We don’t live in a vacuum. The ways we respond to the world are affected by where we were born, and where we reside today. Are you an outsider, different from most of the people around you? Have you chosen where you now live? Are you there from accident of birth? Or demands of employment?
I know that all sites occasionally have threads asking people to talk about themselves. This is different. Tell me about your community, your travels, and your exposure to the world. Even in the world’s largest cities, you live in a neighborhood. What kind of place is it? What kind of interaction do you have with your community? What places have you visited that influenced your perceptions? Where do you find off-line intellectual stimulation? What is in your village?
Although I am originally from the greater Chicago area, about eleven years ago I moved up here to one of my favorite vacation destinations. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I am in the southeast area, in the straits of Mackinac where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. This Island is only accessible by boat or plane. For the past 150 years tourism has been the primary industry in the region. I enjoy the clean air and water and incredible beauty this area has to offer.
I’ve enjoyed traveling through the U. S. and Canada, especially the Western States. One of my favorite vacations was six weeks spent in Banff and Jasper Alberta, with some side trips to beautiful British Columbia. I moved North during my divorce and have never regretted the decision. However, decreased income has limited my travels. I haven’t been able to spend much time overseas. So far, my favorite vacation occurred a few years ago. I spent two weeks wandering Ireland with two friends.
For six months of the year hundreds of thousands of visitors come here to enjoy the natural beauty, historic sites, and novelty of a community that bans private motor vehicles. This prohibition has nothing to do with religious beliefs. It was originally initiated to protect the tour buggy drivers in the early twentieth century. Now that motor vehicles are so prevalent, the lack of them is also a tourist attraction.
Except for emergencies, every person, every object moves by foot, cart, bicycle or horse. (Emergency vehicles such as ambulance and fire truck are available.) The difficulty of attracting workers who are willing to relocate for six months of the year has been an ongoing problem. The current immigration debate is closely followed by employers here. I’m talking about legal immigrants of course.
From May through October the local community of about 550 year round residents expands as seasonal cottage and condominium dwellers increase the population by several thousand. Additionally, several thousand workers from North America and many other parts of the world move here to provide services in the shops, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
Several million visitors arrive to enjoy the Island. Many of them also believe that we are part of Canada. As the crow flies, the border is less than twenty miles away so the confusion is somewhat understandable. Many businesses, the State Park, and government buildings fly large American flags. Yet every day a few people will ask, “Do you take American money here?”
The diversity allows for interesting discussions and opportunities for learning alternative social and political views. In any given summer, my co-workers will come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. Imagine the lively debates when you combine folks from Michigan, Iowa, California, Montana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, and Vermont with their counterparts from Bulgaria, Australia, Scotland, Russia, Japan, Jamaica, Canada, Austria, England, Mexico, India, and South Africa.
In the winter months, the year-round population averages about 550. Most locals are descended from original French and Native American fur traders, and they later inter-married with nineteenth century Irish immigrants. The ‘transplants’ moved here because they fell in love with the Island while working or visiting here. Most are vastly over-qualified and over-educated for the jobs they hold. The overall community is caring, creative, independent, and self-sufficient.
Alternative relationships are accepted with equanimity. The small school covers K-12, and the personalized attention allows them to boast a zero dropout rate. Almost every graduate for at least the past ten years has gone on to pursue additional education.
We love snow here. In the winter months the motor vehicle ban is relaxed enough to allow snowmobiles. The convenience of traveling more quickly is a welcome change. It also makes it easier to create social gatherings. Imagine walking or bicycling to visit a friend two miles away vs. snowmobiling there. Believe me, no matter how much you walk or bike up these hills, you never get used to them!
Although there are some fabulous Victorian mansions (cottages) here, most people live in the same types of housing you would find on the mainland. Small houses, apartments, condominiums, and duplexes are the norm. Since most of the Island is a Michigan State Park, land is at a premium. Every nail, washing machine, two by four and carton of milk must be shipped one extra step by boat or airplane. This adds to their cost. Few year round jobs are available, and all jobs pay less than their mainland counterparts. Not everyone would enjoy residing here. Those that do are willing to pay that price.