A few weeks ago I had a crazy day. I started at the break of dawn with back-to-back Senior pictures in Traverse City. At 1:00 I had a class in Glen Arbor and then I was due back in TC by 5:30 for a TADL Board meeting.
My plan for the day included a lot of water, lunch, a bag of snacks and if at all possible a few seconds of rest somewhere. As it turned out my high school seniors were both great to work with and fun, and I was done and heading west by 11:00. As is my way when I have an hour to spare I headed for Glen Haven.
Glen Haven where M-209 ends has changed dramatically over the last forty-five years. When I went there as a child it was an abandoned beach. It was an annual destination for rock collecting. When I first started seriously photographing there, about 1990, Glen Haven was a ghost town. It was remote and quiet with beautiful flowing beach grass that hid the wide clear beach from the road. I could show up there in the middle of summer and although I would encounter other beachcombers, we each got our own spot and, because of the grass, had a feeling of total isolation.
Somewhere along the way the National Park Service decided to “manage” Glen Haven as a high-density tourism area. They built a huge blacktop parking lot. Complete with long elaborate handicap access ramps. The lovely Glen Haven Canning Co. building became a museum with more blacktop. Then, in what I consider to be the most misguided of their efforts they killed off all of the beach grass that had been there for as long as anyone alive could remember. By their reasoning it was not native. Now the Glen Haven beach is wide open to sounds from the parking lot, and outlined by a cable fence.
The five-building town across the road from the beachfront is now busy — by Middle of Nowhere standards. But to be fair, the NPS has done well in keeping the buildings in good repair. Having a restroom is never a bad idea. The interpretation at the blacksmith shop is fun for kids and draws a small crowd in the peak season. And the draw of open Lake Michigan is so strong that the no one lingers in town long. Even if you do find cars and people ever-present, there are respites. No one seems to notice the abandoned Sleeping Bear Inn. It’s across the street from the restrooms, general store, and blacksmith, and across another road from the beach. It doesn’t have a real parking lot. So even on a busy warm noon in August I was able to find a quiet place for lunch on the porch that faces the lake.
I was eating my lunch and thinking wistful thoughs about the lake when two starlings started to entertain me with a little dance. They were diving in and around right in front of me. I was there for rest, and I was trying to mentally prepare for the class I was about to teach. Which is an excuse for the fact that it took me about 15 minutes to figure out the birds were not just dancing around; they were trying to distract me. I finally looked up at the porch ceiling for the first time to notice a crowded nest of their babies just a few feet from my right shoulder. Not babies, young birds almost ready to fledge.
The nest was so crowded that the chicks could only move by climbing over each other. Without thinking I moved as far away on the porch as I could to put mom and dad starling at ease. It didn’t work. They became bold enough to take a few passes right into the nest, but were still not happy about my proximity to their home. Then it hit me, just like all the tourists on the street I was trying to avoid, I was an interloper. This was their home and I was a visitor. I left a little crust from my sandwich up by the nest as rent and headed off to teach my class.