Throw Back Thursday – Girls Night Out 3/30/17

Personal Note:  I still consider this one of the coldest adventures I ever had on Mackinac . . . . and one of the most fun!  This was from back in the day when Mission Point Resort played first-run movies in the auditorium on certain evenings during the season.

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First Published 10/5/09

Three truths I have learned this summer about women on Mackinac Island: 

1)  They don’t call each other before ten in the morning.

2)  Regardless of age,  from the just-walking girl-child to the most silver-haired great-grandmother, they still ride bikes – and a lot of them still ride horses.

3) If they have a “Girls Night Out” planned, they are going OUT – regardless!

Case in point – Friday night a group of 20 ladies were planning on dinner and a movie.  Julie & Julia had finally winged its way to Mission Point Resort, and every female on the island wanted to see it.  It is a real “chick flick” – men would hate it and not understand it in any way.  AND, it’s about a blogger!  So it was all set we would meet at 6:15 p.m. at the Yankee Rebel for dinner, then go to the movies at 8 o’clock.  We were all so excited.

Friday was a day of the worst weather Ted and I had ever seen in our ten years of coming to the island.  It was pouring rain, the winds were howling, and the mercury in the outdoor thermometer was dropping so fast I asked Ted if there was a hole in the bottom of the little glass tube.  Chris Ann, who was working at the fort on the island, reported seeing snow flakes at one point during the afternoon.

I called Jill and cautiously said, “So, are we still going to try and go out tonight?”

“Why wouldn’t we?” she asked.

“Oh,” I said cheerily, “No reason.”  There was  no way this south Georgia girl, who has spent the summer telling all my new Michigan friends how much I want to see snow and spend the winter on Mackinac, was going to say, “I think I’ll sit this one out – it’s a little too chilly for me.”

I called Bonnie, who lives half-way down the hill from us, to see if she wanted to share a taxi into town with me.  She did.  I made a reservation for a 5:30 taxi, hoping we would make it to the restaurant by 6:15. 

Throughout the afternoon, the weather only got worse.  One of the ferry lines stopped making the crossings, and the other ferries were providing seasick bags for their passengers.  Someone reported there were four freighters anchored between the island and St. Ignace, waiting out the storm before crossing the Straits.  We heard a huge tree was down at the Island House on Main Street. 

I called Jill once more and said, “Um, are we still planning on going tonight?”

Jill asked, “Why wouldn’t we?”

I started layering at 5 o’clock.  First, a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt, then a long-sleeve, zipper-front fleece jacket, then a 3/4 length hooded rain jacket, then gloves, then socks and shoes, then earmuffs.  I was ready (I was to find out really fast that I was so not ready).

The taxi arrived at 5:30.  Lucky me – I was the first one on.  Ron, one of my favorites, was the driver.  Ron had water literally dripping off his hat, and if he hadn’t been covered head to foot in very effective rain gear, he would have been soaked.  I do NOT have very effective rain gear.  His horses were streaming water – they couldn’t care less – they love the rain.  I climbed on board and wrapped one of the blankets stored under the seats around me.  I was on a taxi one night that stopped at a hotel to pick up some ladies to carry them to town.  I had one of the taxi blankets tucked around me, and when one of the women sat down next to me, I said, “I’ll be glad to share the blanket with you.”  I began untucking it to allow her to put it over her lap.  She kind of sniffed and said, “No thank you.  You never know WHAT that blanket may have touched.  It may have even been on one of those HORSES!”  I just pulled that blanket up to my chin, tucked it in tighter around myself and thought, “Wow, did YOU come to the wrong place on vacation!”

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We went through the woods to the West Bluff to pick up Bonnie.  When it is raining, the taxi drivers pull down the plastic sides to help protect passengers from the elements.  But you still have an open space where you enter and exit the taxi.  Friday night the wind was blowing rain straight through those open spaces, and water was flowing in riverlets down both sides of the dirt/gravel road.

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We picked up Bonnie and went back around the West Bluff and through the Grand driveway, to pick up a couple who had walked up to the Grand just to see it.  They were only on the island for one night, bless their hearts.  Even in that weather, the lady was so sweet and said, “I can tell it’s really beautiful – we’ll be back.”

Ron dropped Bonnie and I off at the Yankee Rebel, and we ran inside and joined two more ladies who had arrived early.  

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When five out of the expected twenty had arrived, I said, “This is probably it, don’t you think?”  Those five just looked at me and laughed.  In the next five minutes 10 more ladies rushed in the door – five had ridden their bikes!  I felt like a total wimp!

We were seated at two window tables where we could look out and watch the wind blow bicycles around on the street and watch taxis trying to keep up with the requests for rides to and from town.  As all the women started peeling off layers, I began to realize why no one but me seemed to be too worried about the rain, cold, and wind.  Everyone had on at least 5 layers, and some had on 7.  These ladies know how to layer.

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I ordered the biggest bowl of hot soup they had on the menu, and it was wonderful.  The Yankee Rebel has great food, and the best sweet potato fries on the island – also the longest sweet potato fries!

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We had to be at the movies at 8 p.m., so we had ordered a taxi for 7:40.  We all layered back up again. 

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Back on the taxi we went – except for the five who were riding their bikes.  In addition to the gale force winds and the pouring rain, the temperature was dropping again.  All I could think about was the big hot tub of buttered popcorn I was going to get when I got to the movie.  I wasn’t hungry – I just wanted to wrap both hands around it!

Boy, was I in for a surprise.  We got into the theatre, paid our money, and I headed for the concession stand.  Closed.  No concession that night.  We all went inside and sat down about two minutes before the movie started.  It was then it struck me – not only was there no hot popcorn, there was no hot  anything!  There was no heat on!  It was colder in there than it was outside!

I looked at Jill, who was sitting next to me in her seven layers, and said, “How long is this movie?” 

