Place is yet another character in L.E. Kimball’s new book, Seasonal Roads (Wayne State University Press, 2016), a collection of connected stories about three women living in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The three — mother, daughter, grandmother —are connected by blood but also by the wilderness in which they live.
Kimball understands the power of place. When she’s not teaching at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, she lives off the grid with her son in a cabin on a trout stream. Some of her inspiration comes from her experiences there.
“I live in a more remote setting than a lot of Yoopers,” Kimball says, referring to the name used for those native to the U.P. who can be resistant to newcomers. “At first, we didn’t have a bathroom. I showered outside the cabin with one of those water bags hanging from a tree. We either had a Porta-Potty or we used the woods. So we added things as we went along.”
The two-room cabin where the lives of these three women intersect is accessible only by seasonal roads. They are open only during the few short months when the U.P. isn’t buried under snow. Norna deals with the wilderness head-on: hunting, foraging, fending for herself, and defending herself whenever needed. Kimball says she's the most perplexing and unknowable character. Her daughter Aissa is fresh from a divorce, trying to heal wounds, while Jane finds herself up against a forest fire.
“When I first started writing this, I wanted to write about how inaccessible we are sometimes to the people we are closest to,” Kimball says. “And I wanted to write about a woman who lived off grid in the wilderness. I started writing it before I moved here myself.”
Other aspects Kimball enjoys exploring in her work are the nonlinear layers of time — and of truth. She also addresses themes of faith and how it can coexist with science.
“I’ve never understood why so many think the two are incompatible,” Kimball says. “It’s politics. If people believe there was a Creator at one point, why wouldn’t that Creator also create science? I went to Oral Roberts University, and I think organized religion can be dismaying, to say the least. But there’s a theme of spirituality that carries through my work.”
L.E. Kimball, known to her friends and colleagues as Lynn Fay, teaches in the English department at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. She's also an associate editor for Passages North, a literary journal. Kimball has also written A Good High Place.
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