After a decade Up North, who would have it any other way?

This summer marks my 10th as an Up North-er.

Growing up in East Lansing, lots of friends and neighbors had places in this abstract Michigan destination they all called “Up North.” If we ever visited, I can’t remember. I just knew they all disappeared most summer weekends, and that was that.

“Why do I need another place to clean?” my mom always said whenever I asked why we didn’t have a summer cottage.

Fair enough.

Then I “married” into a family deeply rooted in the Up North life. They have generations of history on a slice of heaven called Sage Lake in Ogemaw County, midway between West Branch and East Tawas. So now I do too.

Most summer weekends (and many in the spring and fall), we dash out of town, Fred Flintstone-style, just after 5 p.m. on Friday and join the caravan headed north on I-75. We’re rewarded with two days of a mini vacation at our 1926 log cabin overlooking the lake.

Gradually I’ve gotten into the rhythm of the cabin season. I’m better about keeping lists of what we need to buy and pack to take up each spring (Stop with the nail polish. Why do you need so much nail polish at the lake?). I’m excited to haul out the endless parade of lawn furniture, I love the “nesting” that goes on as we move back in for six months of fun. And I even enjoy the process of closing it down for the season, ready to settle in for weekends at home in #lovelansing, catching up on all the local fun we missed while we were having our up-north adventures.

Still, I think of myself as a newbie when we get up there each spring. Two doors down from us there’s a woman whose cabin was built by her father in the early 1940s. She’s been spending summers on the lake for 70-plus years. A few years ago, she shared pictures of herself with friends in front of our cabin in the 1947. They’re such a gift, as are her stories about what life has been like at the lake all these years.

Are there chores up north? Heck yeah. And some of the work is physically harder than anything we’d do at home (yep, we still put our own dock in each spring and take it out a little too late each fall). But the payoff is enormous. The stars are too numerous to count. The water – whether looking at it or floating on it – is reliably relaxing. There still isn’t any wi-fi and our cell signal is only OK, which just means less time spent with our heads in our phones.

So, yes, it is another place to clean. It’s another bed to make. The dishes have to be washed by hand. We haul our laundry and recycling back to Lansing each Sunday. And with an 88-year-old log cabin, something always needs updating or replacing or fixing. But I’m grateful my partner instituted the mantra, “Get one thing done, do one thing fun,” so we never do too much working – or shirking.

The reward is the satisfaction of having a place we love that’s just far enough away from home to keep us from obsessing about anything we should or could be doing in Lansing. We’re too busy having fun Up North.

Now I get it.

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Sat, 05/17/2014 - 11:36am
I love this!
Robin Miner-Swartz
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 6:31pm
Thanks, Steph!
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 8:11am
I've just moved up north permanently and wonder why I didn't do it years ago. A much more relaxed style of life in a beautiful ever changing environment. I don't miss the big city at all, in fact I don't know why we live in such conditions and put up with it!
Robin Miner-Swartz
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 6:32pm
Lucky you, Nick! :)
Rick Haglund
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 9:49am
Nice column, Robin. This brought back memories. I grew up in East Tawas and worked at the Ogemaw County Herald in my first job out of college. Spent a little time at Sage Lake. I think there was a lodge and restaurant there.
Robin Miner-Swartz
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 6:35pm
Thanks, Rick. Yep, you're remembering Kenyon's Lakeside Resort. It's still there, though it's changed hands since the last time you were there. My partner's mom was a waitress there when it was a summer resort in the 1950s. It has such a great history.
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 10:26am
Hey Robin, love VISITING 'Up North'...? Then you've got to try and LIVE Up North. So way better but only for some not-so-feint-at-heart folks...!
Robin Miner-Swartz
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 6:35pm
Someday, Suz! Thanks for reading :)
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 3:41pm
UP NORTH is across the Bridge where the eagles fly and folks enjoy all 4 seasons! Marquette, Michigan is building a new hospital and already have a renowned heart care center; Northern Michigan University's Senior Citizen Scholarship for 62+; Fantastic Golf at Greywalls; Sawyer International Airport; Skiing at Marquette Mountain; and, over 50 miles of Mountain Bike Trails....
Robin Miner-Swartz
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 6:36pm
The UP is certainly a world unlike no other, Leslie. So beautiful and peaceful.
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 7:47pm
Thanks for this article-it was wonderful to read! It reminds me of the "Pure Michigan Ads" and is a great reminder that we have many great places to visit here in Michigan.!!!!
Robin Miner-Swartz
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:01pm
Thanks, John! That's quite a compliment :)
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 8:30pm
I live "up north" in Traverse City. I think that most people that come here, even to TC, have blinders on. They only see "the lake". In reality, they is lots of poverty, drugs and high unemployment. A great many that do have jobs have low wages and must work 2 or more jobs. It is only going to get worst. The city does not have enough money to repair the streets. If Michael Moore had not started the Film Festival, TC would have even more problems.
Robin Miner-Swartz
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:07pm
That's true, Byron. The Up North communities certainly have their challenges. Working in the community foundation field for the past four years has given me a glimpse into the work that these nonprofits do to help in resort communities such as Traverse City, Charlevoix and Mackinac Island. Hopefully some of the generous people who spend summers there will want to leave a legacy that helps those places as well as the cities they call home for the rest of the year.
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 11:28am
Longing for the roadtrip, the anticipation and a nice long weekend up north soon.
Robin Miner-Swartz
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:07pm
I'm counting down to the weekend already, Rebecca :)
dean Smith
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 11:43am
Ah yes, You don't have to be green and white to find the north a place of comfort. It has been equally gratifying to spend as much time as possible in the Thumb of Michigan enjoying the blue waters of Lake Huron, the fields of beans, corn,sugar beets, wheat, and scenic farm steads.
Robin Miner-Swartz
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:03pm
Absolutely, Dean. We make a point of taking at least one "Pure Michigan" trip each year to someplace we haven't been before. We've never been disappointed. We watched Fourth of July fireworks over Lake Huron last summer and loved it.
Mon, 05/26/2014 - 12:48pm
I loved your up-north story! My husband and I own and live at a Resort near Ludington . I"m blessed to feel like you all year ! We live in such a great state where lakes abound. Check out our website to get a feel for my life. Oh yes, it"s a LOT of work but very rewarding when the vacationers come and relax. Suzanne
Robin Miner-Swartz
Tue, 05/27/2014 - 2:09pm
Ooh, lucky you, Suzanne! I'm guessing you work hard and play hard over there. What a beautiful part of our state. Enjoy your summer!