The great outdoors really are great
Written by Daily Tribune   
Monday, 08 August 2005 12:14
Getting outdoors is becoming more of a journey. I mean really getting outside. Arriving at a place where every glimpse on the horizon does not reveal a McDonald's, a Starbucks, and a Thai restaurant.

Going somewhere where wildlife means more than poodles and Siamese cats; squirrels and Labrador Retrievers on leashes.

We drove five hours or so north to arrive at a place exactly like that last weekend. We went across the Mackinac Bridge, and east to a small town in the Upper Peninsula named Hessel. From there, we hopped on my brother, Tom's, boat to his cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands.

The Les Cheneaux area is part of the 80-mile stretch of Lake Huron shoreline from St. Ignace to Drummond Island that is one of the most scenic and ecologically diverse shorelines in Michigan. There are marshes, sand dunes, gravel beaches, and limestone and dolomite ledges ? all where the cedar and fir forests of the U.P. meet the sparkling blue waters of Lake Huron.

We only spent a few days there, but the trip served to remind me there's a totally different life beyond the vast stretches of asphalt, unending strip malls and terminal congestion that dominate our landscape in the metropolitan Detroit area.

Down here, any undeveloped land is an aberration. It's a Walgreen's waiting to burst from the starting blocks. Up north, those wide open spaces are the norm.

I'd wake up in the morning at my brother's place and scoot down the hill to Wilderness Bay, the body of water that serves as a magnificent view from his front porch. I'd dive in, ignoring the protests of the gulls and mallards that already had dibs on the space. I'd grab soap and shampoo, and that is where I bathed.

It was a different sort of vacation for my family, to be sure. Soap, shampoo and other toiletries are usually left behind by the maid. My wife and daughters are not campers. Roughing it to them means a malfunctioning hair dryer or a hotel television without HBO. Ask them about a Coleman stove, and they would figure it was something Gary Coleman used to cook on in Diff'rent Strokes.

One morning, I awoke early enough to share the shoreline with a family of mink, who were splashing around about 100 feet away. They were searching for breakfast, and most likely that meant dipping into the area's abundant supply of crayfish.

Afterwards, I'd sit on the dock and let the sun dry me. I watched my son go off in the kayak, and wonder isn't that pretty much what the native indians did for hundreds and hundreds of years.

I can only imagine how little regard the original inhabitants would've had for our obsession with tanning parlors and gas stations that hawk everything from pork rinds to cellular phone plans.

I guess we called it Manifest Destiny when we first came to America and swiped land.

We operated under the same certainty when we massacred buffalo, slapped up fences and herded the native Americans to reservations that would never fly at Bellagio or even a Red Roof Inn.

We call it progress when we view a vacant piece of property with lust and build another convenience store. Wildflowers and honey bees be damned. Give me a Slurpee and a quarter-pound hot dog.

Our need for conquest seems to be inbred. Build more fences. Extend our freeways. Put up quarter-million condos and houses that go for upwards of a million bucks, and then whine if the deer are eating the impatiens and the shrubs.

When I was a kid growing up in Walled Lake, we used to play around a nearby swamp all of the time. We caught frogs and watched them leap away. We held toads and laughed when our hands got wet. We saw muskrats do belly flops and watched garter snakes dart through the grasses. We had sword fights with the cattails and blew on dandelions to fill the air with fluff.

Swamps are called wetlands now. They have to be protected. When's the last time you saw a frog hopping across the sidewalk or worried that a toad would give you warts?

A week ago, I ate breakfast with a family of mink. When the weather turns, I am sure I'll be dining in a restaurant, and someone will walk in wearing a mink coat.

That's progress, I guess. Man versus nature. Nature does not have a chance.

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