“Where your treasure is…”

August 17, 2008

Our family had a wonderful day visiting with two high school friends and their families. The excuse for our get-together was the 14th Annual Woodward Dream Cruise. We enjoyed catching up with their families, but I particularly enjoyed hearing anecdotes about their recent vacations.

Anne, David and Alexandra shared some stories about their recent trip to New York City. At Bloomingdale’s, they tried to avoid the gauntlet of store employees trying to spray them with cologne. But at one point, an interaction did occur. The employee asked David where he was from. “Dearborn,” he said. Trying to convince David to buy the cologne, the employee told him, “They don’t make this in your country!”

In another NYC story, Alex mentioned that, during their visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, her family would ask security guards for directions to certain museum treasures that they wanted to see. Regardless of which treasure they sought, all the guards gave them the same directions: “Behind the stairs, through Modern Art.”

Angie, Phil and Laura shared anecdotes about a camping trip in northern Michigan. Angie and Phil’s older daughter, Theresa, was driving with a friend north on I-75 for a camping trip in the Upper Peninsula. But before they got to camp, Theresa’s car hit an elk near the town of Wolverine. The young women were okay, but the unfortunate collision required a tow and rental car.

Angie and Phil drove up to meet Theresa’s car and help them with their predicament. Apparently, the collision occurred in Michigan’s elk country, with perhaps more elk than people. In that part of the northern Lower Peninsula, the small towns meant that the tow would come from one town west of I-75, while the rental car would come from another town east of I-75. But the incident taught them an important fact about northern Michigan.  No matter who was helping them with the accident report, the tow or the rental car, everyone they met asked them the same question: “Did you get the meat?”

They quickly learned that, in northern Michigan, the expectation is that killing an elk means you have first dibs on its highly valued carcass. At that moment, butchering their daughter’s road kill wasn’t on their minds — but it was on the minds of the people who dwell in elk country.  If they didn’t claim their elk meat, then someone else would.  Sure enough, Angie said that, while they were waiting for the tow, they watched as some stranger did, indeed, “get the meat.”

The second interesting story from the elk incident was about directions. Trying to get from the towing town to the rental car town, one man told Angie, “Go down a block to the Days Inn.” That “block” was 25 miles long. The next “block” in the directions was 50 miles long.

At first, these stories seemed unrelated to me. But then I thought about how we define “country.” Of course, there’s the legal definition. Of course, New York City and the Detroit Metropolitan area are in the same country. Of course, the Detroit Metropolitan area and northern Michigan are in the same country…even the same state.

But I think that, in another sense, all three areas are their own country. In New York City, cologne is valued and the direction for all treasures in the Met is: “Behind the stairs, through Modern Art.” In the Detroit Metropolitan area, cars are valued while residents give directions in terms of Woodward — those living east of Woodward are “East siders” and those on the west of Woodward are “West siders.” In northern Michigan, elks are valued for their meat and a block can be 50 miles long.

Maybe the things we treasure help us define our true country and how we measure it.



  1. I was thinking similar thoughts last week, when talking about northern Michigan. To me, the northern part of the state seems like another state, another world entirely unlike southeast Mich. Sometimes, people from other states who’ve only been as far as Detroit will say things like, “Michigan is SO flat, boring…” Clearly, they haven’t been to our other country, Up North!

  2. Northern and southern Maine are about as different as two areas in New England could be – population, occupations, economies, distance between towns. Then we have the ocean on the east and mountains in the west. I forget that other states also share differences within their borders.

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