So you know how sometimes you have a memory of a place you went as a kid – probably on a vacation – and it was the ABSOLUTE BEST PLACE EVER? A place you wanted to live; a place that seemed magical and perfect? And then you go back to that place as an adult and it’s just not the same? It is somehow smaller and those places that seemed so magical are either gone or changed beyond recognition? Or they are still there, but instead of perfection all you can see is the somewhat battered but no less crass commercialism of it all?
Today was nothing like that.
The last time I visited Mackinac Island, I was maybe 14 or 15. Today I went with my Mom and my kids, and I think I didn’t stop smiling the entire day. If anything, the island is even better, even more magical than I remember it. The fort, the Grand Hotel, the horses. And, added bonus, now they have a STARBUCKS!. (Sorry people – I know you’re thinking about all that crass commercialism – but I miss my Starbucks when it’s gone.)
Seriously, though, so little has changed on the island that it’s hard to believe nearly 30 years has passed since I was last there. The ferries are faster, the bikes are nicer and yes, they now have my favorite coffee, but other than that everything was remarkably as I remembered it, but more so. The weather may have had something to do with it; bright blue skies and crystal clear water made everything shine. It was all cleaner, nicer and yet the same, if that makes any sense.
It probably also helped that my kids were there, and I got to see things through their eyes. We biked around the island, which they both agreed was “So Awesome!” In case you’ve never been to Mackinac Island, no cars or motorized vehicles are allowed; only horses and bikes, so riding is easy. No worries about traffic and, unlike in the city, no hard core cyclists bearing down on you at 25-30 miles an hour in full Tour de France gear. The bikes are touring bikes, the people riding them in street clothes.
After the bike tour we walked up to the Grand Hotel and eventually wound up at the playground outside the public school. Eighty students in all, from grades K-12. No one grade has enough students for a classroom to itself, so the grades combine, much the way one room schoolhouses used to function. For example, we learned that grades 6-8 – comprised of 10 students total – share a room and a teacher. I imagine it is a healthier way to be in school, if one must go. The kids ride their bikes to school, and at days’ end the younger ones are met by their parents, also arriving by bike or on foot.
It struck me that actually living on the island might be very close to a kids’ paradise (almost the way I imagined it when I was a kid). You would know everyone and have much more autonomy at a younger age, being that the main source of transportation is a bike. There aren’t many roads, and I expect the kids know every inch of them. Most of the families on the island are as comfortable on water as on land, so the kids can probably handle their way around all manner of boats and know the currents and tides as well as we know the subway routes in the city.
Ben and I think it would be a fun adventure to live on the island for a full year and experience it in all its’ seasons – from the peak of tourist summer to the depth of snowmobile winter. The other members of our family think maybe two months during the summer would more than suffice.
But for today, everyone thought it was perfect.