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 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.

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.

 

Indoor-Outdoor Adventures During the Time of a Plague

Backyard Feeder

Of course, the Coronavirus-19 is not called a plague, but it might as well be considered one. Shelter-in-place. No close human contacts. Keep clean. Stay safe.

But there are ways to have outdoor adventures with even staying indoors. You could watch birds from inside your house.

You could look at nature shots.

You could draw or paint nature shots. You could write a memory of an adventure you had. You could read about unfamiliar adventures in books.

Whatever your Indoor-Outdoor adventure may be, stay safe.

Hiking Around the Double Dammed Lake

 

Actually, this lake within Fort Custer State Recreation Area has no name. It is labeled on the top of the map as a green-colored maps wetland. Therefore, I gave myself permission to name it: Double Dammed Lake, for at one end there is the man-made dam, and further downstream there is another dam, constructed by beavers. Hence, Double Dam. With all my stops for photos, it took us about an hour and a half to hike the wooded trail around this lovely, peaceful place.

 

There were 20-30 mph winds last Friday when we hiked it. You’d think walking through woods would make it less windy. I thought so. It was not so. I suppose leaves are needed to barricade the wind force. But because of the wind and the lack of leaves, we listened as the trees spoke to us — creaked to us might be more accurate — as they rubbed against each other.

 

After our quite winter, it was lovely to hear the voices of birds speaking. There were crow, red-winged blackbirds, and hawk. We saw duck last Friday, too. Other days we have seen geese and trumpeter swans there and an abundance of birds.

Sometimes when the water level is low, like last Friday, an abandoned road is revealed through this wetland-lake. It gives me pause, wondering about people who used this road long ago to reach their homes and farms, this road which is mostly under water these days.

 

As we headed over the man-made dam, Jeff asked if I wanted to take the road back to the van (the slightly longer route), or bushwack over the hill. I chose the more direct line, following what looked like a deer trail through the tall grass. About one third of the way up the steep hill, I got winded and asked, “Who picked this way?” But going that way confirmed my guess, first by the flattened grass and then by the piles. This was indeed a deer path, with deer beds and piles of droppings, hidden out of sight until you suddenly came upon it.

 

All in all, it was a wonderful little adventure with my best friend on a late winter day.

 

 

Northern Winter Beaches, Changes and Playtimeu

[THIS was in my drafts folder. SERIOUSLY? It was the last time we travelled, actually. And here, sheltered-at-home, crocuses and daffodils are starting to pop up. Where HAS my mind been lately? I’m sure you all can guess. So stay home. Stay safe. Love to you.]

Friday. Jeff’s day off. Sunny day. Off to South Haven and Van Buren State Park on Michigan’s western coast. A very favorite place of ours in all seasons, especially not in busy summer – when it is crowded with people, dogs, and bugs. We went to three beaches: the state park, and South Haven’s south beach and north beach.

It was briskly-cold. City temp was 30 degrees with a wind chill of 17. But there on the beaches, the wind roars mightier, and the temperature is colder yet. After only a few minutes of photographing waves, my iPhone simply shut down. It couldn’t stand the cold. So I stuck it in my jean’s pocket to warm up. Have you ever held a baggie of ice in your pocket? Similar feeling. Makes your eyes go cross.

The water level is high, with some docks in the channel marinas being washed over with incoming surges. (Earlier I also posted about the high water level four hours north of us in Leelanau County, at Fishtown. I wonder if the high water is also happening across the pond in Wisconsin?)

But with all the changes, and a day off now and again with cooperating weather, we still love to play outside (Jeff skipped ice on the lake.) We hiked the narrowing beaches, listened to the lapping waves, and talked to hungry gulls…well, I talked, anyway.

Jeff skipped flat ice vs rocks.

The splashing waves onto the pier rails seemed nature-artsy. There were a number of other people out and about taking photos, including a man in waders on the south beach.

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 Besides the seasonal variations, our western coast has changed over the past couple of years. For example, Van Buren State Park beach has vanished, due to high water and erosion. Part of me wants to say how awful this is; another part knows this is nature.

A Before Shot of the beach, which doesn’t even show the end of the sidewalk; and a couple taken this weekend, showing how the sand is eroding underneath the sidewalk’s end.

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Michigan’s shoreline has Critical Dunes. That means they move – with the wind, with the snow, with the rain. Here is a favorite little building of ours, taken in both summer, and this past winter weekend. Seems like this particular critical dune is moving in on the outhouse, soon to make it a buried house. Bye-bye, sweet little, dependable house.

 

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Life is full of changes. A dramatic one for us is happening this year as we move this fall to the other side of Lake Michigan. That will be a big change with plenty of unknowns, but will also carry with it family, exciting new adventures, and more places to explore.

Return to Fort Custer

Our last three Fridays (free days) have been kind of bizarre. With the January bleak-and-dreary weather and drippy trees with muddy-slushy ground, we haven’t done much hiking. Today, though, we were blessed with a 90-minute hike at Fort Custer recreation area. Besides a ranger removing a life jacket from a drain and an orange-capped hunter in a car, we had the park to ourselves. Blessed.

With the snowy-melted-refrozen ground, every step was a crunch.

We did discover something new to us: At the group campsite area, which we have passed through dozens of times in the past 16 years, we found a lake access spot. It’s sloped down to the lake and only good for kayaks or canoes to be put in. But new discovery!

It was a quiet hike (except for our crunching steps). Nothing much to comment on, so here are some other photos from today: