Pandemic Getaway to Michigan’s West Coast

The pandemic’s still going strong. Jeff still gets one day off of work (usually) each week. We are so centrally located in Michigan that, depending on weather, there are many wonderful places we can go for a day’s getaway. Now, with Jeff retiring this fall, the crunch is coming along with our plans to move to Wisconsin to be near most of our family. Top on our list for a place to revisit before we leave was the South Haven area on Michigan’s West Coast. Even the 90-minute drive to the water and woods and sand is enjoyable (especially once off of I-94). Roadside flora included white queen ann’s lace, orange day lilies, red sumac, brown cattails, and purple and blue flowers I could name if my wildflower books weren’t all packed up.

First stop on the coast was at familiar Van Buren State Park. We checked out the campground just because we do that. In all our visits, we have never-ever seen it as crowded. Mostly there were very large RVs, making the narrow camp roads filled with pickups to move those large homes, more narrow. We were flabbergasted. And claustrophobic. Plus, we only saw two people wearing masks, even around the bathrooms where six foot distancing cannot be maintained. People.

On to the main beach entrance with flush toilets and vending machines and playground. Last we were there, Lake Michigan had eroded a lot of the beach and beach trail. Beach access was closed. The sidewalk was a crumbled mess, with almost a sidwalk-width of beach. Yes, the sign read no beach access, but it didn’t stop people from accessing it. People.

We still got in a little bit of a sand climb while there onto the wood-covered dunes.

 

Second stop. I’d recently read about a little known public beach between Van Buren State Park and South Haven and thought it would be fun to check it out. WHY hadn’t I heard of Pilgrim Haven Natural Area over our visits once or twice a year during the past sixteen years? My guess is that under normal circumstances, this place would be pretty much void of people. The shore was rocky (only a few miles north of Van Buren), and rock hunters were out. We walked the short length of beachfront, and then discovered a stream with a bridge.

 

Butterflies! Oh, my. There were many butterflies around this stream. I tried to capture them in photo, but failed. We circled through the woods and back to the parking lot. It was a short but sweet hike.

 

Along the parking lot were more wildflowers, and a pretty little monarch to make my day.

 

On to the mandatory DeGrandchamp Blueberry Farm shop.

 

It was a very short visit because there were many people inside, and a long line waiting to purchase items. Everyone was masked, but most people do not know how far six feet is. We left quickly without buying a single blueberry anything.

 

On to South Haven, which looked like a normal July day, pre-pandemic. About one in 200 people wore a mask. As people walked everywhere, we decided to eat our picnic lunch inside the van and watch the people and boats go by.

 

There’s a new Splash Pad for children at the base of the lighthouse pier. It looked rather fun.

 

The beach was also barricaded off. It had already eroded a lot over the past couple years, but what was left was now halved. We didn’t get out of the van to see how crowded it was, but there were no parking spots available, and many umbrellas up.

 

To close our west coast trip, we stopped at a farm market where only one other customer lingered. We lingered long, and bought much. All the fruits and vegetables looked great. Among other things, we bought a blueberry pie, and cherries from Traverse City, and apple cider from their own farm (leftover from last fall, but we had some last fall, too).

As we pulled into our neighborhood, we got word that the paperwork from our house buyers was done. Jeff turned to me and said, “We’re not going home. We’re going to our rental.”

And so begins our next stage of pre-retirement.

(Taken from the front porch of our rental property on Friday evening.)

The Conclusion of an Era

Sixteen years ago, Jeff accepted a call to come to Battle Creek, Michigan in the midst of a thunderstorm. Last Sunday, in the middle of a pandemic, the congregation agreed to dissolve the relationship so he could retire, and move near family living out of state. It thunderstormed immediately after the meeting.

Sixteen years. Sixteen good years. Sixteen years when we came to call many people in this congregation friends — more so than in any other congregation. Leaving is bitter-sweet.

We met in the parking lot, attempting social distancing. It was the first time many of us had seen each other in four months.

