Monday, November 30, 2009

A Mid-Michigan Advent, Day 2: "Oh, That We Might See Better Times!"

Many are saying,

"Oh, that we might see better times!"
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD. -- Psalm 4:6


When I was a kid, the closest thing we had to Coney Island was Houghton Lake, a resort town about 30 miles north of my hometown. The actual lake for which the community is named has the distinction of being Michigan's largest inland lake; but most of the lakeshore has long been obscured by a colorful jumble of motels, vacation rentals and tourist-oriented businesses.

Houghton Lake never possessed the tony cachet of the Traverse Bay area; but for many years it was where a blue-collar worker could buy a weekend getaway cottage for a reasonable price and eventually upgrade it into a cozy retirement home. If you were a child, the town itself offered an inviting assortment of amusements -- go-karts and a summer-long midway, miniature golf, souvenir shops, burger joints. A variety of year-round businesses also made Houghton Lake a shopping destination for residents of smaller nearby towns.

We drove to Houghton Lake today; partly to look for some supplies at a large art-and-craft store, but partly just for the drive. It was a sobering journey, and a reminder that change is the only constant. We drove past formerly unbroken stretches of state forest land now clearcut in large patches, to arrive in a community blasted by a changing economy. Building after building was boarded up; scores of shabby cottages sported For Sale signs on their patchy front yards. Riding down the main drag reminded me of riding through blighted Detroit. The people we saw were mostly old; mostly poor.

I remember once opining that the best thing that could happen to the main street of this community would be a team of bulldozers. That may indeed happen sooner rather than later; in the meantime, neglect and vandalism are already taking their toll.

"Oh, that we might see better times!"


I felt sad as we left for the trip home. I remembered how my father had loved this area and had seriously considered retiring there. I remembered stories of my uncles, in their late teens, spending an enjoyable idyll as hunting and fishing guides there, back in the prewar days when Roscommon County was a destination for affluent downstate and out-of-state sportsmen. I remembered picking berries in the state forest; fishing with my dad in the backwaters of the big lake; lobbying for frozen custards and ferris wheel rides in town.
We were passing the clearcut area again. I looked at one of the older clearcut patches, where young jackpines and other trees had begun to fill the landscape again. This cheered me a little. The very endangered Kirtland's warbler, a tiny bird whose range is limited to the jackpine ecosystem of northern Michigan and an equally tiny area in the Bahamas, requires large stands of young jackpines for nesting. At least a few species are on the ascendancy here.

That's the thing about "better times": Sometimes they involve pain, dislocation, loss; sometimes that's the only way to make room for something new to take place. My part of the world has seen the low side of the boom-and-bust circle before. I want to believe that this latest end of one era is necessary to make room for the next.

1 comment:

Mompriest said...

that is my hope too....the end of one making rooom for the birth of another...