Slip Back Sunday – “Winter Festival 2010 – the Final Day” 11/19/17

Personal Note:  Sunday was our last day on the island for Winter Festival, and we were scheduled to fly home on Monday.  We had already had more fun and seen more snow than I could have ever imagined.  The fairytale world of Mackinac in the winter lived up to all my expectations!

First Published February, 2010

Where Saturday’s activities were all held outside at Turtle Park, the majority of Sunday’s activities were inside at the school.  Here is our group’s day in pictures and captions:  

This is actually a photo from Saturday – or Friday (I can’t remember). Nikki, who lives on the island year-round, and I say hello at the Mustang.

Getting ready to go out to the school on Sunday morning - hot hands and toasty toes!

Getting ready to go out Sunday morning – hand warmers and toasty toes!

Walking up Cadotte Avenue to the school, we passed the very lonely looking Gatehouse Restaurant. So strange to see it like this. In a few months, the tables will be out on the patio, the flowers will be blooming, and there will be happy people everywhere.

Dawn – posing on a snowmobile, under a “No Snowmobile” sign.

Barb, who is the school’s office manager, Dawn and I. We had just noticed that Barb’s cup matched her sweater.

Smi and I – Smi and his wife are our neighbors in the “village”.

As soon as we walked into the gym, 2 -3 tables full of home-baked goodies were sitting there tempting us to start munching. Whenever one little space was cleared, another baked good was brought straight from the kitchen. The island ladies must have been baking all night!

Sign-up tables on the left. Then table after table around the room filled with silent auction goodies – the majority homemade. I bid on several items, but it was the rag rug made from sheets that I really wanted – and it was the only one I was high bidder on. Ok – I admit it. I entered my last bid 2 seconds before the buzzer rang ending the auction, then defended that bid sheet like an all-star hockey goalie.

Dawn and I playing bingo.

Voting on 2012 Mackinac Island Recreation Department Calendar photographs. How to choose only 12!

Talk about Mackinac Island celebrities! Beside me is Jeannette Doud, who writes the Mackinac Island column in The Town Crier. Next to her is Margaret, who has been the Mayor of the island for the past 37 years.

One of several pairs of homemade mittens I bid on at the silent auction. They were all made from donated wool sweaters and the left hand mitten did not match the right hand mitten.  So cute!  I was not the high bidder on any of them. Darn!

After we left the school, we walked up Cadotte to our condo. Looking back over my shoulder, we could see the ice in the Straits.

Going through the snow fence to our condo back door.

Standing on the street in front of the condo. That’s the Carriage Museum in the background.  Everything looks so different covered in snow!

The empty horse corral below our condo.

Starting back to town – down Turkey Hill, next to the Jewel Golf Course.

Where Turkey Hill Road blends into Fort Street, we met a couple attempting to get up the hill on cross country skies. They finally stopped, took them off, and walked up the hill until they hit snow again.

Mike – pretending that he is about to “take the plunge” into the icy water.

On our way to The Village Inn for dinner Sunday evening, we passed Cindy’s Livery Stables – locked, quiet, and dark for the winter.

On the other hand, the Village Inn was ablaze with lights.  You can see in one corner  of the restaurant the cross country skis available for rental.

Mike took this photo at the Village Inn Sunday night. I promise we did not plan our color scheme for the evening – it just worked out that way. The lady on my right is Mary, who with husband Ron, owns the Village Inn.

Thank goodness the supply closet was right next to our room. We had to “borrow” the vacuum cleaner Monday morning so Dawn could suck all the air out of the bag where she packed some bulky items.  Those vacuum bags are amazing!

My blogging corner in our room at The Cottage Inn.

Personal Note:  This should have been the last entry on our Winter Festival trip.  We were set to get a good night’s sleep and fly off the island to St. Ignace early Monday morning.  We still made that flight, but the tragic events that began shortly after the above pic of me in my pajamas was snapped will forever be linked in all of our minds to our trip north that winter.  Because Mackinac in the winter is more beautiful than you can imagine, it is easy to forget that there is another side to all that beauty.  We were all impacted by that other side throughout our last night on the island.  Tomorrow – that story. 

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Sling Back Saturday – “Special Place, Special People” 11/18/17

Personal Note: Our third day on the island for Winter Festival, 2010, was a Saturday, and it was filled with everything we could have hoped for – fun, adventure, laughter and tons of community spirit.  We had a blast!

Hal Borland, a former writer for The New York Times, once said, “To know – after absence – the familiar street and road and village and house is to know again the satisfaction of home.”  My readers are well aware that I have two homes – one at the lake, with ties to my southern roots, my family, my friends, and 61 years of history.  Then there is my heart’s home – this island.

Returning here on Thursday afternoon once again filled the space in my heart reserved only for this village and these people.  Winter Festival is basically a community celebration.  In a place cut off from the mainland during the winter – unless you fly in and out – this small community of residents pauses for a weekend and celebrates what makes them special – their children, their bond with each other, their home on this island.

