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“Me and the wife retired Up North” said Tom, “worked in an auto plant down state in Flint. Builder put up an A-Frame next door to us – real nice, tongue and groove cedar throughout – but he stuck on a pole barn with this great big satellite dish on top. Then he put in paving all the way to the bank – the Betsie’s in danger of erosion, you know, and he dug a garden right on the lip. More to come, we figured, and then who knows what kind of people he might sell it to.”
“Wanta come along an’ look at it,” asked Jim, who had a rather nice smile behind his cigarette.
“But why us,” I asked?
“We call this here the Kingdom of the Betsie, everything North of Copemish, and we don’t offer a passport to just anybody. But you folks seem nice, saw your canoe, thought you might care more about the river. Tom’s on that same road – wanta look?”
“That’s great of you!” said John.
“Just follow my truck,” said Jim, and we did, past the red cottage to a lovely cedar chalet. There was a creek running through the wetland, a path along the river, a canoe dock, a swimming hole, and a patch of forest where, Tom told us, morels grew every spring.
“Withywindle!” said John.
“Say what?” said Jim.
“Maybe to Brandywine, along the Withywindle,
bobbing in a cockle boat, down the river rowing.
Maybe friends of mine a fire for me will kindle,
Where the river maiden waits, by the Withywindle.”
“Thought you might be intellectuals, didn’t we?” said Jim.
Then, noticing from our new friends’ expressions that they might not be familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil’s courtship of the riverman’s daughter, John became all business:
“If it’s for sale, does he have a realtor?”
“Going to use the same one as Robinson’s, one you saw this morning. Probably hasn’t listed it yet.”
And so it was we bought our cottage and began joyful days of carrying out Ratty’s advice to Mole in The Wind and the Willows:
“’It is the ONLY thing,’ said the water rat solemnly, ‘believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolutely nothing, half so much doing as simply messing about in boats,’ ” down on the Betsie river, all a summer’s day long.”
Annis V. Pratt formerly taught English and creative writing at University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Read more of her essays, which she calls The Betsie River Capers, at annisvpratt.com.