The Up North State of Mind


The calendar in front of me says that summer officially begins on June 21st, but here in Michigan, the real start to summer has to be Memorial Day weekend. Although Mother Nature may not always be in agreement (truthfully, she’s RARELY in agreement, sending snow, rain, wind, and freezing temps for Memorial Day many years), hundreds of thousands of Michiganders greet the Memorial Day holiday with open arms, open windows, and full campers.

I remember once reading one of those “You know you’re from Michigan if…” forwarded email messages that contained the gem “You know you’re from Michigan if you go ‘Up North’ for every possible holiday.” Okay, so I’m not sure I fully agree with that, but a true Michigander would definitely head north for all the major summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Since Memorial Day is the first of those holidays, the harbinger of summer after a too-long winter, the chance to escape to the Great North of Michigan is too much to resist.

I was once asked by a friend at grad school way down in Ohio just where “up north” is in Michigan. That’s a tough one to answer—even with my trusty map.

Most people would probably assume “up north” refers to the cardinal direction North, literally getting in a car and driving northward. Now, don’t get me wrong. On Memorial Day weekend, people in Michigan DEFINITELY pack their cars, load the campers, stock the boats and hit the road. If you’ve ever accidentally ended up on I75 headed north on a holiday weekend—okay, any weekend in the summer—you might think the entire population of the state is migrating northward. Every campground from West Branch northward seems to fill to capacity by Friday night, and the familiar acrid smell of campfires wafts as far away as Ohio, I’m sure. If you’re not headed north, you’re probably laughing at those who are, sitting on lawn chairs in your driveway watching the endless line of traffic, taking part in this ritual of “heading north” even without leaving your own house.
Who wouldn’t like to escape every now and then? Who wouldn’t want a little “up north” every now and then? I’m of the mindset, though, that “up north” is about something much more than a direction. For me, going up north is all about escapism—a chance to get away from the daily grind and reconnect with family, friends, nature…. Remember that old 80s’ haircut the mullet? The saying that went along with the look was something like “Business in the front; party in the back.” “Up north” for me is a lot like that haircut: Work hard down here during the week; head north to play harder during the weekend.

What’s your favorite “up north” memory—whether you’re from Michigan or not?