Susie asked if we would stay if she promised Jeff an unlimited supply of chocolate chip cookies. Tempting. She makes a mean batch of cookies.

The conclusion of this era won’t be completed until the end of October. So we have more time for good-byes. Under normal circumstances, we’d be partying the next few months with friends. However, there is nothing normal about a pandemic.

Stay healthy. Stay true. We will miss you terribly. We travel new seas. But we will meet again. Jesus promised.

Pandemic 4th of July Weekend

For Jeff’s day off (day before and part of day after, although he still worked all three days), we headed to Wisconsin, where we have family, and where we plan to retire in the fall.

It was our first time traveling outside of our county since the 3rd of March. We were somewhat nervous, doing so with Covid-19 cases all over the place, but, hey! we’d spent the night in a hotel during our power outage last month! And we’ve even started doing our own grocery shopping, still before 7AM.

Some highlights (disclaimer: I rarely show family photos on FB):

Sparklers with the grandkids who used them to cast Harry Potter spells. And a few store-bought crackly fireworks.

Getting to see our AZ son, last seen over Christmas break.

Uncle’s gift of walkie talkies, and watching the three grands follow after each other all around the house one behind the other, speaking into, and answering each other, through them, before they figured out they didn’t have to see each other to be heard.

Cheering on the 8-year-old each time she caught the frisbee tossed to her by Grandad.

The grandboy, after seeing his first firefly caught by Mom, announced, “I will call him Fred.” And, as we all know, once you know someone’s name, he is thereafter easily distinguished from all his relatives and friends.

Adult time: Beer tasting and watching “Hamilton”.

Realizing it’s a house seller’s market in Wisconsin, with houses getting contracted within hours of being listed. Also realizing how much I like our clean and maintained and open present house in Michigan.

Missing family before we even said good-bye.

Daring to stop at rest area oasis, and bathing afterwards in the van with hand sanitizer. There may have been few people there, but most didn’t wear masks, nor practiced social distancing.

Wondering if police were showing the public what defunding would look like, with one police car seen while we traveled through three states, and that at an accident. (We saw three others traveling through Michigan.) It was a scary and dangerous ride home with all the weavers and speeders, and very few vehicles with working blinkers.

Public fireworks were canceled this weekend all across the nation. We got home well before neighbors started shooting off illegal fireworks in a 360° circle around our house. Noisy, like at a free for all rifle firing range. Exciting. Pretty. Nerve-wracking.

Happy to see family. Glad to be safely home.

God bless us, every one.

Scenic North Country Trail – Last Day of Spring

Last Friday, I woke at 5:30 and Jeff at 6. We decided since it was his day off work, and because the temperature was going to soar into the 90’s, we’d get ready and go for an early morning hike – on the last day of spring. We prepared our house for a showing, just in case we were called for one while we were gone, and then left the house by 8:00.

Our target hiking trail for the day was the Scenic North Country Trail near Fort Custer State Park, about 20 minutes from our house. No cars were in the “parking lot” – a dirt widening in the road, enough for 2-3 cars.

So off we went into the dry-dry woods, surrounded by hundreds of mosquitoes who enjoyed our company.

When we came to a large fallen tree over the trail, I was thinking about turning around, and regrettably looked behind from where we had come, for it was too early to quit. When I turned back to Jeff, he already was sitting on it, swinging one leg over that supposed deterrent. The mosquitoes encouraged me to quickly follow suit.

At one point Jeff stopped to look at a flower and asked me what it is. I know the names of many wildflowers, but didn’t for that one. We’d brought a wildflower guide, but again with the mosquitoes who really-really wanted us to stop long enough to land thickly upon the only moist things for a long ways. So we decided to look it up later. But what we did identify, and moved along too swiftly to take photos, were daisies, yarrow, deadly nightshade, and yellow waterlilies. However, the waterlilies were too far away for a good shot without waders.

About halfway into our walk, we reached the bog. The boardwalks and slightly raised area between two marshy pond areas had always kept our feet dry in the past, even a few inches from the water. This time, though, it was hard to avoid sinking into the soft black muck when there were no boardwalks.

My running shoes quickly led the way to soak my socks within. I was afraid that each time one of my hiking poles sank into the mud that when I pulled it out with the suction, that it would be missing it’s end cap. But they both held on strongly. The disappointment was that I had been developing a small tear in one of my shoes near my baby toe. So I used the ultra strong gorilla tape I’d recently purchased. It is so strong, it’s a bit of a struggle for me to pull it from the roll. However, it was no contender for the North Country Scenic bog.

Sitting on a bench on the boardwalk in the middle of this swampy area, we were filled with sounds — birds singing and bullfrogs bah-rumping. But the wonderful thing was that there, surrounded by wetness, there were no mosquitoes. So we rested a while.

I watched two dragonflies playing with each other and tumbling in the air. (Wink-wink) And then they’d separate to rest, then go back to their “playing.”

We continued on the trial until the boardwalk ran out and the narrow black trail was rather sinking. I struggled on, knowing the land rose someone soon. But the bog sucking at our feet and sticks-poles made the decision for us to turn about. Some dryer time we may continue on to the other side of the bog.

(Two photos of the trail & one, the bog)

Back into the dry woods and dusty grey trail. The green forest greeted us with hoards of waiting mosquitoes. We quickened our pace once again.

If men sweat and women glow, then I had streams of glow flowing into my eyes and down my face and shirt. The temperatures were rising with the sun. We fairly leapt over the fallen tree.

We arrived home about 10:00, happily satisfied with our hike and the fact that we had an air-conditioned house waiting for us to shower in.

Pandemic, House-selling, and Power Outage – Oh, my!

I decided a week ago it was time to hook up the water hoses and get some moisture onto our dry lawn. We want it to look healthy and pretty for people passing by, for June 3rd, our house went on the open market – right in the middle of a pandemic. Even a sandhill crane seems interested.

I also went grocery shopping a week ago to load up our freezer and refrigerator. It’s important to have a well-stocked freezer and refrigerator, especially in days of uncertain pandemicness…unless two days later during a tree-tumbling hail and rainstorm you loose power for three days. When our electricity goes off, we also lose water since we’re on well water. The Internet was also cut. Good old primitive living.

Because the days were sunny, but not hot and humid, I decided to make me some sun tea — two cups in a glass jar. I also discovered that when the jar is set on some aluminum foil, the water actually heats up. This might become a good, normal, future thing to do.

Of course, if we had known power wouldn’t be restored for such a long time, we would have done things differently. But our energy company called every few hours to give updates on when it would be restored. These updates got pushed back eight times over those three days. Each update filled us with hope. And each passing update filled us with despair. The good news: after clearing out all our perishable foods, our refrigerator and freezer never looked so good, a necessity for leaving it with the house when we move.

Luckily, there were no appointments to see our house during the power outage, but 16-hours after we got power back (hurray!), we had two groups visiting our house (hurray!). Although neither party indicated a nibble (boo). Still…clean house; clean refrigerator-freezer (hurray!).

We have been so very careful during the lockdown, mostly ordering groceries delivered to us over the past three months. When the power when off, and CPAP machine wouldn’t function, we decided to go to a hotel for the second night — in the middle of a pandemic! Do you know how many people have been in that room recently? It was a rather sleepless night.

However, the following morning, with hotel Internet working, I had my first zoom doctor’s appointment. Slick. I mean, no waiting in the waiting room or individual patient room for an hour. Just a quick little visit, with my doctor telling me I’m doing well.

During one of our home-visits, Jeff and I drove out to Fort Custer State Park — a close and favorite place. Just driving down the two-lane, tree umbrellaed road made us take deep, refreshing breaths. The woods have always had that calming affect on us.

 

We first went down the dirt road to the Kalamazoo River boat launch area. It was gloriously empty of people and cars. We had that lovely little spot of the park all to ourselves. Or so we thought. As we stepped out of the van, as Jeff puts it, within three nano-seconds, fifty mosquitoes were upon each of us. By the time we’d hopped right back in, only about twenty unfortunate insects made it inside with us.  Disinfectant wipes will definitely be needed on all those smooshed bug bodies.

