Part I: Wanderlust
In early May, I accompanied my boyfriend to Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He was leaving Michigan for the summer for an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico. As he entered airport security and waved goodbye, I felt a pang in my chest — not just because I would miss him, but because I wasn’t the one getting on the plane.
I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world, but as my last year of undergrad progresses, thoughts about where I’m headed and what I’m going to do after school are ever-present. During high school, getting out of my small hometown was the goal. Now that I’ve done that, what do I do next? Where do I go after I graduate? Will I stay in Michigan?
I was able to get out of Ann Arbor for the first time in a while at the end of the summer. My boyfriend’s internship ended, and helping him move out gave me an excuse to visit New Mexico. I got on a plane for the first time since before starting school at the University, which was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking after over a year of living through a pandemic.
Before flying out of Albuquerque, we visited a few art galleries and walked around the city. People asked where we were from and what brought us to New Mexico. One gentleman was especially interested in where we were from and whether we planned to move following graduation.
“Why Michigan?” the man asked when I answered what my home state was.
“Well, I was born there,” I said. It wasn’t as though I had a choice in where I was from.
“Do you plan to stay there?”
“I suppose so.”
The man had just finished a spiel about how great New Mexico was, and it was my turn to defend the greatness of my home state to a total stranger. “You get all four seasons.”
“Well, you get that here, too,” he replied. “The snow here is light and powdery, perfect for skiing. None of that slush or tundric below-zero stuff.”
I gave the man the benefit of the doubt as simply being someone passionate about his home, but I hadn’t expected to be put on the spot. I wasn’t sure whether I had good reasons for staying in Michigan other than family and not knowing where else to go. I felt somewhat guilty thinking about how much I actually wanted to leave, at least for a year or two, to see the world outside of it.
I made my way towards the door, trying to find the right opportunity to leave. The man, however, was persistent.
“I repeat,” he said. “Why Michigan?”
“We have our Great Lakes.” It seemed like a far-away fact, something recited in a “Pure Michigan” advertisement rather than something I truly cared about. I gazed up at the paintings in the gallery and willed the man to stop talking.
“We have lakes, too.”
I paused for a moment. On vacation, it was easy to dream about a future where I lived somewhere else, called someplace else home. I considered what it would be like to travel all the time and not be confined to the mitten state. But there’s a difference between vacation, fantasy and reality.
I smiled, coming to my senses. “Not like ours.”
Part II: Great Lakes
Grand Haven on a hot, sunny afternoon is a delight for people watchers.
During my last visit, I watched as a little boy scampered after the seagulls who swept down to eat the chips he spilled. An old man with a solid farmer’s tan nodded his head to the sound of his radio, jamming out in a way I can only hope to when I’m his age. A young couple took a stroll along the beach, leaving wet footprints that quickly disappeared into the sand behind them. There were dogs, too, which I spent just as much time watching as the waves that fell in foamy crescendos.
And then, as the day wound down, as the sky descended into pinks and purples reflected across the shimmering lake, there was a woman. A man. A couple. A family. Everyone observed the water. Each person, child, family could have been any and all of us, soaking up the last light of the summer day.
These thoughts filled my mind in the week or so before school started. In between Ann Arbor leases, with no place to go, I took time off of work to join my friend on a weeklong stay with his family in Grand Haven, Mich. West to the edge of Lake Michigan, we visited Rosy Mound, a county park located in Grand Haven; P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, an area about five miles north of Grand Haven; and, of course, Grand Haven State Park.
Each day, we walked along the shore until we were closer to private property than the main stretch of beach. The crowds thinned the farther we got from the campgrounds, but the walk to our prime spot showcased all kinds of people who wanted the same thing: a day at the beach.
Truthfully, I didn’t visit the Great Lakes very often as a child. To this day, I’ve only visited two of the five, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The visits from my childhood are fuzzy in my memory, compiled of images of towering lighthouses and the distinct chemical smell of sunscreen. Lake Superior was cold in temperature and took half a day’s drive to get there, but the views were breathtaking. The sheer size of the lake was incredible and frightening. There was no end in sight, which makes sense given Lake Superior’s position as the largest freshwater lake in the world.
