Friday, August 10, 2007

D.H. Day, M-22 & the B-52s

Spend enough time along the lake in a certain part of Michigan -- a few hours is enough -- and you begin to notice D.H. Day. There’s the D.H. Day Highway, the honorary name of Michigan 109 (M-109). Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sports the D.H. Day Campground and the D.H. Day Group Campground, which are some miles apart. Buy a particular postcard locally and you’ll have an image of the D.H. Day Barn, the same picturesque barn you saw on M-109 just north of the Dune Climb.

Just who was this D.H. Day, and why does he have such a concentration of things named after him? an inquiring tourist wanted to know. That would be me, and I thought the answer would have to wait till I had Internet access again, so little did the tourist literature have to say about Day.

But late in the morning on the first of August, we paid a visit to the town of Glen Haven, which is really only a collection of historic structures on the coast of Lake Michigan, and now within the boundaries of the national lakeshore. That day it was nearly as empty of people as the Dune Climb had been full the day before. But in its heyday, late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, Glen Haven was alive as a transshipment point for lumber, a stopover for Great Lakes vessels, the hub of a burgeoning fruit-growing district (cherries especially, also apples) and the focal point of an early tourist industry, bringing in the affluent by steamer from Chicago. It was a little empire. The emperor was D.H. Day.

I didn’t have to wait to learn that, because the park service volunteer blacksmith told us about him in considerable detail. One of the historic structures in Glen Haven is a smithy. If I remember right, it had been other things in more recent years, abandoned for a while, and lately reconfigured by the park service to look like it had in the late 19th century, though the interpreters are necessarily people of our time. “All the original equipment was long gone,” the smith, a woman in her 50s, said. “Do you know where the park service found most of the equipment you see here?”

It was a large number of things: an anvil, bellows, tongs, hammers, and so on. “eBay,” she answered. “You can get anything on eBay.”

As for D.H. Day, I was pleased to learn his remarkable story. That’s the best kind of souvenir. Someone had to bring in cherries, so important to the identity of this part of Michigan these days, since they aren’t native. I hope the woman we saw in Traverse City a little later gives an occasional thought to D.H. Day. Her Kia was decked out with a cherry motif. The antenna had a little plastic cherry on top, the steering wheel had a cover with cherries printed on it, artificial cherries were hanging from the rear-view mirror, and her windshield wipers were tipped with little red orbs.

M-22 was another discovery for me. The road has fans enough such that souvenir shops sell reproductions of the road sign that marks it. The road goes almost as far south as Manistee, and loops up northward through the Leelanau Peninsula, but for me it turned scenic at the national lakeshore, through alternating mixed deciduous forests and open fields lively this time of year with wildflowers. Especially a small light purplish bud, lavender almost, though I never found out exactly what it was. The name hardly mattered as carpets of light purple, punctuated by lone trees, bushes and tall grasses as well, opened up alongside M-22.

M-109 is a much shorter road that branches briefly off of M-22 in the national lakeshore, connecting the Dune Climb and Glen Haven with the nearby tourist town of Glen Arbor. It has the same charms as M-22. After we visited the smithy everyone else went to the nearby beach at Glen Haven – clean sand, a wide view of Lake Michigan, but only about three other families there – while I drove to Glen Arbor to pick up supplies at the local IGA.

On the way back, just before I got back to Glen Haven, a radio station I’d tuned into moments before started playing the B-52s’ “Love Shack,” generally known as a dance number, but which is also a fine driving song. How could I let the opportunity pass?

I rolled the windows all the way down, turned the radio up loud, and sped south down M-109. No one else was on the road. I had the B-52s, the wind, the sun, the fields of purple, the tall grass and the trees to myself as long as the song lasted.

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