(Smooshed mosquito on window)

We continue to find it odd that the campgrounds remain closed. But we’re we to camp, we would have to burn an awfully lot of green plants making enough smoke to drive away the hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes hovering around.

Home to our screened house, with electricity. Life is good. Now just to have people get as much interest in our home as the birds.

Pandemic Day Off

Last Friday, we finally had the chance to hike again. We also immediately remembered why we prefer hiking autumn through springtime: mosquitoes and other biting insects!

 

We left for Fort Custer State Park at 10. It was more crowded than even a regular (non-pandemic) day off. For instance, by 11:30, the beach area was full of summer fun people. We decided to hike our favorite little trail circling a widening area of water (“swamp” on the maps), beneath the dam. It’s wooded 97% of the way.

 

It’s a trail not normally used by many others, and, in fact, there was only one other person on that trail with us — a bicyclist speeding past. We stepped aside too quickly to check if we were ankle-deep in poison ivy.

We’d seen plenty of it on and along the trail. Such a pretty green. But, thankfully, there was none where we’d moved aside.

I’ve called this trail The Double Dam Lake Trail, but last Friday, we discovered that the beaver dam had been dismantled some, so that only the lodge remained with the creek flowing around it. I wonder how long that will last?

 We were surprised there weren’t many wildflowers out, just some clover, daisies, and raspberry blossoms. And from the abundance of white flowers, we know in two weeks there will be plenty of raspberries along this trail.

 

We realize there may have been other flowers we passed. After all, our hike was considerably shorter than normal because of all the dozens of other trail inhabitants flying in front of our faces, and any bit of exposed skin.

Even so, we enjoyed our trek through Michigan woodland.

Ya know? There shouldn’t have been that many mosquitoes around us, because we’d sprayed repellant on our clothing, including hats. I’d also worn a twisty mosquito repellant bracelet as well as a battery-operated fan contraption, which has always worked in the past, but Friday, I moved it from my belt to my neckline. I even had a bandana I swung in circles in front of my face. Still. Those little critters sure were hungry. I’m wondering if all our spraying (even from planes) and repellants aren’t making today’s mosquitoes resistant to the “old” repellants.

 

Later in the afternoon, we had to depart our home for an hour for a house showing. We decided to head south to Athens. Since it was National Doughnut Day, of course, we had to stop on our way at Station 66 for some of their homemade doughnuts. Because of the coronavirus, they were only doing window-orders. At the time I was there, 14 customers mulled around near the windows. Only 3 of us wore masks. I found it interesting that we mask-wearers were the only ones trying to implement social distancing of 6′. The others would walk right by us, or stand immediately behind me in line. (If you would allow one short rant: It’s their decision to wear masks or not, but for mask-choosers, it’s a safety concern. Not maintaining distance from strangers is not only risky, but also so disrespectful.)

We drove on down to Athens and stopped in their little river park for a bit. We were saddened to see the park equipment sectioned off (safety from virus).

 

We walked to the bridge, covered with Mayflies, as another car pulled in — right next to us. It’s a fairly big parking area. Back into the safety of our car.

I was thinking of all the dangers we encountered today. There was a risk of the COVID-19 from unmasked people, or even of strangers walking around inside our house and touching things. There was risk of diseases from mosquitoes (e.g., West Nile Virus, EEE, and La Crosse encephalitis, to name a few). Not to belittle the plant which loves me so, poison ivy. And let’s not forget arachnids. The brown recluse spider does damage, as well as ticks which could gift lyme disease and more.

In our past, we’ve lived-hiked-camped in bear-cougar-rattlesnake-moose country, but even those larger animals never deterred us. I suppose it would be safer to remain in one’s home, but lovely as our house is, and as much as Jeff and I get along with each other, we still enjoy being around friends and family, as well as exploring the great outdoors. So, even with the risks, we will continue to take the precautions needed to keep ourselves safe, and to interact with people and nature, and always trusting and continually thanking God.

