The Beauty in Being Right Where we Are

Beth Anne Piehl, Emmet County’s Director of Communication and Web Development, recently wrote an essay for the Harbor Light Newspaper in Harbor Springs, describing living and raising her two boys in Emmet County.

The piece is part of the newspaper’s continuing series of guest essays about life in Northern Michigan. “Beth Piehl is a perfect example of what it means to intentionally choose to call th is area home, and her life — both as a professional and a parent — is dedicated to celebrating all that’s good about Up North,” wrote Harbor Light’s News Editor Kate Bassett.

Editor’s Note:The Harbor Light Newspaper is dedicated to anchoring our readers to northern Michigan’s sense of place. We believe a community is defined by its stories, which is why we are elated to present another in our series of guest essays about life in this region. Beth Piehl is a perfect example of what it means to intentionally choose to call this area home, and her life– both as a professional and a parent– is dedicated to celebrating all that’s good about “up north.”

By Beth Anne Piehl
Emmet County Director of Communications and Web Development

is34-1325597452-30521I was flipping through Christmas catalogs last week and stopped at a custom puzzle offer in one of them. Neat idea, I thought; send in your photo of your kids, dog, house – whatever – and the company makes it into a puzzle. I thought about this essay, and how the custom puzzle is an ideal analogy for writing about how a community is a collage of vibrant pieces, put together over time to make an even better picture in the future.

The common pieces – people we all know, favorite places to go, the friendliness and safety of our towns – are relevant to us all, but how they fit our individual families is what creates that feeling, a sense of place, within each of us.

Nearly 17 years ago, I started collecting the puzzle pieces that would begin shaping the picture of my life in Emmet County. I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1995 and moved to Petoskey (a town where I’d never been) with the notion of staying for a year or so. I took a cub reporting job at the Petoskey News-Review, with little pay but big hopes of using it as a stepping stone to ultimately seeing my byline in larger dailies.

Instead of months, years passed. Relationships formed. I fell for the convenience and comfort and beauty of Emmet County. Still, I left to test my writing in a bigger downstate market. About one year into it, I went searching one afternoon for a spot to take our Golden, Maddie, for a swim on a really, really hot day. I found only a small, reed-filled watering hole and while she didn’t necessarily mind, I did. We moved back not long after, and when I smelled the evergreens through open windows driving along Mitchell after taking the Wolverine exit, I knew I was home once again.

Now a mother to 6-year-old twin boys, Drew and Evan, these things that appealed to me before have even more significance as I see them become important to my sons’ wellbeing, particularly the four corners – the foundation pieces — of my puzzle: outstanding health care, limitless outdoor recreation, strong schools and safe communities.

From there, I’ll start filling in my puzzle. Along the top edge I’ll piece together a panorama of our dazzling night sky. Thanks to International Dark Sky Park designation at the Headlands in Mackinaw City this past year, more attention is being paid to protecting this consequential resource. Did you know that two-thirds of the kids in the world can’t see the Milky Way from where they live because of light pollution? They can here.

Along the bottom edge will be the water that is the lifeblood of Northwest Michigan. We are so fortunate to have abundant public access to our clear, clean lakes. Even in this cold weather, the mention reminds me of the many summer days when we’d race home, get in our suits, grab our Golden and drive not even 5 minutes to jump in Walloon Lake, thanks to the public access at the end of Resort Pike Road. Last July was Maddie’s last swim in her treasured Walloon; cancer took her shortly thereafter. I can still picture her white muzzle and soft paws cutting through the water, and I know the lakes would be the biggest piece of her puzzle of growing up in Emmet County, too.

The rest of the middle pieces come easily; an abundance of images and experiences create a remarkable sense of place here: The view of the Bay from atop the Ferris wheel at the Fair on a warm summer evening as the sun sinks hot into the lake; rolling farmlands still actively worked by generations of the same family; city crews twirling fresh garland and stringing twinkling lights up and down street poles in the quaintest downtowns you’ve ever seen.

My most cherished puzzle pieces now, of course, involve my sons. Watching the nurses in the NICU at Northern Michigan Hospital exercise the most gentle care with their tiny preemie bodies. Seeing the expressions on their faces after scoring in a YMCA soccer game. Cheering as they steady themselves on skis – then implore me to “LET GO!” — during the generous ski-free day at Boyne Highlands. Skipping along the “icebergs” offshore north of Harbor Springs in early spring. Piling bikes in the back of the Tahoe and driving 10 minutes so they can “get major air” at one of the most fun, exciting, scenic (and free!) recreational draws – the Bear River Recreation Area in Petoskey. Letting them pick baskets of pumpkins and mini-gourds at Bill’s Farm Market while I absorb the view and thank my stars that I landed here.

All of our lives are like puzzles, really. Some pieces along the way don’t fit no matter which way you flip them; many will fit securely once other pieces are in place; and others are the right shape and size from the get-go, filling important gaps and providing perspective.

When I step back and look at all the pieces that have come together so far during my life in Emmet County, I realize that the custom puzzle offer in that catalog was right on target: It really is the perfect gift for the boys and me – to see the beauty in being right where we are, with all our pieces clicking into place from corner to corner, edge to edge, and everywhere in between.

Beth Anne Piehl, 38, of Petoskey is mom of twin sons Drew and Evan. She is Emmet County’s Director of Communications and Web Development. Her writing and editing background includes the Petoskey News-Review, Jackson Citizen Patriot and the Ann Arbor News.

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