Well, we stayed through the whole thing – and I have to tell you it was a really good movie.  I watched every second – I know this because my eyelids were frozen open.  I was pleased to note that no one took off a single layer – I know this because if they had, I would have stolen it immediately and put it on.

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When the movie was over the five of us who were taking a taxi home (some rode bikes, some walked – I kid you not) climbed onto our taxi (Ron again).  Bonnie and Molly (our pastor’s wife) stuck me between them and tried their best to keep me warm.  I was literally shaking.

I don’t even want to talk about the ride home.  I was the first one picked up – I was the last one off the taxi.  Bonnie called her husband Don and asked him to put her blanket in the dryer so it would be warm when she got home.   I thought, “what a great idea” and whipped out my cellphone and called Ted.  No answer.

When I walked in the condo and up the stairs, Ted was in bed, but awake enough to mumble, “Bear wouldn’t go to the bathroom for me, so you need to take “your dog” out.”  Thank goodness I hadn’t “unlayered”.  I took Bear out, who immediately did his business like the wonderful dog he is, and we came back to the porch.  That is when I discovered that I had locked myself out of the house.   

I thought seriously about ringing the doorbell, and the only thing that stopped me was knowing that Maddie would start barking like every bad guy in the world was breaking into the house and would probably wake up the entire complex.  So, with shaking hands, I punched the code into the lockbox, got out the extra key and opened the door.

I slept in a sweatshirt and sweatpants that night.  I felt really bad for Ted because Maddie got sick during the night, and he had to take “his dog” out three times before daybreak.

So, that was our girls’ night out – Mackinac Island style.  I had so much fun, and I hope that next year we do it all again.  But listen girls, do you think we might could plan next year’s in July?

Note to Santa:  Please bring me the following,  just in case I ever get to spend a winter on Mackinac Island:  An ankle-length raincoat, lined in fleece; fur-lined rubber boots (knee-high); a wool neck scarf  long enough to wrap three times around my neck; a knitted hat with earflaps; fur-lined gloves (water-proof); thermal socks rated for the North Pole; and five (5) sets of silk long-johns.

Throw Back Tuesday – Romance and Horse Poop 3/28/17

Personal Note:  It was pretty funny, when deciding which blog to post today, that this one popped up with the photo of me and Maddie on the couch at our former condo.  It was before we redecorated the living area with more of a “cottage” décor, Maddie is only a couple of years old, and it was just before I started growing my hair long for one last time. 

Maddie’s face is grey now, and since moving to Florida I’ve once again cut my hair short and have bangs.  That plaid couch I was sitting on (which came with the condo) resides in Chief Duck’s living room (unless he has passed it on to someone else).  I remember writing this post and wondering if I’d get censured for talking about horse poop on-line!  How times have changed!

Header:  A great aerial shot from Bryce Tracy a couple of days ago.  Most of the snow has melted, and there’s a lot of green already showing.  Spring is right around the corner on Mackinac!

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First Published August 30, 2009

It was raining Friday night at 11:15 when I took Bear out one last time before going to bed. It’s still raining this morning, and according to the forecast, the weather is going to get cooler and more rainy today – before it clears and warms up on Sunday.

IMG_5663aToday is a perfect day to stay inside and read, curled up on the couch surrounded by Bear, Maddie and my favorite red Mackinac Island throw (I have to fight Maddie for that).  It’s also a perfect day to write about horse poop, because there’s nothing like a rainy day to emphasize Mackinac Island produces more horse poop per square inch han most any other place on this earth (I did no scientific research on that, folks.  Just take my word for it).

I know I mention horse poop on our roads at least once a week on this blog, and it’s certainly not a subject to enjoy while you are sipping that first cup of your morning coffee.  So, all my readers who have let me know coffee and Bree’s blog go together, be forewarned.  You might want to settle down with your mug and the Today Show, and catch this blog a little later.  There won’t be many pictures on this blog because – well, I shouldn’t even have to explain that.

Mackinac Island’s unique charm was forever sealed when the city fathers banned motorized vehicles.  We don’t have cars or trucks or SUVs or minivans.  There are no buses, motorcycles, motorhomes, or trains.  Instead, we have horses.  Now horses bring a distinct sense of  romance to the island – I mean, picture a wedding carriage with a bride and groom, a tour carriage pulled by two beautiful Belgian draft horses, the Grand’s omnibus and their magnificent Percherons, and the gorgeous Friesians with their flowing manes and tails straight out of a romance novel.  You can drive your own buggy around the island, one hand on the lines and one arm around your favorite significant other.  Or you can go horseback riding with your sweetheart through the woods up to Lookout Point and picnic there while the horses graze nearby.  It’s romantic! 

Along with producing visions of romantic escapades, horses also produce poop – in large quantities (these are large horses, dear readers, and there are lots of them).  And until the day someone trains a horse to “go potty” only in the barn, horses are going to “go potty” wherever they feel like it – and that usually means the roads where we walk every day.

I remember the first time I came to the island and breathed in its distinct smell.  For the first time, I saw on the streets the evidence that horses pass by hundreds of times a day.  I admit that it was all pretty “Ewwwwww”!  –  for about 10 minutes.  Then I was so swept up in the uniqueness and appeal of the magic of the place that I totally forgot about it.  You no longer smell it, you no longer think about it.  It’s just there, and your senses rapidly adjust.

Now Mackinac Island has a street cleaner – pulled by horses.  It does an amazingly good job of keeping the streets as clean as possible, especially when you consider that the horses pulling the street cleaner usually contribute to what they are trying to clean up.  Regardless, that street cleaner is out there all day trying to keep up with the horse poop.  The big tank  puts down water, and then rotating brushes under the cleaner scrub the road.  A rainy day helps too.  Nothing like a heavy rain to wash the streets clean. 

