On Homecoming and Lost Heritage

On a peninsula in Lake Michigan, at the 45th parallel where there are four distinct seasons, I was born in early summer, sister of the lightning bugs.

My Dad bought 40 acres for something like $2,300 that year. A slice of Benzie County this nice would sell for $250K+ today. Makes me wonder who he bought it from, and who bought it before him. And how long ago was it taken from the Anishinaabe first peoples, before it was considered ‘property’… when it simply belonged to itself.

Dad tells me he finished the house just days prior to my coming. I can imagine him and my grandpa in their flannels and blue jeans and dirty ball caps, swinging and chopping together, not saying much but not needing to. 

My Mom tells me they birthed 10 piglets on the full moon night I was born. That is a sight I love to imagine, my mom and dad happy together once upon a time, birthing with the moon. Dad said my mom was born for birthing and I like to imagine that was a compliment. 

Playing in those woods as a child, I remember being afraid of trout lily leaves in the spring. They looked haunted, waiving like little mottled fingers, some of the first green things to sprout up in the spring. I remember running through the woods along a path in terror, convinced they were reaching out for me. 

I remember crawling around in the shallow creek down the road, trying to catch frogs with my sister. Or running in the woods, pushing down dead stags.

We were intrepid explorers of our magic kingdom. Growing up on a dirt road in the 80s was heaven for two wildish girls in matching overalls and two-day-old braids. 

My Dad carved my name in a beech tree on our family land in Northern Michigan. It’s still there, down by the creek, with a heart around it. One for my sister too. Over the years it has changed in surprising ways. It hasn’t gotten any further from the ground, and it’s still legible, but time has made it callused. It was carved so my tiny human body could see it, touch it. 

There were times when Dad and I weren’t speaking, that I wanted to slash that tree. I’m glad I didn’t, because it holds so much living memory for me now. I visit the tree and massage the calluses. 

I grew up on a dirt road and I used to be ashamed of that. I was taught this shame. I was also taught shame for my native heritage, the family rarely spoke about our lost Ojibwe relations. I didn’t really know the story of these roots until I was much older. There is still so much I don’t know, so much was lost. 

I thought dirt roads meant something, I thought being native meant something; I learned to be ashamed to be from humble beginnings. 

As soon as I could, I traveled very far from this dirt road, this land. I traveled around the country, and then the world, and immersed myself in other cultures. I was looking for some missing pieces. 

I saw poverty coexist with riches that have nothing to do with material wealth. Smiling joyful Colombian people, working their coffee plantations, wealthy in connection and love. 

I saw dirt roads in Thailand with umbrellaed food carts run by mothers breastfeeding, where children and dogs and chickens played and patient eyes watched me pass by.  

I saw other dirt roads, in Nicaragua where all the white people’s trash is piled up and burned just outside of town; entitled tourists leaving local communities with no solutions for western excesses.

I saw eight lane highways in LA, looping and weaving like snakes, slithering with traffic and smog. Cigarette butts flying out windows, not one smile in a mile of Range Rovers and Benzes. 

What are riches anyway? I realized I preferred kicking stones along a dirt road with the frogs peeping in the creek, no particular timeline or destination. To me, wild places are the real riches.


I left my homeland for a long time, nearly half my life, my adventurous spirit and curiosity taking me to many diverse landscapes across the world. I married a Norwegian, and traveling was a necessary part of our life together.

Always though, I would return home in the summers when I could. Always I felt this pull back here, to the Great Mother Lake, like it was the center of the universe. I could never deny, I was from the Maple Nation. 

But, there was a time during those traveling years, that I didn’t know where I belonged. No place felt like home. I’d traveled so long I became geographically dislocated, and it was the loneliest I’d ever felt. 

I started to feel the impacts of my rootless heritage, my nomad lifestyle, and the darkness at the center of my marriage… something inside me shifted. So, just before the pandemic in fall 2019, I came home.

The next spring we were forced into lockdown, and as my marriage was falling apart, I fled to the rolling dune forests for solace. After so long away, coming back home to myself and to my homeland became inextricably linked. The land and lake began to bring me back to myself. 

