Kelly Richardson photo.jpeg

Kelly Richardson

I was texting with a friend the other day, one who lives in a city on the East Coast. I had spent the afternoon helping my husband’s family take in their dock, and I sent my friend a photo.

“I’ve gone full Michigander,” I typed, captioning the image.

My concept of a full Michigander admittedly does not sustain much scrutiny. It ignores the diversity of lived experience in this state of 10 million people, and is perhaps overly influenced by the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.

But there is a common quality among those who live up here, and until I know better, full Michigander is what I’m calling it. Despite what I wrote to my friend, I don’t think I’m anywhere near realizing this quality myself.

Take the first day of rifle season. This year, I had it figured out. I wore my blaze orange Carhartt hat as my husband and I headed to the park, staying away from hunting-friendly lands. As we walked, my husband and I talked about a heating issue in our rental home, and he told me we were unlikely to find an available electrician that day.

“Why not?” I wondered.

It took me 1.5 years of living in northern Michigan to understand that opening day is an unofficial local holiday.

I have adapted a bit more readily to learning the local lingo. My arsenal of G-rated exclamations, formerly limited to “rats!” and “holy cow!” has broadened to include “jeez oh pete!” and “holy mackerel!” I look at a spring-fed stream, and think, “gosh, that’s gin-clear.” A crappie, I am delighted to report, is a fish.

I like most of the new outdoor chores, too. This fall, I have removed sludge from gutters, paddled a kayak to retrieve a buoy, and attempted to start a leaf blower. This past week my neighbor taught me how to use an auger to bore holes for bulb planting — and also taught me which bulb end goes up. I have yet to try a chainsaw.

In truth, it is not my ambition to become a full Michigander. I like the pieces of me that were shaped by a life lived elsewhere. Even as local friends jokingly tell me to assimilate, I know they are amused by my East Coast quirks of quick goodbyes and locking doors.

But this place is shaping me too, sometimes into forms I had not imagined — like that afternoon I helped my husband’s family with their dock. When I arrived, my dad-in-law reached into the shed and pulled out an enormous pair of pants, made of fabric so stiff it appeared that legs might still be in them.

“Oh yeah,” my husband said to me. “I forgot to tell you that you’re on the wader team this year.”

Sitting on a chair, I stuffed my left foot, then my right, into the towers of fabric. Then I stood up, my feet two sizes smaller than the boots, the canvas up to my armpits and gaping open six inches from my chest. Stretching my arms out for balance, I waddled to the water.

The photo my husband took from the shoreline shows a woman in a knit hat and sweater, rippling water up to her waist, brown waders up to her chest, a metal frame slung over her shoulder. Beyond her, a dock, a stretch of lake, then the low hills of the opposite shore orange against a gray sky.

If you didn’t know better, you might think she belonged there.

Kelly Richardson is new to northern Michigan. She is currently writing a book about driving across America. You can reach her at

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