Some of Life’s Pleasures

A couple of our good friends (and excellent people all around, I should add) visited over the 4th, and we enjoyed a typical menu of northern Michigan’s offerings: kayaking over clear waters, fishing a couple rivers, antiquing, and eating delicious food.  Also we did some chemistry and played cards.  The cards were admittedly more fun.

By Wednesday, much of the Independence Day hoard had left, and so we met the Clifton’s for a little wreckage.  To be clear, Jess and Jackson went to the beach to swing while Tony, Jim and I swam out to the Albatross schooner wreck submerged on the banks of the Elk River as it dumps into Elk Lake.  As we were suiting up in our sexy wetsuits, a family of geese swam ashore.  Delighted, we pointed them out to Jackson (who is a bit over 2 years old) and wondered where they were wandering.  Directly to us it seemed.  Bemused, we watched as the whole lot of them curiously ventured closer.  Curiously, ha!  The pugnacious giants were demanding food.  I – being a terrible influence – rummaged around in the car until I found some Veggie Straws.  Satiated, they took to the water again, and refrained from scaring us further.  (Ask Jackson what a goose says…”Hisssssss!” he’ll answer.)  In the water, clarity was excellent (for the setting) and the wreck was teeming with fish.

Belligerent geese

Ship wreck makes a nice fish habitat

More fish hiding in the weeds below the wreck

When we finally got cold, we undressed and redressed and met up with the other half of the Clifton family in Elk Rapids.  After perusing a Wednesday night festival and some shops (including Java Jones where I got a decaf! s’mores mocha), we meandered back to a mostly deserted beach just in time to watch the sun sink below the horizon.

Edge of the sunset over the Elk River

I love this Mackinac Bridge playground replica :)

Sunset over Old Mission as seen from Elk Rapids

Following up a night full of activity, I got all domestic-like and prepared a calorie-laden meal of ribs, cabbage casserole, herbed potatoes, and white chocolate ganache frosted cake with local fruit.  Yum!  (Recipes upon request)  After you eat that much good food, there isn’t a whole lot to do besides bask in the stupor of a food coma.  Which we did. (But not alone.  We are not the heathens you take us for!)

But today we worked it off.  This evening after work, Tony and I checked out a new-to-us access point on the east side of Torch Lake where we played skip ball for over an hour.  We were the only people there and frolicked childishly in the water the entire time.

Crown vetch adorning "our" private beach

The view down under the tree and down the shore

Dancing sunlight

Sparkling water

The serenity, the fun, the views, the run during sunset tonight, the whole feeling.  Life just doesn’t get much better.  Ask my nephews who will be joining us tomorrow :)

There’s No Place Like Home

We spent most of the first week of March in the Atlanta area officially getting in some face time “in the office.”  Unofficially – and the best reason, as far as I’m concerned (and since I’m the author here, my opinion is the only one that matters…) – we were catching up with friends.  We had a great time; Abigail and Jackson were being impossibly cute and sweet and generally awesome, which they usually are.  I still don’t want one, but I certainly wouldn’t complain about having more chances to shake up and return my friends’ (and brother’s and sister’s) children!  I also wouldn’t complain about having more time with my friends south of the Mason-Dixon, but it doesn’t seem likely, considering that we live above the 45th parallel.  Nonetheless, we had lots of good conversation – and food!  I’m not stepping on the scale to check, but I’m sure I gained some weight over the week.  Ably Asian, Chick-fil-A (twice), Marietta Diner, Canoe, Krispy Kreme.  It wasn’t all top-notch, Top Chef-type food, but it was all delicious!

Atlanta and Ellijay were enjoying sublime spring weather (minus the Saturday morning rain, which I can forgive since it didn’t delay my flight), so it was quite jarring to step off the plane in Flint to fresh snow and considerable winds.  We were supposed to get up to 2″ of snow Friday-Saturday, but it looked a lot more like 6-8″.  The roads were clear, and our spring is still a few weeks away, so I was pleased with the additional accumulation; the trees were heavily frosted and mesmerizing the last hour of our drive.  I thought I might be pining for the warmer temperatures and fresh-sprouting greens of spring, but I’m not.

