Outdoors North

No better vacation than one in the woods

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“I’ve got two tickets to paradise, won’t you pack your bags we’ll leave tonight.” — Eddie Money

If you climb the narrow pine-needled path between the cracks in that ancient rock face, you soon reach the top. There, the surface of the boulder is flat and smooth, it seems like a long way down.

When I climb it, it makes me think what it must be like on the top of one of the presidents’ heads on Mount Rushmore — like Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

But unlike their characters, I have no intention of climbing down the rock face in front of me. Not even if James Mason and Martin Landeau were chasing me. Rather, I’d like to spend as much of the day up there as I can.

There’s so much to see with the landscape spread out in front of me. The sunrise can melt your heart. The breadth of the lake can free your soul, while the endless azure skies can let your mind roam to a morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turn back time.

The winds swooshing through the white pines sing a soft, afternoon lullaby, soothing the listener to sleep. There, time evaporates and fades away.

The air is full of bird chatter. Spring wildflowers nod in the sunshine. The cold, blue lake lies at the foot of this promontory, stretching to and around rocky islands and a reed-covered shoreline a good distance away.

This is sanctuary for me. Leave me here. Wrap nature all around me like a blanket and let me soak in the warmth, truth and wisdom.

For many people, this holiday weekend is the traditional start of the summertime vacation season, with parks, beaches, trails and other attractions open and beckoning.

When I lived in southern California, Memorial Day weekend often meant taking an eight-hour drive to the mountains, deserts and canyons south of Tucson, on an expedition to find Mexican specialty birds that only appear in the U.S. in this beautiful southwestern wonderland.

Madera Canyon, for example, is home to 15 species of hummingbirds and 16 species of bats, along with a handful of owl species not familiar to those who inhabit these great north woods.

That’s to say nothing of the wide range of additional species available from painted redstarts, elegant trogons, scaled quail, cardinal-like pyrrhuloxia, sulphur-bellied and vermillion flycatchers and bridled titmice.

Back then, those dusty paths were places full of discovery, mystery and splendor — a true vacationer’s paradise. If you go, wear your boots. There are rattlesnakes behind the rocks and brush along those dry streambeds.

There is also chorizo and eggs and refried beans at breakfast, red and green salsa and sopapillas for dessert.

On the ride over from Los Angeles, as you might imagine, the choices on the radio were very limited, fading in and out across the miles. There was usually a country music countdown of favorites we’d often hear each year.

Johnny Cash singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” stuff like that. Dwight Yoakam had “You’re the One,” out on one of those weekends. The actual Carefree Highway from the Gordon Lightfoot song is out there too.

The idea of vacation first became popular in the early 1800s, when students would “vacate” school buildings for the summertime.

In those days, vacation was for the privileged and the elite. Later, railroad barons would build inns or other attractions at the end of their lines to capitalize financially on the concept. Some churches, particularly Methodists, developed campgrounds and later vacation resorts, but the idea of idleness remained suspect.

“I think if you look at the history and you look at this tension between work and leisure in American culture, I mean, we have this love-hate relationship with our vacations, and I think we’ve had it from the beginning,” said Cindy Aron, author of a history of vacation in the U.S. called “Working at Play,” in an interview for NPR. “Some people, maybe really like work better. I think being on vacation means dealing with your family, sometimes in ways some people would rather not.”

During the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought development of the interstate highway system and America was soon vacation traveling in their automobiles as never before.

“See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” was being sung by Dinah Shore by 1953, though there were others who had sung the advertising jingle before and those who would do it later, like Pat Boone and Dodger Baseball’s Don Drysdale.

“On a highway or a road along a levy, performance is sweeter, nothing can beat her, life is completer in a Chevy,” Shore sang on television.

Then there was Connie Francis and eventually, the Go-Go’s.

In 1962, the Francis song V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N was making its way up the charts to become a Top 10 single, the only hit of Connie’s to include a writing credit for this singer of other smashes including “Where the Boys Are,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”

Twenty years later, the fabulous Go-Go’s released the title track of their second album, “Vacation,” written by bandmembers Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin.

A week without you, thought I’d forget

Two weeks without you and I still haven’t gotten over you yet

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Vacation, had to get away

Vacation, meant to be spent alone

I love the Go-Go’s, Connie Francis, and baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, and vacation, if it’s well-planned or simple and easy as pie.

I always tend to work at least a little bit when I’m on vacation — confessing to more than a little workaholism that can cut both ways. I am happy to get work done so I don’t have so much to return to, but then once I’m back on the job, I wish I had relaxed more while on vacation.

Perhaps the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation” rings a bell.

It’s great to travel and visit with friends or family, explore new places, and get out to breathe some fresh air in new places. However, for me, these days, I’m happy to take a vacation in my own backyard or someplace close to home.

I don’t like crowds, especially the somber kind that gather on Decoration Day, and the woods are filled with trees greening up, flowers blooming, fish and deer jumping, bears looking for food after a long winter’s sleep, moose are roaming around and all kinds of other things to see and experience.

Maybe I’ll stay home and watch a baseball game for part of the day, or maybe even North by Northwest. Maybe get something done around the house. By the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself up on the ancient rock ledge overlooking the lake, with the tall pines above me, their soft, long needles covering the ground.

If you find me there, I’ll be happy. I’m on vacation.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 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.