MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. - OK, now that we are on Mackinac Island after a six hour drive from Michigan's southern border, what should we do that we can write home about?
We could see how much fudge we could eat at the 13 fudge shops in the market district. Or we could overindulge in ice cream, which obviously is another of the island's eating passions. A lot of folks rent bikes and pedal around the eight-mile long island, but are our legs strong enough? Hiking is off the list as being too strenuous, especially when the humidity is high.
How about renting a horse? You can't rent a car here, or even see one. It's a car-free island, but there are plenty of horses; 600 to be exact and about 75 can be rented. Some people saddle up and take off on the country roads, through the woods, and down by the shoreline.
Other visitors rent a horse and buggy for an easier way to while away an afternoon on the island that is surprisingly tranquil once you are away from the fudge, ice cream, and tourist-packed streets.
Deciding to rent a horse and buggy was a natural decision for the three cousins, on the island to celebrate three milestone birthdays. Much of the nostalgic conversation focused on their grandparents' farm in Rome Township, Michigan, and the horses and cows remembered from childhood.
The admission at Jack's Livery Stable that not one of us had any experience with horses didn't raise eyebrows. Give them June, a stablehand said. Perfect, another agreed. June was acknowledged by the whole staff as being gentle.
June was a beautiful Belgian that understood immediately that she was responsible for taking three nervous passengers on the hour ride. Goodness knows how many times June has taken the same route. This is the 25-year-old mare's 20th season working on the island, ambling along the roads that at times are crowded with pedestrians or other horse drawn wagons.
June knew every step of the way and she kept the laid-back pace the island promotes with her very slow steps. We understood that she was probably tired; we were, too. The best thing we could do for her was dislodging black flies from her back with the reins. Once she neighed loudly as if to thank us for removing the pesky bugs.
When we rounded the curve and Fort Mackinac, the island's preserved Revolutionary War fort and a prime tourist attraction, came into view, June ignored efforts to coax her to stay on the road. Instead, she pulled the buggy to the fence overlooking the fort and stopped. Obviously years of experience have taught June that her passengers want to linger at the Kodak perfect location.
It was a lovely unhurried afternoon in the buggy with June taking her time just as we are doing more of now that another birthday is under our belts. Perhaps she is counting the days until she can board the horse ferry to be taken to winter pasture on a farm near Pickford, Mich., with other Mackinac Island horses.
This year's trip to the farm may be different for June. She may be retired at the end of the season in late October. If that happens I wonder if she will be sad when spring comes and can't return to the island and has to stay home. Retirement has a downside.
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