In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): Moonrise on Bowers Harbor

When we’re tired of pavements and city noise
And want to romp like girls and boys;
When the heat of summer flaunts its wrath,
We seek that breeze-caressed path…

— from an old brochure for the Sunrise Inn
(now the Neahtawanta Inn Bed & Breakfast)

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It was nearly dark when we arrived at our bed and breakfast. It was mine and James’ second visit to the Neahtawanta Inn, and we were delighted to find Petey (an 18+ year old, orange cat) resting where we’d last said goodbye to him: on an armchair in the downstairs common area. In truth, given his advanced age, we weren’t so sure he’d still be around. He gave us both that IMG_3905raspy meow we remembered and I rubbed his ears as gently as I could. He’s a wise, old soul.

The inn (originally the Sunrise Inn, built in 1890) rests on the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay on the Old Mission Peninsula — an unusually narrow and long strip of land which divides the Grand Traverse Bay into west and east arms. This small peninsula is one of the most peaceful, beautiful places we’ve ever ventured.

Where the inn meets the water is actually a bay within a bay called Bowers Harbor. Here, the waters are absolutely crystal clear and most often very still except for a nearly constant gentle breeze that wafts all around you and dapples light across the water. The inn is perfectly positioned so that guests can soak in the peace and quiet of either the dense peninsula forest, or enjoy sweeping views of the harbor all along the front.

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Bob and Sally, proud innkeepers of the Neahtawanta Inn since the 1970s, have gradually transformed it from a turn of the century retreat to a quiet haven of a different sort — one that’s totally lacking in pretension, filled with local art, lined with interesting books, and tacitly representing their lifelong work as environmental and peace activists. From the moment your feet step from your vehicle, you can sense that the inn is working in harmony with its surroundings rather than imposing some manifest will of its own.

I suppose this is why — of all the inn’s amenities — its most prominent, staying feature is a very palpable peace and quiet you simply cannot find in ordinary lodging situations and certainly cannot be contrived. This is not an easy feat to accomplish when you’re technically in the business of pampering guests, so Bob and Sally are both to be commended for their fine work!

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As vegetarians, the innkeepers serve a fine breakfast every morning using local, fresh, and organic ingredients. The menus are so well-balanced and tasty, even omnivores like ourselves don’t miss our occasional breakfast bacon or sausage. Thanks to my exuberance in consuming breakfast each morning, I managed to not get a single decent photo of any of the breakfasts we enjoyed. My personal favorite, though, was a very hearty muffin featuring whole wheat, spices, simmered fruits, and a nutty topping (i.e. my kind of muffin!). I was able to coax the recipe from one of the staff members and I hope to be making this recipe and sharing it with all of you sometime this fall. (I think we’ll call them “Neahtawanta Muffins”!)

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Surrounding the inn are well-kept but unimposing shady gardens of herbs and a few wildflowers. This, naturally, drew my immediate attention! On one morning in particular, James and I took off for a pre-breakfast walk to take in the gardens and then made our way down the narrow shoreline road.

When you’re on the peninsula, the sunlight, somehow, takes on a glow of indescribable warmth that it lacks ordinarily. It sounds like a myth, but so many visitors agree. James and I walked along the narrow road and gazed out over the harbor with its waters shimmering in that uniquely golden sunlight. The breeze from the bay kept us cool and also stirred the tall grasses in a nearby field, making that peaceful whispering sound that I love almost as much as music.

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For all but one night of our stay at the inn, we made time to wander down the front steps, across the sand, and onto the little pier to sit over the mirrored waters and watch the moonrise. Each of those evenings contained their own brand of unrepeatable, special magic. I managed to get pictures of a few of those quiet moments when we were all a rapt audience for some of nature’s simplest and yet grandest shows.

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Our visit even coincided with a full moon, but — as luck would have it — I managed to forget my camera inside and upstairs on that evening. Looking back, if I’d had the camera, I’m not 100-percent certain I could’ve captured the moment, anyway. It was one of those moments where you know — as it’s happening — you’ll likely never experience this in so much sincere awe ever again. You could try to plan it, you could gather the same cast together, and — even if mother nature were to cooperate — the moment would still somehow be unrepeatable.

There we were, sitting out on the pier, our feet dangling in the chilly, mirrored waters, when a rose-colored sphere slowly rose above the eastern line of trees, casting a blue-purple-silver river of light all the way across the bay.

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Until that moment, Nicole and I had been chatting about this and that while James slipped in and out of the first stages of sleep. When we saw the moonrise, however, we all fell silent and were awestruck. Then, the only sounds were the ripples of water lightly tapping the wet sand, the sound of wind brushing against leaves, the whimpering call of birds settling in for the evening in the forest, and a collective sigh that came from the deepest part of each of us. Peace at last.

UPDATE: We’ve been informed that Bob Russell, one of the innkeepers at Neahtawanta Inn, passed away on August 23, 2013. He was undergoing a second round of cancer treatment at the time of our visit in the summer of 2011; we were all hoping the best for him. According to the inn’s website, Sally will continue to run the inn with the help of their family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

(The dark picture of the moon was taken on the evening following the full moon. I had to doctor it up quite a bit, unfortunately, but you can see the bay glowing in the moonlight within the silhouette of the trees.)

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~ by Jason on July 28, 2011.

10 Responses to “In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): Moonrise on Bowers Harbor”

  1. Beautiful. I almost felt like I was there.

  2. Excellent pictures and narrative.
    Thank you.
    Ralph

  3. OMG! I’d love to go there with that special someone too. πŸ™‚
    Love ya,
    Mom

  4. Lovely to see my state so well enjoyed and appreciated. Norene

    • Hi Norene. James tells me you’re from Ypsilanti, MI. We both enjoy saying the name of your town! πŸ˜› Thanks for reading.

  5. That somehow reminds me of Maine…nature is stunning here, too: http://livinglearningeating.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/multiple-mountain-madness/ πŸ™‚

    • I’ve heard more than one person make that comparison, definitely. We’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit Maine, but we’re definitely interested in making the trek sometime in the future — maybe for autumn, one year.

  6. Thank you, Jason, for such a lovely description! You are a great writer! We are so glad that you all enjoyed your visit with us. That’s what we love most: happy guests!

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