Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Community's True Value is Measured by its People and Their Dogs

Chloe' and I walk every day – rain or shine, sleet or snow – there are few things that keep us from the luxury of raising our faces to the weather of the day.

Down state our walks have a very predictable pattern – down the street, up the hill, past Notacat's house hoping for a brief encounter that always ends with Notacat racing up and down his fenced domain. Then it is be on to the Dog Park where Chloe' can lose her leash for a brief but thoroughly enjoyable romp in and out of the trees that make up a wooded green space nestled among the stately old homes of our historic neighborhood. Heading home she walks briskly, eager for a glimpse of a new Border collie that has taken up residence in a house on the hill. An invisible fence keeps the pup confined to her yard ¬ and provides some form of sadistic satisfaction for Chloe' as she runs in and out of Sasha’s personal space, taunting the young collie with her ability to roam at will without the fear of electric shock.

These down state walks provide little, if any, opportunity for getting to know the human residents of our neighborhood. Outside of a hello here or a nod there, few take the initiative for sustained conversation. We are rarely detained, despite the fact that we are always open to taking a risk – open to the possibility of a new great adventure. The sad fact is we more often than not return home with no new stories to share, no new adventures to spin into tales to entertain friends and family.

Walking on Drummond Island is never so predictable ¬ never so “white bread” mundane. Every morning on the Island brings the smell of adventure wafting through the trees – the possibility of new explorations to make us step a little livelier.

We always head out down Somes Road towards the old quarry knowing that each passing car will make room for Chloe' as she roams without being confined to a leash. Clif Haley can be depended on to stop and share a warning about marauding bears. Phil Perry always nods and waves – this despite the annoyance of having to slow to a crawl as Chloe' meanders too near the center of the road. Tom and Sue McCaskill, Roy and Judy Martin, Nancy Kleiner, Joyce Buckley, Carolyn Haley, and all our other neighbors can be counted on for a wave, a smile and sometimes even a friendly honk of their horn. Ross – along with his dog Chardonnay – never miss a chance to invite us down the lane to check out the blooms in his luscious, exotic gardens.

When we first took up residence on Somes I was anxious to start exploring, to meander through the woods and down the shore in anticipation of new adventures and discoveries. When I called Harry Ropp for permission to access his land there was no hesitation in his response – no harsh comments concerning my proposal to be allowed to freely trespass – he readily invited me to wander his woods as I pleased. His generous spirit has provided Chloe' and me the opportunity to have countless encounters with the deer, fox, Pileated woodpeckers and other residents of the wooded limestone cliffs. Our adventures and discoveries include slides down snow covered slopes along with witnessing the first shaky strides of a newborn fawn. We have searched forever for a rack we know must have been dropped by the buck we saw roaming the woods in November.

A similar kind welcome was also echoed by Gert Bailey – but not only did Gert share her beach with its gorgeous views of Potagannissing Bay, she opened up her heart. Each walk since has included a wave or a chat – our conversations encompassing everything from the day's weather to our own personal struggles with health issues.

Eventually we make our way to the office at Yacht Haven where Connor has set up a canine oasis. My walks use to simply involve circling out past the flag pole and then down the docks, up pass the boat houses on our way back to the woods. I might have waved and said a “Hello!” as we past by – but I never spent much time on that leg of our walk until Chloe' learned about Connor's stash of treats.

Chloe' soon trained me to stop at the Yacht Haven office on every walk. Actually, she doesn't always wait for me. She has learned, following the lead of other great marina dogs - Sophie, Cole, Owen, Katie and Finnegan – how to nose open the screen door and search for Connor in anticipation of a dog biscuit or two. Connor is the marina's “dog whisperer”. When I am at Yacht Haven and can't find Chloe' I know that she has headed to the office to get a treat – and to give me a chance to stop and chitchat for a while.

These walks through the Somes Road neighborhood are a joy. And the tales they inspire are as rich and vibrant as the tapestry of the woods we hike, the water whose shores we meander and the members of the community we encounter along the way. It doesn't matter how long Chloe' and I are away from the Island. We know that when we return we will be folded back in – made to feel welcome and part of the Somes Road neighborhood. The people and dogs of this little corner of Drummond Island have made it a good place to live.

A neighborhood is not defined just by the style of the homes that line the streets or their prices. A neighborhood's real value comes from the people who live there and how they help one another, swap stories, and take the time to share a dog biscuit and become friends. Millard Fuller once said, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”

Drummond’s Somes Road community can take pride in being truly whole and healthy as evidenced by its people ¬ and their dogs!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fish Tales . . .

Fishing has nothing to do with catching fish.