This afternoon when we arrived at Turtle Park, I felt as if I was being welcomed home by family.  So many people who I had last seen at the end of October called out a “welcome back!”  They asked “Where’s Ted?”  They hugged me.  They chatted.  They made me feel that making the effort to travel to Michigan from Georgia for a four day visit was very special to them.  I wanted to tell them all that there was no effort involved – I had simply come to my heart’s home.

We have once again been outside all day.  It was two degrees when we awoke this morning, but luckily the winds have been calm.  We put on layer after layer (at last count we three girls had managed to pull on and zip up seven layers above our waists and three below).  We wore snow boots, wool socks, toe warmers stuck to the bottom of our socks, and hand warmers inside our gloves.  We were warm, but we also looked like inflated robots.  If we had tipped over, there is no way we could have ever gotten up without help.

Here’s our day in photographs – with captions.

Ice in the marina has broken into large pieces.

We left The Cottage Inn around noon. I kept hoping for a snowmobile ride, but Jill insisted we walk. I’m so glad we did.

At the foot of Fort Hill, Jill was already snapping photos. I think, between the two of us, we took more than 400 pictures today.

The trees are beautiful, standing against the white snow.

Dawn – trying to hide behind a tree. In seven layers of clothes!? I don’t think so!

A fork in the road – but they both end at Turtle Park.

Pointing out the path Ted and I take through the woods to our condo.

Marge and Rich (and Joe Cocker) caught up with us toward the end of our hike. They were going to the Winter Festival also.

The Winter Festival was in full swing when we arrived.

One of the many activities was sledding – a favorite with the kids.

There was also snow golf . . . .

Human sled dog races – where the “sled dog” was blindfolded and had to mush around a marked route to shouted instructions from the person (or persons) on the sled . . .

Face painting for the children . . .

Broom hockey – a children’s match and an “over the hill” match . . .

And then there’s Bowling with a Frozen Chicken, the only game in which I participated. You are given a frozen solid, hard as a rock chicken, wrapped in cellophane. You have to hurl it toward the bowling pins at least a thousand feet away. I did not win or place. In fact, I never touched even one of those darn pins. By the way, the prize for the winner of that game was the frozen chicken.

The totem pole at Turtle Park is crowned by – what else – a turtle!

Me with Penny – one of Andrew and Nicole’s sweet dogs.

Mike, who has been filming all weekend, talking with Karen from The St. Ignace News.

Jack, with his wife Terrie, own the Cannonball Restaurant at British Landing. They were grilling hotdogs and brats for the crowd.

Chloe gets in a little sledding, making it all the way down the hill without a crash.

The crowd seemed to continue growing throughout the afternoon, tapering off around 3:30 p.m.

Dawn and I watched some of the games from the bleachers, which were facing the sun. A beautiful day!

An island friend’s little girl – Madison.

Cute Miss Madison again.

We took a break from the festival, and walked over to Trillium Heights, a subdivision behind the Village.

We went by and visited for a moment with Don and his wife Karen. Don and Ted work together at the Visitor’s Center on the island during the summer.

Jill went back to the Festival, while Dawn and I started back downtown.

When Jill started back to town, she walked by the Fort Cemetary. Always a quiet, peaceful setting, today it was a study in beautiful tranquility.

White birch trees, white snow.

Dawn and I walked to town down Cadotte Avenue, past our condo. I will probably return tomorrow and go inside.

The last “to do” item on our agenda today was to find a patch of perfect snow and make a snow Angel.  Dawn did it first . . .

. . . and then it was my turn. So funny! Getting ourselves up out of that snow was a sight to behold!

We were very happy to see The Cottage Inn late this afternoon. We had been gone from noon until almost 6 p.m.

Jill, bless her heart, ran to the Mustang and picked up a “pizza to go” for supper, then left to help Leanne with some details for  the second day of the Winter Festival.  Dawn and I ate pizza, watched a movie (while I should have been blogging), and now, once again, everyone is sleeping as I finish writing.

It has been another wonderful day on the island – we could not have asked for better weather.  We have been plenty cold, but the winds have been calm, and the days have been so beautiful.  Tomorrow we have more Winter Festival activities.  There is a brunch planned at the school with pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, biscuits & gravy, cinnamon rolls & fresh fruit. Oh, yum!  Dawn and I are helping run a silent auction table, and there will be bake sales, a cookie contest, turtle races, and the selection of photographs for the 2010 “Seasons of Mackinac” calendar.  The Superbowl is tomorrow night, with parties planned at both the Mustang and Patrick Sinclair’s Irish Pub.  A very busy day!

God bless.

Please come back tomorrow for the final day of Winter Festival, 2010.

Fling Back Friday – “Island Winter Day” – 11/17/17

Personal Note:  The blog post below is from our first full day on Mackinac – a Friday – during Winter Festival Weekend in 2010.  I can look at these pics and remember every second of that day.  It was amazing!

Island Winter Day – First Published February 6, 2010

When I talked to Ted this morning, it was a cold, rainy day at the lake in Georgia.  It was cold here also, but the snow was white, the sun was shining (for a minute anyway), and we were determined to stay outside as much as possible to enjoy every minute. 

Friday was an “extra” day for us.  The Winter Festival activities don’t start until Saturday at noon, so Jill, Dawn, Mike and I spent the day roaming around downtown taking photos.  Mike was officially “on business” for this trip, shooting video for The Cottage Inn and background footage for his ever increasing video achives on the island. 

