Category Archives: Sketches

Seul Choix Point, Michigan: Of Shells and Strata, Time and Terrain

Screenshot 2017-01-29 08.53.27BY ROBERT ROOT

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

I’ve been tracking the Niagara Escarpment, a geologic formation that arcs from Wisconsin through upper Michigan and Ontario past Niagara Falls into western New York. In the Upper Peninsula, Seul Choix Point interrupts a long stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline, between the Garden Peninsula on the west and the Mackinac Bridge on the east. The name comes either from French explorers who thought the point the only choice–“seul choix”—for shelter between Mackinac Island and Green Bay or from a distortion of an Ojibwa word, “shashoweg,” the straight line. As my wife and I approach, I ignore college French lessons and use the local pronunciation, “Sis-shwa.” I want to see the way the Niagara Cuesta slides under Lake Michigan here.

Passing the Seul Choix Lighthouse to reach a path through the trees to the shoreline, we emerge onto a broad flat rock beach, its surface uneven but mostly uniform. Shrubs and grasses grow in crevasses and deeper indentations are filled with either lake water or layers of small white shells. We weave our way toward the water across eroded strata, broken chunks of flat rock lying in small pools or in the midst of shells. Dark mosses spill over cracks and fractures. Just offshore glacial erratics rise above the waves. It’s an overcast morning, and the waves match the grayness of the clouds and the grayness of the rocks.

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Buffalo, New York: A lake forgotten—a performance renewed


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. img_9947-2

Mine is a watery world. Mirages that swell the tales of fisherman as distant sailboats and canoes glide along the edge of a lake forgotten. Lake Erie, at the edge of Buffalo, NY is a fragment of the world that is just now rejoining the mass of lakes surrounding it; showcasing its great comeback.

Sitting on a hollowed out log as laps of water dance near my toes, I gaze at the once putrid green water, now cyan. Its color revived, restoring the glory days of what once was considered one of the grandest vacation destination in America. Inviting visitors, storefronts, corporate investors, restaurants and beachgoers back to a city once labeled a dying part of the Rust Belt. You shall find no rust here. Nothing but clear blue skies, River Birch’s and American Hornbeams, soft white sand, skyscraper-sized fans that harness free energy, and a soft northerly breeze that reminds me of our closest neighbor. As the fan blades rotate in the distance, so gigantic they seem inches from me, I watch a haze of hot summer air lift, removing the veil that covered the city landscape moments before. The lifting of the veil, a dinner bell of sorts to surfers across the city as they descend suddenly upon the tranquil beach for which I sit. Surfers in Buffalo, NY? Technically they are Kite-boarders, but add the waves of Lake Erie and what culminates is a sport of beauty—kite-surfing. It’s an interesting tango between wind, water, human, and machine. I marvel as I watch, in awe of their talent. Beyond them is the vast lake where boaters, canoeists, fishermen, yogis, and sunbathers all gather; everyone taking advantage of Act 1 in a new play where our lake is the star.

A faint smell of the aquatic underworld combines with the tantalizing smells of a taco truck stationed nearby. People lining up to get a taste of their latest creation, or eat one of their popular fish tacos—insert irony here.

Further down the coastline, the lake wraps around the Golden Gate city, breathing new life into a downtown district that was beginning to petrify. Awash with new vibrancy, color, and youth, the harbor bears witness to fitness fanatics, a booming food culture, and artists and musicians all leaving their mark on the city’s revitalization. Yogi’s jump at the chance to workout on the water, balancing on water mats. The old and young seem joyous as they paddle the canal on water bikes. Old steel grain elevators showcase a bit of Vegas with its silos lighting up in multi-colors along Route 5 at night time. Artist’s renderings are displayed along the canal; murals depicting stories of our great comeback and the lake that made it possible. Enormous Adirondack chairs, in their bright greens, whites, blues, and oranges, are staggered under trees, providing a safe haven from the summer sun. Children excitedly play in a sandpit built just for them. How many of them have played in the sand before, in the heart of the city, I wonder?

It wasn’t long ago that the canal was just a stagnant body of water, having once-upon-a-time provided the city with the means for electric power. It was 1901; the era of Nikola Tesla and an age of renaissance for Buffalo. Harnessing the power of the water and electricity, Buffalo showcased, in dramatic fashion, the Pan-American Exposition. However it didn’t take long for Buffalo to slowly descend into a downward spiral of lost opportunity and decay. The lake waited, patiently, for the city and surrounding suburbs, to remember its strength and beauty. It could provide—we just needed to let it.

