I've been thinking about this a lot lately, what with the stepdaughter graduating in just three years, and some epic Seasonal Affective Disorder in our home. Surely, there must be someplace less dark and cold.
Five things I love about Saline/Ann Arbor/SE Michigan/Michigan:
1) Knowing people. Being able to six degrees everyone I meet (or more likely 2 degrees). I grew up in a town where I was a stranger. I knew the people I saw every day and that was about it. Seems like it takes about 15 years for someone with my affability factor to get to that point, to being a true resident, to see acquaintances and friends in the grocery store or at a restaurant. Every year that passes, I feel more like this is where I live, and am not just guesting.
2) Cultural opportunities. People like to complain about Ann Arbor because it's not quite as cool as Madison or the big city where they last lived, but I've spent my time in Podunkia, and TRUST ME, there are plenty of good cultural opportunities around here. I grew up in a place with a similar number of opportunities, so it seems Good and Right to me, even if it's not like a 10/10 score. Here, I've lived here through two Royal Shakespeare Company residencies, for example, and there's always Handel's Messiah at the holidays, and there is a clunky, endearing natural history museum in town; a random, eclectic art museum; an archaeological museum; a (smallish) planetarium... No, the planetarium does not compare to Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, but It Works. And if I need MORE, it's not hard to drive towards Detroit and see more.
3) History. I have a history with this state. My great-great-great-grandparents are buried in this state (somewhere), and I know exactly where about half my great-great-grandparents are buried. My grandfather was born in a lumber camp in Kalkaska. And that's all just my ancestors, and a small portion of it. For myself, I've lived in Sault Ste. Marie as well as several locations around the lower peninsula. I've also lived in a state without a familial connection. It didn't bother me to live in North Carolina and not feel like I had any connection to anything--I'm fully convinced my family is too insular--but at the same time, I do enjoy the connection to the past--the hundred-year-old lake house that belongs to my husband and his family, the nearly two-hundred-year-old institution where I work. Perhaps because I moved so much when I was a kid, I like finding a connection to where I am. I don't know. But I like it.
4) 50% of the environment: the summer and the fall, the trees and the heat, the greenery and the thunderstorms. The first snowfall. The August night-bugs. The cool nights. The stars at the lake. The lake! The lakeS! The rivers! The sunsets. Bird-watching. Forest walks. Beaver dams. Mushroom walks. The notion that I could find food in the forest, if I had to, or grow it, if I had to.
5) Midwesterners. I don't know if I really LIKE Midwestern culture, or if it's just that I understand it, but having grown up in a location where I didn't know if people liked me or hated me, it is reassuring to be amongst folks where I do know, where I know how to read the subtextual cues around me.
Five things I hate:
1) Winter. January-February, the endless slog through the slush, the darkness, the dirt, the hassle of commuting, the endlessness, the cold, the constant pressure of having to think through your wardrobe so you don't die or lose an appendage or get chilblains or frostbite or just get the shakes. Dry skin in winter. Dry nose in winter. Taking baths or showers just to warm up...
2) Mosquitos. Enough said.
3) Detroit Despair. The crumbling of a city, the crumbling of the automotive industry, the economic collapse that's ongoing around my little haven of Ann Arbor... BLEAH.
4) Secret Racism. I could write post after post about this, but race relations are so much more screwed up in the north than anyone wants to admit or discuss. In North Carolina, you can't hide from racism. You can't pretend it doesn't exist. As a white person, you have to confront yourself and your privilege and your prejudices and decide if you really are an ally or... not. Up here, a lot of white people like to believe they aren't racist, but they've never (or rarely) had to confront any of their own assumptions or issues, and when they finally do, they frequently fall down on the job.
5) Island of Unreality. The prejudice the rest of the state has against Ann Arbor sometimes shocks me. We're "not living in the real world." We're "full of freaks." We're... whatever. It's occasionally brutal to run smack into the wall of the rest of the state's prejudices. This is nothing against Ann Arbor, but it is something I hold against Michigan.