Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beans & Cornbread in Southfield

After spending much of the year on the road in northern Michigan writing a canoe/kayak guide, it's a relief to get away from my diet of cheese burgers and beer at Up North taverns. Over the last several years, I've gotten to know more about the U.P. than my own home town -- Detroit. But that's changing, as I start work on a travel guide to the city.
Got a chance to eat at Beans & Cornbread in Southfield, an upscale soul food restaurant. They're going to get into the guide. The food was great and the service excellent. We went on a Tuesday night, so it wasn't too crowded. I had the pork chops in red eye gravy, and my wife, the fried chicken. I tried a bit of both, and while the chicken wasn't as good as the "hens" my Arkansas grandmother "fried up," as she called it, it was better than anything I've tasted in years.
The dinner was traditionally southern, with three sides. I had greens, black eyed peas and corn. Northern white people usually consider boiled green beans as the only vegetable fit to put on the table. In the south, you get more variety.
While at the bar, I had an interesting discussion with an African-American woman about southern fried chicken, and she struck a chord with me. I told her the chicken was just about as good as my southern grandmother's and she told me that there was probably an African-American woman behind that recipe. Her comment brought back a misty memory of something my father told me about such a black woman who worked for his parents. I wonder if she was the source. My father's dead, and I'll never know. Such are the mysteries of the south.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A fresh look at Detroit

On a recent evening, I checked out the Wayne State campus, and was happy to see students walking around, lights on in buildings, and Old Main, a building I took classes in 40 years ago, looking good. For me, it was a way to shift gears and get in tune with my old hometown. I spent the past year writing a canoe/kayak guide to Michigan, and spent much of my time in backwoods towns.
I'm now at work on a guidebook to Detroit, which will give me a chance to take a good look at my old haunts and see how things have changes, some for the better. There's a lot of great stuff to say about Detroit, especially lately. I was a bit amazed to see The New York Times do a story on Slows Barbecue in Detroit. Too often the national media shows up, takes a couple of pictures of the abandoned Michigan Central Depot and old auto plants, as a way to show the city's decline.
I've got a great opportunity to tell Detroit's story, and I'm going to take advantage of it. But I'm going to be honest. I was near Wayne State to have dinner at the venerable Mario's restaurant. The service is still top notch, but lobster night drew my wife and I there for dinner. We got there about 7 p.m. and they were out of it. It was a bit off putting. If you're going to advertise something, you've got to step up to the plate and do it. I'll go back, but I won't suck for lobster night again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Favorite summer photo

Summer is on the wane, and I've just completed writing a canoe/kayak guide to Michigan for my publisher, The Countryman Press. When looking through the photos for the book that I took during my travels through the state this past summer, I still like this one the best. It was taken on the Keweenaw Peninsula in the U.P. A favorite place I'm going to get back to next summer when I have more time to paddle, not just write and take photos.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where to be unplugged

You won't get any calls here, the Apostle Islands
A couple of years ago while fly-fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana, I couldn't resist calling my son to tell him about a large trout I'd caught. I didn't think the cell phone would work, by my fishing guide said they did so long as you could see a road. There was a ribbon of a freeway in the distance, and the phone worked. My son was caught in Detroit traffic, and we laughed about where we were.
I thought I was unplugged out there, and it was a good feeling to be beyond the bonds of wireless technology -- unavailable, as we once were just a few years ago.
There are still a few places out there in Michigan where you can disconnect. Here's a list:
* Copper Harbor. Cell phones don't work at the tip of the Keweenaw. I found it a relief while staying there for several days. If you go, and need a cell phone fix, you can drive to the top of Brockway Mountain.
* Western Upper Peninsula. I feel like I'm in a time warp when I visit places like Iron Mountain, Iron River and Crystal Falls. You're in the central time zone, and cell phone reception goes in and out, depending on where your staying.
* Pere Marquette River. Try a fall float down the Lower Peninsula, if you're looking to disconnect for a while. The high banks on the shoreline block cell phone reception.
* Drummond Island. Located in northern Lake Huron, the island has shaky service.
As for wireless Internet junkies, apart from Marquette it's a crap shoot. Sometimes you'll find yourself sitting in your vehicle near a public library to hook up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's time to visit the Upper Peninsula

