Michigan || Manistee National Forest
I can't decide if summer went by quickly or slowly.
It seems like a million years ago that we left the exploding rhododendrons and the cool woods of the Catskills for Michigan's cloud towers and fields of sweet corn.
But it seems like only last week that we were outrunning summer storms during phestival tour.
It seems like we've lived at Matt and Mel's in Kalamazoo forever.
But it feels like we had barely arrived there before we left again to go freak out at Farm Block.
And then there was this.
For the past 18 years, Bryan and his friends have spent Labor Day weekend camping in a hidden spot in/around the Manistee National Forest. The name of this trip is as secret as the activities that go on there. It involves strange costumes, even stranger rituals, late nights, early mornings, a two-mile trip to the nearest bathroom, lots of fire, alienating glances from passing canoers, and a mysterious person named J.P.
The people at Smithville Landing, who rent us tubes and shuttle us to the river put-in, call us the weirdos.
But they love us.
I mean, how could you not?
This year, in addition to the costumes and the talismans and the explosive-stuffed dummy, there was a new absurd ritual: a wedding.
And the wedding was ours.
Having someone pronounce you "man and wife" is a thing..quite a mighty and curious thing. It thrust me onto this fulcrum point between my five-year-old-self playing bride with a sheet on my head and a stuffed animal to kiss, and some decrepit future version with a blanket on my lap and my old man beside me, each of us keeping warm by rubbing the other's creaky joints.
The pronouncement is made, I look at Bryan and time sloshes back and forth like the river between us. I see the mist boiling over Bolinas Ridge. I see the autumn leaves rimming the French Broad. I see the snow falling silently as we wait to hear the elks bugle in the dark. I see the side street stretching out into darkness just before he lifted me against the bricks to kiss me. I see me before him, and him after me. I fall delirious into his arms and he lifts me up and we kiss and we kiss and we kiss and we kiss and we kiss.
Just like he told me we would, that long-ago day with me lying in a hotel bed in Boulder and him waiting for me on the other side of Hoback Canyon.
God damn. It feels good to love a man this much.
Everyone cried. People told us it made them believe in marriage again.
When I look at photos afterward, my face is an obscene hari-kari display of dizzy joy. I sent them to Maia and she said it looked like roses were shooting out of my eyes.
I remember in college the pang that came with stepping off the plane back to Annapolis, a feeling that the Portuguese call saudade and the Japanese call aware and the Americans (with our preference for black-and-white) have no word for. It was a painful pleasure that intensified with the beginning of school and the end of a summer and the leaving of my family and the return to my friends and the knowledge that all these things were part of a fleeting summer of not only that year but of my life.
The end of summer is a real ending, a drawn-out participle ever so much more painful than the eruptive start of spring. However insufferable their heat, however excruciating their length, you do get used to these close and endless days. You come to count on their permissiveness to every blind, dull urge you have.
Then a day comes when there is a break in the heat that is not really a break, but a sign of the coming end. You realize it and it feels like a betrayal, like looking in the mirror and realizing you're not 20 anymore. You realize that the time you prayed for, the time when you could think clearly and feel less frantic, brings not only a limit to your time but a clearer understanding of how limited your time is.
If I'd found this love earlier, when I thought I needed it, how many years of it would I have wasted by now? What kind of time would we have squandered together with our frantic indifference? What shitty reception hall or forgettable church sanctuary would our ceremony have faded into, where our friends would have had to sit quietly in uncomfortable clothes, instead of spinning slowly through the forest in fur or glitter or nakedness, where decorum and expense would have required us to speak articulately rather than surrender to our joy in pure Dionysian outcry?
What would we have done if we were ten years younger and more likely to do what was expected?
Pardon my smugness, but it's just really nice not to have to find an answer to that question.
"Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH." PC: Sachin Ramani #TheConnoisseurs #Logwedding2000 #River #ManisteeNationalForest #Michigan #Wedding #Marriage #PureMichigan
A photo posted by Chelsea Batten (@thechelseagrin) on