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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Destination: Mighty Mac

Summer in Northern Michigan means road trips. Be it a day long excursion or a multi-day adventure, the folks here have to get out and see our beautiful countryside after a long discontented Winter. While Winter 2016 was mild in terms of cold and precipitation, it was still brutal in terms of the lack of energy giving sunlight. And some times, you just have to get out of Dodge.

Resort towns dot the landscape of Northern Michigan. The months between Memorial Day and Labor Day provide a good chunk of yearly income to the mom & pop stores here. Without Summer some places would fold up for good. Traverse City keeps ranking high on travel lists, creating a larger tourist base and a greater need for locals to get out of the quintessential city of discontent. *

While not everyone can afford the kinds of vacations our listings encourage, the kind our economy thrives on, there is one way to enjoy the surrounding area of this, and any other hometown without going broke...

The Old Fashioned Way.

Clean out the car of the Winter debris, give it a good vacuum, pack some essentials then load up the gang and head out on the highway. When we were kids the Coleman cooler in electric teal blue filled the trunk almost entirely and was packed with all the essentials for a family of five for the day: Water, Faygo, lunchmeat, condiments, bread, onions, cheese, tomato, fresh cubed melon or fruit salad, potato salad, bean salad and chips, complete with a small cutting board and a sharp paring knife. Mom also packed paperplates, plastic silverware, cups and paper towels.The cooler was surrounded by beach blankets and towels, extra pants or shirts, sand toys when we were very little, and jackets in case of rain while the backseat held our distractions. For me it was a copious amount of reading or art material.

Little has changed in my 40 years. May and June are perfect travel months in Northern Michigan. Sure the weather is wholly unpredictable and requires an Eagle Scout level of preparedness but those months won't sizzle your brain like July and August do even with air conditioning. So this week, unpredictability in the forecast, the household packed up the car with lunches and drinks in a soft insulated bag, spare batteries for cameras, copious amounts of art supplies for the teenager and books for me. Then we aimed for the Mighty Mac and meandered on an undecided path to get there.

We knew we needed to hit a certain beach to look for rocks, that we wanted to travel M119 and eventually get over the bridge for some of the best smoked fish ever. Everything else was up to Fate of Wit & Whimsy. Getting out of town is always an adventure in and of itself as there is road construction just about every where you look. So after a rousing 10 minute round of Todd Yohn's Orange Barrels, we were finally reached escape velocity and were off.

The morning started out cold and windy, frost advisories should have been given the two nights before we left. My smarter gardening friends covered their plants any way. It was in the low 50s when we left. In spite of the cloud cover the day was bright and cheery between cloudy conditions.

First Stop: East Port.
East Port sits at the north end of Antrim County and directly across US 31 from the northern tip of Torch Lake, 32 miles from our start, Traverse City. That 32 miles is dotted with farms, some of which still function, multiple farmers markets and farm stands and most notably the city of Elk Rapids and the town of Torch Lake. There are also a few towns that consist of a single store, a school and are "If you blink, you'll miss it" size. East Port is such a small town. It's major landmark is the Barnes County Park where our first adventure takes place.

We are a simple people and find pleasure in the quiet pursuits. My housemate is a rock hound, I am a photobug and the teenager is interested in viewing up close and personal those things which will improve her art. Barnes Park has a reputation for quietude and a cache of interesting things washed upon the shore by Lake Michigan's churning tides. The shoreline here is still within the boundary of the Leelanau Peninsula which lies across Lake Michigan's East Grand Traverse Bay from East Port. Judging from the wave action in the cove here, that protection is negligible in the face of strong westerly winds. Northport Bay is directly across the bay from East Port at the thinnest most northern point of the peninsula. Living in Traverse City and it's immediate environs, one is quite used the the water having a boundary. Here, in Barnes Park, one starts to feel the vastness of the water. The realization that Lake Michigan more than deserves it's description of an inland Sea settles in.

top left, examining rocks and oblivious to the low flying squadron upon them; top middle, resort HQ; end, shorebirds in a rough surf. Center, the small cove at Barnes Park beach. Lower left, the walkway down the beach; lower right, bits of little significance tossed up on the sand.

I spent our short time there with my camera in an attempt to catch birds in flight. Barring the elusive photo capture, I was willing to settle for one of the birds being smacked hard by the waves. Seagulls must be inherent surfers as none met a watery end. One of the other delights of this beach, at least for this year, is the quality of the shoreline itself. There were no bugs; the winds was so strong that they may not have been possible anyway. Without bugs, I was able to spend a good amount of time looking at the coastline. With higher water levels, there seemed to be two coastlines.

The obvious coastline is where the water and shore meet in the surf. But just inside of that line another formed. You can almost see it in the end picture above.  This photo on the right is more evident. There is a slight indentation which allows the water to collect and not completely recede when the waves ebb. The last few years water levels have been so low that where coves are protected the slope up the beach is even and none of these very shallow pools have a chance to form. In coves with tremendous wave action the water carves banks for steep drops that have eliminated much beach. Gouged beaches are not terribly interesting. There isn't anywhere safe for wildlife to stand and there is no good footing for wading. Gouged beaches are also very rocky and not fun for a long term sit. The smooth beaches are equally uninteresting in their flatness and the predictability of the wave action.

Just look at this beach though. It has been cut into terraces over time, gentle terraces. The line of dune grass in the foreground marks the edge of the first terrace and the gentle slope down to the surf makes for interesting things in the space-time between ebb and flow. I think it also gives the waves a more photogenic foam.

I've always been partial to sea themed art, especially watercolor. And this is the beach that is emblematic of the type of coastal art that I find most soothing and interesting to look at. While art and photography are wonderful things for preserving a moment, nothing really beats the live action of being there. I'm a water baby and have always been drawn to the constant motion of the shore more than the placid surface of an inland lake. I could watch water all day long if it is moving. Light dances, the wind draws you in as a participant rather than leaving you as a casual observer on land. While I can not do the complicated math involved in measuring wave action I do love dynamics of motion.

It was too cold to be in the water searching for Lake Michigan's geologic treasures or to enjoy the crystalline waters as a swimmer but it was a perfect day to watch the water and the waterbirds who seemed to be showing off their flying skills. With my merry band of travelers, it was also the perfect day to pull out the puns: George, Katie and Steven Seagull playing in the water.

You & Shakespeare want to kill me now. Imagine how badly my housemates want to kill me nearly everday!

*That would be the aforementioned Dodge

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