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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Not Exactly the Vacation We Had Planned

Our peaceful destination
Slower pace
Grand Marais in Alger County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, our getaway home-away-from-home, is usually a quiet, peaceful place in September. We head up over the Mackinac Bridge as soon as possible after Labor Day (not on Labor Day, when the Bridge is open to pedestrian traffic, and anyone who wants the five-mile adventure can walk over the Straits of Mackinac, while motorists turn off their engines and wait for the walk to end), and on the shore of the beautiful little harbor we sigh deep sighs of contentment at the prospect of doing very little for a few days other than lazily enjoying ourselves. 

Tranquil views
For us it’s the quiet at the end of the road, the peace at the edge of the world--not, of course, for the people working hard to make a living there, but we understand that, too, for we work all summer in a tourist area that others visit on vacation. But September is our turn. So this year, as usual, we looked forward to walking the quiet streets and alleys of our part-time adopted hometown and driving around to other favorite U.P. haunts, maybe, we thought, as far as Copper Harbor to visit old friends up past Ahmeek. That was our plan.

Our first surprise was that Grand Marais was anything but quiet and peaceful this year. The new breakwall project in the harbor had huge double-bottomed tractor-trailer trucks rolling into town hour after hour, and there were cranes and piles of giant rocks on land, barges and working tugboats in the water. Coast Guard Point, where we typically go with books and morning coffee, was overrun with activity, except on Sunday, when the crews took a day of rest.

The other big project in process was the installation of new village water mains, which had streets and alleys torn up and heavy machinery moving around for twelve hours a day. Bulldozers, loaders, buckets, graders, diggers, pavers--you name it. 

The land project was being done by Elmer’s from Traverse City, and we talked to a couple of workers hailing from Kingsley, too, all glad of the work. The people of Grand Marais were happy with the job being done, too, so that was all good. It wasn’t quiet, but we adjusted our expectations. Not for nothing had I been boning up on Buddhism and David immersing himself in the Tao Te Ching!

The other surprise required a bigger adjustment and called on all the Eastern wisdom we could muster up when, on the day after our arrival, our truck began to emit terrible loud noises from the rear end, threatening—at least, so it seemed—to fall apart then and there! Luckily, this had not happened the day before, in the pouring rain and thundering hail, on the two-track far from our destination, where we had taken refuge from a highway no longer visible in the storm, and, also luckily, we have friends in Grand Marais, and our friends have friends and connections, and although the garage 25 miles away couldn’t promise to look at the truck for a full week, another one 50 miles away in Shingleton said they would send someone for it, haul it to their place, and get right to work. They also provided us with a loaner, a pickup truck bigger and badder than ours, so that we looked local as hell.

We look like we belong there
We big! We bad!
So we didn’t get to Copper Harbor, but our vacation was not a disaster, either. It was unexpectedly expensive and shorter and more constrained than had been the plan, but there were beautiful days—brilliant sunrises and softer, pastel, cloudy mornings.

Morning before vehicle crisis--beautiful!

Morning after--still beautiful!
There was lunch at the West Bay Diner with Kalamazoo friends staying on Muskallonge Lake. Do you recognize anyone in these pictures?

New friends greet
Old friends meet
One of them (top photo, far right) is novelist Joseph Heywood, author of the “Woods Cop” mysteries, and I would have liked to have a picture of him with our diner hostess, author Ellen Airgood, but she was too busy and tired to have her picture taken.

There were visits with dog friends old and new. Here is old Hailey, who was young and frisky back when we had our Nikki and they romped together on the beach.

There were walks on the Lake Superior beach for us and strolls around town, an afternoon on Sable Lake (I went for a swim while David and Sarah waited onshore), an excursion to School Forest, a couple of drives to Munising (stopping at the garage in Shingleton on the way) and one trip as far as Marquette—but more another day, with more pictures.

Windy Tuesday on Sable Lake
Someone asked if I read books on vacation and yes, I read three: a novel called The Lost Dog, by Australian writer Michelle de Kretser; a book by philosopher Richard Rorty called Achieving Our Country; and Loren Eiseley’s haunting memoir, The Strange Hours.

There are always windfall apples in September
And we did get our truck back. Well, in a way. Actually, I think of what we drove home as our new truck. It looks like the old one on the outside, but we have receipts to show how many of its inner components have been replaced, including the engine. So, odometer mileage? Not the whole story, by a long shot. I expect my old-new truck to run forever now. 

Atop post office, Grand Marais
Still to come: A walk on Lake Superior, a drive on an old road, an excursion to School Forest, dreaming over old boats, visits to Shingleton and Marquette, and a parade of farm tractors in St. Ignace.


Dawn said...

Well, aside from the truck issues it sounds like a perfect vacation, even if it wasn't exactly what you planned.

P. J. Grath said...

"Perfect" may be an exaggeration, but we squeaked as much fun as possible out of our ten days away from home.

Deborah said...

Next year I plan to visit Grand Marais and I already love it from hearing your stories of visits there. Love this one too - and the photos!

Dawn said...

For me anytime I get away it's perfect...of course where I most want to go is where you already how odd is that! :) Find me at my new blog address:

I hope that works.

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, these pictures are more journalistic than artistic, but I know you would love Grand Marais.

Dawn, thanks for sending your new blog address. I'll change it in my list and bop on over to see what you've been up to.

Both of you and everyone else--Leelanau is heavenly today! I don't wish to be anywhere else!