Storytellers: Benoît Pioulard

Benoît Pioulard shares his love for North Manitou Island.

storyt Benoit Pioulard

Storytellers takes a glimpse into an artist’s inner psyche through a story of their choice.

Benoît Pioulard shares his love for North Manitou Island, a little speck in the middle of Lake Michigan that inspires him greatly.


My favorite place in the entire world—at least, on the list of ones I’ve visited—is North Manitou Island, which is a little dot in the middle of Lake Michigan just northwest of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline.

I’ve been out there on a few camping excursions, the first couple of which were with my dad, but after that, totally alone. It occurred to me recently that the last time I set foot on North Manitou was in 2007, just prior to my 23rd birthday. This realization made me a little sad, you know, in the sense that this was almost six years ago and—while an amazing number of good things have transpired since then—my little life, the only one I get on this planet, is slipping through my fingers.

I recalled the way I’d anticipated that trip for weeks, the fact that it would be my farewell to Michigan as I prepared to move to the west coast, all symbolic and that. I diligently arranged my pack, gassed up the car, booked a night at a dumpy local motel in Leland, and took my leave.

The ferry to North Manitou—and the only way to get there, for it has no landing strip, no electricity, no roads—leaves 3 or 4 mornings a week at dawn, and if you miss it, tough luck.

The hour-long boat ride is almost always incredibly choppy going through the area of Lake Michigan that the tiny tugboat-sized ferry has to traverse by necessity, but on this occasion the trip was strikingly, almost unnervingly, calm. A grey-white cloak of misty fog hugged the water’s surface and droplets of it collected on my eyelashes as I sat on deck. I had the sense that I was on Charon’s boat, crossing to the beyond. I know that sounds silly, but it’s absolutely true.

This is the first time I recall having a true sense of the infinite, feeling that I might be on this little boat forever, and if I were, I would be o.k. with that.

Surely enough, though, we arrived at the island’s only dock, next to its only ranger station, and there was a giddy sort of serenity on the faces of the 6 or 7 other people who’d been on the boat, suggesting that they’d felt something similar to what I’d experienced.

That week, without any instruments at my disposal and only a notebook to keep me company, I wrote and wrote and wrote every day—in between lengthy hikes and excursions to the few abandoned houses and the graveyard that remains from when North Manitou was a logging settlement in the 1800′s—and came up with a half-dozen fully formed songs that existed only in my head and kept me company in a truly inexplicable way.

This had never happened before, nor has it happened in the same manner since. Some vital part of me is still out there, waiting to reconvene.

Stream “Margin,” the lead-off single from Benoît Pioulard’s new record, out March 4th via Kranky: