Masks, Gloves, Social Distancing: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

This was the cover story in our season-opening, May 20 print edition of the Glen Arbor Sun.

Listen. Do you hear it? A robin chirrs from its perch on a nearby branch. In response, a blue jay jeers from its nest. A squirrel scampers through leaves. A soaring hawk screeches as it scans the land for its prey. Waves lap the shoreline. A morel mushroom forager’s footsteps creep along the forest floor. A black bear huffs at the Alligator Hill trailhead in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; another one paws the beach near the mouth of the Leland River in Fishtown. Where humans retreat, if only temporarily, nature fills the void. 

A wooden payment box opens as a customer deposits bills at a road-side asparagus stand. In the village, voices muffled by facemasks negotiate a curbside food order. The plastic bag crumples as gloved hands pass it through an open car window. “Thank you. Thank you for being open for us,” says the customer, a tinge of relief and gratitude in their voice—as though this were a risky, clandestine operation. “Please stay safe.”

Such is the soundtrack of spring in Leelanau County during the time of the coronavirus—the pandemic that has ravaged the world, infected millions, killed hundreds of thousands, scared us all, forced us to distance ourselves from one another, and brought our economy to its knees.

It is a time of suffering, of confusion, of boredom, of longing for each other—of missing celebrations, barbecues, parades, and graduation ceremonies. It is a time of favorite businesses shutting their doors indefinitely. RIP, Big Cat Brewery in Cedar; RIP Tucker’s in Northport. It is also a time of finger-pointing and second-guessing in our toxic, politicized, tribal environment. As of press time, Leelanau County has recorded 11 positive cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. That number has plateaued in recent weeks, so many of us are tempted to question the State of Michigan’s executive order through May 28 to stay at home [Governor Whitmer just extended the stay-at-home order until June 12], to socially distance ourselves, and to keep many businesses closed. But we know the disease is sneaky and lethal. It can be transmitted with the ease of a handshake, or a spoken word from several feet away. We also know that summer brings tens of thousands of tourists from downstate, including metropolitan areas hard hit by the pandemic. According to the state, nearly 3,500 Michigan lives have been saved because we have dutifully and honorably practiced social distancing for the past two months. We show our solidarity by keeping apart.

It is also a time for people, businesses, and organizations to channel their natural human innovation and adapt to this crisis. Restaurants offering curbside pickup outside their front doors, an arts center providing online programing and classes, friends and loved ones communicating through a window pane or via Zoom. This unprecedented crisis forces us to adapt, just as our species has for tens of thousands of years. [Since this edition of the Sun went to press, Governor Whitmer granted restaurants and bars in Northern Michigan permission to open at 50-percent capacity on Friday, May 22. Some, but not all, are re-opening their doors.]

Sleeping Bear golden anniversary party delayed

This was going to be a year of celebrations for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which officially turns 50 years old in October. President Nixon signed legislation on Oct. 21, 1970, that created the Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes had planned a year-long series of events to commemorate the golden anniversary. But many of those events have been canceled or postponed. The Lakeshore had initially intended to hold one major event per month through 2020.

“We’ll go ahead and celebrate once we can get large crowds together,” said deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich.

Popular events like the M22 Challenge in June, the Manitou Music Festival’s Sleeping Bear Dune Climb concert in July, and the Port Oneida Fair in August are canceled. A Sleeping Bear Dunes concert at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City, scheduled for this fall, is up in the air.

Events outside the National Lakeshore are also canceled for 2020. The Empire Asparagus Festival wasn’t held the third weekend in May (though organizers pulled off virtual asparagus recipe and poetry contests); the Cedar Polka Festival has been postponed until the fall; the Leland Wine & Food Festival is off; the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s Manitou Music series won’t happen, and the Glen Arbor Fourth of July is currently canceled for the first time in 57 years, confirmed organizer Stan Brubaker. However, Brubaker holds out hope it can be rescheduled if social distancing restrictions are eased.

“The parade is, by nature, a very spontaneous kind of thing,” said Brubaker. “No organization is really in charge of it. People meet at Glen Haven, tinker with decorations, and talk with old friends. At this moment it is called off, but if restrictions are dropped we could still pull it off.”

Innovation in the arts

The Glen Arbor Arts Center is adapting and reaching for innovative solutions during the pandemic. While the Manitou Music series is canceled, executive director Sarah Kime hopes that pop-up concerts featuring local musicians could be rescheduled for this fall if the pandemic subsides and social distancing regulations are relaxed.

The Arts Center has pivoted to offer virtual arts programming and classes, and plans to convert the Plein Air Weekend—its signature summer painting event—to a virtual format.

 “We’re grateful that we can offer any creative opportunity virtually,” said Kime. “We’re collaborating with people that we haven’t before.”

“The process of going from virtual to live is easier than from going from live to virtual. The positive aspect to all of our hard work establishing virtual offerings will not go away. We will use what we learned went well and incorporate into our business model.”

Kime finds a silver lining amidst the cancelations.

“What has made this awesome is it has given us an opportunity to offer art virtually, which gives accessibility to people who didn’t have it before. People without a car, people who are sick and unable to travel to us.”

“We’re trying to be the bright light right now in these dark times. Art is therapeutic for people. They need this outlet.”

For a full schedule of upcoming virtual events, visit the Arts Center’s Facebook page,