Fishing is about everything else but the fish. It’s about being outside, feeling the wind on your face, watching the honking geese fly overhead, hearing the sound of the waves on the water and seeing the sunny sparkle of sunlight breezing across its surface. It’s about discovering life’s simple lessons.

Don’t get me wrong – I am sure all fishermen (and women) love to catch fish. And those who know me well know I truly believe nothing compares to Friday Fish Fry at the Northwood – especially when Celia is in the kitchen!

But to me, fishing is much more than just getting fish from bait to plate.

Growing up, the men in my life – my Great-grandfather, my father, my uncles, and the “tough” boys I loved to hang with – hunted and fished almost every day. They taught me that in fishing, I didn’t have to be “the best”, I didn’t have to catch the biggest or the most fish. They taught me that what really matter was having fun.

And they all loved to have fun! The camaraderie of these men, as they plied the waters in and around the eastern Upper Peninsula and northern Ontario, was truly something to experience. Stories flowed and jokes were told as we sat on the bank of some stream, the plank seats of someone’s fishing boat, or hunkered round a wood-burner in some fishing shack out on the ice somewhere. Lunches always consisted of thick slabs of cheese on even thicker slabs of bread and cold bottles of beer from the mesh bag that had been hanging all morning in the water.

And despite being a knock-kneed, towheaded tomboy I was always treated as an equal on those days they let me tag along – which meant I had to learn to take my fair share of ribbing! Looking back, I now know that those experiences are what helped shape the strong, independent woman I have grown to be.

They also taught me about patience as I learned to sit and watch a cork for hours on end. And they instilled in me a love of the outdoors – teaching me a respect for the peace and solitude that can be found there. In the past few years of my adult life, these lessons of my childhood have returned to provide the strength I need for simultaneously facing my death and loving my life.

From fishing I have learned to take my time – and that this time is the only time I’ll ever have. You either take it, or it will be taken from you. If you want to catch fish, you best be patient. And if you want to live life fully, you do best to slow down. Otherwise, you will bulldoze over life’s finest moments. Life comes and goes so quickly – and it’s not about what you can or can not do. It is about what you choose to do.

I used to take my sons fishing when they were small – one summer we even vowed to live completely off our catch for two weeks in the waters now known as Rocky Island Lake up the Chapleau Road in Ontario. My youngest son – now a banker – to this day carries fishing gear in the trunk of his car “just in case”. Just in case he needs to slow down. Just in case he needs to step back from his supercharged, overbooked, overstretched life and take time to notice the little gems that adorn each day. Just in case the fish are biting somewhere. Just in case.

Fishing has nothing to do with catching fish. Fishing has everything to do with discovering life’s simple lessons.

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” -Henry David Thoreau

Drummond Island Trivia Answers . . .

How did you fare? Did you know more OR less about the Island than you thought you did? Here are the answers to yesterday's Drummond Island Trivia Crossword Puzzle:

5.Sunes 6. Northwood 7. Dolomite 8. Pins 10. Turtle Ridge 12. Tee Pee 14. Marble Head 17. Yacht Haven 18. Harbor Island 19.Alvar 20. Ferry 21.Town Hall 22. Bayside 23. Chucks
1. Wazzs 2 Puddingstone 3.Rock 4. Township Gulf 9. Big Shoal Bay Beach 11. Bear Track 13. Port of Call 15. DeTour Reef Light 16. Jamboree

Hope you had fun! Look for more U.P. North Trivia in Blogs to come . . .

Friday, January 29, 2010

Drummond Island Trivia

Think you know the Island? Think you know it really well? Then go ahead and take the challenge! See how fast you can decipher the clues and fill in the crossword blanks of this Drummond Island Trivia puzzle! And if you have trouble visualizing the placement of letters on your screen simply print the page out and pencil it in the old fashion way.

Answers in tomorrows U.P. North Life blog posting . . .

5. If they don't have it you don't need it

6. Where everybody knows your name

7. Mined in the quarry and shipped around the world

8. Bowling anyone?

10. ORV Park (two words - no space)

12. Island's favorite dessert spot (two words - no space)

14. Hard to get to but the view is worth it (two words - no space)

17. The marina where memories are made and traditions started (two words - no space)

18. National Wildlife Refuge (two words - no space)

19. Rare eco-system

20. Where every adventure starts and ends

21. Bingo anyone? (two words - no space)

22. Rustic five star dining

23. Most eastern watering hole in Michigan

1. Gas, Lotto tickets and so much more

2. Looks like Christmas Pudding but you wouldn't want to eat it

3. World class golfing

4. Airplanes and deer are common obstacles (two words - no space)

9. Go for a swim or enjoy a picnic lunch (four words - no spaces)

11. Home of the best blueberry pancakes in the north (two words - no space)

13. Where Huron bait and Chicago deli can be found under one roof (three words - no spaces)

15. Beacon for those vessels seeking the “Gateway to Superior.” (three words - no spaces)

16. It's a Jeep thing

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We're on a Boat . . .