Snaking my way west down route 5 toward home, past the grain elevators mini-Vegas light show, I roll down my window, taking in the cool night air, listening as gentle waves hit the shoreline. Tree frogs begin their nightly lullaby with cicadas on harmony, and the lake gives its curtain call for another job well done; another show well performed.

Shannon Traphagen is currently the Associate Publisher at Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine and an international freelance writer. She writes essays, fiction, food reviews, inspirational articles and articles on the great outdoors. She also writes and records for radio, and gives motivational speeches. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Hamburg Chamber, a committee members for the Hamburg Tourism Committee, and a Board of Directors member for the WNY American Heart Association. Find her online here. 

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Marquette, Michigan: Landing


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

Our lives play out indoors. We are caged animals and mostly we like it t10399593_1074358783762_7630_nhis way. The sensations of earthly dependence have left our bodies but they linger somewhere else, and we resent the wind in the trees for being such a tease. But we had a beach once. It wasn’t exactly ours but we seemed to credit ourselves with its presence. It was ours but we did not buy it and we did not make it. We did not grind the sand that sloped so slowly into the cold Superior. We did not mold the sandstone into cliffs and paint them wildly with mineral powders. We were not here 500 million years ago.  But we have descended the gentle slopes, uncomfortable and exposed, waiting for the water to rise and rescue us from our ambivalence. We have seen the light of our fires thrown against the cliffs. We have kissed each other while the Aurora Borealis blazed above us. And often we were drunk. And on those nights Superior was gentler and we could feel our bare bodies become small and tight beneath the water as we darted from rock to rock. We felt that to fly could not be better than this.

There are other people on our beach now and they’ve had to pay for the privilege, five dollars I’m told. I imagine them removing their shoes, rolling up their pants, and loitering on the threshold, bouncing forward and back with the waves. This makes them feel youthful and they’re grateful for it. They comment on the frigid water and its bigness. A lake and not an ocean! Eventually they roll their pants up even higher, so high that it squeezes their calves painfully. They regret not wearing shorts but what does it matter if their pants get a little wet? Later, at home, they open one of the good bottles of wine. They can still feel the bitter Superior around their ankles. Their skin is tight and cold to the touch, but their limbs are light as they linger in the kitchen, raised, unawares, to the tips of their toes on the linoleum.

Andrea Hoyt is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado where she edits several magazines. 

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Kirk Park, Michigan: The Beach at Lake Michigan


100_1402This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

Grandpa is usually quite the talker. There are only two things in the world that I know of that keeps him from talking to anybody and everybody still above ground—sleep and going to the beach.

“Who does he think he’s talking to?” Dad asked.

“Why don’t you get off your beach towel and ask him?” Mom replied.

It was the first Saturday of summer. We drove an hour to get to Lake Michigan. The endless water reminds people of the ocean, especially Grandpa.

“I’m not asking the old man anything,” Dad said. “He always keeps to himself when we go to the beach. Been that way for as long as I remember.”

I hear the ocean’s cleaner than any lake. I don’t know. I’m probably the only 11 year old that’s never seen the sea. Grandpa’s been to shores all over the world, places with funny names like Iwo Jima and Ford Island.

“Oh, that’s right. Talking to fathers doesn’t run in your family,” Mom said.

Lake Michigan was cold but the sun kept us warm. The beach smelled like sun tan lotion. The waves whispered whatever secrets they whisper while the seagulls chirp insults at each other or about us.

“He started that tradition,” Dad replied.

Mom looked around the beach like she was searching for someone. “That explains it.”

As a ladybug landed on my nose, a seagull swooped over my head trying to grab a Kit Kat out of my hand. While Mom and Dad kept talking, I thought to myself, Explains what?

“Explains what?” Dad asked.

Mom smiled, put her big sunglasses on and stretched out on a towel. Grandpa continued to keep close watch over the water, mumbling to himself. My little sister was showing off her stupid gymnastics as she walked by him—on her hands. Grandpa and I ignored her.

“Stop ignoring me,” Dad said to Mom. “Explains what?”

Mom answered as the sunshine lit up her face. “It explains why your oldest son isn’t here to enjoy the beach—with his father.”