BUT – whether it’s the street cleaner or the rain, what is always left is a thin, damp layer of questionable origin on top of the pavement.  So you never, never go out on wet Mackinac streets in flip-flops or open-toed sandals unless you are determined to ruin a perfectly good pedicure.  

I had a pair of shoes that I saved specifically for rainy days up here.  They were brown (no explanation needed there either), rubber-soled, heavy canvas shoes.  I could throw them in the washer (after I had hosed them down) with the old towels I use to dry Maddie and Bear when they come in wet, and they would come out clean.  The only problem was my feet got wet in those shoes.  Not really from the streets, but from walking through all the wet grass.  By the time I got back in the house, the shoes were soaked and so were my feet.  Icky!

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Bear lets me know he has to go out by going to my boots and lying down beside them.

I was lamenting this problem one day this spring to our daughter Julie in Arkansas.  Julie designs flip-flops and boots for a group of women tournament fisherladies.  They are all sooo cute, in a lot of zany designs and colors.  Julie said, “I will bring you a pair of the boots when we come this summer – just pick out which ones you like!”  So I went on-line and picked the ones called “black circles” (made more sense up here than the “pink circles” or “floral”).  When she arrived this summer with the boots, I couldn’t wait for it to rain.  Now I can traipse around outside in the wet grass and on the wet streets with nary a worry about getting my feet dirty, messing up my pedicure, or coming home with sopping wet feet!  I love those boots! 

The strangest thing happens to me when I go back home to Georgia for the winter.  I will be sitting in our sunroom looking out over the lake, or perhaps reading, with our little wood stove happily putting out heat on a January day (yes, it does get cold in Georgia occasionally). For no reason at all, I will suddenly think of the island – maybe I’ll picture all the snow that covers it in January and what fun it would be up here riding snowmobiles across the ice bridge.  Or, maybe I will picture Ted and I all snugged up in front of the fireplace.  With any of those thoughts will instantly come the smell of the horses.  Does the brain store away smells and send them out when we think about places that are connected with those smells?  Don’t know – don’t care.  The sensation will only last  for a few seconds, but during those seconds, I can put my head back, close my eyes, and be right back on the island. 

Romance and horse poop – nothing like it!

 

A Shady Corner on Mackinac 3/26/17

Hi Friends!

The island has been relatively quiet this week except for one bit of news which really lit up the “Mackinac Island Dockporters Association” Facebook page a couple of days ago.  Long-time friend Josh Carley posted this photo of State Park maintenance workers trimming limbs off the beautiful old elm tree that has stood for decades at the corner of Marquette Park across from Doud’s Market.

I still don’t have any definite news on whether the tree was being taken down completely, or whether it was just a trim of dead limbs, but since that photo appeared there have been dozens and dozens of comments lamenting the loss of the tree (if, indeed, it is being removed completely) or the potential loss at some time in the future.

Because it’s a slow news week, I’m just going to put my two cents worth in.

I love that tree.  It’s been there ever since I first set foot on the island in 2000 and for many decades before.  That little oasis of shade, stone wall, and benches is the perfect place to people watch, chat with friends (and strangers), eat a quick lunch from the Doud’s deli, or rest for a moment after traipsing around the downtown area all morning. It’s a much sought-after spot to watch parades or wait on a private carriage tour to begin.  I’ve sat on that stone wall with many island friends over the years – Jill, Frankie, Joe Plaza, Snapper, Chief Duck, Richard Pasco, Candy Smith . . . the list goes on and is made more poignant in knowing that Joe and Snapper are no longer with us.  I’ve eaten ice cream there, sat with Bear and Maddie at my feet waiting on Ted to come out of Doud’s, and met more than one blog reader – either on purpose (“let’s meet under the tree on the corner of Marquette Park”) or as a total surprise when I’d be walking by and someone would yell, “Bree!”

I. Love. That. Tree..

But.

Just as we all thought it was practically the end of the world when the beautiful old trees that lined Cadotte leading up to Grand Hotel had to be removed – life did go on.  Young trees were planted to replace them, and now – even though they have only been there a few years, they are already beautifully blazing a path in the Fall.

The way it was when we first starting coming to Mackinac. This is from October, 2005. (Photo: Mike Forrester)

And now. (Photo – Mackinac Revealed)

If and when the Marquette Park corner tree comes down, I will miss it as much as everyone else.  But . . . trees get old and become diseased.  They have a life expectancy and, although Mackinac trees probably live well past that life expectancy because they are so well cared for, eventually the end comes.  Or – because of age and disease and the danger of heavy limbs falling on people or horses or buildings – sometimes they must go before they succumb on their own.

When the tree is gone, I have no doubt in my mind it will be replaced by something beautiful . . . another tree maybe – young and healthy and full of life and potential and promise.  I trust the city fathers and mothers to do what is best.

And as for all of us who have spent so much time whiling away the hours in the shade of that old elm, we will mourn her passing.  But after we’ve mourned, let’s celebrate the gift she gave us by living out her life on that corner.  Let’s celebrate the memories we created under her leafy branches and picture in our minds the show she put on every fall when her leaves were the most brilliant of any tree on the island.  She’s a grand old tree.  And in our memories she always will be.

God bless.

The corner before the tree. Somewhere between 1902 and 1905. (Photo found by Roger Priebe)

 

 

Throw Back Thursday – A Day in the Life of a Mackinac Island Taxi Drive – Part II 3/23/17

Personal Note:  This is Part II of a blog about shadowing a Mackinac Island taxi driver one morning in July of 2009.  _________________________________________________________________

You know all the clothes I had put on for my morning with Jeanine?  Not one single piece came off during the morning.  I never put on the rain gear, but I wore the earmuffs the entire morning and still had them on when I climbed off the taxi at 12:30 back at the barn.  It amazes me (and even more so now) the conditions the drivers work in on the island.  When you take into consideration that their year begins in April and runs roughly through the end of October, you can bet that they will have experienced rain, sleet, freezing temperatures, freezing rain, winds blowing up to 40 mph (and more), and possibly some snow.  Carriage Tours provides their drivers with very nice uniforms including shirts, turtlenecks, vests, warm coats, and caps.  The drivers provide their own rain gear, khaki pants, shoes and gloves.  The taxis all carry blankets under the seats for passengers, but I have never seen a driver use one for himself.  They are much more concerned about how the weather conditions may be affecting their horses than how it is affecting them.

