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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Collecting Saugatuck

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"We've had this bookstore twenty years," said Phil. But it looks more like 100, or even 180, as long as Saugatuck has been a town. The upstairs Singapore Bank Bookstore reminds me of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, another bookstore where books are piled and stacked like wood in the shed - whichever way they'll fit and not tip over. But something always does get knocked over, because the maneuverable space is so tight for us clutzy, star-struck customers.

Phil talked to me a good thirty minutes about how it is to live in a seasonal tourist town. We began talking about Gogol (I'm reading Dead Souls, one of my two, or if I'm voracious three, novels a year) and ended up chatting about his old grill being replaced by a new one. He has to break down the old one so it can be hauled away by the recycling truck that comes by twice a year. The old hardware store a couple doors away recently closed, which makes Phil's household projects take longer than normal. "Now I have to plan trips to Menard's over in Holland thirty minutes away." It must have been getting close to lunch time because I bought Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma from Phil after our talk.

I had spent the previous night in Saugatuck, so I could wake up and get out to Oval Beach by 8am, before the fog dissipated (last post). Here is the town on the Kalamazoo River, which feeds into Lake Michigan a ways north of Oval Beach. In the summer you'd see yachts, fishing boats and ferries trolling along both directions.




It's pretty extraordinary that Saugatuck and nearby Douglas don't have strip malls or national stores. I had a tall coffee reading Gogol in Uncommon Grounds where the table lamps glowed and reflected on the windows looking out at a gloomy downtown, no Starbucks in sight. Saugatuck began as a lumber town, naturally as it sits on the Kalamazoo River, pouring right into Lake Michigan. This area fed trees to Chicago to rebuild after the great fire of 1871. But when the trees and lumbermen were gone, farmers cultivated peaches and other summer fruits for a wide market, and rustic natural beauty brought vacationers over from Chicago, about three hours away by car these days.


Lakeshore Drive in Douglas

In 1910 artists from the Art Institute in Chicago started the OxBow School of Art on OxBow Harbor north of town. I snuck around in my car until I found the campus, empty in the winter, except for me and the robins. They only house artists eight weeks in the summer. My grandparents, Grandma Olive and Grandpa Sidney, studied at the Art Institute together, and I wonder if they might have visited OxBow since it was begun in their era. Too bad they're not here to ask. Some of the old cottages (not in the picture below) have been fitted with high studio windows, just lovely. You can see the OxBow harbor behind the little found object sculpture in the upper right corner, below. Click on the image to get a closer look.




The town of Saugatuck has fewer than 1,000 permanent residents, like Phil and his glass sculpting wife Judy. During the summer when this becomes the Cape Cod of the Midwest, the town holds around 3,000. There are beautiful bed and breakfasts - including the Wickwood Inn owned by Julee Russo of The Silver Palate cookbook, where Don and I have celebrated a few anniversaries and birthdays.

Besides the dunes and beaches, people come to see world class art displayed in more than a dozen galleries in Saugatuck and Douglas. I visited one this time - the Water Street Gallery in Douglas. The Bruce Baughman painting, upper left corner below, was in the window of his own gallery on Main Street in Saugatuck.



Clockwise from top right: Sparrow, by Byron Gin; Saugatuck Dunes, by Anne Corlett Wiley; 
glass piece title and artist unknown; title unknown, by Bruce Baughman

Of all the great eating places in these two towns, I couldn't resist a new combination: the first ever bowling alley here (in Douglas), where you can get a terrific burger (and any burger on the menu can be ordered as a veggie version, yay) and a martini. I had to try all that. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time I ate my mushroom Swiss veggie burger and sweet potato fries while sipping a Cosmopolitan at the Lakeview Lanes bowling alley. I even bowled a very bad game and laughed at my form with my neighbors in the next lane.



I did all this in one day by myself in a needful retreat, which my kind husband recommended. Imagine a week of good times you could have in the summer with someone as considerate as that - swimming, kayaking, eating ice cream and caramel apples from Kilwin's, lying in the sand, riding a ferry, shopping for one-of-a-kind jewelry or dishes or art, driving around looking at cozy cottages, lounging in your gorgeous bed and breakfast room Sunday morning over coffee while reading the paper, strolling the marina gawking at yachts with people eating lunch on them like it's normal, eating a picnic lunch listening to piped music from the Butler while watching boats on the river, shopping for antiques, collecting shells, stones and photographs.
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67 comments:

ellen abbott said...

What a very cool place. Nice to know it is there. and some time alone is wonderful too. Lucky you.

João said...

Lucky we, to have you sharing all this with us.
Obrigado.

(I had to write blubae to post this...nice)

VioletSky said...

