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.