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 Thursday – Bear Learns Some Life Lessons 3/9/17

Personal Note:  As promised, a second blog from the paw of sweet Bear.

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First Published August, 2009

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Hi!  Bear here.

Sometimes I just get too comfortable with my life.  I think I know what each day will bring – I get up every morning when dad wakes up and watch him make the coffee, then I sit around with him for a while.  Then when I think I just can’t wait another minute longer to go outside, I go jump in the bed with mom and wake her and Maddie up.  Once Maddie’s awake, I know we’re going outside pretty fast, because that little girl can’t wait like I can.  When she wakes up, she’s gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now!

When we come back in, dad gives Maddie and me a bacon strip out of a bag (he thinks I don’t know it’s not real bacon, but I’ve had real bacon before, and believe me – that bag stuff is not real)  But, I never refuse food, so I eat it.  Then mom feeds us, and she and dad sit around and drink coffee, or go out on the deck and watch the people go by.  At some point, mom gets her yogurt out of the big box with doors, and Maddie and I wait while she eats it.  We know when she is finished because she always scraps around in that yogurt carton with her spoon.  When we can hear the spoon hitting the sides of the carton, we know that’s all she’s gonna get out of there.  Then she takes the spoon out and sits it down.  That means she’s done, and we can move in close and clean out that little bit of blueberry or strawberry yogurt that she has left – I call it breakfast dessert.

Then we settle down for a morning of rest – inside on the couch, out on the deck, or my personal favorite – right in front of that whirly thing that sits on the floor in the bedroom.  If I lift your head up a little, that wind can go right through all the fur on my neck and really cool me off.  The whirly thing is GREAT!

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Sometimes I have to get up when I hear dad come back from town on his bike.  I love that I can look out the back bedroom window to where he parks his bike!

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And so the day goes.  The only real change from the routine comes when I go get a shampoo and grooming.  I can tell those mornings because when mom says, “Let’s go”, she gets my shampoo and conditioner out of the closet and puts them in a bag.  Then I know I get to go for a ferry ride and a truck ride, and then I get pampered all day by the nice people at Bark, Bath, and Beyond.

So this morning mom’s reading her email, and suddenly she says, “Oh my gosh Bear, we’re going to be late!”  She jumps up, throws on her backpack, and says, “Let’s go”, but she doesn’t stop at the closet for my shampoo.  Instead we run downstairs, she puts on my collar, attaches my leash, and off we go down the hill.  I think to myself, “No worries, whatever it is, I’m sure it will be fun!”

As usual, when we walk down the hill we pass lots of people who say how handsome I am and want to pet me.  Mom is really in a hurry, but she stops long enough for a little girl to say hello.  She knows how much I like little kids and how much they like me ’cause I’m so soft and cuddly – just like a teddy bear (which is kinda how I got my name).

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Before we get to the end of the street, mom says, “Here we are.”  Here?  Where’s here?  We go inside this fence and go toward an open door in this building that’s like a big barn, and then I suddenly “get it”.  Mom brought me here last fall when I was sick.  This is where Doc Al takes care of the sick dogs on the island (he might take care of cats too, but I don’t want to think about that).

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Doc Al is a vet, and I know that he mainly looks after all the horses on the island.  But, if one of us smaller animals gets a tummy ache or something even worse, Doc Al is who everyone on the island calls.  If he’s nearby on his bike, maybe at one of the stables or barns, and someone calls him with a sick pet, he will just get on his bike and make a house call!  He will do the same thing if an animal is too sick to get to his office.  You see it’s different here.  Mom and dad can’t just put us in the car and rush us to the vet when there is an emergency.  And carrying a 90 lb. golden retriever down the hill to Doc Al’s office would be a little hard , even for my big, strong dad.  So, when he needs to, Doc Al comes to your house on his bike.  How cool is that!

When we get to the open door, Doc Al is on the phone, but we go on in.  I’m still wondering what’s going on because I’m not sick!  I feel great, in fact.  I know I have to take 2 pills a day because something in me called a thigh-roid gland doesn’t work right.  If I don’t take the pills, I get sloppy fat – would you believe I weighed 103 lbs. last year!  But it was this gland thing I had going on that was making me gain weight – it certainly wasn’t because they give me too much to eat!  Good grief, you’d think I was a Yorkshire Terrier by the amount of food they put in my bowl.