I was going to comment on your previous post... but didn't want to get lost in the 84 other comments! Besides, now it is all 'clear'.

We should all take some time to ourselves and just escape. And seeing a tourist town in the off season is the best escape I can think of. Much more true to the self.

Susan said...

Where do I sign up?!! It sounds like the perfect summer beach resort when one is a lover of quiet things, like me. The town should print this post as a travel brochure. They wouldn't be able to hold all the people it would entice! Lovely!

CottageGirl said...

What a wonderful respite and solo at that! Only once have I traveled away by myself ... of course it was a conference ... but it was for four days ... all by myself in a state park. As much as I love my hubby, it was a most delicious time.

Your post encourages me to explore new horizons in our area. Thank you!!! What a lovely place Saugatuck is!

Kat said...

That sounds like such a wonderful time! I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

*jean* said...

very inviting! i would love to drive, eat and shop there! love yer bowling shoes!

eveningstar1 said...

What a fascinating town and history! It does look like it provides a perfect summer escape, but what a treat to enjoy the solitude it offers you now. I love to know places like Saugatuck exist since it sometimes feels like the entire world has been malled. The art pieces you share are exquisite; I'll be curious to know what you think of Ominivore's Dilemma as I am a big Michael Pollan fan. Enjoy the rest of your time there!

Mary

Bella Rum said...

It sounds lovely, Ruth. I love places like this. I visited a little historical town near us yesterday. We have so few places left that haven't had all the charm commercialized right out of them. Gorgeous photos.
Bella

Deborah said...

Ruth, I had no idea this place existed, not surprisingly, and by the name of it, thought it would be on the East Coast. Especially with all that fog!
It looks like a delightful place and it is heartening to read that there are places left that have not succumbed to rampant consumerism, big box stores and the ubiquitous coffee-shop chains.
I can imagine that you feel, after a day like this in a place like this, that you've had a real holiday. What a find!

Kamana said...

sounds like a perfect place.

Loring Wirbel said...

No national chains? Is that legal?

Patricia said...

My husband says that our next vacation is going to be in the mid-west. This will have to be placed on the "Must Go" list.

Thanks for sharing your break with us!

kath said...

What a marvelous thing, a day trip, alone. I live in a tourist town, it's not busy yet, I wonder if I should do just that, right at home.

♥ Kathy said...

I'm so glad you got to have a little retreat :) It's lovely there. I much prefer small towns to busy big cities. There are so many wonderful things to discover in them!

caroldiane said...

you are having such a magical retreat - what is it like exploring here all by yourself (veggie burgers and Cosmopolitans for lunch at the bowling alley!! Good for you!). I have only once sailed away (on a ferry) to one of the Gulf Islands near my home for a solo get-away - it was perfect. I truly like arranging my days just for me. Enjoy and keep sharing your thoughtful posts and photos!!

dutchbaby said...

Thanks for taking me along on your day of well-deserved R&R. We always knew it, but here's proof that Don's a gem.

I am drawn to the beautiful sand dune painting by Anne Corlett Wiley with the Fauve brushstrokes and palette. What a great painting that would be in a lake house.

lovely you said...

I want to go to there!!! Seriously: bookstores, nature, bowling, veggie burgers, art, photography, B&Bs, these are only some of my most favorite things in the whole world, Ruth! What a wonderful place! What a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing it with us!

I used to dream of owning a Bed & Breakfast in a sleepy, beautiful place, which is why I started off as a business major in college. But the first day of Accounting 2 caused me to panic and change my major to Sociology. I've been meaning to tell you this, that I was one of those annoying students who changed my major in the first week of classes! Go easy on them, Ruth.

Vagabonde said...

Going to touristy places off season is best. I remember once when in the island of Mykonos, Greece, in November the people there kept saying “why did you come now, there is nobody here” and I would answer “exactly, that’s why I came.” But they could not understand it, if I was a tourist, I should come during the tourist season. I felt I was more a “traveler” than a plain “tourist.” Two years ago our daughter, son in law and baby grandson (in Ohio) wished for us all to take a week’s vacation by the water. I looked at Michigan but all the places looking at the lake were exorbitant. It was cheaper to rent a 3 bedroom brand new condo on the beach in Clearwater, Florida. But I would like to visit your area in the fall, some day (I already have plans for this fall!)

ds said...

You had me at "bookstore." ;)
I love towns like that, with places & views & people like that. They are fast disappearing. Thank you for sharing your visit with us.

Trudi said...

Wow!!! What a great get away. Thanks for taking us along.

kanmuri said...

Beautiful place! It reminded me of a city I saw in Tasmania.

Peter said...