Jeanine and I left the horse barn and went the rest of the way down the hill into town.  The streets at 7 a.m. were quiet and IMG_0970empty.  Our first pick up was a taxi driver in a leg brace.  He can walk down the hill to the barn, and he can still handle his team.  What he can’t do is walk back up the hill.  We picked him up at the taxi stand, where he waited with a cup of coffee for Jeanine.  I jumped off and ran into Marc’s Double Oven for  caffeine for me and climbed back on. 

By the time we got back to the horse barn and dropped off our rider, we had a call at The Grand.  At  The Grand, we pulled up under the porch, and a porter came out and said the people had decided to walk down the hill.  He asked if we would take a cart full of luggage down to the ferry dock, and Jeanine said yes.  We pulled around to the side of The Grand, and a worker hooked the packed cart to the back of the taxi.

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IMG_0978We pulled the luggage cart down to the ferry dock where a porter was waiting to unhook it.  We left the docks and started down the street to park and wait on another call, but we never got to stop.  An employee of Wings of Mackinac (a butterfly house next door to our condo) needed a ride up the hill to work.  We turned around in front of Marquette Park and picked up the lady at the taxi stand.

Market Street was empty too at that time of morning.  Later on, after the first ferries arrived, the street would be teeming with visitors, but now it was quiet and peaceful. 

We dropped the worker off at Wings of Mackinac just as another call came in for the Annex.  Jeanine drove the taxi down the road in front of our condo, where Ted was out on the balcony with Maddie and Bear.  I had called him coming up the hill, and he had jokingly asked if I wanted him to meet us at the boardwalk with coffee, bacon and eggs.  Since I knew he was kidding, I declined even the coffee since I had already had a cup.

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I loved the annex run.  We turned into the state park on the same road where we walk Maddie and Bear.  Driving annex runthrough the woods on a chilly morning is almost surreal.  It is so quiet you could hear your heart beating if it weren’t for the horses hoofbeats covering that sound in your chest.  Jeanine handles the reins like a professional, and Thunder and Andy respond to her every touch.  We talked for a moment about the things that can spook a horse.  Since they wear blinders, they can only see straight in front of them.  That’s why you always approach a horse in blinders from the front, or if you can’t do that, you start talking as you walk up beside them to let them know you are there.  On the island, like anywhere else, the horses get used to where everything is supposed to be.  If something changes, it startles them.  Jeanine said a plastic bag flying across the road is the granddaddy of  “horse spookers”. She said that is why you always see workers picking up any bags that have been thrown down as litter.  A spooked horse in a street full of walkers and bikers is a scary thing to behold.  It does happen – not often, but it does.  Basically though, Jeanine said, the horses on Mackinac Island are what she calls “bomb proof”.  They can handle most anything that comes their way.  That is the way they are trained.

annexluggageWe arrived at a rental house in the annex to find a family group that wasannexpeople heading home after a month’s stay.  They had their luggage out waiting.  The men in the group loaded everything up under the back luggage compartment and strapped it all down.  I knew that we had always loaded and unloaded our own luggage, but I didn’t know until today that the drivers are not allowed to leave their seats.  Can you imagine a spooked horse with no driver? 

Everyone got on the taxi, including Winston – a very cute dog, who his mom said was ready to go home.  I don’t think this family was though.  There were five brothers and one sister (who didn’t make it this trip) and their respective spouses, children and grandchildren.  They have been renting this same house for the last 11 years, spending precious time together, making memories that will live into the future, and just enjoying being family together once a year in this special place.

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One lady in this group (Susan)  followed us on her bicycle.  One of the women riding the taxi explained that the biker was preparing for a biathlon (1/2 mile swim and 5K run) in Delaware.  Susan has won gold, silver, and bronze medals in the Senior Olympics and has appeared in Sports Illustrated.  She was awesome, and you could tell the family was so proud of her.

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I had explained to the family why I was riding along and asked permission to take pictures and write about them on the blog.  They were excited, and everyone wanted the blog address.  When we dropped them off at the ferry dock, one of the ladies told me she couldn’t wait to get home and read the story because she taught writing.  My face fell.  I was wondering how I could get back the address I had given them, because the thought of an English teacher reading this made me ’bout have the vapors.  But she explained she wasn’t an English teacher of writing.  She taught writing from the heart.  “Oh”, I said, “that’s what I do.”  She wrote the kindest comment to me today after reading the blog – I confess it made me cry.  I hope I get to see this family again next year when they are on the island.  Friendships could definitely grow there.

Back in town we got a call to pick up a lady at the Lakeview Hotel going to the Governor’s Summer Residence.  Now if you ride a taxi alone, you are charged for two people so it was going to cost this lady $9.50 for that ride.  Right after we picked her up though there was another call for the Governor’s house from a lady at the Cloghaun Bed & Breakfast.  The fare was instantly cut to $4.75 for each lady. The Governor’s Summer Residence is a popular spot for tourists on Wednesdays during the summer.  They open the house to the public in the morning hours, and guided tours are conducted through the first floor of the mansion.  And it’s free!  Ted and I have done the tour, and the house is absolutely beautiful.  I will blog on it one day soon.

With permission granted to photograph them and with blog address given out, I learned that one of the ladies was from Michigan and the other was from Maryland.  The Baltimore lady had stayed on the island an extra day just to see this house, and when we arrived there was a long waiting line. 