With the temperatures in the 80s and 90s in southern Michigan and about 100 along the East Coast, its time to think about a trip to the Upper Peninsula where it's in the 70s. A cool drive along the shore of Lake Superior on M 28 is just the tonic we need this time of year. There are stunning beaches and an either calm or stormy Lake Superior. For many, the U.P. conjures up images of woods and waters, and there's plenty of that, but there is also a lot of urban culture. Try visiting Marquette, which has about 25 art galleries, Northern Michigan University, and a top flight hotel -- The Landmark. A bicycle trail follows the lake front through town, and restaurants and smalll cafes thrive.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Christmas in July

The hot weather probably has many of us wishing for Christmas in July. Well, here it is -- the Upper Peninsula town of Christmas in a photo taken in July. Christmas is a few miles west of Munising, and owes its existence to it's name. A small gift shop in the town doubles as a post office, so you can have your Christmas cards post marked with the word Christmas. There's also a casino, but I doubt if they give away gifts.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Misty, cool day on Beaver Lake

I'm back from a ten day paddling trip through the Upper Peninsula, most of the time I was on Lake Superior, but I found this lovely inland body of water, Beaver Lake, in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore between Munising and Grand Marais. There's a small campground and boat launch there, and it has a creek, Beaver Creek, that empties into Lake Superior, so you can get to the shoreline of the big lake. It's a bit of a trip. You have to get out of your kayak and "line" your boat through the creek, which means pull it. It's about a quarter mile to the big lake. Many of the days I was there, it was misty and cool, and I'm yearning for that weather again as I sit at my computer in southeastern Michigan editing my photos in 90 degree heat.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rough day on Lake Superior

The winds were up a bit yesterday on Lake Supeior when I paddled through the Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula, but myself and other kayakers braved the waves and found some stunning views. It was a crystal clear day, although a bit cool. The best trip on rough days is to put in at Sand Point near Munising. From there you can paddle across the channel to Grand Island or follow the Pictured Rocks to Miner's Castle. The island buffers paddlers from the waves from the big lake.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faded history in an Upper Peninsula mining town

Getting off a main highway has its rewards, the scenery is often better, but it also offers a glimpse into the past. While driving toward Marquette the other day I stopped by to see the town of Republic, which is off the main road, and I was able to get a look into the not to distant past of this mining region. Most the small towns in the central and western Upper Peninsula are organized around an old mine, now not in use. Some how some of these places hang on, God knows how. Republic is one of them, but the old iron miner homes are sagging, along with most buildings in town. The place, above, is an antique store that wasn't opened on the day I stopped by. There's a faint set of lettering for Bosch beer above the doorway, which was made in Houghton/Hancock and was still sold in the 1980s. A look at the building makes me wonder what it was. There are living quarters upstairs, and a garage door in front, along with a store from. I'm stumped as to what it was. But the folks here are hanging on to the town, even though iron mining is long gone. In a  way it reminds me of Detroit, which hangs on to it's rusty relics of the auto industry, even though everybody knows the good old days aren't going to come back. In 30 or 40 years, is some travel writer like me going to drive through Detroit and see it as I did Republic?

Da Yoopers Tourst Trap catches me

For some reason, I can't pass this place without stopping. It's the lack of any pretention that draws me to stop at the Tourist Trap on M 28, just west of Marquette. Big Gus, the world's largest firing rifle, or so they say sits out in front, along with old cars and other junk. There's an oversize rocking chair that people love to have their pictures taken in. Inside there are joke items, many related to farts, such as farts in a can. The poor Finns are the brunt of many of the jokes, and there's a Finnish two-seater outhouse, only trouble is that it's a two-story one, with one hole sitting on top of another. There's nothing educational about this place, and that's why I find it a relief to stop at. No lessons on the envirnment or social causes, just outhouse humor.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loon on lake in the Sylvania Wilderness Area

For years, I've been trying to get a good picture of a loon on a lake in the Upper Peninsula, and I finally did it the other night in the Sylvania Wilderness Area near Watersmeet. It was a matter of taking my time, and doing some soft paddling in my kayak, so as not to scare the bird. Loons are ground nesting birds and this time of year, a lone male loon in the lake means there is a female on a nest not too far away. The job of the male is to attract the attention of possible preditors to keep them away from the nest, so the mother isn't disturbed. Male loons will dive underwater to get away from you, and this one did seconds after the picture was taken. I feel lucky to have seen this one this close.

