A trip to the Upper Peninsula’s Kitch-iti-kipi doesn’t go quite as planned. A mother reflects. (Travel tips below.)
This essay is featured in the October 2017 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy!
We knew Sadie’s wrist was broken by the sound of her scream. In the gathering dusk of our weekend U.P. getaway, Thunder Lake lapped at the shore and the spring peepers deepened their chorus. It was bedtime for 5-year-olds, and the nearest hospital was 30 miles away. Operating under the illusory calm of parenthood, we ushered the girls into the car and took off down the highway in search of a doctor, our plans for a quiet evening playing cribbage by lantern light replaced with thoughts of the greenish glow of the Urgent Care waiting room, X-rays, and a temporary cast.
We came north to show the girls Kitch-iti-kipi, a limitlessly clear spring with water sprouting through its limestone basin at a rate of 10,000 gallons a minute. It’s around 40 feet deep, and you can see the fat-bellied trout loping along the bottom as though they were only inches from the surface. There’s a large wooden raft there, and you line up at the gate for your turn across the pond. Someone turns the wheel, which cranks the raft along its cable. Everyone else leans on the railing surrounding the rectangular viewing hole in the center of the raft. A roof over the hole keeps the sunlight from mirroring the spring’s surface with reflections. What you see is opalescent. It’s all swells of sand rising in the emerald springs, the deep blue angles of ancient drowned trees, air bubbles twinkling like stars, the bottom as visible as the surface. It’s a depth that feels like space, the distance between you and what you are looking at disorienting, immeasurable. What you see is equally close and far, your eyes unable to teach you the difference.
Sadie was too tired to care much about the eerie unearthly view. This was in the late afternoon, when her wrist was still whole and her growing bones made her crave a nap. I pressed her warm body to mine and felt her muscles slacken against me. I swayed my hips out of habit, the way I used to when she was an infant. Kitch-iti-kipi’s animated sands bloomed and swelled toward her back, where I stood by the raft’s waist-high railing. Her heart, that stone first thrown into my own body, made its familiar ripple against the surface of my chest. I smelled her hair, the musk of sweat and sunbaked pine twining together in my nostrils, and I thought of things I didn’t want to think. What if I let go? What would she look like falling? I could see her wet red hair tumbling in the spring, her scared green eyes the same color as the water. How deep would she sink? How fast? If she left my arms, would I ever get her back?
When Sadie and I go out in public together it’s rare that some stranger doesn’t stop us to remark on how much we look alike. Our facial bones construct the same frame. She is my reflection, an enchanted mirror that finds me 30 years ago, my young face disorientingly close to the surface of my past. Sometimes I search her eyes and try to remember myself at 5, as though I could pick up my life like a snow-globe and peer back inside it. When she fell she was running. I could hear the grass swish against her bare feet. I was watching an eagle circle the lake. It was so quiet that I could hear the line unspooling from my husband’s fishing rod off the dock.
And then her scream overtook everything, full of disbelief, disoriented by the depth of pain. I felt a crack in the space between us. My bones have always been whole.
Later that night, when the girls were finally asleep, Tim and I listened tensely to their breathing through the curtained doorway to their bedroom. A flock of sandhill cranes called out their passage overhead and we raced to the creaking screen door. I’m not sure what we expected to see in the dark, or why we ran out so fast. But when we eased the door back in its frame and tiptoed toward the lake a pale white-green aurora swelled to the north. Stars littered the blackened sky above the northern lights, so many of them they seemed like a mess in need of sweeping up. I thought of Sadie in the cabin, asleep with her broken bones, for the moment less whole than when she was born. I thought of how perilous everything is, of how easily you can fall, and how hard it is to judge the distance between things, between a sky full of space and the ground you stand on, the water’s surface and its bottom, a mother and a daughter.
Go To Kitch-iti-kipi
Kitch-iti-kipi is in Palms Book State Park. Go 6 miles west of Manistique on US 2 to Thompson then take M-149 north for 12 miles to the park. A 50-yard paved path takes you to the shoreline.
Because of the constant flow of water, the spring stays at 45 degrees year-round, never freezing, and can be enjoyed any season of the year.
Carrie Strand Tebeau lives in Petoskey, where she teaches writing and designs knitwear. [email protected]