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The Presence of Wonder – We Found it in the Rocks

September 3, 2012

Days 51 – 60; August 7 to August 16

This part of our journey found us enjoying lots of time playing on and in the water, checking out some beautiful islands and being charmed by piles of rocks!

Olivia and Helen fashioned floating chaise lounges out of water noodles. Ahhh – this is the life!

After Chicago, we spent a couple of days in Green Bay – Steven once again needing to spend some dedicated time working, the girls finishing up their summer book reports.  Helen and Olivia also spent an entire day swimming – the swimmers’ ear they had suffered just over a week earlier did not deter them – they L O V E  lounging in the pool!  Having managed to craft personal flotation devices out of water noodles, they leisurely skimmed across the water.  When not floating, they were designing synchronized swimming routines, having been inspired by some of the summer Olympics coverage we had seen.  Such creative little water nymphs!  I spent the day finishing a great book (Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese.  It was my second time through – I highly recommend it), taking photos and watching the girls’ inventive water ballet.  Such a relaxing way to spend a day!

From Green Bay we headed to Mackinaw City.  The Village of Mackinaw City is a resort community located on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac on Michigan’s Lake Huron.  Just across from Mackinaw City is Mackinac Island.  I know.   This is a little tricky – I still barely have it down – but the CITY is Mackinaw – the ISLAND is Mackinac – though both are pronounced exactly the same – Mack-i-Naw.

Our happy beach girls – Mackinaw City

By good fortune, it turned out our room in Mackinaw City was a ground floor room located right on the beach – what a glorious playground!  High, lazy blue sky; long, shallow, warm lake; wide, soft, sandy shore strewn with beach chairs and umbrellas.  Helen and Olivia are beach lovers and upon discovering the sandy lakeside just outside our sliding glass back door – they took off their shoes, stripped off their clothes, donned their swim suits, and were gone to explore.  Several hundred yards out from our beachfront, ferries crossed every twenty minutes or so, taking passengers from Mackinaw City across the lake to Mackinac Island.  The ferries create waves that cross the broad sandbar along the beachfront and it made for great water fun.  Our wave jumpers spent many happy hours chasing the swells.  There was also plenty of time for Helen to cavort with the seagulls – seeing how close she could get before they went screaming away from her; for Olivia, looking like the Queen of Sheba with her wet hair wrapped up in a beach towel, to sit on her lounge chair watching the waves roll by; and for them to bury each other up to their necks in the sand.

Helen buried up to her neck.

We decided almost immediately to add another night to our reservation so that we would have another day of beachside.

As I  mentioned, there are boats that ferry guests from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, located just a 20 minute ferry ride across the straits between Lakes Michigan and Huron.  We got up early our second day in Mackinaw to make one of the first boats of the day to cross to the island and explore.

Olivia and Helen – windblown and smiling on the morning ferry to Mackinac Island

The waters along our crossing were dotted with several lighthouses and buoys as well as all manner of pleasure craft.  The sailboats, especially, looked idyllic floating under the sunny skies.  It was a delight to be out on the sparkling water – even for the brief ferry ride.

Entering the picture perfect bay – Mackinac Island.

An important note about Mackinac Island.  In 1898, the City of Mackinac Island prohibited the use of automobiles of any kind on the island.  Since that time, with the exception of emergency vehicles, the only motorized vehicles on the island are snowmobiles which year ’round residents use to get to and from the ferry during the winter months.  There are otherwise three main modes of island transportation.  Self propulsion, bikes – and – HORSES!!  As the ferry docked, the first thing of note to see was a large horse-drawn dray waiting at the dock to haul supplies and luggage off of the boat.

Horse pulled dray ready to load up at the ferry dock.

Horse heaven!! Our first order of business was to find a horse and buggy to take us around Mackinac!

Horses and buggies – just waiting for us!

This scenic island is also home to Fort Mackinac which served as a military outpost (1780 – 1895) for British, and later, American soldiers.  High up on a hill, the Michigan State Parks Department now maintains the fort as a state historical site.  After our lovely and informative driver and guide Sarah trotted us around the island on her horse and buggy, we had her drop us off at the fort.  We spent some time checking out Fort Mackinac, learned a little of its history and even participated in a marching drill!

