Page 92 - Visitors Guide 18
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‘Dirt was swept down the open cracks’
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chin on one arm and a furry tail stretching lazily east and north toward Glen Arbor. This is a large cat, perhaps the cartoon cat, Gar eld, disguised as a dark- green forest, taking a nap. From this vantage point you can easily see how Glen Lake was once part of Lake Michigan,
an embayment, with only that very low, mile-long sandbar that constitutes Glen Arbor separating the two bodies of water.
When you can see with your own eyes how, as recently as 11,000 years ago, glacial Lake Algonquin was here, and there was no land where Glen Arbor is now, it’ll make your mind reel. When you’ve regained your balance, you can deliberately try again to collapse time and imagine how slowly, ever so slowly, over many centuries, Lake Michigan and Glen Lake became separate entities.
Glaciers are interesting, not just because they are emblems of vast, unimaginable changes in the past concerning the earth we live on, but because, and here’s the point, they imply the possibility of vast unimaginable changes in the earth we live on in the future. This is a mysterious planet and our place on it is a mystery, too, and nowhere are you more likely to feel that than from the high lookouts on the Leelanau Peninsula, a glacier- sculpted land that, relative to most places, hasn’t been here all that long.
Alligator Hill is now part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. One Sunday morning I’m there quite early, in a milky fog. I park next to a big white Tahoe with Ohio plates, empty, someone already hiking. The trail’s now in a different place. Part of the charcoal kilns are still there. For a while my father had made charcoal with the scraps from the mill. You would load the kiln, like you would a wood stove, only instead of burning the wood, you would kind of cook it at a low temperature,
like you would pot roast in the oven, only of course much longer, for days,  nally breaking it out and dousing it with water and letting it dry, packing it up to sell.
I began coming with my father to the mill when I was a toddler. We lived in Cadillac and would get up at 4 a.m. to eat something and then be on our way. We had an old black Ford with runners on the sides. I seem to remember that M-115 wasn’t paved all the way and that parts of the road were still under construction.
In the spring the leeks and wild owers would bloom all around the mill and up the surrounding hills, the woods
full of trilliums, both red and white, Dutchman’s breeches, pink and yellow lady slippers, trailing arbutus, may owers, spring beauties, yellow trout lilies, and tons of morels. The leeks are still plentiful; deer don’t eat them. The red trilliums, the lady slippers, the morels, and the trailing arbutus are no longer there. Anyone born in the last 50 years would never notice the loss, that’s how
long these plants have been gone. According to Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus and honorary curator of entomology at Harvard, writing in the New York Times on March 4, a process of species extinction that used to take a million years is now so accelerated that we will have destroyed half of all species by the end of the century.
The shacks of the millhands were rough wood and tar paper, like  sh shanties, but bigger. There was often no glass in the windows, but a blue- green plastic with tiny squares, like graph paper. At night light came from kerosene lamps with wicks that had to be trimmed. Water was hauled in buckets from the well, the well with the long-handled pump, over near the mill in the center of a clump of cedar trees. Everyone had guns.
Each house had a wood cookstove in the shed-like kitchen off the back, and a regular woodstove in the living room. Hanging blankets served as doors between rooms. The houses were permeated with the smell of wood smoke: stale wood smoke, fresh wood smoke,
and the present moment’s wood smoke. Dirt was swept down the open cracks between the splintery  oor boards. This was a way of life that had existed in backwoods America for something like the last 400 years.
There was one Ottawa family at the mill. The woman in the family made birch bark and porcupine quill baskets.
I would watch her soften the quills in water, so they could be pushed through the holes she had punched in the birchbark. Sometimes she dyed the quills, using Rit dye.
My father moved his entire family to Alligator Hill in 1952. My father came from a long line of pioneers and felt more at-home with broad horizons and no neighbors in sight.
My mother came from a background of town living; she was accustomed to libraries and sidewalks.
When we  rst moved, my mother hated the house on the hill above Lake Michigan. She would learn to love it later, but at the time she hated it. It was wild, uncivilized, inhospitable. She watched the storms in November and thought about the ships that would sink and
the men who would drown.
She complained about the sound of the mill. She probably also hated the shacks of the millhands around the mill.
Visibly, and in every other way,
it was like the shacks of slaves around a mansion on a southern plantation. She had always
lived in a world with churches, social clubs, street lights, grocery stores, and a daily newspaper.
Alligator Hill was not that world.
The move would break my parents’ marriage, and for
a time it would break each
of them, and me, too. They
had loved each other, wildly passionately, but that came to an end. My father had courted my mother by building the  re
in the one-room school house where she taught, going over every morning at 5 a.m. so she could come in two hours later to a warm classroom. He brought her speckled trout and cooked them for her. He continued to bring her speckled brook trout, for a few years after we moved, and to keep a large vegetable garden for her, and to split wood for the  replace. She preferred sugar maple; my mother’s house smelled wonderfully fragrant, like maple syrup and ham, for years. But those things eventually faded. Still, when my mother was in the hospital, years later, with cancer, my father showed up with two-dozen, long- stemmed yellow roses, crying. You cannot say what another person’s love is. Only the person knows.
My mother would  nd herself again in teaching, something she had always been good at but had discontinued when she got married because in the 1930s they didn’t let married women teach. My father would  nd himself, after some years would go by, in designing gardens and parks, something he hadn’t even known he loved, but discovered that
he did. I would  nd myself in books, starting with the ones my mother left around the house when she went back to get her Masters degree: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman, William
Peninsula Vacation Rentals, LLC
In Leelanau Country
Mary Lou Landry
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Leelanau Visitors Guide 2018

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