Big brother Rob stayed at home again this year. He never goes with us to the beach anymore. He pretty much never goes on any family outings—unless Dad stays home. Grandpa stood at the shoreline for a good hour allowing the waves to gain ground on his toes, only to watch the water retreat again and again. When his quiet conversation with the wind finally wrapped up, Grandpa began walking up and down the beach like he was patrolling a perimeter. Marching up and down the beach as though waiting for orders to stand down. While Grandpa marched, my sister decided to prove just how annoying she could be. Shelby kicked sand all over my towel—even got on my Kit Kat. At Lake Michigan cartwheels are just a messy way to show off.

But with or without little sisters, with or without my family not-talking to each other, I love the beach at Lake Michigan—and I’m not the only one. I’ve noticed how ladybugs love the beach. Seagulls, who have never seen the sea, they love the beach too. It’s even possible that Grandpa loves the beach as much or more than any of us, despite his retreat into silence. The look in his glass eye, as it reflected the lake, looked to me like love. But still there was something in his good eye that made me cautious. Eleven-year-olds might not be right all the time. What I saw in that good eye of his could have gone either way. If not love it might have been something closer to fear. Either way, I’ve never seen love or fear that deep in a good eye.

Maybe he was looking for something that was supposed to wash up on shore. Or he might just of been remembering something or someone just beyond the horizon—maybe both.  But nothing floated to shore this year. Nothing ever does. The only shadows upon the waves belonged to seagulls swooping towards us like fighter planes.

“Ooooh, look at the pretty birdie,” my sister pointed out with her toes as she stood on her head.

The white bird swooped in low from the water right at her.

“That’s a seagull, Stupid,” I said, as politely as a big brother can.

Grandpa squinted with his good eye as though he had recognized something—something he’d been waiting for. Standing bravely at attention before the seagull’s descent, Grandpa finally spoke up.

“That’s a strafing pattern,” he said softly.

“What’s a chafing pattern?” my sister asked. But Grandpa didn’t answer. He looked over at Dad, then the rest of us. He looked around at the ladybugs, seagulls and once again at the waves crawling across the peaceful sand—advancing on our position. I figured that whatever was on his mind had nothing to do with who’s talking to whom. There were hidden sights and sounds all around him. But none of us could see nor hear any of it. Not Dad. Not Mom. And Shelby never would. But Grandpa’s glass eye—now that’s another story. The glass eye sees everything. Everything that’s there, was there, and ever will be.

The glass eye saw all it wanted to see of Lake Michigan. Grandpa surveyed the sky in all directions before cautiously retreating to the safety of the parking lot.

Alan Harris is a 61 year-old hospice volunteer who assists patients in writing stories, letters and poetry. Harris is the 2011 recipient of the Stephen H. Tudor Scholarship in Creative Writing, the 2014 John Clare Poetry Prize, and the 2015 Tompkins Poetry Award from Wayne State University. In addition he is the father of seven, grandfather of seven, as well as a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

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Garrettsville, Ohio: Indian Summer


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

indian_summerHeat shimmers off of the lake, creating a strange in-between place that catches my thoughts and turns them into prayers for iced tea. The sun falls onto my dark hair, heating it to a fiery length.

I am floating there, suspended in the green-clear water, my legs pumping above the silt that sucks at my feet below. The fish turn in their lazy circles, watching, silent observers to my grandmother’s satisfaction as she turns her head upwards.

The rays catch her gently cragged face as she floats by me, her inner tube’s plastic surface crashing against the translucent waves as a ship breaks water. Her nose is high, it’s the Indian blood. Her hair falls delicately down her shoulders, the stark white of January cooling the stifling air.

I paddle harder against the distance and grasp her hand, slick with duckweed. The light spills over the top of her hair, gilding her expression as her eyes fly open.

I remember when we were both younger. Springtime, Easter, when I still wore dresses and she still painted her nails, dark red like blood. We looked for bones in the forest, muddy and filled with something unpinnable- fast butterfly wings.

She smiles and closes her eyes once more, the water lapping at both of us from the center of the lake. It bubbles up from somewhere underground, the sweet smell of the earth in its core.

It is cool against my body, but our arms extend across the translucent space and ignite.

Cameron Gorman is currently a student at Kent State University in Ohio. She works for the student-run newspaper and spends all of her free time writing. Her work will also appear in Work Literary Magazine in October. 

Elkhart, Indiana: The Long Afternoon

rural-indiana-1428941439jRbBY GARY V. POWELL

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. It’s based on a real unsolved murder that haunted the town of Elkhart, Indiana in 1969. Warning: A graphic sexual assault is detailed in this essay. 

