Move Back Monday – “24 Hours” 11/20/17

Header Photograph:  Robert McGreevy, 2014

Personal Note:  I’ve been writing Bree’s Mackinac Island Blog for over eight years now, and I’d guess 98% of the posts I’ve shared have been happy tales of life on Mackinac.  But this is not one of them. 

Reading back over the posts about our 4-day trip to the island during Winter Festival of 2010, I was filled once again with memories of all the wonderful adventures we shared, the delight at the snow-covered island, the joy of being with island friends (and sharing all that with my wonderful Georgia friend Dawn).  What happened on our last night on Mackinac was a tragedy that took two beautiful women from their families and friends.  I only knew them 24 hours, but their happiness and spirit for life is still remembered all these years later.

24 Hours – First Published February, 2010

Tonight I have a story to tell – and tragically, it is one without a happy ending.  I debated whether the story should be told, then decided to write it as a tribute to these two women, whom I only knew for 24 hours.  In just that short amount of time, they touched my heart.  I met them, shared smiles with them, talked with them, teased them, outbid one of them for a rug at a silent auction, said goodbye to them at the school on Sunday afternoon.  Three hours later they were gone.

In the third post I wrote about our trip to Winter Festival, there is a photograph near the bottom of Don Schwarck and me standing outside his home on the island.  Dawn and I had started walking back to town from Turtle Park, and when we passed Don’s home, he had seen us and invited us in to meet his wife and sister-in-law.  As you know, Don and Ted worked together this past summer at the State Park Visitor’s Center.  With other park employees, Ted and I had been to dinner at Don’s last summer, and Don had come to our condo for dinner a few weeks later – bringing fresh veggies from his garden.  A retired high school teacher and coach, Don and Ted had bonded instantly and become good friends.  But I had never met his wife, Karen, who owned her own travel agency and was away for days at a time.  When Karen got a few days back home, she cherished her time on the island – a place she had always wanted to live – a dream they had realized several years ago.

Meeting Karen and her sister, Edye, was like meeting two bubbles of light.  Their smiles were almost identical – genuine, and contagious.  They were happy women, and it showed.  We were invited to stay for a glass of wine, but Dawn and I were tired and ready to get back down the hill – to pull off snowboots and heavy coats.  So we only stayed a few moments, but we talked about seeing them at the school the next day, and then we left.

On Sunday, Karen and Edye arrived at the school a little after we did, ate breakfast, and spent some time checking out the silent auction items.  Edye and Mike (Forrester) instantly got into a bidding war for a 20-person hayride this coming summer, although at the time they had no idea who they were bidding against.  I was bidding against Edye for a rag rug made from sheets – and again didn’t know I was bidding against her (only assigned numbers were used in the bidding – not names).  We spent several hours at the school – playing games, voting on photographs for the 2012 Mackinac Island calendar, chatting with people we hadn’t seen the day before.  Every 30 minutes or so we would run into Karen or Edye – be warmed by their smiles, chat a moment, and move on.  The final event of the day was the announcement of the silent auction winners – Edye had outbid Mike for the hayride, I had outbid her on the rug.  But she was still smiling as she picked up and paid for at least 7-8 other items on which she had been the highest bidder.  She was beaming as she walked by our table and spotted the rug sitting next to my purse.  “Oh, so YOU were #61!” she said.  She and Mike teased each other about her winning the hayride.  I cornered Karen and asked if their snowmobile could carry three people.  I wondered if she would consider driving Dawn and me up to Ft. Holmes later that afternoon.  She grinned and said, “We’ve never tried it with three, but I’ll talk to Don about it.  If he says ok, I’ll come get you.  We can’t go to Ft. Holmes though – that’s off limits for snowmobiles.”  Then we talked about getting together this summer for dinner.  When we were leaving, we all said our goodbyes.  As Dawn and I left the school walking up to the condo, Karen and Edye were riding away on the snowmobile.

Jill and Mike met us at our condo, and we went in for a few minutes so I could leave the rug I bought.  We headed downtown, spent some time out on the marina docks taking photos, then went back to our rooms to rest.  It was late when we left for dinner at the Village Inn, and we didn’t return to our rooms until almost 10:30.  Mike was still standing in the door of our room chatting about our trip home the next day when Marge (our innkeeper) came up the stairs and said Don had just called.  He was wondering if we had seen Karen and Edye.  They had left the house around 4:00 p.m., after dropping off their prizes from the auction, and said they were going for a ride.  When they didn’t return in a couple of hours, he just figured they had met up with us downtown, maybe saw us in a restaurant, and we were all dining together.  He said Karen wouldn’t normally do that without checking in, but that is what he told himself.  Don had already called the police, and when Marge relayed the message that we had not seen them since they left the school, he became deeply concerned.  I called Don, and he told me the police were checking around the island at different homes where Superbowl parties had been held, to see if possibly they had dropped by any of those.  If they were not located at any of the parties, they planned to start an organized search.

No more than 15 minutes later, the roar of snowmobiles filled the quiet air outside The Cottage Inn.  Island residents came from every direction, converging on the Community Hall, which is also the fire station. We stood at our window and watched, as 10 minutes later those same snowmobiles left on the first search of the night – riding out into the cold darkness on a mission to find two missing women.  We found out later they searched every trail on the island, as well as the bluffs and perimeter of the island by the water.  They found nothing and returned to the fire station. 

