Nov 27 2012 12:56 pm

mass nouns and the Cartesian stove

I’m going to miss a lot of things in Michigan, but mainly my wood burning stove. I realize there are wood burning stoves in New York too, but I like this one because it’s next to my desk. I like this one because it’s in my small house out in the woods a little bit, close to the lake and the rivers that I was just starting to figure out a little bit, the house with a tamarack in the back yard and big aspens too in the background which you can hear and see in the wind in the summer. They are definitely aspens. The ones right next to the house I think are white birch.

The soil and the sand and the rocks were pushed around here all over the place. They rode giant ice conveyor belts and piled up into big hills over thousands of years. These weird Midwestern mountains are a little surprising when you round the bend and they rise up into the sky over the otherwise flat landscape.

Coming north out of Kaleva, when you make that last hitch around Healy Lake and are headed due north again, that view of the backside of Crystal Mountain is surprising. But the most surprising view is when you’re driving southeast on 115 and crest the last hill past Copemish before you start the descent into Mesick. Here you can get a look at a really big moraine, one that stands every bit of eight hundred feet above the Manistee River valley floor. That’s a lot of relief for around here.

The perched dunes and big bays of the Lake Michigan shoreline in Benzie and Leelanau counties are like a miniature, flat topped fjordland made up of sand and gravel. The Valders ice went north and left these more or less sturdy aspects of the landscape as we find them now. Lake Michigan continued to drop and some of the big bays turned into big lakes like Crystal (9,854 acres), Platte (2,550 acres), Glen (4,871 acrea), Leelanau (8,608 acres), Torch (18,770 acres), and Charlevoix (17,200 acres). If the lakes keep dropping, Grand Traverse Bay (168,320 acres) will soon be a very large inland lake.

The Platte Lake Embayment, the one closest to me, actually has nine total lakes in it. During the Algonquin stage, it was a large bay with several islands made from the tip-top bits of the Platte interlobate moraine.

Once captured entirely by a giant channel of meandering glacial melt water running south from Glen Lake to Manistee, the outwash plains washed out and the Betsie River finally ran north. Now it dumps out near the town of Elberta, where you can find the Cabbage Shed, by far my favorite bar in Benzie County. The Platte River was also partially captured by the Glen Lake Channel, but now it runs northwest too and dumps into Lake Michigan at the southern most point of Platte Bay. There are great views of Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island here, and very good silver salmon fishing.

If you want to get in touch with the last ice age you can go to Otter Lake, to the east side of the lake, and look down into the spring hole. That is apparently water welling up from the old Glen Lake Channel. Hugh told me once that he doesn’t like running a boat over that spring hole because he feels like he might get sucked in. Hugh was really nice to me. Hugh is a good guy. 

The salmon and steelhead here are a blip on the geological radar. They don’t really even measure on the human radar. Even the so-called ancient native char are recent invaders from their Mississippian, Atlantic, and Beringian refugia, small lakes where they hunkered down against a wall of ice, literally a wall of ice, pumping glacial flour through their gills, waiting to disperse over thousands of miles and establish themselves in every kettle lake and slough from here to the Yukon.

And yet all these fish seem of a piece with this landscape. A cold river is a cold river and gravel is gravel is gravel.

I have a poker that I can use from here, right from my desk. I’m here at the computer and I can grab the poker, hook open the stove door, poke around in the fire for a few seconds, push the door closed, go back to the computer, and take a sip of bourbon. I shit you not. It’s very gratifying, particularly when there’s snow on the ground, which there is right now.   

My stove is like Descartes’ stove. I don’t ever crawl inside, but it has made me doubt everything. It has made me doubt self-employment and the luxury of making my own schedule. It has made me doubt my lack of routine and the psychological turmoil that it produces. It has made me doubt picking up a part time job to make ends meet. It has made me doubt our political system.

I guess the grass is always greener. But from a few clear and distinct certain principles I am moving forward into said green grass. My stove has been a crucible for radical new ideas like 401k’s, health insurance, and a brand new Ray Nagin, one that’s 200 pounds heavier, a lot whiter, with a different accent, and with a very different relationship to his President.


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