Anyway, Doc Al gets off the phone and gets down on the floor with me.  He’s telling me how nice I am and how good I look, then all of a sudden I notice he has this HUGE NEEDLE in his hand.  What the heck is that for?  He asks mom to take off my collar and hold my head because he’s going to draw blood OUT OF MY NECK!  Are you kidding me!  My animal doctor at home in Georgia has done this before when she was testing my thigh-roid gland, but she always stuck me in the leg.  My NECK?  Mom is holding my head, and Doc Al is trying to find my skin under all my fur, and I’m thinking, “Geez I wish I was back home in front of my whirly thing!”

Doc Al finds what he is looking for and sticks me.  I hold very still because mom and Doc Al are telling me over and over again how good I’m being.  That’s because I’m so scared I can’t move. If someone was sticking a needle in your neck, you’d be scared too!

He’s finally done, and I’m still breathing.  He stands up and puts all my blood down on the table (I’m pretty sure he took at least a quart!), so I figure I’m safe again.  Then he writes a bunch of stuff down and tells mom that he should have the results back tomorrow.  I guess then we will know if I have to change the number of pills I take for my thigh-roid condition.  I still like Doc Al though, even though he did kind of surprise me with that needle.  It really didn’t hurt a bit – I’m a pretty tough guy.

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We’d started back up the hill for home when mom takes out her camera again (can you believe I belong to someone who takes a camera to the vet’s office?).  She says it’s been too long since she took any good pictures of me, so today’s the day.  I’m happy about that – I love to pose for pictures!  When we get to the big yard in back of the island school, there are a bunch of geese there.  I LOVE to chase geese!  But what does mom do?  Gets me up as close to them as she can, then tells me to sit and stay!  Stay?  It’s GEESE, for pete’s sake!  So there I was, a few yards from about nine million geese, and I have to stay!  Why did I learn that command anyway?

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After that, we just walked around the grounds at Grand Hotel, and mom took lots of pictures of me in front of lots of big flowers.  Things were going pretty well until she told me to down/stay in front of this HUGE bed of flowers out in the road at the Grand.  As soon as I started to lay down, I smelled something in the grass that I really liked.  I smelled it some more, then I just HAD to roll in it.  Mom didn’t get mad though ’cause she knew it couldn’t be anything bad smelling at the Grand – they wouldn’t allow that.  Man, that was some sweet-smelling grass!

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She took one more picture over in front of the Grand’s Flower Shop, then we went across the street to the Pro Shop and took a breather before going home.

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So it’s been a pretty eventful day for me. Mom asked me to write about my experiences on her blog, so after I went for a long walk with mom and dad and Maddie this afternoon, we had supper, and I sat down to think about all that had happened.  I came up with three lessons I learned that you should write down and maybe put on your refrigerator – ’cause they are pretty important.

1)  You should always leave the house looking your best, because you never know when you might have to pose for pictures in front of nine million geese, even when you just want to be chasing them into Lake Huron.

2) If you are going to roll in something that smells good to you, always make sure it is on the grass at the Grand Hotel – seriously, I didn’t even get in trouble.

3) You should always be ready for anything and always be alert, because when you least expect it, someone might stick a needle in your neck.

Well, the whirly thing is calling my name – talk to you again soon!

Throw Back Thursday – Stick Season 3/2/17

Personal Note:  Loved looking back at this October stroll through the Annex on Mackinac Island. Seeing Bear in several of these photos brought back so many special memories of that sweet boy.

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First published October 23, 2012

She calls it “stick season,” this slow disrobing of summer, leaf by leaf, till the bores of tall trees rattle and scrape in the wind. – Eric Pinder

Tonight I’m inviting you to come along with Bear and me as we walked for almost two hours on Sunday afternoon.  It was a beautiful day to be on Mackinac, and it seemed strange not to go to church that morning (Little Stone Church closed for the season last Sunday).  Ted took Maddie and walked her to town to pick up a newspaper, and Bear and I struck out in another direction.

I hadn’t been to the Annex in over a month, so I was anxious to see how the trees were looking in that area of the Island. Bear and I walked down Cadotte toward the Grand, then turned right on Algonquin just past the “caution” sign.  Algonquin runs behind the West Bluff cottages.

As we crested the first hill, I glanced at the path we sometimes take from Four Corners through the woods to Algonquin. It was literally covered in leaves now.

Walking down the back side of that hill brought us to the corrals where Teddie and McGuyver spend their summers . . .