If you read this blog last summer, you know that Ted and I stayed at the Chippewa Hotel every year we came to Mackinac until we bought our condo.  We love the Chip!  Now I have another place I can personally recommend – The Cottage Inn, a bed & breakfast on Market Street.   The rooms are all beautiful and decorated in different styles.  We are staying in the Victorian Turret Room, which has a queen bed, a sofa sleeper,  flat screen TV, private bath, and pillow-top mattresses. Marge and Rich Lind are the innkeepers, and as soon as you walk in the door you become their most important guest. 

Dawn and I wore our pj’s downstairs for breakfast this morning (after we found out that the four of us were the only guests at the hotel that morning) and found a breakfast casserole, fruit and yogurt, assorted breakfast breads, cereals, hard-boiled eggs, coffee and four different juices.  Everything was delicious!

A great way to start a day on Mackinac Island – good food and good friends! 

Here’s the rest of the day in photographs – with captions.  Pictures tell the story so well when you are on the island.

The first stop of the day was our 11 a.m. appearance on the web cam. So many people watched and sent comments – or called! Mary, one of my readers, sent this photo she had “captured” off her computer screen.

And here we all are waving to the camera. That’s Dawn, Mike, Jill, and Joan (an island resident).

Main Street on a winter day. We were so excited to see this much white stuff. Everyone keeps saying, “We’re so sorry there’s not a lot of snow.” And Dawn and I kept saying, “But, to us, this IS a lot of snow!”

Jill, Dawn and I standing in front of The Cottage Inn.

Around noon everyday, the island residents arrive at the post office to pick up their mail.

The Geary House is located across the street from The Cottage Inn. Mike and his family will be renting it this summer. It is available for rental through the Mackinac Island State Park – monthly rentals only.

We walked down Market Street to the water, stopping in front of this beautiful cottage –  still decorated for Christmas.

As soon as we walked across the street to the boardwalk, away from the shelter of the houses, the wind hit us full force. Suddenly, it was much colder. Round Island Lighthouse stands a lonely watch over water half-frozen in the Straits.

There is a lot of ice at the edge of the lake. We spent quite some time trying to talk Dawn into taking the “plunge”, but she kept saying, “Maybe later.”

We stopped in at the library to check out some artwork by Tim Leeper and other local artists.

Dawn spent some time back in the Used Books sections, where paperbacks are $1, and most hardcover books are $2.

Can you believe  all three have cellphones attached to their ears!

I kept saying these were snow clouds, but I guess the clouds weren’t listening.

Dawn – all bundled up to roam around in the snow.

A bundled -up Jill with her camera.

Rich, who with his wife Marge are the innkeepers at The Cottage Inn, looks out the door as we head out again into the snow.

As we left, Marge and the Cottage Inn mascot, Joe Cocker, were coming back from a walk.

Mike – filming snowmobiles.

Walking down toward the Mission district, where the traffic is less, there was even more snow on the road.  The path on the right is kept clear for walkers.

Leanne had promised us a sleigh ride, and when we arrived at the 4-H barn, she was harnessing Blaze, a small Haflinger.

Jill put Gingersnap into the barn, so she wouldn’t get upset seeing Blaze leave.

Blaze is harnessed and hitched almost exactly the same as the big Belgian horses who pull the taxis in the summer.

One horse plus one sleigh equals a sleigh ride!

While Blaze was being hitched to the sleigh, we were visited by Max, Major and Lily – three Shetland Sheepdogs from up the road.

Blaze and Lily have a little mutual admiration society going on.

Dawn, Leanne, and I leaving the stable.

Riding behind Blaze

Leanne and Jill arriving back at The Cottage Inn.

Liz, from The Quilted Turtle blog – who teaches on the island – was going out to dinner with us. She offered to take me on a snowmobile ride, but first had to help me get my hood on straight. I think I heard her say something along the lines of, “You Southern girls don’t know how to dress for cold weather.” But we’re trying, Liz!

Liz drove me up to the Mission District, then went into a house to get something. When she came back outside, she said, “Do you want to drive?” Are you kidding me!!! She let me drive from in front of St. Anne’s back to The Cottage Inn. Oh my gosh! I loved it!

We headed for the Mustang for dinner – Jill, Mike and I walking – Dawn getting a ride from Liz.

Dinner at the Mustang.

Another fabulous day on the island.  Tomorrow, the Winter Festival begins.  As I finish writing tonight, I am sitting by a window in our room, and outside I can hear the wind whistling around the corner of the inn.  A cold front is coming in tonight from Canada, and tomorrow night the forecast low is 7 degrees – and that’s without the wind chill factored in.  We might not have tons of snow, but I think tomorrow we will get plenty of COLD!  See you then!

Jill snapped this beautiful photo while she was out in the sleigh this afternoon.  Personal Note:  Come back tomorrow for our adventures on Saturday – the first official day of Winter Festival, 2010!

