The Turtle-Horse Connection (5/24/09)


I have several turtles sitting around the condo because they are symbolic of Mackinac Island.  For centuries, Indians came to the Straits of Mackinac in birch bark canoes looking for whitefish and lake trout.  They were attracted to this hump-backed island with its curious rock formations and called it Michilimackinac or Land of the Great Turtle.

Yesterday we headed for Turtle Park with the dogs.  Turtle Park is actually the sports arena for the island school.  Hard-fought soccer and soft-ball games, with stands full of cheering parents, take place there in the appropriate seasons.  There is a skateboard ramp, and 4-Her’s hold their horse camps there.  To us, it is just a huge, open, grassed area for the dogs to run and play.  Hidden at almost the top of the island, back in the woods, it’s a place that tourists don’t even know exists.  We can even let Maddie run around free (or as free as she can be still trailing her leash so we can dive for her if she gets carried away.



After 30 minutes of free running, the shade felt mighty good to us all, and Ted snapped a picture of me and “the kids”.  Let me hasten to say that I had not been running free for 30 minutes.  If I had been, Ted would have had to call the horse-drawn hearse.


After lunch today, I wanted to go check out some of my favorite shops, so I headed down the hill.  Have you noticed the pattern here?  To accomplish ANYTHING that requires money or providing services – food shopping,  souvenir shopping, home decor shopping, mail pickup, going out to eat, etc. – means a trip DOWN the hill.  To rest after all of that, you have to come back UP the hill.  Anything that is FREE – a romp in Turtle Park, roaming through the woods, looking dreamily out over Lake Huron, etc. – can be done on a non-hilly road or trail. 

So I started to town.  Surprise, surprise –  I got sidetracked. 

We have a caretaker for the condos – his name is Ben.  In the winter after all of us “summer people” leave and go home to warmer places, he comes in and winterizes our condos.  He drains the pipes, sets the heat at a certain level, and does other stuff I know nothing about.   He does all that so that when the weather is 10 degrees below zero in January, the pipes won’t freeze and we won’t have a BIG problem when they thaw out in the spring.   He also comes into the units every 2-3 weeks just to check on them and make sure all is well (he is also the one who told me my yellow paint looked really good when we called him to get his opinion before we paid the bill).  Caretaker is one of his winter jobs.  During the summer season, he is in charge of The Grand Hotel stables and is a master horse handler.  Ben is the one who, in full regalia, drives the most beautiful horses, hitched to the most beautiful carriages, when VIP’s visit.

The horse is the other symbol of the island.  In 1896, the first car was brought over from the mainland, and a backfire scared the horses.  That same year cars were forever banned, and the uniqueness of the island was sealed.

Today Ben was just being Ben, so I followed him and two of his small children into The Grand stables to take some pictures.  There are two types of horses in The Grand stable.  The “work” horses are beautiful and strong and huge.  They pull The Grand carriages back and forth to the ferry docks filled with Grand guests .  IMG_0482The other horses are thoroughbreds (I do wish I knew more about horses, so I could tell you all about them – I promise to learn more over the summer and write about them again.)  These are the VIP horses.  To see them strutting through town is a treat for the soul.  It will literally give you chill bumps, and I will make it a priority to get a better picture of them soon. 

IMG_0483Today I watched as they hitched a team of “work” horses to a carriage, preparing to deliver departing guests back down to the ferries (I apologize for the dark picture, but I didn’t want to use my flash too close to the horses).

The very smartly dressed driver climbed aboard, and they left the stable and made their way to the front of The Grand where the guests were waiting.



From the hotel, they travel down Grand Hill, turn onto Market Street, then make a final right to the ferry docks.  As I continued on to town, another Grand carriage was returning from the docks with a full load of new guests.  I know that little girl got the thrill of her life when the driver invited her to ride up front with him.



When I walked back by the stables after my shopping trip, Ben was coming out to go home (he and his wife and family live up mecondobeyond us-even further up the hill).  We walked together, and he offered to take a picture of me in front of the condo, then he stopped and talked to Ted who was waiting for me on the deck. 

IMG_0530I still pinch myself every day that we are living this dream of ours. 

Now I think I’ll go inside and google “horses”.





View from the Deck

Street cleaner.  I kid you not.

Street cleaner. I kid you not.



2 thoughts on “The Turtle-Horse Connection (5/24/09)

  1. Have become an avid fan of the blog! And Ben sounds delightful. I assume that he and his family are a part of the 80+ year-sound residents.
    How wonderful that you’re able to stay there long enough to really dig into the details and the “inner workings” of the island. By the time you get home to your other home, you’ll have become the Mackinac Island guru!

  2. Hi Bree, I found your blog at the Mackinac Island Blog and have been following your blog. I just give a nice sigh everytime I read your blog because my feelings for the island are the same as yours and I can relate to what you write. My husband, daughter and I returned to the island after “too many” years and wonder why we just started going back a couple years ago. Thanks for sharing your blog. I look forward to reading it each day now.

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