Hiking the North Country Trail Side of the Manistee River, Day One

I left Lansing Friday morning after breakfast with my husband at the Good Truckin’ Diner for a two and a half hour drive I intended to take three hours to make.

Driving North on I-127 in late October

I padded my drive time so I could pull over now and again and take pictures on the way up.

Driving north on I-127 in late October

Because while we’re still a week away from peak color here in mid-Michigan, I knew it wouldn’t take long before I started seeing some nice, full color as I headed north.

Driving north on I-127 in late October

It was cloudy but colorful, and the further north I got, the more the sun broke through. As it turned out, I was actually a wee bit late meeting my sister at the Marilla Trailhead of the North Country Trail (circled on the map below in red).

Our plan was to jump onto that red dotted line you see that indicates the North Country Trail and head south to the second of two creeks to set up camp for the first night. The fellow below was waiting a few steps onto the path to welcome us and bid us best wishes.

Garter snake at Marilla Trailhead, North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan

The trailhead path began as a gently sloping descent toward the NCT, which would take us up and down and along narrow ridges pounded out of the painted hillsides by generations of feet.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

Leaves of yellow — poplar, maple, birch — were sprinkled here and there with orange and red and rusty brown from other types of maples, beech, elm, and oak.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

Most of the ferns were dried and brown, though that first hour we got fairly wet with drizzly rain which fell intermittently and not enough all at once to really feel like it was raining. Every once in a while along the first part of the path, we were treated to overlooks like this…

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

The light spots in the distance are parts of the hillside on the other side of the Manistee River that have collapsed, leaving sand faces that look like dunes. In a couple days, that’s where we would be hiking.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

The sun peeked out from the clouds regularly to set our surroundings glowing.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

And I was glad that circumstances and schedules had pushed our trip so late in the season.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

We got supremely lucky that Michigan’s fall colors were late in coming this year.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

It sometimes seemed as though they must have known, must have held back until Alison and I could get up to see them. And after holding back, they had to let go in the most brilliant way.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

And even on this cloudy day, we could see for miles. This would be our home for four days and three nights.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

Though we marveled at the grand sweep of the forest, we were careful to notice the little things as well. Mushrooms and mosses of many kinds. Lichens and bearberry.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

Eventually we turned away from the big river and spent much of our time weaving our way through ravines choked with trees.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

The first creek we crossed was Eddington Creek. Alison and I are both fans of creeks.

Eddington Creek, North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

The sweet singing sound and the ambling way they cut through the forest are enchanting.

Eddington Creek, North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

But this was too soon in the hike to stop for the night. There was another set of creeks (unnamed, but very clearly on the map as squiggly blue lines) further along the trail and it was my intention that we would camp near one of those.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

So we hiked on. We crossed paths with other hikers, with mountain bikers, and with friendly dogs wearing saddlebags and broad dog smiles.

North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

We saw innumerable beautiful trees. We talked about our jobs and our families and our nation. And eventually we realized that the creeks we were searching for were either left far behind or not there to be found. We ran into another couple hikers, compared notes and maps, and discovered we were at least two miles further along than we thought, and we were also at the highest point on the trail. My explanation is that the streams we never saw are likely only running in spring when the winter snows are melting.

Campfire, North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

Luckily, we had plenty of water for the night. We chose a spot just off the trail, made a fire, and set up camp. It got steadily colder and darker until it became clear that the best thing to do was to layer up, don our warm hats and gloves, and tuck ourselves into our sleeping bags to capture our body heat. Even so, our toes and noses would be freezing in the morning. The night would be very cold indeed — 35 degrees Fahrenheit (less than 2 degrees Celsius, for my international readers). And very quiet…for the most part.

A cold night (35 degrees) camping along the North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October 2016

But we wouldn’t spend the entire night alone. Keep your eyes on that spot to the right of the tent, between the tent and the tree. Because there, in that space, we would have a midnight visitor…

[to be continued]

Autumn Comes to Fenner Nature Center

Colors tinge the edges of leaves, the ground is teeming with grasshoppers, and every flower rushes to produce its seed.