Gazing at the water from shore, the vastness of Lake Michigan seemed similar. It lines the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula while Lake Superior rests above Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I think people unfamiliar with the Great Lakes underestimate them, as their enormity results in behavior more inclined with inland seas than small lakes.
Looking at where the sky meets water, the blues melted into a hazy horizon, and I became fixated on how endless it was. I let the sunshine warm my face and sunk my feet into the soft sand. It’s moments like those that remind me the world is much bigger than my own. Michigan is not limited to my small hometown with its cornfields and tractors, nor is it limited to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. It extends beyond Detroit and its Motown, Munising and its Pictured Rocks and Traverse City and its cherries. Such things are glimpses of places and things I’ve experienced, snippets of the bigger picture that Michigan offers.
Part III: The Seasons and Great Outdoors
Back in New Mexico, the man at the art gallery told us that come winter, we would miss it there. These days, as the snow in Ann Arbor turns to slush and muddies my boots, I think about what he said. Sometimes I think he’s right. I detest driving in icy weather. I love snow hats but not what they do to your hair. It feels dark and cold for far too long, which creates a slew of other problems. Frozen pipes, windburned cheeks, you name it.
But I’ll always appreciate the first snow of the year, the hills perfect for sledding and the spontaneous snowball fights. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book and watching the snowfall, but there’s beauty in the outdoors during this time, too. The harshness of a Michigan winter gives pause to parts of the natural world around us, like mosquitoes and other pests. There are also still outdoor activities to enjoy, like ice-skating, sledding and skiing.
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without snow, whether it blankets the ground or falls gently in individual flakes. Even during the excitement of the OSU versus U-M game, I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the intricate details of the snowflakes that landed on my gloves. The wonder and beauty of a Michigan winter always conquers any inconveniences that come with it. If anything, winter in Michigan builds patience, whether that means driving slower or waiting for the last heaps of muddy snow to melt.
And then eventually they do melt. Spring follows winter, and summer follows spring. Whenever I miss the warm weather, I think about the late summer nights in Michigan that leave me spotted with small, red welts all over my legs. From Lansing to Grand Haven, Olivet, my small hometown, to Ann Arbor, it seems like there are mosquitoes anywhere there is standing water. But each of those nights encapsulates a special kind of memory of stargazing and bonfires.
Whether kayaking in the spring, swimming in the summer or visiting an apple orchard in the fall, there are so many wonderful things to love about the seasons in Michigan.
When I think about that man in New Mexico, I admit that I loved visiting his state. The nature hikes, sites and food were great. I had a wonderful time seeing a new place. But that’s what it was, someplace new. There are still so many places and activities I have to experience in my home state. Michigan offers the best of both worlds — the familiar and the new. I don’t know if I’ll stay in Michigan the rest of my life, but I never again want to underestimate my home state.
Part IV: Home
While I may not want to live in a small town like the one I’m from for the rest of my life, I admire the fact that no matter where you are in Michigan, there’s a small town not too far away. Drive in any direction and you’re bound to wind up in a rural area. At the same time, Michigan has its cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids, with a plethora of things to see and do. I could say Michigan is the best because of our picturesque views, fun festivals or unique carbonated beverages, including Faygo and Vernors. Perhaps it’s because of our Midwestern charm or the fact that we have an Upper and Lower Peninsula, making us a one-of-a-kind two-part state. Cheering as a Wolverine in a house divided (my parents and sister went to Michigan State) reminds me of the University of Michigan versus Michigan State University rivalry that was ingrained in me along with many other Michiganders even before we could talk. More than any of these things, however, Michigan is the best because it’s home.
Even though I don’t plan on returning to my hometown long-term after graduation, my house there is still listed as “home” in Google Maps. But what is home?
Home means different things to different people. Home can be the place you grew up. It can be a feeling of comfort and belonging. Home, to me, is fluid and can be any and all those things simultaneously. With my mother’s side of the family, the Philippines is my home. When I’m with my friends on campus, Ann Arbor is my home. When I visit my parents, they are home.
When I think of the memories I’ve made, people I’ve met, and life I’ve made for myself, I owe so much of it to living in Michigan. And that’s what makes it forever my home.
MiC Columnist Elizabeth Schriner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.