Michigan smells different…

“Like we’re camping.”

The first positive words that came out of my mouth about our new home in East Lansing, Michigan were olfactory. I sat on the top step of the back deck, our 3-month-old cradled in my arms, back aching after moving quickly and sleeping badly and breastfeeding constantly, and breathed in the spicy, evening scent coming from the exhalation of old trees and the swampy-sandy soil I would soon be completely baffled by when trying to grow anything other than purslane (edible), creeping charlie (I confess I love the smell of it) or sedges (native).

I did not want to be on that step.  

My back to our unfamiliar house, my eyes wandered along the tops of the pine trees concealing the parking lot on the other side of our fence, the human-sized eastern black nightshade and garlic mustard inside the fence and the enormous wild cherry leaning uncomfortably over the fence.

This was not the step I wanted to take.

We had been living in Columbus, OH (Michiganders, stay with me) for 5 years already, and I was ready to move on. True, Columbus had a food scene that satisfied the cravings of two, older-than-30-something graduate students who enjoyed a bite beyond Chipotle. True, our dearest friends lived in Columbus and our two-year-old daughter’s first, dearest playmate: all heartbreak (hearth-break) to step away from.

But if we had to leave, I planned to go west, all the way to the coast where I could stand and spit into the Pacific Ocean on any given day, as my Grandpa would say, or at least a river that ended up there. Somewhere between Oregon and Canada.

Instead, we went roughly 3 degrees North and 2 degrees West from the middle of Ohio to the middle of Michigan.

Columbus, OH:
39.9612 N by 82.9988 degrees W
East Lansing, MI:
​42.7370 N by 84.4839 degrees W

People refer to Michigan as “the mitten.” There’s a reason why they do. You need them. Winters are cold. And long. I’m writing at the end of April and last week we had an inch of snow. No one gets their hopes up above freezing until the middle of May. 

Oh, and Lower Michigan is a mitten-shaped peninsula, a wool-wrapped hand gently patting the frozen waters of the Great Lakes.

Michiganders do that thing where they hold up their hand in the shape of a mitten, fingers together, thumb out, and point to where they live. I swore I would never do that.

We bought our first home right in the middle of the mitten. Hold out your right hand facing away from you, fingers together, thumb out to the right and put your left pointer finger in the middle of the palm of your left hand. There we are. Dead center. Oops.

When I did the mitten thing for someone the very first time, my thumb, meant to be representing the Blue Water Area of Michigan (think Flint, Detroit, Motown, light houses, St. Clair River flowing into the largest fresh water delta in the world and driving south to Canada) pointed the wrong way. It was sticking itself into Lake Michigan instead of Lake Huron, looking to hitch a ride West (wait, is that right?).

I was inwardly rebellious of the entire lower mitten, not to mention the other one above it.

What’s the big deal with the cherries and the apples? I grew up in Eastern Washington with plenty of apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and grapes. Washintonians also say “pop” instead of “soda” and we never drink either one with something called a Pastie (short “a” sound, not long). Trolls and Yoopers (no comment)? I tried it, and Superman ice cream is gross (Michiganders can throw some at the screen if you like). Can the Great Lakes compare with the Pacific Ocean? Why does everyone casually mention they’re going up North to their cabin for the weekend? What’s up there, and why does everyone have a whole other house, excuse me, cabin? Why can’t I just turn left without being forced to first turn right?! Do I have to love Sparty (my daughter fell in love the minute he mimicked her picking her nose at an MSU baseball game) or the Lions (I grew up loving Seahawks)? Will I need to learn Euchre (my husband’s family plays Pitch, for all you Nebraskans out there) or how to cross country ski?

Not           my            step

I eventually pulled my daughter close, got up from the top step of our deck, went upstairs and opened the bedroom window of our 1948-built home that first night, and almost every night after, because the air smelled good. Even though we lived in the middle of East Lansing in the middle of Michigan in the Midwest, that smell in the air was annoyingly, invitingly, invigorating

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