What it means to be a Michigander

Thanks to Chris Vernon for this beautiful guest blog post on what being a Michigander means to him.

I believe it is a spiritual experience being a Michigander.

It wasn’t while I was growing up, swimming in the waters of Lake Michigan, that I realized how privileged I was to be a Michigander.  Nor was it while I was waist deep in snow, struggling to get to the bus stop at the top of the hill, that I felt any type of gratitude for our state.  I don’t believe I felt special as I was swatting flies and sweating to death, while picking blueberries for $0.05 a pound.  It is only since I’ve gotten older, moved away, and then came back that I have become awed by our state; its deep woods and flowing rivers, its changing seasons, and its fresh fruit and vegetables.  I believe that growing up a Michigander is a spiritual experience.

It feels like I’m close to God when I’m surrounded by the four elements:  water, earth, air and fire.  Sitting near the water, with my feet in the sand, feeling the wind blow through my hair and across my skin is, for me, more spiritual then sitting in church.  Add a campfire and voila! You have heaven.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

I spent many a summer day at Lake Michigan, where the outside world ceased to exist and feelings of loneliness, insecurities, or petty neighborhood rivalries were washed away by the sounds of the waves upon the shore.  When confused, in a process of change, or in fear, I have sat on the shores of this big lake and mended, I have healed and grown.

Gnarled tree branch

Gnarled tree branch

The Earth is the second element in this spiritual experience.  Michigan is riddled with hiking trails that will lead you to its best kept secrets: waterfalls, forests, wildlife and so much more.  I’ve wandered through the dunes near Saugatuck, this dune, she is a fortress against the wind and waves of the big lake.  Granules of sand, too many to count, create a carpet of softness, tender and massaging to the feet.  Walking this path we become the dune.  The earth grounds us humans, reminding us that it’s ok to have our heads in the clouds, but to keep our feet firmly planted in reality on earth.



A storm blowing in over Lake Michigan

A storm blowing in over Lake Michigan

 The third element, air, is healing.  Have you ever been to the lake when a storm is brewing?  Oh the gulls are swooping, diving, and sitting suspended on the currents.  The wind pushes the waves that have begun to roll in pounding the sand at shore.  The clouds are coming fast, a darkness settles in, the storm is coming.  The wind can bring new thoughts and ideas, push you down paths you hadn’t intended on taking.  It can clean debris from the corners of the mind.  The air, it is spiritual.

Plants blowing in the Pure Michigan breeze

Plants blowing in the Pure Michigan breeze

 The last element is fire, it cleanses.   A campfire in the woods.   It is a process.  Trudging back in the forest to gather wood, you can hope to find branches blown down from the previous storm.  Getting it started is always a challenging task.  But, as the fire begins to crackle and the smell fills the air, serenity sets in and you realize it has been worth the effort.  Small talk, jokes, and laughter are one of the great pleasures of sitting around a campfire.  Staring at the embers as they heat up and die down, I can think.  Fire purifies things, it warms are body and heats our food.  It is an essential element and life source. Fire, is of a spiritual nature.


If you walk away from the TV, radio, and other mental static and pay attention you can feel the spirit outside.  The tranquility that surpasses anything synthetic produced by man.  An inner stillness.  It is present in Michigan in the woods, and at the lake, around a fire, and during a wind storm. Put your troubles down and join me in Pure Michigan.


Chris VernonChris Vernon is a photographer from Saugatuck, MI, who enjoys hiking and kayaking the great state of Michigan. Chris travels throughout the state every chance he can get.  If you’d like to see more of Chris’s photography, check out his online gallery.  Please leave a comment below to let Chris know what you think.

10 thoughts on “What it means to be a Michigander

  1. Your message through your photos and words are inspirational. Thank you for sharing the beauty.

  2. Chris,

    I just now viewed your blog and your gallery. Absolutely amazing. Wow. Your photos and your words are just awesome. Even though I am from the other side of The Lake, I can’t believe how much beauty it possesses. Incredible. Thank you for sharing. Nature does have an uplifting way of healing within.

    Mary in Missoula

  3. Chris,
    Your description of your state and your beautiful pictures make me want to visit. It reminds me of my home state of Montana, a place I didn’t appreciate until I was older.

  4. You have an obvious talent for reflecting emotion on a written page. Born in Michigan in the early 60′s, I too did not fall in love with the lake effect snow, black flies, humidity, and the many other wonderful things that just add to the charm Michigan has to offer. I now live in Virginia, though I still have family there, and feel as though my soul will always be there, amongst the smell of deep woods and fresh lake breezes. I hope to some day move back, as they say, home is where the heart is. Thank you Chris for a wonderful blog.

  5. “Your words echoed vague thoughts that I’ve had for the last couple of years. Grew up in southwest Michigan and moved away (to Texas – what a cultural change!) when 19. Since then with marriage, I have lived in Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and now Kentucky. My feelings of “homesickness” for Michigan gnawed at me until my husband and I planned a trip this past June to the UP and then several stops on the way back to Kentucky. This especially included camping at Orchard Beach State Park which I had not seen for about 36 years. I was apprehensive that my fond memories would be crushed by changes that so often cause regret at revisiting our past. I was overwhelmed at the beauty of the park – I was even startled to see how much the trees had grown over the decades. But the wonderful sights and sounds when walking the trail on the bluff overlooking the Lake were all that I remembered and treasured. Leaving the park 3 days later was very difficult as I took one last look at the Lake. Other states that I have lived in (and visited) indeed have their beauty but in my opinion, cannot compare to all that I remember and saw during our June vacation.

  6. This is so true as much as i hate the cold the seasons here in Michigan have the most to offer. Thank you for putting it into words for us.

  7. “It’s a bruising, shattering ride but I can not deny myself this luxury.”–Julian Cope. My heart belongs to Michigan. Thanks for the artful reminder.

  8. I too did not entirely appreciate this place while I was growing up here, in fact twice moved elsewhere, thinking I needed a change. But while I found traveling a wonderful experience, when I actually removed myself to another state to live I was surprised at how deeply I missed Michigan, how difficult it was to give up my status & self-image as a “Michigan citizen.” There IS something very spiritual about place, & Michigan is mine.
    (I only wish that more could be done — was being done — to improve our current situation; reduce the suffering so that more of our citizens would be free to appreciate the incredible natural & cultural gifts that surround them/us.)

  9. I grew up between Holland and Port Sheldon as a teenager on the lake. I picked blueberries in the a.m., and messed around the rest of the day. Everyday I recall those incredible memories. I had a red chusman motor schooter that I travelled on between Holland and Grand Haven. I grew up in G.R., went to Aberdeen, Creston, J.C., and Cornerstone. I love Michigan from April-October. I Pastored two Churches in Michigan and loved every minute of it. YES YES for the Wolverine state!!!

  10. Chris, thanks so much for reminding me of the beauty of my state. I’ve lived here for 63 years, as a child I loved every minute of being outside, summer, winter, spring and fall. As I got older I knew there was something better than this out there but stayed anyway and complained. Again as I got older I’ve traveled alot and although there are some very beautiful states out there with wondrous scenery I would put our Michigan up against any of them for beauty. Thanks again for your blog and you really should write a book about Michigan with pictures and one of our travel Michigan books or tv ads should put your blog in it!!

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