The brilliant autumn hues of the Upper Peninsula deepened this couple's faith and marital bond.
- Posted on Sep 9, 2011
Brrrr. I shivered, stepping out of the rental car into the cold Michigan night. I helped my husband, Carl, unload our bags. He didn’t say a word to me, but after three decades of marriage, I could tell that he was less than thrilled with the vacation destination I had chosen for our weeklong trip.
Carl likes it warm, and it was clear that late autumn here was going to be much colder than even the dead of winter back home on the Texas Gulf Coast. We had taken a late flight and had just arrived at our hotel in Midland.
Carl and I did a lot of things well together, but travel wasn’t really one of them. We had completely opposite vacation attitudes. I loved to wake up early and fill each day with activities and long, scenic drives. Carl’s m.o.? Sleep late, then lounge by a sparkling pool or on a sunny beach.
“I feel like a plow mule hitched to a race horse,” he’d complain.
More than once we had cut a vacation short, relieved to head home to our comfortable routines. I envied those couples who had a regular vacation spot. Carl and I couldn’t seem to agree on anywhere.
“Michigan?!” Carl exclaimed when I mentioned the idea. “That’s the middle of nowhere! You’re kidding, right?” “We have never dipped a toe in a Great Lake!” I said. “Besides, the leaves are supposed to be amazing this time of year.”
Neither of us had ever experienced a real autumn. We were lifelong coastal Texans, and the vacations we took while raising our children were always tied to summers, spring breaks and Christmas holidays.
A few months earlier, however, the manager at my new job sent me to corporate headquarters in Midland, Michigan, on a sweltering June day.
“You’ve got to come back in the fall!” my colleagues insisted, shocked that I had never witnessed the leaves turn. My first real autumn had to be in Michigan!
Grudgingly, Carl had agreed. Before we left I said a prayer: Lord, if only Carl and I can overcome our different vacation styles! Please make this trip special for us.
That first morning, I woke up early. I tugged one edge of the heavy drapes and peeked out the window. The trees in the valley below glowed red, orange and yellow like embers through the morning fog.
I shrugged on a sweater and tiptoed downstairs. I grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby and went outside. My sandals crunched against frosted blades of grass. I pulled my sweater tighter. Good thing I’d packed a jacket for Carl at the last minute.
I finished my coffee, scooped up a handful of leaves and headed back inside to wake Carl.
“Good morning,” I whispered. Carl muttered something. I sprinkled the flame-colored leaves across the pillow. “Wake up!” I said.
Carl blinked sleepily as I jerked the curtains wide. A sunbeam raced across the valley. The trees looked like they were on fire. “Wow!” Carl said, sitting up.
We set off toward Petoskey, a resort town my colleagues had told us about.
“Let’s not go straight to the hotel,” I begged. “Let’s take the scenic route.”
At Traverse City we traced the Leelanau Peninsula to Sleeping Bear Dunes. We hiked the sandy hills hugging the shoreline. I reached the top of the largest dune and got my first glimpse of the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. Even by Texas standards, this was big!
We got to our hotel and checked in. “Look,” Carl exclaimed. “They have a hot tub!”
“I guess we can relax for a little while,” I said, as we headed to our room to change.
A few minutes later I settled back next to Carl in the hot tub. “Tomorrow we should probably dip our toes in a Great Lake...?” I suggested.
“You’re going to miss this when you do!” Carl teased.
The next morning, Carl lounged and I paced like a caged animal. “Check out isn’t till noon,” he said, yawning. “Chill.”
We made it to the complimentary breakfast buffet 10 minutes before it closed.
“Let’s get this show on the road!” I exclaimed, then caught myself and asked God for patience, reminding myself our different styles is what makes my husband and me click on some level.
Finally, we got to the lake and parked. I took off my shoes and socks. “Are you sure you don’t want to dip a toe in?” I asked Carl.
Whoa! “Smile!” Carl said, lifting the camera. Click! One frozen smile for posterity, 10 frozen toes for me!
The day was one photo op after another. The road twisted through a tunnel of trees. One curve revealed a stunning vista of Lake Michigan, the next led us into a fern-laced forest populated by wary deer.
We emerged from the woods and stopped for a late lunch at the Leg’s Inn, a rustic building cobbled together from rocks and logs. A pay-per-view telescope looked out over the water. A sign read that we could see four lighthouses in the distance. I’d never seen even one.
“Got a quarter?” I asked Carl. We both took a look. Then we took a picture with the lake behind us. Click.
The next day we drove farther and dipped our toes in frigid Lake Huron, then took the long, narrow Mackinac Bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world, to the Upper Peninsula. I twisted myself like a pretzel to capture the moment through the car’s sunroof with the camera.
We followed the rural highway along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Signs fronting Mom and Pop shops all proclaimed: “Smoked Whitefish” and “Pasties.”
“Let’s make a picnic,” I said.
We picked up the meat pies and smoked fish, along with ripe Honeycrisp apples and fresh cider. We pulled into the parking lot of a church with a picnic table under the trees. We ate in silence, but it wasn’t the uncomfortable silence of that first night. Lord, thank you.
I hummed a favorite hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” This was the place we could go Carl’s speed and mine at the same time. The right trip, the right one for both of us.
The leaves rustled in the breeze. A few floated down. Carl reached out and plucked one from the air. He gently tucked it behind my ear. “You wear it well,” he said.
"Maybe I’ll take it with me to remember this place,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “you still have more Great Lakes to dip your toes in! Next autumn?”
My heart soared. “Absolutely!”
Every fall since, we’ve come back to Michigan. We’ve ridden a horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island; we’ve hiked to the root beer-colored waters of Tahquamenon Falls; we’ve eaten our share of smoked whitefish and pasties. We’ve even hung out in the hot tub of a rented cabin, then snuggled up while Texas chili simmered on the stove.
Carl and I have never felt more at home—on vacation.
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