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We went back to town by the East Bluff mansions and down a VERY steep hill – so steep that carriages without brakes are not allowed.  We had brakes, but Jeanine assured me that Andy and Thunder could stop the carriage even if the brakes failed.  Good to know.  We stopped to water the horses, letting them drink their fill.

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I had the cutest comment this week from another taxi driver’s (Alyssa) grandmother.  She told me all about Alyssa driving taxis, and that she thought Alyssa and Jeanine knew each other.  She was right – they were roommates at one time.  While we were parked waiting on a call, Jeanine saw her coming up the street.  Alyssa parked right across from us, and I jumped off to run over and take her picture.  Her grandmother had already been in touch with her, and Alyssa knew she was going to be so excited to see the picture on the blog.  So this one’s for you, proud Grandmom!

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After about a 10 minute wait for our next call (during which I dashed into The Pancake House and got Jeanine and I a MacMuffin with sausage and onions), we were sent to pick up a couple at a hotel on Main Street who wanted to be driven out to British Landing and dropped off.  When we arrived, Jeanine explained that British Landing was the farthest point on the island that a taxi goes, and the cost would be $29.00.  That was fine with them.  They wanted the experience of walking half-way around the island, but because of the weather didn’t want to chance being gone long enough to do the entire 8.2 miles.  We started out on M-185, the highway around the island, and I did my “blog talk” to this nice couple from Kentucky.

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They were so cute, all snuggled up together in the back seat.  I told them the story of how we ended up on Mackinac, and they told me a little about themselves.  They asked Jeanine what had brought her to the island, and Jeanine said, “the ferry”.  We all cracked up.  Jeanine said she doesn’t use that one a lot, but it does get a laugh every time.  Then she told them the real reason she was here – her love of horses.  As we covered the four miles out to British landing, the clouds over the bridge looked threatening, but the rain never came.

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westbluffWe passed the West Bluff with its “cottages” and went around a drive-it-yourself buggy.  The Kentucky couple asked if the companies used the oldest horses for those carriages.  Jeanine said yes – a lot of people who rent the buggies have no experience at all in driving horses, so they try to put a safe, calm horse with them.  That led to a discussion on the ages of the horses on the island.  Jeanine explained that most horses come to the island at about 5 years of age and will usually work until they are 15 or 20, depending on the horse.  Andy and Thunder are eight or nine years old, so they are just getting started.  The majority of the horses are bought from the Amish who have already trained them to pull loads.   The horses are switched between taxis, livery, tours, and drays each year.

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We let the couple off at Cannonball, the half-way point and a great place to get something to drink and their famous fried pickles.  The lady who runs Cannonball was out the door like a shot when we pulled up – she knows the drivers can’t get off, and she knows they are on a tight schedule.  Those pickles were ready in a flash. 

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As the last pickle was going down, we got a call to pick up at Pinewood, behind Stonecliffe.  We took the road going up through the center of the island (one of my favorites), and were rewarded by woods filled with blooming wildflowers.

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We waited for nearly 10 minutes for the riders at Pinewood, only to find out that they had decided to take the hotel shuttle downtown.  By then it was 12:15, so Jeanine headed for the barn to switch out her team.  Andy and Thunder would not work again until the next afternoon, have the whole next day off, then begin the cycle again the next morning.  Aiden and Donny were waiting to unhitch the tired horses, and they were led into their stalls, where Jeanine checked to make sure they were ok and had started eating.    The new team, Anna and Newt, were ready and waiting for Jeanine.  When it’s time to switch horses, it doesn’t matter if the taxi has riders or is empty.  The horses are switched on time.  Because of that, the driver cannot get her second team ready, so that is done by the barn workers. 

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After Jeanine leaves, Andy and Thunder will be unharnessed, curried, brushed and given another bath.  Jeanine climbs aboard for the second half of her shift and starts back downtown.  When she returns to the barn at 7 p.m., she will unharness Anna and Newt and repeat the process the barn workers did for the first team.  She won’t go home until she has done everything she needs to do to make sure her horses are comfortable, fed, and settled in for the night. When that is accomplished, Jeanine’s shift will be over.

I gained a tremendous amount of respect during my ride for these men and women who handle the big horses.  They have to have strength, control, and a calm spirit to accomplish what they do with the horses.  They also must be honest, kind, and patient to deal with the riders they transport.  It’s not an easy job, and on Mackinac Island it is a very important one.  Thanks to Dr. Bill Chambers for allowing me to ride along on a taxi.  And a big, special thanks to Jeanine for allowing me to tag along and ask dozens of questions, and for not making too much fun of me when I couldn’t lift the two tons of harness off my head.  I loved every minute.  See you on the streets!

IMG_1102Taxi Tidbits: 

1)  The morning shift is generally easier on the horses.  In the morning, the majority of the people are going toward town, so the heavy load is going downhill.  In the afternoon, the majority of people are going home, so the heavy load has to be pulled up the hill.

2)  The horses get new shoes every 4-6 weeks – unless they throw one in between.  The front shoes are rubber because the majority of the weight is taken on the front legs, and the rubber gives more bounce.  The back shoes are steel, which contain a gritty substance to give the horse more traction.

3)  What a taxi driver never leaves home without on Mackinac Island?  Raingear, a jacket, and sunglasses.

4)  The island is divided into taxi zones. 

5)  Silly tourist questions:  Does the water go all the way around the island?  When do they swing the Mackinac Bridge over to the island? 

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Another Personal Note:  Spending as many summers as we do on Mackinac Island and writing about our adventures there tends to link us to folks who love the island as much as we do.  Reading back over this story, I realized I’ve been Facebook friends with several of the people in this blog since 2008 and earlier.

First – Jeanine, the taxi driver.  Jeanine left the island and moved to Savannah where she drove carriage tours in that city for several years.  Ted and I looked her up and took one of her tours in that city when we were there for a class reunion at Paula Deen’s house (Ted graduated with Paula from high school).  I connected with Jeanine again when she drove to Sylvester GA (my hometown), to adopt one of the shelter dogs I’d written about at Best Friends Humane Society.