Did her assailant lie in wait, or did Mrs. S answer a knock at the door and welcome a stranger inside? No sign of forced entry the police said, so maybe she recognized the man. On the other hand, she might have left the door unlocked while out shopping, unwittingly inviting danger into her home. People trusted their neighbors in those days, and in a small, Indiana town on a county road, wasn’t everyone a neighbor.

She was allowed time to put the groceries away. She sorted mail, delivered her husband’s journals to his home office, passing photos of her three daughters in the hall—all those girls tall, leggy, and auburn-haired like their mother, fine-featured and green-eyed. All three damaged in their own way by what the oldest daughter, a high school junior at the time, would come to refer to as The Event.

Her naked body came to rest in the kitchen, between the breakfast nook and range, but signs of struggle appeared throughout the house—blood spatter, broken lamps, and toppled chairs. She bore bruises and other blunt-force trauma about her face and head. Defensive knife wounds marked her hands.

The man, some said monster, first violated her over the arm of the living room sofa. Stains from bodily fluids testified to the act. Her underpants, flung onto the back of a nearby wingchair, corroborated sequence and location. A large window, devoid of curtains or other treatments, invited viewing from a herd of Angus cows grazing in Denton’s fallow pasture a quarter mile below.

Authorities suspected that rather than ending quickly and mercifully, her ordeal endured throughout that long afternoon. Dress, stockings, and bra lay strewn room to room. Sheets and blankets twisted and writhed in a damp heap on the bed. The autopsy revealed both vaginal and anal penetration.

Two Coca Colas, each partially consumed, stood mute on a coffee table in the family room, leading some to believe that during a hiatus she attempted to pacify her attacker, reason with and convince him that no real harm had been done—why, having satisfied his lust, he could simply walk away, and she’d forget the entire incident.

The toilet seat remained up, the bowl unflushed. She may have tried to call for help, but the olive green telephone, ripped from the wall, was used to bludgeon, its cord to strangle. Folks wondered why they hadn’t heard her screams.

By the grace of God, friends said, the husband, a well-known banker, arrived home ahead of the girls, all three of whom were involved in after-school extra-curricular activities.

After discovering his wife’s body, Mr. S fled on-foot down the long, tree-lined driveway. He descended the hill to the Yoder residence, rang the doorbell, and blurted out his horrific news.

Suspicion settled first on the husband, but soon lifted when it was learned he’d consulted with clients all afternoon. Further inquiry exposed neither motive nor pathology on his part. Instead, all who knew the banker proclaimed him a devoted and loving husband.

In the months that followed, several patients at a nearby mental health clinic came under scrutiny. As it turned out, these usual suspects tendered either bullet-proof alibis or denials accompanied by a lack of evidence implicating them, forensic science not being then what it is today.

Some winked and assumed she’d kept a lover, attributing the violence of that day to an affair turned sour. But if she’d been unfaithful in her marriage, she’d been more than discreet. No one recalled her dining or having a drink in what could have been construed a compromising situation. Interviews with friends and neighbors told the story of a woman who when not with family dedicated herself to volunteer activities on behalf of the school, hospital, and church.

Asked if she had enemies, her husband replied that years earlier she’d written editorials to the People’s Forum, excoriating Birchers and KKK that resided and proselytized in the community. She’d mocked their views that Dr. King was a Red and the civil rights movement a mere shill for Communist Revolution. In the weeks following her editorials, she’d received hate mail, but the letter writer was never identified and the threats eventually ceased. Any trail went cold.

Less than a mile away, State Highway 19 ran north and south.  Hitchhikers and other unsavories sometimes strayed onto the county road. Could Mrs. S have been the victim of one of these passersby? Did a serial killer haunt the highway, leaving a trail of death up and down the State?

Dahmer, Bundy, Speck—men like this were out there.

The crime remained unsolved.

Residents of the small town tried to forget, yet found themselves imagining the awful events that occurred while they’d been working, napping, or watching daytime TV. How could this have happened here?

They pretended it hadn’t happened, all the while locking their doors and averting their eyes on the street. They installed motion lights and purchased weapons. Parents called their children in by dark. Women clung together in groups.

No one asked the pretty girls to dance.

Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines and anthologies including most recently the Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction (Eric Hoffer Foundation), his work has placed in several other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard (Main Street Rag Press, 2012), is available at


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Screenshot 2016-07-07 11.46.07This poem is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We got

9 inches of snow

after 4 was predicted.


While driving home from work

I pulled over to the side,

knowing I’d get stuck,

but a black Chrysler

was beached in the intersection

spinning nowhere.


I started pushing on their trunk

then two other people

scampered up to lean in

and soon they were sliding away.


You don’t thank the other strangers

who also push a stranger’s

car out of the snow,

more nod and smile

at having completed

an unpreferable task



My car was beached

on the 9 inches of snow

so I grabbed my shovel from the backseat

and started shoveling out

underneath my front bumper,

around the front tires,

under the doors.


then from behind

I heard a man’s voice suggest

that I get in and try, he’d push.


I turned toward the voice, then said,

“Oh hey Tony.”


He looked at me for a second,

“Oh hi Ed.”


Chuckling into the driver’s seat,


while tossing the snow shovel

on the passenger seat floor,


that I have the kind of friends

who offer to help

before they recognize you.


Ed Makowski is a poet and writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He writes and edits at a nature center and makes drinks at a tiki bar. Ed prefers two wheels to four, but it’s really nice to drive in a car throughout winter.

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Champagne in the Sour Times

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr Creative Commons


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I didn’t notice how drunk my coworker Erin was until she fell down for the second time on our way to Summerfest.

Erin and I weren’t friends outside of work. We weren’t friends at work, either. The marketing firm we worked for took its company’s employees to Summerfest on the opening night of the music festival.  We were together in a group walking over from a bar on Water Street. I was one of the old ladies of the company at 27. Many of my coworkers were just out of college, or, like Erin, just 21.

For those of you not familiar with Summerfest, it’s an opportunity for all the bands you love to play on Milwaukee’s lakefront in late June and early July.  What the promotional materials don’t tell you is that it’s a ten-day chance for a million people to party till they puke a river of Miller Genuine Draft under a bridge.

I knew of Erin because she was dating Ryan, who sat in the next cube. He didn’t really talk about her all that much when she wasn’t around.  Nor did he talk to her that much when she stopped by his desk.

He was not walking over with us. I didn’t tell Erin this, but while she was working on the second floor, Ryan would flirt with our boss, Jessica, who seemed interested in learning more about what he had to offer.

We pulled Erin up. We asked if she was okay. We progressed into the south gates of the Summerfest grounds. And then I realized what was happening: Erin was so not okay. She couldn’t walk without falling and it was up to me to ensure she returned home unharmed.  It was okay with me: I knew what could happen if you turned a blind eye toward another woman in need.  And the lineup that night sucked, anyway.

The other women went off into the night, not to be seen again until work the next day.  The 5 foot 8 inch me linked my arms under the arms of 5 foot 2 inch, 98-pound Erin. “I’M GOING TO TAKE YOU HOME!” I told her over the din. “I’M HOLDING ON TO YOU SO YOU DON’T FALL!”

“OK!” she said. “WHERE’S RYAN?”


And we began our trek toward the North Gate, which would have the ATMs and taxis needed to get us back to my house on the east side, which had my car parked nearby.

Hours seemed to pass.  We were walking against a crowd of 200,000 people who were headed south on the grounds, toward The Fray playing at the Marcus Amphitheatre and the stages with the 10 p.m. shows. Neither of us said much to each other as we stopped at the women’s bathrooms.

But as we got to the midway point of the festival, security guards and other interested parties began to take notice of Erin’s current mode of transport. In response, I got her birthdate and started shouting out “TWELVE THIRTEEN EIGHTY FOUR! I’M TAKING HER HOME!” at anyone who raised an eyebrow.  They needed to know she drank legally tonight.

While we walked, I thought about the boys in my life that I treated like kings while they treated me like an assistant.

The last time I had been as drunk as Erin was August 2003. I called out my then-boyfriend for having an online friendship with a camgirl from his hometown. His lack of concern sent me toward the half-full bottle of Jack Daniels on top of the refrigerator. I intended to add the remaining pills of my Effexor prescription to the whiskey burbling in my stomach, but my parents got home first. I’m not the only one who has ever been treated like she didn’t matter, I thought, looking at the back of Erin’s head.

Erin and I finally got to the north entrance. I noticed there was a First Aid tent, so I thought it would be a good idea to get her checked out before we split. She was trying to convince me to let her call her friend Juan to give us rides back to our residences as I brought her into the tent. I emphasized I would be taking her home.

