When I tell people that my folks live Up North, they invariably ask me if they live on the lake, or in Traverse City, and I know they are imagining a resort community with discreet mushroom colored cottage-type baby McMansions. Boat shoes and white docks. I laugh and tell them no, and leave it at that. I can’t imagine moving Up North to live around the same kind of people in the same kind of houses and clothes that you escaped downstate.
Benzie County – last time I checked – had 1 stoplight and my folks live in a small town filled with hilarious small town stories and characters. I have signed informal confidentiality agreements with my privacy-loving parents, so I cannot reveal either the town or the stories, but suffice it to say that the tales of local government alone would fill a tragicomic novel. The scenery is spectacular – pine woods and small blue green lakes, white sand and brown rivers, dunes and forests. My mom thinks a Sasquatch might just live in the dead stream swamp. Blue sky and cherry orchards, deer grazing in the fields, turkeys ambling out of the thickets. My mom’s garden is full of poppies and daisies, foxglove and iris nodding over a white picket fence that my dad made. His workshop is in the pole barn, equipped with a radio perpetually tuned to NPR and a small woodstove, and his carved owls, bears, and decoys line the shelves. In the winter, the locals ride their snowmobiles down to the local bar, and if there’s a band playing, you can hear it all the way down Main Street. At night, the coyotes may just come down from the fields to pace the back alley and wake you up with their squabbling. I wouldn’t mind retiring up there someday, if the boat shoes and baby McMansions stay away for awhile.
If you’re ever in Benzie County, a couple of local places for you to check out.
You would come for the soaps and candles, and stay to soak up their beautiful farm gardens. Nothing is artificial or structured – the flowering trees, herbs, bits of art and garden spaces all seem to have naturally grown and flowered in perfect symmetry. There are observation hives and other brightly painted bee boxes set around the gardens, and the steady drone of the occupants coming and going is carried on the breeze along with deep tones from the many windchimes. The little store and workshop are in the snug barn, behind a wide open porch set with cushions and rocking chairs. This is a business that grew up out of a passion and a lifestyle – keeping bees and making soap and candles and coaxing life out of the world around them. This business makes you feel quite certain that you are getting pure, whole ingredients – exactly the kind of place where I want to put my money. The store smells like pollen, dried herbs and flowers, and beeswax; their gorgeous soaps imbue everything with their natural perfume. I store them in my linen closet or in my drawers before I use them and the sunshine smell to me is always Up North.
PS – they have a mail order business too, link above. My favorite soap is the classic Pollen Pleasure but I also love the Peppermint Patch!
Beautiful Mission-style tasting room in which to sample meads and estate wines under the watchful eye of the bee goddess. They use local grapes and honey from the apiaries at Sleeping Bear Farms (here’s a cool video, if you are interested in bees and their winter travel plans) and are very generous with their samplings (if you check in on Facebook from their tasting room – which can be tricky if your provider isn’t robust, they’re a ways out in the big blue country – you get a free wine glass!) I’m definitely a wino (hahaha – ahem) and enjoyed their reds, but at their coaxing, I sampled some meads. Mead isn’t usually my thing, but I came away with two “howlers” of draft mead – both light and bubbly and refreshing – the ginger and an apple cider type and feel quite pleased as they’ll refill the pretty brown glass jugs for a significant discount, if I bring them back.