 

Throw Back Thursday – Fairytales Do Come True. . . . 11/16/17

Personal Note:  In February, 2010, three friends and I flew to Mackinac Island to attend the annual Winter Festival.  It was a long weekend filled with laughter, fun, and the thrill of being in the snow.  It was also a weekend of tragedy.  I wrote about all of it in several blog posts that February, and I’m sharing those chronologically again with you now.  I’ll post them daily until the story is told. 

Dawn Lashley, a dear friend from the lake in Georgia, and Mike Forrester, who filmed wonderful marketing videos for the Chippewa and Lilac Tree Hotels and Murdick’s Original Fudge, and I flew out of Atlanta to Flint, MI.  Jill (and her mom and late dad) met us at the Flint airport, and Jill continued on with us to Mackinac.

Try not to laugh too much at Dawn and I.  We were both raised in South Georgia.  Snow is a very big deal to us!

Fairytales Do Come True – First Published February 5, 2010

For as long as Ted and I have been traveling to Mackinac Island (10 years), I have dreamed of coming here during the winter.  Today that dream came true, and all I can say is “WOW”! 

Dawn and I were up at 5 a.m. this morning, downstairs at the Drury having breakfast by six, and on the shuttle to the airport at 7 a.m.  We left our checked bags curbside, and went straight to the security check in for our carry-on bags.  We had worn several layers this morning AND our snow boots (knowing that when we landed at Flint, it was going to be cold).  We had to take off the boots before we could go through security, and after passing through without setting off any lights and whistles, we sat down to put our boots back on.  Before we could get them laced up, we got to witness up close and personal our Homeland Security forces in full attack.  

A guy who had already passed through security started shouting obscenities into his cell phone.  A security guard approached him, and he began to shout at the security guard.  At that time, the security guard (who was about 6’6″ tall and weighed maybe 300 lbs.) grabbed shouting man and slammed him into a wall – I mean that literally.  Shouting man kept shouting.  Several more security people arrived and helped first security man haul shouting man over to a drug dog who had arrived on the scene.  The drug dog sniffed shouting man, and then the security guards took shouting man out of the airport in handcuffs to jail.  Shouting man missed his plane. 

Even with all that we were on board our Delta flight, with doors closed, 10 minutes earlier than the announced time.  Then we waited on the runway for about 30 jets to take off before us – so we were still 30 minutes late leaving. 

Dawn – waiting for takeoff.

Mike – talking to wife Jeanine.

We had a great flight, and soon we were looking down at a landscape filled with snow and frozen ponds and lakes. 

The Michigan landscape

By 10:45 we were on the ground, 15 minutes early!  We deplaned, walked into the terminal of the Flint airport, and there was JILL and her parents, who had brought her to the airport.  So good to see Jill!

Jill – welcoming Dawn and Mike.

Me, with Jill’s Dad and Mom – Ken and Joanne

The four adventurers!

The lady at the rental car desk took one look at us and our luggage and upgraded Mike to a huge Ford Expedition. 

 

We stopped in Gaylord and had lunch at the Sugar Bowl.  Wonderful food.  Across the street from the restaurant was a fountain that had frozen.  We all wanted our pictures taken in front of it. 

Can you see that fountain behind us? It is frozen solid – so are we!

On the way to the St. Ignace airport for our flight to the island , we pulled into a parking lot near the water.  Ice had stacked up into huge piles of  “blue ice”, the unique color caused by the sun’s rays deeply penetrating the ice.

Blue ice.

Dawn – standing in front of the blue ice.

We crossed the Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace, entering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.   Parts of the Straits were frozen, but there was still a large area of open water.  Locals are beginning to think there will probably not be an ice bridge this year.

The airport at St. Ignace is small, but nice.  They even have a resident Golden Retriever, who made me miss Bear even more than I already did.  Several folks were waiting to fly across to the island, but since we had the largest group, we were allowed to board first.  Our luggage took up the majority of the back of the plane.  Mike and another man sat in the two back seats, Dawn and I took the middle, and Jill sat up front with Paul, the pilot.  There was no waiting while someone made announcements about seat belts and safety procedures.  Before Dawn and I had even found our seatbelts, we were in the air.  I’ve only flown in one small plane before, and it is so unlike being on a commercial jet.  Because the flight is so short, you don’t gain very much altitude at all.  Inside the small interior of the plane, you truly get the sense of flying.  You can reach out and touch your pilot, talk to him, watch him at the controls . . . . . and feel every air pocket.

Looking over Jill’s shoulder.

Dawn – snapping photos out the window.

There doesn’t even look like there IS a window next to me – just looks like an open door.

The Mackinac Island runway.

We had called ahead, and George was waiting with the taxi.  It was cold, but the island is just as beautiful covered in snow as I always dreamed it would be.  There is a lot more of the white stuff than I thought there would be with so little snowfall this winter. George carried us to the Cottage Inn, we checked in, then went to the Village Inn for dinner.  As I write this, Dawn and Jill are sleeping.  It has been a long day, so I’ll say goodnight now.  More tomorrow, and don’t forget to watch us Friday morning at 11 a.m. at http://www.mackinaclive.com. Once on that site, click on “Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau” to go to the camera where we will be.  See you there!

George – patiently waiting for us with the taxi.

Dixie Chicks in the snow!

