Meet Ellis, our personal Sommelier. We reached WaterFire Winery nestled in the rolling countryside between Torch Lake and Grand Traverse East Bay just before it opened. The place was so small we wondered if our maps program directed us down the gravel drive of someone’s cottage except for the fields of grape vines that surrounded the tiny Winery/AirB&B.
We waited until the top of the hour and then entered the shop. We were the first customers of a windy, rainy, cloud covered day that allowed brief bolts of sunlight to illuminate and create dazzling views of the area. We like wine; All kinds. I lean into semi-sweet while Carrie, Becky and Howard stay pretty close to the dry reds. We knew going in that WaterFire had four wines, all white, all dry. Being the Midwest’s first certified sustainable Vinyard it became obvious why their selection was small; with one exception all their grapes are grown onsite. When she’s not acting as sommelier, Ellis also works with the owners in the grape fields pruning vines and harvesting grapes. Inviting us to sit for our tastings she would come to us!
We sat in front of the fireplace and enjoyed the history of the vineyard and a brief explanation on the definition of ‘sustainable’ while Ellis poured our tastings. The four wines and one hard cider were truly a joy to taste. Two were Rieslings that were quite different in taste and shared everything except the year of harvest. Ellis explained that temperature, rainfall, pests and bacteria that the vines battle in their natural course, (remember, no harsh pesticides or herbicides)play into the flavor that the grapes produce. We chose the 2016 Rieslings to bring home. Once we had our final tasting another set of couples had entered the winery and received Ellis’ warm welcome. She allowed me to take her picture and we exchanged greetings with the new tasters as we walked out into the growing sunshine on a bright, cloudy Michigan fall afternoon.
A low murmuring punctuated by terse commands came from inside the barn. The man’s voice, calm but firm, steadied the horses as their tack was buckled and settled into place. The leather creaked and he noticed that it needed oiling. The rings and chain on the harness jangled softly in the quiet of the morning. The two Belgians stood imposing, heads shaking as they settled into their gear, mouths working the bits. Snorting, white smoke-like plumes shot out and around in the frigid winter air as the man turned and slid open the barn door. Dawn had arrived while he worked with the horses, getting ready for the day. The southern sun was bright and held promise for the kind of winter day that one could usually find in Michigan; bitter cold crystalline brightness that causes a perpetual squint, and a bright sun that brings the sweaty discomfort of thick woolen layers against the skin. The boys had been busy gathering the tools and together were lifting the scorer into the bed of the sleigh. Even the youngest, Frank, was doing his part, though all the boys looked like they’d tossed and landed a few snowballs while their dad was busy in the barn.
John T. didn’t comment on the horseplay. The sleigh was loaded and boys, well. He led the horses out and backed them up to make the few quick connections, then he looped the reins to the hand brake then turned to head up the rise to the house. “Take them to the road, Frank.” The seven year old stood still for a moment looking after his dad. John never turned around. Frank scrambled up onto the seat of the sleigh trying hard so smother an ever-widening grin. The older boys whooped and hollered, calling out encouragement laced with good natured ribbing at their little brother. Mimicking the clipped commands of his father only higher pitched, the boy clucked his tongue against his teeth and slowly guided the horses around the barn and out to the road that led down and around to the lake. John went to the back door of the house where mother Welch stood bundled up holding a sizable bag out for him to take. “Good harvest, John T,” she said, “Stay warm”. And with that she shut the door against the cold. The boys waited patiently in the sleigh. Climbing up to his seat next to Frank he handed their lunch bag to the boys in back who stowed it away for safekeeping. The weather had been biting cold and Glen lake had frozen over quickly. “We should be able to fill the Ice House today, boys! Let’s get to it!” With that John T. clucked at the horses and flicking his wrists, the reins slapped with a soft tap on their backs and rumps, sending them trotting down the road from Springdale Farm toward the narrows. John was a woodsman as well as a farmer. He also was not the only one to capitalize on the need for ice. There were other teams working the lake, and the local need created a healthy demand during the summer months. Being a woodsman, even though the logging industry was falling off, John had a ready supply of insulation in the form of sawdust. Ray and Lawrence were up at the ice house making sure that all would be ready to receive the day’s supply, insulate, and shut the doors and hatches against a thaw. Norm was already down at the lake with a couple young men from town looking for winter work. The younger boys, Glen, Ed, and Frank would be used, with Norm’s help, to break the ice blocks free and gaff them into position to be lifted out of the freezing water with tongs, slid up the boards and into the sleigh. As John came up to the narrows and turned the horses out onto the lake he saw Norman and two others using the special cross cut saws on the ice field.
