The Lure of Peninsulas
People without any interest in maps might not understand the fascination of peninsulas. The outline of the contiguous United States would be much less interesting without Florida or the Delaware Peninsula or Cape Cod, just as Mexico benefits from the Baja Peninsula and the Yucatan, and Alaska from its knobs and the wonderful Alaska Peninsula that trails off into the Aleutians. Faraway peninsular shapes have long fascinated me, too: all of Europe’s branches, the bulbous Malay Peninsula, remote Kamchatka.
The Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and the UP for that matter, are themselves festivals of smaller peninsulas. The fair-sized Leelanau Peninsula juts into Lake Michigan and creates the narrow Grand Traverse Bay, which itself contains the Old Mission Peninsula, a small tongue of land that divides the bay into East Arm and West Arm. Traverse City is at this peninsula’s base.
We arrived at TC in the mid-afternoon, after following M-22 most of the way to get there, but it was too hot for a proposed expedition downtown or to Fishtown in nearby Leland, so we drove the length of the Old Mission Peninsula on M-37 with the a/c high. Partly residential, but still largely agricultural, the view from the road takes in the East Bay sometimes, the West Bay more often, and a wealth of cherry orchards and vineyards.
About mid-way to the northern tip, we stopped at Chateau Grand Traverse. The prospect of a winery tour, especially an indoor tour, had a lot to recommend it. We were lucky in that a tour was starting only minutes after we arrived, and we joined it. It wasn’t quite all indoors, since the first stop was an outdoor viewing platform that overlooked most of the vineyard. It was so hot that Ann complained loudly, and I took her to stand under the shade of a nearby bush – so close I could still hear the guide, a young man barely of drinking age, but who knew the vineyard and its produce well.
I remember hearing about the origins of Michigan wine as far back as high school in the mid-70s, when informed wine opinion seemed to be huh? Michigan? That’s a joke, right? But the peninsula seems to have the right combination of warm and cold, wet and dry weather that certain grapes need to flourish, because of the mildly hilly lay of the land and the moderating influence of Grand Traverse Bay.
Afterward, naturally, we tarried in the gift shop and Yuriko and I sampled some of the vintages. We left with two bottles: a Grand Traverse Select Semidry Riesling, and a Chateau Grand Traverse Limited Bottling Gamay Noir 2005. They both tasted pretty good to me, which is about as sophisticated as I get when it comes to wine tasting.
Down the road we stopped at a stand, and did pretty well there, taking away cherries and blueberries, and ears of corn to boil that night at the campsite. Then I went looking for the Old Mission. You know, this was the Old Mission Peninsula, so I figured there would be a mission somewhere. Once upon a time, apparently, French missionaries set up shop in the area to pester Indians, and I was expecting a building of some kind. Maybe not the fine Spanish missions of my youth in San Antonio, but something. After driving around a while, I stopped at a store to ask about it – I hate that damned stereotype, because I will ask for directions if I’m completely flummoxed. “Old Mission is just the name of the area,” the girl behind the counter told me. She seemed to think it odd that I would be out looking for, you know, a mission.
We did find a one-room schoolhouse in the vicinity. Which I noticed was a 1930s replica, though I didn’t note any WPA plaque. Inside were some modest displays about Old Mission Peninsula history, and while we looked at those, a mid-sized white-and-gray dog rushed in. I won’t call him mad. More like excited. Not in attack mode, either, but he also didn’t have a collar. The girls were spooked, and both clung to me, despite me telling them it wasn’t necessary. As quickly as he came in, the dog left. A moment or two later, a middle-aged fellow stuck his head in the door and asked, “That your dog?”
“I know all the dogs around here, and I’ve never seen him.”
A little mystery. We saw the dog later on someone’s empty porch, but that doesn’t mean anything. Anyway, we went onward to the tip of the peninsula, which promised a lighthouse. What we got looked more like a church steeple, and it looked like someone lived there, at least some of the time. Not the most majestic lighthouse, but they can’t all be Cape Hatteras. I did like the nearby sign that informed us that the 45th parallel ran through the area. I’ve seen other signs saying the same thing elsewhere in Michigan (a billboard on I-75), Wisconsin and in Yellowstone National Park.