. . . but both of them left the Island last week, and the corrals were empty. Either I’m going nuts or that is a new building (the yellow one) since the last time I was in this neck of the woods. Maybe they renovated an old shed that was there. Gotta ask Mary about that!

The “stick season” may be upon us, but even with some of the leaves already fallen . . .

. . . it seems the ones still clinging for life to the trees are putting their hearts and souls into making their last moments as beautiful as possible.

Bear, his nose always to the ground, seems to be finding it difficult to understand why there is less horse poop to taste test these days. I tell him it’s because there are fewer horses on the island now. He just keeps on looking though.

All of these are private corrals, and they’re all empty. Remove the horses, and you remove that earthy smell that lets you know it’s Mackinac. I miss the horses . . . and the smell.

At the end of Algonquin, we turned toward the lake. I stopped to frame a photo of the lighthouse between these two trees in one of the West Bluff cottage yards . . .

. . . then we went through the turn stile onto Pontiac Trail. Bear seemed to sense something different and came running back to me after he’d walked ahead. The bluff below Pontiac has been clear cut, something that is done every several years. It did take some getting used to, but just like the trees along Cadotte, before we know it the trees will be tall again.

The tree cutting (which opened up views of the stairs down to the water) does allow for exceptional views of the Grand now from along the trail.

At the end of Pontiac Trail, we made a sharp right, then a left onto Lake View Blvd.

We usually stay on Lake View until we reach Hubbard’s Annex, but on a whim we took a less traveled trail . . .

. . . and I found myself on a path I had never been on. Bear and I had a wonderful time wandering around back there – seeing a couple of houses, barns and stables we’d never seen before. It was amazing to find a spot on the island that was new to us!

It was later than I thought it was (we stopped to chat with some ladies who were staying at the Grand and needed directions), so we headed back home.

Every time I walk up this hill now I try to memorize this view of the condo so, during the winter, I can close my eyes and visualize it.

For the last week these trees down at the horse corral below the condo have been becoming brighter and brighter. I knew when I walked back Sunday afternoon, I wanted to photograph them and that splash of red the gate added. What I didn’t know was that a few horses had been turned into the corral a little before we arrived . . .

What a beautiful frame for these taxi horses . . .

. . . and the big Belgians who pull the drays.

Hope you enjoyed our little walk . . . it sure was nice having you along!

 

Throw Back Tuesday – The Many Shades of Lilac 2/28/17

Personal Note:  Ahhh -Mackinac Lilacs!  Once you’ve been on the island for the Lilac Festival, you’ll always want to come back for the next one!______________________________________________________________________

First Published:  May 31, 2012

Until we moved to Mackinac Island for our summers five years ago, I never gave much thought to lilacs.  Before we bought on the Island, we’d come up for two weeks in July, thereby missing the lilacs blooming and the Lilac Festival by several weeks.  It was actually our second summer on the Island – when we arrived in May for the first time – that brought them to my attention, and ever since then the topic of “when will the lilacs bloom” has become almost as important as “when will the fall colors arrive”.

Being from the south, I didn’t know a lot about lilacs.  The closest thing we have to a lilac in Georgia is the crape myrtle – they’re even called “the lilac of the South”.  Our crape myrtles (we have two in the yard at the lake in Georgia) are white-blooming, but they come in pink and several shades of purple also – just like lilacs.  What crape myrtles do not have is that unbelievable perfume lilacs produce, and that perfume is hovering over Mackinac Island right now – a scent so sweet and heavy you could almost float on it .  The lilacs are in full bloom – not good for the Lilac Festival which doesn’t begin until June 8; but hey – no one has any control over when they bloom but the good Lord.  And who’s going to fuss about His timing?

Tonight I just want to share a few photos I’ve taken this week of the lilacs I see on a daily basis.  Most of these are in the downtown area, so you know there are hundreds more lilacs around the Island that aren’t even represented here.  It’s been fun for me this week to try and capture them in relation to something else – a home, a building, other trees, water, even a wedding carriage.

I sure wish I could attach a scratch-and-sniff add-on right here so you could inhale the perfume as you look at the photos.

Grey-white Percherons and the burgundy Grand Hotel omnibus, with lilacs blooming in the background. Does anything say “Mackinac Island” any better than this?


From the corner of Cadotte and Market, up to that first curve on the way to the Grand, the lilacs are putting on a major show!  These are some of the Island’s oldest lilacs.