For a couple days a stiff wind off lake Michigan kept the lake free of snow; ‘That’s one less step for us’, he thought. He saw two other teams to the North taking ice from the lake. There was certainly plenty for the taking. Norm and his cohorts had already created a ramp of ice and snow to load blocks into the sleigh. He had waved at his dad and brothers and kept sawing away at the ice. Glen, Ed, and Frank had already jumped out of the sleigh and we’re grabbing at tongs, gaff and wedges as John backed the horses and sleigh slowly to the ramp.
This was Frank’s first year ice harvesting so he followed the lead of his brothers. Getting down from the sleigh John called out to his older boy with total nonchalance, “Norm, that’s a two man saw, where’s your other man?” Norm stopped cutting and looked down at the saw sticking up out of the ice. “I guess he couldn’t hold his breath,” he responded with a sly grin. Young Frank’s eyes went wide until the boys all started laughing. Each to his task the team worked steadily to cut, hook, lift and load until the sleigh was full and John left for the ice house with Glen in tow. Norm, being the oldest, took charge and told the boys to take a break. It was cold enough that they gathered wood along the shoreline and built a fire a short distance from the harvest field. He gave the boys a few minutes to warm themselves then set them back to work. All the boys knew that it was important to give a good accounting of their time. The family depended on everyone doing their best at tasks, and dad didn’t tolerate laziness. By the time John returned, well pleased with Ray and Lawrence’s work at the ice house, the lake team already had a group of blocks set ready for loading. John smiled, proud of his boy’s industry. The younger boys were loud, but their tomfoolery didn’t get in the way of their work. Ray, Lawrence and Norman knew what needed doing, and guided the younger ones when he wasn’t around. The ice house would be filled and ready for the summer folk who, more and more, built cottages around the lakes and needed a supply of ice in their own shed. A man does what he must to care for his family. If he gives his word he keeps it, if his neighbor needs help he gives it, it could be him who needs help the next time. Backing up the sleigh he says: “All right boys, let’s load ‘er up!”
We just took our two oldest grandaughters to Michigan’s Adventure. It was a great summer day; sunshine, about 78° a bit of a breeze. So we got there and the sunscreen came out. My wife sprayed the girls and herself and handed me the can…”I’m good,” I said. I’m sure my wife was thinking: “you’re stupid.” When did Sun Screen come out anyway? I don’t ever remember using it as a kid. The advertisements were all for Coppertone tanning butter. You know, the little girl, the dog, and the white butt. I think my mom used Crisco. I swear I think I saw a no.10 can in her beach bag. I consider myself a veteran of many summers, and a burn signified that I actually did something besides vegging in front of a TV on my day off or on my vacation. A burn was and still is my ‘Red Badge of Courage’. My childhood vacations Up North are marked by sun and sand, woods and water. It was never questioned that we’d burn. It happened as a matter of course. We’d spend the day at the Empire beach, or at Little Glen and we’d plan on getting fried like a slab of bacon.
We couldn’t even help ourselves. We’d stop for lunch, Steam rising off our backs and shoulders, put a t-shirt on and head back out for more punishment. Crawling along the beach looking for Petoskeys and bits of sanded glass, we’d drape our towels over our heads and backs as an extra shield but we’d stay out there all day. When we were cooked long enough we’d clinb back into the car flushed from the sun and all the wonderful Petoskeys, sanded glass, and other stuff we stuffed into bread bags. We weren’t allowed into the house until we were washed down with a hose. Then we trooped into the basement to the shower. It was only a three sided painted plywood box with a gravity shower head raining warm water straight down on us while we lathered the lake off our bodies. Once we had cleaned the lake from our bodies we could see the, hitherto unremarkable carnage we’d inflicted upon ourselves; and it actually stung putting on our pajamas! What were we Thinking!?! Or in today’s parlance: WTF!?! Fortunately for us, and probably for our mother too, Aunt Louise had a huge Aloe Vera plant that, by the end of Summer, looked like a Charlie Brown christmas tree. Even though the restorative salve worked it’s magic only briefly it was enough to calm us as we bedded down on pillows and blankets in the living room of the farm house. Mom had the spare bedroom with babies Kelly and Denise while Mike, Shannon and I spread out in the living room. Later Carl shared the guest room with mom and dad, and the living room filled up with little toasted bodies Shiney with Aloe. Whether we ran along the Empire beach, climbed the dunes, walked three miles out into Little Glen lake to water deep enough to swim in, or ooh’d and aah’d our way through the Totem Shop in Glen Arbor soaking in everything, our little toasted ham and cheese bodies reveled in the summer sun, because in Michigan if you blink, summer could be gone.