When we heard and saw them returning, Jill and I walked down to the corner across the street from the station, hoping for some kind of word on the search.  Dennis Bradley, the island fire chief arrived and motioned Jill and I to come in.  He knew we knew the family and asked several questions.  I left my cell phone number with them and asked to be called if we could help in any way.  Then Jill and I walked back to the hotel.  Ten minutes later my cellphone rang.  The island doctor thought it would be good for someone to be with Don, and asked if I’d go.  A police car picked Jill and I up a few minutes later, took us up to the house, and dropped us off.

Don was very worried.  He wanted so badly to be out looking himself, but the police had asked him to stay there by the phone.  Both women had left their cellphones at the house, but had gone out in full winter gear – it helped to know they were dressed for the cold.  By then it was midnight, and for the next 3 1/2 hours we paced the floor, talked a little, worried a lot, and prayed for a good outcome.  It was not to be.

At 3:30 a.m. we saw the lights of the police car pull up in front of the house.  Dr. Karen, two policemen, and Father Ray got out.  We all instantly knew.

In that 3 1/2 hours, some 45 island residents had come together and searched the entire island.  They had gone out first one person per snowmobile and covered every trail, the bluffs, and the lake shore.  The second search was by two people on each snowmobile – one to drive, one to shine spotlights down off the trails.  Around 2:30 a.m., Dennis called to tell usthe Coast Guard had been notified and would be joining the search within an hour.  Don was certain they would have never gone anywhere near the water, but when the coast guard called 30 minutes later, it was to ask what colors they were wearing so they could put the appropriate filters on their search lights.  They planned to use the filtered light to search the island by air.

Karen and Edye were found before the Coast Guard arrived.  On the third search of the night, the islanders went out on foot.  It was 2 degrees by then, and they planned to walk every inch of the island.  In a spot on the West Bluff they had passed several times already on their snowmobiles, on foot they located an almost hidden place in the fence that was broken – the exact width of a snowmobile.  Putting it together later, they concluded that Karen and Edye had ridden down the West Bluff toward the Grand Hotel.  Upon reaching the Grand’s driveway and seeing that the snow had melted there, they had attempted to turn around.  What happened in that next moment is only speculation, but something went horribly wrong.  The snowmobile went through the fence backward and down the steep ledge.  They were gone instantly.

The priest, Jill and I stayed with Don until 7 a.m.  He had begun the process of calling family.  Each woman had two sons, their mother and father are still alive, they had a brother.  I called Liz (our friend who teaches on the island).  She and her family live just down from Don.  She came immediately and has been there ever since.  We flew off the island three hours later.

Mackinac Island is a beautiful paradise, but occasionally its terrain can be unforgiving.  The longer we live there, the more examples we see of the dangers – from bikes to horses to snowmobiles.  Does it make us love it less – no.  But  it does make our respect for the island grow and gives us an awareness of our surroundings and a vigilance to be careful. 

But occasionally there is a freakish accident, and that is what this was.  Karen was a careful driver, they were not out speeding or trying to be daredevils.  They simply went on a snowmobile ride and did not come back.  We certainly cannot fathom a reason for that.  It happened, and we are left to ask “why”.

When I talked to a couple of island residents today, they both said Don was doing as well as could be expected.  The island has responded as they always do – with helping hands, with love, with food.  Again, it is the people who make this island so precious.

I don’t think Don would mind me sharing that after he had been told, he said to Dr. Karen, “She loved this island so much.  She dreamed of living here, and it was here she was her happiest.”  And Dr. Karen responded, “Wasn’t she blessed that she had that – and aren’t you blessed to know that she lived her dream.”

24 hours – such a short period of time to know someone.  But I will never forget their smiles and their joy of life.  Heaven has to be an even happier place tonight.

______________________________________________________________________

Personal Note:  My blogging program alerts me when someone has made a comment to a post, no matter how much time has passed since the post was published.  Below is a comment I received earlier this year (2017).  It touched my heart.  Thank you, Caleb.

Brenda,
Thank you for writing this post. Edye was, and will always be, my grandma. I was 9 years old when the accident happened, one week and 7 years ago now, and although reading this opened old wounds, it was a wonderful reminder of just how wonderful they were. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of them, and I’d like to thank you for the feeling of being right with them one more time.  Caleb.

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Slip Back Sunday – “Winter Festival 2010 – the Final Day” 11/19/17

Personal Note:  Sunday was our last day on the island for Winter Festival, and we were scheduled to fly home on Monday.  We had already had more fun and seen more snow than I could have ever imagined.  The fairytale world of Mackinac in the winter lived up to all my expectations!

First Published February, 2010

Where Saturday’s activities were all held outside at Turtle Park, the majority of Sunday’s activities were inside at the school.  Here is our group’s day in pictures and captions:  

This is actually a photo from Saturday – or Friday (I can’t remember). Nikki, who lives on the island year-round, and I say hello at the Mustang.

Getting ready to go out to the school on Sunday morning - hot hands and toasty toes!

Getting ready to go out Sunday morning – hand warmers and toasty toes!

Walking up Cadotte Avenue to the school, we passed the very lonely looking Gatehouse Restaurant. So strange to see it like this. In a few months, the tables will be out on the patio, the flowers will be blooming, and there will be happy people everywhere.

Dawn – posing on a snowmobile, under a “No Snowmobile” sign.

