Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Touring the Island with Ben & Jerry

The morning dawned, very early up here in the North, and the sound of hooves on pavement woke me. It was a portent of things to come.

We walked through town (those two blocks Ben mentioned) to Jack's Livery Stable, and met our guide for the day, Jerry. Jerry isn't your usual guide -- he's about six feet tall, dark brown hair, with prominent ears, big brown eyes, a pink nose and flamboyant mustache, and a very placid temperament. He's fond of wearing leather, and showed up draped in leather straps. Oh, did I mention that Jerry is a horse? A really, really big horse?

Our two-person buggy (yes, with a fringe on top, but alas, no cupholders) was hitched up, we were given a map and some rudimentary instructions, and let loose. We started out by jogging along the lakeside, around the northeast side of the island; we were quickly out of town and into the country. Our pace was a steady 3-4 miles per hour. It took less time than I expected to adjust to the slow, steady pace of walking speed. There were no worries about traffic; the only traffic we encountered was people on bikes, many with tots in tow, exclaiming aloud at our "horsey."

Even though Ben was beginning to pride himself on driving every single mile of this trip, I took the reins and guided us to our first stop, which Jerry pretty much knew already, so no problem there. A friendly, taciturn man named Doug held Jerry for us while we stretched our legs. Doug was born on the island, I would guess some 70-odd years ago, educated here, and now loved being here and connecting with the tourists.

Jerry, by the way, was quite the celebrity; every time we passed another carriage or taxi, the driver would cry out, "Jerry! How ya doin', buddy!" Jerry would bow his head in mock humility, let out a snort, and we would acknowledge with graceful waves and move on.

Let me say a bit more about seeing the world at a walking pace. For the first few minutes, you want to slap the reins and take off -- which, by the way, we were welcome to do. But soon the steady, monotonous clip-clop (and yes, it really is "clip-clop") of hooves takes over, the gentle rhythm of the buggy wheels lulling you like a calm, comforting lullaby. You have time to look, really look, at the flowers passing by, notice the shades of purple and yellow,


smell the lilacs, the honeysuckle, the pine trees. Listen to the sound of small waves slapping the pebbled shore. It's hypnotizing. Good thing Jerry was (really) driving although, since he spent his early years as the "left side" of a team, we had to keep a steady pressure to the right.

As a side note, one of the things that hadn't occurred to me was that, in addition to ferrying tourists and locals around in buggies and taxis, horses are used here for all those tasks that we would normally delegate to trucks. We passed a sledge loaded with full garbage cans, and several loaded with furniture, people's belongings, or gardening tools. It's the hidden infrastructure that's not so hidden, especially downwind of those garbage cans.

We climbed the hill past the golf course to the airport(!), through thick woods with spooky footpaths leading off through dark trees, and, after a bit of a discussion with Jerry about turning left to the cemetery, continued to Arch Rock.

We parked and a woman walked up and offered Jerry a drink, which he accepted with alacrity, his slurping sounding exactly as if he were drinking through a huge straw. He went through five gallons of water in about as many seconds, and we were on our way again, this time right behind a huge, rubber-tired wagon (did I mention our tires were wooden?), pulled by a team of three horses. We soon turned off onto a smaller road, much to Jerry's dismay -- he voiced his objections pretty strenuously, but, good guide that he is, gave in.

This smaller road led past some new "cottages" -- and I use the term in the same way the word "cottage" is used in Newport, RI,


and we started downhill, slowly. Jerry already knew that he wasn't allowed to go faster than a walking pace downhill, so the warnings about "keep horse reined in downhill" were superfluous. We passed Fort Mackinac, the Governor's House, and ended up on the road to the Grand Hotel. Like Jerry, we snorted at the signs informing us that, to visit the hotel, the cost would be $10. Really? To see a hotel lobby? Rather like the charge for entering St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Doesn't that just smack a little too much of ... well, isn't that just awfully ... not done?

Jerry thought so, too, and, defiantly adding to the piles on the street, he carried us on down the hill into town and back to the stable.

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