Scenic North Country Trail…Again. The Blue Bridge


I know they are giving out awards for people who have hiked 100 miles of the Scenic North Country Trail in 2019. Do we get a thumbs up for hiking 30 miles?

Last Friday, with overcast and wet ground, and in the lower 30’s all morning, we chose a close-to-home hike on the Scenic North Country Trail, starting at Helmer Road and going west along the Kalamazoo River — that wonderful river which flows past the ghost town of Singapore (which I wrote a historical fiction about, The Town That Disappeared), and draining into Lake Michigan.

We’ve hiked this trail before, and ridden it on bikes. Each time is unique.

And did I mention overcast Friday morning? Did I mention in the lower 30s? Did I mention the wind? No? Well, at the beginning of our hike, there was a nippy wind greeting us, from 5-15mph, so said the Weather Channel. Chilly but undeterred, we hiked on.


We carefully trod over the lichen-covered blue bridge, a bridge I’d seen from across the river for over a decade before we finally hiked to it. Poor blue bridge. Did I mention covered with lichen? It was. Did I mention the boards are rotting and quite slippery? They are.


We saw a tank painted on the walkway. Jeff commented that as a solo tank, it was ungrateful. Two would have make it…tanks (thanks).


There were also some amazing mushrooms at the base of a fallen tree. I’m working my mind around my next story which will be concerning mushrooms. But then on Friday, Jeff finished the fourth of my War Unicorn Chronicles books, and asked for more (unicorn tales). Such a dilemma.


Oh. And while walking alongside the Kalamazoo River near mowed areas, don’t be looking around at the pretty nature sights. Instead, mind your step, or you may just land in some goose poop. And those rust streaks are old, stained goose left behinds, but old enough not to be squishy.

Funny how about an hour after we got home, the sun burst forth at last. But the temp was still in the lower 40’s. I imagine the sun brought people out into the great outdoors. During our overcast and chilly hike, Jeff and I had the trail to ourselves. Also, with the bonus of no mosquitoes!


May your days be mostly sunny, but may you also walk briskly through the overcast, chilly days.

Good Ole Fort Custer (near Augusta, MI)


Gloomy day. Overcast (no cloud distinctions in the white-grey above) with borderline freezing temps (30-32 degrees). Ice, a concern because of knee. But, hey! One day off a week = get outside when and if you can! We assumed the area Riverwalks would be too snowy/icy and the forest trails too soft/muddy. I suggested walking around the Fort Custer campground, thinking the gravel road might be rough enough. Jeff suggested parking walking the overlooking-the-lake picnic area. It was settled.

Sliding over the icy park roads, he commented how our outing might just end up being a pretty-drive day. (Insert a Sandy frowny face.) He also mentioned he was glad he grew up driving on snowy-icy Wisconsin roads, wishing we had a four-wheel drive vs automatic. I, too, was glad for his skills, for my heart fluttered drifting over that ice.

We found the park unusually crowded for a wintery Friday, with many trucks scattered throughout. The signs on one side of the road in the park read “No Firearms November 15-30” the signs on the other side read “No Hunting”, but we did notice a number of hunters (dressed in orange) out and about. Hopefully, just bow,

Still, after we reached our destination, I had to get out of the van. The parking lot was icy from melted packed snow. With my cross-country ski poles for sliding prevention, I wanted to make it to the untrodden snow off the lot.

Jeff grabbed his hiking stick which has a hunter-orange band around it, and since I was already wearing my colorful-goofy winter cap and red gloves, I grabbed my emergency-orange cap, and tied it to my ski pole strap. We also wisely decided to stick to open territory vs the woods, to be more easily seen by hunters.

Winter/Snow hikes are quite different than in any other time of year. You notice things unique to winter, like footprints and pawprints and hoofprints. I also try to estimate how long ago a track was made. It makes for a fun winter hiking game.

Here is my boot print to the left, and a man’s print to the right. Can you spot the difference in time? (e.g., iced heel, slightly eroded edges, leaf)

Besides boot prints, dog prints and a few smaller paws (raccoon perhaps?), there were also the distinctive deer prints.

One unbeknownst thing to me, which Jeff spotted right away, was a blood trail. I think I looked around for a huge bloody area, possibly deer kill, which had then been dragged off. But what former hunter Jeff spotted were the tiniest specks of red blood here and there. Perhaps a wounded deer?

We took a low gage trail down to the beach.