Barb, who is the school’s office manager, Dawn and I. We had just noticed that Barb’s cup matched her sweater.

Smi and I – Smi and his wife are our neighbors in the “village”.

As soon as we walked into the gym, 2 -3 tables full of home-baked goodies were sitting there tempting us to start munching. Whenever one little space was cleared, another baked good was brought straight from the kitchen. The island ladies must have been baking all night!

Sign-up tables on the left. Then table after table around the room filled with silent auction goodies – the majority homemade. I bid on several items, but it was the rag rug made from sheets that I really wanted – and it was the only one I was high bidder on. Ok – I admit it. I entered my last bid 2 seconds before the buzzer rang ending the auction, then defended that bid sheet like an all-star hockey goalie.

Dawn and I playing bingo.

Voting on 2012 Mackinac Island Recreation Department Calendar photographs. How to choose only 12!

Talk about Mackinac Island celebrities! Beside me is Jeannette Doud, who writes the Mackinac Island column in The Town Crier. Next to her is Margaret, who has been the Mayor of the island for the past 37 years.

One of several pairs of homemade mittens I bid on at the silent auction. They were all made from donated wool sweaters and the left hand mitten did not match the right hand mitten.  So cute!  I was not the high bidder on any of them. Darn!

After we left the school, we walked up Cadotte to our condo. Looking back over my shoulder, we could see the ice in the Straits.

Going through the snow fence to our condo back door.

Standing on the street in front of the condo. That’s the Carriage Museum in the background.  Everything looks so different covered in snow!

The empty horse corral below our condo.

Starting back to town – down Turkey Hill, next to the Jewel Golf Course.

Where Turkey Hill Road blends into Fort Street, we met a couple attempting to get up the hill on cross country skies. They finally stopped, took them off, and walked up the hill until they hit snow again.

Mike – pretending that he is about to “take the plunge” into the icy water.

On our way to The Village Inn for dinner Sunday evening, we passed Cindy’s Livery Stables – locked, quiet, and dark for the winter.

On the other hand, the Village Inn was ablaze with lights.  You can see in one corner  of the restaurant the cross country skis available for rental.

Mike took this photo at the Village Inn Sunday night. I promise we did not plan our color scheme for the evening – it just worked out that way. The lady on my right is Mary, who with husband Ron, owns the Village Inn.

Thank goodness the supply closet was right next to our room. We had to “borrow” the vacuum cleaner Monday morning so Dawn could suck all the air out of the bag where she packed some bulky items.  Those vacuum bags are amazing!

My blogging corner in our room at The Cottage Inn.

Personal Note:  This should have been the last entry on our Winter Festival trip.  We were set to get a good night’s sleep and fly off the island to St. Ignace early Monday morning.  We still made that flight, but the tragic events that began shortly after the above pic of me in my pajamas was snapped will forever be linked in all of our minds to our trip north that winter.  Because Mackinac in the winter is more beautiful than you can imagine, it is easy to forget that there is another side to all that beauty.  We were all impacted by that other side throughout our last night on the island.  Tomorrow – that story. 

Sling Back Saturday – “Special Place, Special People” 11/18/17

Personal Note: Our third day on the island for Winter Festival, 2010, was a Saturday, and it was filled with everything we could have hoped for – fun, adventure, laughter and tons of community spirit.  We had a blast!

Hal Borland, a former writer for The New York Times, once said, “To know – after absence – the familiar street and road and village and house is to know again the satisfaction of home.”  My readers are well aware that I have two homes – one at the lake, with ties to my southern roots, my family, my friends, and 61 years of history.  Then there is my heart’s home – this island.

Returning here on Thursday afternoon once again filled the space in my heart reserved only for this village and these people.  Winter Festival is basically a community celebration.  In a place cut off from the mainland during the winter – unless you fly in and out – this small community of residents pauses for a weekend and celebrates what makes them special – their children, their bond with each other, their home on this island.

This afternoon when we arrived at Turtle Park, I felt as if I was being welcomed home by family.  So many people who I had last seen at the end of October called out a “welcome back!”  They asked “Where’s Ted?”  They hugged me.  They chatted.  They made me feel that making the effort to travel to Michigan from Georgia for a four day visit was very special to them.  I wanted to tell them all that there was no effort involved – I had simply come to my heart’s home.

We have once again been outside all day.  It was two degrees when we awoke this morning, but luckily the winds have been calm.  We put on layer after layer (at last count we three girls had managed to pull on and zip up seven layers above our waists and three below).  We wore snow boots, wool socks, toe warmers stuck to the bottom of our socks, and hand warmers inside our gloves.  We were warm, but we also looked like inflated robots.  If we had tipped over, there is no way we could have ever gotten up without help.

Here’s our day in photographs – with captions.

Ice in the marina has broken into large pieces.

We left The Cottage Inn around noon. I kept hoping for a snowmobile ride, but Jill insisted we walk. I’m so glad we did.

At the foot of Fort Hill, Jill was already snapping photos. I think, between the two of us, we took more than 400 pictures today.

The trees are beautiful, standing against the white snow.

Dawn – trying to hide behind a tree. In seven layers of clothes!? I don’t think so!

A fork in the road – but they both end at Turtle Park.

Pointing out the path Ted and I take through the woods to our condo.

Marge and Rich (and Joe Cocker) caught up with us toward the end of our hike. They were going to the Winter Festival also.

