Cycling through Lives

words + photos by Janet Schneider


On a recent 20-mile bike ride along Torch Lake Drive in Northern Michigan, I expected to see beautiful views of what National Geographic has called “the third most beautiful lake in the world.” However, from the road, I saw very little of the lake. Most of the houses were also concealed from sight. Instead, I noticed the wooden signs sprouting at the end of driveways like mushrooms, or attached to mailboxes like antlers.

These signs contained not only the homeowners’ but their properties’ names as well. Similar to the language found on boats, these often were terms of endearment or hopeful expressions of escape, fun and abandonment.  While admiring these intricately decorated signs, I speculated about the inhabitants’ lake lives and recalled my own memories of lakeside cabin life.

From my bike height perspective, I was in the perfect position to focus on these owner-selected symbols of lake activity. It was clear from the choices made about their signs: shapes, materials, colors, font styles, and images, owners took tremendous pride in these homes. These signs were primarily made of wood, engraved with colorful scenes of lakes and their wildlife including birds such as loons, herons, or eagles. I cycled by painted images of natural settings with sand, plantings, the sky, and the sun.  I slowed down at one memorable sign, an enlarged photograph of a golden sunset over a lake.

It is common for Southeast Michigan residents to own a cabin “Up North.” Many of these have been passed down and bring to mind happy inter-generational family memories. Families travel to these special places on weekends throughout the year and in the summer. They only differ by size, location (lake access the most treasured), and amenities such as a dock, deck, screened-in porch, or remodeled kitchen.

It was a perfect day for cycling – 70 degrees and overcast in late afternoon.

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Summer at Moon Palace

by Bethany Ball

Most people associate North Michigan with snow, ice and long difficult winters.  But for me, the area is associated with Moon Palace, the summer cottage of my parents' best friends, where we spent nearly every weekend of my childhood. We passed the four-hour Friday-night drive listening to music – show tunes, folk songs, and NPR– until I’d finally drop off to sleep.

To me, coming from the city, it was as remote as the moon itself. First and foremost there were no other children—most parents waiting until real summer when the pool opens—and I am an only child. I spent my days reading Frank Baum's Oz series, which I was obsessed with, or listening to Neil Diamond tapes on my Walkman. This tiny tape deck with black headphones was, to me, probably the greatest invention ever.

When the weather was warm, I would prowl around the dense virgin forests that surrounded the cottage;  I knew every inch of them. I dragged a large section of nailed-together two-by-fours  together into a thicket of bushes and ferns. This was my house. If it rained, I would hide under the overturned canoe that was dragged up from Moon Lake. Once underneath the canoe, I imagined I could live there, though the ground was icy, and I'd have to wear my winter snowmobile boots ( great big ugly boots that I wouldn't be caught dead in if I were in the city but which kept my feet warm and dry in the forest).  I caught frogs and named  them: Fred, Franny, Frank, and Fran. Even though it was summer, ice formed in the night and early morning, before the sun had time to melt it. I walked along the ice’s edge, my feet breaking through to the shallow water below, the snowmobile boots surprisingly effective at keeping my feet dry.

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