Small Town, Big Heart


Beaver Island

A package arrived in the mail recently. It came from Cindy Ricksger, a long-time reader and frequent commenter on this blog.

It also came all of the way from Beaver Island, Michigan.

I must admit, I had never heard of Beaver Island before “meeting” Cindy. It’s not the sort of place that comes up on my analytics page, the feature in which the WordPress folks add color to all of the home countries of readers and visitors.

While the United States is certainly in color on this analytics page, as are South Africa and India and England, Beaver Island is a bit too small to receive any colorized treatment.

But that in no way lessens its wonder to me.

Beaver Island 1

With some help from Google Maps, Beaver Island is a rather small and remote dot of land at the northern curve of Lake Michigan, the body of water that separates Wisconsin and Michigan.

Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Beaver Island 2

As someone who has always lived in the middle of suburban and urban congestion, I am amazed — and in awe and even a bit envious — that people can live in far-off places and small towns, where there are Milky Way nights, quiet conversations on porches, and friendly hellos along the sidewalk.

It’s a big reason why I try to create that life in my own way, no matter how congested my surroundings. Joe and I dine several times a week at a local coffee shop to talk with Nelson, the owner and short order cook, and any other diners who might be sitting at the counter. I also go to the same cashier, Carrie, at the nearby supermarket just to catch up.  And each day, I take a few moments to chat with my postman or to talk to neighbors as they walk their dogs in the early evening.

An image from quieter times in Paris.

An image from quieter times in Paris; the Jardin du Luxembourg.

World events sometimes intrude, though, and one such event was the November terrorist attack in Paris. I wrote a post, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” about that moment and my desire to retreat into my garden.

People from all over the world read that post — and I have the colorized analytics map to prove it. One of those people was Cindy from Beaver Island, where she not only gardens, but also owns and edits the Beaver Beacon, an island journal.

Cindy contacted me and asked if she could include the Paris post in the Beaver Beacon. I was flattered, to say the least, and so proud to be a part of her work, which chronicles all of the happenings in her small-island small-town, from births and deaths to local events and local characters.

It also meant in some way that I would be a small part of small-town life, all the way from the full-of-traffic streets of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Beaver Island

Well, the article appeared and Cindy decided to send me not only a few copies of that issue, but some past issues, as well, and two books: Dirt, William Bryant Logan’s celebration of Earth’s amazing skin, and The Beaver Island Columns, a collection of essays by David S. Broder, a New York Times and Washington Post columnist who vacationed on Beaver Island for decades.

Beaver Island

“And happily, some things do not change,” wrote Broder in one piece. “It [Beaver Island] is a place where you can look up and down a magnificent sweep of beach on a sunny midafternoon and not see another soul, where deer and fox and wild turkeys become your neighbors, where the sunset over Indian Point, never loses its beauty, where the Big Dipper seems to wheel directly overhead and, occasionally, the northern lights mount their awesome display.”

To round out my taste of the island, there was also a bag of Beaver Island Gourmet Blend Taffy, looking very much like sweet jewels.

Beaver Island

Cindy had thought of everything — and because of this, I now know more about Beaver Island, a small and remote dot of land with a tremendous heart. I know, for example, that Nathan and Ashley were married, that the banquet for the graduating class was a smash hit, and that on the first day of spring, the town holds a “Wake for Winter” festival.

It’s my small-town dream in a small box from Beaver Island, Michigan.

24 thoughts on “Small Town, Big Heart

  1. Living in a small village, I relate very strongly to Beaver Island. Our village isn’t isolated, and it doubles in size when the summer residents arrive, but all year round it is a warm and welcoming place to be. Warm, that is, as long as the furnace works in winter — our temperatures can drop to -30C which is cold by any system of measurement.

    • Hi Pat. As much as I think I would love small town life, my small town would have to be somewhat warmer! 🙂 In Fort Lauderdale, we also have a season, which is judged by the traffic and crowds in restaurants. During the winter months, snowbirds arrive to our subtropical world — where the mayor increases the advertising budget in northern markets whenever it snows up north.

  2. Love this post!!!!! Choose to live the life you want….you rock, my friend (and so does Cindy). Thinking I might have to add Beaver Island to future travel destinations ;).

    • Hi Jason. It’s hard to believe that place like Beaver Island still exist, especially in the USA. I think we forget that as we’re sitting in traffic.

  3. This was a wonderful post. Loved reading about Beaver Island and your new friends. I grew up in a small town and it had its special people and charms too.

