David Hoppe

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:: Letter from up north

by David Hoppe

It takes a couple of years.
That’s been my experience in moving from one place to another. It generally takes a couple of orbits around the sun before a place to live becomes a home.

It is now almost two years to the day since Melli and I left our longtime home in Indianapolis to live up north; in northwest Indiana, to be exact, near the Lake Michigan shore in a town called Long Beach.

Long Beach: If you’ve lived in Indiana for as long as I have, that name is something to conjure with — the stuff of dreams (and beer commercials). A surprising number of people find the very idea hard to believe. When I tell them where I live, they give me a look, like I’m trying to pull a fast one. “There’s no beach in Indiana,” they say.

But there is. And a vast inland sea to go with it.

Being able to live in close proximity to Lake Michigan is ultimately what drew us here. The lake, the dunes, the towering oak trees along the shoreline. This is what some folks call a “power place,” one of those landscapes where the planet makes itself felt on a regular basis, where your sense of consciousness expands at the same time that the self you call your own feels smaller and smaller.

This place’s story is very old — timeless, really — and relentlessly new.

As tempting as it is to keep one’s eyes fixed on the beach, the lake, the woods, this place was also the 20th century’s forge. “Rust belt,” is the lazy shorthand some use to describe our part of the Midwest. Drive 20 miles west from my front door and you’re looking at mills where they made the steel used to turn America into a world power. A few miles farther and you practically taste the fumes from BP’s massive oil refinery in Whiting. Pipelines carrying all manner of hazardous stuff — or “energy,” as we prefer to call it — run under and above the ground here like spider veins.

They call this “the Region.” To say the earth has been bruised around here is a gross understatement. Bludgeoned, stripped and torn is more like it. That cancer rates are as high as they are in these parts is enough to make you believe in karma.

On a clear day, you can stand on our beach and see Chicago’s skyline. It’s an awesome sight made of equal parts promise and threat. The city remains inspirational, but today’s glut of upper tier fortunes has created an uber class with the money to bend the landscape to suit themselves. This passes for freedom.

Someone once said the southern coast of Lake Michigan is a microcosm for the planet. A big city, massive industrial plant, and one of the most extraordinary ecosystems in the world share the same 50 miles.

I’ll be writing you letters about this part of Indiana from time to time. It’s complicated, exasperating and gorgeous — and yes, it feels like home.