Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Mysterious Case of the Red Shoe

Dear George,
I had a pretty weird weekend last week.  It started on Saturday when I noticed they’d put up new signs on all the trails in Burnet Woods.  The signs read: “Warning – Trees Along Trails May Be Hazardous.”  That seemed so bizarre.  What exactly do they think the trees are going to do to us?  They could just as well say: “Warning -- Watch out for butterflies and cobwebs.”  Maybe some one-time event prompted this over-reaction by the authorities, but I worry that it will only intimidate nervous, tree-phobic hikers from using the park trails at all. 

The next day my friend Royce and I took the sheepdogs to Eden Park for a hike.  The officials hadn’t yet gotten around to posting warnings at Eden Park yet.  We were walking through the magnolia grove, venting our respective feelings about the House Republicans.  Deep in thought, I was looking downwards when – smack! – my head banged against a low-hanging branch of a magnolia tree.  The force of the collision was enough to knock me off my feet.  Lying prone on my back, I felt my forehead.  It was bruised and sore, but I decided I hadn’t broken anything.  As I got back up to my feet, I remembered the warning signs at Burnet Woods.  Maybe those signs aren’t so bad after all, I thought to myself.  Usually people don’t walk headfirst into trees, but it’s not a bad idea to remind us every once in a while. 

As it turned out, my encounter with the hazardous magnolia tree wasn’t the only mysterious thing on the trip.  We stopped at the Eden Park Overlook to take in its splendid panoramic view of the Ohio River.  Looking down the hill, Royce spotted some sort of blue and white object in the bushes about thirty feet below us.  Out of curiosity, I climbed over the wall and carefully made my way down through the brush to retrieve whatever it was.  Though worried about falling off the cliff’s edge, I got there and back in one piece.

It turned out that what we’d thought was an item of clothing was a man’s size 12 Nike sneaker.  There was no obvious wear on the sole, and the shoe looked virtually brand new.  A fancy pair of Nike shoes like that must have cost at least a hundred dollars.  Who in the world would throw their new Nike shoe off the Overlook?  We looked to see if there was a second shoe, but the hillside was too overgrown to spot anything else.  The shoe’s presence there was completely inexplicable.  Was this a product of drunken revelry?  Insanity?  Or some sort of foul play? 

We continued on our hike, passing by the Krohn Conservatory and heading up the Hinkle Floral Trail toward Mirror Lake.  About halfway along the floral trail there was some debris on the hillside and a bright red object right in the middle.  It was a woman’s high heel shoe – velvety, with a pointed toe and an extra long four-inch heel.  A glamorous party girl’s shoe – probably worth two or three hundred dollars.  What in the world was going on in Eden Park?  Having watched Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple on many episodes of Masterpiece Mystery, I knew that finding two expensive shoes strewn about in the same locale was not a random event.  These were obviously clues to some nefarious happening.  Had there been a serial murder?  Or perhaps an outraged woman had shoved her husband off the Overlook, then raced from the scene and lost her red shoe?  The very thought of the possibilities sent chills up my spine.  I suggested to Royce that we search in the shrubbery for a corpse, but she thought my bump on the head was affecting my judgment.  I left the shoes where they were, hoping the park detectives might happen upon them and conduct an investigation.  

Parks, it turns out, are scarier than we normally think.  Trees can definitely be hazardous, but even worse things can be perpetrated by people in sneakers or red shoes lurking amongst the trees.  I personally think the officials should revise their signs to say, “Warning: Trees Along Trails May Be Hazardous – Also Shoes and Dead Bodies.” 

G-Mail Comments
-Ann B (10-1): Yes trees are dangerous. John's daughter, husband and kids were driving down the road at 45 miles up by their campsite in Munising when a dead tree fell in top of the truck, smashing the hood, windshield , side mirror and panel. Luckily no one was hurt! So when I read your story today it made me realize that they are warning that due to weather elements trees do weird things. Have you hear about the Frigo bridge in Green Bay. Check out that story it is another weird one!
-Donna D (9-29): this is s0 funny.  so i'm royce now?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Golden Tickets

Dear George,
This is the fourth year that the Clifton Cultural Arts Center has hosted The Golden Ticket, a juried art show featuring local artists (painting, photography, sculpture, ceramics, fiber).  The first year the exhibition showcased our Clifton neighborhood, selecting artists who lived or worked within a three-mile radius of the Arts Center.  This year’s show expanded nearly tenfold and included 68 artists  from within a 25-mile radius.  Thus it covered the entire metropolitan area.  It’s great to see how the arts are flourishing in our community.  Here’s just a sampling of the many works that Katja and I enjoyed on our recent visit.  The show remains open through October 2.

Ned Stern.  Lunch Counter Man.  Acrylic.  

