2006.07.06 Staying at Hotel Kate

Written by David Green.


There’s something all too familiar about this. We head north to Kate’s house in Benzonia. We sleep in her basement. My pillow disappears.

The last time this happened, it was gone for two or three years before I ran across it at a later visit.

We’ve been doing this Benzonia routine for many, many years, ever since our kids and her kids were young. They grew up together—well, for two or three days a year, but not every year.

We’ve journeyed further north in the past. We’ve often camped near Grand Marais or met up with friends near Paradise. But now we never cross the bridge anymore and we don’t even make it to see dear friends in Ludington. Time is so limited and Ludington somehow seems not far enough.

We need to be Up North and that’s become Kate’s house. It’s a reasonable trip for a long weekend and it’s so easy to turn into her driveway and go “camping in”—spreading out the sleeping bags on the basement floor and getting a little rest before hiking to the Empire Bluffs or driving north into Leelanau. Kate’s place is our gateway to the north.

Her house is no luxury hotel, but it’s always been just what we’ve wanted. It’s interesting lodging because Kate is always involved in some unique endeavor.

She once put an ad in the local newspaper looking for a free house. She got a call. Someone had an old cottage to get rid of and it was hers if she could move it.

She built a foundation, rounded up some help and got the thing moved. The walls have the look of what it’s always been—an Up North cottage with dark tongue-and-groove boards. Someone told her it was a cottage kit that Sears and Roebuck used to sell.

Kate’s daughter will be a senior in college this year and her son just finished high school in the spring, but you’d never know it by looking at her walls. There’s a clock—no longer functioning—consisting of a simple block of wood, the face painted by a child.

In fact, there are two child-made clocks in her living room, along with art work made years and years ago.

Her bookcases are heavy with how-to manuals to help a person with aspirations toward self-sufficiency. That’s Kate. The more she can do on her own, the better.

She has to get someone else to cut the hay for her horse and she was only a helper when her wind-powered generator was installed last year. She can’t do it all, but she does a lot more than most people.

I associate Kate and her lifestyle with Benzonia and that part of the state, although I don’t suppose she’s representative of the area.

As the years go by, the entire region is becoming more and more associated with well-do-to down-staters who are buying up property and driving up prices.

We’re certainly not among the class building million dollar cottages, but when we visit the north, we’re pulled by the sandy Siren that grabs so many other vacationers from the south. You start to wonder why you don’t live up there. Why do we only visit for two or three days and then, with a little sadness, point the car toward the equator to return to that other life?

At this time the world no longer appears flat. We experience it as the big globe that it is and we’re drawn downward. We slowly slide down the face of it. We can’t stay up here beyond the 44th parallel.

It’s like the Mary Oliver poem in which she wants to “lay down by a slow river and stare at the light in the trees” to see what she can learn by simply watching everything go by.

But the crows spot her and call out their warning. She’s entered their kingdom. She knows she can’t stay. It’s not her world.

“And I should go now.

They know me for what I am.

No dreamer,

No eater of leaves.”

No dreamer? That’s all we down-staters do. We just dream about trying on new lives in the north, but we’re probably no eater of leaves. We only get a brief taste of this life and we don’t really know how much of it we want to bite off and digest. We’re living a vacation life and trying to extend it into something else.

So we’ll be on our way, Kate, and we’ll probably see you again next year. And I’ll be keeping an eye on my pillow.

  - July 6, 2006 
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