If you read Beth‘s post about the Ephemeroptera along Vermont’s Canadian border, you know what’s making this Port Clinton, Ohio sign look furry: the wings and tails of countless mayflies.

On Friday, Gary and I drove to Port Clinton, Ohio, where we boarded a passenger ferry to Put-in-Bay, a popular tourist destination on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island. Given that Gary and I were mere day-trippers, heading to South Bass around lunchtime and planning to head home around dinner, it was perhaps fitting that we visited Put-in-Bay during mayfly season, when the area is carpeted with living, breeding, and dying insects destined to live only about a day.

Short-lived insects are a curious phenomenon, and so are island-hopping tourists. Because Gary and I migrated to South Bass on a Friday, our outward ferry was peopled with weekenders, the women pulling wheeled carry-ons and the men toting coolers and six packs. Put-in-Bay, it seems, is a popular party destination: a close-to-home place where land-locked Ohioans can imagine a tropical island getaway. Although South Bass is by no means exotic, slews of souvenir shops tried to suggest such, striving to re-fashion Put-in-Bay as the Margaritaville of the Midwest, a place where T-shirts promise “What happens in Put-in-Bay stays in Put-in-Bay.”

Judging from what Gary and I assiduously observed, what happens in Put-in-Bay is pretty wholesome at least by daytime, consisting of water sports like jet-skiing…


…boating with geese…

…moped-ing under fake palm trees…

…and lake kayaking.

Detailed directional signs notwithstanding, tourists on South Bass island and the businesses that cater to them seem to be a bit clueless about geography. Having been to seaside destinations like Bar Harbor, Maine, I had to laugh at the various lakeshore restaurants advertising lobster: lobster don’t live in Lake Erie, so the crustaceous meal you’d buy in Put-in-Bay is no fresher than one you’d buy at an inland Red Lobster. The point of Put-in-Bay, though, seems to be vacation fantasy: because we all took a boat to get to an island in the middle of a freshwater lake, we day-trippers could fool ourselves into thinking we’d arrived at a seaside resort, the smell of salt coming from our drink glasses, not from actual tides.

Gary and I eschewed the much-touted Put-in-Bay lobster bisque and opted instead for a lunch of perch and walleye: two fresh water fish that do live in Lake Erie. The fish we ate probably themselves fed on mayfly eggs and larvae, closing a culinary circle as adult flies buzzed around us. Although I can’t personally attest to Put-in-Bay’s status as an alternate Margaritaville, I can say that our lunchtime mojitos were less than satisfactory, the waitress whom Gary questioned about “fresh mint” assuring us that, yes, the drink mix was fresh. If your drinks come from a mix, you’re pretty much guaranteed a disappointing experience: would Jimmy Buffet, for instance, settle for anything other than real lime juice?

Luckily, Gary and I didn’t visit Put-in-Bay for the food or drinks, seeking out a different sort of wildlife. Many of the beer- and cooler-toting guys we’d seen on the ferry were also carrying fishing gear, and the prevalence of Great Blue Herons on the South Bass shoreline suggested that those guys’ afternoons wouldn’t be wasted even if their drinking buddies were.

If you’re looking for Margaritaville, you really have to stay the weekend, one night of drunken carousing never being enough to make you feel you’ve really gotten away. But if you’re simply searching for serendipity, a day-trip is more than adequate, the mundane cycle of there and back being enough to stir up something new, guaranteed.

On Friday’s day-trip to Put-in-Bay, serendipity was serpentine as Gary and I saw not one but two rare Lake Erie water snakes, ubiquitous signs around the island beseeching visitors to leave them in peace as they’re both threatened and entirely harmless to humans, preying on fish that are too small to interest human fishermen.

As if a single serving of serendipity weren’t enough, Friday also dished out an unusual mammal: an extra-lively black squirrel that Gary and I chased with our digicam, this being the best of some two-dozen shots I snapped, most of them capturing only a blurry bit of shoulder or tail.

As Gary and I ferried back to the mainland on Friday night, the usual tourist parties were just getting started, but we hadn’t come to Put-in-Bay for that sort of wildlife. A couple of day-trippers amongst Ephemera, we were content to chase squirrels, spy on snakes, and then head home, confident that a clear-eyed morning-after would deliver serendipity anew.