'Up North' remains special

I shared a tradition with my children this past weekend that has been in my family for generations -- and yours, too, if you grew up in Michigan: a trip Up North.

Every summer, my parents would pile my brother and I into the Fairlane and we’d drive to a little cabin on Island Lake, just outside Rose City. Back then, the drive took forever. Luckily, there were lax safety laws and I could sit on the floor of the back seat and play Hot Wheels until we got there. The only trouble occurred when my brother moved his stuff onto “my side.” Swift and brutal retaliation was my only option.

We stayed at the “Island Lake Resort,” which was nothing more than seven tiny cabins in a row with a playground and a beach stuck at one end. It was the perfect size for a bunch of little kids to tear around for a couple of weeks. There were no motors allowed on the lake, and it was dead shallow, so my folks could relax with their friends while we fished and swam and explored the woods.

I caught my first fish on that lake: a perch. My dad cleaned it and gave me the scraps to throw away. I couldn’t bear to part with the head, so that went in my pocket for the rest of the day -- until my mother caught a whiff of me.

So I decided to take my kids up and see if it was as great as I remembered. I wasn’t disappointed.

Beside the fact that I couldn’t get over how incredibly small everything was, it looked just how I pictured it. We rented a cabin across the lake from the resort (which is -- sadly  and not unexpectedly -- owned by the bank now) and found an outfit called Big Mike’s Canoe Rental that was willing to deliver and pick up a canoe at a reasonable price.

We spent our days fishing and swimming and exploring the woods. We cooked all our meals over a campfire. And, best of all, I was finally old enough to canoe out to the island in the middle of the lake and have a look around. It was just as cool as I suspected it was when I was 7 years old.

We paddled across the lake and had a look at the resort, and I took a load of pictures for my brother. Besides new decks in front of the cabins, it’s identical to the way it looked 35 years ago, right down to the ancient playground equipment I always hurt myself on. (My daughter continued the family tradition my plunging off the teeter-totter.)

We had a ball, as we always do when we go Up North. It’s one of the best reasons I know to live in the state. I’ve lived other places, but none have a wilderness playground in their back yard, ripe for exploration and discovery.

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