For the past three summers, we have spent a week camping at Interlochen State Park in Northern Michigan. Opened in 1917, this is the oldest State Park in Michigan and, in my mind, the most beautiful. The sites are extremely well-maintained, the bathrooms have recently been renovated (and are cleaned daily!) and–the best part–every night you can hike an easy trail over to the Interlochen Music Camp to hear some incredible performances and buy ice cream at the Melody Freeze. My parents took me camping here when I was a child. It was a favorite memory that I hoped to recreate for my children.
I love the slap of the camp store’s screen door behind my two wild-haired towheads, giddy over the superman ice cream cones dripping in their hands, a ring pop in their pocket, and maple syrup still smeared on their cheeks from morning pancakes with Pipa. (My parents camp with us!)
I love the raccoon, captured, in the beam of our flashlight, pillaging our neighbor’s trash. Chipmunks and black squirrels whose maniacal chirps echo through the woods. A pair of woodpeckers who wake us up at dawn, teaching their young how to jackhammer the trees for food.
(No critters cooperated for the camera.)
Even the rain, I love, because it forces us inside to play board games and put together puzzles. The drops sound like tiny pebbles on the fiberglass roof of our pop-up camper.
I recently read an interview of the poet, Derek Walcott, who describes why he wakes up at half-past three in his Caribbean home to write.
“That hour,” says Walcott, “that whole time of day, is wonderful in the Caribbean. I love the cool darkness and the joy and splendor of the sunrise coming up. I guess I would say, especially in the location of where I am, the early dark and the sunrise, and being up with the coffee and with whatever you’re working on, is a very ritualistic thing. I’d even go further and say it’s a religious thing. It has its instruments and its surroundings. And you can feel your own spirit waking.”
I’m sure we all have our places of “spirit waking.” Interlochen is mine. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is because this place is so connected to my childhood. But, beneath those trees, taking in those sounds and smells, observing my children having so much fun in nature, I feel my spirit waking. Only here do I begin to let loose the chords of work stress that entangle me and stop checking my email so obsessively. It is a religious thing. A summer ritual for which I am extremely grateful.