Daytrip to Little Traverse Bay: a baby mammoth, a bicultural leader, a summer festival

Posted on July 26, 2009

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Carol McCarus phoned.  Would I like to go with her to a University of Michigan alumni gathering to hear about a baby mammoth?  Yes.  I headed to Petoskey, filled with curiosity. 

The affair was held at the Perry Hotel, a worthy destination all by itself.  The views of Little Traverse Bay are very nice indeed, and the treats are reliable. 

View from the terrace

We sat under a vast white tent like guests at a wedding and listened to Dan Fisher, of the Museum of Paleontology at UofM, describe his part in studying Lyuba, a perfectly preserved baby mammoth discovered in Siberia in 2007.  You don’t meet a man like Dan Fisher every day.  In order to demonstrate how Paleolithic hunters might have preserved their meat, he once butchered a draft horse with stone tools he made himself, cached it in a stock pond, and ate the naturally pickled meat for his dinner.  In high summer.  You can imagine how excited he was to have the opportunity to autopsy a 40,000 year old mammoth.

Daniel Fisher telling the inside story of Lyuba

It clears the mind to ponder life 40,000 years ago.  To think of touching it, as Dan Fisher has done.  To feel compassion for the terror of the baby mammoth’s death, for it’s mother’s ancient grief.  To reflect on the reasons for the extinction of the whole species. It was compelling stuff, and you can read all about it in “Ice Baby” (National Geographic Magazine, May 2009).

After all that food for thought Carol and I repaired to the City Park Grille for supper and a glass of ale. It’s always good to spend a little time catching up with a friend.

Ignatius Petoskey - bronze with patinaHeading back to my car, I stopped to study the statue of Ignatius Petoskey gazing westward over Lake Michigan.  He’s an imposing figure, in his moccasins and business suit, with his bearclaw necklace. I’d like to be able to sit down with him for a good talk, too. The son of a French fur trapper and an Odawa mother, he lived in a time when Jesuits and Presbyterians competed for influence in this region, and both were set on “civilizing the natives.” Petoskey, for whom the city is named, stood with one foot in Odawa culture and the other planted firmly in the burgeoning European/American society of the frontier. He was by all accounts a successful man, prosperous and widely admired, who had adapted well to the new facts on the ground, as it were.  But his great-great-grandson Warren Petoskey has written about his family’s travails in assimilation-bent Indian boarding schools, and their struggles with alcoholism and rage. We do the best we can. Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t know how it all works out, the unintended consequences.  It’s hard enough to cope with the past.

Ignatius Petoskey gazes westward

On the way to Petoskey I’d found myself in the midst of what passes for a traffic jam up here. The drawbridge was up in Charlevoix, and a long line of traffic inched forward through the crowds of the Venetian Festival. I had completely forgotten about the festival. I would probably enjoy it, especially the part with the parade of boats, but I’m put off by the notion of crowds. Anyway, I made a mental note to take a photo on my way back home, and so I did and here it is. It’s not the boats, but it is festive.

Venetian Festival food court

It was all I could do to keep myself from stopping for an elephant ear. I’ve decided to overcome my crowd-aversion long enough to attend next week’s Harbor Days in Elk Rapids. Slay that misconception! Find another elephant ear . . .