 Stopping at a picnic table for a shot, I was thinking in my head, just as Jeff said it out loud: “Carlson picnic”. Yes, we have brushed snow off table and benches to have a picnic in our past. But not this day.

I found the ice patterns and leaves along the shore pretty, and even spotted fowl prints.


We found canoes and boats simply left outside in the open. (FYI, canoeing or kyaking in winter has not been a known Carlson activity.)

Bushwhacking back up the hill to our van to avoid the ice, we did not get the expected hitchhikers (burrs) clinging to us, probably because we wore blue jeans and nylon coats. But the unexpected part was sinking a deceiving 7″ below the snow-dusted surface of snow-grass to terra firma, and consequently lifting my knees high with each step. Very difficult to capture a photo of this. I found it easier to follow in Jeff’s prints, even with his wider-longer stride.

No matter what the weather, I encourage you to get outside, but stay safe, both on the snow-packed-icy roads, and especially if walking through hunting territory.

(BTW, I’m honored when people tell me face-to-face how they enjoy going on our weekly hikes with us. It’s our pleasure to share God’s wonders.)



Another Friday, Another Hike (Ionia State Park)

Last week held another Friday, Jeff’s day off, and therefore another hike. Hurray. A hike. In fall. With Jeff. Triple hurray. I told him I was glad to have him as my hiking partner. He replied, “Your Hiking Viking!” Perfect.

It’s bow hunting season within Ionia State Park, so I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be mistaken for a deer. You may think me silly in bright hat, gloves and vest, and also carrying cross country ski poles as hiking sticks — good for balance, muddy or icy ground, and leaf collecting. But the only other hiker we met during our 2-hour hike was a woman and her dog, both dressed in hunter orange. Not so silly after all, huh?








At 33 degrees out, for the first time in months I dressed in layers. I felt like Linus in Charlie Brown — so bundled, but well worth it. Wasn’t cold a bit. Couldn’t move much, either, but I wasn’t cold.

Only really sub-zero temps, wildfires, tornadoes or hail deter us from hiking through God’s creation. Jeff even got to play improv frisbee golf.

The sights of being in the woods during late fall is glorious, and so refreshing. We started our hike in sunshine, still 33 degrees. By the time we’d stopped for third lunchies, there were light flurries (snowflakes) drifting around us. Can’t help but love the variety of nature.

From crazy mushrooms, to tall trees, to babbling brooks and flitting snow, Ionia is beautiful in the fall — or any time, actually.


So why do I journal my hikes on a writing blog? Settings. Experience. Nature’s eye candy. All valid reasons for various reasons, including writing.

So why don’t you, too, get outside. Experience nature. Breathe. Enjoy.



Two weeks ago, we were able to spend an annual few days in peaceful retreat at a cottage near to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau Peninsula. Rain, snow, ice, sun, gale warnings – nature so near wraps her arms about us in stunning beauty no matter the weather or time of year or length of stay (usually 3-5 nights each year). Because we go off season – in the late fall or early spring – we don’t normally bump into a lot of tourists. Therefore, we have peaceful days and nights.

The very first place we stop before even pulling in the cottage drive, is Good Harbor Bay Beach in SBDN.


Many books have been written about this area through the years. Be sure to check them out. Therefore this blog post will be most brief. A summary of the park with only a few of the hundreds of photos I have from the area.

Of the 20 marked trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Jeff and I have hiked all but three (one is new), and hiked several of them more than once. The Dune Climb is quite popular, even off season. (photo at top of page). But the other trails are fascinating, like Old Indian Trail in the southern part of the park.










If you like woods and water, SBDNL is a must-see. One of our favorite hikes is on Alligator Hill. But a few years ago, sheer force winds rather leveled it, with open skies above and hundreds of fallen trees cut away on the trail. We’ll return someday, when the forest grows back.

But spring is as enchanting as fall with new beginnings:


Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive probably ties with the Dune Climb for popularity in the park. It is a lovely, winding road with several stops and nature notes, and even a few trails getting out into the dunes, mostly along boardwalks. We’ve watching people walk down and up the steep dune cliff, and even once saw rescue personnel descend with basket.

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Empire Trail trailhead may be a little tricky to locate, but the views are spectacular. The lakeside view of the Sleeping Bear Dune (from the Dune Climb) is pictured here.

Empire Bluff Trail 2008

Historic Glen Haven is within the park. I caught a blacksmith in the shop twice, and an iron hook I saw made there hangs in our kitchen.












We usually stop at the Visitor Center for a pass. Well worth it!

