Tuesday, July 12, 2016

blogging like it's 1900

There was no Internet to be had at our sweet little cabin on Big Manistique Lake, and the alleged wifi available in the nearby office was sketchy at best, so instead of regular posts during our vacation I'm left doing the whole trip in one remembered post. It was a wonderful, wonderful vacation.

We met in Traverse City, rented a car, and headed north.....over the Mackinac Bridge....
....to the UP, where people there refer to themselves as Yoopers. :) Heavily featured were shops selling
smoked fish, pasties, and fudge. Oh, and firewood, lots and lots of firewood. But no farm stands.
Manilak Resort

We stayed at a place that was entirely new to Marc (the whole thing being entirely new to me), because the other place he has stayed before was fully booked. I was glad, for a lot of reasons, and we were both just so happy with the place. We had a huge cabin, with two bedrooms and a large living room, a small kitchen and a place to eat. A large deck (which honestly we didn't use -- but we could've! -- because it took the late afternoon sun directly). It was comfortable and we would both be so happy to stay there again. There was a large satellite TV that we didn't figure out how to use until the end of our stay, and one night we listened to 70s music all evening which was more fun than I can possibly say.

our sweet little cabin, #9
the view to the right
the view straight ahead -- that little stand of young birches was sweet
And our pier -- that's our boat on the right, in the middle with the motor. 

Marc said that walking through the airport holding fishing rods was an invitation to male bonding, which totally cracked me up. He carefully packed rods and reels, assembled a little box of tackle and brought his net. I was looking forward to seeing him fish; this idea has tickled me from the first time I learned that he likes to fish, because he never seemed to me like a guy who would like to fish. (And he's not that guy. The other men in neighboring cabins were very much that guy, though they were all nice enough to us and always asked if we caught anything. Which frankly started to feel like too much pressure to me. :) ) We got to the cabin late afternoon, unloaded the car quickly, and went to town for bait, a fishing license, and a bit of new tackle. Then we headed out into the lake for some fishing:

Marc selecting new tackle and getting a fishing license from a VERY cranky clerk....they all were, wherever
we tried to buy something. Very bizarre for a place that relies on tourism!
The bait options -- we bought minnows and night crawlers, and a super cheap minnow bucket
(but no leeches, gumbo or otherwise).
A bit of prep to the rods and reels and then....
....out on the lake! It was thrilling to me, watching Marc drive the boat and fish. It's always great to see
your loved one be very good at something, especially when it's unexpected.
There's Burnt Island, a landmark on our side of the lake. His family had a cottage for generations within
sight of Burnt Island. We drove to see the new place that has replaced the old cottage, which has
been torn down since he was here 18 years ago.
This is mostly what fishing looked like to me --- I didn't fish, but was always happily responsible
for dropping and raising the anchor.

I've never really been interested in fishing, though as a very little girl I loved to go fishing with Big Daddy, mainly because I loved doing anything at all with him. Even then I couldn't bait the hook (always crickets or grasshoppers which I'd had to collect in a coffee can, because we just fished in a little pond in the local park), and since neither of us really caught fish I didn't have to deal with any of the rest of it either. Still, I was surprised to find myself so deeply unable to deal with putting living things on hooks, or seeing fish hooked in their mouths. It's hard even to think about it a week later. I had to turn my head away and hum loudly to myself, or focus on my book or the clouds. Sometimes the small fish swallowed the hook and died as a result, even though they were too small to keep; at least the seagulls ate them, so their death wasn't just for nothing. See? It was really hard for me.

Unfortunately, our week at Manistique coincided with the mayfly release (so said another guy staying at the resort) and for some reason that meant the fish weren't biting. And boy, they really, really weren't. Marc caught three perch that were barely big enough to keep, several that were not big enough to keep, and this baby Northern Pike that was also not big enough to keep:

so small

Every day but the last rainy one, Marc went out at least twice, and most days he went out three times. He usually went very early, around dawn, and I slept through those trips. Then he'd come back and make us a nice breakfast, and out we'd go again. Finally we'd head out around 7:30pm and stay through the sunset, which happened around 9:40 every night. On so many of these trips, he wouldn't even get a single nibble. And he knows that lake! He knows where the weed beds are, where the rocks are, where the walleye tend to be, the pike, the rock bass. Luckily, he enjoyed the fishing even though he didn't catch anything, and I enjoyed being out there with him, wandering from spot to spot, flying around the lake or drifting slowly.

On the second day, before fishing we headed to a little creek that connects to the lake and when we got to the edge of it, Marc cut the engine and rowed us in. It was an extraordinary experience: the sky was so blue, the clouds so puffy, the water so still, the bullfrog song and birdsong so sweet, the temperature just right.

