At the same time, I’ll make the trip to share the warmth of eating pasties with them in what has been God’s country to me since childhood, when I spent summers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with my grandparents.
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Because a warm UP day in mid-October is roughly as likely as cold day in another well-known destination, it’s unlikely I’ll enjoy the most spiritual part of my pilgrimages to the lake in recent years.
That usually comes in the 15 or 20 minutes on either side of a summer sunset, when the waters still around Middle Island Point; when the air begins to cool with an edge of loneliness that draw people around beach camp fires; and, when waves licking the shore in the near silence sound the tick-tock of eternity.
Clearly one of the pleasures of summer is having such a place to go.
Lake Superior has been mine - and one I’ve always claimed to have a special magic.
But I recently have begun to accept that other people claim other locales for God’s country.
For some it’s a lake in Tennessee. For others, the Outer Banks, where the slamming of screen doors of a house they rent every year sounds to them like the slamming screen doors do to me at the Sponberg camp.
Thanks to Dan, a friend of mine, I began this year to enjoy the feeling I associate with the south shore of Lake Superior on the north bank of the Ohio River, a few miles east of Portsmouth.
For a second year running, Dan arranged a gig in Portsmouth for the band we are in with Rick, Fred and Peetie. And for a second year we stayed at a house he calls a cabin, just as the Sponberg house is called a camp.
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The drive through the wooded hills to the river is picturesque and leads, with Dan’s prompting, to the sorting out of who will sleep in what room.
That’s the moment at which some of us fessed up to being accused snorers but denied that we had ever heard ourselves do it. While on the subject, Dan remarked that the walls of a small bedroom down the hall were flexing in and out earlier in the afternoon when Fred was napping. (A structural engineer may be summoned.)
The gig, in which we were one of four bands playing an hour each, was on a grassy lot with a view of a largely wooded Kentucky hillside. Otherwise wooded, the hill had a bold swatch of rock face as bare as a portion of scalp clear cut to make way for stitches.
We all felt at home playing for, then wandering through the crowd that had brought its folding chairs down and arranged them in a way that allowed a tow-headed boy of about 4 to run for hours with his tallish father following behind like a balloon to mark his son’s presence. And we all felt at home.
Later afternoon gave way to evening and then to dark. We said our farewells to new friends that are old friends of Dan, who grew up in Portsmouth, and followed our headlights to the cabin.
A few steps from where an old fire escape leads down the bank to the river, the boys started and tended a fire that consumed nearly enough wood for a telephone pole without becoming boring.
As many fires as I’ve watched, I don’t recall seeing one in which the embers beneath the burning logs seemed to pool like liquified gold. I moved my chair nearer the fire when I grew cold and farther back when the hair on my pale shins seemed in danger of catching fire.
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Getting up only when nature called me indoors, I offered advice on placing of the logs only occasionally to the guys doing such a good job. An unlighted barge coasted by in the river dark guided by radar, and Dan alerted us to shooting stars overhead.
The next morning, three of the guys were up when I rolled out of the futon and learned that Peetie, who had slept across the living room from me, had experienced auditory hallucinations of me snoring.
I joined the boys on the screened-in porch watching the last bits of morning mist moving like dust bunnies atop the water. Lined up in white metal chairs, we all rocked back and forth in slow arcs like finalists in a contest to mimic a perpetual motion ornament on some executive’s desk.
Three eagles had passed by before we got out of our chairs, someone grabbed a broom, another went to the sink to wash the dishes soaking there. At last, blankets were folded and cars loaded.
It all finished in the usual way.
Just as I’d ridden with Rick on the way down, I rode with him on the way back.
Our talks in the car remind me of the talks that, over the course of four or five trips to Chicago, made my mother-in-law and I close friends.
It’s the kind of time-share that makes any trip to God’s country a richer experience.