Jeanine now lives and does taxes in upstate New York. This photo is from her Savannah days with one of her all-time favorite horses,Charlie.

Second – Sue from the family we picked up at the house in the Annex (not the Sue on the bike, but the Sue who taught “writing from the heart”).

As recently as a few weeks ago I received this beautiful SoulCollage card Susan had created in memory of Bear.

A few years ago I interviewed Susan’s granddaughter Devon for a blog story.  The then 15-year old had written and published a youth novel (“Get Over It”) about a boy and girl who meet on the island.  She used her memories of spending a month each summer on Mackinac to give authenticity to the story. 

Third – Alyssa, the other taxi driver in the blog above.  Alyssa lives on the island as a year-round resident now and drives for Carriage Tours.  We see her every summer!

Fourth – Alyssa’s grandmother Alice.  Alice contacted me after she read Part I of the taxi driver story and told me she had a granddaughter who also drove taxis – and she thought she was friends with Jeanine.   It became a regular thing for me to snap a photo of Alyssa each time I’d see her and send it to Alice.

I feel so continually blessed to have met each of these precious folks – and hundreds like them – who share my love of Mackinac.

God bless.

Throw Back Tuesday – A Day in the Life of a Mackinac Island Taxi Driver 3/21/17

Personal Note:  During the summer of 2009, I wrote several blogs about folks who work on Mackinac Island as summer employees.  This is Part I of the piece I wrote about Jeanine Noel, a taxi driver on Mackinac Island.  Part II is coming on Thursday!____________________________________________________________________

FIRST PUBLISHED ON JULY 2, 2009

I HAD  SO MUCH FUN in the 6 hours I spent with Jeanine today that it is going to take me 2 days to tell you about it all.  There is just no way I can pack it into one blog – I must have taken 100 pictures, and now I am  trying to go through them and find the best ones to tell the story.  Part I will be the actual preparation that goes into getting the horses and carriages ready to begin their 5-hour (approximate) day,  and Part II will cover the 5 hours I spent on the taxi with Jeanine for the first part of her 12-hour shift.

First, a little about Jeanine.  She is from Rochester, N.Y., and this is her 3rd year driving for Carriage Tours.  With an Associate Degree in Animal Science with concentration in Equine Management, and an almost completed Bachelor’s Degree, she is taking some time off from academics to decide what she wants to concentrate on as a career.  Vet Tech school is one option she is considering, which would probably mean completing her bachelor’s in Biology.

Jeanine began riding lessons when she was 10 years old and had the typical little girl’s love and fascination with horses.  She has shown hunters and jumpers, and in college showed Belgians in several hitch configurations.  It was while in college she heard of Mackinac Island and saw a chance to use her talents on a daily basis.

When drivers apply and are hired by Carriage Tours, they come to the island in April and spend a week or more learning the ropes – literally.  They ride on what they call “the school bus”, a carriage that will hold several “students”, riding with an experienced driver.  They ride the “tour” over and over again, listening to the narrative, learning the routes, and getting hands-on experience handling the horses.  They also spend time in the barn learning to take care of their horses (each taxi driver usually handles the same 4 horses each season) which includes all the preparation for a day’s work (more on this later).  Then they go do their “homework”, taking  home detailed histories of the island and its people so they are prepared for the myriad of questions they are asked each day.

The first assignment as a driver is on a tour carriage, two-horse and three-horse carriages that take hundreds and hundreds of tourists each day around the island, chronicling island history and transporting visitors to famous landmarks.  All of this is on a set route, with a pretty-much set script. Since I will be riding with a tour driver sometime in the future, I will save more details on that for later.  From the most experienced tour drivers, the taxi drivers are chosen.  Carriage Tours operates 11 taxis, two wheelchair taxis, two hotel shuttles, two Mission Point shuttles, and two Stonecliffe shuttles.  They also operate 20 two-horse tour carriages and 16 three-horse tour carriages.  It is a huge operation with unbelievable logistics.

I set the clock for a 5 a.m. wake up (Ted grumbled, turned over and went back to sleep).  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting “dolled up” for this assignment – but I sure put on several layers of clothes.  It was 56 degrees, and I knew I would be riding at the front of the taxi.  I layered on my long-john top, a long-sleeve t-shirt, then my fleece jacket.  Blue jeans completed the outfit.  I tied my hooded rain jacket around my waist and put my earmuffs in my pocket.  Hey – I’ve learned how to dress up here for anything!

It’s a 5-minute walk to the horse barn, and I met Jeanine coming across the street to the barn from where she lives.  Most of the taxi drivers and barn employees live in (appropriately named) Barn View.  She shares a suite with 3 other Carriage Tour employees and works the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift six days a week.

I had no idea the responsibilities of a driver.  I just thought they arrived at the barn, climbed on a carriage where two already hitched horses stood waiting, and off they went.  Nope – that’s not the way it’s done.

First comes wiping down the carriage with a clean cloth.  The carriage sits out during the night, so it may have rained, or dew may have fallen, or it might just be dusty from use the day before. Today, the flaps surrounding the body of the cabin were left down because there was a chance of rain.

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We went into the barn and found Andy (left) and Thunder (right) standing in their stalls.  Andy and Thunder are bay cross-breeds.  Their bloodlines most likely carry a mix of Belgian and Percheron.

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A curry comb is used on each horse to start the clean up process from a night in a stall or a night outside in the horse corral.  Thunder had obviously had a little more fun the night before than Andy as he was coated in a layer of mud.  Horses love to roll around on the ground to scratch their backs, or just for the fun of it.  The dust coming off Thunder was so thick in the air it clouded my camera lens.

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After the dirt is loosened by the curry comb, a brush is used to finish the process of removing any dirt from the horse’s coat.