We woke (after a glorious, much-needed night of sleep) to unblemished blue skies, and of course the fresh snow.  After lunch, we embarked upon our day’s adventures on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Our first stop was at Hendryx beach – a location new to us – and ventured out onto the ice shelf.  Close to the shore, the scene was almost silent.  The air was still, only a single swan for company (there were a couple ladies there when we arrived, but I think we scared them off), and no road traffic.  After realizing we were over very shallow water, we did what Mom would have once chastised me for, and got close to the edge.  Then we heard what sounded for all the world like hundreds of peeping baby birds.  It took us a few minutes, but after some ice shelf exploration, we discovered the noise was coming from the friction of the broken ice sheets floating on the water next to us.  Somehow, the tableau was even more serene when punctuated by the music of the clamorous ice than with soundless stillness. [Click any pictures for a larger version.]

After my fingers were thoroughly frozen (winter temperatures + no gloves + lots of pictures = cold fingers), we left the beach (ha!) to see what else we could find.  The findings turned out to be some interesting striations in the ice on some small bay.  Also, some other pretties:

Leaving the roadside distraction behind, we rounded the tip of the peninsula only to arrive at South Beach.  (Channeling Dave Barry: )I am not making this up.  I have a picture, but decided it was not picturesque enough to deserve an online presence.  South Beach was resplendent with sun, surf and sand, or at least sandy ice.  Unlike the other side of the peninsula, which was in what I’ll call the wind shadow, this side was squarely facing it.  (Head on: apply directly to the forehead.) The mixed sand-and-ice shelf was fissured in places from the recent freeze-and-thaw cycles, but the ducks were impervious.  Or maybe just bird-brained (teehee).  Regardless, it was cold, slippery, and absolutely stunning:

Continuing south, we stopped just north of the Dunes in Glen Haven at a restored historic village.  I took a picture of the cannery building, because the colors were a study in juxtaposition, but I don’t love it.  I put it up anyway, so don’t judge it too harshly.  We found something we did love though: remains of an old, large pier.  We’ll be back, and I’ll post pictures from underwater when we do.)  In the meantime, these will have to suffice:

We were so close to the Dunes, that their immense gravitational field pulled us in.  I was compelled to do the climb (Tony was not inclined likewise), and I’ll admit that it’s more fun in the summer when you sink down with each bouncy stride down the steep grade.  The sand was quite crunchy, and I was glad not to have fallen.

If the home is where the heart is, surely northern Michigan is home.  It’s good to be back.

See? They really *do* look awesome in the snow.

Autumn Fireworks

The Sunday before last, I was so excited about the leaves changing that we had to take a kayak run down the Platte River.  The last time we were over that way for such purpose, the water was so crowded that we left.  I felt like an uppity local, like one of those people who talk about how tourists ruin all your favorite places.  But though I live here, I’m still a tourist, as evidenced by the camera I carry around constantly.  Also, I am fully aware that tourists and rich people are the only real source of dollars up here.  So, instead of ranting, we just left and decided we’d come back when the tourists went home.  Also, we waited for the salmon and fall color.

Don't mind the water spot...fall is still peeking through!

This trip was one of our most relaxed trips, and was actually the first time Tony and I made the trip without accompaniment.  We were alone for the most part, save the intrepid birds and sexed-up salmon.  As we floated downstream, we watched this heron pluck its meal right out of the water, which was very cool.  We also got to watch a sea gull rip apart a dead salmon and make off with bits of its skin.  Alas, I did not take a picture of that.

About halfway through the trip is a fish weir.  Until we portaged around it, I had been disappointed in the small number (zero) of big fish we saw.  Last time we canoed here with Meg I saw several large guys.  I was beginning to think our attempts to witness the fall salmon runs were a bust.  But, as soon as we got back in the water, we were surrounded with large, numerous, active salmon.  Dozens of them zoomed between us like they were in Road Atlanta (which we did NOT go to this weekend).  We chased a school of 30-40 downstream, or maybe they used us for cover.  They weren’t talkative, so I didn’t find out which.  Regardless, it was a singular experience, and one I’d like to repeat.

