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One of the reasons we camp in the Upper Peninsula in the middle of nowhere is that, once upon a time, my grandmother and grandfather stopped there overnight on their way back from dragging their brood out west. They dragged them back every summer after and the rest of us now go voluntarily–at least the adults do.

As a kid, I didn’t understand why anyone would drive that many hours to go to a place where, on many occasions, we wore snowmobile suits in July, the water was too cold to swim in, and the temps just too cold and the skies too cloudy to sunbathe. I was the only girl I knew who came home from summer vacation whiter than when she left. As an adult, thanks in part of global climate change and a different perspective on life, I totally get why we drive there. There’s nothing to do. We’ve done the hikes, collected the stones, visited the shops. We can do any or all of that again each year, or we can just sit.

And one of my favorite activities during our big family vacation is to sit with my aunts and listen to them kabitz. I’ve taken to calling them the aunties now that they’re all gray-haired. I don’t have a sister and watching these sisters support and tease and tell stories about one another warms my cockles, whatever those are. When the uncles join in it’s pure sibling sport. As my aunts and uncles age I see reflections of my grandparents emerging more and more strongly–my grandfather who passed away two summers ago and my grandmother who survived him, but no longer feels up to living rough for a week and riding in a car six hours to do so.

In a world where everyone is so busy they barely see their spouses and children, keeping touch with extended family becomes a seroius challenge. Holiday get-togethers are face-time, but scarcely time to touch base. True family bonding has taken place in our family in two places–the campfire and the hospital waiting room. Give me the smell of woodsmoke, a starry sky, and my dad’s goofy siblings over the smell of antiseptic and fear anytime. I’ll drive six hours for that.

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