The last and worst snow and ice storm of the winter took many of the over-a-hundred-year-old lilac bushes in Marquette Park. The ones that remain seem to be trying their best to make up in quality what they lost in quantity.  Maquette Park is a fantasy-land of lilacs.


I never tire of admiring all the different shades of purple these trees produce. From dark . . .


. . . to light . . .


. . . and everything in between.


Lavender Adirondack chairs enjoy the shade of a lilac bush so large I’d call it a tree – in the yard of what else . . . the Lilac House Bed & Breakfast!


A private tour buggy turns onto Market from Fort Street. The lilac bushes here are in front of the Market Street Inn and next to Weber’s Florist.


This wall of lilac bushes all but hides the Mackinac Island Public School, across Cadotte from Little Stone Church.


Lilacs form a canopy over the preparation of a wedding carriage.


Beautiful Trinity Church on Fort Street, perfectly framed by white lilacs on one side and lavender on the other.


Steven Blair couldn’t ask for a better setting for his Artistic Mackinac Gallery and Studio. Can’t imagine a shade of purple that’s not represented here.


The lovely McGreevy Cottage on Market Street.

I’m hoping some the lilacs you’ve seen here will last another week for the start of the Lilac Festival, and there are other later-blooming varieties that will fill in over the next couple of weeks.  But have no fear, Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival is ten days of wonderful entertainment with everything from the arts, to good food, to the best parade in all of Michigan.  Come on up- I promise you will have a great time!

Snow 2/19/17

When I think of Mackinac Island in the winter, it is with the wistful spirit of a south Georgia woman who hasn’t had nearly enough snow in her life.  I think some of that may be just the human condition of always wanting what we don’t have.

I’m pretty sure there are folks up north who dream of winters spent in Florida – warm beaches, sunglasses, big umbrellas in the sand (and tiny ones in tall, cool drinks), waves lapping up to toes (but not far enough to wet the beach blanket), and seagulls and pelicans doing dips and dives into the surf after fish and other sea creatures.  People in California probably yearn for time in New York, and Texas residents may dream of having a little cottage in New England.

But I dream of snow.  I know I’ve written variations on this theme before, and I know y’all are probably tired of hearing it.  But it’s such a part of me now that I could probably write at least a few sentences about my love of snow every single day.

When did my romance with snow begin?  I can tell you exactly.

Many, many years ago – a long, long time before Ted – I sat with friends at a table in Helen, GA.  We had gone up for a late Fall weekend in the mountains of north Georgia and were surprised beyond belief when, just as we were going to dinner, it began to snow.  It was the second time I’d ever seen snow and the first time I’d ever seen more than a few flurries.  We had reservations at a small charming restaurant off the beaten path and part-way up a mountain – actually it was an old home whose rooms had been turned into private little hideaways, with only a table or two sharing the same space.  Beautiful music was playing softly throughout the house, and somehow we were fortunate enough to be seated at a window.

I have no recollection at all of what I ate that night or even if the food was good.  All I remember is sitting at that window, chin propped on my hand, staring dreamily through lacey curtains as snow silently fell, settling on tree limbs and the front porch of this old house.  I could see the lights of a small town below us, twinkling off and on through the big, fluffy snowflakes.  I fell in love with snow that evening – the beauty, romance, stillness, silence and dignified grace of it.  I can pull that night up at will and remember being filled with  the quiet joy of that scene. It remains one of my fondest memories.

While searching for blog material today I kept going back to snow photos from Mackinac.  The ones below are shared by Greg Main, who spends his winters (and summers) on the island.

A Christmas scene on Main Street.

A Christmas scene on Main Street.

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Snowing so hard I can barely recognize it – but pretty sure this is Market Street.

Another view of Market Street, with snowmobiles

Another view of Market Street, with a few snowmobiles ready to take folks home.

The beautiful Metivier Inn, dressed in her winter best.

The beautiful Metivier Inn, dressed in her winter best.

The road that circle Fort Holmes.

The road that circles Fort Holmes – at sunrise.

Silent night, Holy night.

Silent night, Holy night.

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A panoramic view of the homes across from the Board Walk.

 

A groomed trail for the first Twilight Trek in January. Lanterns are hug to light the way.

A groomed trail for the first Twilight Trek in January. Lanterns are hung to light the way.

A real life Snow Village.

A real life Snow Village . . . .

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The Snow Village as she sleeps.

