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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Bottrall

Mackinac Island Whitefish

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Last week I attended the first event of the summer from the Mackinac Island Arts Council. Children, parents and art enthusiasts showed up for the 2021 Poetic Visions of Mackinac contest. This is the fifth year that original pieces of art are submitted by Mackinac Island public school students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Twenty-nine students participated this year as the Mackinac Island Arts Council and the Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey coached them on different art mediums such as mosaics, watercolors & photography and poetry writing. All children received participation certificates and a free ice cream cone courtesy of Joann's Fudge.

One of the most common questions I get about Mackinac Island is, “Do people really live there in the winter?” The answer is yes - about 600 live on the island year round. This includes families with children and pets. There is a K-12 school on Mackinac Island with a total enrollment of between 70 and 80 students depending on the year. There are 14 teachers and seven board members. The largest class has 10 students, and the smallest has 4. Most children live about one mile from the school. I know that doesn’t seem far, but in the middle of winter when the snow can easily pass the top of a child’s snow boots, that can be a tough walk. Children walk or ride their bikes to school except in the winter when many are transported by snowmobile. After the age of 12, students can apply for a snowmobile driving permit and then they may drive themselves to school. It is an incredible site to see a parking lot full of snowmobiles instead of cars!

Small class sizes can mean lots of personal attention from the teachers and many of the students excel under this arrangement. In fact, in 2017 ten Mackinac Island students were invited to participate in the World Robotics Competition. They placed in the top 2% of students in the country. As far as sports, the "Lakers" are proud to offer soccer, volleyball, basketball, track and golf teams. In addition, the Mackinac Arts Council has theatrical productions each year with spots for children to perform.

I was pleasantly surprised at the advanced artistic skill of many of the entries into the Poetic Visions of Mackinac. A big round of congratulations goes to fourth grader Jayden Rickley and her piece, I AM, which won the $150 award for best in show. Retired College Professor, Poet and Judge for the show, Jim Lenfestey, said that the piece “inspires and encourages the viewer to take care of our natural resources.” I would proudly display the best in show next to any “real” artwork in my house. The majesty and strength of the islands natural wonder is beautifully captured in both the poetry and the mosaic of this piece.

I am huge and strong.

I wonder if people like me?

I hear the wind fly through the trees.

I see the blue water and people riding their bikes on the road.

I want to get out of my shape because my arms and legs are getting tired.

I am huge and strong.

I understand I can’t move, but my arms are exhausted.

I say, “Hey, people will you help me?”

I dream that one day I will be able to move.

I try to stay in my form, and I do but it’s tough.

I hope that people will help me.

I am Arch Rock

Jayden Rickley

All 29 entries will be on display through June at Mission Point Resort, but if you are not going to be on the Island, you can also view every entry here: 2021 Book Poetic Visions (

Being at this competition encouraged me to try my own poem and art piece. But I decided to use food as my medium, since that is always my chosen form of art. But first just a bit of history....

In the 1860’s fishing replaced the fur trade as the number one industry in the Mackinac Island area. Every Spring local Irish fishermen, barrel makers (coopers) and net makers caught, cleaned, salted and packed thousands of barrels of Great Lakes Whitefish for transport to New York and Canada. Even today Whitefish is the prime commercial species of the Great Lakes fisheries and approximately 9 million pounds of the mild filets are harvested every year.

I’m not much of a poet but in tribute to the Mackinac Island students who did so well I thought I’d give it a try. See below for a goofy attempt at poetry and then beneath that a recipe for my favorite way to prepare the mild filets: Blackened Whitefish with Spring Cucumber Salad.


With a mighty heave-ho I pulled the line from the water.

Her scales sparked in the sun the day I caught her.

She might be regretting the last bite she took

But I won't regret the big fish on my hook.

Will she be smoked, planked, or battered and fried?

Blackened or salted or chowderized?

All we need is some lemon and that great ol'fish

To make an unforgettable northern dish.

Won't you join in the fun and create a Mackinac Island themed piece of art and maybe even a poem to accompany it? I would love to see your creations! Please email me or comment with your art and poems.

If you have enjoyed this little bit of Mackinac Island in your in-box you can sign up for twice weekly emails by going here - Or please share this with all your friends. They will be glad you did.

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