Words and Photos by Sam Brown
I wouldn’t mind sand in my bedsheets if the view was always this good. I don’t think my wife would either. We’re back North, but we never really left. However, this land and this light, isn’t like the North we call home. It isn’t reflected in brilliant blues of Lake Michigan or the dusky greens of the hardwoods. It’s rougher around the edges and takes the form of the fragrant mountain valley we pulled into last night.
If Michigan had mountains we’d never leave. The absence of elevation in our beloved mitten state is a great excuse for a road trip. Well that, and a nine-month lease.
Seduced by affordable rent on a perfect peninsula with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in our backyard, we dig our heels into an area we’d love to call home permanently, and the only way to do so is temporarily in a seasonal lease. This necessity sets the course for these annual pursuits.
For three years we’ve traded our seasonal home for sandy bedsheets (blame the dog) and excessive fuel consumption. Scouring every road and dirt two-track in our truck in pursuit of the perfect campsite, swimming hole and donut shop. This year we headed North to Montana, technically West.
Every compass heading carries a different set of expectations and flavors. The North is heavy, it is unforgiving, and intentional. You taste it in your morning coffee as the sun glints off the hoar frost on the windshield. The South – where my wife grew up – is slow, savory, and forgiving. You feel it in the cadence of your conversations at gas pumps with strangers and smell it in the hickory smoke that wafts from roadside BBQ stands.
For us, the North bears the weight and meaning of not just a place, but a sense of belonging and purpose. If you let it, a compass heading will capture your heart. It’ll seep into the marrow of your bones and keep you awake at night. A compass heading will make you forget about responsibilities that tear you away from the pursuit of something meaningful, even if it’s just a good donut or a campfire at 11,000 feet.
This is important—east, west, north, or south—no matter the direction that pulls on your sense of exploration, it’ll define your path forward in life. If it’s not an intentional decision, you’ll drift in and out of different places without the chance to really know where you belong. The only problem with drifting is when you don’t have somewhere to drift back to; back to the places where we feel grounded in the scents and sights that carry the tenacious sense of being home. The heart demands a compass heading, and perhaps the anxiety and fear that pulses through our lives is due this lack of a magnetic bearing. For us, it’s the North.
While I hope the photos that accompany this essay tug on your sense of two-track exploration; don’t forget about the imperfect moments that helped us get there. I encourage you to embrace a sense of duty, to give your heart and your life this sense of purpose — pursue the places and people where we feel home. A compass has 360 different headings and you need to get lost to find the right one.
No, you don’t have to rent a home for nine months or quit your job to find your heading. However, you must be willing to embrace the suck. To look past the tones and textures in these photos that make it seem perfect and recognize the value of the shitty days that make it all worth it.
After a few years a searching, we found our heading, where’s yours?