The Winter Festival was in full swing when we arrived.

One of the many activities was sledding – a favorite with the kids.

There was also snow golf . . . .

Human sled dog races – where the “sled dog” was blindfolded and had to mush around a marked route to shouted instructions from the person (or persons) on the sled . . .

Face painting for the children . . .

Broom hockey – a children’s match and an “over the hill” match . . .

And then there’s Bowling with a Frozen Chicken, the only game in which I participated. You are given a frozen solid, hard as a rock chicken, wrapped in cellophane. You have to hurl it toward the bowling pins at least a thousand feet away. I did not win or place. In fact, I never touched even one of those darn pins. By the way, the prize for the winner of that game was the frozen chicken.

The totem pole at Turtle Park is crowned by – what else – a turtle!

Me with Penny – one of Andrew and Nicole’s sweet dogs.

Mike, who has been filming all weekend, talking with Karen from The St. Ignace News.

Jack, with his wife Terrie, own the Cannonball Restaurant at British Landing. They were grilling hotdogs and brats for the crowd.

Chloe gets in a little sledding, making it all the way down the hill without a crash.

The crowd seemed to continue growing throughout the afternoon, tapering off around 3:30 p.m.

Dawn and I watched some of the games from the bleachers, which were facing the sun. A beautiful day!

An island friend’s little girl – Madison.

Cute Miss Madison again.

We took a break from the festival, and walked over to Trillium Heights, a subdivision behind the Village.

We went by and visited for a moment with Don and his wife Karen. Don and Ted work together at the Visitor’s Center on the island during the summer.

Jill went back to the Festival, while Dawn and I started back downtown.

When Jill started back to town, she walked by the Fort Cemetary. Always a quiet, peaceful setting, today it was a study in beautiful tranquility.

White birch trees, white snow.

Dawn and I walked to town down Cadotte Avenue, past our condo. I will probably return tomorrow and go inside.

The last “to do” item on our agenda today was to find a patch of perfect snow and make a snow Angel.  Dawn did it first . . .

. . . and then it was my turn. So funny! Getting ourselves up out of that snow was a sight to behold!

We were very happy to see The Cottage Inn late this afternoon. We had been gone from noon until almost 6 p.m.

Jill, bless her heart, ran to the Mustang and picked up a “pizza to go” for supper, then left to help Leanne with some details for  the second day of the Winter Festival.  Dawn and I ate pizza, watched a movie (while I should have been blogging), and now, once again, everyone is sleeping as I finish writing.

It has been another wonderful day on the island – we could not have asked for better weather.  We have been plenty cold, but the winds have been calm, and the days have been so beautiful.  Tomorrow we have more Winter Festival activities.  There is a brunch planned at the school with pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, biscuits & gravy, cinnamon rolls & fresh fruit. Oh, yum!  Dawn and I are helping run a silent auction table, and there will be bake sales, a cookie contest, turtle races, and the selection of photographs for the 2010 “Seasons of Mackinac” calendar.  The Superbowl is tomorrow night, with parties planned at both the Mustang and Patrick Sinclair’s Irish Pub.  A very busy day!

God bless.

Please come back tomorrow for the final day of Winter Festival, 2010.

Fling Back Friday – “Island Winter Day” – 11/17/17

Personal Note:  The blog post below is from our first full day on Mackinac – a Friday – during Winter Festival Weekend in 2010.  I can look at these pics and remember every second of that day.  It was amazing!

Island Winter Day – First Published February 6, 2010

When I talked to Ted this morning, it was a cold, rainy day at the lake in Georgia.  It was cold here also, but the snow was white, the sun was shining (for a minute anyway), and we were determined to stay outside as much as possible to enjoy every minute. 

Friday was an “extra” day for us.  The Winter Festival activities don’t start until Saturday at noon, so Jill, Dawn, Mike and I spent the day roaming around downtown taking photos.  Mike was officially “on business” for this trip, shooting video for The Cottage Inn and background footage for his ever increasing video achives on the island. 

If you read this blog last summer, you know that Ted and I stayed at the Chippewa Hotel every year we came to Mackinac until we bought our condo.  We love the Chip!  Now I have another place I can personally recommend – The Cottage Inn, a bed & breakfast on Market Street.   The rooms are all beautiful and decorated in different styles.  We are staying in the Victorian Turret Room, which has a queen bed, a sofa sleeper,  flat screen TV, private bath, and pillow-top mattresses. Marge and Rich Lind are the innkeepers, and as soon as you walk in the door you become their most important guest. 

Dawn and I wore our pj’s downstairs for breakfast this morning (after we found out that the four of us were the only guests at the hotel that morning) and found a breakfast casserole, fruit and yogurt, assorted breakfast breads, cereals, hard-boiled eggs, coffee and four different juices.  Everything was delicious!

A great way to start a day on Mackinac Island – good food and good friends! 

Here’s the rest of the day in photographs – with captions.  Pictures tell the story so well when you are on the island.

The first stop of the day was our 11 a.m. appearance on the web cam. So many people watched and sent comments – or called! Mary, one of my readers, sent this photo she had “captured” off her computer screen.

And here we all are waving to the camera. That’s Dawn, Mike, Jill, and Joan (an island resident).

Main Street on a winter day. We were so excited to see this much white stuff. Everyone keeps saying, “We’re so sorry there’s not a lot of snow.” And Dawn and I kept saying, “But, to us, this IS a lot of snow!”

