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That morning, we drove up Wallin road and launched ourselves onto the Betsie for the first time. The river runs shallow in its higher reaches, but it was up that year, so the boulders we could see through dazzlingly clear water gave us no problems. Schools of minnows darted about, and a wood turtle scudded along the gravel. Snapping turtles raised snaky heads from the mud, rows of painted turtles basked along logs, and every now and then a glistening green frog lept from the bank. Dragon flies flew alongside and their iridescent damselfly cousins preened on our bow. There were cedar waxwings and goldfinch, red starts and yellow warblers, song sparrows and catbirds in dense bushes lining the river. Once, a doe leaped out of the shallows to crash back into the forest. Remarkably, not a single mosquito assailed us.
I have been an avid birdwatcher all of my life. In years to come I would often return from a walk along the Betsie feeling like I had died and gone to (birdwatcher’s) heaven, and that first float was no different. A kingfisher kept flying ahead and then, as if he had been waiting for us, would spring from his perch and take off down the river, rattling derisively. A bottle-green heron perched on an overhanging branch cocked its golden eye at us as we passed underneath, and we startled several great blue herons which flew off low to the water, with a rush of enormous wings.
We were nearly at our take out point when we began passing riverside cottages. One of them, painted brick red with a dock to match, looked especially appealing. What if we tied our boat up and climbed that ladder? If no one was there, we could look for lots to buy. If the owners were home, we could say we were looking for our takeout. No one was there. We peered in the window, and saw a nice little living room.
“We need to see what this street is,” said John, “this would be a great place to buy—wonder if anything’s for sale along here?”
I had found the window of a tidy little kitchen and was thinking how much more comfortable it would be too cook breakfast inside there than at a campground fire pit in pouring rain, when he came bursting around the house.
“You’re not going to believe it! This cottage is for sale!”
We regarded each other with wild surpise.
Several weeks later, having located the owner and sent our own appraiser to assess the cottage’s worth, we collected our daughter and drove back Up North so we could get her opinion and confer with the real estate dealer. After showing her the cottage, which she really liked, we stopped at the local diner to discuss what to say to the dealer. An hour later, we returned to the diner, totally disconsolate.
“She’s holding out at her price,” the real estate dealer had told us.
“Our appraiser comes in ten thousand lower,” John had replied.
We discussed all this over a delicious brunch of French toast and coffee.
“That’s got to be our final offer,” I realized sadly, having fallen head over heels in love with the little red cottage.
“Trouble is,” said our daughter “the dealer said cottages didn’t come up for sale on the Betsie all that often.”
We were getting whiny by this time, talking louder than we realized.
“Excuse me?” An immensely tall man, very pleasant looking, came over to our table, accompanied by a weather beaten character with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. “May we sit down? I’m Tom, and this is Jim. Couldn’t help overhearing.”
Surprised, we said “sure.”
“Thing is,” said Tom, “We’ve heard you both times in here and think we have good thing for you.”
John, who has a guileless soul, looked interested, but I didn’t trust “good things” from total strangers.
“After the Robinson cottage, are you?” asked Jim. “Well, we’ve got something much nicer for you!”
“And why would you do that?” I asked.