Calm day on Lake Superior

The weather has finally cleared in the Upper Peninsula and the winds have settled down, making it a good day for paddling on Lake Superior and elsewhere. Spent Monday in the Sylvania Wilderness Area near Watersmeet in the western U.P. paddling Clark Lake. The area is a great place for familes to canoe camp, gentle paddles, warm inland waters for swimming and fishing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paddling the Sea Caves

The Sea Caves in the Apostle Islands National Park are very accessible to paddlers. The trip along the coast starts at Meyers Beach on the western shore of the Bayfield Peninsula and takes you for several miles along the caves area. The trip takes several hours or longer, depending on how long you want to linger. The caves are entrancing, so I took my time paddling into them and looking up at the sandstone rock arches. Watch out for paddling here, the water is cold, I wore my wet suit, and the winds can change quickly. By the time I turned around to head back to the parking lot, I was fighting brisk head winds and was paddling into the waves.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Misty beach

These are the best times when you have a good paddle, sitting on the beach and watching the misty rain move in just after you got off the water. The photo was taken in the Keewenaw Peninsula, which I think is one of the best paddling destinations in Michigan. The scenery is wonderful, rocky shore lines and mountains to see. The access is good, and there are many protected bays to paddle when Lake Superior kicks up. There are also inland lakes worth paddling.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In the Apostle Islands

A stop in Bayfield, Wis., to kayak in the Apostle Islands is making me home sick for Michigan. Guess it was the sticker shock on motel rooms, $150 a night or so, but there are lots of yachts around here, so they can jack up their prices. Even the low key motels are so upscale that one even had flowers planted in all their eve troughs.
Having just been in t he Keweenaw Peninsula where the rooms were about $60, and the paddling acutally better, I was tempted to turn around and head back, but I've got a paddling book to write and need to check out the Apostle Island.
There's a lot of boat traffic and inter-island kayaking is discourged by the National Park Service, so you're pretty much stuck going with a tour group, or a larger group of your own. Recreational paddlers can do much better at the Keweenaw.

Paddling Copper Harbor

The Keweenaw Peninsula can almost exhaust a paddler with at the possibilities. I spent the last two days paddling in and around the Copper Harbor area and haven't even scratched the surface. Lake Superior has been kind, there's been some rain, but the waters have been calm and I've put a lot of time in on the water.
Evening is my best time. It's light up here until nearly 10 p.m., and a four-hour night paddle is very possible.
Last night two of us did Copper Harbor Bay. The water was like glass and the rocks shrouded with mist. We explored the rocky outer islands via kayak, and found small opening of water to paddle through. You could spend an entire day in the harbor.
Eagle Harbor is anaother sheltered bay along the coast that has may possibilities, but there's one place I didn't have time for that I want to get back to some time, thats Agate Harbor. Places like that haunt me always. I catch a glimpse of them, but can't get to it that day. Visions of those places come back to me often on cold winter days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Secret passage way to Lake Superior

We all like to find secret places, or maybe just ones that seem secret to us. I found one today while paddling Beaver Lake in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore between Munising and Grand Marais. It's really not so secret, but I wonder how many people have used it. It was pointed out to me on a kayaking map by a park official, so other do know.
The Beaver Lake campground, with about a dozen sites, is the gateway to Little and Beaver lakes. The sites were filled, but I was the only kayaker on the lakes. Many times I've noticed that you can have a place to yourself, if you get 50 yards away from a campground. I put my boat in the water, and paddled away, w hile most campers were building fires they didn't need, and were just sitting around unaware of the beauty on the two lakes.
Little Beaver flows into the bigger lake on it's east end in a narrow channel. When I saw the bigger lake, I couldn't see the end of it, and thought I'd some how come out on Lake Superior. As I paddled, I realized a mist had settled, obscuring my vision.
I followed the lake shore and found Beaver Creek, a narrow, shallow affair. I aimed my kayak downstream into it and floated for a while. However, at some point I realized I'd need to get our of my craft and pull it further. I was alone, so I abandoned the idea. I'll try it some time.
On Thursday, I'm headed to Copper Harbor in the Keenwenaw Peninsula for a differ view of Lake Superior.