A medic took Erin behind a curtain and I looked around. There were three crying blonde women in various states of intoxication sitting against the wall. It was like I had entered into an adult daycare before naptime.

I took a breath and made eye contact with the crying girl in the middle of the group. Maybe this was a projection out of Psych 101, but I had an idea from where her tears stemmed. I said, “He’s not worth it.” She stopped crying. She didn’t give me a strange look, so I continued. “He’s not worth it,” I said again.

I also was amazed that there were so many dudes out there treating so many ladies like shit! I thought I was the only one, due to my weight and general awkwardness! I was concerned for Erin, yes, but this realization blew my mind.

“She’s right,” a man’s voice said behind me. “We’re not.” He brought Erin back out and released her to me.  She would be fine once she sobered up.

Tori Szekeres now lives 25 miles away from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs. She enjoys stand-up comedy, graphic design and writing. She emphasizes that the names here are changed to protect the innocent. 

Peterborough, Ontario: Unsettled in Nogojiwanong


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Otonobee_3After twenty-four hours by train and two by bus, I arrived in Peterborough, Ontario with two suitcases and a backpack weighted with books, laptop, and clothes. I’d have little more to get me through year one of my PhD. September through May, “home” was a furnished house shared with three other students; I’d rented out my house in Halifax, Nova Scotia and put my belongings in storage. Low commitment, I told myself, in case the PhD didn’t work out.

The landlady’s windowsill knick-knacks were relocated to the dining room so I’d have a better view of the backyard and, just beyond, the creek—one of many crossing Peterborough and feeding the Otonobee River, part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a suture of switchbacking rivers, lakes and and locks running from Georgian Bay into Lake Ontario. Mornings after heavy rain, waiting for my toast, I’d watch the swollen creek tumble; through the winter, I’d guess how cold it was by how thick the ice looked. In spring, sun-warmed snow broke from the banks and dissolved into the current, flowing south-eastward.

End of May, I did too, returning to Halifax to teach an art history course. Reconnecting with friends and family, I rarely thought of Peterborough—not till late August, when Graduate Studies sent emails reminding me to register, which I did the day after I returned, within hours of the deadline.

My ambivalence was puzzling. For second year, I had a one-bedroom apartment with a front garden, and soon, movers would deliver my things from storage: bed and dresser, sofa, oak table and desk, a couple hundred books, and mementos and photographs of my travels across Canada, the UK and Asia. But unpacking boxes, leafing through books, I felt only brief moments of joy; I couldn’t shake an unsettled, even sad, feeling. I joked with friends that it was “buyer’s regret,” having committed to living in Peterborough and doing the PhD. Once I had a routine, I figured, I’d get over it.

But as the days passed, my ambivalence intensified; I missed Halifax more than during first year. So I tried to be social, hoping to feel connected, that the scales would tip in favour of being here. In this spirit, I went on the Anti-Colonization Walk-About during “DisOrientation Week” in late September.

A small group was already assembled at Confederation Square, the appointed meeting place. Our guide was a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which had shared this land with the Mississauga before European contact—a fact sometimes overlooked, she noted, by the Mississauga and the government. Both the Haudenosaunee and the Mississauga are Anishinaabe people, whose traditional territories extend in all directions from the Great Lakes. Yet the territorial acknowledgement I’d learned the week before referred only to the Mississauga. I felt a trickle of doubt—not for our guide, but because I’d blindly accepted one version of the story.

Before the walk, our guide led us in ceremony: she placed a lit bundle of sage in a clamshell, wafted the smoke over herself, then passed it around so we could do the same.

We followed her to the edge of the park and a sign describing how “pioneers” had used it as an agricultural fair, then as a cemetery. At the bottom, two sentences acknowledged that remains of “First Nations” people had also been found. We followed her to a grass median in a parking lot and a small boulder with a plaque: “An Anishinaabe lies here. Rest in peace.” Nearby, a larger plaque detailed the life of the settler who’d found the remains. There was no further information about the Anishinaabe.

Indigenous bodies beneath settlers’ bodies; settlers’ words burying Indigenous history.

We followed her downtown. The quaint brick buildings of the main streets now seemed to conceal something, to be on shaky ground that might split open and swallow us up. I felt heavy, as though that boulder was now lodged between my heart and stomach. It was unlike any emotional weight I’d ever experienced—not the garden-variety blues that sometimes settle after several of life’s more trying days, not despair, not even grief. It was embodied—an emotion I was physically carrying.