So I sit here, in pain, thinking about those summers green and golden long ago when we groaned with the pain yet headed right back out again. We were living our best life. And now I need to remember that playing beneath Apollo’s Chariot exacts a price which is easier to pay with Aunt Louise’s Aloe plant. Tomorrow I’m going back up there; to Springdale Farm, the dunes, the Totem Shop and more with kids and grandkids! I hope I burn.
A life story from a High School aquaintance, now friend who’s story enraptured me and emboldened me to try, with permission, to set it to paper. This is her post from facebook sharing her experience. Thank you Renee! :
This is a much longer post than I typically make. The story behind the story means a lot to me. I’ve recently connected with several people I graduated high school with. At one of these recent visits with Carrie and Kevin Carl Brooks we were talking about traveling and I shared a story about my time in “The Pit”. The pit was at the home of Caiaphas and that is where Jesus spent his last night before He was crucified.
I don’t typically share this story with others because it is so personal to me, a treasure that I replay for myself occasionally and keep very near to my heart. Some wouldn’t believe my story and others might outright scoff at it, but I know in my heart of hearts that I spent my time in the “pit” with an angel.
Kevin Carl Brooks was touched by the story so much so that he wanted to write about it. He sent me this some time ago and I’m only just now going public with it because it also means the world to me that someone I graduated with, and didn’t really know in school, would take the time to put my very personal moment into words. You never know when someone from your past will resurface and become a friend.
You also never know when you might be in the presence of an angel. In this instance – I did. I would have wrote this story from an emotional point of view but one would have to actually feel these emotions to put them to words – I believe.
Kevin really touched on the day for me – and therefore I would like to share this with you, with Kevin’s permission:
So much to take in! The woman jotted some notes in her journal. The tour had been extensive and exhausting. Not in a bad way involving boredom as guides drone on and on about this, that, and other things. There was a lot to see and they were seeing it all! If she didn’t write it down she may forget something small but important. The tour was led by the noted author and Messianic Jewish rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Who better to see the Holy Land than with a man who bridges two of the three worlds that inhabit Zion and Israel? It’s like having Peter and Paul as tour guides! The group of 300 or so were packed into the sanctuary of St. Peter in Gallicantu on the almost sheer eastern slope of Mt. Zion.
The current church was constructed on the ruins of an older Byzantine basilica which was built over the house of Caiaphas the high priest in the passion story. It was in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. On the roof of the church atop a black cross sits a gold rooster. Galli-cantu means cockcrow in Latin. So much history! So much more than the brief two hundred and fifty years in which our own nation has influenced our world. Rabbi Cahn’s voice lightly echos in the open vaulted spaces of the sanctuary. Everyone is listening as he relates place and time, and Christ’s presence. There is more. There is a specific place here, deep under the church. Byzantine crosses are etched in stone. It is the reason they came to this place. Age worn steps lead down to… The woman is fidgety. Voices around her raise in another hymn but she can’t keep her mind on the tune. The words fade as her mind takes hold of the dark places below. Other tours are walking through, people chatter together passing from one room to another; some people stand in the doorways listening to the hymn raising up from the many voices in the sanctuary. She steps to the side, making her way around the many who still sing in adoration. When could they ever do this again? Two thousand years separate the people from the event, yet they are bound together as if they stood silent as the cock crowed thrice. The song recedes as she finds herself walking down corridors. Her shoes lightly scrape along the stone steps leading down deeper into the earth. Others pass her heading back up to the daylight. All the houses back then had deep places. Cisterns held water for drinking and bathing, Cool stone spaces kept food chilling, and deeper still some houses held dank, dark places set aside for some that were not guests; some that were not welcome.
Such a one was the carpenter from Galilee. Prophet, Messiah, Holy one? Caiaphas didn’t think so. The woman steadily made her way down stairs that narrowed and darkened. There was still light. It would not do to have someone stumble or become disoriented. This was still an attraction; a place of curiosity.