 

Heading down Cadotte Avenue toward town.  Personal Note: Come back tomorrow for the next installment, “Island Winter Day”.

Throw Back Thursday – Bear Offers a Shoulder 11/9/17

Personal Note: Good friend, blog fan and dog lover Lowell Greene emailed me yesterday and requested I repost the blog below.  Of course I wept when I read it – remembering those moments as if they happened last week.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read or think about Bear without tearing up, but that’s ok.  Great dogs bring great love.  And they leave great memories – just like the one below. 

This was during one of Blake’s summer visits to Mackinac.

Thank you to island friend Eugenia Murray-McGinnis for sharing the header photo, taken this morning on Mackinac!

BEAR OFFERS A SHOULDER – First Published July 9, 2010

I’ve always felt that God puts us in certain places at certain times to encourage, cheer up, laugh, or cry with someone.  That happened again one day this week, only it was Bear who was in the right place at the right time.

Blake and I had just finished a 2-hour walk and had come off Pontiac Trail onto the West Bluff.  Blake wandered off to take a few photos from the fence line overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, and Bear, Maddie and I walked over to the shade of a stone wall.  Bear had spread out on the cool grass with his head between his paws, and Maddie was busy sniffing out anything that might be hidden among the rocks. 

A couple was walking toward us up the road, and as they approached, I saw them stop in their tracks and stare at Bear.  One of them – I really don’t know which – said, “Oh my gosh.” 

They came closer and stopped just off the grass, and the woman said, “Can I pet your Golden?”  Of course, I said yes.  The young man stood in the road, with his arms crossed over his chest and looked on as the young woman sat down in the grass next to Bear, buried her face in his shoulder and her hands in the silky fur of his chest – and started to cry.  When I looked at the man, he seemed to be struggling with tears also.

After he had gained some of his composure, he told Blake and I that the day before they left home coming to the Island, they had to put down their Golden rRtriever.  The dog had only been two years old and had fallen victim to a fatal type of brain lesion that made the decision to end his suffering necessary.  He had only been ill two days.  He told us that they were leaving the island the next day, and all they had been able to think about was going home to that empty house.  And then they saw Bear, who looked so remarkably like their dog they were stunned.

The lady sat up straighter, pulling Bear’s head into her lap and rubbing his head over and over again with long sweeping caresses, starting between his ears and ending at his shoulders.  Bear lay quietly and enjoyed the attention, seeming to sense that what he needed to do was just be still.  The lady told us that they had already put in a request for another Golden and hoped to have a new puppy soon.  The man said they had both comforted themselves knowing their golden had given them everything he had to give in two years, and he kind of chuckled when he told us at first they couldn’t believe how much hair one dog could shed in a day, but even that became part of what they loved about their furbaby.

We chatted a little longer, they thanked us for allowing them to indulge in a good cry all over our dog, and then they continued on their walk.

Thinking back to this young couple who were so heartbroken over their loss, I’m reminded of the little  six-year-old boy who witnessed his dog put to sleep. The vet wondered aloud why dogs’ lives are so much shorter than humans, and the little boy said this:  “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The little boy continued,”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

By now that couple has returned to their empty house, but I pray that very soon the sound of four little Golden paws will be heard scampering through their home again.  And Bear hopes so too.

 

Sunday Story – “To Fresh Woods and Pastures New” – 11/5/17

Personal Note:  I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of this post from 2010.  I could have written those same words this afternoon, after leaving you hanging on Thursday.  But here’s the rest of the story – one of my favorites from “back in the day”!

TO FRESH WOODS AND PASTURES NEW

First Published October 11, 2010

“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.” . . . John Milton

It was almost cruel to leave you as I did Friday, wasn’t it.  I thought about that as I was ending that post.  Should I go ahead and finish – add 30 more photographs and give you what you really wanted – the farm with the horses grazing free.  I did think about it – I promise.

And then I smiled.  And I thought about the anticipation that built in me on the ride over on the boat last week with the horses.  When we docked, and I watched that first gelding step off the boat, my heart did a little flutter-step.  I watched them load up and the trailer doors swing shut.  And as we rode those 50 miles to Pickford, my heart continued to beat a little faster than normal.  The anticipation of the moment when the horses would be led into that big pasture, when the halters would be lifted over their heads (their halters are never off on the island), and when they would realize they were no longer bound by any means to man – that moment of anticipation was one I wanted you to feel with me.   It wasn’t meant to be cruel – on the contrary, aren’t the good things in our lives we have to wait for all the more treasured because of the wait?

But, now as I sit down to write the rest of this journey, I worry that I won’t be able to give you all the joy and emotion of what that day felt like when we did reach the farm.  But I will try, and what I miss in words, perhaps I can make up to you in the photographs.

First, let me introduce Randy Hall. Randy was my “go to” person for this part of the trip. He was the driver of one of the two horse trailers waiting to transport us to Pickford. I learned later that Randy does a lot of the Carriage Tour driver training on the island in the spring. He grew up with horses in the Upper Peninsula, and his passion for them is evident in how he talks about them and how they respond to him.  He owns a horse farm himself and also grows hay.

