If you see a whole thing—it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives . . . But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern.
—Ursula K. Le Guin
I could not have agreed more with that sentiment a couple of weeks ago. Life was feeling messy and overloaded with too many appointments, meetings and projects pulling me in different directions.
I had definitely lost the pattern.
I went for a walk to clear my mind, and as I walked, a voice in my head kept saying, Time out!
I thought I was taking a time-out, but apparently a half-hour hike through the woods wasn't enough. I needed a getaway. Ray, too. He'd been feeling burdened with his own set of stressors.
Yes, I realize we live in the kind of place people come to for a getaway. But no matter where you live, everyday life has a way of making your haven feel like a workplace, and the only way to hit reset—to find the pattern again—is to go away for a spell.
Fortunately, Ray and I already had been planning (in the loosest sense of the word) a getaway for later that week. The idea was to pick a not-too-distant destination, head in that direction and follow our whims along the way.
Our chosen destination: Bay City, Michigan. I know what you're thinking. Bay City? Why drive two hours east to a sleepy little town on a river when we've got Lake Michigan's splendid shoreline and charming beach towns just a Petoskey stone's throw away? But we've been to all those beaches and towns, some of them many times, and while we never tire of them, we know exactly what we'll find there.
We'd never been to Bay City and had no idea what it had to offer except, according to a flyer I'd saved from somewhere, Michigan's largest antique mall.
So we packed a bag and set off—a straight shot across mid-Michigan that ended at Bay City's Water Street. The street runs along the east side of the Saginaw River and boasts not only the acclaimed antique mall, but other shops, an arts center, and Bay City Motor Company, where you can buy a beautifully restored Corvette, Thunderbird or other classic ride if you happen to have a whole lot more cash than we were willing to part with.
We whiled away the afternoon browsing in shops and late-lunching at Tavern 101. Then, as evening spangled the waterfront, we strolled along the river toward Wenonah Park, where we soon would get a glimpse of what may be Bay City's greatest asset. And I'm not talking about the park itself, though it's lovely.
As we walked, we noticed a few bicyclists headed in the same direction. Then a few more . . .and more . . . and more. By the time we reached the park, it was full of cyclists—not the hardcore variety in tight jerseys and funny-looking shoes, but regular riders of all ages, all seemingly waiting for something to begin.
That something, it turned out, was a group ride—the first of the season's weekly rides. As we watched a hundred or more riders take off en masse at the designated time, I was heartened by sight of so many people enjoying a fine evening together (and—let's be real here—most likely stopping for beer along the ride route).
What a treasure, I thought, more valuable than anything for sale in that colossal antique shop!
We found more evidence of Bay City's community spirit the next day, when we explored the Riverwalk on the west side of the river. Riverwalk got its start thirty years ago, when the Bay Area Community Foundation raised $1.5 million for its initial phase: a pier built over concrete abutments left from a 1911 railroad bridge, and the first part of the walkway that now stretches north to Bay City State Recreation Area.
The walking/bike path—well-traveled on the day of our visit—passes through a twelve-acre arboretum that bears the name of the late Leopold Kantzler, a businessman and philanthropist who established a foundation in his will to enhance the community and support charitable programs for the people of Bay City.
Small gardens dot the arboretum's rolling landscape. Businesses, community groups and individuals adopt plots, choosing their sites and designing, planting and tending their gardens year round.
In one garden, we spotted a plaque inscribed with this quote from Margaret Mead (a girlhood idol since my days in Samoa, by the way):
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has.
I can't vouch for the whole world, but thoughtful, committed citizens surely have made a difference in Bay City's riverfront.
The arboretum and gardens occupy the spot where a world-class shipyard once stood. Workers built and repaired wooden vessels at the dry dock until the early 1930s, when steel ships made their wooden counterparts obsolete. The dry dock slip and the rudder of the steamship Sacramento are preserved in the park as reminders of Bay City's shipbuilding heritage.
Those aren't the only links to the past. Along the Riverwalk are historic buildings with signs telling their stories--more evidence of a community working together to honor the past while giving new life to a once forsaken area. As we walked, I felt connection and gratitude toward the people of Bay City who created the place that was bringing me so much peace.
On the drive back to Newaygo, I felt renewed, lighter. Home, when we arrived, felt like a haven again. Even as I plunged back into projects, I didn't see drudgery and mess any more. I saw possibilities. And yes, a trace of the pattern I'd lost.
When do you feel like you're losing the pattern? What do you do to get it back?
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.