There are few things as strange as having your place burn down. I know this. It happened to us. Yesterday, it happened to the people who own Rainbow Lodge, the motel deep in the deep of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the place on the fabled Two-Hearted River where ordinary Joes could feel like Hemingway for a day. The Duck Lake Fire had overcome Rainbow Lodge and it was gone. Just plain gone.
Today we drove out H-58 east of Grand Marais, MI, to take our dogs for a walk in the forest and we saw the sign for Rainbow Lodge – Rent Canoes on the Big Two-Hearted River – 33 Miles. Every time I see the sign I think of Hemingway’s alter ego Nick Adams getting off the train in Seney and hiking all those miles with his knapsack full of cans of pork and beans. I don’t think Hemingway really hiked all that way – I think he just liked the name – Two-Hearted River. I think he really went fishing in the Fox River, but does it matter?
Rainbow Lodge wasn’t fancy. Don’t think it was a big, beautiful log cabin with stoked fireplaces and glittering candles. I never stayed there but it looked to me like a typical U.P. place which mostly means neat and clean shelter. Thin walls, double beds with sensible bedspreads, big, fat TV’s sitting on dressers, and free coffee from the urn in the lobby in the morning. Its charm was its existence not its ambience.
The aftermath of a fire is indescribable. We were gone when our house in Grand Marais burned down and we didn’t come back for two months because people told us there was nothing to see, nothing to save. But when we came back, we saw plenty. We saw shards of the blue dinner plates sticking up through the snow. We saw the embroidered edge of a pillowcase. We found whole tiles from the upstairs bathroom. And we saw nails and glass everywhere from when the house blew apart from the heat.
It was sickening in a strange, archeological kind of way. It was interesting finding these things and remembering how a few months before they were part of an intact house. But it was also so awful. What we had was gone. There was nothing there but little shards that would fit in a cereal bowl.
So I am sad for the people who own Rainbow Lodge, the folks who kept Two-Hearted River a place people could go and imagine themselves with a knapsack and cans of pork and beans. I wonder if they are finding the shards of dinner plates that just a few days ago held people’s suppers. I don’t have to wonder if they are sad because I know they are. I know, too, that folks who drove up from lower Michigan or came from other places are very sad that the place that made summer special and their adventures real is gone.
There is just nothing like it – having your place burn down. I know. It happened to us. We started over. I hope the Rainbow Lodge owners do the same.
Here’s news about the Duck Lake fire current as of 5/30/12: http://www.freep.com/article/20120530/NEWS06/120530055/Michigan-upper-peninsula-wildfire?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE