Follow MV Northern Exposure on  Follow MV Northern Exposure on Twitter or  Instagram @NorthrnExpo

We'll post whenever the website changes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Manistee, Michigan

Hi all. We’ve come back to the eastern side of Lake Michigan, and we’ll take it pretty easy for the rest of the season. Last time I wrote, we were in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

Our nephew Gregg arrived, and we all realized immediately that we needed a strategy for the visit. He had one asset and one liability, a rental car (the asset) and a seasick feeling that arrived about the time he stepped onto the dock (clearly a liability for travel aboard).

Our original plan had been to leave the car in Sturgeon Bay for the week, and we’d made reservations along the vacation coast for the visit. Our new plan, which worked well for all of us, envisioned that Art and I would move the boat from one port to another, and that Gregg would move by land in the car and meet us in our next port. He always managed to keep his biorhythmic equilibrium while we were tied up in port.

On our first morning together, we met in Fish Creek, a town we’d visited only by car for an hour or two. Fish Creek started out as a logging and fishing town, but developed into a summer community.

The main street features wooden buildings filled with shops, galleries and restaurants. Life has a slow and considerate pace. On our first day, we strolled along the main street, stopping for coffee, lunch and some shopping.

Having a car gave us a lot of freedom. We went for a hike, more like a nature walk, through Ridges Sanctuary, which would have been too far away for us had we not had wheels.

In 1935, the then-curator of botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum, Albert Fuller, began to visit Door County to study its rare flora near Bailey’s Harbor. He turned this research project into a conservation initiative and eventually a land trust. The sanctuary is now open to the public, with several miles of groomed trails and a nature center.

It’s the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the state, home to more than 475 plant species, an endangered species of dragonfly, and 60 species of migrating and nesting birds. And it’s just a lovely serene summer walk for those of us who aren’t biologists. We did get pretty close to a deer and got nose-to-nose to a dragonfly. Obviously his endangered status did nothing to keep him away from humans. Lilies in color floated on the pond and irises sprouted skyward along our path.

We’d heard a lot about the Door County Fish Boil offered at several locations on the peninsula. The earliest settlers were fishermen or timber workers, and they used both of these resources to create this delicious and dramatic meal. There’s a large cauldron in the back yard of the restaurant over a wood fire, with quite a distance roped off between the cooking vessel and the hungry observers. The exterior walls of the pot are lined with wood leaned up to provide insulation.

Red potatoes and onions are put into the water, which has been salted to increase the boiling point. That water is roiling. When the vegetables are cooked, the chef inserts a meshed insert containing the fish steaks. So the fish are boiled at a high temperature, and in the process, fish oil rises to the surface of the hot water. Before the food is removed, the chef pours fuel oil onto the flames under the pot. The flames rise up, meet the fish oils, and the whole thing boils over with a flame that dwarfs the pot and the fire below. The fish oils boil over the rim and the cooking process is complete.

The resulting meal is cooked perfectly, delicious, and even healthy, if you don’t count the butter sauce, mayonnaise-drenched slaw, rye bread and cherry pie that’s included with each order.

After dinner, we drove to the Peninsula Players Theater to see the stage version of “Dial M for Murder”. The theater is nestled into the woods and is larger than I’d expect even for the regional professional theater that it is. The performance was engaging and capable, an enjoyable evening that I’d be happy to repeat.

One day, we drove to Ephraim, another seaside town on Green Bay, and took a tram-based historical tour of the village. Our guide, a lifelong summer resident, looked a little like Jonathan Winters, with a folksy style, if folksy means authentic, earnest, and colossally dull. We’d wondered in advance how this tiny village could have two and a half hours of historical anecdotes, and, as it turned out, it doesn’t. Our guide talked for two and a half hours, though.

While the history portion (Norwegians in the Moravian sect settled in the mid-nineteenth century) was mostly a rambling narrative as we sat in the tram gazing over docks, the last portion of the tour was actually very interesting, because we visited two restored buildings. Also, one stop had an audio narration and the other a docent. This gave us all a break from our tour guide.

The first was the Goodletson cabin. This tiny home was built in 1855 on a nearby island and was skidded across the ice to Ephraim in the 1860s. The audio tour explained the history of the family and the origin of the items inside.

The couple that lived here were Norwegian immigrants. They raised their nine children and some grandchildren for about half a century in a cabin that’s about the size of a large elevator. You look around and there’s simply nothing fun in there. They lived in this place, freezing in the winter and hot in the summer, day after day, even holding church meetings inside until the church was built in the 1880s. Sometimes in the winter they also had their animals inside. I can’t even imagine what life must have been like in Norway if this was an improvement over it. I’m guessing that old Goodletson’s motto, translated from the Norwegian, was “life’s a bitch and then you die.”

We then visited the 1880 schoolhouse next door, described by a resident whose mother once taught there. All eight grades of students sat in this one room. History was displayed all around. Here were pull-down maps from the ceiling decorated with colors signifying something, there were integrated desks with chairs on skids with the larger desks for older kids in the back row, and on the chalkboard, with chalk, were letters in cursive, which I think they don’t teach anymore. It all looked eerily familiar to me, and my thought was simply, “Gosh, I am really old.” That was weird.

