Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Up in Michigan
In the late 1970’s we discovered skiing and, shortly after, a funky little ski area up in Michigan called Caberfae. We’d drive up most Friday nights in the winter, all bundled up but freezing, nonetheless, in our virtually heatless orange and white Volkswagen van, arriving at the Eidelweiss Lodge well after midnight. But we were always first in line when the lifts started running at 9. We loved standing at the top of the hill in the cold crisp air, the pines hazy with frost, then zooming down the freshly groomed slope to the T-bar…to do it again and again and again. We never quit (except for a quick lunch) until the ski patrol stood at the top of the slope at 4:00 repeating, “Last run, last run.”
We skied at Caberfae so much that we made friends among the locals, and we hung out with them, evenings, in the bar at the lodge, where a band (renowned for its lead singer having once been acquainted with the early sixties singer, Del Shannon) did a show every Saturday night, complete with flame-throwers that pulsed wildly to the beat of the music and that I realize now were so dangerous that God himself must have taken on the responsibility to keep us all from being burnt to a crisp.
When our friends, Carol and Waddy, invited us to come up for the Fourth of July weekend, we jumped at the chance to see the ski area in a different season—and we fell in love all over again. The white world of winter had turned green, green, green—from the leaves of countless different kinds of trees to the yellow-green weave of meadow grasses, blue-green pine needles and gray green water. The Christmas lights were still strung across the street in Harrietta, the tiny town where they lived, perfect for creating a festive atmosphere for the town dance on the Fourth of July.
The Saturday night before we left, we went out with our friends, along with Carol's friend George and his brand new wife. About to move from Detroit to Washington D.C., they were in town to make arrangements to put George’s ski chalet up for sale. “What are you asking?” Steve wondered. “Forty-five,” George said. “But he’d take thirty,” said his new wife with a sly smile. Steve laughed. “Shit, for thirty I’ll take it!” he said. Then, in the morning, woke, turned to me, and asked, “Uh, did I buy a house last night?”
Of course, we didn’t really have to buy George’s chalet, just like he didn’t have to sell it for the price his cute new wife had quoted. But we went to look at it the next day, did the math, and figured out we could (just barely) afford it, and George, probably wisely, since it was clear that his wife was anxious for him to dump the house where he’d entertained a legendary number of women before marrying her, decided to let it go at that price. So we found ourselves in possession of George’s bachelor pad—complete with orange shag carpet, beds, dressers, and a fully furnished kitchen. Fortunately, the white leather sectional and moose head were not included. (What in the world did he do with them?)
It’s been an alternate existence for us ever since, a place where time slows and we remember what matters. Sometimes I go there alone to write...day after delicious day after day with nothing but words! Inevitably, this real alternate world make its way into the alternate world of my fiction. Emma, the narrator of Everything You Want, flees there when she leaves college. “It’s nearly midnight when I get to our little ski house,” she says. “It’s so quiet here. The sky is black, black, black, sprinkled with stars, and standing beneath them, looking up, I feel lighthearted, full of good intentions.”
Exactly as I feel myself, arriving with time and solitude to write stretching out before me.