Michigan. State #32 From K’s journal… In our exploration of Michigan, we realize that this broken state is full of grand contrasts. We enter through the Upper Peninsula (called the U.P. by locals), and arrive in a landscape full of raw beauty. The leaves are just beginning to change, and trees look as if their tips have been dipped like a paintbrush into a palette of gold and maroon. Streams of light sneak through gaps in the forest and guide us through winding roads. We cross the Mackinac Bridge to reach the Lower Peninsula and stop at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We are standing at the top of a 450-foot sand dune that plummets into Lake Michigan. I want to slide down the mountain of sand and cool off in the lake until I remember our dune climbing in Colorado and the intense hikes back up. We continue through the fairytale beauty of Michigan, but as we continue southwest, its resplendence begins to fade.
It is 2006. We left Florida during a real estate boom where everyone seemed happy in their homeownership successes, but now the economy appears to be fraying at the seams. Local talk radio shows speak tirelessly of recent layoffs at the Ford Motor Company and families depositing their last paycheck under their mattresses while filing for bankruptcy. There is a mass exodus of residents who are searching for the “American Dream” somewhere else. Where has middle-class America gone?
The Small towns seem deserted and crops are dry. By the time we reach a run-down Dearborn, then Flint and Detroit, Michigan’s majesty has completely escaped our minds. Power lines grid the sky along a drive down Eight Mile. Beneath trash, broken picnic tables and overgrown grass, we catch a glimpse of Belle Isle Park. A large stone fountain features as the centerpiece, where children run and Muslims kneel to pray. The water appears refreshing, until we take a closer look. Algae has turned the stagnate liquid green. Chip bags, paper cups and beer bottles replace where water should pool. It appears that Motor City has been driven into misery. Lives are falling right off the assembly line.
A significant part of our journey is spent keeping this project running. Sometimes that requires seven hours at Panera Bread Company, a (few) chai teas, chicken artichoke paninis and sugar-loaded coffees to keep us alive through the monotonous process of emailing galleries. Today, I sit and watch the raindrops race down glass windows. Alfonso reads the internet to piece together snippets of what is taking place in our country. We flip open our shared cell phone to call family, some of whom turn out to be desperately fighting to keep their home and jobs. For the first time in my life, I feel truly connected to history and my surroundings, yet in this moment, at 23, I discover that I know nothing. The present is not decided and the future is not promised. We could spend this entire year in a single town and still not have scratched the surface of its contents. In fact, we spend an entire lifetime and still fail to understand the relationships that take place under a single roof.
It is an honor to meet and display the Wisconsin-inspired painting in Ann Arbor, but head to Chelsea to meet with a gallery that asked us to stop by. At West of the Moon Gallery, we meet Marsi Parker Darwin. She had taken a year and traveled around the southwest in her twenties, so she could relate to our life on the road. She misses traveling, but is sympathetic to the physical and emotional strains that a nomadic lifestyle brings. She is insightful and genuine and we talk for hours. At one point in the conversation she mentions the Purple Rose Theatre down the street. It is owned by Jeff Daniels and he just so happens to walk through the parking lot as we are chatting. It’s all very surreal.
I’m not sure what to think about tomorrow, or even the events of today, but I will keep moving towards anything in hopes to find something.