Guest Blog: Silly Questions

I invited Amelia Brubaker, recent graduate of Northern Michigan University and West Bay Diner, to write a guest blog.  Here it is:

At the end of this month, I will pack up my car and drive from Marquette to Moscow. Idaho, that is. I’m going to graduate school.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been searching campus postings for apartments, making phone calls and asking renters all sorts of questions. About windows, heating, car spaces, off road parking. I can’t imagine asking the ones I really want to—What does the air smell like? How does the sky look? Heavy, musty with dandelion, grass, and manure, like Indiana? White and bright with humidity in the summer? Or more like Michigan, lilacs and sweet water in the spring; mostly a light blue that fades even lighter as it reaches to the water?

I asked one of the first landlords I talked to whether or not Moscow fines drivers for parking on the streets overnight in the winter (as the policy is in Marquette.) He said no, and added that last winter he figured they had about 20 inches of snow. My jaw dropped. I thought of the sled-worthy mound of snow that sat in front of my apartment until it finally melted in March. I thought of the times I had to dig myself out of our driveway before the plow came, because it had snowed about a foot overnight and my tires were spinning out. I thought of the sudden snows I wrapped my face against to walk to my classes. My thick, rubber-soled boots and three trusty layers of clothing. It never occurred to me that a northern town—almost at the same latitude as Marquette–would have such dry winters.

Idaho is still a mystery to me, and will be until I pull into town. With other places, you can almost tell what you’re getting into. Iowa is as aimless as the way it sounds–nothing but wind over corn. Nebraska rambles on as endlessly as its name. Indiana is the same, with its midsection so flat and farmed that the patches of trees and farmhouses in the distance look like they were cut from cardboard. Michigan has the sound of waves and a breeze in it. That soft shhh.

Idaho? What is that? Idaho. Potato? No.

Idaho. Sounds like a smooth rock. Sounds like wind and dry husks. Sounds like something bright and something dull at the same time. The sun hitting an old spade. The spade thrown, striking the earth with a thud. Like it begins with it’s own end.

I know I could find a dozen pages of pictures of those golden fields and nearby mountains—because I already have. But pictures do a poor job of capturing a place. I’ve spent a month walking the streets of Vienna. I’ve been to Schönbrunn castle, walked up to the Gloriette, stood in the shadow of Stephansdom. I’ve never seen a picture of what I actually saw. I’ve never seen a picture of what I felt. How heavy the air could get, how suddenly the spring rain would come and go, how you could smell the flats’ plaster and old bricks on the streets when the sun was hot. A picture of a painting can never show the depth of the artist’s strokes.

A picture of of blue skies over some fields and a mountain can’t tell me what the storms are like in Idaho, how easy or hard the seasons change, or any of that which moves or makes it living.

I just have to get there.

Category: Life 8 comments »

8 Responses to “Guest Blog: Silly Questions”

  1. Pamela Grath

    That was great! True, too. Friends who visited all the lower 48 one year swore that Idaho was the most beautiful state. I’ve never been. Went to Colorado once. Got off a small plane in Aspen and was overwhelmed by the cool, fresh, spicy smell. No one had ever said a word to me about how good it would smell.

    Hope we hear more from Amelia when she gets to Idaho. Graduate school in what subject, Amelia?

  2. Amelia B

    Thank you Pamela!
    I’m working towards an MFA in creative writing, focusing in poetry.

  3. tim bazzett

    Dear Amelia – Good luck w/ the MFA in Moscow. But keep in mind that poets are not manufactured. You can always write. I am currently reading Ellen’s lovely novel. I have a feeling she is proof positive that MFA’s are not required to write. I am down to the last 50 pp of the book and am purposely trying to read more slowly, but it’s a struggle. I just don’t want this book to end. I’m taking notes and trying to figure out just why I love this book so much. It’ll take some cogitating. Watch for my review on Amazon and LibraryThing later. And I may try to get it into the local paper too. In a town that often seems curiously indifferent to good books, this is not always easy, but I’ll try, because South of Superior deserves a very wide readership. If you’re going to study in the MFA program in Moscow then you must already know who Brandon Schrand is. His memoir, The Enders Hotel, is a terrific book. I hope he makes it required reading. At the very least, however, you should read it before school starts – background stuff. Check out his website too, if you haven’t already. I wish you success in your writing aspirations. All the best from a geezer teller of tales. – Tim

  4. Gerry

    I hope the scent of Lake Superior wafts through your Idaho dreams. It will be interesting to learn what you make of Moscow–and what it makes of you! A fine adventure.

  5. Marilyn

    This was a lovely piece. Now I’m wondering whether poets have stronger senses of smell than nonpoets. In any case, the blog was insightful and intriguing. I’d love you read more of your thoughts (and the smells) of moving to the Northwest and going to grad school.

  6. Dawn

    Sounds like a new adventure…my favorite sort of thing to do – explore somewhere new. And to be able to go to school at the same time? Heaven! Have fun…hope we hear from you again once you’re there!

  7. mary Hagan

    I am on my way North! Goal to meet Ellen at her diner. Haven’t been able to read your ‘new’ book
    but heard your interview with Aaron Stander. I actually rung him up this morn to get directions to The Diner. I live in Empire, MI and am looking forward to visiting the U.P. for a few days.
    Mary Hagan

  8. ellenair

    Hi Mary! Hope to meet you soon.


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