Marc-power instead of horsepower

For me, the fun of the fishing excursions was riding around the lake, watching Marc do something he enjoys doing (including how much I loved watching him cast -- he did it so beautifully), and just being outside doing that together.

I loved watching him cast -- he was so graceful
and the sky was almost always beautiful to look at
though fishing, for me, often looked like this
I was just so happy to be there
I just happened to glance up and see Marc silhouetted against the setting sun and caught this beautiful shot.
And this one too -- the setting sun is on his face (accidentally caught him with his eyes closed).
One morning it was SO FOGGY and Marc went out fishing very early. I took this picture about an hour after he left,
so it was much foggier when he was first out on the lake. He said (rightly) that I'd have been scared out there.

Because he had planned to be cooking fish for us every day, Marc came prepared with his own skillets and knives, and with two homemade sauces. The kitchen was fully stocked, we'd been told, but he wanted to be sure he had his pans and knives.

Thai garlic sauce (L) and homemade curry paste (R)
Since we didn't have daily fish, we were disappointed but he still made us lovely meals every night, especially considering that it was a tiny electric stove with four crooked burners, and little space to work. Every day he made us a big breakfast with eggs, and every night something good to eat, with a lot of fresh vegetables for me. I even made us a blueberry streusel cake. We ate a LOT. Donuts and cinnamon rolls and that cake, marshmallows (that would be me), sandwiches he'd brought, and breakfast and dinner.

Just as I do in NYC, I enjoyed watching him cook for us...and of course I enjoyed the meals. :)
We only ate out once, our first night, since we hadn't yet gone to the grocery store over in Newberry. There were a couple of spots in Curtis: Kim's TallyHo (the source of free wifi we drove in to access every day to check mail) and The Shipwreck. It was late and The Shipwreck seemed like the better choice, so we went in, hoping to get burgers.

Well. It was a scene. There was a disco-type light situation, a DJ who seemed to play YouTube videos, as best we could tell, a long table shuffleboard, a pool table, and all the locals getting their drinking on. The DJ also queued up karaoke songs, and our waitress took her turn. There was something a little bit sad to me about the place, with probably the same set of people going there regularly hoping to find someone. I don't know, I could be wrong of course, it just felt that way to me. But the burgers were good enough, and as I always do when we travel, I tried the local beer.

YOOPER! And notice that the UP on the label is identified as "Upper Hand." Maybe
it's a one-side competition, but the UP seems to be competing with the rest of
Michigan for which part is best.

Though I must say that the UP felt like it has been forgotten by civilization. Marc said
it is unchanged since the last time he came, in 1998(-ish), and that it really isn't
even any different than when he came as a little kid. One thing is sure: NO
Verizon coverage except here and there, and even then it's unreliable.

Because Manistique Lake has been part of Marc's life as long as he can remember, I really enjoyed asking him about his childhood experiences at the family cottage. He'd spend time there with his Grandma Sarah and her husband, collecting wild raspberries in a coffee can so she would make him raspberry jam; playing in the creek, playing in the sand; investigating the area around the cabin; and when his dad would arrive, they'd go out in the boat. I just love the little picture near the top of the blog of him on the boat. It meant a lot to me, getting to hear his childhood stories from Manistique, since I think they are some of his best childhood memories.


Marc took me to some familiar-to-him places each day to give us an adventure during the time of day when we wouldn't be out on the boat. We went to Lake Superior, to Tahquamenon Falls, to the Seney National Wildlife Reserve, and to the city of Manistique. We also took a little hike in a floodplain across the highway from the resort, and I ended up with a tick, so now I call that spot "tick farm."

Lake Superior -- We went to a couple of spots along Lake Superior. One was called the Log Slide, and it's a place loggers used to slide logs down into the lake for transport. Some people (not me) walk/run/slide down it and then walk back up, but there was no way I could go over the edge. No. Way. For a variety of reasons I tried hard to force myself to do it but I was paralyzed with fear and if I'd done it, it would've been idiotic of me. So here's a picture or two from the top:

This is the edge over which the logs would be slid....
There's Marc on the left -- doesn't look like it could be so bad, right? Well...
This is a side view so you can see how high and steep the slide is. I'll just enjoy the picture.
From there we drove a short way to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which was just gorgeous. We walked a very long way down the beach (and yes, the water was icy cold), and I couldn't get enough of the incredibly beautiful rocks, all colors.

