regulated, the city sticks their nose into anything they can find. Anything you need to live you have to pay for. There is a water bill, electric, sewer, heat, and food, with little space and resources it is difficult to find any of these or make them yourself, the city holds a monopoly on water, you have to hook up to the system, and not having electricity is against local code, you can try to get by without a car but good luck on buying things like furniture. I remember as a kid buying groceries with my mom and hauling them home on the bus. This also limits how much you can buy and forces you to spend more time and money on more trips. The cost of housing is high as well, for a family to rent a two-bedroom house will set them back $800 a month and that doesn’t include the other expenses, plus that is in a bad neighborhood.
For over a decade I wanted something different for my life. For a few years I grew my own food. Even in the city I became very good at it. I grew enough tomatoes to fill the 50+ canning jars I bought at the local second-hand stores. The surplus I could not eat or store I gave away at work. I had this gardening thing down. Financially I was doing alright being out of debt except for a house but still what I could do to better my situation was limited. To go hunting at a decent spot meant a forty-minute drive to another city with public hunting land that I had to share with idiot hunters that almost shot me several times while covered in orange.
In the last few years my wife and I traveled to northern Michigan including the UP and I finally saw for myself the Michigan that everyone else saw. Pine trees as tall as buildings, lakes with fish the size of small dogs, wildlife besides feral cats, and birds that I had read about in books out never saw with my own eyes. At the age of 37 I finally saw bald eagles on the Kalamazoo River, something that had almost gone extinct in our area because of the pollution in the water. Why did I have to hunt for these things in a place that was supposed to be, by the local definition, a perfect place?
It took a disease and a lock down to make me question things even more. If I was going to be forced to stay in a place for extended periods of time with little to do shouldn’t I enjoy where I was living? Why should I rely on a place and a system that appeared to be falling apart?
It took an internet search for a cabin to bring us here. While we wanted a small place to get away for our northern adventures we found instead a house that continued to pop up in our searches, The land was what we wanted, the house was larger than what we currently owned, and It came with the cabin I am writing in now. The town is called Tustin and we had never heard of it. With a population of 230 it was close to what we were looking for with two decent sized cities within a short drive. To find anything like this in the city would have cost us more than we could ever hope to make, or save, in our lifetime. To live in Tustin is to slow down. In the fall the locals take to their deer blinds to fill their freezers,beds of trucks are filled with the cut pieces of tree trunks to be later split and dried for winter heat. Discussions at the gas station regard the trials and tribulations of fishing gone wrong, every shop is filled with taxidermy of prizes taken in years past with space leftover for what is to come. During my drives through the countryside the roads are slowed down by the large tractors hauling liquid manure that is sprayed over empty fields keeping the land fertile.
If you come to the top of a hill you can see windmills in the distance and I often wonder if any of the locals had gone off on a Don Quixote adventure hopes of reliving a grander time than now. In a way everyone here is Don Quixote, decorating their lawns with the farming and mining tools of a century ago while satellite dishes sit next to their houses
Horses and cows are not an uncommon sight here and while some stick to older ways modern life is creeping in slowly changing the landscape into what we are all trying to stay away from,
Maybe I am a fool who thinks he can somehow turn back the clock grasping at something that might have only existed in my imagination, but maybe in this adventure I can find some peace for myself and my family during a time that leaves many people questioning how we have been living our lives.