This won’t be my usual update. I simply can’t post beautiful snow photographs today or talk about what’s coming up this spring and summer on the island. Today is for talking about a missing islander, and for saying a few more prayers.
Mackinac Island residents – including us part-timers, friends, and family everywhere have been praying all week for the safe return of Bobby Roach. Bobby is an island resident who disappeared last Friday evening (Feb. 11), after last being seen at The Village Inn. When islanders began to realize on Sunday that he was missing, search parties gathered to comb the island, and searchers on snowmobiles criss-crossed the ice (where they could safely do that). Coast Guard helicopters arrived to fly low over the ice bridge. After a week of searching, Bobby has still not been found, and our greatest fear is that he has disappeared . . . through the ice.
Bobby is a Mackinac Island volunteer fireman and a life-long resident of this tiny, remote-in-the-winter island. He knows about ice, and safety, and emergency procedures, and these facts have kept hope alive longer than should probably be realistic. But his snowmobile is also missing, and he does not answer his cellphone or the fire department radio that is always with him, and that makes the possibility there will be a bad outcome to this even more real.
Ted and I don’t know Bobby, but when we look at the photographs that have been posted, we recognize him as someone we have seen many times in our summers there. My friend Liz, who teaches on the island, said it best in her blog this week, “Bobby is as much a part of the Mackinac Island landscape as Sugar Loaf and Arch Rock.”
It was only one year and one week ago that I wrote about the tragic snowmobile accident that claimed the lives of two dear women on the island. The winter before that my buddy George, who drives the winter taxi, lost one of his sons to the ice. George Jr. and his snowmobile went through the ice in the middle of a snowstorm, as he crossed from St. Ignace. He was able to pull himself out, but hypothermia claimed his life just yards from the Coast Guard station. Those of us who do not brave winters on the island know little of the seductive lure of the Ice Bridge. To islanders stranded there after the ferries must stop running, and whose only way off the island is by plane, the Ice Bridge “making” is similar to being given a direct pass to freedom after days – and sometimes weeks – of planning trips around scheduled flights. During the short duration of the Ice Bridge, the island is no longer an island – but part of the mainland. For the 550 year-round residents, the lure to cross is almost overwhelming, even though crossing the Ice Bridge is never condoned by the Coast Guard. I pouted last winter about the lack of an Ice Bridge when we were on the island for Winter Festival. I see it only as a “fun thing to do”, something that I’ve put on my bucket list. Each year the thought that perhaps that particular item should be deleted from my list is reinforced more and more.
The search for Bobby has been called off. But still we pray for a miracle, or that at least he will be found, giving closure to his family. But the ice can be unforgiving, and in the past others have disappeared as Bobby has, and they are simply . . . gone.
As I wrote last year, so many of us “summer people” know only the beauty of Mackinac – the step back in time, the Victorian cottages, the peace and rest we draw from her isolation. But the island has her dangers also, and to those who winter there, they are never more evident than when something tragic happens to one of their own.
God bless, Bobby Roach. You are missed.