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Jeanine then harnessed Thunder, using all kinds of strange words like martingale, crupper, and neck, breast and quarter straps.,

jeanineharnessthunderNext to Andy’s stall, a horse was lying down, apparently sound asleep.  I said to Jeanine that I thought horses slept standing up.  Jeanine said, “Horses are prey animals.  They sleep lightly while they stand so they can be ready to run if they are attacked.  But 2-3 hours a night, they will lie down and sleep soundly – get their REM sleep.” 

horselyingdownJeanine thought it would be great fun for me to put the horse collar on Andy.  I eased into the stall, sliding carefully up next to him and tried to lift the collar over his head.  Couldn’t do it.  That horse was tall, and that collar was heavy!  Trying to help me out, Andy bent his head down almost to the floor, and I finally got it over his ears.  Then Andy lifted his head and bammed it into the stall ’cause I was in his way.  Poor Andy.  He turned his head back to Jeanine with a look that said, “OK – enough with the weak, dumb blogger.  Please come finish this and get her out of my stall.”mecollar

Since I couldn’t lift the collar, Jeanine knew better than to try me with the harness.  She did take this picture of me after she had taken it all down off the wall and put it over my head.  If she hadn’t then taken it all off of me, I would have had to pull the carriage today because I would have never gotten it off by myself! meharness

Jeanine harnessed Andy and then took both horses outside for a bath – cool water if the weather is warm, warm water if it’s cold. 

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After changing into her uniform, Jeanine went back outside to use Pledge on her carriage.  The painted areas on the outside are polished each morning.

pledgeBy the time she had finished, Donny and Aiden had led Thunder and Andy outside, where Jeanine joined them to do the final harnessing – adding the neck yoke that turns two separate horses into a team.

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With everything done except actually hitching them to the carriage, Andy and Thunder are led out to No. 6, Jeanine’s assigned taxi, where they are backed in, with the runner separating them.  The runner is attached to the neck yoke, and they are officially ready to go.  

hitchtocarriageThis entire process with Andy and Thunder only took a little over 30 minutes.  At 6: 55 a.m. Jeanine was on board, and I took one final picture before she put on her work cap.  Then I climbed up behind her, she called the dispatcher to check in as ready for customers, and we headed downtown.

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The story of my day with Jeanine continues on Thursday as I ride with her on the morning leg of her 12-hour shift.  We took lots of calls, covered lots of ground, and I talked with a lot of passengers who were very excited to be photographed for my blog.  Hope to see you then!

All in the Family 3/19/17

Well.  I have no idea what happened on Thursday with my blog program, but it seems two “Throw Back Thursday” blogs were published, although on my side of things I was being told nothing new was posting.  So – some of you may have gotten nothing at all, and some of you may have gotten three posts (I reposted one twice and then posted another to see if it would go through).  Hopefully, I have better luck with this one tonight!

This entire week has been all about spending time with family – Ted’s newly found birth family and our own blended family!

On Monday we dropped the pups off at Lily’s (our petsitter) and drove to Kissimmee FL to meet Ted’s Aunt Marsha and Uncle Dan (Aunt Marsha is Ted’s birth mother’s youngest sister).  Also meeting us there were Kel, Gwen, Lindie and Mike (cousins we’d already met this summer on the island).  So happy these folks all spend some time in Florida during the winter months!

Clockwise from left: Uncle Dan, Kel, Mike, Gwen, Lindie, me, Ted, and Aunt Marsha.

 

Three cousins and an aunt – Lindie, Ted, Aunt Marsha, and Kel.

Sweet Uncle Dan presented Ted and I with a beautiful wooden cross he had created by a technique called chip carving, and he also made a smaller one for me to wear as a pendant. The workmanship is so delicate I can’t even imagine how much time this took.  The larger cross is made of cherry, and the smaller one is from butternut. Such a special gift from special folks.

Throughout this whole search Ted and I both have been blown away by the warmth, welcome, and love this beautiful family has offered us.  When we thought about how many ways this all could have gone, we were certainly hoping for a good outcome, but what we’ve received has been an all-out open-arms welcome from every family member we’ve met or spoken with by phone.  For Ted, and for me also to a lesser degree, it’s a bit overwhelming at times – but only in the best and happiest possible sense.  Since Ted and I both were “only children” (we thought), we’ve gone from a very small family group (Ted has one daughter, and I have two sons) to having well over 20 cousins on one side of his birth family – plus three siblings, two uncles, and one aunt.

There are already plans being made for us to stop by and visit some of these folks on our way to Mackinac this summer.  And we’re hoping to see more of them on the island.  It just doesn’t get much better than this!

On Wednesday Jason, Jen, and Alex arrived for a 4-night stay (Alex’s Spring Break).  We were a little worried they would be bored – the weather was really cool and windy, so beach time was going to be at a minimal.  We shouldn’t have worried!

On Thursday they spent the day at the Kennedy Space Center!

They got to experience a lot of the same things that the astronauts do to prepare for a mission.

Inside the space capsule with all the instrumentation.

Ready for blast-off!

On Friday they traveled north a few miles to tour St. Augustine. Lunch outside on a patio in Old Town.

Visiting the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (there’s a wall of glass between Alex and Jen and that albino gator)!

In between all that, there was time for bonding with Bodie (don’t know what it is about Bodie’s crate that attracts kids, but they spend more time in it than he does) . . .

. . . . checking out the neighborhood on his scooter…

. . . . and even a little beach time!

There was also time for Jason and Jen to stay connected to work – because unfortunately adults don’t get Spring Breaks!

We were sad to see them leave this afternoon . . . the house is always too quiet after the busyness and excitement of visitors.  Hoping they can visit again before we head north in July (and hoping they can be persuaded to come to Mackinac again this summer)!

AND SPEAKING OF MACKINAC . . .