Paddling Lake Superior

I set out last night on my first paddle of Lake Superior as part of my weeklong trip to the Upper Peninsula, doing research on a paddling guide to Michigan to be published next spring by The Countryman Press. The big lake was cooperative and calm, hardly a riffle on Grand Marais Harbor.
Evening paddling is wonderful this time of year, with the sun not setting until nearly 10 p.m., and it's orange glow giving you plently of light to get back to your truck.
I'm headed to the Pictured Rocks today, oops, maybe not, just heard the roll of thunder. The rocks are sheer cliffs that go 50 to 200 feet above lake level, and there's no place to land on shore. It makes for some tense paddling. I'm going with others, as it's not safe to do it yourself.
If it rains, I may just head inland and fo some fly fishing.
It's tough getting good weather reports up here. It seems like the weather forecasters on TV forget the U.P. exists.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Sunday paddle on Lake Erie

Like many folks who live in Metro Detroit, I tend to head Up North for recreation, but this past Father's Day, I headed south on I-75 for a change, and drove about 45 minutes to Sterling State Park near Monroe on Lake Erie.
Although it wasn't planed as a Father's Day event, it turned out that way because our paddle on Brest Bay brought back vivid memories of fishing for perch with my father and grandfather in the 1950s. In those days, especially during October, we would catch boat loads of them, and I remember endlessly scaling them at my grandparents' cottage. There would then be large family dinners. I've priced perch at markets, and figure I probably scaled at least a million dollars worth when I was a kid.
Because much of the Lake Erie shoreline in Michigan is in private hands, we tend to forget about it as a paddling destination, but both Sterling State Park and Lake Erie Metropark near Gibraltar provide access. My day on the lake brought back memories of my first lessons about the environment. As far back as the 1940s, my grandfather, a dedicated fisherman, had started voicing concern about the effects of pollution from a Monroe paper plant on the lake and fish. This was long before Lake Erie was considered "dead."
People knew things like that in the old days, even though they didn't have the expertise in the environment that we now have.
Lake Erie is a poster child for good environmental practices. Fish are now thriving and people can swim and enjoy the beaches.
Our Father's Day paddle took us through some lovely fresh water marshes in the state park and onto the big lake. Paddlers could spent a few hours or the entire day on and around the bay. If the winds are too high, stick to the marshes and near the shoreline.
Check out the paddling map in this blog for the route.

View Lake Erie Paddling Map in a larger map

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The weather is getting better, it's time for a trip

The weather is finally breaking in Northern Michigan, and this weekend would be a good one to get out for your first annual spring outing. By some accounts, the morel mushroom picking season is in high gear, along with trout season.
Last weekend, the trees were yet to hit full bloom, as they have in southern Michigan, but by this weekend, there should be more greenery. Temperatures are expected to range from 60-70, and the skies partly cloudy to sunny (May 14-16)
A good way to experience a spring weekend is by paddling one of Michigan’s rivers. The big crowds of summer have yet to hit the rivers, and you’ll have the river mostly to yourself. Paddling in Michigan, especially those from metro Detroit, often means the Au Sable or Rifle rivers.
I’m suggesting trying the Pere Marquette at Baldwin in western Michigan. Baldwin is only about three and a half hours from the Detroit area and about one and a half hours north of Grand Rapids. The Pere Marquette is a National Scenic River, and has much to offer, especially first time paddlers.
The river takes little skill to negotiate and is fairly shallow. There are deep holes, so watch where you step. There are occasional downed trees, sweepers, across the river, but because it is heavily used by fly-anglers in drift boats, there is usually water passage around the tree.
I recently spent three days padding the river, doing research for A Paddling Guide to Michigan, which will be published in the spring of 2011 by The Countryman Press. To me, the Pere Marquette is what I call “a first river,” a river where you can take a family or friend for the first time and have a good time paddling without struggling.
To ensure having a good time, here are a few tips:
Make sure to bring a change of clothing in plastic bags. That should include a rain parka, hat, and a fleece jacket.
Bring plenty of water. I know that beer drinking while paddling is a Michigan tradition, but you can get awfully dehydrated from the sun, even this time of year.
Bring your cell phone, but buy a water proof bag for it and your camera. You can find them at sporting goods stores, usually for less than $15. If you’re the type of person who is tied to their electronic device, take note that you’re often without service. This is especially true on the lower part of the river where you’re surrounded by high river banks. If you’re desperate, climb to the top of a bank, and you’ll usually have service.
Make sure somebody knows your itinerary, in case of emergency.
Don’t schedule too long of a trip. The paddling times for the river from takeout point to take out point are fairly accurate for one constantly paddling at a moderate rate. Since I fly-fish along the way, I usually figure a four hour trip will take me from six to eight hours. Figure in what you plan to do along the way when scheduling.

If you have your own boat, this is a good river to use it. The Huron-Manistee Forest Service requires rental canoes only to be on the river from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. A car spotting service is located at the Pere Marquette Lodge on M-37 at the bridge over the river. The cost is $25, and they will pick up your vehicle where you put into the river and take it to the landing where you’re planning to get out. Bringing an extra set of keys is helpful. There is one other cost – a Forest Service user permit, the cost $30. It’s required when you park your vehicle.
For more information, contact: Baldwin Canoe Rental, 800-272-3642, Ivan’s Campground and Canoe Rental, 231-745-3361 or the Pere Marquette Lodge, 231-745-3972, 8841 S. M-37.
Accommodations: The Pere Marquette Lodge offers rooms, log cabins and homes within walking distance to the river. It’s a great place for larger groups. The cabins are cozy and offer cooking facilities. Cost, $70 and up. The Red Moose Lodge, 231-745-6667, 8982 South M-37. The lodge is three miles south of Baldwin and is on the river. The rooms have been renovated, cost $60-$100

Handy websites:,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A spring float on the Pere Marquette

This is a great time of year to get out on Michigan rivers. The foliage isn't thick yet, and you can see the landmarks along the river banks. I love old houses or cabins on streamsides, like this one on the Pere Marquette River near Baldwin.
The old houses speak of a different era when white pine was cheap, and it wasn't expensive to add a couple of extra rooms to a house, especially a screened in porch for use on summer evenings.
The Pere Marquette is a joy to paddle, especially if you have your own boats. Floats range from four to six hours, which is pretty much an entire day, if you're fishing along the way, like I did, or even just sight seeing. In three days of floating, I caught plenty of large brown trout, and a few rainbows.
Because the trees and other foliage wasn't up, I saw many deer and the bird watching was good. The morel mushroom season was on and there were folks in the woods harvesting them. A combination float trip/morel picking expedition would be a good trip.
I stayed at the Pere Marquette Lodge in Baldwin, which offers rooms in the lodge, cabins and a few houses for rent. The cost was moderate, about $70 a night for a room. The folks in the fly shop at the lodge arranged for someone to spot my car, picking it up where I put my river in the boat and moving it to the take out spot to which I was headed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trout season opens in Michigan

For once the weather cooperated this past weekend for the opening of trout season, and we were catching fish on dry flies instead of watching flecks of snow in 35 degree gray skies.
I just hope it was a good omen for the coming tourist season in Michigan. If gas prices stay pretty much where they're at, and the weather cooperates, it’s a good time to start planning weekend trips.
On Friday we floated the North Branch of the Au Sable River in a flotilla of graceful, wooden Au Sable River boats, and didn't get off the river until 9 p.m. Lots of fish were caught, and we were treated to a spinner fall toward evening. Watching the insects is a treat, even for those who don't fish.
The upper river near County Road 612 was fairly low, and we needed to get out of the boats on occasion to push them, and the river got deeper near the middle of the float and it was clear sailing.
The Au Sable River boats are fairly heavy, and are intended for deeper water. I'm looking forward to using a new fishing kayak I won at the Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited Chapter banquet on the night before my 62 birthday. It was just what I needed, since I'm writing a canoe/kayak guide to Michigan this year.
On Saturday, I avoided the crowds on the Au Sable and headed to the Plate River near Honor with my son John. There we saw only one other angler and caught young, splashy rainbow trout on dry flies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's time to cheer up, the worst of winter is over

