Island Times


Spence here:  The Great Lakes just feel like home. They fill my body with unexplained mixes of different kinds of love–wonder, joy, sadness, awe, gratefulness–to name a few. It is like when Tom Hanks first looks out into the ocean as a kid in the movie “Splash”, the Great Lakes have always held that allure for me. I have been so happy to be able to spend so much time around them lately. I felt some days in New Mexico I dreamt of these times.

After a sling shot drive back north from Cleveland, we met my parents for an overnight camp-out in Hartwick Pines State Park. It was a lovely evening, hanging out under my parents awning watching the rain fall. I slept so well again in our little tent, set on a mat of pine needles, away from the city.  Cleveland is a great “town” but I am always glad to get back in the dirt after walking concrete for a few days.  Hartwick Pines is well known in Michigan for mountain biking and for logging history–and the pines!  Great towering pines. Cathedral-like pines and life-producing watery spongy veins running through them. I remember when I was still an invincible teen–I may have shorn the cape by then–I took a costly spill over the handlebars of my mountain bike after hitting a sandy spot in the trail. When the dust settled, I opened my eyes and saw a huge rock by my head.  From then on I swore I would always wear a helmet! (My sister bailed on that same hill right after me!)  I have been so lucky to grow up with parks like this around in lower Michigan. My hometown was surrounded by them and I am a better person for it. “Outside” has shaped who I have grown to be.

More adventures awaited us further north. We met up with some of my favorite people in the world. What were at first, close friends of my parents, have become family to me–people who have also helped to shape who I am. A trip to Suttons Bay to visit with a woman and her family whose daughter I used to baby-sit–this was a cherry on top. I hadn’t seen them for so long, and it was good to be in their company again. Much laughing, reminiscing and catching up. Good food and good beer. “I am an IPA man”, my friend kept saying over and over–as well as references to “idle chatter”, which are inside jokes, but none-the-less important. I am thrilled Billy has been able to meet some of the people in my life who mean so much to me.

In any event, a magic place exists on Marquette Island, (part of the Les Cheneaux Islands in upper Michigan, Lake Huron) with magic people living there. More family friends picked us up in their boat and took us over to the island. We met some of the Finnish neighbors, toured some of the bays, and caught up on the past.  I am continually touched by the love and generosity of  people whenever I travel, but this went above and beyond. I am truly loved. We all showed Billy more about what the Great Lakes offer–exploring, island charts on the wall, sailing, stand-up paddling, great food and family.  I even looked through a copy of Bone Yard Boats magazine and pretended to be in the middle of a wooden boat restoration project. (Maybe someday I will be!) Perhaps its my Finnish heritage and my love of the water, but the whole island experience always leaves me wishing for our own cabin on the water.

I have always been the type of leaf which falls from the tree into the creek instead of varied ground. I float until I take up lodging against a pleasing sandbar, beaver’s quarters, driftwood snag or lily pad village. Then I float some more. Maybe this isn’t what people think is the right way to be…I should be apt to “grab life by the horns” or whatever.  But I think more and more, this is the life for me. Sometimes I feel like I should be “more” or “be” something or someone, or live up to some greatness or potential, but the leaf does not propose any such notion. It dreamily moves about on a course that is obviously purposeful, but not predictable, all the way out to the “Big Lake”.

Billy here. I am humbled and grateful to be welcomed into Michigan’s arms by the people, the water and the tall forests of pine, maple, beech, cedar and birch. Our hosts on Marquette Island in the Les Cheneaux archipelago took us sailing. When I said this was my first time, I was given the tiller to steer the sailboat. An old feeling came over me on the icy water that I remember from generations ago. It seemed so familiar, lifetimes of loving relations with the waters and the fish that gave my forbears food. In the mossy woods were little wooden cabins and a sauna, where the Finnish family who stayed there in one of the cabins near us would sit after dipping in the frigid Lake Huron. In Finland, a family sauna would be built even before the house and often women would give birth in the sauna. Holes would be cut in the ice and they would dip in the water then sit in the sauna in endless cycles. All welcomed me like family, feeding us delicious food, boating us around, letting us use their stand-up paddle boards (again, my first time!) and pouring us tasty local micro brews. I feel honored to see Spence’s home place and be a part of this beautiful family.

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