A new generation builds new, lasting memories and starts new traditions of their own on Drummond Island.

The video says it all!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Smooth Sledding . . .

Eyes wide with fright. Tears frozen on your cheeks. Fingers encased in woolen mitts frantically grasping at anything within reach – rungs, ropes or the friend your legs are precariously wrapped around.

You race at breakneck speed down the snow covered slope. The rush of frosty winter air whooshes past. Your screams are muffled by the scarf bound tightly round your neck and mouth. You are as close to flying as you can get. You are invincible as you plummet down the hill.

Tumbling off in a flurry of jumbled body parts you whoop and laugh all the way back to the top for one more amazing run.

You are . . .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Here . . .

The rhythms and rituals of life on the Island are sacred – the ceremonial arrival and departure by ferry; Bayside dinners with terrific food and breathtaking views; the unspoken decree against high heels (although I must admit that I am guilty of ignoring that one out of sheer vanity); and the generational parade of robust kids, running, swimming, squealing, sledding, and coming of age in the woods and on the waters of Drummond.

But getting to Drummond means that your business must first come through the ferry dock – with a tempo and hierarchy unlike any other place. Everyone and everything is on display as vehicles come and go and wait. Everyone’s stuff is on view piled in a backseat, a bed of a truck or stacked high on a trailer. You know what stores people shop at. You know who is getting new furniture. You know what books, magazines and papers people read to pass the time. And you also get a glimpse into each other’s relationships as passengers are dropped off, picked up and said goodbye or hello to.

The ferry also marks the passage from one world to another. The pace of the Island has always been intertwined with the coming and going of the ferry. And life on the Island is a reflection of this marvelous relationship. “Island Time” means a more relaxed way of life – and the wait for the ferry is the first step into a mood and pace that is always of an unhurried nature. This distinctive lifestyle and its gentle easy rhythms are as much a part of the landscape as are the waves lapping at the shore. Waiting for the ferry makes for a wonderful chance to practice patience . . .

Patience is the best remedy for every trouble and Drummond is the best medicine for dealing with the stress of life off the Island. Mahomet once said, “Patience is the key to content.” And I have often been known to exclaim that I am the most content woman in the world when I am back “home” on Drummond.

And so every trip across M-134 brings with it a peaked sense of anticipation – the wait for the ferry always putting extra emphasis on what it really means to get here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Red Owls and Blue Bunnies . . .

"Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose."  ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Flying down Goudreau St. hill on my bike

to buy blue *Bunny Bread*

at the *Red Owl* grocery store in St. Ignace.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Waving, Community and the Impact on a Young Girl

People wave on Drummond Island. Everyone that has ever visited us always remarks on this little idiosyncrasy of the community. And they never fail to mention that most do it with personal style – there are the full handed wavers, the one fingered steering wheel lifters, the nodders and the saluters – to name but a few. And we can all pick out the first-timers to the Island – they would be the ones not waving. Otherwise known as the “no-waving bastards”.

When two of my granddaughters stayed on the Island with me one summer, this little gesture of “community” made a big impression on them. The oldest at the time, Meagan, thought it was just great that everyone on the Island knew her grandma – why else would they be waving. I didn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise!

Webster defines community as a group of individuals who share a common interest. On Drummond Island that common interest is the “connectedness” that comes from being a member of a small, close-knit, northern, rural community. Hard to explain to a flatlander who hasn’t shared in the experience as they grew up. And we – meaning the collective Island community – use this simple gesture of waving to signal to each other that we belong to this community. And when it happens, when you are part of the exchange of a quick flash of a “personalized” wave, the feeling of connectedness and community is unmistakable.

At the end of her 10 day visit, when we were watching the sun set on Potagannissing Bay, Meagan asked “Grandma, can we move here just you and me? Everyone else can come visit us here.” There is no better tribute to the Island and its strong sense of community then that – the statement made by an eleven year old girl who was made to feel as though she “belonged”.

William James once said a community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. I am so glad the members of this community are all impulsive enough to wave each time they pass a fellow Islander and “community” member – even the ones they don’t know by name and who are simply visiting!

So here’s to community, connectedness and being impulsive the next time you pass someone on the road – wave on!