Sometimes you get stuck on Beaver Island; sometimes you get stuck on mainland United States. But I never feel trapped unless I can’t get home.
This winter has been moody. Not unlike Michigan, not unlike the island -- just...moodier. Much more so. Of the first 60 days of 2017, 22 of them have brought weather which has grounded our planes. Eight of those days were completely devoid of flights (among these, three two-day groundings). The other 14 days saw significant portions of the day flightless. The frequently-changing air masses have left the island shrouded in either fog or combination fog with miniscule icy-snow drizzlets. (There’s got to be a name for that.)
People keep getting caught in Charlevoix for two or three or four days, waiting for a window to the island. Or they’ve gotten caught on the island before a planned trip somewhere, lingering, hoping for a portal to “the other side”. Freight has had to wait, mail has had to wait. Arrangements have had to rearrange.
Eight years ago, we were still living in Grand Rapids. We enjoyed our life there. The area had been our home for nearly all our lives. There was our family, there was the Y. John Ball Park Zoo, the GR Public Library, Holy Cross in Dorr. And of course, our histories, our memories, our stomping grounds.
Then I was laid off in one of the suburban districts. This was during the time when “The Great Recession” was really setting in. As I scoured West Michigan for a teaching position, a thick fog seemed to settle over our vision of the future.
That part of the state had several colleges and universities pumping out newly-trained teachers. Stories of 400, 500 applicants for job postings whispered in the fog. I expanded my search to anywhere within an hour -- let’s up it to 90 minutes -- one-way from home.
I applied to everything I was qualified for but nothing happened. Summer rushed toward its end.
Sheri added Mackinac and Beaver Islands to the job search list really rather spontaneously. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever, but my ordinarily conservative wife also likes to surprise me with atypical impulsivity from time to time.
More often than not in the last twenty years, these moments of hers seem to reveal themselves later as providential inspiration.
A teaching position showed up on Beaver Island mid-August. I was to learn later that the school was as surprised as I was at this sudden vacancy. I applied online the day I found the position, and Sheri, our then youngest son, Micah, and I headed up the next day to a place we had never been and were suddenly considering moving, if all went well.
It was fitting (at least!) that I had read The Hobbit for the first time in my life that summer, because on our drive up to Charlevoix, I was thinking of Bilbo Baggins.
Despite Hobbits normally being very attached to their homes and routines, something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.
Beaver Island is isolated. Occasionally, I will cross paths with someone who inquires about the island: Is there a bridge to get there? Or, Do any people commute back and forth? I usually say something like, No. It’s a real island.
Which means that some folks -- many, even -- experience moments or even bouts of longing to get off of it for a time, long or short. Some people even refer to the island as “this rock”. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek…
And some people speak of another kind of March madness…
The isolation can make for some harrowing moments, mostly associated with getting back and forth, but most of the extremity is, in my opinion, psychological. That you couldn’t necessarily leave if or when you wanted to can rattle people. Most people I know here are in love with the place, but many of them have their restless, globetrotting moments.
Me? I love to travel. Love it. But I am never eager to leave.
It was a couple of years before we learned a good rhythm of anticipation and planning as Beaver Island residents. Life on the island certainly presents logistic challenges one does not experience on the mainland, but the internet makes it all much easier than it would have been just a couple of decades ago. Getting things, for example, is rarely a difficult adventure. (Making virtual returns of items to stores can be, though…)
Still, men make plans, weather laughs. Especially here.
Most often, when it is difficult to get what you want or need, it’s seasonal. More still if the weather is moody. And if what you want or need is to transport your person, well, not being able to do so can be frustrating. Maddening even.
We’ve been there. Stuck. Waiting. Denied. Feeling like we’re nowhere -- jogging seemingly without motion toward purgatorio.
But I traded in the Y, the library, the zoo, the stores -- the traffic, noise, semi engine braking, dogs barking, sirens and radios blaring -- the rush of everyone (like paramedic wannabes) -- the never-ending advertisements which make one constantly hungry for more -- for the shores and the trees, the stars and the air, the familiar and the familial.
I’ve known a few residents here who would still refer to the place they left as home. Not me. This is home.
It may stink to get stuck, and it is frustrating to wait with no end in sight, but I don’t ever feel trapped (even by moody weather) unless I am “on the other side”.
Even in the foggiest skies, this is where I most want to be.