Jill, Dawn and I standing in front of The Cottage Inn.

Around noon everyday, the island residents arrive at the post office to pick up their mail.

The Geary House is located across the street from The Cottage Inn. Mike and his family will be renting it this summer. It is available for rental through the Mackinac Island State Park – monthly rentals only.

We walked down Market Street to the water, stopping in front of this beautiful cottage –  still decorated for Christmas.

As soon as we walked across the street to the boardwalk, away from the shelter of the houses, the wind hit us full force. Suddenly, it was much colder. Round Island Lighthouse stands a lonely watch over water half-frozen in the Straits.

There is a lot of ice at the edge of the lake. We spent quite some time trying to talk Dawn into taking the “plunge”, but she kept saying, “Maybe later.”

We stopped in at the library to check out some artwork by Tim Leeper and other local artists.

Dawn spent some time back in the Used Books sections, where paperbacks are $1, and most hardcover books are $2.

Can you believe  all three have cellphones attached to their ears!

I kept saying these were snow clouds, but I guess the clouds weren’t listening.

Dawn – all bundled up to roam around in the snow.

A bundled -up Jill with her camera.

Rich, who with his wife Marge are the innkeepers at The Cottage Inn, looks out the door as we head out again into the snow.

As we left, Marge and the Cottage Inn mascot, Joe Cocker, were coming back from a walk.

Mike – filming snowmobiles.

Walking down toward the Mission district, where the traffic is less, there was even more snow on the road.  The path on the right is kept clear for walkers.

Leanne had promised us a sleigh ride, and when we arrived at the 4-H barn, she was harnessing Blaze, a small Haflinger.

Jill put Gingersnap into the barn, so she wouldn’t get upset seeing Blaze leave.

Blaze is harnessed and hitched almost exactly the same as the big Belgian horses who pull the taxis in the summer.

One horse plus one sleigh equals a sleigh ride!

While Blaze was being hitched to the sleigh, we were visited by Max, Major and Lily – three Shetland Sheepdogs from up the road.

Blaze and Lily have a little mutual admiration society going on.

Dawn, Leanne, and I leaving the stable.

Riding behind Blaze

Leanne and Jill arriving back at The Cottage Inn.

Liz, from The Quilted Turtle blog – who teaches on the island – was going out to dinner with us. She offered to take me on a snowmobile ride, but first had to help me get my hood on straight. I think I heard her say something along the lines of, “You Southern girls don’t know how to dress for cold weather.” But we’re trying, Liz!

Liz drove me up to the Mission District, then went into a house to get something. When she came back outside, she said, “Do you want to drive?” Are you kidding me!!! She let me drive from in front of St. Anne’s back to The Cottage Inn. Oh my gosh! I loved it!

We headed for the Mustang for dinner – Jill, Mike and I walking – Dawn getting a ride from Liz.

Dinner at the Mustang.

Another fabulous day on the island.  Tomorrow, the Winter Festival begins.  As I finish writing tonight, I am sitting by a window in our room, and outside I can hear the wind whistling around the corner of the inn.  A cold front is coming in tonight from Canada, and tomorrow night the forecast low is 7 degrees – and that’s without the wind chill factored in.  We might not have tons of snow, but I think tomorrow we will get plenty of COLD!  See you then!

Jill snapped this beautiful photo while she was out in the sleigh this afternoon.  Personal Note:  Come back tomorrow for our adventures on Saturday – the first official day of Winter Festival, 2010!

 

Throw Back Thursday – Fairytales Do Come True. . . . 11/16/17

Personal Note:  In February, 2010, three friends and I flew to Mackinac Island to attend the annual Winter Festival.  It was a long weekend filled with laughter, fun, and the thrill of being in the snow.  It was also a weekend of tragedy.  I wrote about all of it in several blog posts that February, and I’m sharing those chronologically again with you now.  I’ll post them daily until the story is told. 

Dawn Lashley, a dear friend from the lake in Georgia, and Mike Forrester, who filmed wonderful marketing videos for the Chippewa and Lilac Tree Hotels and Murdick’s Original Fudge, and I flew out of Atlanta to Flint, MI.  Jill (and her mom and late dad) met us at the Flint airport, and Jill continued on with us to Mackinac.

Try not to laugh too much at Dawn and I.  We were both raised in South Georgia.  Snow is a very big deal to us!

Fairytales Do Come True – First Published February 5, 2010

For as long as Ted and I have been traveling to Mackinac Island (10 years), I have dreamed of coming here during the winter.  Today that dream came true, and all I can say is “WOW”! 

Dawn and I were up at 5 a.m. this morning, downstairs at the Drury having breakfast by six, and on the shuttle to the airport at 7 a.m.  We left our checked bags curbside, and went straight to the security check in for our carry-on bags.  We had worn several layers this morning AND our snow boots (knowing that when we landed at Flint, it was going to be cold).  We had to take off the boots before we could go through security, and after passing through without setting off any lights and whistles, we sat down to put our boots back on.  Before we could get them laced up, we got to witness up close and personal our Homeland Security forces in full attack.  

A guy who had already passed through security started shouting obscenities into his cell phone.  A security guard approached him, and he began to shout at the security guard.  At that time, the security guard (who was about 6’6″ tall and weighed maybe 300 lbs.) grabbed shouting man and slammed him into a wall – I mean that literally.  Shouting man kept shouting.  Several more security people arrived and helped first security man haul shouting man over to a drug dog who had arrived on the scene.  The drug dog sniffed shouting man, and then the security guards took shouting man out of the airport in handcuffs to jail.  Shouting man missed his plane. 

