austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

In the heart of the country

Monday was our first planned picnic, which worked out well since that had been three days in the hotel room and housekeeping was really anxious to get at our towels. We'd been rising too late to be tended on their usual routine earlier. We put the cheeses and apples and a couple sodas in the cooler and headed to a party store, which is Michiganian for a convenience store that sells beer and parties, to stock up on ice. It turns out bunny_hugger's cooler is really good, as there were still serious blocks of ice when we dried it out the next day. The store also had a Suttons Bay Official Snow Fall thermometer, which measured about 120 inches of snow last season. It goes up to 240 inches.

Our goal was the Grand Traverse lighthouse, at the northern end of the Leelenau Peninsula, and ... it took us through a lot of construction because apparently the Department of Transportation's project to make the roads impassable has reached all the way up the lower peninsula. This is within a state park, and the attendant asked whether we had the State Parks contributor plates, which get us in free. We do --- this was the first time bunny_hugger had gone into a state park in years and got some direct benefits from her park support --- although they waved us in without actually checking. (It's on the registration decal, but it's a tiny letter and there's only rear plates so he couldn't have really seen that.)

We picnicked first, on the tables provided, and saw the first of quite a few chipmunks who'd be around. The chipmunk was hovering mostly around the soda vending machines, though he did a remarkable trick of vanishing in the midst of the field. We left the remaining apple core by the side of that burrow, but the chipmunk didn't take our bait while we were watching.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse dates back to 1858, although it was automated back in 1972 and spent years fallow before finally opening to the public. On the grounds are a couple of remarkable stone fountains or flower planters which lighthouse keepers built using, as one of the placards described, the abundant time and small rocks that lighthouse-keepers had. The house was open for tours (at a separate admission) and was restored to something around 1930s style, with the cutlery of the United States Light House Service, and period kitchen supplies and cameras and musical instruments and a collection of the books which served as a rotating library among lighthouse keepers. Yes, they had Tess of the D'Urbervilles; they also had The Sinking Of The Titanic And Great Sea Disasters, which feels kind of like needlessly taunting Great Lakes lighthouse-keepers.

The museum portion also has examples of Fresnel lenses, though the lighthouse's own is unaccounted for; there's a video that tries to explain how they work and I realized watching them that I've completely forgotten what I knew in Optics class about how they worked. They also explained how the first lighthouse lasted a couple years before needing replacement with what's more or less the modern structure.

We went up to the light room, looking out over the shore: it's up a frightfully narrow stairwell, and bunny_hugger worried that it'd trigger her fear of heights, but she was willing to give it a try, in-between floods of kids who wanted to see. The view was great and gave me all the more chances to fiddle around with the panoramic photo option of my camera, which is probably going to be the death of me, based on how much I try and how occasionally I get it to work. The room also gave us some guide to the features of the islands in the lake, and what they were, which would be useful in working out our next goal.

That was a letterbox. There's one somewhere near the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, at least within the park there, and while the clues didn't seem to be quite as unambiguous and clear as we'd like, but at least the first steps --- with instructions like going past the fountain and the fog horn building (which contained inside, besides horn-related historical artifacts, photographs of various Great Lakes lighthouses which were inspiringly impressive) and down to the shore --- seemed like we should be able to follow them. We should've been warned by realizing that the directions didn't quite seem to make sense in terms of the fountains and trees right from the start. A little roughness in a letterboxing clue is to be expected but missing the first items is a bad sign.

Still, we seemed to be more or less on the right trail until we got along the shore where if we read the clues rightly --- and as best we could make it out we were probably close --- it just petered out. A letterbox has to be hidden somewhere that a sandwich-sized plastic box can be tucked under cover, and our best guess to where the clues lead us had nothing providing that sort of cover. There were woods on the side which would be great for planting letterboxes (or geocaches if you're so inclined) and I spent a long while tromping around looking into suspicious-looking trees and hills and crevices and the like, without anything panning out. bunny_hugger spent most of this time by the water, looking out at the waves, instead. She's inclined to think if a letterbox isn't found at the end of the clue trail quickly it's not likely to be found at all. Well, she enjoyed the water, and I enjoyed tromping around woods strikingly reminiscent of those in the far backyard from when I was a kid, and she eventually found where I'd wandered off to.

While the lighthouse was grand, we'd visited it and the fog horn building and wandered along the shoreline pretty well, and with the threat of rain we figured to head back to Suttons Bay so if we were caught in the rain we'd be able to duck in to somewhere.

This got us to another chance at the garden stuff store. They had a little river-type water feature, with waterfall rocks, and a bunch of koi in that river, inspiring thoughts in us of what would it take to put in a river in our own yard (probably more than we want to deal with), and were our fish all right back unattended as they were (yes, they were). I think it was another visit when bunny_hugger pointed out the goldfish trying to leap up the store's waterfall, as trying to become dragons --- apparently it's a mythological conceit that koi can grow into dragons by leaping up waterfalls enough. This instilled a fresh phobia in me, as we have a tiny waterfall and I suddenly had visions of our goldfish leaping up at the waterfall and getting stranded on a rock.

The front walk to the garden spot is flanked by two dragons, at least when it's open; when it's closed one of the dragons is taken inside, either for symbolism or because it's a nice dragon statue and not too heavy or cemented into place. And once again we'd gotten there after it had actually closed for the day, so while they didn't chase us --- or the rest of the crowd --- out too roughly, they did nudge us out and we figured, well, maybe someday we'd actually get to browse.

There's a sidewalk theater in Suttons Bay, one showing a movie twice a day, and since --- once we'd gotten gelato at a somewhat twee little shop --- we figured to duck the imminent rain by seeing that week's picture, The Way Way Back. We didn't know much of anything about the film --- even though it was co-written and co-directed by Jim Rash, the weird Dean on Community which you'd think would have made me aware it existed --- and we probably wouldn't have thought to to to it except that it was the only thing in town.

But the film --- a boy's summer-of-coming-of-age story, set in a not precisely definable mildly-nostalgic present --- delighted us throughout. It's gentle and pretty affectionate, and the kid (Duncan, played by Liam James) falling in with the haphazard and maybe crazy owner of the Water Wizz water park for the summer … well, the water park owner made me think of my own boss. (Jim Rash also has a great part as Lewis, a water park employee who's been sighingly ready to leave the park for ever but never quite does.) Also, naturally, we wondered what park Water Wizz actually was; the park's own web site didn't quite convince us that it was a real park and not a well-crafted and straight-faced promotional item. It turns out Water Wizz is indeed a real park, in East Wareham, Massachusetts (part of Cape Cod; it's just west of Plymouth) and that really is its name and really is its web site. Huh. Well, we're glad for the accidents that brought us here.

For dinner we walked to the other end of Suttons Bay and a restaurant heavily clad in not-quite-dark woods. One of the specialties of restaurants in the area is whitefish paté, and bunny_hugger recommended that I wave my vegetarian-in-front-of-her habits enough to try some. I was willing, but, that restaurant didn't have any whitefish paté, or any whitefish anything as I remember. This would become an odd recurring theme, too: none of the restaurants we visited had any whitefish paté, so I've missed this bit of the local cuisine.

Trivia: Mariner 6 was projected to return eight pictures from its far encounter phase and 25 from its near encounter with mars. It actually returned 50 in the far encounter and 26 in the near encounter, with 428 total useful pictures. Source: On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet, 1958 - 1978, Edward Clinton Ezell, Linda Neuman Ezell. NASA SP-4212.

Currently Reading: Project Orion: The True Story Of The Atomic Spaceship, George Dyson.

Tags: traverse bay
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