It must be autumn at last.


Fenner Nature Center, October 2016

Coneflower, Fenner Nature Center

Helenium, Fenner Nature Center

Grasshopper, Fenner Nature Center

Aster, Fenner Nature Center

Queen Anne's Lace, Fenner Nature Center

Gone to seed, Fenner Nature Center

Sumac and tallgrass prairie, Fenner Nature Center

Queen Anne's Lace, Fenner Nature Center


Seeds, Fenner Nature Center

Tallgrass Prairie, Fenner Nature Center

Tallgrass Prairie, Fenner Nature Center

Milkweed Pods

Fenner Nature Center

Mushrooms, Fenner Nature Center

Virginia Creeper, Fenner Nature Center

Leaves just beginning to turn

The Boy contemplates nature


What’s Left of Luxury

My favorite terrible place at the Silverdome was the ballroom/restaurant near the luxury boxes.

I wish I’d had more time in that space, but I did manage to get a few nice shots of the dregs at the bottom of the proverbial glass.

There was little left to focus on.

So few objects to hint at what once was.

So much had been sold off or stolen.

And only ghosts remained.

It’s a sobering reminder that all our best efforts to make a mark on this earth eventually come to naught.

Glass breaks.

Paint peels.

Carpet is eaten by moss.

The lights go out.

And the party ends.


“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~ Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

A Silver Opportunity: On the Set of Silverdome

This weekend I had the opportunity to take some of the last photos that will likely be taken in the Pontiac Silverdome, home of the Detroit Lions from 1975 to 2002.

A dear friend and talented writer, Ted Kluck, asked me to take stills of the production of his first feature-length film, Silverdome.

My husband and I were delighted to join him and his wife Kristin in Pontiac for a few hours. Ted and Kristin are our closest friends and they moved last year to Tennessee.

Silverdome is the last film project to get to shoot at the stadium before what remains of the structure is demolished to make way for new development.

The building that cost more than $55 million to build was finally auctioned off in 2009 for just $583,000. That’s 1% of its original value, for anyone counting.

I only ever saw part of one Lions game at the Silverdome. I remember little about it — just walking around the concourse with my father, seeing glimpses of the players in their Honolulu blue jerseys through the entrances to the seating areas, like passing a huge TV and then another huge TV and another, the sound of the game ebbing and flowing like the regular rhythm of tires over concrete seams on the highway.

I know others were there. My sister, perhaps. My uncle and my cousins.

Which makes me think it might have been Thanksgiving, because that’s when we went to Detroit to eat the holiday meal with family.

On second thought, maybe my sister wasn’t there. She’s never been allowed in the room when the Lions played on Thanksgiving because every time she came in, someone would fumble or there’d be a turnover or a field goal would be missed. Then everyone would yell at her to leave and not let up until she did. Poor Alison.

I don’t remember sitting in any of the 80,000+ seats the one day I was there.

I don’t remember walking into or out of the stadium.

All I remember is walking around the outside of the action, apart from the game, which the Lions were (predictably) losing — with or without my sister’s presence.

Being just outside the action is a frequent feeling for me. Lurking at the edges of the party. Loitering at the door of the gym. Looping around on the margins, rarely walking straight in.

I’ve lived in Lansing for eleven years and I have never been to a Michigan State football game. I can hear the muffled sound of the announcers and the roar of the crowd from my back yard. And it gives me a warm, pleased feeling.

But I never go.

Crowds make me vaguely uncomfortable.

I hate jostling for a place in line, hate trying to get in and out of busy parking lots, hate moving in a river of humanity from one place to the next.

I much prefer solitude.

Or perhaps the company of a few good friends.

But solitude in a place that was meant to be filled with crowds of people is a very specific kind of solitude.