Friday’s Meandering Morning

Jeff and I left the driveway under overcast skies, having no idea (nor care of) which direction to head out of town. He drove east. We ended up on Verona Road, heading towards Marshall.

The little Marshall Schools park and lake (Gueniveen) was crowded with three cars sitting in the dirt parking lot. It had rained enough the past couple of days to make the trails be too muddy for us to traverse, anyway.

We passed the park and kept going east. I told my cautious husband that I wanted us to stop at Bossard Farm to see if they were open. I’d tried four times in town to get some lemon grass from Horrock’s, and failed four times. Bossard was open. The greenhouse was open. I had a lovely chat with one of the owners about their having to butcher more cattle than normal (with the panic of packing plants closing and beef becoming unavailable). As I headed out, I saw a masked friend from church. I felt so happy to see someone I knew (besides husband and neighbors). I felt like a puppy wanting to wag her tail off. (Oh, this pandemic!)

Jeff then suggested we try to find the little nature area we found east of Marshall a couple of years ago. We did. Jeff packed a lunch for us. Instead of eating in under the covered table area and we chose to eat in the van in case someone joined us. The grass was too wet to hike the mower trail down to the lake. But we assume it’s right beyond the trees in the distance. (After looking at the map on the board, I found I’d assumed wrong. Still too wet to explore. We hadn’t brought proper okay-to-get-wet-in shoes or clothes.)

After the song-bird-y lunch, we continued down the road and passed Stuart lake. I have always been fascinated with the cement posts and structures near this residence. I’d love to know the history about those.

Beyond that lake is another little lake with a public access. It is called Upper Brace Lake. About 75% of what we could see from the dock was natural area. Very serene.

There is one tree near the dock which reminded me of an Ent who had gone to bathe, but froze to look like a regular tree when humans approached.

It was not a 1-3 hour hike-day, but all in all, a very pleasant morning out.

Stay safe, everyone. Pray for an end to this pandemic.

In Search of a Less-Crowded Hike — Barker Sanctuary

 

Last Friday’s day off of Jeff’s work, sent us outside our neighborhood once more, seeking a less-crowded place to hike than last week. We both first thought of the Kellogg experimental forest, but, alas, MSU had closed it to the public. Jeff then suggested the Barker Bird Sanctuary northwest of town. So we twisted around the rural Michigan roads to reach our destination. To our expectation, the tiny parking lot was empty. To our disappointment, as we were getting prepared to hike, another car pulled in, a dog walker. Our two “groups” headed in different directions from the two trailheads looping through the meadow-woods-swamp. Interesting how with this pandemic there was not quite the total give-in-to-nature relax about the hike. We kept expecting to pass Mr. Dog Walker. We did see him twice, but only at a distance. (Whew.)

The gentle rolling hills reminded me of my grandparents’ farm in southern Ohio. And, of course, there were birds, not hundreds crying out or flying overhead, but enough variety to make our ears perk up and eyes to search.

The Octopus Tree was there, as well as wild flowers, lichen, moss and fungi.

Benches scattered along the trail for quiet watching or reflecting. We did take advantage of one, and were at peace.

The wooden bird blind seemed a bit claustrophobic to enter on that particular day, with one way in and out, and a 2′-deep mud rut  between doorway and bench. But it’s still nice to feast on familiar.

On the other side of the pond, Jeff noticed two people with two dogs jogging the trail from behind us. We found a spot where we could step off the 6′ wide path to allow further social distancing as they passed. But they slowed to a walk, and finally stood on the trail next to us, the one dog coming within a couple feet of us, with owner following. We stepped back some more. He-in-the-lead said, “You didn’t need to move over because of me. I’m not that special.” As neither of us knew how to respond, we’d kept silent with perhaps an awkward smile between us. They walked on, probably thinking we were as socially-awkward strange as we thought they were for not taking social distancing seriously.

We returned to the lot to find our little, ole van contentedly alone.

