To the casual, everyday folk who make the scitter-scattering drive from northern Indiana to southwest Michigan, the mundane experience probably doesn’t spark any particular euphoria worth noting. The ever-changing, zig-zaggedness of the primarily backcountry roads is probably the reason most of these folk possess selective amnesia, rather than jubilation, when describing the drive.
I’m also just a casual, everyday person, who makes this drive. However, I feel lucky and privileged, venturing from New Carlisle to Sawyer everyday for work. Why? Well, believe it or not, the surprisingly diverse landscapes and plentiful farm stands dominate SW Michigan. Many small, family-owned and operated farms are scattered throughout the region along with omnipresent grape vineyards. There’s the occasional mansion and subdivision, but the 19th century brick-layered homes and small woodland ranches of blue-collar families are what I find most inspiring. The overall variety is what draws me. The stillness. The consistency.
After my shift today, as I was walking back to my car, I was delighted to see my favorite person in all of Sawyer, Joe, sitting alone in the Greenbush Annex enjoying a beer and the lake breeze from the west. Joe is a local, elderly man, who lives on the corner of Flynn and Sawyer Road. He rides his bicycle almost everywhere he goes, which usually just so happens to be down the road a quarter mile to get his fix of caffeine at Infusco, beer and lunch at Greenbush, mail at the Sawyer post office, and other amenities at Sawyer Garden Center. As I passed into his obvious line of view and made eye-contact, I waved, then joined him for a beer at the Annex bar, facing the outdoor patios.
I first met Joe while working at Infusco a couple weeks ago. He would come in every day and order the same thing; “a BIG latte.” No, he wouldn’t grab a newspaper and sit in the corner. And, he didn’t seem interested in the discussing politics. Most of the time, under his large white beard, Joe looked stoically content as he stared out the window at the town, as Sawyer was waking up. Just lost in thought. Comfortable in his own headspace. He seemed to take pleasure in riding his bicycle to the coffee shop and the brewery, planting his vegetables, and literally knowing everything about the town’s history. But, maybe he just finds himself reminiscing, remembering fighting in a war, working in steel mills, living in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Boston (things he has told me). Whatever the case, I know for a fact that he enjoys the simplicity and oneness of Sawyer, when the loudest noises are the coal train that makes its bi-daily pass by the brewery and the rowdiness of the folks who’ve had one too many Brother Benjamins.
Joe and I have something in common, and I think we both realize it. Each day, we seem to talk about the geography and topography (literally my favorite things) of the local land. You know, which roads are scenic for bike rides, which ones are dirt, have markets, and so on and so forth. Through these valued conversations with Joe, I have realized it is extremely relaxing to just sit and listen to someone discuss his or her appreciation of the local land, respecting the “simple” things that society seems to gloss over. It’s absolutely refreshing. After all, we are in Sawyer, Michigan, not known for a teeming, populous, vibrant atmosphere. Joe values a life not fueled by money or possessions but rather the amount of nontrivial peace and harmony he feels living in such an area, which, especially in today’s world, is pretty damn commendable.
And that, my friends, is why I enjoy driving the scitter-scattering backcountry roads that lead up to Saywer each day. Every time I pass that little white house on the corner of Flynn and Sawyer Road, I am reminded of the simple things and, that, alone, is rejuvenating.