Marching drill – Fort Mackinac.

Much of the site has been maintained or restored.  The old schoolhouse was there, the infirmary complete with hospital equipment circa 1810, soldiers’ bunkhouses and mess, the elegant officers’ quarters, all of them sitting atop the most spectacular blue bay views you can imagine.  We lunched deck side at the restaurant located on fort grounds, expansive views of the town and the glimmering water below us.  We were atop one of the most picturesque places of the trip!

The Grand Hotel – her name says it all!

On our horse and buggy tour, we also had the chance to drive by the principal landmark on the island, the Grand Hotel.  No Victorian frill or fancy has been spared on this old girl and she oozes romance and elegance.  As our buggy rolled past the gardens and long, sweeping verandah along the hotel’s water side, you couldn’t help but be pulled back in time.  It was easy to visualize bygone days when genteel ladies in their long, beribboned dresses promenaded through the rose gardens on the arms of their handsomely suited beaus.

I’d love to go back someday and stay in the hotel, sit on the verandah, drinking tea from a china cup, pretending, for just a moment, that I’m a genteel lady!

One of many romantic, rose scented promenades at the Grand Hotel.

The film ‘Somewhere in Time’ was filmed at the Grand Hotel.  Starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, the film takes place in 1912 and the Grand Hotel was the perfect set for this Victorian era time-traveling romance.  The island is also home to many old Victorian summer ‘cottages.’  Most adorned with abundantly flowering gardens and boasting amazing views of the bay.

One of the many Victorian ‘cottages’ on Mackinac Island.

To keep everyone from getting too taken with the Victorian splendor of the summer homes and the Grand Hotel, there is the usual spread of t-shirt hawkers and tourist attractions along main street.  We ended our tour of Mackinac Island with a spin through the shops, bought ourselves some handmade fudge (the signature treat in Mackinac) and then caught our ferry back across to Mackinaw City.   It was a memorable day of exploring!

Sunset over Mackinac

We had one last day in Mackinaw City and spent most of it at the beach – but part of it was spent taking care of a long overdue task – washing our motor home.  Who’d have guessed that we would find (finally) a car wash high enough to accommodate our 11 foot motor home in this small resort town.  It was actually the perfect place and time to scrub down the Regal Star because we had all the time we needed to do the job and have some fun.  As tempting as it might be (at least for me – the task master in the group) to make washing the motor home a “get ‘er done” efficiency exercise, there is no way to spend time on a hot day, with two ten-year olds (and Steven), and a giant squirting water wand in your hands, and not have fun.  We watered the RV down, soaped up her sides and down her nose, and proceeded to scrub and squirt the heck out of her, soaking each other in the process.  It took us twice as long and cost us twice as many quarters as it would have if we’d gotten down to serious business – and she ended up only half as clean as she might have!  Wonder-full!

We had a bit of a challenging a.m. start.  The rocky start due to a dead RV battery.  Someone – who shall not be named (a sometimes pre-occupied and forgetful male person)  forgot to turn the headlights off.  Someone else – who shall also not be named (an on-the-ball female person, with loads of good sense) suggested we ask the hotel maintenance guy for help – which he happily and rapidly provided. We left Mackinaw City only a few minutes after we had planned – but we were in a hurry as we didn’t want to miss our scheduled first stop of the day in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan where we were to board a 65 foot tour boat for a two-hour excursion taking us through the Soo Locks.  Fortunately, we made it with minutes to spare.

Boating along the St. Mary River.

The Soo Locks are huge commercial locks passing approximately 10,000 ships through each year. Situated between the State of Michigan and Ontario Province in Canada, the locks allow ships to bypass the rapids of the St. Mary River, moving the ships up and down 21 feet between Lakes Superior and Heron.   After going through the locks, the boat took us underneath the International Bridge into Canada and then back around through the locks again, this time out the Canadian side and returning to U.S. waters.  Along the way we saw a huge steel plant, operating at full speed to provide steel, primarily for car makers in Detroit.  We also saw several large (800 – 900 feet) container ships.

