I’m a frequent flier for photography assignments, but one thing I’m not accustomed to is chatting with the pilot during flight. Through the use of a headset and microphone, my partner in conversation is Keith Teague, owner of Fresh Air Aviation. Keith makes several trips a day from Charlevoix to Beaver Island in small but comfortable passenger planes. The one we’re in today is much smaller—a two-seater he’s pulled out of the hanger specifically for this occasion.
It’s the smallest aircraft I’ve ever been in, and I’m sitting mere inches behind Keith—no room for a carry-on, much less complimentary peanuts. As we fly, I understand why Keith chose this unique plane for my aerial photography assignment. Keith talks about the island landscape and weather, and when it’s time to take a picture, he holds the plane’s left side window wide open with his arm. It’s a great technique, and he’s done this before (for a National Geographic photographer, no less) so clearly, I’m in good hands. We establish a pattern: chat, open window, snap, snap, snap.
On the ground at the island’s tiny airstrip, I find my rental car. Availability on the island can be limited, and mine has come by way of a phone call to Gordon’s Auto Rentals and Clinic. Awaiting me is a Dodge Caravan, circa 1990s. The windshield is cracked and on the dashboard there’s a white sheet of paper that reads KEVIN.
The van turns out to be perfectly reliable and well-suited for driving the sandy roads through the woods. I soon realize a rental isn’t completely necessary on the island; my hotel owner and several other locals offer to give me rides. The island is a mere 13 miles long by 6 miles wide, and if you have a reservation at any of the nearby restaurants, it seems likely you’ll be offered a ride.
While driving on Beaver Island, I think it’s possible that locals recognize my van, because everywhere I go, people seem to be waving at me. But they can’t be mistaking me for a local, unless one of the 600 year-round residents happens to also be short, bespectacled Japanese American. I soon realize that all drivers on the island wave to each other in passing, which is reason enough for me to love this place.
After a successful few days of shooting, which includes photographing diners at the Beaver Island Lodge at sunset and three swimmers who had the gorgeous beach at Iron Ore Bay all to themselves, it’s time to move on. I leave the van—keys in the ignition—at the airport and board one of Keith’s larger planes (all windows closed, this time) for the trip back to Charlevoix.
Kevin J. Miyazaki is a freelance magazine photographer based in Milwaukee. In addition to Michigan Travel Ideas and Midwest Living, his clients include Bon Appétit, AARP, Money, ESPN and Reader’s Digest.