Clinton Wood III.  Lexington Street Corner.  Oil on panel. 

Ted Borman.  Seaside.  Oil on canvas.

Felix V. Rodriguez.  A Caribbean Soul in Coldland!  Glazed ceramic.  

Tina Tammaro.  A Deeper Dark Than Any Dark.  Oil on canvas.

Karen Heyl.  Fiddle Dee Fern.  Clay, acrylic paint, limestone.  

Yvonne Eijden.  A Rose Without Thorns 2.  Oil.  

Marty Campolo.  Imagine Everything You Can, Then Keep Going.  Acrylic.  

Jason Bohrer.  Rusty Rail Cars.  Aluminum print atop copper linoleum backing.  

Donna Talerico.  Fedora.  Acrylic on canvas.  

Bill Feinberg.  Minyan.  Wire, plaster, paint.  

Adam Havelszky.  Man and Dog.  Acrylic.  

Mark Wiesner.  The Moebius Syndrome.  Mixed media on wood.  

Michelle Heilmann.  Sprung.  Oil on canvas.  

Amy Warner.  The Summer Papa Dies: Lucia and Phoebe.  Oil.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lake Michigan Coast: Were We in Heaven or What?

Hiking trail, Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Dear George,
Katja and I have driven back and forth between Cincinnati and the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan innumerable times since the 1960’s, but we always took I-75 through the center of the state so we had no experience with the Lake Michigan coast.  In 2007 we finally decided to remedy that by taking a camping road trip there with our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy.  Unfortunately our departure was scheduled shortly after the eastern U.S. was inundated by Hurricane Dean, one of the strongest hurricanes on record.  The Midwest weather forecast predicted constant post-hurricane rain for the next week to ten days, but we had packed our car, Katja had applied for vacation time, and we doubted they could really predict weather a week in advance.  We were, of course, badly mistaken.  It rained virtually nonstop and cast a pall over our entire trip.  If I remember correctly, I think Katja vowed she would never go camping again.  In any case, it's been on my mind ever since to redo that Lake Michigan trip under more pleasant circumstances.  This is the first year that our bad memories seem to have faded sufficiently to give it another try, and so we headed north a week and a half ago.        

Campsite #110 at Holland State Park

We drove from Cincinnati to Holland, Michigan, via Highway 31 on Thursday, Sept. 5,  arrived at the Holland State Park in the late afternoon, and found a good campsite in a pine forest.  Katja said Holland was the most attractive city she’s ever seen.  We only planned to stay at the park for two nights, but we liked it so much we stayed for four, taking day trips to resort communities along the coast to the north and the south.  Katja was a hardy camper and barely complained when her air mattress completely deflated on the first night out.  Nonetheless, I hurried to Wal-Mart and bought a new one.

Looking straight upward at our campsite

Michigan was enticing because we were constantly surrounded by water, cool temperatures, clean air, beaches, and pine trees.  In contrast to our earlier trip, the weather was near perfect – typically sunny with highs in the mid-70’s.  What a great state!

Lake Macatawa

Our campground was located along the shore of Lake Macatawa, a 1700 acre lake adjacent to the city of Holland.  A channel connects Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan, enabling Great Lakes boaters to dock at one or another of the marinas there.

At the dock at Lake Macatawa

We saw lots of splendid boats at Holland and at other marinas up and down the coast.

Katja and Captain Sundae

We discovered Captain Sundae's softserve parlor on our first night in Holland.  Katja said that her Tommy Turtle was the best sundae she'd ever had in her life.  Here she is with the Captain himself.  They seem to make sundaes much larger in Michigan than in Ohio, and we partook nearly every day, turning this into a Softserve Sundae Vacation.  

Kalamazoo Lake at downtown Saugatuck

With cool temperatures at night, I picked up a handsome Old Navy sweatshirt for $2 at a yard sale in Holland on Friday morning.  Then we drove to Saugatuck, an art colony and popular tourist destination just south of Holland.  Lots of boats, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts.  A totally appealing place to wander about, window-shop, and people-watch.  

Lunch on the lawn

We enjoyed lunch on a restaurant lawn next to the marina in Saugatuck. 

On the riverwalk in Grand Haven 

The next day we drove north to Grand Haven, another popular tourist destination along the lake shore.  The Grand River runs passes by at the foot of the downtown business district, and the riverwalk offers scenic views.  Katja bought us each a Grand Haven sweatshirt.  

Along the Grand River

There were still plenty of flowers blooming in Grand Haven in early September.

Strolling around Washington Ave.

Washington Avenue’s historic district has plenty of shops, galleries, restaurants, and flower-covered bicycles.  We even saw four goats and a pot-bellied pig on one of the side streets.         

