Harbor Springs, Melissa’s hometown, is located way up north on Lake Michigan, 35 miles from the Mackinac Bridge—almost, but not quite, to the Upper Peninsula. (Make the mitten with your hand, touch the top of your ring fingernail.) Population 1,200, which at least doubles in the summer. Because:
Once, in one of the more surreal moments of my life, we were flying from Europe to Portland, Oregon (my hometown) for a visit while living abroad. Melissa hadn’t been home in nearly two years. The sky was clear, and as the plane crossed down from Canada, we looked out the window and saw that distinctive crescent, that Caribbean-esque water, 30,000 feet below.
The harbor itself is the deepest natural harbor in the Great Lakes. The water is refreshed via underground springs (hence “Harbor Springs”), making it clear and clean despite the boat traffic, and always ideal for a quick jump off the dock.
This early afternoon, however, swimming was not the mission. I was overdue for groceries and the local IGA wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to go into Petoskey to the big boy supermarket. I needed to go to Glen’s. Or now it’s the D&W. But when Melissa was a kid it was called Glen’s, so she still calls it Glen’s. I liken this to the Keinow’s that used to be on 33rd and Broadway in NE Portland, which then became a QFC. Except I don’t know anyone who continued to insist on calling it Keinow’s and now that QFC is torn down and there is no store left at all.
Also, you couldn’t get to Kienow’s/QFC by boat. That’s the biggest problem with most supermarkets; they’re landlocked.
Not Glen’s. So rather than take that excruciating 7.6-mile drive around the bay like a fucking cone sucker, I resolved to travel by sea. A mere 3.82 miles! I may not remember a lot from math class (I recently realized I am no longer capable of writing out long multiplication or division problems), but I know about hypotenuses:
With our friend Dika providing the services of a rubber dinghy, we were set. Our launch point would be here:
Cooler of supplies in hand, we departed. Dika said the radar indicated a chance of a storm, but we would not be deterred. My expectation of casually sipping a Miller Lite quickly evaporated when we pushed out from the harbor and into the choppy waves of the bay. I wedged my beer between my legs and spent the rest of the journey gripping the side of the dinghy.
As we bounced along, I noticed we were the only boat in sight. Grey clouds dotted the horizon and I recalled Dika’s comment about potential weather. Perhaps it was my mind starved for adventure after being locked up in quarantine for so many months, or perhaps it was my generally heightened anxiety about everything right now, but, for a brief moment or two, I began to build up the danger of an incoming storm in my mind.
Then we reached Petoskey and it was fine.
Dika dropped me near a narrow patch of sand adjacent to some shrubbery and trees; about 50 feet up a forested hillside and I would reach the back of Glen’s, by the loading zone. I’m unclear if this sliver of scrubby shoreline was some shitty little park or what. Call it Glen’s Park:
I waded to shore, put on a mask, and scrambled up the hill in flip-flops, pushing aside the final few tree branches to reach pavement. I felt like a townsperson from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village seeing civilization for the first time. I passed families packed into F-550s, elderly couples in sun hats and slacks. None of them knew my great secret. I was not like them. I had come from the water.
Inside under the fluorescent lights, I reviewed my list and gathered each item; soy milk, regular milk, cereal, bananas, a couple snacks. Breakfast tomorrow was set. Only later, in great horror, would I realize I had forgotten to write down toothpaste.
Having lived six years without a car, I’m used to shopping with an only-what-you-can-carry mentality. But water transport brought new challenges. A 2-for-1 deal on baguettes of which I wouldn’t dare risk taking advantage. Pass on the Cheez-Its (thin cardboard box), go for the Tostitos (beautiful, water-slicking plastic bag); one day soon, if you’re lucky, you’ll be like me, floating on the water, except your water will be infinite, mighty ocean, and you will be with all your little plastic friends, no worries of social distancing, never deteriorating, eternal bliss in the comfort of the other plastics that love you, I said to the Tostitos, as nearby a mother pulled her child close.
I returned to the insertion/extraction point and waved down the boat with a large tree branch. They had traveled some distance in an attempt to catch a fish (had I known they wanted fish, I would have swooped some at Glen’s deli). When they reached me, I waded over, groceries held high, and transferred the precious cargo. Bone dry.
We took a more circuitous route for our return, following the arc of the shoreline past Petoskey State Park, past the site of the former Ramona Park Hotel, used by Al Capone to smuggle booze from Canada during Prohibition. We puttered at beer-sippable speed, except for when Melissa took the helm and channeled her inner Captain Ron before I implored her to slow down. We had completed our to-do list. There was no rush. Maybe a swim?
An afternoon dip isn’t just about feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s about reveling in the fact you have nothing to do for the foreseeable future. If I could end every errand by jumping in a lake, I certainly would.
We went to the end of the Point (the aforementioned crescent that makes the harbor a harbor), skidded the dinghy onto the sand by a willow tree on the bay side. Grey skies meant we had the place to ourselves. See, the Point People are kind enough to allow the public to use the first six feet of this land, before it devolves into the private property of old money cottages; some cottages actually have beach on both sides of their house:
That’s right. Two beaches, one house. Can you imagine? And such a direct shot to the grocery store! Can you even begin to imagine!?