Cutting Redbird’s Head

OK, we’re going north to the Emerald Isle. And landlocked as I am in Indiana, I don’t mean “quite a bit north east” to Ireland.

And by “Emerald Isle,” I don’t mean Ireland.

Or the town in North Carolina.

I mean none other than Michigan’s own Beaver Island, a turkey-filled paradise (I assume there are also beavers, but the turkeys are everywhere. Watching. Waiting.) about 32 miles north of Charlevoix. There are towering sand dunes, thick forests, Irish flags everywhere, and The Shamrock, where you can get a great burger and an even greater slice of Guiness Cake.

For such a small island (55 square miles or thereabouts), its recent history is fairly unique. There is a strong Irish connection, particularly to immigrant families from Arranmore Island, driven off their land for the usual reasons (famine, poverty, a seething asshole of a landlord, etc.). It was also home to a small theocratic monarchy in the mid 1800s: James J. Strang, after the death of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, declared himself King of the Mormons and established a Mormon kingdom with Beaver Island at its center. Although he was eventually assassinated and most vestiges of his kingdom are gone, Beaver Island’s main road–King’s Road–is named after him.

More personally, it’s also home to the Brother’s Place, a bed-and-breakfast type of lodge that was initially built decades ago by the Christian Brothers (who also make inexpensive and delicious brandy) as a monastic retreat. And because my wife’s grandfather was heavily involved in this particular branch of the Christian Brothers, there’s a large portrait of  him that hangs in the main hallway, which both looks cool and gets us a family discount on a room whenever we stay.

There are other dwellings, too, both rented and permanent. There is a sizeable town with year-round residents. A little gas station by the harbor. Various roadside museums and shops. A school.

A library.

Which, like all libraries, occasionally has book sales.

And it was during a particular book sale a few years back that I rummaged, squinting and half-blind, among folding tables stacked high with a bounty of to-be-sold books.

Squinting because it was a bright, cloudless August day. Half-blind because earlier that week, my glasses had fallen behind the shower stall of the Brother’s Place, into an inaccessible hole near the floor, and probably down to the bottom of the building’s foundations. Those sweet frames, bought in Terre Haute, Indiana, became another relic of the island’s history, and I was left to wander around the island like a giant, sightless sloth for the rest of the week.

So I’m blind-slothing through the book piles, pulling each selected volume to my face so my weak-ass eyes can see what it is I’m holding. There are a lot of books. I’m not making great progress. The library is closing soon. It’s hot. I’m blind. My wife is ready to get going. It’s great fun.

And suddenly it gets even more fun. I pull a book with a neat silver cover. A book of poetry by Leonard “Red” Bird called River of Lost Souls

And it’s signed.

But not only is it signed; it’s also personalized. Mr. Bird, it seems, donated this book to the library after writing a neat little inscription above his name, presumably about how much he loves Beaver Island.

“Presumably,” because, as sometimes happens with withdrawn library books being sold, part of the page has been cut out. In this instance, a chunk of the top of the page is missing, taking with it part of the inscription.  It’s head, so to speak, has been cut off.

But the signature is clear, and one can kind of get the idea of what he wrote in the inscription.

And regardless of the marred page, it’s still a great book. Buy a copy if you can find one. Even if it has all its pages.















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