Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Is reality a buzz kill?

It’s usually better to imagine things the way we wish them to be rather than the way they are.

Google Mackinac Island and you’ll see photos of an island on which no motorized vehicles are allowed and all transportation is by foot, bicycle, or horse drawn carriage. You’ll see beautiful photos of people riding in charming horse drawn carriages along lilac lined streets while munching on homemade fudge. The lilacs and horse are beautiful, the fudge is mouthwatering. The photos depict a place where the pace is slow, cell phones are seldom necessary and relaxation is the rule of the day.

A visit to Mackinac reveals something the photos don’t; rich soil and an abundance of pull carts. Mackinac surely has the highest ratio of pull carts per person of any town in the world. While the island boasts of less than 500 permanent residents, I’m sure there are over 1000 pull carts of all shapes and sizes, but with one primary purpose.

It doesn’t take a master gardener to realize the beautiful floral bouquet that covers the island requires a special kind of dirt. But what’s up with all of the pull carts? Soon after stepping off the ferry a whiff of something more akin to an odor than an aroma reaches one’s nostril. It’s the source of the rich soil and the purpose of the pull cart.

While horse drawn carriages are poetic, the exhaust of a large percheron is voluminous, does not drift with the wind, and isn’t apparent in the gorgeous website photos. And there’s no mention of the olfactory surprise in the text supporting the website photo.

So-called Islanders,  people who claim Mackinac as home, constantly scurry about with their carts retrieving large lumps of used oats. The percherons are well trained, majestic, gentle animals. They do everything on command except the evacuation of their bowls, which is frequent and everywhere, even in front of the fudge shops, and along the lilac lined lanes.

The thing about gravel roads is they’re dusty. The thing about paved streets is that liquid splatters when being poured from the height of the belly of a giant horse. One doesn’t want to be standing near when a giant percheron decides it’s time to go. The splatter ring can exceed six feet; I know.

And then there’s the famous Grand Hotel with its spacious porch that spans over 600’ and can be seen from outer-space. Well, that’s an exaggeration but it can be seen from a long way away, depending on one’s eyesight. The Grand Hotel boasts of 385 rooms, no two of them the same. The hotel was built in 1886 in less than 90 days. I’ll let you decide why no two rooms are the same. It’s my guess that no two walls are the same. While the hotel is majestic, it’s not an engineering marvel. It’s well worth the visit, but be careful on the stairs. The cart people do double duty on the grounds of the Grand; there’s little evidence of equine leave behind.

The magic of Mackinac is that it’s possible to continue to imagine the island as you wish it to be even while scraping off used oats in the lush bluegrass that grows along the side of a lilac-lined lane. Sometimes reality isn’t a buzz kill, especially if you watch where you step.

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