Doug Stanton

Here’s something new: The Alpenfest is happening this week over in Gaylord, Mich., in the middle of the state (we live on the western edge, bordering Lake Michigan). Gaylord is odd because it’s nuts about all things Swiss–all the architecture of public buildings is Swiss-like. Even Wal-Mart is decorated with Swiss-ish accoutrements. It’s really something to see. On a bad day, it looks like a giant Swiss Family Robinson encampment.

This week, the Alpenfest, which celebrates Gaylord’s Swiss heritage, is sponsoring something called the “Burning of the Boog.” Says my local newspaper: “The Boog is a snowman made of cotton wool. The Swiss burn such a snowman every year to celebrate the beginning of spring. In Gaylord, people write their troubles on a piece of paper and put them in the 10-foot Boog, which is then torched.” Love it–I love the idea of a thing named Boog, and that it takes your troubles away as it rises in flames …

It’s 9 a.m., muggy, with a stiff wind turning over the leaves on the lilac bushes and flashing them silver–and thankfully I can’t think of any problems I’d presently pin on the Boog to be burned. Last night, Johnny and I worked tuning the engine on his go-cart, and we cut wooden blocks from an old fence post which I now need to bolt to the gas and brake pedals so he can reach them.

This morning, as he left with Anne and Katie for “llama day camp,” he asked a little hesitantly if we could work on the cart again tonight. He’s aware I’m working late (I was up till 3 a.m. last night writing a book proposal), and I’m trying to be careful not to be an ogre. What’s amazing is his and Katie’s sensitivity to our moods. It’s that kind of attention, awareness, playfulness, you get from reading a poem, or writing one. I admire it–and I’d like more of it for myself.

Anne and I discovered last weekend that we’ve taken one family vacation in seven years, and Anne and I haven’t taken one together alone in nine. Is this normal?–it seems it is, considering what we know of our friends. After work tonight, we plan to call and make reservations at some cabins somewhere–anywhere–in the Upper Peninsula, that vast, empty, wooded tract of wilderness beyond the Mackinac Bridge, up near Lake Superior. We’ve put this off because it seems impossible for us to agree on a date to take time off from work.

I love it in the Upper Peninsula (called around here the U.P.–if you’re from there, you’re known as a Yooper). Two autumns ago, I spent an afternoon near the village of Chatham walking along behind a black bear. When she lay down to take a nap, I sat nearby in a glade and watched her scratch herself and then fall asleep, all her paws lifted in the air. She was maybe neither happy nor unhappy, although her raucous snoring sounded like contentment. In her world, there were no Boogs to burn … Or are there?

Today, I have to call Sloan, my agent, about book projects, and talk to Sid at Men’s Journal about new magazine assignments; first, I should call my sister back in Montana before she heads off for the day to the Big Timber Water Slide (she just called and left a message while I was typing; I didn’t have time to pick up); I should also call Wheelock Welding on Long Lake Road and ask if they can straighten the axle on Johnny’s go-cart; and I should try to make it to Anne’s fund-raiser at the park on Crystal Lake in Beulah–she works for an environmental action group called the Michigan Land Use Institute. Around noon, I’ll go swimming for 10 minutes in Long Lake, buy a Coke, some salami, come back to the house, eat a sandwich while reading L.M. Boyd, and then finish a chapter in my novel.

To keep feeling normal, you do normal things. Early this morning something strange happened, something simultaneously normal and strange, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I went on a run in the woods across the gravel road from our house–(there are about 400 acres of woods there) and I saw, flying above the road, a pileated woodpecker, and then another–a pair of them, which is very rare. They are secretive–huge and secretive; if they were athletes, they’d be basketball players: big, gangly forwards. They stayed in plain sight ahead of me as I ran, dipping from tree to tree with the huge, red spatulas of their heads bobbing.

It’s sounds funny to say, but as I ran I got the feeling they were leading me on–only because they didn’t fly away into the darkness of the woods, but kept boogieing down the road, keeping just ahead of me.

I wondered if I should follow them. I know this sounds odd–10 minutes earlier, back in my house, I’d been talking on the phone, putting clothes in the dryer, packing Johnny’s and Katie’s lunch for the day–and the next minute I’m running through the woods, wondering if the birds I see ahead are actually trying to tell me something.

I ran behind them for about five minutes and then at the last, where the road turned left, they kept going, into the woods now, deeper.

I didn’t follow them. But I wonder: How do you get connected to something larger than yourself in the world? I don’t use the word “magic” lightly, or even enjoy using it, yet it must be out there, and I want it.

Burn the Boog.