Hello Mackinac Island fans! Greg Main has written a wonderful newsletter about a recent walk he took around the island. It will make you feel like you are right there with him for every step, sight, and sound. I always love receiving these emailed “letters” from Greg because then I can share them with you. Thanks to Greg, also, for the photo of the two ice fishermen in the header.
Greg Main Newsletter
“Given the forecast for this area for the next several days, it looks as though we’re definitely turning the corner on our way toward Spring. Even though we’ve become used to the lack of snow and bitter cold temperatures normally experienced during the annual tourism lull – basically saddling us with the appearance of late winter vistas most of this season – it’s still been cold enough lately to remind us that anything could yet happen to dampen our enthusiasm for an early Spring season. Last Friday, we received just such a reminder.
A strong north wind, and occasional white-out conditions for a good part of the day, cancelled flights to and from the island, creating standing-room-only in the lobby of our airport. Both our basketball teams were scheduled to travel to Escanaba to begin conference tournament play, and another two dozen or so others simply wanted to get off the rock for various reasons. A couple of flights did manage round trips early in the afternoon, relieving some of the anxiety for those wanting to travel. This ‘event’ (a word our local weather forecasters have begun using with more frequency the past couple years) also covered the hazardous slippery spots on our thoroughfares with nearly two inches of basically useless snow. Snowmobiles quickly packed it down and subsequently wore it off the roads, returning the streets around town to the nearly snow-less ones we’ve become used to. By the following afternoon, melting had begun, grassy areas of lawns reappeared, and there was, once again, very little snow for snowmobiles to negotiate. One good thing to emerge from that little influx of wintery white was a snowman, which is currently standing on the corner of Market and Hoban. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess.
The past two Sundays on Mackinac have been ideal for those of us who enjoy walking to be out walking. On the 21st, my walk-about began after climbing the Crow’s Nest steps and turning left. Ample snow still covered the pavement at the Cass Cliff monument and continued all along Garrison and British Landing roads. The “no snowmobile” barricades, placed at various intersections with the main roads and ski trails, seemed unnecessary at the time as the skiing this season has been far from ideal, given the lack of snow. Black-Capped Chickadees accompanied me most of the way, as did the occasional loud tapping of a nearby, yet invisible, Pileated Woodpecker. The State Park crew has been extending the approach to the east end of the airport runway, removing some good-sized trees, leaving a pile of logs near roadside.
The smell of fresh-cut cedar and pine permeated the air, as did the sound of racing snowmobiles nearby. Approaching the entrance to Wawashkamo, I noticed two drag-racers speeding off to the north along the first fairway. Unfortunately, there is very little snow on the course, and the rooster tails these machines were throwing out behind them were more dirt and grass than snow which, I can only imagine, causes added work for the groundskeepers come Spring. I always carry a small notepad with me to ‘remind’ me of what I encounter along the way, and the bench at the battlefield sign, just past the dump road, was a good place to sit a jot down a few things. No sooner had I sat, when some movement to the left of me caught my attention. Out from the dump trotted a coyote, unaware of my presence. It turned left onto the main road, continuing a steady pace in the direction of the club house. The noise from the racers apparently masked my movement as I hurried to focus my zoom lens. As is usually the case with me when it comes to getting the ‘good’ shots, the beast left the road, pausing in the brush and bramble lining the first fairway long enough to let the next pair of snowmobiles whiz by, then ran at a faster pace across the entire width of open space, disappearing into the woods on the west side of the course. This was interesting to watch as the coyote had no idea I was watching it, and the snowmobilers had no idea the coyote was watching them!
The rest of the walk down to British Landing was uneventful, with a few more bird melodies along the way and Finn, barking an alert to the neighborhood of my presence as I walked past his domain. Ice was packed in from near the State Park dock southward, with open water visible to the north. There was still ample snow on this stretch of road also, only disappearing near Humbard’s Hill. Climbing the slope up to Sunset Rock, I could see the lake was white from British Landing across to the mainland and south to the Mackinac Bridge, scarred by several areas of open water pools and zig-zagging cracks. This was the day of the annual Pond Hockey tournament in Moran Bay at St. Ignace, and every now and then, as I stood at Sunset Rock enjoying the serenity of it all, a muffled sound from the event made its way across the ice and up the bluff.
From here, the path back to town consisted of Stonecliffe Road, cutting through the Annex and along Pontiac’s trail, where I noticed two ice fishermen, sitting on overturned 5-gallon plastic pails near a stretch of open water, trying their luck. The front lawns of the West Bluff cottages were free of snow cover, as was most of the road. I noticed a flower memorial had been placed on the fence where the fatal snowmobile accident occurred. The color of the new fence rails contrasting against the faded, older rails and posts create a stark reminder for me of how precious and fragile each day is.
