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On Living in the Woods

My home town in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula is so tiny it's easy to ignore it as you drive through--if you even do that. Since it's not on the road to anywhere important, most people never see it as they whiz by on I-75, miles away.

Residents often field questions like, "Where's your Wal-Mart?" or "Why can't I find your McDonalds?" Answer: There isn't one.

I don't even live in the "city." Our home is a few miles out, on a side road that has no name, only a number. The house is surrounded on three sides by trees, mostly big maples, that screen us from wind and sun except what comes from the south.

People who don't know ask, "What do you DO up here?" They comment on living so far from cultural events, hospitals, and shopping. I've listed some things I do, though others could name more activities, maybe better ones to illustrate why we live in our chosen location.

I enjoy the land. Any time of year, it can be my choice to walk, ski, or slog over many acres of land I know intimately. Often I share my walk with deer, sometimes with elk or smaller critters: raccoons, porcupines, and skunks. We try to respect each others' territories.

I listen to the trees. Trees never gossip, and they're pretty positive entities. A few of them groan at the pains in their trunks, but mostly they simply vibrate to the tune of nature, reminding me that the world goes on, even when I face setbacks and sadness.

I visit the creek--or the dry creek bed. Part of the year, a tiny little runnel crosses our property, chattering softly and disappearing into the ground after a quarter mile or so. It's a little miracle I look forward to on my walks: How big will it be today? How fast will it flow? When it finally dries up in summer, I'm always a little sad, because it's so very, very cool to see it grow and recede.

I grow things. Actually my husband does most of the work, since my back no longer tolerates much low-to-the-ground bending. Still, I hoe a little, plant a little, and pick when it's time. There's not much that can beat a meal of foods you coaxed from the earth and waited for.

I putz. My yard isn't as ambitiously flowered as it once was, but I work at it, trimming bushes, planting annuals in colors that make me happy, and--always and ever--pulling weeds.

I write, of course. In fact, I write a lot of the time. Still, it's reassuring to know I can pause when a plot knot irritates me and do one of the things listed above for a while. The plot problem usually works itself out while I'm doing something else.

Finally, I enjoy the privacy. Many people enjoy the sense of community living in a city provides, but I'm not one of them. While we're always happy to see those who drop in, we don't get company very often, and we're okay with that. If I sound hermit-like, I guess I am, a little bit. But right outside my door there's so much to do that I'm okay with being a hermit, at least part of the time.


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