Most of these horses are geldings – in fact there are very few mares on the island, although there are some. A majority of the island horses are purchased from the Amish, when they are 3-6 years old. The Amish have already trained and worked them around machinery in the fields, so they come to the island with basic training completed.  The Amish keep most of the mares for breeding and sell the geldings.  There are no stallions on the island.

Loading and unloading into the trailers is old business for most of the horses. They have done this for years, and the nervousness of the few new horses is tempered by the calm of the older ones.

Randy secures this big Belgian in the trailer.

It was so amazing to watch the horses as they came off the boat. Their eyes were wide and bright, their ears pricked forward, their nostrils flared. If I could have read their minds, I think the words would have been, “I know this place. Next is the trailer, a little ride, then freedom!”

Last one into this trailer. We were transporting 12 this first load – 6 in each trailer.

“Look! I see cars! That means we don’t have to work anymore!”

Three horses are secured at the front of the trailer, then a divider door is closed that separates the front from the back. Then three more horses are loaded into the back.

And, we’re off!

I’m sure Randy thought he had been given the worst duty of the year – having to put up with Bree the Blogger for two 100-mile round trips to Pickford.  The photos above are a combination of the two trips – the first one over on the 9 a.m. ferry, then another one when we came back to pick up the second group at 11:30.  I’ve also combined the photos from the two trips to the farm, meaning we released the first 12 horses, then went back to St. Ignace to pick up 11 more and took them to the farm.

Randy was very gracious and friendly and answered all gazillion of my questions, although at times I’m sure he was thinking, “Good grief!  Is there anything about horses that this woman DOES know?”  Here’s a few of the new things I picked up on the trips back and forth:

1)  The Pickford farms – there are three of them – are the winter home of the Carriage Tour horses, as well as the Grand Hotel “omnibus” and State Park horses.

2)  Randy does a lot of training with the horses before they are ever brought to the island.  He does this winter and summer because horses are brought back and forth all season.  A horse may just not be working out and will be returned to Pickford for more training.  There has to be a horse ready to take its place.

3)  There are about 20 horses on the island all winter.  Two are used for the taxi (only one taxi in the winter), and the rest are used to pull the drays because even in winter, the work of the island continues.  Mail has to be brought from the ferries (or plane if the Straits are frozen), as do supplies for the grocery store, restaurants, hotels, and school that remain open.

4)  Additional horses are brought to the island over the winter during peak times – Christmas and New Year’s – when more visitors arrive.

5)  Let’s say a horse learns to be the right-hand side horse in a two-horse hitch team.  Can he also work on the left?  “Sometimes,” Randy said, “but there are some that can never change over.”

6)  Not only do the horses know where they’re going when they are turned out into the pasture on the island without their shoes for the first time, but they also know by the changes that occur toward the end of the season.  Randy said they know that when the weather begins to cool, and they are working an easier schedule, their days on the island are coming to an end for another year.

7)  I asked what determines which horses remain on the island for the winter.  “Some of it is temperament,” Randy said.  “They have to be able to adjust from the relative ‘quiet’ of bikes to the ‘racket’ of snowmobiles.  Some can make the adjustment, some can’t.  When we find a horse that isn’t bothered by all that extra noise, we tag him as a possible winter horse.”

8)  Only the draft horses (Belgians and Percherons) stay outside all winter.  The others are brought in at night and during really bad weather.

We’re at the farm! This was a 60-acre pasture that was a part of what is called “9-mile farm”, one of the three owned by Carriage Tours.

Irvin, another Carriage Tour worker who stays in Pickford, was there to open the gate.

I walked through the gate and was standing in the corner (out of the way) when the first horse was led off the trailer . . .

. . . followed closely by the second.

And here’s where I choked up the first time. Watching Randy remove the halter, I envisioned the horses immediately taking off into the freedom of the pasture.  But these are horses so used to human companionship, so in tune with their lives around people, that their main interest was not first to “make a break for it”, but to taste the wonderfully abundant grass . . .

. . . and then to roll.

Can you image the horse joy of rolling around – not on the dirt of the horse corral below our condo . . .

. . . but to be scratching your back on green, sweet-smelling grass!  Talk about kicking up your heels!

On the second trip, I went further down the pasture road to photograph the horses as they came in.

Another halter coming off.

These beautiful Belgians watched me curiously for a couple of seconds, then seemed to shrug and moved off to graze.

After a time, they began to realize that they could move freely about this huge pasture, AND the pasture was full of food!

These two seemed to be watching for another horse. Randy said they were part of a three-horse hitch team and were watching for their friend. He arrived a few minutes later.

Another happy horse!

At first I was concerned about Jane. She walked into the pasture and stood completely alone for a few minutes, seeming bewildered by the big, open space . . .

. . . but shortly after that, her team-mate “June” found her.  Then they both wandered off and found the third member of this 3-horse hitch bunch, “Jake”.

That big tire is filled with minerals, and there are also salt blocks in the pasture.

“Now, about that party . . .”

Two plus two. These duos may be team-mates, or they may just be part of a two-horse hitch group and feel more comfortable in groups of two.

So beautiful . . .

I walked back to the truck and took these next few shots from the road as the last few horses were released.