Early descriptions of the pit under Caiaphas’ house relate the absolute darkness and foul smell. They led him down this way, down these same steps. It was deep down; Beyond light and fresh air, beyond the pantries and storage places. Flickering torches sent shadows of the jailers jumping around the walls. Blindfolded, spat on and struck he remained quiet. “Prophesy,” they said. “Who is it who struck you?” The only access to the pit was a round hole in the ceiling into which the prisoner was lowered in a harness. No door, no window, just a 15 by 15 rough-hewn stone room with a ceiling 20 feet up, the floor was fouled with human waste; no place to lay down, no place to sit. The walls were coated with dirt and sweat, body oils and worse. How does one comprehend the horror of the time spent in such a place for even one night. She didn’t even realize it but she was all alone. There were no others in the lower places. Her fingertips lightly touched along the coarse walls above the pit. He endured so much, alone, denied, abused. “It’s absolutely amazing isn’t it?” She turned at the sudden sound of another voice and, unstartled, she saw a man standing in the doorway. He was dressed in Khaki attire, almost like a guide. “Overwhelmingly amazing,” she said. And they just looked at each other for a moment. “Can I take your picture,” he said. She said, “Will you please?” and handed him her camera.
He took the picture and looking each other in the eyes as he handed her camera back their hands touched briefly. Everything seemed to move slowly in the still quiet room and she said, her voice echoing slightly off the surrounding stone walls: “You’re an angel aren’t you? It was more a statement than a question. The man silently smiled, and when she looked again he was gone. The woman made her way back up the winding stone stairs until she heard voices from the other members of her tour. “Renee’ where have you been?” She was amazed that she had so much time alone. Time for thought and reflection. Time for God to speak, and time to listen.
“I couldn’t wait, I had to go down”. She will never forget her time in “The Pit” with only one person to keep her company. An angel, who took her picture.
Many of the tales and fables of Europe originated in Marigand since it is the oldest of countries. As a continent as well as country the range of climate is as diverse as its people. One of the greatest contributions to the world is the ancient and honored festival of the mushrooms; all kinds but specifically Portobello. The mushroom caves of Marigand are known the world over for their splendor and bounty. While they can grow just about anywhere, the deep caverns and caves create an ideal climate for the mushroom spores to proliferate.
Unlike the rest of the world the Portobello Festival begins later in the day with the Blessing of the Caves followed by singing and dancing in circles of varying size and number of participants through the dusk of day into the darkness of night.This is, no doubt, the origin of the faery/mushroom circle so prevalent throughout europe.
One added reason for this connection is that the citizens of Marigand collect the mushroom spores by entering the caves during the blessing wearing only a shift or nightshirt. The spores are extremely small but clingy. The single layer of cloth was found to be ideal for the harvesting. Dancing with a shift full of spores into the night, some are bound to fall away and create the faery rings we see even today. Once night has fallen and the stars shine down from a cloudless sky the celebrants release the spores which catch the wind to go by pathless ways becoming a blessing to the rest of the world.
Many participants find themselves caught up by the festival and spend the remainder of the night in reflection until the rising sun brings light and a new day.
The Brothers Grimm, as they compiled their stories and legends from all of europe, transcribed the story of the Sterntaler (star money): “An unnamed, orphaned girl is poor and homeless; she has only her clothing and a loaf of bread that a kindhearted soul has given her. She is a goodhearted person, however, and so she goes out into the countryside to see what might happen. She gives a hungry man her bread, and to three cold children she gives her cap, her jacket, and her dress. After wandering into a forest, she sees a naked child begging for a shift, and since it is dark and she cannot be seen, she gives her own shift away. As she stands there with nothing left at all, suddenly stars fall to earth before her, becoming talers, and she finds herself wearing a new shift of the finest linen. The story ends with her being rich.”
A blessing, and a gift. The girl is a blessing to others and receives a blessing in return. The star money or Sterntaler are the spores rising up instead of coming down. The return blessings are the riches of the Spirit and Soul. Have a Blessed Portobello Day from Marigand!
South Bar lake sits quiet and still except for the croaking of frogs and occasional plop as a fish breaks the surface and leaves behind it the tell-tale rings that spread out and out until the motion of the disturbance disappears among the reeds of the lake. A mist rises off the water as the summer mornings can be cold against the rising sun and heat of the day. In the early days of Empire trains loaded with tree trunks rolled across the lake on the pylon bridge to their final destination and the large cutting wheels that turned it all into lumber. Even now the pylons jut out from the lake marking a trail that has long since disappeared from the landscape. Men and machine made for steady industry and employment for the small village in the early years. South Bar lake and The Empire Lumber Company were only the first stop on a long voyage to other towns and other rail lines.