I had to look up Saugatuck on Google Earth; I had of course a fair idea of where to find it, but... Out of the touristic season it seems almost out of this world, obviously the moment when to visit! The problem then is often that it is too "closed" and maybe difficult to find decent places for sleeping, eating, drinking... Anyhow, you obviously found enough open to make you happy, including the fabulous "Shakespeare & Co"-like bookstore! (If I remember correctly you even slept over at "Shakespeare & Co"; I saw your bed there recently!)

Barry said...

What a beautiful and relaxing place, almost idyllic.

And no Starbucks? How can that be? Is that even allowed?

Jeanie said...

I haven't visited Saugatuck in a long while -- and never out of season. There is something charming, and so very different about a tourist mecca out of season. Love the photos -- they're very moody with that fog; almost sad, lonely, waiting in expectation. And I don't think I knew about Oxbow -- you have the art gene in your veins!

California Girl said...

What beautiful sights and wonderful artwork & glass work you're enjoying. I'm enjoying the fact you shared. You sound very happy!

Terresa said...

Bed and breakfasts and glowing table lamps? I'm there.

Retreats are divine. Pass the caramel apples.

Sharon Sunday said...

Wonderful post. Those pictures. I really feel I am there.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, I neeeeeed this vacation!
What a great idea for you to get away by yourself and enjoy this wonderful Michigan treasure. Dave and I spent a weekend there a couple of summers ago. I can never get enough of that place. We discovered Douglas as well. Oh geez some of the restored homes behind the shops are just beautiful. The beaches... what can you say just spectacular. David and I stayed at the Ship and Shore when we went. It was a vintage classic, nothing fancy just clean and cool,walking distance to everything. It's interesting to read about the life of the full time residents,I have often dreamed about what it would be like to live there year round.
Peace my friend. xox cb

Montag said...

"Dead Souls" was one of the first paperbacks I ever bought with my own money.

Back then, I used to "Gogol it" instead of "Google"!

Ruth said...

Hi, Ellen. I hope these towns manage to keep developers at bay, so to speak.

Ruth said...

João, well you know it is best in person, of course. Bluebae, just in time for spring.

Ruth said...

Violetski, I had a strange experience in the drug store. I asked where the pens were, and journals. I forgot mine at home. One clerk asked, "a what?" "A pen." "You mean a Saugatuck pen?" "No, just a pen." "Oh, I think they're back behind the pharmacy." The other clerk asked, "a journal?" "Yes, a journal." "I don't think we have any." "Is there a stationers in town?" "No."

I ended up getting a girl's spiral notebook, with a 3D design cover, very sweet. But it was strange to try to communicate with the storekeepers who expected my needs to be purely touristy.

Ruth said...

Susie, I'm guessing you and David would come to Saugie when it's nice and warm, which is really wonderful. But you do pay the price of lots and lots of people. It's fun to watch them though, and all the shops are open, unlike now! Maybe you can manage an on-season and off-season weekend, wouldn't that be perfect. Maybe off-season first.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, we all need solitude! I have never minded going to restaurants alone, or traveling alone. When my sister Nancy and I spent 2 weeks in Paris in 1997, we did everything together the first week. Then we suddenly realized we didn't want to spend our time, energy and money the same ways, so we went off on our own the second week and had a blast meeting at the apartment for supper and telling each other about our day!

Ruth said...

Hi, Kat, thank you. Sometimes it's nice to go and do just what your insides tell you as the day progresses.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Jean. I walked out of the place with those shoes on, I loved them so much. Almost got in the car, saw them, went back, and about 4 people commented as I made my way back to the bowling counter. Then I couldn't remember where I'd put my hiking boots! There they were under my table by my lane.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Mary. I will let you know about The Omnivore's Dilemma. I haven't started it yet, but my son is almost done with it. From what I've heard of his message overall, he seems to be an important part of the movement away from unhealthy processed foods in this American diet of ours. Bravo to him!

Ruth said...

Hi, Bella, who thought strip malls were a good idea?

I hope your tooth will be pampered very soon.

Ruth said...

Deborah, I can't believe how much I fit into one day, and how doing just what I felt like filled me up so much.

Ruth said...

Just about, Kamana.

gemma said...

Wonderful Ruth. You've painted us a great description of someplace I'd like to visit. The landscape,the architecture,the folks,the art...
Ahhhh.

Ruth said...

Loring, apparently it's against Saugie regulations to have them. My friend Ned at work lives in Saugatuck and has been part of the beach commission for years, keeping developers at bay. They wanted to turn the beach north of the river into Myrtle Beach. So far they are determined to avoid that, thank god.

Ruth said...

Patricia, your weekend in DC looked beautiful. I think you would have a small town, artistic, best-of-the-Midwest kind of vacation in West Michigan, and I recommend keeping Saugatuck or Douglas as your launch pad. The bed and breakfasts are tremendous, and if Wickwood Inn is in your budget, you would be pampered.