A river runs through that stand of trees to the rear of the pasture and will provide the water the horses need until they are moved later in the year.  The horses have begun to move away from the fence and have started exploring their big, new space.

The Belgians and Percherons stay outside all winter in all kinds of weather. Randy said in 2-3 weeks, their winter coats will begin to come in, and they will look like shaggy versions of themselves. All the farms have ravines where the horses instinctively gather during snow storms. The sides of the ravines block the wind, and all those bodies snuggled together stay warm.

Randy drove a little out of the way to show me one of the farms where the horses will winter. The 60-acre pasture we delivered the horses to today is only a temporary enclosure. By December they will all be moved closer to this farm place, where someone lives year-round.

These water dispensers can be seen all over the farm land. The pipes are buried deep underground to prevent freezing.  At the top of the pipe, warming trays keep the water from freezing when exposed to cold air.

Each of these bales of hay weighs approximately 1200 lbs. It takes four of them per day for 80 horses. At the end of the season, the three farms will be supporting around 500 horses, so you can imagine how much hay has to be stored.

As we left the farm, we could see in the distance other groups of horses whose vacations began a little earlier than those we brought today.

The horses we dropped off will join these in December.

What a beautiful vacation spot.

What a delight it was to watch the horses wander, in groups of two and three, around that pasture – nibbling on the grass, playfully trotting over to say “hi” to a friend, lifting their heads and feeling the wind ripple across their backs and over their ears.   I wonder what they thought that first morning when they awake free – no noisy barn workers or drivers, no harnesses thrown over their heads or bridles put in their mouths.  Instead they awoke, as their ancestors did before them – on the open plain – to a morning quiet except for the singing of birds and the whisper of the long grass shifting in the breeze.  Perhaps they strolled down to the river for a sip of clear, cold water and then came back soon to find, in addition to the grass, bales of hay for their dining pleasure.  To them, it had to be like Heaven on earth.

Enjoy your rest, sweet giants.  And in the Spring, come back to us fat and healthy and refreshed.  We’ll be waiting.

My sincere thanks to Doc Al for setting up this trip and to Dale Peterson and Randy Hall for your gracious hospitality.  And a special thanks to Dr. Bill Chambers, who has allowed me to ride along – not only on this trip – but also last year when I wrote the stories about taxi and Carriage Tour drivers.

I have seen things so beautiful that they brought tears to my eyes.  Yet, none of them can match the gracefulness and beauty of horses running free.” . . . Anonymous

Throw Back Thursday – “Do They Know?” 11/2/17

Personal Note:  I’m often asked where the horses go in winter when they leave Mackinac Island.  Several years ago I wrote a two-part blog that followed a group of horses on their journey from the island to their winter quarters.  I was privileged to be allowed to travel with them on the ferry to St. Ignace and then in a caravan of trucks (pulling horse trailers) into the upper peninsula of Michigan.   Below is the first part of that blog, and I’ll post the second part, “To Fresh Woods and Pastures New”,  on Sunday.  Hope you enjoy!

DO THEY KNOW? (First published October 8, 2010)

“Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”

That was one of dozens of questions I asked Wednesday and Thursday.  I’ve always wanted to go to the Pickford farms, where the horses of the island go to spend their winters, but I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen – at least not this year.  Then a few days ago I put a bug in Doc Al’s (the island vet) ear that I’d like to do this story, and he asked all the right people, and all those people said “ok”.

So there I was at the big horse barn on Wednesday afternoon, where I’d been told by Dale Peterson (who runs the barn) I could watch the blacksmith remove the shoes from some of the horses leaving the island on Thursday morning.

I’ve never been inside the blacksmith’s shop on the island. I knew where it was (on the back side of the big barn where the majority of the Carriage Tour horses are housed) and always stopped by there at the end of the season to take a photograph of the hundreds and hundreds of horseshoes stacked up outside the door.

I watched as Eric and Keith (the blacksmiths) brought two horses out of the barn to have their shoes removed. These were two of the 36 which would be going to the winter pastures on Thursday. Their manes had already been shaved – so they don’t return in the spring with manes full of cockleburs. The haircut also ensures that the returning horses’ manes will all be the same length in the spring, giving the teams a more matched appearance.

Keith is the head blacksmith. While he worked, he explained that most of the horses wear steel shoes on their back hoofs and rubber-over-steel on their front hoofs (to add traction on wet pavement).

Removing the nails which keep the shoes on the horses’ hoofs (the process is completely painless, as is the shoeing itself) requires strength, balance, and the ability to keep the horse calm while the work is done.  Sometimes a simple prop is used to anchor the foot while the shoe is removed . . .

. . . and sometimes the hoof rests on the blacksmith’s hip.

Over 1,400 of the steel shoes and more than 3,000 rubber-over-steel shoes are used each season.  At the end of the summer the shoes are transported off the island for disposal.

Hay wagons travel up Cadotte all the time, but I had never actually witnessed what happens to the hay when it arrives at a barn. Carriage Tour workers were unloading a hay wagon as I was leaving Wednesday afternoon, and I stopped to watch the process. The bales are tossed onto an automated conveyor belt that carries each bale up into the hayloft of the barn.

