In the following essay, Emily Tyra talks about her unwavering love for Michigan despite a move across Lake Michigan. Find the original story in the May 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
I moved to Milwaukee from Michigan on a boat. My husband pulled the giant Penske rental truck, the longest that a civilian can drive, up to the ferry dock in Ludington and the crew maneuvered it into the cargo hold. So we set across Lake Michigan with all our earthly possessions in the bowels of the S.S. Badger and had a cold pop on the poop deck, with the eerie feelings of water all around us and not knowing what we’d gotten ourselves into.
It was crazy, leaving Traverse City, which you must have heard from the Top 10 lists is pretty much the most amazing place: a storybook downtown, cherry orchards, wine trails, breweries, incredible chefs, festivals, woods and water and sand and fun. I had only been to Milwaukee once before. My husband had never set eyes on it.
I had a new job. We were doing this.
And I’m going to be honest. At first it was torture, being on the other side of Lake Michigan. This side was rocky and cold. There was no sunset over the lake, and even worse, there were no pals to go watch the sunset with. It was the right body of water, but everything felt warped and backwards. It was like looking in a funhouse mirror, all the time.
But soon we found a cute house, met some wonderful neighbors, started real friendships. If you are going to move from Michigan to another state, Wisconsin is about as comfy as it gets, people-wise. They have the same basic warmth. They love going Up North. They throw brats on the grill, just like us. They even use their hand to show you where they are from. When this happens you simply nod and show your hometown on your own mitten, not acknowledging how seriously un-mittenlike Wisconsin is. We’re all raised to be Midwest Nice, after all.
But despite Wisconsin’s weird un-thumb, it’s awesome here. Milwaukee’s gritty side is only a sliver of the story, and it’s actually comforting to live where the city’s underbelly is just out for all to see. And it’s very beautiful—there’s brick Hansel-and-Gretel–type houses in cool historic neighborhood enclaves. You can walk along the lake for miles. Paddle kayaks to breweries along the river. Sail past the art museum. What it lacks in downtown hikes and swimming holes, it makes up for in Old World delights and true blue hospitality. That’s seen in the cream puffs as big as your head, custard shops with flying-saucer sized butter burgers, over-embellished bloody Marys that flow liberally from corner bars on Sunday, along with shaved ham and free rolls (known colloquially as “hot ham and rolls”).
So in the midst of all this Brew Town pride, bragging about Michigan has become my party faux pas. Someone finds out I am from Traverse City, and my entire body lights up like an animatronic doll, with my arms gesticulating the sheer height of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. They can be seen from outer space! And that cherry in your drink, friend? (Wisconsinites are madly in love with brandy old fashioneds muddled with maraschino cherries.) We probably grew it! I tell them how a cherry shaker works and makes the ground underneath you quiver. Sometimes their eyes blink and go far away, and I know it’s rude, like talking incessantly about an old boyfriend on a first date.
But if I can squeeze it in, I tell about how driving across the Mackinac gives you goosebumps—in a good way. How Up North’s sweet thaw brings so many “openers.” Trout camp on the Manistee River, soggy but sacred walks in the woods at Deadman’s Hill, the first wild leek spotting, morel hunts when trillium carpet the woods and making a cheesy mushroom pie with your loot. There’s the time-lapse beauty of the cherry blossoms: go to work in the morning with the trees just showing shy buds and on the way home they’ve exploded into a springtime movie set.4 And the long line the day Moomers ice cream opens. You can call me a cone-sucker. I’m not too proud.
I tell them about growing up running on the hot dunes, getting sand in every crack and cranny and how my mom spayed us off in our birthday suits with a garden hose behind the back porch after a day at the beach. That you never feel as quenched and relaxed as you do swimming in Lake Michigan‚ which in my 20s meant running into West Bay most weeknights after work, flipping around like a dolphin in the clear cool water until my heart was pounding and the day started again fresh at 5:45 p.m.
So with all this big talk, I must have worn them down, or roused their curiosity. We went with our dear across-the-street Milwaukee friends on a vacation to Traverse City, driving the long way through the UP. But I had a nagging feeling, did I overhype this?
We did the dune climb the very first morning after we woke up. We were squished in the car on the way, waiting for all the landmarks, seeing them new through their eyes. Luckily, Glen Lake was even more blue than I remembered it. It was the shoulder season, so the sand was cool that day, soft and floury. We took off our shoes and crested dune perch after dune perch, until Lake Michigan finally revealed herself. Out of breath, I sat on the beach and tried to freeze life right there. Our Wisconsin house was on the other side. Of course I could not see it, but knew it was there and was glad. But right then I was home, and my heart was beating hard and I was so happy I could have burst.