How You Know You’ve “Experienced” A Place

It’s been a while since I’ve felt dwarfed by the land. That’s the predominant feeling when I think about my native Oregon. Dwarfed; like you couldn’t possibly take it all in during one lifetime. For some, being surrounded by wilderness so vast is the very definition of fear. For me, it may in fact be the definition of home. But home right now, of course, is on the road. I have no desire to stay put for any great length of time. I stumbled upon this lifestyle of taking in as much of a place as possible in a very short amount of time, then leaving for the next great thing. The landscape—its curves and lines, its flora and fauna, its colors and smells—feeds my writing more than anything I know. The people who walk the land—the cadences of their speech, their nuances of language, the stories and legends they hint at—are second only to the land. When I return from this family trip, I’ll have roughly 8 weeks left at Interlochen. The time will come when it’s warm enough to swim in the very lake I snowshoed across all winter. The time will come for my first dip into a vast Great Lake. Looking out across Lake Michigan, the predominant feeling I have is one of confusion. The lake is so vast, my mind refuses to believe the logic of its freshwater. “There’s no smell,” I told my colleague AMO one afternoon. “It looks like the ocean—sandy beaches, deep blue water, seagulls, the whole bit…and yet, there’s no smell.” She paused for a moment, then smiled. “But there is a smell,” she said. “It’s just not salty.” I’ve visted the lakeshore a handful of times since that afternoon and I still can’t smell anything. Surely there must be something, but my mind has yet to put words to the sensation. I guess I’ll know I’ve truly arrived in Michigan once I can describe the lake’s smell. I suppose, also, the fact that I’m 1,100 miles away from the lake on a family trip and still thinking about it, is a testament to its powerful hold on my psyche. I like knowing there are still mysterious yet to unfold.

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