We’ve gone on two ranger-led Nature or History Hikes, only two of them since they are offered in-season, unless you come close to spooky Halloween.

The first photo below is a hike in the cold rain to Sleeping Bear Point and Devil’s Hole, where an entire Native American Tribe was slaughtered by another Native American Tribe during a gathering. The second was exploring around the ghost logging town of Aral. I would have put in a shot of the reenactment the ranger made us do in the Aral area, but she chose Jeff to play the part of the minister. (Rats! How did she know? She didn’t.)

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Someday I would like to ferry out to Manitou Islands. The 20 trails mentioned above do not even include the hiking trails on those islands. But sun, rain, snow, ice, sunsets, stars. How wonderful to witness God’s creation close up.

Sunset in Glen Arbor

Autumn Roads Up North

Dear friends allowed us the use of their cottage during Jeff’s vacation last week. Four nights and three glorious fall days up north. Perfect.

Driving up, I took over 300 photos out of our dirty van window. I couldn’t help myself. The trees were so pretty-colorful in the sunshine. Though the next 3 days were gale warnings and rainy, it was still perfect vacation. Yes, we hiked some, but even the getting there was glorious.

The 4-lane roads were beautifully colored.

The 2-lane roads were gorgeous.

The seasonal roads were stunning.

I do love the fall.

Even from the van, Autumn delighted us with her various outfits. I hope you all have been able to get out and enjoy the outdoors this season.

Fall Scenic North Country Trail near Augusta, MI

We waited to hike in woods until after the first frost, to be sure of no deadly mosquito concerns. So last Friday, we once again hiked on the Scenic North Country Trail, this time near Augusta by Fort Custer State Recreation Area. We’d hiked this section once before…in winter, last March. We were the only ones there in the silent woods for a couple of hours.

This time, we hiked at the beginning of the turning of the leaves.  My, what a difference in the cycle of creation from winter to fall. I love fall.


I took my cross-country ski poles, which I’m discovering work quite well for hiking with a bum knee. Even so, we didn’t explore too much beyond what we had last March.

We went through the woods, following the trail into Fort Custer Cemetery land, across the no-railing bridge, and followed the narrow pathway between two bodies of water to a bench in the middle of the marsh.


We stopped for a snack, and to watch and listen to the wonderful sandhill cranes  high overhead, celebrating their fall dance.


I was surprised how well I did walking so much. I do believe it was because of two major reasons: 1) I was with my best friend; and 2) I was in the woods. Either is inspiring enough to feel energetic. Together, it is just joy.


Home to ice my knee, and already looking forward to our next outdoors adventure.



Nature and Plastic and Our Earth

Our rising use of plastic does indeed have an affect on both us and on nature. You may well have read about the floating plastic island in the pacific, or all the debris (much of it plastic, washed up on the west coast after a tsunami. Of course, cutting the rings of 6-pack holders has been “a thing” for decades, especially after seeing photos of birds with their heads stuck through them in garbage dumps. Recently, I read about micro-bits of plastic showing up in fish guts, caused in part by make-up removers.

If I haven’t depressed you enough, here on the west coast of Michigan, floating in from Lake Michigan — the only All-American Great Lake, completely within US boundries — sometimes large debris is washed onto our sand beaches,  like pieces from ships or docks or swept off land or boats, like buckets or bigger. But there are also tiny bits of plastic less than 1/4″ in diameter, like those we spotted on our last visit to South Haven.

Plastic is everywhere, from our car dashboard to dish soap pods to diapers. I will not do a blame-game. Awareness is good. Action is better. London has started (so I’ve read) to use milkmen to home-deliver in glass bottles, and already people are making milkman jokes instead of taking it seriously. When shopping, do you try to reach for glass bottles vs plastic? Are you a diligent recycler as best you can be? Be the best that you can be. Be the best you can be for nature and us and our earth.




Ahh…The West Coast…of MICHIGAN

Hiking these days before our first hard frost of the season is hard — EEE. Need I say more?

So last Friday, instead of hiking into the woods for a few hours, we drove to the West Coast…of Michigan. South Haven and area, to be precise. It’s about a 75 minute drive away, and well, well worth it!

Stop #1 was just outside Van Buren State Park where I wanted to see where this one trailhead went. There were usually 1-3 cars parked there. That day there were none. That meant for us Carlsons that it was not crowded. I assumed the trail most likely ended at Lake Michigan, but I wanted to duck my head into the glorious woods for just a little bit. After all, 55 degrees is rather cold for scary mosquitoes to be flying about. Wrong! Within five minutes, one of them found Jeff. Back to the van.