Even with all that we were on board our Delta flight, with doors closed, 10 minutes earlier than the announced time.  Then we waited on the runway for about 30 jets to take off before us – so we were still 30 minutes late leaving. 

Dawn – waiting for takeoff.

Mike – talking to wife Jeanine.

We had a great flight, and soon we were looking down at a landscape filled with snow and frozen ponds and lakes. 

The Michigan landscape

By 10:45 we were on the ground, 15 minutes early!  We deplaned, walked into the terminal of the Flint airport, and there was JILL and her parents, who had brought her to the airport.  So good to see Jill!

Jill – welcoming Dawn and Mike.

Me, with Jill’s Dad and Mom – Ken and Joanne

The four adventurers!

The lady at the rental car desk took one look at us and our luggage and upgraded Mike to a huge Ford Expedition. 

 

We stopped in Gaylord and had lunch at the Sugar Bowl.  Wonderful food.  Across the street from the restaurant was a fountain that had frozen.  We all wanted our pictures taken in front of it. 

Can you see that fountain behind us? It is frozen solid – so are we!

On the way to the St. Ignace airport for our flight to the island , we pulled into a parking lot near the water.  Ice had stacked up into huge piles of  “blue ice”, the unique color caused by the sun’s rays deeply penetrating the ice.

Blue ice.

Dawn – standing in front of the blue ice.

We crossed the Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace, entering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.   Parts of the Straits were frozen, but there was still a large area of open water.  Locals are beginning to think there will probably not be an ice bridge this year.

The airport at St. Ignace is small, but nice.  They even have a resident Golden Retriever, who made me miss Bear even more than I already did.  Several folks were waiting to fly across to the island, but since we had the largest group, we were allowed to board first.  Our luggage took up the majority of the back of the plane.  Mike and another man sat in the two back seats, Dawn and I took the middle, and Jill sat up front with Paul, the pilot.  There was no waiting while someone made announcements about seat belts and safety procedures.  Before Dawn and I had even found our seatbelts, we were in the air.  I’ve only flown in one small plane before, and it is so unlike being on a commercial jet.  Because the flight is so short, you don’t gain very much altitude at all.  Inside the small interior of the plane, you truly get the sense of flying.  You can reach out and touch your pilot, talk to him, watch him at the controls . . . . . and feel every air pocket.

Looking over Jill’s shoulder.

Dawn – snapping photos out the window.

There doesn’t even look like there IS a window next to me – just looks like an open door.

The Mackinac Island runway.

We had called ahead, and George was waiting with the taxi.  It was cold, but the island is just as beautiful covered in snow as I always dreamed it would be.  There is a lot more of the white stuff than I thought there would be with so little snowfall this winter. George carried us to the Cottage Inn, we checked in, then went to the Village Inn for dinner.  As I write this, Dawn and Jill are sleeping.  It has been a long day, so I’ll say goodnight now.  More tomorrow, and don’t forget to watch us Friday morning at 11 a.m. at http://www.mackinaclive.com. Once on that site, click on “Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau” to go to the camera where we will be.  See you there!

George – patiently waiting for us with the taxi.

Dixie Chicks in the snow!

 

Heading down Cadotte Avenue toward town.  Personal Note: Come back tomorrow for the next installment, “Island Winter Day”.

Throw Back Thursday – Bear Offers a Shoulder 11/9/17

Personal Note: Good friend, blog fan and dog lover Lowell Greene emailed me yesterday and requested I repost the blog below.  Of course I wept when I read it – remembering those moments as if they happened last week.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read or think about Bear without tearing up, but that’s ok.  Great dogs bring great love.  And they leave great memories – just like the one below. 

This was during one of Blake’s summer visits to Mackinac.

Thank you to island friend Eugenia Murray-McGinnis for sharing the header photo, taken this morning on Mackinac!

BEAR OFFERS A SHOULDER – First Published July 9, 2010

I’ve always felt that God puts us in certain places at certain times to encourage, cheer up, laugh, or cry with someone.  That happened again one day this week, only it was Bear who was in the right place at the right time.

Blake and I had just finished a 2-hour walk and had come off Pontiac Trail onto the West Bluff.  Blake wandered off to take a few photos from the fence line overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, and Bear, Maddie and I walked over to the shade of a stone wall.  Bear had spread out on the cool grass with his head between his paws, and Maddie was busy sniffing out anything that might be hidden among the rocks. 

A couple was walking toward us up the road, and as they approached, I saw them stop in their tracks and stare at Bear.  One of them – I really don’t know which – said, “Oh my gosh.” 

They came closer and stopped just off the grass, and the woman said, “Can I pet your Golden?”  Of course, I said yes.  The young man stood in the road, with his arms crossed over his chest and looked on as the young woman sat down in the grass next to Bear, buried her face in his shoulder and her hands in the silky fur of his chest – and started to cry.  When I looked at the man, he seemed to be struggling with tears also.

After he had gained some of his composure, he told Blake and I that the day before they left home coming to the Island, they had to put down their Golden rRtriever.  The dog had only been two years old and had fallen victim to a fatal type of brain lesion that made the decision to end his suffering necessary.  He had only been ill two days.  He told us that they were leaving the island the next day, and all they had been able to think about was going home to that empty house.  And then they saw Bear, who looked so remarkably like their dog they were stunned.

