BRUGGER: The U.P.: a different scent of Pure Michigan

Sep 7, 2012


Crossing the bridge into God’s country stirs up my creative juices enough to inspire a few words. I cherish the anonymity, the peace and quiet of our cabin visits.

Except for the dog, this was only our third solo trip since 1982. Five days on our own before kids and grandkids arrived.

On the drive up I-75, I read recipes from "Cooking Light," planning our menu to include every green from our Grandson’s Gardens community-supported agriculture. Feeling much like a Norwegian farmer’s wife, I hefted the crate of organic produce: cherries, blueberries, kale, three kinds of lettuce, arugula, onions and carrots, and packed it all in a cooler. Salivating, I held up pictures to show Barry, who was no doubt dreaming of life the way it used to be, with bags of Lay's potato chips and a hotdog.

A pristine blue sky and calm waters on Lake Michigan had the locals and Route 2 travelers parallel parked along the beach, dancing in the shallow surf. No one appreciates Michigan like Michiganders. Ebullience bubbled around the crowds of summer lovers, soaking up the brew of sun and warmth.

As we cruised around the sweep of shoreline at Naubinway, I said, “Turn here. Let’s pick up some whitefish.” The shoreline jutted out and curved east just enough for us to see where the fishing boats motored in and out to deliver their daily haul.

A narrow paved road turned to dirt and led to a warehouse, with a single door labeled King’s Fish Market. Ken King, third-generation fish monger, greeted us. In no time, he procured six fresh fish from the cooler, slapped them on the stainless steel counter and began to fillet them. He shared his story with us:

“Yeah, I grew up working around the fish market, helped out my whole life. Then, I was up in Marquette my freshman year, and my grandfather called to tell me he was ready to give me my own boat and what’d I think about trying it out.”

Ken sloshed fish guts over the edge of the table into a bucket.

“My first time out I hauled in 1,500 fish. Of course, that seemed like a lot of easy cash for a young kid. I figured I’d give the business a try. The next year, a huge storm came up, the nets all broke, boats got damaged. Like any job, it has its ups and downs. After 20 years, I sold my boat to a young kid this spring, and I’m running the business from in here. Let my crew do the hard work.”

As we watched Ken clean the dark fat from the underside of the fish fillets, someone knocked on the door. Two women and three kids stepped into the small room. To my amazement, the women flashed grins at my husband, not Ken.

“Oh my gosh, are you Barry Brugger from Grand Haven?" one of them gushed. “I went to high school with you. You were that cute guy in school.”

Barry blushed.

“This is my sister, and my nieces and nephew," she told us. "We stay at a cottage just up the road.” 

In a tiny fish market, at the end of a dirt road — in the U.P., no less.

And this was not the first time. Twenty years before, the one and only time we picnicked with our four kids along the shore of the Two Hearted in the middle of nowhere, a canoe floated by and a woman looked up at us sitting on the bank, held her paddle up and shouted, “Barry, is that you? I haven’t seen you since high school!” She drifted down the river and out of sight.

“That was weird, Dad. Who was that?” Exactly.

Last night on the deck overlooking Round Lake, I was honored to have Barry Brugger deep-fry fresh sweet whitefish — one fillet for me and two for himself. No braising, steaming or poaching for him. I served organic tomatoes, tender lettuce, onions and carrots, with a light balsamic dressing. The paparazzi were held at bay by a perfect breeze.

Life continues to thrive in the Upper Peninsula, a slightly different scent of Pure Michigan. Unlike the popularity of Grand Haven, where it’s difficult to find a parking space on a Saturday at the beach, the U.P. is spacious, albeit quirky.

However, you never know what star might be lurking around the next bend in the road or river.

— By Ann Brugger, Tribune community columnist



I love this, thank you!


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