I tend to forget, as I think back on those marvelous summer days at Springdale Farm, about the sacrifices made to afford us the opportunity to spend so much time there. Of course, when one is eight years old those kinds of deep thoughts are barely grey wispy clouds in the back of the mind, so prevalent are the more immediate thoughts of sun and sand, trees and trails. from my earliest memories my dad worked for the Grand Rapids Post Office. He retired from there in the mid-eighties as the senior supervisor. In 1967, however, he was still a mail sorter, and worked Monday through Fridays. Dad would bring us up north and then return home to work his shifts and come home to an empty house. (vacation for him?) We would spend upwards of a month and a half between Uncle Frank and Aunt Louise’s farm and My Grandparents cabin and woods near Mesick. During the week at Springdale farm we would run amuck through the fields and woods, go to the beach and dune climb, visit great-Aunts and Uncles in the village of Empire and wait for the weekend and dad. Fridays after he got out of work, he would jump in the car with our dog Suntar, a beautiful Husky-Collie mix that he brought home one day in the palm of his hand, and he would head for the farm. He usually got there right around our bed time but that was ok because he would send us off with the reminder that there would be no sleeping-in in the morning. We were going fishing at South Bar lake! Oh, we could hardly contain ourselves. It wasn’t even dark yet and now we had to contend with the imagined monster blue gill we would catch! My dad liked to fish and he liked to take us fishing. Unfortunately, he hated the smell of cooking fish. It would turn him green! He always found somewhere else to be when my mom cooked up the mess of fish we had caught, descaled and cleaned. The fish were always cooked on the grill in the back yard. The picnic table was covered and set, and we’d all dig in…except dad. He’d make a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee. Saturday morning we’d hear dad’s voice rising up the stairs “Mike, Kevin, Shannon, lets go!” Covers would go flying like a hand grenade had gone off under the blankets. Aunt Louise and mom were already up, They were still in their nightgowns and housecoats with breakfast on the table. Eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast with jam. Dad stood there with a cup of coffee and watched us eat. He had picked up a container of worms on the way north and had taken the time to strap our cane poles along the passenger side of the car. They must have been a good eight feet long. The line was wrapped around the pole with the hook poked into the bottom edge. There was a slight chill to the morning but the sun was already shining and it promised to be a golden summer day. Mike and I clambered into the back seat of the car from the driver’s side and Shannon did the same in the front seat. We drove the few miles from the farm to the Empire beach which separated South Bar lake from Lake Michigan by a couple hundred feet. We ran back and forth between the car and the end of the short but wide dock that jutted out into the small lake about fifteen feet while dad untied the poles from the car. Dad used a rod and reel while we used the more kid-friendly cane poles.
We were already experienced in baiting our hooks, even Shannon. Shannon was fearless when it came to worms, toads, and other creepy crawlies. There were lots of times we’d find a toad in the yard and Shannon would be the one to pick it up so we could look at it.
She was only five or six at this time. She wore sneakers and overalls with some sort of plaid short sleeved shirt. Mike and I, nine and seven, wore the basic red ball jets, jeans and white t-shirts. Mike and I were trying to outdo each other in casting out our line. The poles and lines were the same length so the deciding factor would be our arms. We could swing the line out pretty good but the difference between them was almost nil. Shannon did not want to be out-done and wanted to get her line out by ours. A couple fish were caught and tossed back for being too small. The last of the morning mist was rolling off the lake when Mike and I swung our lines out to their maximum length; we were proud of our efforts. Shannon stood at the end of the dock and swung her line out in a mighty heave…and heaved herself right off the dock! Sploosh! Everything was commotion and excitement! All we saw was Shannon’s long blond hair spread out like a lily pad on the surface of the water. Her shocked eyes, just under the surface of the lake, were wide with fright, cheeks puffed and lips puckered as she held her breath. There was A mighty splash and dad was in the water. It seemed as if at the same time he was dropping into the lake he had ahold of Shannon and she was rising out of it. Dad held her up to us and we helped her onto the dock while dad got her pole and climbed onto the dock himself. We had no words at first, we had no towels; no change of clothes. We could do nothing but strap the poles to the car and head back to the farm. Once the shock of the situation had worn off Mike and I couldn’t stop laughing. The hair, the eyes, the puckered lips…dad didn’t think it was funny. Of course, dad and Shannon were wet and cold, but we were seven and nine, and boys. I have this image in my mind of a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a cut-away car with dad, grumpy and wet behind the wheel, Shannon, wet and shivering silently in the seat next to him, while Mike and I continue to laugh and make flailing motions with puckered lips in the back seat. We didn’t catch any fish that morning except the big blonde one dad pulled out of the lake while the mist burned off and the sun continued to climb into the day. We went back to South Bar lake on Sunday afternoon and caught a mess of fish. Shannon stayed dry, and on the dock and dad stayed away from the grill at dinner-time.