The lady sat up straighter, pulling Bear’s head into her lap and rubbing his head over and over again with long sweeping caresses, starting between his ears and ending at his shoulders.  Bear lay quietly and enjoyed the attention, seeming to sense that what he needed to do was just be still.  The lady told us that they had already put in a request for another Golden and hoped to have a new puppy soon.  The man said they had both comforted themselves knowing their golden had given them everything he had to give in two years, and he kind of chuckled when he told us at first they couldn’t believe how much hair one dog could shed in a day, but even that became part of what they loved about their furbaby.

We chatted a little longer, they thanked us for allowing them to indulge in a good cry all over our dog, and then they continued on their walk.

Thinking back to this young couple who were so heartbroken over their loss, I’m reminded of the little  six-year-old boy who witnessed his dog put to sleep. The vet wondered aloud why dogs’ lives are so much shorter than humans, and the little boy said this:  “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The little boy continued,”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

By now that couple has returned to their empty house, but I pray that very soon the sound of four little Golden paws will be heard scampering through their home again.  And Bear hopes so too.

 

Sunday Story – “To Fresh Woods and Pastures New” – 11/5/17

Personal Note:  I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of this post from 2010.  I could have written those same words this afternoon, after leaving you hanging on Thursday.  But here’s the rest of the story – one of my favorites from “back in the day”!

TO FRESH WOODS AND PASTURES NEW

First Published October 11, 2010

“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.” . . . John Milton

It was almost cruel to leave you as I did Friday, wasn’t it.  I thought about that as I was ending that post.  Should I go ahead and finish – add 30 more photographs and give you what you really wanted – the farm with the horses grazing free.  I did think about it – I promise.

And then I smiled.  And I thought about the anticipation that built in me on the ride over on the boat last week with the horses.  When we docked, and I watched that first gelding step off the boat, my heart did a little flutter-step.  I watched them load up and the trailer doors swing shut.  And as we rode those 50 miles to Pickford, my heart continued to beat a little faster than normal.  The anticipation of the moment when the horses would be led into that big pasture, when the halters would be lifted over their heads (their halters are never off on the island), and when they would realize they were no longer bound by any means to man – that moment of anticipation was one I wanted you to feel with me.   It wasn’t meant to be cruel – on the contrary, aren’t the good things in our lives we have to wait for all the more treasured because of the wait?

But, now as I sit down to write the rest of this journey, I worry that I won’t be able to give you all the joy and emotion of what that day felt like when we did reach the farm.  But I will try, and what I miss in words, perhaps I can make up to you in the photographs.

First, let me introduce Randy Hall. Randy was my “go to” person for this part of the trip. He was the driver of one of the two horse trailers waiting to transport us to Pickford. I learned later that Randy does a lot of the Carriage Tour driver training on the island in the spring. He grew up with horses in the Upper Peninsula, and his passion for them is evident in how he talks about them and how they respond to him.  He owns a horse farm himself and also grows hay.

Most of these horses are geldings – in fact there are very few mares on the island, although there are some. A majority of the island horses are purchased from the Amish, when they are 3-6 years old. The Amish have already trained and worked them around machinery in the fields, so they come to the island with basic training completed.  The Amish keep most of the mares for breeding and sell the geldings.  There are no stallions on the island.

Loading and unloading into the trailers is old business for most of the horses. They have done this for years, and the nervousness of the few new horses is tempered by the calm of the older ones.

Randy secures this big Belgian in the trailer.

It was so amazing to watch the horses as they came off the boat. Their eyes were wide and bright, their ears pricked forward, their nostrils flared. If I could have read their minds, I think the words would have been, “I know this place. Next is the trailer, a little ride, then freedom!”

Last one into this trailer. We were transporting 12 this first load – 6 in each trailer.

“Look! I see cars! That means we don’t have to work anymore!”

Three horses are secured at the front of the trailer, then a divider door is closed that separates the front from the back. Then three more horses are loaded into the back.

And, we’re off!

I’m sure Randy thought he had been given the worst duty of the year – having to put up with Bree the Blogger for two 100-mile round trips to Pickford.  The photos above are a combination of the two trips – the first one over on the 9 a.m. ferry, then another one when we came back to pick up the second group at 11:30.  I’ve also combined the photos from the two trips to the farm, meaning we released the first 12 horses, then went back to St. Ignace to pick up 11 more and took them to the farm.

Randy was very gracious and friendly and answered all gazillion of my questions, although at times I’m sure he was thinking, “Good grief!  Is there anything about horses that this woman DOES know?”  Here’s a few of the new things I picked up on the trips back and forth:

1)  The Pickford farms – there are three of them – are the winter home of the Carriage Tour horses, as well as the Grand Hotel “omnibus” and State Park horses.

2)  Randy does a lot of training with the horses before they are ever brought to the island.  He does this winter and summer because horses are brought back and forth all season.  A horse may just not be working out and will be returned to Pickford for more training.  There has to be a horse ready to take its place.

3)  There are about 20 horses on the island all winter.  Two are used for the taxi (only one taxi in the winter), and the rest are used to pull the drays because even in winter, the work of the island continues.  Mail has to be brought from the ferries (or plane if the Straits are frozen), as do supplies for the grocery store, restaurants, hotels, and school that remain open.