Warm temps melted a lot of snow this week, but here are a few pics from before that happened – and some from the little snowfall they had over the weekend.  You never know when you’re going to bike to the ferry, take it across, and return hours later to enough snow that you can’t bike home!(Photo: Greg Main)

A snowplow clears the sidewalk for foot traffic several days ago. (Photo: Greg Main)

Another from Greg – Main Street in the snow – minus all the shops’ awnings.

A week or so ago. Beautiful ice and snow along the shore. (Photo: Greg Main)

A few days later, and another side of the island.  (Photo: Greg Main)

Just after that last BIG snowfall. Island friend Meredith shot this off the back porch  of the Cedar Hill Condos. Have always loved red against snow!

This one is from Meredith also. She and her golden doodle Mason out for a stroll in the woods.

I think that covers us from here.  Wishing everyone a wonderful week, and I’ll meet you back here for a Throw Back Tuesday.  Now . . . . . let’s see if I can get this thing to publish!

God bless.

Closing the Windows 3/16/17

Personal Note:  Loved reading back over this post, although some of it is bittersweet.  When this post was first written, Cadotte was lined with those old, beautiful, 65′ trees, all of which were lost to disease.  But Grand Hotel replanted and the new trees are growing fast and are already so beautiful in the fall.  I know Ted and I won’t be around when these reach 65′, but others will.  Life goes on, trees are lost, replanted, and grow tall once more.  ______________________________________________________________________

First Published 9/30/09

Almost 11 a.m. Tuesday morningThe wind is surging through the trees and whistling around the corners of the condo.  We have all the windows closed for the first time since we arrived in May, but all the shades are up as far as they will go, because I love watching changing weather.

I’m even a big fan of storms – the “thunder booming, lightning flashing, strong winds, heavy rains” kind of storms.  If it was storming when I was a little girl, my mom used to sit curled up on the couch praying for it to end as soon as possible.  I would be standing at the window watching it all with sparkling eyes (I had to go to my bedroom to do this – mom wouldn’t have let me near a window in the room where she was).  To me, storms have always been a real-life, technicolor, block-buster extravaganza of nature – much better than watching movies or TV – no matter how great a surround sound system you have.

From the deck this morning, the dark clouds hung low and brooding over Lake Huron, and the temperature was hoovering in the low 40’s.    I noticed for the first time that the bushes in front of the horse corral at the end of our yard have shed enough leaves to lay bare the fence.  Soon we will be able to see the horses once again when they are turned out each night.

clouds fromthe deck

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I do admit to having no desire to actually be outside in all that wind.  While Ted took Maddie and Bear out this morning, I snuggled in under the down comforter I had added to the bed this weekend.  I knew, sooner or later, my turn would come to go out with them, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty.  More later.

6:36 p.m. late Tuesday afternoonThe wind has died down, but the temperature has started down also.  It’s 47 right now, with the low Wednesday morning forecast for 30.  So instead of a very windy trip to Cheboygan with Bear today, I’ve opted to take him tomorrow on the coldest morning we’ve had.  The trip down the hill at 8:30 a.m. to catch the 9 a.m. ferry is not going to be fun, but at least there won’t be wind, and the sun will be shining!

I had not planned to go to town at all today – just too windy.  But I was already two weeks late getting Blake his birthday present mailed to China, and I finally got everything in the mail yesterday that I wanted to send him.

I spent half the morning getting all the forms filled out that must accompany a box halfway around the world.  The post office was busy, and everyone was talking about the weather.  The few people I spoke with who had taken the boat over this morning said it was a very bumpy ride.  I stopped by for cookies at Marc’s Double Oven, saw Jill at the bookstore and bought a book she suggested (The Master Butchers Singing Club), and started for home.

I followed several ladies up Grand Hill, whose clothes and actions made a perfect picture of what the weather was like.

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As I crossed the street before getting to the Grand, I noticed our neighbor Duck taking pictures of something on the side of the road.  It was only then that I saw that one of the old, old trees along Grand Hill was missing.  I stopped to ask Duck what had happened, and he told me the wind in the storm last night had split the tree down the middle.  This morning it had been determined that the whole tree was compromised, so it had to be cut down.

What was amazing was what they found inside the tree!  At some point in the tree’s life, it had obviously been split before.  When the chain saw got to a certain point this morning, it struck something solid that the saw couldn’t penetrate.   What they have determined is that cement had been poured into the split when it occurred, and the tree had continued to grow around it.  And there it was – a solid, hard as stone, concrete post.  The tree, like all those on Grand Hill was around 65 feet tall, and Duck estimated around 125 years old.  It made me wonder how many others on either side of that hill have been patched up over the decades.  They are all so healthy looking and so beautiful.  This one is a great loss.

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Continuing on up the hill, I met a dray coming down.  Don’t know if this recliner was being delivered to someone’s home, or was being taken off the island.  Either way, it was being enjoyed!

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I took my turn out in the cold with Maddie and Bear before dinner.  How trees can change so much over two days is amazing, but this one in the yard of the Carriage Museum had turned two shades more golden since Sunday.  Bear, standing in the leaves, looks so pretty – smelly, but pretty.  Can’t wait for him to get his bath tomorrow!

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The number of horses in the corral below our condo has roughly been cut in half.  Most of them now have shaved manes, which mean they soon will be heading for Pickford and a winter of rest and play in wide open fields.

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It seems everyone I talked to downtown today asked if we were staying over the winter.  We’ve had offers of snowmobiles, snowshoes, and cross county skis.  We’ve had offers to pick us up at the airport in Pellston, or at the airport here on the island.  I have to shake my head “no” to every question and every offer of help.  Maybe Ted is right, and I would find it too cold and too desolate and too brutal.  Maybe struggling with the dogs in wet snow would be a great big pain.  Maybe being isolated on an island until the ice bridge freezes over would be too confining.  But, maybe it wouldn’t.

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