Some days at Springdale Farm were very normal and uneventful. The sun would rise and set with all of us doing very normal activities and rise to another day. There are some days, though, that prick at my memory and events parade across my mind. And that is as it should be; places become special because along with the daily and mundane there are, for one reason or another, events, actions, sunrises or sunsets that cement themselves in the mind to be brought into the light later, perhaps when they are needed, or perhaps to bring to mind a time when it seemed that we were, in our adolescence, doing life right.
We don’t have a wood stove. Even our fireplace is gas flames licking around ceramic ‘logs’. It even has small fiberglass coals that glow orange when the gas flames light up. Our wood use is relegated to the fire pit at our seasonal campsite, which we try to get to every weekend. Since last fall the three empty lots to the south of our house have been cleared of brush and trees and three new spec homes fill the ‘void’ between us and our nearest neighbors. I had asked the contractor what he was going to do with the trees he pulled down. He said: “Put them in your yard if you want ’em.” After letting them sit through the winter I’m firing up the chainsaw and cutting them up for splitting and stacking. Partly so that they’ll cure faster but also because we’ve been finding snakes in the woodpile…big snakes. One reminds me of a Water Moccasin, thick body-two to three feet long, color and markings fit but we’re told they don’t find them this far north. I’ve never seen a puff adder this big and it didn’t have a rattle. The dogs are curious; Carrie is not. She did take a good picture of it though.
Is there such a thing as a wood snake? Cutting wood with my dad and grandpa we always ran into snakes. It was inevitable. When my folks married they bought a tiny house on five-mile rd on the Northeast side of Grand Rapids, then in the late sixties when our family grew too big for it, we moved, briefly,into my grandma’s house while our new house was being built on our old lot. It wasn’t long after we moved into this house that dad decided we needed a wood burning stove in the basement to keep the gas bill down. We made regular trips north to The Woods for fuel. Early on he would borrow a trailer to haul the wood behind his Plymouth Fury. This was the car of choice for the discriminating lumberjack.The wood was piled in the back yard just waiting for the unlucky soul chosen to start the splitting process.
There I stand in the back yard, sweating through my WLAV Tshirt, shoulder length hair matted to my neck, jaw and forehead. There was no such thing as a man-bun; that guy would’ve been laughed out of the neighborhood, and I didn’t do ponytails. So I suffered. We had mauls, wedges, axes, (one and two bladed), and sledge hammers. After making pretty good headway for a couple hours dad appears with the savior of the hour: the new Chopper 1, a splitting maul with side levers built to force the wood apart once the blade bit in far enough for the levers to catch on the wood edge.
All my fifteen year old brain thought was: “Where the hell was this thing two hours ago?” I tried it out and it actually worked quite well! ‘Try it before you buy it’ would’ve given two thumbs up! Dad said: ‘Take a break. You want a cold drink?’ I nodded as I pulled my hair back and tied a bandana across my brow. To my suprise, Dad came out with two Budweisers and tossed one over. It was ice cold and tasted great! I’m guessing ice cold anything would’ve tasted great. ” if you’re gonna work like a man you might as well have a man’s drink.” (*just don’t tell your mother). Dad and I split the vast pile of wood and stacked it. We didn’t really talk about anything but wood and the Chopper 1, angles and force and dad cutting and stacking wood with grandpa up north. We went through two woodstoves while i still lived at home though that was only about another six years.There was a time when the only thing between me and the warmth of that woodstove was a bath mat…but that’s another story.
THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE NORTH When my dad finished his 2nd tour of duty in the Marine Corp., he went into business with my grandpa in his Auto shop/filling station on the corner of Sweet and Diamond in Grand Rapids.