4)  Additional horses are brought to the island over the winter during peak times – Christmas and New Year’s – when more visitors arrive.

5)  Let’s say a horse learns to be the right-hand side horse in a two-horse hitch team.  Can he also work on the left?  “Sometimes,” Randy said, “but there are some that can never change over.”

6)  Not only do the horses know where they’re going when they are turned out into the pasture on the island without their shoes for the first time, but they also know by the changes that occur toward the end of the season.  Randy said they know that when the weather begins to cool, and they are working an easier schedule, their days on the island are coming to an end for another year.

7)  I asked what determines which horses remain on the island for the winter.  “Some of it is temperament,” Randy said.  “They have to be able to adjust from the relative ‘quiet’ of bikes to the ‘racket’ of snowmobiles.  Some can make the adjustment, some can’t.  When we find a horse that isn’t bothered by all that extra noise, we tag him as a possible winter horse.”

8)  Only the draft horses (Belgians and Percherons) stay outside all winter.  The others are brought in at night and during really bad weather.

We’re at the farm! This was a 60-acre pasture that was a part of what is called “9-mile farm”, one of the three owned by Carriage Tours.

Irvin, another Carriage Tour worker who stays in Pickford, was there to open the gate.

I walked through the gate and was standing in the corner (out of the way) when the first horse was led off the trailer . . .

. . . followed closely by the second.

And here’s where I choked up the first time. Watching Randy remove the halter, I envisioned the horses immediately taking off into the freedom of the pasture.  But these are horses so used to human companionship, so in tune with their lives around people, that their main interest was not first to “make a break for it”, but to taste the wonderfully abundant grass . . .

. . . and then to roll.

Can you image the horse joy of rolling around – not on the dirt of the horse corral below our condo . . .

. . . but to be scratching your back on green, sweet-smelling grass!  Talk about kicking up your heels!

On the second trip, I went further down the pasture road to photograph the horses as they came in.

Another halter coming off.

These beautiful Belgians watched me curiously for a couple of seconds, then seemed to shrug and moved off to graze.

After a time, they began to realize that they could move freely about this huge pasture, AND the pasture was full of food!

These two seemed to be watching for another horse. Randy said they were part of a three-horse hitch team and were watching for their friend. He arrived a few minutes later.

Another happy horse!

At first I was concerned about Jane. She walked into the pasture and stood completely alone for a few minutes, seeming bewildered by the big, open space . . .

. . . but shortly after that, her team-mate “June” found her.  Then they both wandered off and found the third member of this 3-horse hitch bunch, “Jake”.

That big tire is filled with minerals, and there are also salt blocks in the pasture.

“Now, about that party . . .”

Two plus two. These duos may be team-mates, or they may just be part of a two-horse hitch group and feel more comfortable in groups of two.

So beautiful . . .

I walked back to the truck and took these next few shots from the road as the last few horses were released.

A river runs through that stand of trees to the rear of the pasture and will provide the water the horses need until they are moved later in the year.  The horses have begun to move away from the fence and have started exploring their big, new space.

The Belgians and Percherons stay outside all winter in all kinds of weather. Randy said in 2-3 weeks, their winter coats will begin to come in, and they will look like shaggy versions of themselves. All the farms have ravines where the horses instinctively gather during snow storms. The sides of the ravines block the wind, and all those bodies snuggled together stay warm.

Randy drove a little out of the way to show me one of the farms where the horses will winter. The 60-acre pasture we delivered the horses to today is only a temporary enclosure. By December they will all be moved closer to this farm place, where someone lives year-round.

These water dispensers can be seen all over the farm land. The pipes are buried deep underground to prevent freezing.  At the top of the pipe, warming trays keep the water from freezing when exposed to cold air.

Each of these bales of hay weighs approximately 1200 lbs. It takes four of them per day for 80 horses. At the end of the season, the three farms will be supporting around 500 horses, so you can imagine how much hay has to be stored.

As we left the farm, we could see in the distance other groups of horses whose vacations began a little earlier than those we brought today.

The horses we dropped off will join these in December.

What a beautiful vacation spot.

What a delight it was to watch the horses wander, in groups of two and three, around that pasture – nibbling on the grass, playfully trotting over to say “hi” to a friend, lifting their heads and feeling the wind ripple across their backs and over their ears.   I wonder what they thought that first morning when they awake free – no noisy barn workers or drivers, no harnesses thrown over their heads or bridles put in their mouths.  Instead they awoke, as their ancestors did before them – on the open plain – to a morning quiet except for the singing of birds and the whisper of the long grass shifting in the breeze.  Perhaps they strolled down to the river for a sip of clear, cold water and then came back soon to find, in addition to the grass, bales of hay for their dining pleasure.  To them, it had to be like Heaven on earth.

Enjoy your rest, sweet giants.  And in the Spring, come back to us fat and healthy and refreshed.  We’ll be waiting.

My sincere thanks to Doc Al for setting up this trip and to Dale Peterson and Randy Hall for your gracious hospitality.  And a special thanks to Dr. Bill Chambers, who has allowed me to ride along – not only on this trip – but also last year when I wrote the stories about taxi and Carriage Tour drivers.

I have seen things so beautiful that they brought tears to my eyes.  Yet, none of them can match the gracefulness and beauty of horses running free.” . . . Anonymous