Captain Mary Ann Schallip – the first woman to be a licensed Captain on the St. Mary River.

Our boat was captained by Mary Ann Schallip.  Licensed as a captain in 1995 – Mary Ann is the first woman to work as a licensed Captain on the St. Mary River.  I asked her about her adventures becoming a boat captain and very much enjoyed hearing a bit about her experiences – most of them very positive – about breaking that nautical gender barrier.

We left our tour and had a quick lunch – then drove through to Blind River, Ontario and the next day on to Parry Sound on Georgian Bay. Steven had once before taken a boat ride through Georgian Bay and loved it.  He wanted to share it with us – and someday might like to rent a houseboat for a week or two on the bay.  Yet another gorgeous water tour – we took a three-hour boat cruise through the 30,000 Island area of Georgian Bay.  Though we didn’t actually see 30,000 islands, there are, in fact, multitudes of tiny islands sprouting up throughout the bay.  Many of them teeny tiny, just large enough to support a tree or two – others enough bigger to hold a small summer cabin and a miniature dock with a dinghy alongside.  At two or three of the islands with cottages, the folks living there made it a point to come out and greet us with a welcoming wave as we floated by.  On some of the even bigger islands, and along the mainland shores, we also saw grand summer homes with yachts and seaplanes docked alongside.

One of the myriad tiny islands dotting the waters of Georgian Bay.

What was most breathtaking to me were the trees.  Forests of tall, evergreen white pines mixed together with the ubiquitous Canadian Oaks forming lavish natural tree scapes.  I can’t begin to imagine how brilliantly colorful these islands are in the autumn.  In fact, we learned that the biggest trade in this part of Canada is hunting and fishing together with fall tourism when people come from far and near to check out the island forests showing off their opulent autumn colors.

Also memorable on our cruise was our passage through ‘The Hole in the Wall.”   Hole in the Wall is a granite sculpted, narrow channel with 80+ foot cliffs on both sides.  The passage through was breathtaking, as well as a bit hair-raising, and seemingly miraculous.  A bit like passing an ocean liner through the eye of a needle, the captain expertly chugged us through this passage with little room to spare on either side. In spite of some teasing on my part (“Why the heck are we going so far out of our way just to see Georgian Bay?!?”) it turns out Steven was right (of course!) – this part of the trip was stunning!

Getting ready to enter “The Hole in the Wall,” Georgian Bay. It’s the very narrow passage to the left of the waterway. Still not sure how our Captain managed to float us through!

Another thing I loved about the Parry Sound area:  as we drove through this part of Canada, we kept seeing the most unusual thing.  On rock walls, cliffs and outcroppings all along the freeway, we saw stones piled up on top of each other creating a figure like formation.  At first I thought I was imagining it, but soon it became clear that someone (or many someones) was forming these stone structures for a purpose.  For most of a day we would see one of these cairns at least every mile – and it wasn’t unusual to see them even closer together,  side by side, as we motored down the freeway.

Stones and shale stacked on the walls beside the portion of the Trans-Canada Highway heading into Parry Sound.

I was mystified.  Clearly there was some kind of meaning here.  I recalled the symbol for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games – and that gave me a clue.

I did a little googling and looked for information about the Vancouver Olympic symbol.  Sure enough – I was getting somewhere.   Inukshuk (pronounced in-ook-shook) originally believed to have been used by the Inuit, are stone monuments erected to serve as a directional marker as well as a greeting or sign that others have passed by.  While original inukshuk formations were likely one or two stones placed upright beside each other, in more modern times, they have come to be formed as human figures and their original purpose has evolved to mean Godspeed – safe passage to all who pass by this place.  Inukshuks were the inspiration for the 2010 Olympic logo.  So now I had some good back story on the 2010 Olympic character I hadn’t had before, and clearly these cairns were similar – but how the heck did so many of them get there?  Googling away with all my fingering might – I still couldn’t figure it out (and found out later that I had run up my data bill like crazy – oops – had to turn my phone off!!).