Ruth said...

Do it, Kath. The quiet is quieter.

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, thank you so much. We all should do something different from the routine every so often. I hope you can too sometime soon.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, I love doing all these things with Don, but sometimes it's nice to do them alone. I had a really quiet and peaceful day. It's nice to ask myself what I want to do next, and just do that.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, you have a keen eye. That painting is quite large, and the punch of colors blew me away. You are right, I can see it in a brightly lit wide hallway of a summer house.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, yes, we went to Scotland in November for a conference, and then traveled for a vacation, and people asked us the same questions - "Why didn't you come when the heather is in bloom?"

It's true Lake Michigan waterfront rooms are costly. I think it's those Chicago visitors who have the money.

Ruth said...

Thank you, DS. If you and I went to the Singapore Bank bookstore together, I might have to leave you to browse while I go get coffee. I'm guessing you might enjoy a couple of hours there. ;-)

Ruth said...

Hi, Trudi, I'm glad you liked it. Better in person!

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, cool!

You must be getting so jittery and excited to move.

Ruth said...

Peter, I'm so happy to see you back. Your posts from southern France took my breath away.

You are remembering, perhaps, the time George Whitman asked if I had a pillow for the night, calling to me from the upstairs window at Shakespeare & Co. I almost regretted telling him that I did. What an experience it would be to sleep on the bed so many young writer-apprentices have slept, and get up and sweep up after last night's reading.

That Paris Deconstructed post is here:

http://paris-deconstructed.blogspot.com/2006/04/writing-in-paris-shakespeare-co.html

Ruth said...

Barry, this town has some strong commissioners who fight developers tooth and nail. Thankfully.

Ruth said...

Hi, Jeanie, I never knew about OxBow too, until I picked up the tourism magazine in the motel this trip. They don't post any signs on the beach road, that's for sure. In fact signs keep saying NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT three or four times. But I just kept on going. I'm glad no one was there. :|

Ruth said...

Hi, California Girl. I have to say that yes, Friday, was one very happy day for me. You can't necessarily plan that kind of happiness, even when you go to such a grand place.

Ruth said...

Terresa, if you can ever take one in Saugatuck, or a place like it, you will be filled up, I predict. There is so much to feed you.

Ruth said...

Shari, thank you, the atmosphere is nourishing there. I'm glad you feel it in the photos.

Ruth said...

Cathy! You were right in the heart of things there at the S & S by the water. The river's life really contributes to the sense of serenity, even when there are hordes of people. I think the people who visit are looking for that peace too, which must be part of it. (I think I must be getting old.)

Ruth said...

Montag, bada-boom!

I am loving this book. I've only read his short stories The Nose and The String. His attention to detail with humorous genius is mind boggling.

Ruth said...

Gemma, oh you would go nuts at the galleries! Well, you could show your work there.

Ginnie said...

What I love most about all of this, Ruth, is that I've been there and can picture it through your eyes. I've been pondering what it is that allows you to see things differently than I do...almost all the time. It's like a jolt. It's not that you have a better way of saying/describing it. You actually SEE it better...or differently. I have some ideas about why. I THINK about things. You FEEL them and EXPERIENCE them. The difference between a Gemini and a Leo? I want to get out of my head more and start experiencing things. It's still possible before it's too late...but it takes a lot of effort on my part. I have to slow down...and smell the coffee! :)

Oliag said...

...I do hope that you and Don do get to spend that wonderful week together...but a day alone in a beautiful environment must be so restorative! I dream of doing somehthing like that sometime..but would I really dare to?...

...Such beautiful foggy pictures too...and Cosmos at the bowling alley...Love it:)

xo

Ruth said...

Boots, I don't know why there is difference in how we see, but it's good, I think. Your attention to detail is remarkable, and so beautifully expressed. I need to strengthen that discipline, so, we can all strengthen something.

I do feel the world more than I see it.

Ruth said...

Oliag, maybe try just lunch out alone somewhere, sometime. Once you get past the seeming oddity of it and just get comfortable with being alone - reading, or journaling, or just sitting - then maybe you can spread into an afternoon or a day. I spent a week in Paris alone and loved it, though by about the 4th day I really wanted Don or someone there to talk about everything with. Thankfully I had my laptop and was able to chat with family and friends in my apt at night.

Snappy Di said...

This is a beautiful post, Ruth. I'm so glad I stopped by a second time and read it. Sometimes I get in a hurry when posts are long and just look at the pictures. This was worth the read.

Di
The Blue Ridge Gal

Ruth said...

Di, I know what you mean. Thank you very much for coming back, I'm glad you enjoyed Saugatuck.