Northern Fantasies

Despite having been to neither city, Traverse City, Michigan and Ann Arbor, Michigan have a fascination for me. I am especially enamored with Traverse City, the smaller of the two, with a population of roughly 16,000. But Ann Arbor, considerably larger at 121,000, has special appeal, too; a college town, I imagine the diversity of options for education and entertainment is significant. By the way, I realize the winters in both places can be brutal. The average high January and February temperatures in Traverse City are 28°F and 29°F, respectively. The average highs in Ann Arbor are only a few degrees warmer; 31°F and 35°F, respectively.  But summer temperatures in both places are absolutely delightful, especially when compared to anyplace in Arkansas: Traverse City’s average summertime  high is only 80°F and Ann Arbor’s average high reaches only 84°F.

It’s not just Michigan that holds an allure for me. What I’ve read and heard about Schenectady, New York appeals to me, too. The summer and winter average temperatures are similar to those of the Michigan cities. And Schenectady has a population of only around 66,000. Plenty of other smallish cities throughout New York and Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Massachusetts, etc. may be appealing, too.

Given that my move from one sprawling house to another has just been completed, I may be out of my mind to even fantasize of moving to either place. Actually, my move has not been “completed.” Unpacking and organizing is apt to take months. And, in the throes of moving, I heard myself say “I will never move again.” Never mind. Promises to oneself are easily broken. Especially when those promises ignore the challenges of summer heat, humidity, chiggers, and deeply-engrained irrational hyper-conservatism. Yet promises need not be steadfast “either/or” propositions. Perhaps there is room for compromise, wherein promises are met, but with appropriate adjustments. Maybe the process of “moving” becomes, instead, “temporarily re-situating.” As in, living in one place for part of the year and another place for another part. Lots of people do it—people with the financial wherewithal and the temperament that enables them to adjust. They exchange the brutal summers of one part of the country for the milder, more comfortable summers of another place. Or they flee frigid winters in favor of more temperate climes.  There is enormous appeal, to me, for living in places more hospitable than Arkansas; at least part of the time. But, for the moment, I’m putting the reins on my fantasies, keeping my options to a small but manageable number. I say “my options” when I now must say “our options,” given that I am no longer utterly and completely free of ties. We have talked, off and on, about living in other places. Not since we made an enormous financial commitment to another house and invested months’ worth of intellectual and emotional energy in the move. But we have talked about it. So it’s not a new concept, dropping out of the sky like a balloon, laden with steel spikes.

I have done a bit of exploration of the fantasy cities. All of them offer the potential of friends with some common philosophies in the form of Unitarian Universalist churches/communities. Not that the existence of a UU congregation is the only source of progressive thinkers nor does it offer the assurance of suitable commonality…but it helps. All the places are small enough, but large enough, to provide interest and options. Yet the cost of housing is, like everywhere else in the known universe, rising—perhaps to unsustainable heights. Ownership is no necessarily attractive, anyway. But I have yet to explore the availability of affordable short term rentals/leasable living space.

I’ve long since abandoned the idea of pulling or driving an RV; the work involved in upkeep, not to mention the challenges of keeping the thing on the road and avoiding collisions with other vehicles are more than I want to consider.

At some point, I think one becomes too old to enjoy the excitement of change and newness. At some stage of life, the challenges of altering one’s routines and adopting new ones becomes a burden. Before I reach that point, if I haven’t already, I want to continue to experience the excitement of adjusting to new places and being exposed to different points of view. I do not want to regret having missed the opportunities afforded by changes in place and the attitudes places carry with them.

Making the kinds of changes I am considering/fantasizing about, though, has one distinct and painful disadvantage: it adds time and distance between friends. No longer would I be in a position to drive to the other end of the Village or the western edge of the state to visit friends, nor would they be in a position to make a quick trip to visit me. Visits would require extensive planning and the commitment of both time and resources. Though I think I would be willing to spend the time, money, and energy to make those treks, I doubt I would feel comfortable asking the same of friends. And, in reality, I wonder how often that might occur; not frequently, I suspect.

