Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pelee Island: A Primer

When I mention Pelee Island in passing, listeners sometimes envision Hilton Head or Maui, Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. Yes, Pelee is much like Martha's Vineyard minus the shops and restaurants. Minus the potable water and the paved roads. Minus the photographers and the Kennedys.

No matter. I love it still. What Pelee Island lacks in amenities (basic services, even), it makes up for in rustic charm and sheer beauty.

Of course, not every visitor sees it this way. Dad once greeted a potential cottager at the dock and drove him across the island to show him beach front property. Well, seems the wind had shifted and brought with it the dreaded biting flies.

And they are bad. 

Something out of a Michael Crichton novel bad.

Mr. Potential Buyer got out of the car, walked to the beach, met the biting flies, returned to the car, and said, "Take me back to the dock."

No sale.

For the uninitiated Pelee Islander, here I offer a primer, a brief orientation, helpful givens that I've gleaned over forty years of visiting the island.

Given #1 - There is nothing to do.

No putt putt, no movie theater. No golf course, no tennis courts. You can't run to the grocery store, since there really isn't much of a grocery store. Out of mustard? Make do or do without or wander up the beach to borrow some. The upside is that since there's nothing to do, you don't really have to do anything. You could spend two weeks at Pelee and never get in the car, never put on a pair of shoes, even.

Given #2 (And Irony #1) - There's so much to do.

Basic functions -- trash and water, specifically -- take an unusually large amount of time.

A visit to the Waste Transfer Station, AKA The Dump, is practically a field trip and should be filed below under Required Outings. Veteran Pelee Islanders remember the bad old days when "the dump" was exactly that -- a thoroughly nasty pile of refuse you'd approach breathing through your mouth poised to quickly hurl your contributions before speeding away. Today things are much more eco-friendly and much less pungent, but somehow the process of gathering the trash, driving to the far end of the island, and driving home seems to take half a day.

Re-supplying the water is easier than unloading the trash, but requires keeping in mind the variable hours of the Co-op, checking to see who needs water, gathering the empty tanks, and getting to the Co-op before closing time. 

Given #3 (Irony #2) - Relaxation can morph into lethargy.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Nothing To Do has a downside and that is that you end up doing nothing. Life on Pelee lends itself to a schedule something like this: Stumble out of bed. Caffeinate. Brush your teeth by noon. In lieu of a shower, jump in Lake Erie. Rustle up some lunch around 2:00. Play a little Scrabble or Euchre. Think about dinner about seven. Consider a shower but opt for another dip in the lake. Feed everyone. Play some more cards. Switch from coffee to wine. Play some more cards.

For reasons I can't fully explain, basic personal hygiene becomes dicey and not just among the kids. For reasons gross, contagious, and undetailed here, I once left Pelee determined that our next visit would involve daily showers (not to be confused with daily swims) and a large supply of Dial soap.

Relaxed is good. Grungy can take on a life of its own.

Given #4 - Required Outings

We have our requisite Field Trips that no one but me seems to want to do. Since I come but once a year, everyone indulges me. 

We usually begin with Lighthouse Point. 

We gather cameras and water bottles. We ignore plaintive cries of children objecting to a forced march. We drive or bike up the road. We let George and assorted cousins run up ahead to search for snakes. We scream and carry on when they show off their finds. We take pictures. We look for sea glass. We head home.

And then there's Fish Point.

We gather water bottles and insect repellent. We ignore plaintive cries of children objecting to yet another forced march. We walk through the woods and note that this year's crop of Poison Ivy is thriving. We walk back along the beach. We stop by Coneheads for ice cream.

And that just about exhausts the list of tourist attractions on Pelee Island.

Of course there's fishing. We supply the men folk with drinks, snacks, and all the children we can possibly pawn off and outfit in life-jackets. Euchre, peace, and tranquility while they're gone! Fish and chaos when they return!

Given # 5 - Getting to the ferry requires a crisis.

We have had crises big (time consuming run-ins with customs' authorities) and crises small (missing shoes, toddlers in need of a bathroom), but there's always something to gum up the works.

Click here for a truly riveting tale. This year's trip provided only slightly less drama, but I'm happy to report, no blocked toilets. 

Long story short: on this visit, my dad and sister ending up leaving the island early due to health issues. I was to follow a few days later with Mom. And it was all good because we had our van on the island and another sizable vehicle parked on the mainland. All we had to do was get across the island to the dock  -- in a seven passenger van, with six Dolins, my mother, her dog, her wheelchair, my nephew, and eighty-three pieces of luggage. 

Since we hadn't yet visited The Waste Transfer Station, we also had a monstrosity of a garbage bag to tote across the island. Those wise folks at the new dump charge by the bag for trash drop off, and my dear father saves a few bucks by buying contractor sized garbage bags we dub body bags. They're about eight feet long.

So as we sped to the dock to catch the boat, we put the body bag in the only place it would fit in that seven passenger van now holding eight people, a dog, a wheelchair, and eighty-three pieces of luggage. That place would be the roof. When Dave took a corner a tad fast, I tapped him on the shoulder and gently reminded him that there was a week's worth of trash car-surfing on the roof. 

"Is it still there," he asked me.

Well, I was perched on about two inches of the middle bench wedged in between John and Ainsley with Cody, the psychotic dog affectionately known as Bitey, very nearly in my lap. Wholly unable to crane my neck far enough to see if the body bag was still with us, I hoped for the best. Dave dropped me at the dock so that I could assure the fine folks at the ferry that we were, in fact, planning to sail, while he, my mom, the kids, and the dog toured The Waste Transfer Station one last time.

The ferry requires a crisis. 

Rustic charm and sheer beauty -- that's Pelee Island.

We'll deal with the water and the dump, the biting flies and the ferry, as long as we can keep the lake and the bike rides, the wheat fields and the sea glass.


christinelaennec said...

Sounds a little bit like Harris, but without the Sabbatarianism, which ensures strict personal hygiene...

Kris said...

That sounds so cool! Explain more about the water - is there water in the house? Just not for drinking? And I laughed about the showers - sounds just like our annual camping trip. Last year - my two teenage boys and their best friend "bathed" in the creek all week. And I didn't care - my standards drop dramatically after the first 24 hours.

Anonymous said...

Kris, there is running water, and some people can drink it. But you're not supposed to drink it. I understand camping grunge. Everything takes more effort. When we camped with toddler, or even little boys, oh the filth! A good, outdoorsy sort of filth, but filth. Every last sock and pair of pants grubby. I'm laughing now thinking about Kolbe throwing up on his last clean outfit on the last day of a camping trip. Memories!