Growing up in Michigan is a story of winter, at least in my memory. The harshness of winter when things cannot grow in the ground and the fun of winter tobogganing at the golf course hill, snowboarding on the small hill in our backyard, sledding, snowball fights, and walking out on the big ice waves of Lake Michigan. When the trees–except for the ever-present evergreen trees–have lost their leaves and stand starkly naked against the blue sky and white ground, it is the evergreen trees that tell the story of winter. Coming back to Michigan from Illinois where I’ve lived for the past 30 years, when I see and am among the evergreen trees I know that I’m home. Something distinctive and unique about these trees in Michigan sets them apart from any other location. I love them.
Driving into the Manistee National Forest in Michigan a few weekends ago with one of my best friends, I experienced that feeling of home. We stayed in a friend’s cabin that smelled of these trees, that looked out upon these trees standing by a small lake–one of many lakes in the forest. Firs, Red Pine, Jack Pine, Hemlock, Cypress, and Spruce trees growing among the leaf trees, bring back to me all those childhood memories. Standing sparingly, separated, lined up next to each other in a forest, they can look like human sentries, keeping watch, waiting.
When I lived in Michigan, a favorite retreat place of mine called Morningstar–where I often went for retreats, including when I was eight months pregnant with Temma Day–has long rows of evergreen trees lining both sides of the dirt road entryway to the cabins. Their trunks are smooth and dark before opening up to the branches and then tapering off to the top like an arrow pointing to the sky. Walking among them is like walking among a great company of whispering, gossiping women friends. My footsteps become a part of the whisper as I walk on the fallen needles dried to form a soft carpet over the ground. The wind blows through the branches, whispering among the greens, or rushing like Lake Michigan waves. I love to stand among them and listen.
The evergreens stand watch through the changing seasons, making sure everything goes as planned, slowly dropping their needles and always growing new ones, no matter what is going on around them. They give me hope; hope for a dying world, dying lakes, oceans, forests, and protective layers of nature. Hope that the evergreens in the ground of life will continue their whispering: “You don’t need to stop and listen, but it would be best if you did so.”