July 19, 2012

You Get The Picture: No place like home

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Fudgies are known as the multitude of tourists who coat the sidewalks of northern Michigan in search of the best fudge in the U.S.  Apparently, Mackinac Island has the best fudge on earth but you can essentially buy it anywhere on the tip of the oven-mit.  I discovered on my family vacation that Michiganders don’t like “fudgies,” so fortunately I stayed undercover with my northern accent from childhood.

Indulging in sweets is a mouthwatering dream, but I steered clear of the fudge shops because I had bigger fish to fry.  It was the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and I stuffed my face with as many plump cherries as my freckled cheeks could handle.

Hundreds, perhaps even thousands flocked to the annual event that bordered West Grand Traverse Bay.  The streets were lined with food vendors, short shorts and baby strollers galore.  On top of bobbing and weaving through “Yoopers” and shielding my eyes from unsightly skin exposure, I was definitely not prepared for the mass chaos highlighted by the booming U.S. Air Force F-18 Hornet and Black Diamond Jet Team from overhead.  

As amazing and mind blowing as jets rocketing toward the bay at a savage distance was, I was ready to kick back in Elk Rapids and Torch Lake.  The pristine water sparkling in a summer sun gave validation to the mitten state’s tourism slogan “Pure Michigan.”  So pure you could see straight to the bottom as you floated effortlessly around in a fluorescent donut tube.

“Oh look! I think I see a turtle,” exclaimed my cousin, as she tip-toed in her inter-tube beside me.  

I squinted my eyes to look further into the shallow depths and saw an obscure shadow.  

“Oh — it’s kind of in the shape of a heart…” She quizzically noted.

“It’s a snake!”

She and I along with three more of our confused family members began to flail our arms in a panic until we reached the shoreline.  Just days before, my uncle was informing us about the large water moccasins that have become a nuisance in the area, and how mean their bite is.  Following the excitement of the lake, I took a relaxing hike in the woods the next day to a lighthouse.

The colorful clover-filled meadows of the hiking trail were a nice contrast beside deep woodland that opened up like sparkling can of Fanta to Grand Traverse Bay.  Further down the trail there rested Mission Point Lighthouse, a peninsula icon since 1870.  The quaint lighthouse is no match for that of the Boston Light of Boston Harbor, but it was a cool sight in the 90 degree heat of summer.  On my way back to the car through the winding trail, I felt like Indiana Jones as I squeamishly ran across a large garter snake with a mouthful of rodent.

“Snakes…I hate snakes.”

I had enough of the upper part of the oven-mit, and so did my feet which were covered in eight mosquito bites each, not even mentioning the damage the little suckers did to my legs.  During a four-hour car ride in a cramped backseat I began to see the brighter side of things as I caught sight of two bald eagles perched atop old pines.  Their splendor of liberty mesmerized me into a slumber until our next stop in the famous thumb.  I took a trip down memory lane with my family to D-town, also known as Detroit.  A dying industrial city is by far a photographer’s delight with its unique graffiti and colorful characters walking around.

Peering over the Detroit River at Canada as I strolled along the River Walk I finally felt relaxed.  Funny that I found relaxation in a city that’s ranked sixth among the 25 largest U.S. cities for violent crimes.  But there was something about the revitalization all around me that offered a spark of hope not only for this rusty metropolis, but even for small towns in Kentucky with a pocket-pinched economy.  

I’ll never become a “fudgie,” because Michigan will always be home to me and the next time I take a vacation, I may just do it from my own backyard.  I’m sure I can find plenty of snakes there, not to mention a big body of water called Laurel Lake and hiking trails with waterfalls in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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