Ice rides on the wind. It acupunctures my skin, little ice needles pricking my bare arms. I am unprepared for this kind of weather. I have traveled from the Southern climes of Tennessee through Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan to the very Northernmost point of the United States of America.
I wrap myself in the fuzzy sweater that lies on the car floor and step outside and onto the ferry.
Lake Michigan melted only days ago and this is one of the very first ferries to cross over for the summer season. I hear that in the winter inhabitants have to ride snowmobiles across the ice to get to the mainland.
I stare out of the bleared windows, watching the white waves lap against the boat, the grey skies brooding low overhead.
Beside me, James is suffering with a head-cold and a low-grade fever. Poor guy. It’s been going around. Strep throat and whatnot. Comes with sudden changes in weather. Along with weight-loss. Ever heard that ice-cold immersion baths help you lose weight?
Ha. Like I’m gonna do that!
We are going to Mackinac Island, short for Michilimackinac Island, originally a Native American settlement. We are performing on the island for a women’s conference. The concert prep has been interesting. All of our gear and instruments have to be transported via horse and wagon because no cars are allowed on Mackinac Island. It seems when cars first started getting popular in the late 1800s, Mackinac authorities vetoed the newfangled gadgets because island residents complained that automobiles startled their horses and were unhealthy and dangerous. No kiddin'.
When we arrive at the dock the fun shipyard spirit soaks us up. It’s like stepping into Carry On, Mr. Bowditch! While the rest of the crew wait for a cabby to pick them up, James and I walk to the hotel since James is allergic to horses. It is a fun walk, passing fudge stores and souvenir shops, people walking and riding bicycles. No cars anywhere. It’s amazing how much quieter the world is when you don’t have cars buzzing around! Though maybe not much nicer-smelling, taking into account the horse dander flying through the air and the horse poop decorating the streets.
James and I leave downtown, pass a line of lovely colonial-style houses, and then climb up an ascending slope to the Grand Hotel, one of the Island’s most popular attractions. It is a 5-star hotel, known for its Victorian Art Deco designs. The hotel is so Victorian it even has a sign that says men must wear coats and ties and women must wear only skirts at dinner.
Only skirts? Wait a minute…
The hotel is unique and bold. Wallpaper with big flowers and grandiose designs in pink and green and yellow, floors carpeted in stark red and black. At first it is very strange, but after a while it kind of grows on you. Makes your surroundings alert.
I feel a little bit like Downton Abbey sitting in my long dress at supper, eating a 5-course meal served by waiters in long-tailed tuxedos. I am very proud of the fact that I know that you’re supposed to start with the outermost silverware and work in towards the plate.
Ahem. Prunes and prisms. (If you don't know what that references you haven't read Little Dorrit. For shame! 😉)
Coming back to my hotel room, I find a schedule that lets me know there is tea and coffee in the library starting at 6am.
So the next morning, since poor husband is sick and needs to sleep as much as possible, I slip down to the library while the rain patters on the windows outside, now pretending I’m in Pemberley. I get my coffee and sit on a green antique sofa and read my book.
Then some elderly people come in and start talking loudly about their wayward children.
Alas. Nothing is ever perfect.
Thankfully James recovers the following day and the sun recovers too. So, since we have the morning and early afternoon free, James and I decide to explore the island.
First we explore the beautifully tended grounds of the hotel, with its greenhouses and gardens, along with stables and dormitories where its employees live during the summer. I spot the most beautiful flowers, like daffodils and bleeding hearts.
One day I will have a greenhouse and a big garden and a barn and all of those things. But until then I’ll just gawk over other people’s.
We rent a couple inordinately expensive bikes from the bike master, and skedaddle down the road. We happen upon a whole host of young children getting out of school, all of them with their little kiddie bikes dashing back home. We join them as we fly through downtown and stop at the tail end of Main Street to buy picnic fodder at the oldest established grocery store in the United States. I am shocked to find that being old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all local and amazing, but James and I find Pellegrinos and dark chocolate, load them up in our baskets, and go off to explore the fort.
Mackinac Island enjoys some very amazing history. Apparently it was first settled by Native American tribes. A Jesuit priest named Claude Dablon founded a mission for Native Americans in the late 1600s. Here is a replica of the bark chapel where he celebrated the liturgy.
Behind it is the fort the British constructed as a way to protect themselves from French-Canadians and Iroquois. The island was a major travel point for the Great Lakes.
James and I climb the huge hill to the fort and explore it, see the hole in the ground where they stuck disorderly soldiers in solitary confinement (the horror!!!), the condos where upper officers lived with their families, the bathrooms that celebrated the first implementation of running water and has holes in the roof to let steam out.
A gunshot rings through the air. It freaks me out, makes my ears ring. I look out the window beside an old Civil War chest with pictures of female...uh...cherubs glued on the lid.
It's just a fake drill. That happens every 30 minutes, just as you're starting to relax. Ach.
When we have perused the Fort sufficiently, James and I continue on our bicycles along the main road.
The beauty is breathtaking!
We stumble upon a trail leading up from the bicycle path, climbing countless stairs to a famous outlook point. Unfortunately James and I haven’t been very faithful with our stair stepper exercises, and the stairs are endless. Here and there they have signs that say ‘No Horses’.
But there are fascinating tree roots straight out of Middle Earth growing from the incline. I love tree roots.
In middle school I spent a whole semester gawking over the way roots have hairs that soak up stuff from the soil and run through the tree and come out in leaves that turn into flowers that turn into fruit, and also how chlorophyll is like blood.
THE WORLD IS AMAZING.
But finally we are there! The wind is alive, the sky blue and mirrored in the sea. The rock reminds me of Peter Pan’s skull rock, where he lies in the arch and shouts echoes to Smee.
We walk all the way to the farthest edge and eat our dark chocolate and drink our Pellegrinos, staring off into the sparkle. Whenever I see the ocean I like to imagine all the stuff in the ocean till I freak out and have to think about normal things.
Then we catapult down the stairs and ride around the whole island, stopping every once in a while to sit on the pebble shores and stare off into the ocean.
Finally, just as the sun is setting, we get back to the Grand Hotel and enjoy a steaming cup of loose-leaf green tea after our cold, invigorating, windy ride. I like my green tea bitter. Yum.
We enjoy ourselves so much that next day we bicycle through the island instead of around it. It is a rather arduous journey, up continual hills, but we discover a tiny airport nestled in the woods, a cave where a famous trapper camped for a night and woke up to find that he had lain all night on an ancient Indian skeleton pile, and finally come out of the woods to this lovely view.
And then James decides to ride his bike down the last part of the intensely steep incline like a 12-year-old boy while I bite my nails and yell ‘BE SAFE!!!!!!’
And then follow his lead, of course.