Fast forward to the next evening.  I finally had my curiosity satisfied while sitting in, of course, the laundromat.  (Side note:  I think I’ve said before, I could write an entire blog about the people I have met, the interesting experiences I have had, and the wisdom I have gained in laundromats.  I’m telling you – if you want to discover what’s really going on in a place – the folks in the laundromat know.  And most of them are eager to tell you – might as well spin a good tale while running your clothes through the spin cycle!).  So I start visiting with a fellow washer-woman as we were each doing our laundry.  I told her how much we enjoyed our boat ride and her beautiful part of the world.  I asked her if she is a permanent resident (yes); how she felt about tourism (great – it keeps money coming in); if she has kids and how old they are (yes – grown and moved away – one grand baby on the way).  I share all of my family stats with her and where we’re from.  Then I told her the story of seeing all these rock formations and that I googled it and found inukshuk but still couldn’t quite figure out how they all got there.

Well – she of course knows.  They are, indeed, inushshuks, usually built by locals.  For some time, high school and college kids, as well as local hikers and hunters, have been building these inukshuks to leave a mark of their passing.  They also serve to welcome newcomers into town.  Apparently teens often go out together to find places along the freeway to leave them – competing with each other for the highest and most daring placement (we did see some that were placed on precarious and very high perches!).  Rock graffiti saying how-do-you-do and welcome – I love it!  So, so glad to know how and why all these charming stone bearers of good tidings came to be there.  And they did feel very welcoming.  When we moved onto a new stretch of highway and my little rock buddies disappeared – I truly missed them!

Wishing you Godspeed as, wherever you travel, you seek the presence of wonder!

On the lookout for the presence of wonder – found it in so many places – even in the rocks!  Where are your finding it?

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  1. Such great pictures and loved hearing your voice through this great reporting!

    • Thanks for the kind words about the photos. I continue to work on my skills – at least as much as I can using my iPhone!

  2. Katie permalink

    I echo Karen’s comments!

  3. Love love love! I’ve heard about Mackinac Island for years, and your description is by far the best! I just love how Team Nolan- Shafer is doing it all. I have to say, though, my very favorite part of your story is when you decided to stay a second night in that great beachfront room. Such a luxury to be able to switch up your plans on a whim to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity; and love that you know to take that opportunity when its presented! Fine work! Looking forward to seeing where you show up next 🙂

  4. Wow, that graffiti really rocks! I share your enjoyment of people putting up stone statues to say “Shalom!” (“Hello!”, though also “Good-bye!” and “Peace!”). There is a bit of wonder to me in the fact that you were reading a book about stone, and then you were seeing stones shortly afterwards.

    The image of the girls at the beach is really cute. I remember my sister Hannah chasing after ducks and then, at it got away, sadly moaning, “Ducky.” (She was about 3 at the time.) I was actually just teaching my 5th grade Sunday School kids about the Queen of Sheba this past week. I really hope that the text time they are up to their necks in something it is equally positive. I did wonder, though – did y’all eat a lunch of sandwiches that day?

    I doubt that they looked the same, but your mention of horse and buggies made me think of my elementary school days in Pennsylvania. I lived in Reading, but I went to a Jewish school 45 minutes away in Lancaster, home of the Pennsylvania Dutch (a.k.a. The Amish and Mennonites). This meant that every day we passed multiple horse and buggies. Before I knew many other driving-related things, I knew that an orange triangle on a vehicle meant that it was moving slowly (also findable on the tractors that drove on the roads sometimes).