I know my love affair with snow is viewed with the biased eyes of one who has never lived with it day after day, or dealt with the miseries it brings to daily living and travel.  No, my affair with snow is “pure as the driven” Mackinac version – no cars to pollute it, no garbage thrown on top of it, no traffic jams caused by it.  Seeing Mackinac in the snow transports me back to the scene from that north Georgia window so many years ago.  And that’s the vision I choose to cling to over the years.

God bless.

 

 

Throw Back Thursday – Rideable Art 2/16/17

Personal Note:  I loved doing this story!  It involved an afternoon of Jill and I traipsing around the downtown area looking for different bikes, different bike baskets, different bike seats, etc.  Jill is an expert bike analyst, and we had so much fun that day!

Header: A photo from the Rideable Art blog.

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First published in August, 2010

Sometimes I get so hung up on posting pretty pictures that I forget to talk about subjects that are of vital importance to those of us who live on the island – and those of you who are planning to visit.  It wasn’t until a reader recently suggested I write a blog on Mackinac Island bicycles that I even thought about everything I hadn’t written about bikes in almost two summers of blogging.  So consider this “Bikes 101” – or “What Everyone Should Know about Two-Wheelers Before Coming to the Island.”  In the time it takes to complete this little seminar,  you’ll also get to see some pretty snazzy bikes – “rideable art” as Grant Petersen has called them.

After I got off work at the Stuart House Museum this afternoon, Jill and I set out to tour downtown looking at different kinds of bikes.  That hadn’t been my original intent, but as usual, anything I plan to do during the day gets changed 10 times before 9 o’clock each morning.  Jill had an hour-and-a-half before she had to be at work, and if there is anyone on this island who knows everything about bikes on Mackinac, it’s Jill.  After all, she’s been coming to the Island every year since the 70’s – that’s a lot of bike knowledge!  She had popped into the Stuart House a little while before I got off and had on the cutest shirt – it was covered in bikes.  Thus, my inspiration to go ahead and write the bike story today instead of what I had originally planned.

Jillski in her biking shirt.

Most of the bikes you’ll be seeing are personal bikes of folks who live here during the summer, although a few may be rentals. 

If you are going to be on the island for more than a week, you need to bring your own bike.  Even having to pay to bring it across on the ferry ($8.00, I think) will be way cheaper than renting one for a week.  Of course, if you just like to hike around, no bike is necessary – or you can rent one for a day or two.  That’s what Ted and I did when we came on vacation for two weeks every summer.  We’d only rent bikes once – the day we biked around the island each year.  Once we bought the condo, we bought bikes to keep here. 

This is the bike I ride now – it’s a Biria, which Ted bought used at the end of last summer.  The Biria was introduced into the U.S. market in 2002 and was designed in Germany.  The “step-through” mounting is why I love this bike.  No lifting the old leg over a bar.  These bikes are unisex.  Except for the easy-mount feature, this is a really plain bike – I haven’t even put a basket on it yet.  But it does have a spring-operated device behind the seat that allows me to put my purse and other stuff there.  It also has both hand and foot operated brakes, which is pretty cool.  I do need a basket though.  Please also notice the really chic shower cap I use as a rain protector for the seat.  I learned the hard way to buy the shower caps that are $2.00 each – not the 3 for $.97 shower caps.

When Jill and I started cruising the bike stands around town, we focused on unique colors, basket design, and any other feature that stood out and shouted, “This bike belongs to somebody who has a mind of his or her own!”  When you live on the island all summer (or all year), and your bike is your only form of wheeled transportation, you want it to be special – just like on the mainland you want the coolest car on the street. 

BIKES OF A DIFFERENT COLOR 

Shiny pink!

 

Baby blue. This could be a rental because I don’t see a bike permit sticker anywhere (but I could have missed it). If you ride your own bike on the island, you go to the police station, pay $3.50 for a permit, and stick it on the crossbar – just like buying the annual sticker for your car tag – only way cheaper!

A spiffy black & white design.  Definitely a girls’s bike.  Wow – look at that – flowers on the fenders too!

A blue-patterned bike.  Again this could be a rental.  The bike shops will add a basket to any bike you rent at no charge.  Always ask for a basket!  You will be surprised how much will end up in there – your purse, your camera, your jacket, your water bottle, PLUS your husband’s sweatshirt he wants to take off halfway around the island.

Deep coral. Very pretty.  See all the stickers on the cross bar – definitely an islander’s bike.

Three bikes – three shades of green!

