I knew the layout of the islands clustered there in the western part of Lake Erie. From the eastern harbor of Put-in-Bay, I knew our first stop would be Middle Bass Island, just north of where we were. That island was populated—even had a winery—Lonz Winery—that looked like a castle, a place, I’d read, that tourists loved to go. And drink. It sat right on the waterfront.
I was terrified that we would stop there—guaranteeing that we’d be late getting back to Put-in-Bay, but Harriet assured me that she’d overheard the college students say that they were just going to look at the nearby islands, not dock and go ashore and look around. And drink.
I wasn’t all that interested in Middle Bass, anyway. The island I was really curious about was the third one we would see. Green Island, almost directly west from our departure point, only about two miles away. From my reading, I’d learned a few things about Green.
It was once the home to a lighthouse—actually, more than one. The first one, opened in 1854, burned on New Year’s Eve, 1863, in the brutal cold. Rescuers—risking their own lives—crossed the thin ice between the two islands, tried to fight the fire. But without any success, though people did run in and out of the burning structure with important items—including clothing for the bitterly cold night, perhaps as low as 25 below zero. Everyone spent a very uncomfortable night but returned across the ice to Put-in-Bay the following morning.
Another lighthouse arose in 1865, but in 1926 the residence was abandoned—and then vandals burned the structure. I’d read, though, that the shell of the old lighthouse remains I’d read that there were caves on the island, too—and that the whole area was heavily populated by double-crested cormorants, large dark water birds that look almost prehistoric with a wingspan of up to four feet. Their surging cries are sharp, piercing.
I really wanted to see that island—the ruined lighthouse, the crying birds. But knew I wouldn’t. Like Middle Island down on the Ohio River, Green is a wildlife refuge administered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. No one lives there. In fact, you can go there only with permission. So I knew we would approach Green but not dock there. It just wasn’t allowed.
Harriet whispered her “plan” to me in the dim closet. When I heard it, I couldn’t decide which was more dim—the closet or her plan.
“We’ll hide here until we’re mostly past Middle Bass,” she said. “Then it’ll be too much trouble for them to take us back—and they’ll have to let us stay with them the rest of the trip.”
She sounded excited—as if she’d just cracked some impossible code—or won some dumb quiz show on TV.
“But what if they just put us off on the first island they come to?” I asked. “Did you think of that?” I was starting to move from fear toward anger. This was without question the dumbest thing I’d ever done. And I’d done it for only one reason: Harriet.
“Oh, they wouldn’t do that,” she whispered. “They’re much too nice!”
I sulked rather than answered.
Soon, I felt the craft slowing down, and we could hear voices from outside the closet, voices that were speaking excitedly about the Lonz Winery. They could apparently see other young people having a good time out on the balcony of the winery. Some of our fellow passengers (the legal ones!) wanted to go ashore and join the party.
But I was relieved to hear the voice of the one Harriet was obsessed with say: “No, we don’t have time. I promised my dad we’d be back by 5.”
Sounds of groans of disappointment—but not from me.
I felt us cruising slowly—probably along the short Middle Bass coast—and then we began moving faster once again. “Just a few more minutes,” said Harriet.
That’s what I was afraid of.