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BROWN: Growing up north: tents, cabins, cross-country skiing

• Feb 27, 2018 at 1:00 PM

In the summers growing up, I was an “up north child.” Feet caked with sand, hair uncombed and hands sticky from S’mores; I explored northern Michigan with my parents and my little brother, and sometimes our friends, the Martins.

Together, our families camped in state parks and places like the Manistee National Forest, Beaver Island and Drummond Island, or other undiscovered gems they called “rustic camping.” Rustic camping meant we dug our own toilets and bugs were everywhere. Everywhere.

On one rustic camping adventure, a spot we uncovered was actually a boat launch, so, at about 5 a.m., the cars and boats started pouring in.

In the middle of the night, we also heard a car with a bad muffler driving around in circles while a drunk guy yelled out his window, “Julie, Julie” over and over again. Finally, Mr. Martin and my dad yelled back, “Julie’s not here!” We think he drove away and passed out somewhere, awaiting Julie’s return.

On another camping trip, an electrical storm “blew over” as Mr. Martin casually flipped pancakes in the screen tent and everyone around fled to the safety of their cars. This is the same trip where my dad threw out his back, and we renamed our new tent from Sears the “Ted Williams Swimming Pool.” Every morning, we awoke to small pools of water next to our sleeping bags from the rain the night before.

We also camped on the Martins’ property while my dad, Mr. Martin and his other friends built their cabin on the Betsie River in Benzie County. They listened to a lot of Willie Nelson while they worked. If we walked by at the wrong time, we got stuck holding boards or finding nails. Creative and new expletives frequently echoed through the trees in between the whir of the drill and the saw.

Wendy (their daughter) and I were 13 years old during this time; the property didn’t have electricity or running water. We read Seventeen Magazine, rolled our eyes, frequently complained and curled our hair whenever the generator was turned on.

After the cabin was built and we were a little older, Wendy and I used to drive their old jeep to Watervale Beach. Driving across winding, tree-lined roads in Benzie County, we listened to the only cassette tape we had, the Beatles’ “Let it Be,” all the way there and all the way back. “You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches on ahead.”

With cool northern air all around us, we passed farms where no one was ever home until we got to our little piece of Lake Michigan. We spread out a sheet and quietly read books all afternoon, sipping cans of pop, sometimes looking up to watch the waves hit the shore or to talk about clothes and our hair, and make sarcastic comments about various topics.

In the winter, our families would cross-country ski down the long, snow-covered road that led to the Martins’ cabin, the only light the stars above. We couldn’t drive in because the plow wasn’t able to reach their road.

Our little group — Mr. and Mrs. Martin, their kids and then my parents, my brother and me — snapped our boots into our bindings and formed a single-file line, breaking through the snow. Each of us carried a backpack and our dads pulled sleds piled with gear.

I look up at the sky and the snow on boughs of the pine trees as we ski down the road, our bindings creaking. In the background, us kids complain of being cold, perhaps even of child abuse. Our words resonate through the woods, “What are we going to doooo up here all weekend?”

The response from our parents? Shut up and ski.

So, we plant our poles in the deep snow and begin moving forward together.

— Carrie Brown is our newest community columnist. Brown is a freelance communications professional and writer who lives in Spring Lake. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she won the Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry.

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