All-in-all, the hour+ hike was good for us, and a lovely visual distraction outside of our own lovely neighborhood. The last time we visited Barker Sanctuary was October, 2018, with a couple of photos below to show the variety of the seasons of this natural setting.

 

Stay safe, everyone. Enjoy nature when and where you can. Pray for an end to this pandemic.

 

A Woodland Hike…At Last!

 

Last Friday – Jeff’s day off of work – we decided to finally venture out of our house and either take a drive past some woods, or maybe even hike into some. The last time we hiked was March 13th, seven weeks ago. In the past seven weeks of our pandemic shelter-in-place, we drove downtown to the church building once to video a communion, and then last Tuesday at 7AM, I bravely entered a small store for groceries. Otherwise, it’s been home-deliveries and neighborhood walks. But on Friday, a good old day off, and with great trepidation from us both, we headed to the woods of Fort Custer State Park, about 20 minutes drive from our house.

We took face masks, but expected to only wear them if there was no way to avoid another human (e.g., passing people walking towards us on a narrow trail).

Our first shock came as we headed to the park: at 10:30AM, the Meijer grocery store had about 200 cars in its lot. And, oh, the traffic on the road! It was busier than a normal pre-pandemic Friday day-off day out.

Our second shock: Oy-yi-yi! The park itself was incredibly crowded, and we didn’t even go to the more popular places.

We bumped down a dirt road towards the Kalamazoo River. Usually when we’ve gone there, the small dirt parking lot is empty. Last Friday? Three cars. Crowded! We parked away from them and were getting ready to head for the river when a truck pulled in with three teens who popped out and headed to the out-of-the-way trail going along the river. The very trail I thought no one would be on.

Looking up the hill from our parked van, I spotted a bushed-over trail going away from the river…and away from people.  It looked like a deer trail, but as bushwacking is not unfamiliar to us, and the woods beaconing, up we headed through the brush. It connected to an equestrian trail. The thing about hiking on an equestrian trail is if you aren’t diligent about watching your step, well, horses are big old free-soilers, you know. I kept thinking we’d see someone, or need to step off-trail for a horse which had right-of-way. We didn’t see either person or horse.

We heard a lot of birds, and saw two tiny blue butterflies. Spring wildflowers were blooming,

and the mayapples were starting to bud.

Trees hadn’t started to leaf, so the walk was rather open, even going near a swamp.

Over one section, the path cut through grass. There was woodland before and after it. So, knowing the history of the park, and similar places in other Michigan parks, I’m guessing that was once someone’s lawn, although the brambles grew thickly around it. If I were curious enough, I’d research it.

But then (and now) I’m simply delighted that the two of us were able to be alone in the woods, and forgetting about the world for just a moment, to take one glorious hour’s hike.

 

Pandemic Neighborhood Giveaways

On the bright side…is there a bright side to this pandemic?…

Then perhaps take out the word pandemic. And continue reading, thank you.

With our grandkids living three states away and growing up way too fast, this week, knowing the libraries are closed as well as schools, I have given away two bags of picture books (and a couple other ones tossed in) to walking neighbors with kids. I knew the names of the previous giveaway bag of books. Today’s giveaway, I simply don’t know their names, but identified the bag left on our corner by who they are: 3 boys, 2 mamas, and 1 puppy. I chose books which I thought the different ages of the boys would  enjoy.

Yes, our grands live too far away to read these, and when their own libraries open up, they will be able to once again enjoy those millions of hard-cover books. YAY! But in the meantime, I hope to spread a little bit of literary joy to our stay-at-homers. I wish we had more kiddos living in our neighborhood.

We remain 15′ or more from our neighbors, and to our knowledge, none in our neighborhood have contracted the coronavirus. Still. Stay safe. Be wise. If they were worried, they could leave the bag of books in their garage for a couple of days to be even more cautious, receiving this gift of books from a stranger. Even though I don’t know their names, there has always been a friendly wave-connection.

I wish I could snuggle my grands onto my lap and read to them. Can’t. Someday I will. Until then…keep on reading.

Never give up. Never surrender.

The Town That Disappeared 333x500 Sandys