First, let me say I LOVED every single question/topic you sweet people sent my way, and will be doing my best to answer most if not all of them in the days and weeks to come. But Jody, your questions got to me — maybe because I feel like we switched places (quite literally). Jody grew up in the U.P. and moved to West Michigan and now cannot imagine living where I do. She wondered how it’s been for us here and if we miss where we used to live and its conveniences and lifestyle. I want to include information about where I now live because I do feel like it is unique and fascinating, and largely unknown and will do so more in time.
We moved to the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan coming up on SIX years ago! I cannot believe it’s been that long in one way, but in another, our former life in West Michigan (the mitten) seems like a different lifetime and looks so different when we have gone back. This branch of my blog is the least guarded so I’m going to be honest with everything I say about both places and hope that you understand it is just our experience.
We lived in a small town downstate, and we raised our children there. We lived minutes from Lake Michigan and had a ranch house that was the essence of suburban life. We loved our epic beach and the small-town-feel in farmland. We were riding our dirt bikes in little circles in our tiny little patch of woods behind our house and occasionally, trailering them to trails somewhere north. We weren’t allowed to have chickens on our couple acres because it was technically city limits. The rules, the limitations, the taxes, the pollution, the too-many-people, the culture of competition in everything from churches to lifestyles — they were all starting to feel stifling. We had all always gone north (anywhere north) as most Michiganders do to BREATHE.
Originally, we were looking for perhaps some property to play on in the U.P. All we knew (and all anyone we knew knew of the area north of the Mackinac Bridge) was that it was snowy. The more we looked at swamp-land in eastern and central, the more the dream developed into farther west locations. Our first offer was on a fixer upper with the most gorgeous property we had seen. We started some crazy dreaming about possibilities. Could we LIVE here? That property didn’t work out. We tried more options that didn’t work. My son showed us a house in the western U.P. and I was 100% against this region that was so far west, so isolated, so unknown, so SNOWY! The house, however, had appeal. We literally knew NOTHING about this place — none of our family had ever been here. It was in the same state and a 10 hour drive from our current home!!
We visited in February when the snow was up past the windows at the Culver’s in the closest town. The house had snow like we’d never seen. The land was vast and drew us while it intimidated the crap out of us. We had so much to learn. But we jumped. We committed before we had a clue what we were getting into. We were moving to a place with no shopping malls that was about twenty years behind the times in most areas, and I was convinced restaurants would be a thing of the past. We’d have no real neighbors, no friends nearby, no idea about the daunting and downright terrifying feeling of living in a place so far from help should we need it for any reason.
We had road-tripped 48 of the states and seen some other pretty amazing locations in this world with our kids. We found we loved mountains and vastness and scenery and everything off the beaten path. And we realized we could never live far from one of the Great Lakes.
In moving here, what we found was tranquility. We found Lake Superior which lived up to its name in every way. We found ourselves centered among three incredible mountain ranges (who knew Michigan had mountains!). We found vastness and scenery. The Joneses were gone. We were not exactly welcomed (Jody asked). The people groups here are tightly knit and a bit inclusive — certain religious groups are prevalent. Finnish people settled here in a big way, old Yoopers don’t love new folks, there are a lot of engineers in town due to the University nearby and they do their own thing, Native Americans have a reservation here, and the towns can be very clique-ish to themselves. We also found a very crunchy and eclectic group which surprised us and really filled a need for us with our food and health choices we’d been growing into leading up to the move. Having said all that, we also found a sense of Yooper pride and community that goes above and beyond anything we have previously experienced in the way people help someone in need whether its alongside the road or in a life crisis. It’s more of the way your grandparents or great-grandparents did things and it’s remarkable. Once you’re in, you’re in.
It’s diverse and special here.
We’ve explored dozens of the the hundreds of waterfalls. I’ve taken more stunning pictures here within minutes of our home than I can count. We are FREE! We once rode our off-road-vehicle into town (45 miles) via a trail system and crossed five lanes of traffic to go into Sears (we were so covered in dirt no one would have recognized us) to buy a refrigerator! We have chickens, ducks, and geese. We have survived record-breaking winters — average snowfall here per winter is 200- 300″ (and we are in a section called Big Snow Country!). We have enough land to sustain and maintain a deer population from which we can harvest deer yearly. We target practice off of our back porch. We swim in the largest, purest freshwater body of water in the world and drink untainted water from a well 180 feet deep. We have awesome wild animals to hear and see and be genuinely afraid of! We feel alive here. We work hard — everyone does to survive. There’s a mutual respect for that hard work and the sense of community that comes from it is earned rather than judged or competed with.
The food kinda sucks. Haha. At least where we are. I rely on travel and my own cooking to fill that gap. I almost opened a farm-to-table restaurant about it a few years ago (even drew up a business plan and talked to the bank!), but so glad I didn’t step as now I’ve learned that the people groups I spoke of before would have blacklisted me and it couldn’t have worked.
Jobs are scarce here, but my sweet man has his own business that allows him to work from home. The rest of our family has scrabbled hard to find ways to make a living, but they’re doing it! And doing it well! But it’s hard! We shop online for most everything — all the way to wedding outfits and a lot of our food. And we have gotten very used to a 3.5 hour drive to go to the mall or the zoo or a real museum.
Our faith journey has been interesting here. Not many folks so far have thought/believed/experienced what we have. We have been so very glad God prepared us to know Him independently until He drew some like-minded folks to our table. There’s just not a church on every corner and if there is, it’s not what we knew.
But its ours. We are all feel so called and so content here that there’s just nowhere else that could ever take its place. Most people we know who grew up here (true Yoopers) couldn’t wait to leave and found themselves back at some point. It gets in your blood. We are considered Troopers (Trolls who transplanted), but our hearts are so in it that we dub ourselves Yoopers and hope we earn the name somewhere along this quiet path.
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