We left our motel the next morning and headed north to the U.P. One stop we had to make on the way was Mackinac Island. There’s no bridge, and no cars are allowed on the island, so we parked our rental, got on the ferry, and headed out. Once on the island, the first thing you notice is the sense of quiet that comes from the absence of cars. It shocks you at first, but you gradually get used to it. The growing peacefulness starts to become your new norm. You wander around. The architecture has been kept simple and not overly commercialized … kind of old-fashioned looking. People get around in horse-drawn carriages. There are no visible telephone or electric wires. Gaslights line tree-shaded streets. You don’t realize it, but you’re slowly getting drawn into a time warp that takes you to another plane of experience. The client meeting you have set up next week doesn’t exist on this plane. The dent in your new car doesn’t exist.
As you walk, you relax into the mood of the place. You follow your instincts and eventually you’ll find yourself walking toward the epicenter of this time warp energy. You’ll walk up a sloping drive bordered by trimmed shrubbery and flowers. You’ll look up and, nestled in the trees at the top of the rise, you’ll see the long, white, colonnaded porch of The Grand Hotel. It commands the location with a feng shui and power that lets you know you’re in a special place.
Like lemmings, we walked up the front steps onto the big porch, sat down in wooden rocking chairs, and looked out over the expanse of water in front of us. We sat. We talked. Occasionally we’d hear the clomp, clomp of horses hooves and watch a carriage make its way up the drive to let someone off. We didn’t want to leave.
It was hunger that finally drove us off the porch and into a local restaurant before boarding the ferry. The day was half over and we still had to find our cabin, unpack, and get oriented to our new location for the next two days. Our destination was in the town of Curtis, located on a strip of real estate between two lakes, Big Manistique Lake and Little Manistique Lake. We found our rented cottage at the end of a long drive on the banks of Big Manistique Lake and settled in. We then hopped in the car and headed for a fishing tackle store in the neighboring town of Newberry. The proprietor fixed us up with the right equipment, rods, reels, lures, and fishing license. He gave us a map and showed us how to get to the Two Hearted River.
By this time it was dinner hour. The place we rented had a full kitchen, and the original plan was to cook our own meals. That plan lasted about thirty seconds. We found a nice place in Newberry called Timber Charlie’s and ended up eating virtually all our meals there. In fact the height of culinary achievement actually reached in this cottage involved placing ice cubes in two glasses, and mixing water with the right amount of Jack Daniels we had purchased.
After breakfast at Timber Charlie’s the next morning, we followed the directions given to us and ended up on what looked like an abandoned dirt road in the middle of total wilderness. It was here where the Two Hearted River snaked its way north and spilled out into Lake Superior, and here where Hemingway fished as a young man and forged the background for some of his best writing. Driving deeper into the woods, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of quiet. The lack of traffic on Mackinac Island was one thing but this was the forest primeval, nothing but raw nature. We followed the road, parked the car, and then we saw it—the Two Hearted River flowing through woods to the huge expanse of Lake Superior.
We fished along the riverbanks and shore of the freshwater sea all morning. We climbed over rocks, we explored sand dunes, and drank in the unspoiled wildness of the place. You settle into the stillness. It’s seductive. You could almost feel the trees growing, and the regenerative natural forces around you. The fact that we caught no fish almost didn’t matter.
After lunch, we spent the afternoon in a place called Tahquamenon Falls State Park, a preserve of old growth forest punctuated with a spectacular array of waterfalls and gurgling rapids. One area called the Upper Falls has the largest waterfall between the Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls. I think it’s about 50 feet high and more than 200 feet across. Another area called the Lower Falls, consists of five smaller falls, each one cascading down and feeding the next one. Water splashed against jagged boulders. Pine trees hovered over the banks along with a smattering of white birch. The rush of water and raw natural energy made you pause and just soak it all in. Pathways ran next to the water, and observation platforms offered great views. The rugged natural beauty of this place was incredible.
After dinner we performed a little culinary magic with water, ice, Jack Daniels, and some Dutch Gouda we had purchased. We then went for a walk outside to get some night air. Once outside we were shocked to discover how pitch black it was. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces. The dense cluster of trees surrounding our cabin and its long driveway blocked out all light from the moon, stars, and planets. It’s a good thing we left the lights on in the cabin or we never could have found our way back. Undaunted, we pressed forward, trying to stay on the long driveway leading out onto the street.
All of a sudden I realized there was no one walking beside me.
“Jack?” I yelled out into the darkness.
There was no response.
After I groped around for a few seconds, Jack jumped out from behind a tree and scared the hell out of me.
We continued our walk, and I quietly reached down and picked up two good-sized stones from the driveway. I let a little time pass. Then as we walked, I tossed one of the stones behind my back into the woods on Jack’s side of the drive.
“What the …?” Jack stopped walking. “Did you hear that?”
“I’m not sure,” I said as we stopped and listened carefully. That’s when I tossed the second stone about 10 feet into the woods on Jack’s side.
He jumped a mile, and I laughed my head off.
Don’t ask me to explain it, but when the veneer of civilized adulthood is stripped away, there is still a child buried deep within us that likes to play tricks. Here we were, two grown men with wives and children at home, scaring each other in the middle of the woods.
The next morning we went back to the Two Hearted River and fished again. It’s said that Hemingway loved the life-giving forces of the river because they helped cleanse him of the destructive experiences he had in the war. You get a sense of that, standing by the river, watching it empty out into the vastness of Lake Superior. It’s a serene, therapeutic feeling.