Northern Michigan Reflections: Theresa

Theresa lived in a green, pointed house down a two-track, about a mile from where I lived back in the woods. We didn’t see each other often because we weren’t that kind of women. Each to our own, we always understood, and respected the great circle of Northern Michigan woods we’d drawn around us. But there were days—mostly cool afternoons—when I’d see her coming slowly along the sandy curve of my drive; her head in a red crocheted hat made of beer cans, her body bent forward as she searched the ground for booty.

Then suddenly one day she was there, standing in my clearing, calling my name like a Ulyssean siren, inviting me out to play in the woods.

You have to understand, Theresa was one of those people everyone calls one of a kind. Someone you meet serendipitously and know you’ll value forever; teacher as much as friend.

I accepted that first invitation and then many more. With her eyes squinting hard behind thick glasses, skin wrinkled and weathered, bare, skinny arms bulging with muscle, tight body lean and slightly bent forward, she’d spot me in my window and give that arm-calling motion that meant, Come on, Girl, we’ve got things to do.

My first lesson was in morels. She’d stand very still near fallen elm trees, hands out to stop me, in my myopia, from trampling what she searched for. She’d point to the ground. I’d see nothing. There. She’d point again, a little exasperated. I’d squat and squint, scan back and forth, and know I was missing the obvious. Finding me a little funny, she would bend and put her finger on a small cylindrical mushroom at my feet, just barely sticking up from the dry leaves. I’d look embarrassed, and she’d smile in that way she had; a way of telling me it was all right. I’d do better next time.

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