    • Hi PBM. So glad you liked it. I grew up in a suburban community that also had its special people and charms. It saddens me that it was swallowed up by sprawl and “progress,” with very little thought to retain what was special and charming. Now, I dream of places like Beaver Island. 🙂

  4. Aww, how sweet. I’ve lived on acreage miles from the nearest town (of a mere 1,000 people) to a tiny apartment in the heart of the 11th biggest city in the country, to my current domicile on a decent lot in the ‘burbs. Oh, how I miss the milky way…

    Let me know how Dirt is? I’m always craving good books vaguely about gardening.

    • Hi Plum. There’s a lot to be said about light pollution and what it robs us of. Is it wrong that I sometimes hope for a night-time blackout? I’ll let you know about the book. 🙂 (You may want to try “The Last Algonquin,” by Theodore Kazimiroff, or “Anthill,” by Edward O. Wilson.

      • So long as the blackout doesn’t make for sweaty sleep your karmic worry should be low 😉
        Thank you for the other recommendations. If you haven’t yet read it, A Very Small Farm is my standing favorite.

  5. There are so many things you give up in order to live within ten minutes of a mart and the supermarket, but I’m glad you’re finding your own quiet little community inside the bigger goings on.
    Beaver Island does sound like a perfect escape though. I can almost feel the chill of the water and the quiet calm. Thanks!

    • Hi Bittster. You are so right when it comes to what we surrender for the sake of convenience. Still, there are many times — especially when the world and all that that entails, feels like it’s closing in — that the idea of living in a small town sounds like heaven. 🙂

  6. I love this post. What a great gift box Cindy sent you. I think one of the attractions of Maine is that it is sort of Beaver Island writ larger. As the sign says when you cross the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine,”Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.”

    • Hi Jean. It was incredibly thoughtful — and after traveling to Maine, I can certainly agree with the sentiments on the “Welcome to Maine” sign. It’s a beautiful, beautiful state — and state of mind. 🙂

  7. This was such a nice post in so many ways. Small towns have charachter and things that make them unique. It was so nice to have your post included in the Beaver Beacon, a way to connect places, people and happenings. GWGT was included in a small town in Kansas and I too received a mailing of three issues of the publication. It is fun to learn about places you might never have heard and imagine what is like to live there. Nice of you to greet the postman too. You must make his day.

    • Hi Donna — how cool to have your writing appear in Kansas! I love those over-the-fence kind of conversations — calm, entertaining, sincere, and short. 🙂

  8. I celebrate a meaningful connection with another blogger, and share in the delightful fantasy of small town life without the congestion of more urban dwelling. I sometimes wonder if I’d suffer anxiety with that much openness. I’ve never really experienced it! I remember the impact of “We’ll Always Have Paris.” I felt strong emotions as I thought about your experiences, adding in the Paris attacks to your previous experiences as a New Yorker in 2001, and now Orlando! I can’t imagine how shocking this must feel to be in a new home, and have this violence return. Unspeakable! It’s incredibly heartbreaking and the word “sad” isn’t strong enough. When we experience such sobering and shocking news, it makes connections with loving and supportive people all the more valuable. Cindy’s actions were meaningful to you, but I feel touched by them as well. And for today and this week, I send a hug of support. Kevin. You will be in my thoughts.

    • Hi Debra — hugs to you, always. In my mind, I often imagine a neighborhood in which bloggers and commenters all live within the same few blocks. What a lovely looking neighborhood it would be — and how accepting and kind it would always be. I think what the world needs now is not only love, sweet love — but also gardeners and gardens. 🙂

  9. It is one of the pleasures of blogging, to feel connected to small dots on the globe, which hitherto had no significance. I love that I can get an insight into monsoons in India, droughts in Australia, and everything in between, without ever budging from my sofa!!

    • Hi Hoe, Hoe, Grow. I completely agree with you — but it would be nice to have the chance to all get together — perhaps in a very large garden with farm-to-table treats and icy beverages. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  10. Living in Michigan and soon to live in the northern areas of the state, this warmed my heart. You can find many of these little gems here as, I am sure, you can find in many other states. They are treasures, a microcosm of life too rarely seen and often sorely missed. Thank you for this gentle tug to a softer time.

    • Hi Circle. Yes, they are gems — and I fear they are disappearing. All the more reason to treasure them and to keep them thriving. Thanks for commenting.

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