    Ah, marching drills! I spent a week doing those in high school. Each state has a program called Boys/Girls State. Most high schools choose 2 students to attend each of these. For a week, students form a model state government, complete with 2 parties and a functioning state legislature that students run for, representing their dorm halls. Each Boys/Girls State also chooses 2 students to attend Boys/Girls Nation, forming a model national government. Because of my Model UN experience, I was able to write the only legislation that passed in the 2003 Tennessee Boys State. The other component was that this program was organized through American Legion (a veteran’s organization), and so they made us do military drills multiple times a day. We had to report to the drilling grounds at the sound of a whistle, and I learned such useful tidbits as “When standing at attention, don’t lock your knees or you might faint.” and “When standing at attention (i.e. needing to stand still), you can wiggle your toes and thus get out the wiggles but still look like you are standing still”. The whistle was actually the source of my legislation – I passed a bill requiring the authorities to give us a 5 minute warning whistle before we had to report for drills.

    Kelly, it seems to me that you are indeed a genteel lady in oh so many ways. Genteel is less in how one dresses and more in one’s character.

    Fudge is a delectable treat. You are lucky that you got it in such a place that specializes in it. I went with my girlfriend Miriam to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, and she got me some Mackinac Island fudge from a shop there as a Chanukah present (I thought of you guys). The previous time I had fudge was in the town of Helen, GA. As you may know, it is a mining (logging?) town that died when the resource was used up and the business went away, so they reinvented themselves as a German Bavarian Alpine town. I’ve been there on a number of days off from camp. One of the many, many ways for tourists to spend money there is on fudge, so this is what I think of now when fudge comes to mind.

    The other association I have with fudge is of the 7th grade trip to Springfield, IL last spring. On the way down, we stopped at Starved Rock State Park and looked at the bald eagles which nest there. We also split up for a 2 hour hike with each teacher getting 7 kids. It was on this hike that I learned the difference between pine and cedar trees (from reading the signs) and by the end all of my kids did too. One of the kids had extra money and really, really wanted to buy fudge. Under the principle my parents taught me that it’s rude to eat in front of others if they don’t have what you have, I would not give in to his whining. In other words, despite his nudge I refused to budge on the fudge. Just our luck, he got me as his advisor this year in 8th grade; I think he’s forgiven me, though.

    I like the alliteration of the phrase “water wand”. I too have learned that despite the presence of water, e-fish-ency is not always the most enjoyable route.

    That’s neat that you got to experience the locks. On the aforementioned state park expedition, I took my group to see the locks in the Illinois River (en route to the Mississippi); I was able to explain the locks due to what my father taught me when we looked at the Reading Canal by the Schukyll River. You never know how Olivia and Helen will be able to use the cornucopia of knowledge they are picking up!

    It’s also great that the kids got to meet the example of Captain Mary Ann Schallip. Part of the wonder-ful thing about travel is the variety of people whom one encounters; these people broaden one’s horizons about what is possible, particularly important in the realm of gender possibilities.

    Your mention of careful steering of the boat reminds me of the time when my family went on the Chattanooga Ducks. These are amphibious vehicles from WWII which start off like trucks and then miraculously become boats when they hit the Tennessee River (hence the name “Ducks”). In the middle of the Tennessee, the captain let passengers have turn driving the boat; I got it just as we were coming up on a bridge, and it was tricky to not run into the big concrete thing sticking out of the water. Somehow I managed, but I have a greater appreciation for ship captains now!

    Just like I enjoy grocery shopping more than other shopping, I enjoy doing laundry more than other household tasks (like washing dishes, for instance). For me, living in an apartment building, doing laundry is about the only way that I have met other people in my building. Thanks to 4 years of laundry, I now know a significant portion of my building, resulting in more friendly waves (even if I have to re-ask their names the next time I meet them in the laundry room).

    Speaking of Canada, I write most of this on my way back from visiting my father in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (above Montana) during American Thanksgiving (as opposed to Canadian Thanksgiving, some time in October). One place I found wonder there was at the zoo. They have a light display called “The Enchanted Forest”, whereby they have draped lights over trees and have lit up scenes like owls throwing snowballs at each other, rabbits hopping, penguins skiing, and people playing hockey and curling. It was wonderous.
    Speaking of wonder, I was wondering why Ohi O’d (Turns out it’s because she heard an Illi noise). Word of the Post: Omnipresent (adj) – in all places – Ex. The ubiquitous Canadian Oaks seemed omnipresent – they were everywhere!

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