Tuesday, July 28, 2009

island quiet: Michigan

If you were ripped away from your routines and dropped on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan, with no phone, no electricity, nothing to link you to your life on the mainland, if you were surrounded by pristine beaches (sorry for the much overused attribute, but it’s apt) and clear (yes, very clear) waters, how would you handle it?

It’s not an easy question. I am almost never so completely cut off from the world, without an option to return to it.

The ferry bounces over to the island (Lake Michigan can have bouncy waters) in the morning, and not every morning at that; it dumps its cargo and returns to mainland.

North Manitou Island is, as I said, a National Park Service island and a designated wilderness area. But at the end of the nineteenth century, there was a small logging and farming village here and some houses from that period remain. So if you need civilization, you can explore the remains of a once thriving community.




Wilderness, to me, brings forth images of wild things. I was told to look out for deer (they were brought to the island about 100 years ago, for sport, but since every few decades the lake does freeze as far as the island, I imagine some can still move from the mainland to North Manitou – a ten mile journey). And there are, they say, coyotes. I didn’t see either. But if you move around slowly (we do that), you can see the small details of island life. And they are wild.






Copulating, fishing for a meal -- sex and food: how important is that?!



One morning it rains. We had pitched our tent under a large oak, next to a meadow of purple flowers. (The beach was 300 feet away – 133 of my steps; I counted.) Waking up, I know there is no reason to get up. And so I sleep some more. It is the longest rest I remember having.


Another morning, the sun came out. Slowly, because that's the way we all move around the sun. The swans were there, bobbing.




We don’t cook much. Boil water for our morning oatmeal. And once, we heat up a packet of spicy rice. Cheese and crackers and wine are a dinner staple.

Bugs: people always want to know about the severity of the bug problem at a camping spot. We have some, but not too many. We eat outside in the meadow – something that would not happen if I were swatting at little flying things.

We did have no see ‘ums. I ask Ed about them: what are these little things? No see 'ums. What's that? Any small biting insect you have a tough time seeing.

And here’s the sublime part: we walk the empty beaches and we swim. The northern Lake Michigan waters can be cool (topping at maybe 65 degrees), but somehow it all looks warm! And once I take the plunge, I give it a good few submerged minutes before running out into warmer air.



And let me close our island stay with this: the feeling of absolute peace and freedom. We are taking a walk maybe an hour before the ferry is to come and go and I tell Ed that flapping my arms and leaping in the air feels right. And so I do just that. And then I think we may want to take one last dip. And we do that as well.

The ferry comes, we board and return to the mainland. Eventually, everyone leaves the island. This is the way things are.


The drive to Chicago is long – maybe six hours. We pick up a daughter there and return with her to Madison just before midnight.

So I'm back now. Happy as a clam. Because if you take a leap on a beach, it stays with you afterwards.