I had never been there before, and a mild winter in February is not the most popular time to go. I wanted to be above the bridge, traveling somewhere in Michigan's U.P. because I have heard many stories of how remote it is if you go to the right place. Seeking a way to escape from life and people for a bit, I chose Drummond Island because I saw an ad for a motel there that boasted clean rooms for $59 a night. I went to Drummond because it fit my budget.
I had no idea what to expect. I eagerly looked forward to the trip, planning on isolation and time spent alone with God. However, God had something else in mind.
My first taste of the U.P. came in a bar in DeTour while I lunched and waited for the ferry to the island. I sat alone among 4 patrons who mercilessly teased the waitress/bartender, but tried to tune their banter out and focus on my self-imposed solitary confinement. However, as I was leaving, one of the old men there, who had spent my entire lunch loudly discussing bleeding coyotes with his near-deaf companion, called out to me, "Hey, miss?" I turned back and he asked "Where ya from?"
This was to become a familiar question. I told him and he asked what I was doing there. This led into a long discussion of where he was from, how he grew up, and the detailed account of all the land and businesses he owns on Drummond Island. He also gave me the names of people I should talk to in order to get the most out of my experience. I was curious about the lack of markings of any map I had, so I asked him how I would know if I ventured off State land onto private property. He said it didn't matter; if I stumbled into someone's back yard, they'd likely invite me in for coffee. "You're in the U.P. now, miss. People are friendly here", he said.
Good to know, but I wasn't looking for friendly people, I was looking for solitude.
My first night on the island was uneventful. I checked into my motel room, which means I entered a hall through a back door and found my room key hanging in the lock. Security is not a big priority on Drummond Island. Then I drove around to get a feel for the island, quickly discovering that there are only four roads to speak of, but they take you in every direction. I was particularly interested in the Alvar out on the Maxton Plains, but decided to start my adventure closer to the Four Corners (yeah, you've probably realized that's where the four roads meet).
The next several mornings as I loaded my pack and prepared to set out for the day, I stopped to chat with LaRae, who works very hard to keep the Drummond Island Hotel clean and comfortable for her guests. She helped me with directions and had a wealth of information on how far I could drive on winter roads, and where to leave my car and start hiking. I could leave my car in the middle of a two-track with no worries, because no one else was going to come along at that time of year. LaRae sent me to the Alvar, the rest of the Maxton Plains, the fossil ledges and Marble Head. All long hikes, but well worth it. She suggested I stop in and see Betty at the Drummond Island Tourism Association (DITA). Betty's office hours are hit-and-miss in February, but I did catch up with her and not only did Betty give me some great tips on seeing some of the more remote areas of the island, she also gave me snippets of her own life there which were amusing and interesting.
Betty told me I had to stop into the General Store out by McKinley Point. The owner there said I had to go across the street and try the deep fried green beans at Chuck's. He was right. At Chuck's, they told me where to go to find the Albino Buck. At Northwoods, I watched a lively billiards match among the locals, which involved a lot of cheering, jeering, and high fives.
My days were spent hiking, following my own path. I tracked two different wolves, but never saw them. I saw birds I couldn't identify and skirted a pack of coyotes for the better part of a day at the Dam. I hiked the fossil ledges at DI's Township Park, where the bear slept under my feet and the silence was absolute. I hiked to Glen Cove and Marble Head, Big Shoal Bay, took pictures of a copper bottomed sailing vessel at the Yacht Club, and frequently returned to the Alvar where Mother Nature paved paradise and put up a parking lot in the form of solid shale exposed by a glacier 10,000 years ago.
But my evenings became something else entirely. Every person I saw walked up to me and said "Where ya from?" They were genuinely interested in who I was and what I was doing on DI. Every person I met lead me to another place, with more greetings of "Where ya from?" Every place I went introduced me to another kindness, to someone who was eager to share their love of Drummond Island and help me find it's uniqueness. The islanders know that the maps don't tell you much; it's their experience that pointed me in the right direction.
Half-way through my week, I attended Mass at a beautiful little Catholic church. The congregation was small, about 34 people. As soon as Mass ended, the woman in front of me turned around and said "Where ya from?" We chatted, and she pulled me into a tiny little room for coffee. The traveling priest, Father Johncvu, approached me and said "Where ya from?" He asked what I was doing on Drummond, I told him I was there for some solitary hiking and thinking.
Father Johncvu looked deep into my eyes, I felt as if he were looking deeper inside me, and asked if I had heard God's creatures.
At the time, I thought he was referring to the coyotes and eagles and wolves. But as the week continued on, it occurred to me that, while I was enjoying my lonely walks, seeing an ecosystem and all it's hidden treasures unlike any I had seen before, what I looked forward to most were the evenings when I met the islanders and heard their stories as they asked me mine. I began to appreciate the sense of community the people of Drummond Island share, and even got the feeling I was becoming an honorary member. I started thinking that these people, with all their quirks and odd friendliness, love their island and look out for it and each other. It felt like one big family.
God's voice didn't come to me in the middle of the woods. It came to me from these people.
They taught me that they need each other, are willing to give to each other, and will take a stranger and make her feel at home. I learned not just about their island, but about their community. I didn't expect to be drawn to the people of Drummond, but they pulled me in and made me feel welcome. They restored my faith in God and human nature. They don't know it, but the people of Drummond Island gave me a gift. Life is what it is; accept it, embrace it, share it. They gave me the strength to return to my life with the idea that I can't control what happens to me, I can only control how I react to it.
They showed me a place where people matter and billiards is serious business, a place where sometimes the road ends too soon, but if you're willing to walk on, there are beautiful surprises waiting for you.
I hope to return someday to Drummond Island. The people there may not remember me, but surely I will never forget them. In the words of Eddie Vedder,
"I'll take this home that's inside me now, like a brand new friend I'll forever know".