If you had the great fortune to grow up in Michigan, it is not unusual to take Mackinac Island for granted. For many families, the Island simply exists, “up north” as Michiganders are wont to say, (even if they are actually traveling east, west, or heck – south.) Even if your family didn’t frequently visit Mackinac, its existence doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.
I am ashamed to say that as much as I have always loved Mackinac Island, this was definitely true for me. Mackinac was simply part of summer. Like going to the beach or wearing shorts. It wasn’t until my most recent visit that I fully grasped how lucky Michiganders are.
When I was growing up, my family went to Mackinac every summer, sometimes more than once. We had the supreme treat of staying ON the Island, and not just taking the ferry over to visit for the day. For my family, Mackinac was more about riding bikes through the woods, exploring the limestone formations, and getting to the wild places in the middle of the island. My parents tended to spend very little time in fudge shops or the hundred junk shops on the Main Street and instead, found the less-trodden spots to spend our days. If you weren’t limping from bike fatigue by the end of the trip, then, somehow you had done it all wrong. I have spent about 20 of my 33 birthdays on the Island, and even though I haven’t lived in Michigan in 11 years, the Island still calls me home in the summer months.
This past August, I visited again. I have a son now, of course, to indoctrinate into my Michigan ways. And every time we interacted with other travelers on the Island, (which somehow happens more frequently when there’s a cute baby involved) they told us where they were from: North Carolina, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Boston, Grand Rapids, Alabama and Ohio. For some, it was their first trip; others had visited as kids and decided to return with someone special. There were honeymooners, a pair of newlyweds who’d tied the knot on the Island, some retirees who had heard how special the place was. A family who shows horses and whose children were over the moon to visit a place where horses still rule the road and cars barely exist.
For these people, Mackinac was a special trip. It was THE special trip of their summer, or of their marriage. It was a meticulously planned vacation that they had dreamed about and looked forward to, and they couldn’t believe the splendor of the Straits or the Bluff Houses or the Grand Hotel, itself. Often, these travelers had no idea about the bike trails weaving to and fro through the woods, or the old cemetery on the top of the Island or even how far around the Island was. I was … flabbergasted. Mackinac Island, though I love it, seemed like such an essential part of summer. Surely, everyone had an island to escape to? Certainly, it must be true that everyone had a little place, passed over by time, that came alive in the sunshine and was a ferry trip away.
But, no. Of course not. Mackinac Island is a special place, teeming with the history of Michigan tribes, of soldiers at the Fort and as a trading post for furs at their height of demand. It has been the setting of film and television shows, of novels (three of my own!) and a popular holiday destination since the late 1800s. A fudge-lover’s dream, in June filled to the brim with lilacs and always, always, a little magical.
And it’s just Up North. Further proof that Michiganders (past and present) are some of the luckiest people around.