It was time to move on to Sister Bay, a short trip for all of us. Art and I moved the boat, and Gregg brought the car and met us when we got to the marina. We’d visited Sister Bay on the way south on Green Bay, but we hadn’t stayed for all that long, and we knew that a car would give us a larger radius to explore.

There isn’t a lot going on in Sister Bay, but we tried to keep up. One night we all watched an outdoor movie (Willy Wonka) in the park next to the marina. It’s a simple vacation life, trips to the beach and listening to music playing here and there during the afternoons and evenings. Even we were swept up in the regular joys of summer, a little girl swinging a bucket and warbling at us, “Hi! We’re going to the beach!” as if she was about to burst with excitement. Gregg was off swimming or biking every now and again. We’d watch the sun dip down into Green Bay from our bow, as the old sailing tour boat traversed back and forth with their sunset tourists. I almost felt as though we had a better view of the scene than they did onboard, a summer calendar page in motion going one direction and then the other as the fire sank into the sea.

There was a weather delay for our departure, and it was ugly. The air was chilled, rain came and went, but the winds were relentless. Placid Sister Bay became riled, pouring waves over the breakwater that also happened to be our walkway to the boat. Even when it wasn’t raining, we sank into puddles on the concrete path and were sprayed by waves on our bay-facing side.

Art predicted that the seas would subside by morning, and they did. We left Sister Bay and crossed Green Bay to Michigan, to a town called Menominee. It’s hard to say Menominee out loud without lapsing into that Art Metrano routine in which he locks his fingers together behind his head and then magically releases them, humming a song that sounds, well, like a musical expression of the word “Menominee”.

The ride across the bay was short, and we were met at the bulkhead that would be our home by several friendly people who took our lines and helped us get settled.

The Menominee marina was not only a pleasant discovery; the marina is fantastic. The location is great. The services are everything you need. And the boater’s lounge is monumental. It’s a refurbishment of the old water purification plant. For this reason, it’s quite large for its intended task. There’s an old weighting system set up that probably once was indispensable for commerce. There are old logbooks and boating paraphernalia. An old porthole hangs on the wall.

Somebody must have decided that we boaters needed a nautical theme for the design, too, as if the concept of “water” from the waterworks wouldn’t remind us of the lake. The wallpaper has illustrations of knots and nautical charts. The bathrooms are named after Great Lakes. Even the soap pump is a lighthouse. Believe it or not, it’s still kind of tasteful, if a bit kitsch. Ceramic old salts sit on the tops of bookshelves just watching us, and others stand by on furniture decorated in nautical themes. Ship’s models adorn the walls. It’s like being in the old-timey captain’s stateroom on a ship that would have to be half the size of the lake in which it sat.

Marinas often put on a pot of coffee for the boaters that stay there, but this place has a cappuccino machine, too. There’s a machine that will give you oatmeal in any of three flavors. There’s a waffle maker standing ready on weekends. I’ve had worse breakfast provisions in roadside hotels.

Eventually we did manage to leave the marina and go into town. Menominee is the Michigan town across a river from the Wisconsin town of Marinette. Menominee’s downtown is a sort of rust belt casualty, with some very large, ornate stone buildings that once were banks and department stores and other Midwestern downtown commerce centers. Now most of them have “for lease” signs in the windows. Among the smaller downtown shops, about half of them seemed to be in business. There are a handful of places to eat, fewer than I’d expect for a place of this size, but not busy enough to inspire someone to open more places.

There’s a great supermarket within walking or biking distance at the outskirts of town, less than a mile from the marina. Indeed, the marina lent us great bikes to use, yellow and strong and well-maintained. We had a lot of time before we needed to be somewhere else, and I was tapped by my one remaining consulting client that shows up about once a year to do some work. We decided to stay for a while.

Menominee is the fourth-largest city (population about 9000) in the sparsely-settled Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It shares a lot with its neighboring state Wisconsin to its south and, yes, east, including Friday fish fry, and a time zone that is at odds with most of the rest of the state. It gets its name from a regional Native American tribe known as the Menominee, which roughly translates into "wild rice." The veggie burger at one of the places in town is based on wild rice, a first that I’ve ever seen.

There are lovely either empty, or repurposed buildings all over town. Menominee was once a thriving lumber town, in its heyday producing more lumber than any other city in America. The large, empty department store on the main street was dreamed and built by furniture manufacturer and entrepreneur Marshall Burns Lloyd. To get some measure of his wealth in the early 20th century, his house in town is now an apartment building with 44 units. There’s an opera house, a large once-municipal building that’s in use by a technology company that is so uncertain of its fate that its sign that hangs on the concrete building appears to have been produced from a Kinko’s-designed poster board.

We walked a lot, borrowed the bike a few times, and never even made it across the channel to Wisconsin’s Marinette, which appeared to us to be a veritable twin to the place we already were.

Hope you’re all having summer fun.

Love, Karen (and Art)