I thought I had completed this entire thought process before; I thought I had reached a firm, almost irrevocable decision. But here it is, again. Wanderlust might be part of it. But that’s not all of it. Part of the reason my fantasy found its way back in to my consciousness has to do with the fact that I never really gave sufficient consideration to what I’ve been seeking. And I do not know, still. It’s just something else. An emptiness in a part of me that I want to fill; but I do not know just what or where it is.


It’s not quite 5:30. I’ve been up for more than two hours, though I did get quite a lot of sleep last night/yesterday evening. I slept for two hours in the recliner in my office, thanks in large part to spending part of the afternoon on the deck, drinking gin & tonic. But that rest probably would have been necessary even without the G&T. Yesterday morning was devoted to unpacking and sorting and putting things away. That’s more draining, more demanding, than one might think. At any rate, I went to sleep and then, two hours later, I went to bed. And then, at 3:18, two hours after interrupting my sleep for a pee break, I was up for the duration. As I gaze out the window of my office, I can see through the trees tiny dots of very dim light. Morning light will be here soon. The birds will begin their morning music and I will commence my watch, attempting to spy them as they alight on the feeder outside.  This has already become a new routine for me.


And now, a diversion, as I delve into my imagination:

I pull off a long, empty highway into the parking lot of a 24-hour roadside diner, after having driven several hours overnight. I order black coffee, two poached eggs, two thick strips of pepper-laden bacon, a baked tomato, and some mushrooms cooked in just a touch of butter. Yes, this place will accommodate my desire for a baked tomato and sautéed mushrooms. And, unlike most roadside diners (and most other places that serve coffee), the coffee would be brewed from freshly-ground French roast Kona beans. The waitress, Alison Bates, is a forty-something woman reconfiguring her life after the death of her husband. She is brown and sinewy, as if she has spent her life outdoors in a physically demanding job…maybe on a farm or as a roughneck in an oilfield. But she describes a different life. She tells me her twenty-year marriage was, essentially, twenty-years of wasted time. Her husband, a salesman for oilfield service equipment, spent most of his time on the road; when home, he spent his time watching sports on television and golfing with his buddies. Alison says she spent twenty years living alone with a man she barely knew, wondering how she could escape the prison to which she had willingly, but mistakenly, committed herself. Her husband’s sudden death from a blood clot in his brain unlocked the prison gates. Though she graduated from college, she had never used her degree professionally; she had worked in administrative jobs just to stay occupied. But the money she earned was her own and she saved almost all of it during those twenty years. After his death, she took her husband’s insurance money and her savings and hit the road. She stops occasionally to explore new places and have new experiences. Like this job as a waitress at an all-night diner. She says she plans to leave here in the next few days. I ask her where she’s going. “I don’t know, yet. Any suggestions?” I suggest she join me as I head west to Española, New Mexico, where I built three adobe casitas that serve as temporary bed and breakfast getaways for city dwellers looking for something their lifestyles forgot to give them. I offer to deviate from my planned route if she’d like me to take her all the way to Albuquerque. “No,” she says, “Española is just fine. And I’ll be glad to stay a few nights at your B&B if there’s room. Incidentally, Bates is my maiden name. I kept it because I never wanted him to think he owned me.”


Alright, it’s now 6:08 and I am getting hungry. I think the meal Alison served me simply triggered my appetite. The idea of a baked tomato is extremely appealing to me. But the oven looks unfriendly and uncooperative. Plus, I still do not know where to find cookie sheets or Corningwear dishes or the like, the dishes I normally would use to bake tomatoes. So, instead, I will rummage around the kitchen and the pantry, looking for something that might calm my growing appetite. Or I may wait and suggest to mi novia that we go out and get a carry-out breakfast from a fast-food joint. Oh, the joys of living in a restaurant desert.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Northern Fantasies

  1. Janet, I hope my suggestion that decay ultimately accompanies old age is wrong, too. But I am afraid it probably is not. Either way, I want to enjoy the excitement of change and newness now, when I think I am young enough. You’re obviously young enough to enjoy them; I watch you with fascination and more than a little envy as you drink in the thrills of life. Keep doing it! Prove my perspective flawed!

  2. Janet Holt says:

    “At some point, I think one becomes too old to enjoy the excitement of change and newness.” I fervently hope this isn’t true!

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