Island enthusiasts have a term, island time, for the way the pace of life changes when you step on an island. From Jamaica to Goat Island, life on the island feels slower, more relaxed and less rigid. Author Maureen Dunphy, who has been exploring Midwest islands for decades, insists that the phenomenon is real.
“You give up a lot of control when you buy your ferry ticket,” Dunphy said. “You leave everything behind, and there’s something about the scale and the community.”
The author, who was preparing for a family getaway on Pelee Island in Lake Erie when City Pulse reached her last week, recently published “Great Lakes Island Escapes,” a guide to the islands of the Great Lakes Basin. Dunphy, who has been visiting Pelee Island for more than 23 years, appreciates the smallness of Midwest islands.
“In a handful of days, you can get to see every nook and cranny,” she said. But not everyone’s interest in islands is about curiosity. Dunphy writes about infamous criminal John Dillinger, who allegedly used Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron as a hideout for his gang.
Dunphy’s book is a well-organized look at 136 of the 35,000 islands located in the Great Lakes Basin. Since this is a travel book, Dunphy only wrote about islands that are accessible by ferry or bridge and that have accommodations available for the average traveler. Both in the book and in life, she avoids islands that are accessible only by planes.
“I’m not a small plane person,” Dunphy said.
Each island adventure is broken down into sections: how to get there, what to expect, natural sites and history, things to do and a closing section called “parting shots,” where Dunphy gives her own thoughts on the island. With the help of friends and family members, Dunphy made 27 trips to Great Lakes Islands between May 2013 and August 2014, mostly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, to gather information for her book. She traveled to Isle Royale by ferry from Grand Portage, Minn., a seven-hour ferry ride.
“Isle Royale blew me away,” she said.
“I fell in love with the island when I set my eyes on it. The forest was off the charts.”
Other islands she is particularly fond of include two islands in Lake Michigan: Washington Island in Dore County, Wisc., and Beaver Island, which is accessible by ferry from Charlevoix. Mackinac Island is also special to Dunphy, because that’s where she hatched the idea to do a book on Great Lakes Basin islands.
Dunphy’s personal anecdotes put a fun twist into the travel guide. She writes about buying wine from Doud’s Market and sitting on the porch of Mackinac Island’s Harbour View Inn with her husband, trying to imagine what the Michigan Republican Convention meeting on the island would look like on Pelee Island.
“How could two islands in the same freshwater system be so completely different?” she writes.
Dunphy also writes about the First Nations — indigenous Canadians — and their relationship to the lake islands. Walpole Island in the St. Clair River, for example, belongs to neither the U.S. nor Canada. It is First Nation land. A sign at the bridge reads: “Boozhoo, Bkejwanong Territory,” which translates to “Welcome to Walpole Island First Nation, Unceded Territory.” The author visited the island during a dedication ceremony for a statue of Chief Tecumseh, who is said to be buried on Walpole Island.
Dunphy also writes about artists who use islands for inspiration or to work in seclusion. Christian Island in Ontario, for example, inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write a song about the island’s protective harbor. Novelist Joseph Boyden wrote “Three Day Road,” his World War I novel about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian army, while living on an island. Author Margaret Atwood has a cottage on Pelee Island, where she is active in preservation and birding.
“Any island I went to, I tended to meet artists,” Dunphy said. “There is something very restorative about islands.”
The book is extensively illustrated with photographs by Dunphy and maps drawn by her mother, Caroline Dunphy, an artist based in Northville. One unexpected — but highly valuable — portion of the book is the extensive bibliography of island resources. Dunphy hopes that the book will help travelers appreciate the Midwest’s natural resources.
“I love the Great Lakes, and one of the best ways to experience the lakes is on islands,” she said.