A departing letter to Michigan
~ by guest contributor Jessica Neafsey. It was previously published on the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy blog. Images below are from Jessica’s website jessicamaris.com where she explores relationships to place through photography, design, and words. Michigan will miss her.
Year after year, your robins, chickadees and wrens have sung the start of my days; your vultures and hawks have circled the blue skies of my summers with perfect, silent poetry; your woodpeckers have drummed my every entry into your great oak forests; your cranes and geese have given raw, potent voice to each magnificent turn of season; your owls have filled my winter nights with sweet unseen mystery…
For so many years, I have dwelled upon your glaciated ground, walked your loamy eskers and moraines, climbed your soft dunes, picked up your stones and held them in my hand, in my gaze.. Stones from till, from lake bottoms, from beaches, from islands, from U.P. mountaintops, from well-known farm fields and hard-won garden beds. All of my wonder has begun here – in seeing the colors of your Earth. All of my dreams have begun here – while resting on your solid ground.
Nordhouse Series, Ludington, MI
How many times have I brought myself to stand upon and to run the lengths of your great shorelines – miles upon miles of beloved beaches – urban and wild – on Michigan, Superior, Huron… And how many times have I died with joy to immerse myself in your abundant fresh blue waters.. so cold and so sweet, from May through Octobers – even December once — and often, so often, in my dreams. Oh the midnight of Superior, the teal of Michigan, and the promise of every hue of every changing sky your waters have held… The dawns and the dusks you mirror and celebrate unceasingly, moment by moment, as if nothing else mattered. Oh to have lived here, totally surrounded by water, with shorelines not just east or west but all around – in your cradle of sweetwater coasts.
How many snowflakes have you placed delicately in my hair, in months of total surrender to the cold white wonder? How many winters has my heart entered into a trusting marriage with silence, to heal the years’ pains, to incubate dreams lying patiently dormant. How many configurations of ice and snow — falling, freezing, melting, freezing, glittering, thawing — have dazzled my eyes and awakened my deepest elemental awe, in the season of self-made light and warmth.
How many years has the power of spring awakened my spirit to the core – the scent of magnolia after a warm spring thunderstorm.. the fragrance of crabapple, lilac, of wet worm-rich earth, the scent of sun again on one’s skin… the new flood of birdsong in the mornings, the great melting of perceived boundaries along with the snow.
How your hot summers have made my body move… running your dirt roads, bending over your fields, carrying your harvests from here to there, biking downhill to a certain lake for a night swim, breast stroke out to the middle of it for the best view of the moon, with bat flight and fireflies all around…
And how many autumns have I wholly welcomed and walked into with a calm heart and a favorite sweater, going out to collect turkey feathers, red maple and sassafras leaves from the matrix of the forest floor, knowing that change is good…
And finally, how many good people are rooted here in your folds, working to protect your water, your wildlife, your fertile farmland, your forests and savannas and prairies and wetlands; as well as to fortify, beautify and uplift your cities, towns, and villages and all the people who live here. How many of them am I blessed to know as friends, teachers, healers, revolutionaries, or uncommonly kind strangers.
As I journey towards a different state, a different coastline, I bring gratitude for the years, and will do my best to bring the wisdom of Michigan to light abroad.
Jessica is native to the Great Lakes region though has recently migrated to the Monterey Bay area where she is transitioning from sweet water to salty. She maintains a website with a blog focused on relationship to place at www.jessicamaris.com