The following Sunday, two otters were visible in our harbor about 100 yards out from the boat slips, where the open water met the ice. A single otter was seen off-shore from Leslie Court and yet another three or four (it was hard to tell as they kept alternating between ice and open water) were observed near the lagoon past the east breakwall. A single eagle was, once again, perched in the same tree behind the main lodge of Mission Point. I hope it/they remain here for a while yet as it’s always interesting to view them, if only from a distance. A north wind greeted me head-on as I rounded the bend by the water intake plant on a planned circumnavigation of the rock that day. The shore road was still snow-covered until reaching Arch Rock, where pavement prevailed. Just before reaching Mike Bradley’s house, still another otter could be seen rolling around on the ice, pausing for a quick look around before resuming what seemed to me to be a grooming ritual. A few minutes later, another eagle was hovering well off-shore, too far away for the limitations of my zoom lens. In previous winter-time walks around the island over the years, there is far more snow on the boardwalk at the Nature Trail than I would care to navigate. Yet, this day, most of the wooden walkway was bare, so I decided to do the circle tour, reacquainting myself with the informational signs. At the end of the boardwalk, the snow on the ground had been compacted, with so many rabbit tracks it looked like a rabbit super highway. In fact, there was very little snow in this area that hadn’t been trampled. With this much evidence of tasty bunny meat available, I fully expected to see fox or coyote tracks, too. None. Nada. I found this laughable, much like driving through the desert for hours and willingly passing by the only place where one can get water and food. I don’t understand.
As I got to Easterly Cottage, there were faded remnants of otters sliding across the lawn and through the front gate, continuing across the road to the beach. Since the beach rock was fully exposed, I wasn’t able to follow the tracks on the beach out to the ice. Continuing on, the beach at the picnic table on the north shore was also lacking snow cover. Usually, slab ice is piled high from there to Holt’s cottage, and only the largest of rocks are visible on the shore. This year, barely a knee-high pile of slushy accumulation can be found. Rounding the bend at Point Aux Pins, otter tracks and belly slides were easily visible from the edge of the road leading onto the property. I usually check out the buildings here as a favor to the owners, so this was a good time to also investigate the evidence of otters. Fresh, very fresh tracks, and slides coursed through the trees, disappearing underneath one of the buildings. A lot of scat also clearly marked an area near the building.
Having seen so many otters near town, I wondered just how many of these critters there are around here. Leaving Point Aux Pins without any more otter sightings and having already walked the west shore road several times this year, I decided to head uphill at Forest Way, deviating from the normal route. A lot of snow still covered this road all the through Wood Bluff, Stonecliffe Road and through the Annex. After checking on a couple cottages on my list, it was back to the West Bluff road, past the front of the Grand Hotel to Cadotte Avenue and, three hours later, back to my origins. What remains in the form of ice and/snow on Cadotte Avenue is rapidly melting, sending a steady stream of water all the way down to Market Street to flow into the storm sewer at the head of French Lane. More and more bikes are appearing every day now, and ferry ‘pools’ (guessing when the first ferry will begin running) are rumored to be started.
Earlier this week, the Coast Guard cutter has been cris-crossing the Straits off-shore from Mission Point, breaking up what ice remains in the area. Within an hour of watching them, the affects are evident. More and more ice flows past the island, heading southeast and the area of open water to our west seems to grow slightly larger each day. I’m told Tim Leeper is due back on the island sometime next week, having accomplished his goal of raising money for breast cancer research and dipping his bike tires in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This is limbo time of the year for us, especially so this year due to the overall lack of winter. As I’ve noted many times this winter, it seems as if Spring arrived many weeks ago, only to stall of late, as we usually don’t begin talk about ferries and bikes until much later in March. Usually, we’re hoping to have a St. Patrick’s Day gathering somewhere out on the ice. No chance of that this year!
That’s about it for this time. Until I write again, I hope all is well with you wherever you are. Take care. Greg”
Win a Trip to the Top of the Mackinac Bridge!
The Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association is raffling off a visit to the top of the Mackinac Bridge on March 31st. Tickets are just $5 each or 5 for $20. You can even order your tickets online by going to www.gllka.com. You don’t have to be present to win.
Tim Leeper – Journey’s End
On March 2 at noon, Tim rode his bicycle into the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine, Florida – his total mileage officially at 3,447.5 miles. Amazing! Friends and family were on hand to welcome him, hear tales from the road, and party. Tim is spending a few days with his mom in Bradenton, FL, before returning to the island (by car this time) in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with island friends. Tim’s trip raised over $9,000 for breast cancer research. Congratulations, Tim! Well done!
For those of you who don’t read my Georgia blog, please keep me in your prayers on March 24. I will be having surgery on that day, and will be out of commission (according to my doctor) for 4-6 weeks. This was a total surprise event for me, but when I was told it was needed, I said, “Oh mygosh! We leave for Mackinac Island the middle of May! Let’s get this thing scheduled and over with!” Please pray that things will be smoothly, with no complications. What a great way to get back in shape after surgery – Mackinac Island hills and trails!
That’s it for this week. See you back here next Monday morning, good Lord willing. God bless.