Mike and Duffy meet Chloe

In downtown Grand Haven we met five-year-old Chloe, the first Bedlington Terrier we've seen in person since we lost our beloved Winston over twenty years ago. 

At Duck Lake State Park

There were lakes scattered all throughout the region.  On Sunday we stopped at Duck Lake for a picnic lunch on our way to Pentwater. 

Pentwater Lake

Pentwater is another favorite tourist spot, located on Lake Michigan and on Pentwater Lake about 75 miles north of Holland.  Katja bought a Pentwater sweatshirt to go with her Grand Haven sweatshirt.  By then we were well-equipped with sweatshirts.  We looked over a local real estate guide.  Summer homes on the shore ran from $300K to $2.6 million.        

String band in downtown Pentwater

We came upon an 8-member string band playing bluegrass music on a street corner in downtown Pentwater.  All but one were senior citizens, and one man could have been my father’s twin brother.  We were told the group plays there every Sunday afternoon, and they were good enough that they might have appeared on Prairie Home Companion.  It brought a tear to my eye.  On the way back we picked up some blueberries and watermelon at a big farm market.    

Lake Michigan at Ludington State Park

On Monday we packed up our gear and headed north for Ludington State Park, a few miles north of the city of Ludington.  I'd read that Ludington is regarded by many as the best state park in the Midwest.  That's because of its magnificent location on the shore of Lake Michigan, with hilly dunes and wide sandy beaches that reminded us of the Atlantic seashore.  The lake was gorgeous; blue water, white surf; sea gulls; fishing boats and pleasure craft; lighthouses; swimmers and sunbathers; kids playing in the sand; even a para-glider pulled by a power boat.  

Lake Michigan from the dunes

This lake view is right over the dunes from our campsite, about thirty yards away from our tent.  

Native fauna

Mike and Duffy came with me to gather some kindling for a campfire, and we ran across three white-tailed deer at the edge of the forest.  The dogs were only mildly interested, and the deer seemed equally calm about our encounter.    

Night-time tent interior

Being together in the tent at night is one of my favorite things about camping.  It’s filled with mystery (as this photo of lantern and blanket indicates).  

Downtown Manistee

Katja spent part of Tuesday a.m. on the Lake Michigan beach, enjoying the sunshine and reading her book, “Rafa”.  Then we took a sightseeing trip to Manistee, a coastal town of about 6,000 which became a permanent European-American settlement in 1841. On the way there we had lunch at Culver’s which has the best frozen custard the world has ever seen.  Like most towns in the area, Manistee’s architecture dates back to the late 1800's and houses lots of interesting shops.  Katja got a book on “Word History” at the used book store on Water St.  

The Manistee River

We took a relaxing stroll on the boardwalk along the pretty Mainstee River in downtown Manistee.

Mike at the motel

After a rainy night at the campground, we packed up on Wednesday morning, enjoyed breakfast at the House of Flavors in downtown Ludington, and then set out for Ann Arbor for an intended two-night camping stay.  However, we got stuck for three hours in a massive traffic jam on the Interstate, and it started raining as well.  My gas gauge dropped from a quarter tank to “Empty” as we sat in the stranded traffic, and we got very nervous.   Even though I had long claimed that there were no motels in the United States that would accept two large sheepdogs, we found one as soon as we finally reached an exit.  Though it violated my Spartan camper principles, we humans and dogs did appreciate the luxuries of air conditioning, showers, firm mattresses, and Wheel of Fortune on cable TV. 

At Zingerman's Deli

We spent several hours checking out Ann Arbor’s downtown and campus areas on Thursday.  School was in session, and Ann Arbor looked busy and prosperous.  We stopped for lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Kerrytown, our favorite Ann Arbor destination in recent years.  They have a dog-friendly patio.  I was a little nervous because Mike had vomited on the floor of the only other dog-friendly patio we've ever visited.  I decided, though, that that was a one-time freak occurrence.  Wouldn't you know, we'd just settled in when Mike promptly vomited up his entire breakfast on Zingerman's floor, right the feet of a nice couple who had befriended him.  I cleaned it up as best I could, and the sunshine dried up the rest.

We headed for home from Zingerman’s and used Katja's smartphone to guide us to a Dairy Queen in Wapakoneta, OH.  After four hours on the road we reached the Cincinnati city limits.  As always, it was sad to wind up an enjoyable trip, but also pleasing to be home again.  I’d say Michigan’s west coast is about the most enjoyable travel destination we’ve been to in the Midwest.  I carefully packed up all our gear the next morning and stored it in the basement.  But it's ready to go at a moment's notice.


G-mail Comments
Jennifer M (9-17):  Great photos and great trip!  Also -- Holland, MI really is Dutch!