DRAFT #5 11-16-2014
As iTunes shuffles through the “Ride to Michigan” playlist my dad and I know the road to Neahtawanta is just around the next bend. Soon we will be winding along Peninsula Drive past cherry and apple trees, fields climbing with hops and sunflowers and hillside vineyards whose grapes will soon be harvested. We are moments away from ascending the hog back and drinking in the turquoise East and West Bay views of Lake Michigan.
The time in summer has arrived where my Dad and I road-trip to the northern tip of Michigan to spend time with our relatives in Neahtawanta. Beyond the natural beauty of the place, it’s the multi-generational nature of our daily lives that makes Neah so special. You see, it’s not just my immediate family, but grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins and life-long, summertime friends and their relatives that make it so distinctive. These relatives and friends come together each summer to live, love, laugh and play on Lake Michigan during the day and each cold Michigan night tuck in to century-old, un-insulated cottages.
All year long, no matter where I am, I can close my eyes and picture the last hour and a half of the trip. The warm, fresh air coming off of Lake Michigan is always recognizable. Seeing the same cottages and docks I’ve been looking at since I can remember creates a nostalgic feeling. The overwhelming anticipation to make the most of each and every day and night is our number one priority as we have limited time.
When the asphalt changes to dirt road, I know I am truly in Neah. I jump out of the car to greet and hug everyone. My brothers and I sprint off to see everyone I haven’t seen since last summer. These reconnections seem to be more and more heartwarming with each passing summer as I’ve been growing up with them since I was a baby. These people, this place and the views create a suspenseful feeling.
My mom’s 50th birthday celebration is tonight. Family and friends are nestled together under the Pavilion at West Bay enjoying Frogmore Stew cooked on the open fire. When dinner ends and my mom has blown out the last candle on the cherry crumb pie, she surprise us with a gift. Mom combed the beaches for a special stone for each of us. She wants us to make a wish on this stone, to carry it with us for the next year, to remember just how special a place Neah is and how blessed we are to have one another. To remember family, friends and Neah until our return next summer. Another day in Neah ends as the purple and orange sunset turns to star-filled skies and we head back to the cottage to snuggle into our wonderfully cramped bedroom: 1 room, 3 beds, 3 brothers for 14 years. Wake and repeat.
Boat rides to Suttons Bay for burgers. Wakeboarding on smooth waters at sunset. Day trips to Great Bear sand dunes with a Bad Dog Deli picnic. Jumping off a 15 foot dock on Power Island. What makes every memory better, is having your family and closest friends with you. Words fail to accurately describe the atmosphere of Neatawanta. The natural beauty is the easy part. What’s hard to describe is the presence of some instinct that draws us back along some ancient migration trail as families return summer after summer to share the same tiny patch of sandy land on Lake Michigan.
The best part of Neah is knowing I will be in Northern Michigan again next summer seeing, hearing and feeling new memories being created with the people I love. A feeling of knowing I will be going to Neah for the rest of my life is exciting. I have never felt more at peace than I do in Neah. Neahtawanta will forever be known as a sacred place to me, myself, and I.