Salmon lined up at the fish weir

Up close and edited for contrast

After loading up the kayaks, it was about 6:00, so we decided to grab some food at a little place in Empire and wait on the earth to turn its horizons more easterly.  We drove the deserted dune drive and got to the huge west overlook in time to wander around a bit and inspect all the work they’ve done.  I didn’t photograph it, but some crazy person drove a bobcat-like machine all over the sand dune, which now has signs on it warning those who venture down that if they don’t make it back on their own, they will face a fine.  Anyway, if you went there this summer, it’s a different landscape, but still a great place from which to marvel our star and moon:

No color editing, I swear! The setting sun provided rosey lighting on the dune sand, while the moon peeks through above.

Moonrise and the sun's last light highlighting the tips of some dune grass

It's 450 feet to the bottom. I, for one, would NOT drive on that dune! But I may climb it one day...

Speaking of our most obvious astronomical neighbors, here are a few more images, but from a different day:

What I'm calling a sunbow from an overlook on Old Mission Peninsula

The moon looking larger than life on the same date as the sunbow

Before we went to Atlanta (sorry if you wanted to see us and missed us!), we made a run up to a little fruit stand on the Old Mission Peninsula.  There are myriad places from which to get tasty apples and other goodies, but we prefer this place, so there we went.  After talking to the fabulous little old lady proprietress, we left with our peck of honeycrisp apples (the BEST apples in the world…if Jeff ever has any, he will confirm, I have no doubt!) and enjoyed the show on the way home.  If you enlarge the “sunbow” picture, you can see a hint of the visible spectrum on the left side.  With my super-special sunglasses (read: polarized), I could actually see color all around the sun, but this picture shows some of the awesomeness, anyway.  And, who doesn’t love it when the moon looks like that?

And where are the autumn fireworks that the title promised?  In an upcoming blog, because I haven’t taken the pictures yet.  But I will, because in the time that we were gone (Thursday – Tuesday), the trees exploded in fall color, and I am a sucker for a pretty picture, or 20 :)

Rainy Day Recon

It rained lightly for most of the afternoon, but I can’t complain too much.  The whole region has had a bit of a drought, and frankly I don’t want to burn my woods (or house!) down when I get around to burning some brush we’ve cleared.  Determined not to waste some free time, we headed out after Tony was done working early this evening to scope out some places to go and take people when the weather is more cooperative.  After reading this blog, we drove west to check out some Platte River access.  Indeed, the section of river upstream of Platte Lake is swift and loggy.  I’m not sure I’d canoe it, but it looks fun for kayaking!

Now that I know what they are, I feel compelled to include one more shot of the flowers.  In case you missed it, and don’t already know, they are Forget-Me-Nots.  And I love them.  Especially when I can get a nice macro shot with the river in the background!

We came across these beautiful shelf fungi in the state forest campground.  While there, speculating on how mushroom-y the woods looked, it occurred to me that I evaluate all forests in this way.  That looks like a good ridge! I don’t know that I’d eat these mushrooms (if I could identify them as edible and tasty, I would…just to be clear), but the slugs were chowing down.


Being interested in a trip we might actually take in the upcoming week, we took off in the trusty GTI and located the canoeable section of water.  It’s still pretty quick.  The water is surprisingly clear, even for here, and very inviting.  We watched some kayakers dive into the river near its delta, and I would have been tempted, too, if it had been warmer or even just sunny.  As things were, I was just impressed by the natural beauty.

Doesn't it look like an ad? It also LOOKS clean. The Shawlers might guess that it isn't, really.

Being road trip masters, we took the long way home, and came across this little guy shortly after leaving the Lake Michigan shoreline.  It was big enough that I knew it wasn’t a squirrel (there are black ones up here, in case you didn’t know…look for future posts, because I think the rodents are adorable!), and it wasn’t walking like a cat or raccoon.  Then I remembered: we have porcupines up here!

The long road home was aimed at letting us check out a dam on the Manistee River.  We got there at about 9:30, with enough light to see that the dam does in fact seem to hold water.  There are a lot of steps down, but it was worth the effort.

I’m not sure that we’ll spend much time at the dam, but we’ll probably check it out again later in the year.  However, I bet we’ll spend more time a bit more downstream, below Tippy Dam.  The salmon run there in the in fall:)  Currently, I’m most looking forward to the Platte and Lake Michigan beyond.