Sometime during this partnership they won a 30-06 rifle in a promotion. This was the gun my dad used for hunting from that point on. He hand-checkered the stock with tools that have since passed to my brother Carl, along with the rest of his hunting gear. Dad and grandpa seemed to have similar dispositions and past-times. Dad said he didn’t come from a very demonstrative family. He knew he was loved because he and grandpa did things together. They cut wood. They fished. They hunted. During family get-togethers at grandpa and grandma’s house they sat across from each other in the living room barely saying a word, but my dad knew. He could see it in my grandpa’s eyes. They didn’t vocally say ‘I love you,’ or hug. When I came home from Summer Camp staff as a 17 year old I was a hugger. I said ‘I love you’. My dad would just nod; and it took a couple years for him to hug back. That changed after a while but at the time I didn’t care. I knew. One hunting season not long after he returned from service Dad was up at the cabin. This was in a time when deer were plentiful and bucks hung from tree branch and poles. Between grandpa’s cabin and Uncle Herb’s the deer hung like rows of corn after the first week of the season. One day Dad, Uncle Bill Masters, and Grandpa were heading back out into the woods after lunch. As they drove down the county road they saw old man Bullock and his boys firing their rifles across Mr. Pike’s field toward my grandpa’s woods.
My dad pulled over and asked them what they were shooting at. Mr. Bullock, standing a little ways off the road told my dad that there was a big buck standing at the tree-line of my grandpa’s woods just below the big hill. The distance to the deer from the road was probably about the length of three football fields. Mr. Bullock’s sons were laying atop a rise about a third of the way through the field firing round after round. The buck just stood there looking. Grandpa said “ Nobody’s even coming close Kenny; he’s not even flinching. My dad got out his 30-06 and rested it on a fence post along the road. Sighting in with his scope he could see that it was a big buck. The rack was spread wide but he couldn’t tell how many tines it had from that distance. The deer could hear the shots but was apparently unconcerned. It was just noise. He continued to browse and occasionally lift his head to the rifle shots. Mr. Bullock said: “ C’mon Kenny, at least go up by the boys. You’ll never hit him from back there.” “Nope, I’m good.” Said my dad. He loaded a clip into his gun and chambered a round. The Bullock boys kept plinking away, and the deer just stood there. When my dad settled himself and looked through the scope, my Uncle Bill said that he and my grandpa just held their breath. KRACK! My dad quickly worked the bolt and chambered another round. He missed, but he was close enough that the buck bolted along the tree-line. Dad never looked up. Sighting again, he led the deer and KRACK! The buck went down with grasses and dirt flying as the rack plowed into the ground. Dad dropped him on the run! The Bullock boys just stared back from the rise while Mr. Bullock whooped and hollered, laughing and running up to my dad. ‘Kenny, that was the most amazing shot I’ve ever seen! You did it! You really did it!” Uncle Bill was dumbstruck. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” Grandpa just beamed. Nobody went out into the woods that afternoon. This is the story as I heard it from my dad and my Uncle Bill. There was probably a bit of luck in the shot, but my dad spent his time in the Marine corp. as a Drill Instructor and Range Instructor. I’m guessing that played a part.
How does one encapsulate a place and time into a few short sentences? How does one light a fire within another with memories and words? Springdale Farm, Uncle Frank & Aunt Louise’ home was the birthplace of memories for me. Only a couple miles from the Dune Climb and the Glen Lakes it carried the flair of an exotic, (to an eight year old)vacation place. The Welch homestead on Welch road had field, wood, and hill to run, climb, and crawl through until bedraggled and scratched, hair blown and tangled with twig and leaf a boy would come through the back screen door with a twang of spring and slap of door on jamb, flushed with a day of sun and woodland adventure to a half hearted scolding for being out so long and looking like something that a woodchuck carried to a brush pile. Earth. Soil, and Nature. An article recently read that children would be better off and more healthy if they just got a bit dirty now and then. There is something in the earth that connects us and heals us. It makes us whole, both physically and spiritually. Christian tradition tells us that God formed Adam from earth. Take it for what it is, the connection bears it out. Perhaps this is why I needed to share this experience with my own children; why my grandchildren have been to Springdale Farm, and climbed the dunes and walked the same fields, and climbed the same hills that captured the heart of their grandfather fifty-odd years ago. We need to come back to the earth. We need to come in at dusk with twig and leaf caught in the hair, cheeks flush and pink with the sun and sky.
There hadn’t been much need to go into the old shed at the cabin. It seemed like the only things in there were an old rusted truck and a bunch of lumber, but grandma needed something. I can’t even remember what but she asked dad to see if he could find it. “I’m sure it’s in there Kenny, see if you can find it.” Dad rolled open the long door of the shed sending light into a space that rarely ever got it. He found what grandma wanted. I wanted to take a look into a shed that hardly ever saw the light of day. There was all sorts of stuff in there! Hanging against the wall was a rusted old two-handled cross cut saw. I remember seeing movies with lumberjacks using them. “Did you ever use that, dad?” “Oh yes,” he said. “grandpa and I used that all the time before we had chainsaws.” I stared in wonder at the old saw as the door slid closed and darkness hid it from sight again.