Stop #2 Van Buren State Park Beach…or rather, it used to be a beach. Today it’s just a sidewalk leading to a small bit of sand and then water. For the past year we’ve noticed the beach getting smaller and smaller. Now it’s about 40 feet closer to the dune, and not really a beach at all.

Still pretty, though. 










We became a little nervous when we discovered the outhouse we’ve used during our winter adventures for the past 15 years now sported a padlock.

But all worked out well when we found the main – flush – bathrooms were open.

And one amazing Eagle Scout finished his life-vests-for-children project. Pretty amazing: Borrow-Use-Return. Thank you, Deegan Boyles.

Stop #3. We at lunch at a park picnic table in the sometimes sun (partly cloudy), where we were as far from woods as we could get. It was a typical Carlson Picnic, cold and windy. At least there was no precipitation. There, were however, bugs: bees, flies, gnats, a butterfly. Back in the van, I’d let a sweat bee in on my side. Jeff looked out his side window after getting in to spot a mosquito hovering just outside. Those guys sure do like my guy.

From there it was a quick stop at DeGramchamp’s. (Stop #4) No more blueberries (except some dried or frozen), but there were cranberries as well as pretty fall flowers.

Stop #5. On to South Haven’s North Shore beach.

When we last visited it (our first time there), we found out it cost $10 to park for the day. No half-days, no hourly parking. $10, period. However, that price is only from May 15-September 15, so for us, that day, parking was free. Hurray.

Waves are choppier on the north side of the Black River which goes through South Haven and into the Lake. The North Beach is also immense, at least compared to the South Beach. Only a handful of people were on the north side, including us.

Stop #6. Southside Beach. This has the pier going out to the famous red lighthouse. Similar to our last visit, waves were washing over the channel wall and onto the pier. We kept our feet dry and bodies safe on dry sand.

We walked the beach to find three very brave children, swimming in Lake Michigan in October. It was still only 55 degrees out, but the lake temperature was a balmy 66.

Stop #7. Just past halfway home, we made our last stop at a farm market/ apple orchard. If were weren’t on this diet, I would have bought up all 3 dozen left of their amazing smelling donuts. Instead, I bought a gallon of cider and a bag of apples. Just as good.

I did take a double look (and photo of) this gigantic apple, covered in caramel and rolled in nuts. Oh, my.

Until next time, West Coast.


The Scenic North Country Trail at Kellogg Experimental Forest, Mosquitoes, and Wounded Knee

Last Friday (Jeff’s day off), I decided it had been two weeks since our last hike and my body nearly shook, craving to get into the woods again. I did leg-strengthening exercises all week to prepare my knee for the hopeful hike. Our previous hike was slow and each step rather painful (7 pain level), especially going downhill (9), even using Jeff’s hiking stick in addition to my own.

Ya know? What’s the balance of life? Stay home and remain painfully free but immobile, or walk slowly and painfully (only 4-ish pain level) through God’s glorious woodland? I choose the latter.

The exercises paid off. Friday morning, after doing last moment leg lifts and wrapping an ace bandage tightly about my knee, off we went to the Kellogg Experimental Forest near Augusta. It was 77 degrees with temperatures rising to mid-80’s by the time we were done.

I wanted to try something new, something different from the popular Lemmien Trail loop. We’d hiked the trail enough times I knew where every rise and decline was, and dreaded the pain which would accompany going that way. The trail we took is not a loop, so made it easier for me to decide if/when we needed to turn around. We’d never made it as far as 89 before. Friday we did. And as it turned out, every step of our hike from the first step to the ground from our van was on – wait for it – The Scenic North Country Trail!


New trails are good. I love hikes, especially when we don’t meet a single other human on the trail. I really, really loved this hike. We don’t mind seeing other animal, but we only saw a few fish and chipmunks, 2 caterpillars,

and one giant bird swooping into the trees and out again. It looked a cross between a golden eagle and a baby dragon. Huge!

Only twice before we’d hiked past the Sugar Shack towards Highway 89, curious where it went, roughly following Augusta Creek, and crossing the Not-A-Horse-Trail Bridge. But before we’d returned shortly after the bridge.


This time I took my cross-country ski poles vs my hiking stick. They worked out well.