I’m going to call this peach, although I don’t think that’s right.  Maybe my readers can help me here.  Cool bike with it’s own cup holder and a big, black wire basket.  Has a bell on the handlebars too.

Two-tone.  This one is pink and white . . .

. . . this one – green and white.

Bright, bright yellow – and my personal favorite of the colors I photographed today.  Notice the custom handlebars.

A WORD ABOUT FENDERS

Picture this.  It’s a rainy day on Mackinac Island – or a few hours AFTER the rain.  Someone is riding around town with no idea whatsoever that from the back neck of whatever shirt/coat/sweater they are wearing, all the way down to where their bottom is planted on the bike seat, there is a wide, very distinct stripe of mud and horsepoop.  That stripe is there because the bike has no fender.  If you’re going to ride a bike on the island, you need fenders.  Trust me on that.

UNIQUE BASKETS

For the discriminating shopper – dual baskets, one on each side of the back tire. Great for a trip to Douds.  Plastic bag seat cover.  Not as good as a shower cap – but readily available at any store downtown (or stuff one in your pocket before you leave home).

What to do with leftover carpet pieces? Make a custom bottom for your bike basket. If you’re carrying something breakable – this helps.  Look at the extra shock absorbers under the bike seat.  I bet this is one is an extra-comfy ride!

A line of standard wire baskets.

Our best guess was this must belong to the guy who delivers pizza for Island Slice.

A wood-bottomed basket. Doesn’t cushion as well as carpet, but won’t stay wet as long either – if it happens to rain.  Again, the all-important bungee cord.

The ultimate in padding.  This biker is taking old bike inner tubes and cutting them into strips.  The strips are then woven through the wire, creating a padded basket.  No breakage!

Hmmmm – this one has led a long and out-in-the-elements life.  Still going strong though and attached to what looks like a brand new bike.  It’s kinda like buying a new car and telling the dealership to put your old car’s hood ornament on the new car.  Some things you just can’t part with.

 HIS AND HERS

We see a lot of these bikes come off boats anchored in the marina. They’re light, and they fold up into a compact, easy-to-store means of transportation.

I loved these two bikes and wish I could have met their owners. The guy bike looks military, even had a star on the crossbar. The girl’s bike is feminine and distinct.  Even the way they’re locked together looks cute.

I can’t tell you how many times we saw “his and hers” Schwinns locked together this afternoon . . .

. . . here are two more – although these might be “his and his”.  It’s hard to tell sometimes because they are making a lot of bikes now with a crossbar that is unisex.

ISLAND BIKES

We know this couple, and the husband bought his wife this bike for her birthday. She added the cute sign.  It has bells, cute matching black/white trim on red, a great big basket, and a cup holder.  She said she added the tassles just to prove she was still a little girl at heart.

No doubt about it – this guy is a Packers fan!

Haven’t figured out exactly how to interpret this ornament – but it’s sure cute!

Obviously a Great Turtle Toys employee.

This guy tells his whole story on his bike basket – he loves Michigan, Mackinac Island, Superman, and America.  What more could you possibly need to know?

 THE SEAT’S THE THING

Seats are as unique now as clothing. Zebra . . . flowers . . . and a shower cap to keep it dry.

Jill’s bike seat. Geez Louise – she’s going to kill me for putting this on here.

Under-the-seat storage.

Spider-Man seat – in fact, it was a Spider-Man bike! Cute, cute, cute!

Just when I think I know all the tricks, I learn a new one. See the hankie stuffed under the seat? That’s there in case it rains, and you didn’t bring a seat cover. Just whip it out, dry off the seat, stuff it back under the seat, and hop on.

BICYCLE AUCTION

There is an area on the island where all recovered bikes go to wait out the winter. These bikes have usually been stolen (although in most cases, “borrowed and not returned” is a better phrase to use. Someone doesn’t want to have to walk somewhere, spots an unlocked bike, hops on and rides off on it. When they get to where they needed to go, they push the bike into a nearby crowded bike rack and walk off. This happens a lot on the island. Usually all an owner has to do is go downtown and look around for a while, and he will find his bike. We’ve had bikes stolen out of our yard (they were unlocked), and they’ve always been found downtown the next morning – twice they were found in the police department bike parking lot!

But – sometimes no one looks for the bike, or the bike is abandoned in the woods, and no one finds it for a month when someone happens upon it while walking a trail, or season workers have bought a used bike at the beginning of the summer and just leave it on the dock when they leave for the winter. Any recovered bike is brought to this storage area. In the Spring, the bikes are auctioned off to the highest bidder. A great time to get a good bike for very little money!

