Home is Where the Hex Is

Weekend warriors from suburban Detroit call my hometown ‘paradise’. To them, Indian River, Michigan is synonymous with ‘Up North’. They vacation here. They live for deer sightings and, on most occasions, are directionally uninclined. When they arrive during the first week of July, our humble streets begin to resemble Disney World during Spring Break — retirees in floral shirts; middle-aged men with sunburns, Jimmy Buffet t-shirts and expensive loafers; and suntanned kids, smelling of Coppertone, wearing water shoes and fluorescent shirts.

Around finals week, after a semester of financial irresponsibility (aka: a trip to Montana and too many nights at the bar), I knew that I’d be more or less inclined to spend the summer at home, where I could live rent-free and eat all my parents food. But I also knew that spending a summer at home would require a full-scale evasion of tourists — those who seem to pride themselves on ignoring firework safety and traffic laws while simultaneously disposing of Bud Light cans in every body of water they can access with their speedboats. However, such is life when you live where others vacation, the prototypical tragedy and a familiar narrative for anyone who lives in a naturally well-endowed place.

My defense mechanism became spending time on the water they couldn’t access — trout streams and inland lakes accessible only by indiscriminate two-tracks. Emerging from an enormous watershed formed by glaciation, three trout streams flow through and near Indian River, creating a local fishing refuge where no amount of DEET will keep the black flies away and where no tourist would dare venture. Defined by blue-ribbon trout streams, hardwoods and elk-sightings, this 105,000 acre plot of land is most easily described as the first knuckle of the middle finger when looking at the backside of the left hand (the universal depiction of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula). By the end of May, I was spending four nights a week sleeping on the ground on this tract of state land near my home, eking by on whiskey, rainbow trout fillets and granola bars. I’d leave work (the same ice-cream-scooping job I had in high school, if you must know) at 9:30 p.m., drive through dusk and meet up with friends on the river by 10 p.m., just in time for the drake hatch. Big browns would await.

By the end of June, however, the great northern migration of suburbanites had begun — almost ironically in sync with the peak of the hex hatch — and getting on the river before 11 p.m. became a matter of faking a fever or delegating mop duty to the new kid. Making peace with the inevitable, I soon realized that after washing dishes and sweeping up rainbow sprinkles, no time would be left for flinging hexes. For weeks, I watched mayflies loiter around our neon open sign, imagining the browns rising to feast on them in the rivers nearby. From behind a mop at closing time, I would witness another night of the hex having come and gone. By the beginning of July, the tourists had me defeated.

However, having embraced life from a sleeping bag, permanently wet waders and the occasional fireside meals, I was forced to embrace my surroundings, which come to find out, weren’t so bad. Over one particular meal of a pan-fried rainbow in early July, amidst my whining about wanting to travel — about getting away from my hometown — a friend earnestly reminded me that where you’re at is more important than where you want to be. And despite the many nights I spent watching hatch after hatch dissipate from behind the screened window of the Dairy Mart, I’d rather save the apathy for the tourists. After all, they’re the ones that prefer mattresses and the comfortable temperatures of their summer cottages; and to each his own, of course. In looking back, I’m just happy I never had to drive back to Detroit for work on Monday morning.