Like so many others in this day of Google maps, I have a mountain fascination. I envision taking my travel guitar, large hat, and vintage suitcase to a log cabin for a getaway with my friends. I want to snap a picture of high-altitude scene and find that perfect filter on Instagram. Maybe do some yodeling. I want to escape what sometimes seems to be oh-so-normal, impossibly Midwestern existence. And this was my chance.
We landed in Salt Lake City, got a breath of the dry desert air and started driving. We traveled through the Tetons, craggy, grey, snow-covered, rising over 10,000 feet in elevation, stretching up high above the timberline. We passed through prairies, huge, treeless and dry, smelling like sagebrush, under the biggest, most cloudless sky. We stuck our bare feet in rivers descending from snowmelt, cold, clear, with smooth rocks that you could see through 3 feet of water. It was idyllic.
I was stuck with “big sky” envy and got to thinking. Back in Grand Rapids, I thought pessimistically, we look at each break in the clouds with awestruck wonder and build ski resorts around anything vaguely resembling a hill. But almost simultaneous with my envy was the start of homesickness. Something dawned on me.
First, the isolation hit. With seven square miles per inhabitant, Montana is fairly uninhabited. At one point, we pulled off a deserted road in front of a cattle ranch. When we stood in the middle of the road, we could see for miles, but there was nobody in sight. Nobody. Nobody in the ranch either.
Eventually we did find people, namely my family. We biked, drove some more, and went shopping. They were passionate about the place, and I don’t blame them. It’s their home, but I was missed mine. I missed the countryside where isolation is not so intense, where the road wound through forests of changing leaves. I wanted to see the snug neighborhoods and bustling small towns I’d drive through on my way across 96. I missed biking on paths through the bright summer days by our rivers and even shopping at our own malls. And I missed our big lake, even when I was under that big Montana sky.
Maybe I’d shortchanged my home.
It seems that the more outsiders come to our region to review, photograph, vacation and work, the more we hear what a unique thing we have: the lake, the farmland, the towns, cities, lakes, the list goes on. People love it here.
True, we all marveled at the “dry heat” of the West, preferable to our humidity scowled at the thick, grey cloud cover, but as I drove home through the countryside with my uncle, those clouds burst into a flamingly brilliant sunset, like nothing in the dry, western skies. As I continued the drive through West Michigan, I was engulfed in thick, green foliage encroaching on either side of the road from hardwood trees: oaks and maples—trees that very soon will turn a hundred different shades in the Fall while the evergreens of the West stay green. This was home. And as I got closer to Grand Rapids, I thought of what waited a short drive away: our lake, massive, deep blue, clear, clean, rimmed around with white sand beaches and towering dunes, freezing in the bitter winters, thawing to churn through summer and fall.
True, West Michigan has nothing like what’s out there. No snow-covered peaks, no sage-smelling air, mountain lions, or rodeos. But no place is like where I live. No place has our bustling towns, rich farmland, pristine coastlines, flaming sunsets, and our big lake. It’s a marvel that we so often want to get away. The “big sky” country is certainly majestic, no disputing that. But big lake country is here, and I’m grateful for this place.