The beach was mostly empty.
And gosh, it was a beautiful day.
Even the rocks out in the water were gorgeously colored -- look at that red one!
This river ran into the lake, wish we'd been wearing our swimsuits so we could've sat there.
Even though you're not allowed to do this, I filled both my pockets and one of Marc's with rocks to bring home.
And the cool thing to me was that right under the skim coat of sand on the beach were millions of rocks,
mostly small ones like this but also big ones, so large I couldn't find their edges.

Tahquamenon Falls -- Another day we went to Tahquamenon Falls, which is brown because of the local minerals and vegetation. It was really beautiful, and the water is naturally foamy at the bottom because of the vegetation and minerals, too.

It's really a beautiful waterfall. Apparently the old loggers used to think they'd rather deal with Niagara than
Tahquamenon because of the currents at the bottom of Tahquamenon. And the logs would get jammed
up at the top, so there were workers whose job would be to stand atop them with pikes and
unjam them -- a very dangerous job.
Seney National Wildlife Reserve -- While we were standing in the visitor's center, we looked through the big binocular thing they had trained on a bald eagle's nest (the slightly taller tree in the middle of the picture below, just kind of lacy-looking to the right of the middle) and sure enough, saw a bald eagle sitting on its nest. That was pretty cool. We hopped into the car and drove through the reserve on yet another spectacularly beautiful day. I'd brought my nice binoculars from Austin, and saw loons swimming around, the very first time I've ever seen them.

We had such a good vacation.
City of Manistique -- Marc had never been here (or maybe it's just that he'd never stopped there), and we knew they had a boardwalk so that was a good enough reason to explore. The boardwalk was mostly sidewalk, but there were sections that were boardwalk and there was a big red lighthouse:

Lake Michigan sure looks different here than it does around Chicago. More marshy grasses.
There's the lighthouse....
And there it is, too.
It was a windy day, but still beautiful.

Our last day in Curtis, it mostly rained all day—thunder, lightning, the whole thing—and there wasn't a beautiful sunset as there had been the other days. Still, even that was beautiful. Here's that last day, but first many of the sunsets that came before it.

It was hard to leave because we really loved our little cabin and enjoyed the stay so much (even though the fishing was so poor). But we had to get to Traverse City, where we'd spend the last night of the trip. Here is my quick summary of Traverse City, a place I never need to visit again:
  • Everything is crazy expensive, and the hotel room we had -- which cost more than our whole cabin -- was super crappy with a terrible, terrible bed, way too much stinky air freshener, and very thin walls. Oh, and "log" furniture.
  • The cherry festival? Entirely over-rated. $5 for a cup of bad cherries. Nothing special, just your standard "unpack the box" festival.
  • The food was unremarkable. We ate at the highest-rated pizza place (meh, but with a bad crust), and we had breakfast at the highest-rated diner (meh again).
Late afternoon we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which are "perched" dunes -- the glacier left them there, perched atop the glacial moraine. Man, those glaciers really did some amazing work, carving out all the Great Lakes and leaving those dunes around.

SUPER high-looking dune! I kept humming the theme song to "Lawrence of
Arabia," and imagining I heard a boy cry, 'awrence! It wasn't nearly as
hot as this picture makes it seem. I wasn't sure I'd make it to the top but....
...we did! That's Glen Lake in the distance, and the parking lot below.
We don't look any worse for the wear, do we?
Then we drove the Pierce Stocking Scenic Loop, which let us pause at various overlooks including this one,
which shows the dune landscape as a whole.
An accidentally great shot! We were overlooking yet another dune, here.
Ready to say goodbye to the dunes and the lakes and head back to our dreary little motel room.
The scenic loop took us through very magical forests with beautiful light.
As sorry as we were to leave Manistique, I think we both felt that glad to leave Traverse City. Getting home wasn't much fun, though. I had a horrific headache from the terrible bed, which left me with big knots in my muscles. We left Traverse City together and flew to Newark, and I had a 4-hour wait for my flight to Austin that turned into a longer wait than that, which wouldn't have been so bad if I didn't have that bad headache. Luckily I got to see this beautiful sight over WV, and when I finally got to my Austin home at midnight, my bed felt SO GOOD.

It was a beautiful trip. I read The Small Backs of Children and Half of a Yellow Sun, and started The Crime and the Silence but couldn't finish it. I saw such beautiful sights I'll never forget them, I got to hear more about Marc's life and watch him in a context that means so much to him, and I got to share it with him so now I'm part of it too. We rarely vacation in the US (exceptions are Maine and New Mexico), so it was among our least exotic vacations, but it was peaceful and quiet and beautiful and I will always remember it with a deep, happy smile.