We stopped along the west bank of the Otonobee. She asked us what we could hear.

A distant bird.

The wind in the leaves of the trees overhead.

Afternoon traffic crossing the bridges.

The constant drone of the ventilation system in the factory to the north.

But not the river.

A hierarchy of sounds; a hierarchy of cultures.

We followed her to a patch of grass for closing ceremony: fingers dipped into a cup of warm water, then touched to forehead, nose, neck, shoulders, knees, and ankles. Our guide’s brother used a feather to “sweep death” from our eyes and ears. It was an oddly intimate gesture, and I wasn’t sure I believed it would work. But opening my eyes, seeing his smile, the lightness of joy replaced the gravity, the lassitude, of that boulder.

Back at my apartment, porch festooned with the vines of ripening beans, a hint of the boulder’s lug returned. Unlocking the door, I was grateful for a quiet place to process the afternoon’s experiences, but more aware than ever that this was not my home, just a temporary place to be.

Three blocks eastward, the Otonobee River flowed on, as it had long before 1615, when Samuel de Champlain conscripted the Anishinaabe, whose knowledge he used to define and delimit the land and the waterways between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, and beyond.

Three blocks eastward, the Otonobee River flowed on, as it will long after I’ve completed the PhD and found another, probably temporary, place to be.

In the meantime, reconciliation: of my feelings of ambivalence about staying for two more years in Nogojiwanong—the Anishinaabe word for Peterborough, meaning “place at the end of rapids”—and through becoming an anti-colonizing settler ally, wherever I am.

Jane Affleck is a writer, part-time instructor at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and PhD candidate in the Cultural Studies program at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario. Her writing (short stories, feature articles and exhibition reviews) has appeared in several Canadian arts and culture magazines, including C Magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to international contemporary art. Her Peterborough “bucket list” (to do before completing the PhD and leaving town) includes visiting the Canadian Canoe Museum and, after a couple of lessons, venturing along the Otonobee River in a canoe.

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Garden City, Michigan: Corner of Maplewood and Hartel


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

In an unknown world at the edge of Detroit, there is a green diamond ablaze beneath the sky. We, the young ones in this place of little pattern houses, call it the Lighted Field. Year after year, grasping at childhood, we ride our bikes with streamers on our handlebars, whooshing down Maplewood. Meet me at the Lighted Field, we say. Game or no game. Night or blinding summer day when the sun extinguishes the fierce electric lights. Meet me at the Lighted Field.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.40.43 PMBut this night, this 1969 night, burns brighter than sunlight. Sears my memory. Mosquitoes fry high above the infield on white-hot bulbs. Dust flies after base runners. Crowded feet in sandals and sneakers dangle between rows of bleacher seats. Bats pop. Popsicles melt. Top of the ninth. You and I make out behind the clubhouse at the Lighted Field. We run before the inning ends. To Canada.

Soon, your draft notice will land in the family mailbox, but find no soldier boy there to enlist, because of small acts across our childhood years. Chase games, hiding games. A red crayon Valentine slipped through your locker door. Secrets. Blushes. Whispering, camping in the backyard, our homemade tent cloaked in suburban sprawl. Beach towels and transistor radios at the lake. Warm sand coating our skin. Until tonight’s game. Wet, frightened adolescent kisses send us flying for your life. All the way to downtown Detroit in your old Ford, along Michigan Avenue, past the big stadium aglow, right turn to the River, through the Windsor Tunnel and out the other side.

Top of the ninth. Years too late. A summer afternoon, I park my car on Hartel and find a place on the bleachers at the Lighted Field, baking my bare, outstretched legs in the sun. Unknown, unknowable world at the edge of Detroit. There is the clubhouse where you and I used to hide and scheme and make out. Then you went to Vietnam.

No one recognizes me anymore. I watch the game. Until the day of my own death far from this place, if my old mind flickers to the green diamond beneath hot sun or beneath tall electric lights and black sky; or if the words, Lighted Field, flash and then go dark, then one last time, my heart will race and my throat tighten with grief.

A historian, writer and photographer, Amy Kenyon was born in Dearborn, Michigan and spent her childhood in suburban Detroit. She is the author of Dreaming Suburbia (Wayne State University Press) and Ford Road (University o Michigan Press).  

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