Finally, I wanted to show you a true, true, true island bike.

We counted 15 years of bike permits on this bike.  It has your standard fenders, a large wire basket with bungee cords, another Super Soft bike seat, and – very important – a mounted bike light for night biking.  This biker is prepared for anything, anytime, anywhere.

A FEW BIKE TIPS

  • If you use plastic bags as seat covers, ALWAYS throw them into a trash can.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, spooks the horses of the Island like a plastic bag flying across the road.  It is a hazard everyone who lives here deals with everyday, and that’s why – when you are here – you will probably see at least one islander chasing a bag down the road.  Please throw them away – or stick them way down in your pocket so you can use them again.
  • The road is for horses and bikes.  The sidewalk is for walking.  No bikes on the sidewalk, no walking in the street.
  • Horses always have the right of way.  It’s so much easier for you to stop and wait than it is for a driver to stop two 2,200 lb. horses.
  • Always, always, always lock your bike.
  • Always, always, always wear a helmet.

Without Jill’s vast knowledge of all things “bike”, I couldn’t have written this one!  Thanks, Jillski!

 

Throw Back Thursdays 1/25/17

In the last few weeks quite a few emails and comments have arrived from folks who have just discovered Bree’s Blog.  Several have written really sweet notes and talked about their love for Mackinac Island and how excited they are to find the blog and read what it’s like to live there in the summer months.  Most are going back and reading seven years worth of blogs – now THAT will keep you busy for the rest of the winter, for sure!

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the blogs I’ve posted over the last seven years.  The one you’re reading now is number 851!

And THAT got me going back myself and reading some of the “old stuff”, which turned into a trip down memory lane – complete with groans at some of the things I’ve said over the years, tears over sad events, and peals of laughter at some of the predicaments I’ve gotten myself into.  And then, of course, there were those Bear and Maddie blogs!

An idea formed.  Facebook has Throw Back Thursday – why can’t Bree’s Blog?  So, from now until we return to Mackinac in July there’ll be a post here from the past on Thursday. Going back and picking out what will hopefully be some of the “good stuff” I’ve written over the years will be fun for me, and I hope entertaining for you.  I’ll still be around on Sundays too for new updates from the island, Florida, and wherever else we may find ourselves.

Let’s start with one called “The Inn is Open” – way back in April, 2009.  This is even back before I figured out to caption each photo!

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Ted and I are so excited.  We have put out an open invitation to friends and family to come up and visit this summer, and the “Horton Hilton” is filling up fast.

condo

July is pretty much filled up with immediate family – some coming earlier, some later, some in the middle – but hopefully they will ALL be there together for a few days.  That’s the plan anyway.  Children are so hard to pin down on dates and times – I know our parents felt the same way with us.  With their busy work and social schedules, it is just about impossible to plan ahead.  But, bless ‘um, they try hard to make BeBe and G-Daddy happy by showing up in Michigan as a “clan”.  They love the fact they can truly relax (well, except for those iphones and blackberries they have glued to their ears all of the time) on the island.

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I swear this year all electronic devices are going to mysteriously disappear five minutes after they arrive and miraculously be found five minutes before they leave.  BeBe has a plan on that.

We have family coming in from New Orleans the first week in June, and yesterday we found out that a couple of friends will be arriving mid-June and another couple the first week in August.  What fun it will be to share our island with people who have never been there.  I was trying to explain the feeling the island gives me to someone the other day.  I had talked about it with another island resident last summer and about how I couldn’t wait to have folks up this summer so they could experience it.  She said, “Well, some people will ‘get it’ and some won’t have a clue.”  I think it has to do with being able to let go of all you have known – the speed in which we live our lives, the constant hassle of getting here and going there, the noise – you have to be able to let go of all that and just immerse yourself in the island.  The first morning I woke up at the Chippewa Hotel (where we stayed for 8 summers before buying) and the first sound I heard was the clip-clop of horses hooves coming down Main Street, I thought “this is what relaxation is all about – this is what we have forgotten can exist, this is what we long for in the deep, deep corners of our heart – peace, nature at its purest, a step back in time to a more restful way of living.”  And maybe, like the island resident said, it’s not for everyone – but it sure is for Ted and I.img_clipclop

Personal Note:  Header – A snow owl on the ice.  Photographed by Clark Bloswick earlier this week.