Column: The places you want to go change

By John Pepin

Michigan DNR

MARQUETTE — “I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track, and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back,” – Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller

If I could go anywhere in the world today, I wonder where that might be.

There’s a lot of places I’d love to see again, but I already know that at this stage in my life I don’t have enough time left to go everywhere I want to go once, let alone revisit.

I guess this is how people start putting together a so-called “bucket list.”

I hear people saying the world is getting smaller all the time, but it still isn’t small enough to see it all.

I find it interesting how as you grow older, the places you want to go to change along with you and your aspirations.

I guess I didn’t have my sights set high at all when I was a young kid, with perhaps one exception. I did announce that I was running away once when I was very young.

I took my toy train cars and only got as far as the snowbank next door. My dad brought me back in the house as he was walking home from work.

In those very early days, the world seemed so gigantic that places I’d see on television like Texas and California appeared as far away as Venus or Pluto. I never could have predicted I would eventually live in both of those states.

I don’t see me ever going to the moon or setting up a pup tent on Mars.

Meanwhile, being a fan of Minnesota sports teams since I was old enough to collect football and baseball cards, I always anticipated I would one day become a denizen of The North Star State.

Oddly, that never happened.

One early impression I did have that has so far held true was that I never thought I would become a world traveler. Like a lot of kids, I liked to learn about ancient Egypt, Vikings and the wonders of the ancient world.

The advent of color television in my early years provided a magical window on the world for me. Our family was a big fan of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I was fascinated learning about the animals in those far-flung spots on the globe.

But for some reason, I never saw me getting to any of those places.

Maybe it was because if California was a universe away, the Acropolis and the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat had to be completely out of my grasp.

I loved watching “Hawaii Five-O.” The scenery was a character by itself – the beaches, the volcanoes, the palm trees, Hula dancers and the unique culture of the five-island 50th state.

Elvis himself was in “Blue Hawaii” and told the world, “Aloha From Hawaii” in 1973.

When I had a chance to go there, I passed. I instead wound up in Santa Fe, New Mexico – the land of enchantment.

Studying geography and history, I learned a lot about so many places, but I never was inclined to jump on a plane to get there. I’ve been to Canada and Mexico – El señor Johnny es norteamericano!

It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see these places, I guess in the end I figured I’d want to start with all the sights there are to see across the purple mountains majesty and the rest of this land that’s my land.

I still haven’t seen the redwood forests or the New York Island. I have a list longer than my arm of national parks I want to visit. I haven’t even seen all of Michigan’s state and national parks yet.

I also feel as though there are hundreds of beautiful and historic secret places hiding in plain sight across this fine peninsula right here. Sometimes, I think about taking the time to discover every square mile of this place on foot.

Not only are there little towns and forgotten locations, eroded by the rains and snow or grown over by the forests and fields, but there also are river bends and rocky bluffs, rugged shores and sleepy coves – all of it, still undiscovered by me.

I’ve seen big cities, tidal marshes and cactus groves, rain showers on the Rocky Mountains and the edge of the Grand Canyon with no rails.

Sometimes, I think no matter where I travel, I will find myself at a crossroads somewhere, having to decide to go left or right or to turn around or keep going.

I love to explore the root-covered two-tracks and muddy backroads that crisscross this still in many ways, ancient region.

While I adore maps, for all their colors, markers, mystery, allure and invitation, when it comes right down to where the rubber meets the road, I think I need a simple dirt road underneath my feet to feel like I’m getting anywhere at all.

I can taste the grit from these red iron ore roads between my teeth and feel it swirling in my blood – rust red.

I know the seasons and the woodlands here as well as they know me.

Sure, there’s a familiarity from growing up here, but I can feel there’s a lot more to this place – something tangible and deep, yet elusive, when I try to discern it in any concrete terms.

Maybe it’s something about the intrinsic knowledge that generations of my family before me walked some of these same streets, fished these same streams and hunted in these same wild woods?

I don’t know enough about the phenomenon to have much to really say about it yet – my mind needs to chew on it some more.

However, I know enough to know that this is the place I want to end up when I end up.

Maybe somewhere inside, I discovered what Dorothy Gale found out. I just didn’t have to click my heels together or wear red shoes.

Whole sections of the country remain inviting to me, though I’ve seen more than some. I have benefitted greatly from the experience of leaving the place where I was born to travel to see other places, live elsewhere and enjoy other cultures.

The perspective and education gained is exhilarating. I am so fortunate to have been able to have done these things.

Had I never left the area, I could never have known what joy I would feel sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a warm afternoon, entranced by listening to the numerous unfamiliar languages spoken around me – as instantly intriguing and delightful as the songs and calls of birds.

That’s but one example of the world I found out there.

Discovery is everywhere for me.

Just a walk, rather than a drive, around the neighborhood where I live opens-up a whole new view of my surroundings. I see things I never saw while whipping by in a vehicle, trying to get someplace else.

There are animal trails, hidden creeks, patches of wildflowers, bird nests and fox dens, all kinds of stuff to see.

I guess I’d have to say I consider myself a wanderer.

Not like Dion or Bobby Vinton in “Trouble is My Middle Name,” but maybe more like that nature scout kid in the old German children’s song from the 1950s.

Val-deri, val-dera

Val-dera, val-dera ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

Val-deri, val-dera

My knapsack on my back

Imagine, The Stargazers took that song to number 12 in the UK in 1954. How the world has changed. Wow.

I feel the universe surrounding me in all its mystery.

I am alive.

I want to see new things and learn more every day.

I hope one day to visit Yellowstone Falls, the Grand Tetons, the Everglades, Acadia National Park, the Craters of the Moon, the River of No Return, Denali and Chaco Canyon.

Meanwhile, there’s still Banat, Triangle Ranch, Naomikong Point, Wheelbarrow Lake and Redridge, Swanson, Thousand Island Lake and Flowing Well, all right here to explore.

So where would I go today, if I could go anywhere in the world?

Good question.

— — —

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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