But since the trail was not often used, when I didn’t spot them in time to knock them away, my face broke through spider webs. Happened three times going to 89. I thought it a bit unfair on our return trip when my face discovered an industrious spider had remade a trail-crossing web. Just like the title of my memoirs:

The Road Less Traveled Often Involves Smacking Face-First Through Spider Webs Animal Encounters buy link

Through the wooded parts, we also hiked past a newly planted oak forest, a hidden sugar maple sapping forest, and a couple of meadows.


There were sections which looked more like deer trails than human trails, but the blue markers regularly told us which way to turn.


There’s a part of the North Country Trail which follows Highway 89 for a bit before turning north past Cheff Riding Stables. We didn’t make it too far along there, because…Highway 89! It’s a two-lane, speedy road with narrow shoulders.

But I did want to check out the sty about 150′ down the road, where I assumed the trail used to pass over.

When we moved here 15 years ago, we spotted the sty in a blink riding along 89. The steps went over a fence. Think of the Nursery Rhyme: There was a Crooked Man. About five years ago, Jeff surprised me and parked on a side road from where we walked over the highway bridge and down to the sty. The boards were rotting then and moss covered in the perfect fairy garden, but certainly not even then strong enough to hold a human’s weight. The trail still showed on both sides of the sty. This time, it was overgrown with no evidence of any trail going over.


It was an overall pleasant hike.

When we returned home, Jeff turned on the TV and the news was on, warning of the danger of EEE in seven Michigan counties, including ours! Telling people to stay away from woods or waters and not to go outside between dusk and dawn when the deadly EEE-carrying mosquitoes would be hunting for warm blood. Even the school evening sporting events had been moved to daylight hours. This was serious talk.

An interesting part to our story is that before we’d left for the hike, I—who normally decline bug repellent when offered; I’d rather swish them away with my bandana—made Jeff wear a mosquito repellent fan-clip while I wore two mosquito repellent bracelets. We hadn’t used either in years. Fortuitous, Spirit-warned, or plain creepy? Whatever, please take precautions when outdoors and be safe.

FYI, two natural mosquito repellents which work for some are mint or cinnamon.



Yankee Springs…and North Country National Scenic Trail (Again)

Got the word a week ago that I have a torn meniscus. Surgery needed, probably close to Christmas. You know doctors and their far-out schedules. So what did I tell Jeff I wanted to do on his day off last Friday? HIKE! It had been so very long since we spent any time on a woodland trail, not just a boardwalk hanging onto a walker as precaution. I told him if I took pain medication and bound the knee really, really tightly, that I’d like to try a trail. He misses the woods, too. And I’m always in search of settings for my books. (Great excuse.)

So off we went, an hour north to Yankee Springs State Recreation Area in Michigan, between Hastings and Grand Rapids-ish; 5,200 acres with over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horsey trails, plus a beach, and more. It’s very popular during the summer; not so much after school starts.

Oh, the marvelous quiet and smells of the woods. We didn’t meet a single other person on the trail. It was our private forest adventure. Granted, it took about twice as long as usual to hike the Hall Lake loop. I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way around, and before getting out of the van thought I’d be doing great if I just made it to the lake and back. But we did the entire loop! (90+ minutes vs our normal 45 minutes)

Can you tell what made this white streak down the middle of the trail without looking ahead?

If you guessed rain water which had eroded the pine needles and other leaf debris on its way downward, you would be correct.

There’s something to be said about walking at a snail’s pace. It had rained as we were leaving our driveway in Battle Creek for the hike. (Did I mention we were desperate to get into the woods?) But we remained thankfully dry for our entire hike (not counting the glowing perspiration and squished mosquitoes). The anticipation of rain in the woods probably kept most people away. Yay for us.

About 50 yards into the woods, I commented to Jeff that because of the recent rains, we might spot some mushrooms. I looked down, and there at my feet were mushrooms a-plenty. Ha! And more to come over the entire trail length. Ha and ha!

I knew that the North Country National Scenic Trail ran through the park, but how delightfully surprised I was to find we actually walked over a section of it. In fact, we had done so many times before because we’ve hiked this trail often.

I thought to stop to rest on a log a couple of times, but three things prevented me from doing so: ticks (been there before), becoming a mosquito fest, and a wet bottom. (From the earlier rain!)

The NCNST is about 4,600 miles. I’m sure we won’t cover it all. I don’t think we’ll cover it all. That would be an interesting happening to have on a bucket list. If I kept a bucket list. But maybe, just maybe after my knee surgery…