I love to drive. It really doesn’t matter where or when, but there is something nostalgic about watching the horizon in the distance get closer and closer, then see it pass by shrink out of sight in the rear-view mirror. Driving reminds me that all things come and all things pass, and all things are relegated to mere memories – nothing lasts forever – and sometimes you have to slow down or stop lest you miss the point. When I was younger my drives would often lead to a trail-head to hike, some random two-track to explore, or a beach, but most often they lead to McLain State Park. This is a place that is never far from my thoughts. It is the place where many memories were formed and many relationships took root. I have walked the trails, camped in the campground, waded in the waves, watched the aurora borealis over Lake Superior, and of course watched countless sunsets.
My earliest memory of the park is of one particularly long and boring family blueberry picking expedition up the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula back when I was about 8 years old. Now, you have to understand that I love blueberries, and it wasn’t really my fault that my bucket was the only one empty…after all, it was a long drive and I was hungry…and they were there in the bucked begging me to indulge. Long story short, for the trip home I was in trouble for eating all of my blueberries. Along the way, I vividly remember this sweeping curve in the road and a big, log sign that read “McLain State Park“. I knew there was no chance of stopping since it was late on a Sunday afternoon and dad had to get up early the next morning and the cows weren’t going to milk themselves…and I was in the dog house…but I still wanted to stop and see what was there. I know it sounds strange, but in that moment a knot was tied…I hadn’t even been into the park but I knew that there was a new space created in my soul that for the moment was untouchable.
It wasn’t till years later that I finally entered the park and began to experience what my soul had been longing for. I believe that there are places that we are tied to; a kind of homeland or place where our soul was made. McLain’s is that for me. It is a stake driven deep in the ground that states, “That is who you were before, this is who you are now, and there is where you are going.” If I ever need to remember any part of that, I can go back there and find that center for my soul. At that park I’ve made friendships that last to this day. I’ve witnessed couples begin their lives together as one. I’ve been a teacher and guide for those that needed my help and I’ve been a follower in need of a leader. I’ve cried, laughed, loved, and lingered at McLain’s…I have never found another place like it.
McLain’s has less to do with the physical place and more to do with the experiences I’ve shared at that place. Each memory has become a marker…a touchstone…a signpost. A reminder to me that those experiences and those people are real and did change my life…and it happened there. I’ve had opportunities to go back in recent years and am always flooded with memories. The angst is unbearable at times. I want to stay but I know my life is somewhere else right now. Maybe someday I’ll get back there and the longing soul inside will once again experience the untouchable.