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Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2021 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.

Everyone has a happy place where they go to escape the bludgeoning of life from work, illnesses, the news, family responsibilities (via relatives by marriage?), etc. Sometimes, it’s a physical, special spot where life makes the most sense, which in turn leads to mental happiness when we close our eyes and remember. Northern Michigan provides many opportunities, something driven home to us locals when we watch visitors punish the region, leave, and then milk those memories until next summer rolls around, when they return to repeat the madness once again.

As activities in this neck of the woods taper off, and tourists close the curtain on another summer of northern Michigan carpet bombing, we lick our wounds, wondering what the hell just happened for the past three months. We wander to the curb, stretch, scratch our heads, and admire the twinges of color among roadside maples without fear of being mowed down by a swerving Suburban full of rubber-necking fudgies from Illinois. It’s the beginning of autumn, and we know what’s coming: our happy places.

I tend to see mine clearest through a set of sporting goggles. While I crave winter steelheading, spring turkey hunting and summer trout fishing, I’m not nearly the swell dude I think I am as during these few dramatic months.

With hillsides awash in a rainbow of colors, the chance to visit these special haunts is what I’m after; sitting in a favorite marsh with my old Lab, visiting a reliable deer stand, or watching my daughter shoot her first mallard.

It’s icing on the cake knowing that at any time, those memories will trigger a calm and allow me to hit the reset button before going postal.

And not just during the dregs of winter that linger longer with each passing year, but at a nephew’s second grade Christmas concert, a middle-of-October wedding of a good buddy who doesn’t hunt, or another disappointing meeting with my financial advisor.

At those times, my eyes glaze over in a far-off stare, a slight grin forms, and sometimes even a tiny bit of drool oozes out. Those around me know what’s happened: I’ve gone bye-bye to my happy place for a while.

But happiness doesn’t always require holding a shotgun or fly rod. Removing my sporting spectacles lets me appreciate that a fella getting his 20-mile bike ride on our TART system during a crisp autumn morning is in his happy place, just like a young couple sipping coffee from the comfort of a couple kayaks, laughing when overhanging oaks bombard them with acorns.

A family on a fall color tour, pausing here and there to sample the local wines, is as content as I am stalking a stealthy buck.

Truth is, a key for happiness is finding these “places” in everything we do (a root canal does involve nitrous oxide, that sort of thing).

We’re in a better state of mind, equipped to handle the duties of spouse, parent, and employee while giving thanks to a benevolent God for creating the circle of life we all enjoy nibbling at.

It’s hard to not see Him during a colorful morning sunrise, a robust dune climb, or in an autumn gale, where gray waters relentlessly pound and shape our very shorelines.

It’s early September now, and every sporting paraphernalia to my name rests in the driveway before me. I tinker, sort, repair, replace, praying the Good Wife doesn’t see the checkbook for a few weeks.

Predictable summer warmth pauses the early goose migration, but my compass points north. Three months of what I love lies ahead, and though nary a trigger has been pulled, I relish what’s to come.

I’m in my Happy Place.

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