Sad and nostalgic and mingled with regret.

It’s days you will never get back. Memories that become harder to hold onto.

In 2013, a particularly bad storm tore apart the deflated canvas roof of the Silverdome. Nature had begun the process that I think most of us knew had to happen eventually: deconstruction.

Plans for revamping were scrapped in favor of plans for a shovel-ready site that someone might actually want.

Beyond football legends like Barry Sanders and basketball legends like Isaiah Thomas (the Pistons played in the Silverdome before The Palace of Auburn Hills was built), acts such as Pete Townsend, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Michael Jackson, graced stages erected in the stadium. I even work with a woman who saw Elvis there on New Year’s Eve of 1975.

It’s hard to imagine, let alone estimate, how many people over the past forty years have walked through these doors and sat in these seats.

And now, these are the only people left.

The last men standing.

This is not an ocean

Lake Michigan, Whitehall, MI

But it may as well be.

After camp, I spent five gorgeous days at a resort in Whitehall, Michigan, with my family and my incredibly generous in-laws. It sits on Lake Michigan between White Lake and Duck Lake and my husband and I have decided that if we can’t retire on Thumb Lake (where our beloved Camp Lake Louise is) we’re retiring here. Now we just have to get super wealthy to afford it.

Just imagine for a moment having coffee every morning right here…


In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing lots of photos from both of these lovely places so you can enjoy them from afar.

A Self Portrait Photo Reference

When thinking rather halfheartedly about the new year I mentioned in this space that I might try to paint a self portrait in 2016. To that end I thought I ought to take a reference photo to guide me (looking in the mirror and moving all around doesn’t seem wise for a beginner like me — come to think of it, the whole thing may be a disaster). I think I have one I like…

Self Portrait Reference Photo

I have only now to decide whether I might like to make this even more interesting by trying out oil paints for the first time rather than watercolors. The dark background would certainly be easier in oils, though the skin would be easier in watercolor. Maybe I’ll start with a watercolor study and then do one in oils.

But don’t expect too much of me. It’s Ash Wednesday and today of all days I am more keenly aware of my limitations and all the ways I fall short. I’ve had some success in the distant past drawing human beings, but never painting them. I haven’t decided yet whether to show you the results of my efforts if they turn out catastrophically bad…

Winter Has Arrived

Yesterday afternoon I took a solo walk at Fenner Nature Center. There had been a lot of puns and Christopher Walken impressions and general noisiness in the morning, so after lunch I geared up for the colder weather, grabbed my camera, and headed south. As I stood by my car getting my camera over my neck, made extra puffy with scarf and goose down, a man started shouting in another language at his kids. I looked up to see seven or eight whitetail deer bounding by in a line, the sound of a far-off dog an indication of what may have disturbed them. I turned back to the man and shared one of those smiles you only get to share with a stranger when you’ve both witnessed something wonderful. He gathered his kids and piled them into the car. I set off into the grassland.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

I saw a very occasional person, heard a dog bark once or twice. But the principal sound I heard was the wind whistling through the bare treetops and the shuff, shuff sound of my own walking.

I never use a trail map when I’m there, which may explain why I made two new discoveries yesterday. I took a couple smaller side trails I’d not noticed or simply not taken in the past. One led me to an observation blind built of plywood. The other led me past this…

Totem Pole, Fenner Nature Center

I have no idea what the story is behind this totem pole, but it has lots of wonderful carvings of people and animals, including these guys…


A look at the map later shows that both of my discoveries are clearly marked. I guess that’s one reason to use a map.

Fenner Map

The woods were quiet and filled with the subtle colors of winter — white, grays, and browns — but without the leaves to distract and cast shadows on the tree trunks, their underlying yellows, reds, oranges, and greens were easier to discern.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

All in all a lovely, cold, windy day. It snowed overnight as well and now the trees are blanketed in white and the grass is finally buried and the windchill is near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has finally come. And I couldn’t be happier.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016