Sawdust and woodchips flew out onto the forest floor back and forth, bouncing off the grubby oil-spotted overalls and boots of the man and boy. Clarence kept his blades sharp- He had to; the old cabin had to be heated and wood was cheaper than propane. Originally owned by a lumber company the woods were intersected by a railroad grade that ended just shy of the western border of the property. Another spur cut in from the east at the north end of the 160 acres. Both lines had been pulled up leaving only a long sloping grade, a large clearing at the north end and a few, now rusty, line spikes that are still being found today. All the wood that was fit to be logged was harvested long ago.
The woods had grown up since then. The clearing was still there and the grade still ran rail straight from the east to the west right down the center of the property. It was along the old grade that the man had parked his pick-up. As Clarence, fit and trim at thirty-eight years used the two man cross-cut saw to cut through the branches and trunk of the tree his fourteen year old son Kenny worked the other end of the saw. Once the cutting was done the boy cleared the small branches and stacked the wood in face-cord sections four foot high, eight long with precise sixteen inch pieces. Clarence pulls out his maul and wedges, splitting the larger pieces of trunk while Kenny stacks and clears the brush. The boy and man work silently, the natural sounds of wind and bird punctuated by the dull ‘thock’ of wood striking wood and the high pitched ‘ping’ of maul striking wedge. Clarence straightens up and wiping the sweat from his brow he adjusts his glasses and runs his tongue along his bottom lip. He watches his son stacking the wood with pride. The boy takes the time to stack the pieces tight and straight. Kenny notices the stillness and, looking up at his dad, wipes his face with a leather glove. No words are exchanged but Clarence reaches into the back of the truck and pulls out a couple cold sodas and points one at the boy. Kenny straightens with a smile and nods. The two sit on the tailgate of the truck and listen to the sounds of the woods and feel the hot sun on their cheeks. The trees are taller. A different pick up sits on the railroad grade. Chainsaws and a plastic milk crate with oil and rags sits on the ground. Kenny, now forty-four years old stands next to the cut trunk of a tree. A chainsaw sits on the flat surface about waist high while he works a rattail file against the curved blade tips of the chain. “Give me four hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first two sharpening my axe.” Is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln though no one knows for sure who said it; but in this case it applies. Cutting up a tree is much easier and quicker with a sharp saw. His three sons, Mike and Kevin now teenagers, and even the five year old, Carl, engage in various tasks of hauling brush, stacking wood, and prepping logs for the blade. Clarence, now sixty-eight, lets Kenny do the cutting. Bent and aged by the life he led he is more of a consultant now. He still drives his old truck up into the woods. The boys, sitting on the tailgate for the short trip up the county road, watch the road roll underneath their feet and snicker as the yellow and white center lines slowly snake back and forth from one side of the tailgate to the other. Kenny asks his dad where they are cutting today and the old man says: “Plenty of standing dead on the grade.” Clarence points out trees and his son gets to cutting. He directs the boys on clearing brush and stacking, and he helps Kenny with measuring. He carries a stick, just an ordinary stick with notches on it. Standing to the side while his son starts the saw he bends down and lays the stick against the branch or trunk to give Kenny the measure that, after years in the woods, he doesn’t really need. And he steps away as the saw blade sends sawdust flying. The wood is stacked, saws and boxes stowed in the truck, and the boys are called back from whatever forest adventure took them away from the grade. The woods need to be checked, and the boys watch the two-track path roll beneath their feet while weeds and twigs flick at the older boys’ shoes and pantlegs as they travel from one end of the woods to the other. Driving through the open field at the north end made the boys pick up their feet. The field was full of blackberry brambles which bite and scrape even through blue jeans. Once back at the cabin the three boys carry on with various pursuits while the two men go inside. Grandma Adeline stands at the kitchen window looking out at the boys. “Get some cutting done?” Clarence responds with a “Yeh,” As he walks through to the next room. Kenny just winks at his mother. The two men sit at the dining room table with a beer and a shot of whiskey. No words are spoken. They stare into each other’s eyes and take a sip while a slow cool summer breeze catches a wind chime hanging in one of the maple trees and comes, with the music, through the window to slowly dry the sweat on their brows.