I just love it when I have one of those “unexpected” days – when you have a whole day of fun-ness planned, but along the way an unforeseen hand grabs you and guides you to people and experiences that you never would have found on your own. And it makes your day better than you could have ever planned or imagined!

It all happened because the universe planted a seed of an idea that I should drive 40 miles out of my way to catch a sunrise.

Saturday morning, 6 a.m. and wide awake, I popped out of bed because I was all geeked up to spend Christmas in Rapid River with my girls and couldn’t sleep. Every first Saturday of December we enjoy a small town Christmas celebration which highlights a craft show that spills over into meeting halls, community buildings, and even taverns. Santa makes an appearance driving a hay cart, and local businesses all join in with open houses and treats to snack on.

My girlfriends (better known as the Cooters) and I have gathered together for years to honor our tradition of having breakfast at Jack’s Restaurant, driving to Stonington’s Peninsula Point to hike the songbird trail to the lighthouse, and concluding our day with craft show shopping and Bloody Marys at the Swallow Inn.

Stonington Lighthouse Tree

As part of our tradition, after we hike the songbird trail, we all pose near this tree by the Stonington Lighthouse.

The only difference this year? My 9-year-old goddaughter Kellyn, a Junior Cooter-in-training, was going to join us.

I’m not sure if it was inspiration or pre-coffee hallucinations that morning, but I wanted to do something to make it fun for her because she’s such an awesome kid. This is the same kid who participates with me in another favorite Friday night tradition: coloring with Kellyn at her parents’ house, drinking wine with her mom, and listening to our husbands crack us up with stories from their past (or of future shenanigans which could conceivably require bail money).

That night Kellyn and I took turns playing a Christmas tree hot-and-cold game, where one of us would hide a tiny toy cow ornament in the tree, and the other would search for it. In a pre-coffee epiphany the next morning, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if I went out to the Stonington songbird trail and hid a bunch of things out there for her to find?” Problem was, the only things I had in my house that would even remotely work were about ten little Christmas ornaments, which looked like tiny foxes, that I’d bought on clearance a million years ago.

Whatevs – it’s the thought that counts! If I left immediately, I could drive out to the lighthouse, hide some of the foxes on the trail, catch a beautiful sunrise, and make it back in time for breakfast at Jack’s. Perfect!

Then the coffee, and reality, kicked in about halfway to the lighthouse. I had less than an hour to do all these things and still catch the sunrise, and I had to drive slowly because there were literally dozens of deer in fields and along the side of the road to dodge. Plus, there was a guy in a pickup in front of me driving 30 mph and politely stopping for every deer which strolled in front of him across the road. No matter! I’d made up my mind, so I blew past the pickup and came roaring up to the lighthouse. I sprinted up the steps as fast as my chubby legs would carry me, and I arrived, wheezing, at the top to witness the spectacular sunrise…

Stonington Sunrise

Feeble sunrise or not, this place is still breathtaking.

…which never materialized. Dang! How did I miss the fact that it was cloudy? I had barely had a chance to hide a couple of fox ornaments inside the old lighthouse when I heard the blast of a shotgun.

What the what?

Yes, in my haste and obliviousness, that pickup truck had brought another duck hunter out to meet his buddy at the point, and while I was huffing and puffing my way to the top of the lighthouse, they were probably cursing the fact that some granola-eating, nature-loving fat chick in a Subaru, wildly sprinting around the area, had scared away every duck within a ten mile radius.

Duck Hunters

In my defense, I was distracted and didn’t see these guys waaaaay out there in the bay!

Sheepish, I climbed down, embarrassed that I’d messed up their hunters’ juju, but not embarrassed enough to keep me from hiding a couple more fox ornaments for Kellyn at the end of the songbird trail. I was going to do this thing I’d driven over 40 miles to finish, whether I’d been cursed or not!

Back in Rapid River, I’d managed to arrive in time to meet all my girls and to catch up over a nice breakfast at Jack’s. It was only when my friend Joan mentioned to me that her husband and his friend had decided to go out early that morning to duck hunt near Peninsula Point that I realized how small the universe is, and what a twisted sense of humor she has.

After some craft show shopping, the crew made its way back out to Stonington for our hike. Rach and I were especially watchful for deer because her SUV’s front grill is a magnet for wildlife, and we didn’t want a collision of any kind to mar our day.

That’s probably why we both noticed this small “something” in the middle of the road, and that the something moved a tiny leg as we drove over it. Curious, we turned around to take a closer look and discovered the biggest, fattest toad I’d ever seen – keep in mind it’s first week of December –  struggling to move because it looked like it’d recently spent time in the jaws of something.

I was about to move him to the side of the road when I realized that I couldn’t just leave him there to fend for himself. Kellyn grabbed a blanket out of the back seat, and we took him along for the ride. Kellyn decided that he looked like a “Frank,” and that’s how we ended up with a toad mascot on our hike. Somewhere along the trail my mom pointed out that Frank’s nickname in Spanish would be “Paco,” and after we’d warmed up our little toad friend, we placed Frank-Paco in a nice bed of leaves in the sunshine, overlooking beautiful Big Bay de Noc.

Frank-Paco

Our hiking buddy

Kellyn had a blast finding the little foxes I’d hidden along the trail, and when we reached the lighthouse at the end, we realized how lucky we’d been to enjoy a hike in the woods without even needing a jacket because it was so warm and sunny.

Rock Delta County

As a bonus, we even found a rock, hidden by the Rock Delta County group – look them up on Facebook for more info!

Hope

We didn’t expect to find “Hope” on our hike today, but there it was, in plain sight.

Before heading back to town we bumped into a birder sitting near the lighthouse, who’d told us that he’d seen a snowy owl on his drive down to the point. What were the odds that this person turned out to be a neighbor of Joan’s, whom they’d never met, and who lived just down the road? And what were the odds that we’d spot the same snowy owl sitting on the same hay bale among the many farms dotting the Stonington peninsula? Pretty good, as it turned out. It was my first sighting of the bird, and this amateur bird nerd was in heaven.

Snowy Owl

Our first snowy owl spotting! What a beauty.

Before finishing up our craft shopping in town, we stopped by the Hillcrest Inn & Motel, where they offered fun activities for kids (and kids at heart), including face painting, making homemade Christmas ornaments, and writing letters to Santa. While Kellyn’s wish list to Santa was probably more realistic, it didn’t stop me from asking Santa for world peace, a trip to Paris, and a beach body. You all will feel pretty foolish that you didn’t write a letter to him yourselves, if you ever see me in Paris, with my beach body, leading a world summit on peace.

Letter to Santa

Face Painting

You are never too old to be a child!

As we sipped our Bloody Marys and kiddie cocktails at the Swallow Inn, I marveled at how unexpectedly perfect this day had been, and how grateful I was to have shared it with people I love. They say that we all know each other in this world through no more than six degrees of separation, but in the 906, I think this day proved that we’re all a lot closer than that.

Bloody Marys

Perfect way to end the day!

Be happy, be well.