At the top of the belt, another worker is waiting to remove the bale and stack it in the loft.

Ted set the alarm clock for 6:30 Thursday morning, and I grumbled myself awake.  I needed to be at the barn (a five-minute walk from the condo) at 8 a.m. so I could watch the workers catch the horses in the corral.  I figured an hour-and-a-half would be plenty of time to get myself awake enough to make sense when I got down there.  Silly me.  I’d forgotten how many months it’s been since I had to get up at 6:30 (almost 2 hours earlier than I’ve been getting up lately).  I needed to wash my hair (don’t ask me why – I just felt like it needed to be washed) – which I did.  I needed two cups of coffee so I wouldn’t growl at anyone (I made the coffee and didn’t have time to drink a drop).  I couldn’t decide how many layers to wear (after checking the Weather Channel for Pickford – an hour north),  I decided on three, saddling myself with two too many – it was a gorgeous northern Michigan Indian Summer day.

I left the condo at 7:50, and arrived at the barn to find taxi and Carriage Tour drivers busy washing and harnessing their horses for a regular day.

This two-horse hitch carriage was getting a quick rinse before pulling out for a day of transporting island visitors around the island.

It was while I was watching the horses in the corral that Dale walked over, and I asked, “Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”

He smiled.  “Oh, yeah – they know”, he said. “We have 36 going today, and yesterday all of their shoes were removed.  They are never put into the corral without their shoes.  So they know something is different.  And the ones who have been through this for a few years learn to anticipate it.”

A few minutes later, Eric moved toward the corral, opened the gate, and he and several other barn workers began to catch the horses, bring them outside the corral, and group them into four’s.

Denise, from the Carriage Museum, came down to take photos also and shared this one with me late this afternoon. That’s me with the backpack, standing around like I have no clue what’s going on while everyone else is busy, busy, busy.

We’d be transporting three groups of four horses this first trip. All the horses going today were either Belgians (all shades of brown) or Percherons (usually black, grey, white, or dappled).

“Jane” is a new horse this year. Because of that, she had her picture made before going off the island. It will be put into a computer file which stores “mug shots” of each horse owned by Carriage Tours.  That’s Jim holding Jane’s nametag.

Once the horses were grouped, everything started moving really fast. I instantly knew I had really messed up by not riding my bike. When these guys take off to walk down a hill, they don’t think “leisurely stroll”. I started off ahead of them and was soon ridiculously behind.

It was a wonderful morning on the island, and the horses seemed to sense that this was no ordinary walk around the block.  I’m sure the pavement must have felt very different to their feet without their shoes – maybe like that first barefoot day of summer right after school is out.

At Four Corners I knew I was about to lose this footrace. I started out ahead of the first group, and now was being overtaken by the last two groups.

This is another Denise photo (thank goodness!). And yes, that’s yours truly huffing down the hill on the right – now firmly in last place.

A great photo from Denise as one group passes the Grand Hotel.  They are really beginning to feel frisky now!

I took this one from behind (where I stayed for the rest of the trip down the hill).

The horses on Market Street (a Jill photo). I had just turned onto Market and was crossing behind them to Main Street.  That’s Frankie and Hershey on the sidewalk.

I arrived at the ferry dock a good 10 minutes after the horses, and thank goodness we had left the barns early. A crowd had formed on the dock (as it always does when word that “horses are coming” sweeps through downtown). Visitors are awed by getting up close to these gentle giants and love to pet them and snap photos.

This little boy had lots of questions about the “horseys” and wanted to touch them – as long as Mom touched them first.

As much as I’ve been around horses and their drivers for the last three years, I’m still always amazed at how the workers seem to know the names and temperaments of each and every horse – and I’m talking over 400 of these four-legged wonders.  In this photo, Eric was talking to a small crowd that had gathered about the likes and dislikes of each of these four.

And then there’s the obvious love the workers have for these animals – and that love is returned full measure by the horses. Watching them say goodbye always gets me teary-eyed.  Don’t know if I could handle doing it several times a week as they do this time of year.

I think these four were saying, “As soon as we get to the farm, let’s plan a party!”

Loading time finally arrived, and the first group was separated and led into the ferry – one by one.

Not a single one of the 12 balked. It was like they were thinking, “Ok – gotta take a little boat ride in order to start the vacation.”

The last group boarded, and I asked if I could go inside on the horse level to take photos. No worries – but they did suggest I might want to take the photos, then go topside for the trip over.

The horses are all tied individually at the rear of the ferry. Most have made the trip so often they take it all in stride.

“Let’s get this show on the road – uh, water!”

The Huron is a lot different from the catamaran we’re used to riding. It’s main purpose is to transport freight of all descriptions (including horses) back and forth across the Straits.

And we’re off!

The only other “civilian” on the boat was Tarry, who works with the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. She had crossed with the horses many times and had all kinds of good suggestions for photos.

The horses made the trip just fine.  Next step to freedom – a trip down the gangplank . . .

. . . then a step up into the horse trailers.

On Sunday, we’ll travel to Pickford and watch the horses unload into what – to them – must feel like Heaven on earth.  You will love it!

Have a great weekend, and God bless.