That same year for my 39th birthday, my father gave me a 1987 sixteen foot camper. A few days later I finally left my husband, moved back onto the family land, and began renovating this camper, claiming it as my new tiny home. I poured my grief into that project, and when I wasn’t working I was walking the lands of my birthplace.

I made very special relationships with the family of vultures that lived on the property. Vultures are transformative death-eaters, and I came back that summer with a lot of food to offer them.

Their symbolism is associated with the feminine, the balance of life and death, for helping shamans return to their bodies after shapeshifting. The goddess Isis kept them, and they are known to be incredibly good mothers. I spoke with them and cried to them a lot that summer. They mothered me with gifts of their feathers, and helped me come home from my own version of shapeshifting. 

I was barefoot again most of the summer, swam in the lake for my baths, used my family’s washer once in a while, but mostly I was on the land, just one little camper door between me and the ferns and sunlight. I had not felt that free in years, or that happy. In the middle of a pandemic, after all that I had gone through, I was beginning to thrive.

This past summer was my third living on this land. Except this year, I would have a different responsibility. My Dad gave me five acres, the far back corner (that I always thought was the most magical) last year for Christmas. What a powerful gift.

To me, the rift in my native heritage and ancestry felt even more poignant, now that I was to be stewarding some of this land. 

Going through the last few year’s worth of hardship on this land has endeared me to it, giving me stability and consistency that I’ve never known. In a way, I’m thankful for my divorce and the pandemic, because I don’t know how else I could have learned to kneel on the land in devotion. It was all I had. I was broken down, kneeling because I couldn’t stand.

Over time, by leaning on the birch, the maple, and by the grace of the birds and my loved ones, I stood again. 

This summer, sleeping in a yurt-tent deeper on the land, I listened to how it wants me to steward it in return. I got some pretty clear messages. At the beginning of the summer, I spent all day clearing and preparing the land, bringing in sand and a fire ring, for a fire pit. Not just two days later, the entire clearing erupted with poison ivy so thick, I dared not even walk through again until fall. A hard pass on the fire pit. 

I noticed the coyote, the deer, the bear, and how my presence changed the paths they traveled. I asked for signs, and saw skat piles and feathers on the trails. 

I saw trout lilies and remembered their announcement: soon there would be spring foraging for delicacies like wild leeks and morel mushrooms, and I was no longer afraid. I found a rare white morel growing right next to the big white pine I had created an altar beneath. I sat in this spot throughout the summer, and I listened. 

I saw where the lightning bugs lived. I danced with their blinking illuminated bodies for weeks near my birthday. It felt like love. 

I wondered how my long lost Ojibwe ancestors would want me to care for the land, what listening rites or blessings they may have taught me. Those family ties were buried a long time ago, out of shame or fear by white ancestors, and I no longer know my indigenous relatives today. This brings a lot of grief, and further shame for this loss of culture and community. 

As I sat I felt grief over the systemized erasure of indigenous cultures all over the world. I held this as I listened for ways to pay homage. Spontaneous things came to me, out of the blue, little rituals of thankfulness.

I practiced the honorable harvest ethic, as I foraged for my favorite woodland delights. I walked the land and cleared the fallen branches and debris from the paths I’ve wandered since childhood. I saw the land with fresh eyes of responsibility. I held a longing to honor my heritage, honor my lost ancestors in my heart, and tried to give more than I took. 

I am still asking for permission to be here, from my lost ancestry, but I know I do belong. I am beginning a new heritage, one that does not look away from the damage we have done, to the first peoples, and to the land. 

And I write these words now, in hopes that they spark a curiosity in you. 

How do you walk the land? Who walked it before you, and how can you honor them?

How can you find yourself in right-relationship, to wake from the nightmare of possession and ownership? How can you live more simply, and practice the honorable harvest? How will you grieve the losses? 

I learned from my experiment of listening to the land that what it wished from me was to steward it from afar. That it wanted to remain wild. That my impact would be too great if I were to carve out a foundation and build. It was painful to admit. But I see now that this place will hold all the magic of my childhood this way, only this way. 

I realized that I belong to the land, not the other way around. I found that no matter how far I’ve come, I still belong here. This felt like a homecoming, and maybe it defines what I was seeking all those years away. I believe my lost elders would smile at this. I believe the vultures would too.

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