I just heard a television report that January 25 is considered the most depressing day of the year. It's also my wife's birthday and she can attest to that. But there's an upside, the worst of winter is over. The report prompted me to look at some of my photos from my Michigan travel book, Michigan: An Explorer's guide, and I found one that reminds us that better weather is in store for us. It's a photo of the Mackinac Island boat dock. By the way, the TV report said that June 25 is considered the best day of the year. It's time to make plans for how to spend it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cabin fever has me feeling like Gabby Hayes

It’s mid winter in Michigan, thoughts of fall are fading and it’s too early in the year to start thinking about spring paddling, fishing or hiking. My winter supply of books is dwindling and like others in the upper Great Lakes, I’ve got a bit of cabin fever, and I’m starting to feel like one of those characters played by Gabby Hayes in the old western movies, the old prospector who has been alone in his cabin for too long.
The marketing geniuses who put out fly-fishing catalogues know this, and the four-color, slick products start arriving in the mail about now and tempt me to buy new rods, reels, other gear or clothing that I usually don’t need.
                Since I’m writing a canoe/kayak guide to Michigan this year, paddling catalogues are arriving, reminding me of gear I didn’t know I needed.
                I can usually resist the efforts of marketers until I hold my annual Jimmy Buffet party. The ingredients are simple – a Jimmy Buffet song, “Boat Drinks,” fly-fishing catalogues, a credit card, but most of all, a bottle of tequila.
                By the end of the evening, I’ve usually placed several orders, and sometimes I surprise myself when the gear arrives.  The after effects are usually a hangover and a big credit card bill to pay off.
                Buffet’s song speaks to me in the winter – “I shot six holes in the freezer, I think I got cabin fever.”
                On such nights, my wife makes sure my shotguns are out of reach and that the shells are locked up.
So far there has been no damage, but there’s always the first time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This winter is the time to re-discover Houghton Lake

For several generations of southern Michigan residents, Houghton Lake was Northern Michigan, but when I-75 was built in the 50s and 60s, folks could get a lot further for a weekend. But the Houghton-Higgins lakes area has become a perennial favorite for Michigan residents, many of who were introduced to the area by their parents.
                A good time to revisit the area is during Tip-Up Town, Jan. 22-24, and again Jan. 29-31. Houghton Lake comes alive with food booths, snowmobile events, a queen contest and other events.
                But the centerpiece is still the Tip-Up, a rig used for ice fishing. Ice anglers people the lake, standing over holes in the ice, waiting for a fish to hit their Tip-Up rig.
                These days, the event may seem a bit old fashioned for some, but it’s worth going to, especially if you’re starting to get cabin fever at this time of year.  It’s also a good chance to expose children to ice fishing.
                Just a couple of tips, if you go. Wear warm clothing, a snowmobile suit if you have one, or layers of fleece make a good substitute. As a veteran of past Tip-Up Towns, I’d advise you to wear rubber boots. The ice can get slushy with all the traffic, and leather boots can quickly get wet.
                There are many motels and cabins in the Houghton Lake area, but if they’re filled, try the Holiday Inn in Grayling, which is only a few minutes north of the festival site.
                For more information, go to:

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Last Child in the Woods" helps you get your kid outdoors

At a recent chapter meeting of a Trout Unlimited Chapter to which I belong, I fell into a conversation with a veteran angler in his late 50s who was having trouble getting his children in their late teens and early 20s interested in the outdoors.
                I’ve heard this story time and time again from guys my age, 50s-60s, and when the meeting started I looked around to take note of the ages of the people there.  With a couple exceptions, most were my age. Many other conservation groups are having the same aging problem.
                Luckily, I’ve been reading Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  The well-researched book presents the facts behind what many of us now see – kids just don’t go out and play like they did.
                I’ve had those thoughts for a long time, but have resisted expressing them for fear of being thought of as a “grumpy old man,” the kind of guy who is always saying “things weren’t like this when I was a kid.”  Upon reading the book, I can now say that with some authority.
                I had my own epiphany a couple of years ago while standing in my front yard. I watched as a kid rode his bike on the sidewalk past my house. It was an old-fashioned bike, and the kid didn’t have a helmet and he was wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and had short hair.  It reminded me of what I looked like in 1957 when I spent my summer days roaming my Detroit neighborhood.
                I’m a cyclist myself, and I envied the kid because he wasn’t wearing a helmet, which I do. I remembered the freedom of movement with the wind blowing in my ears, and wondered if the kid wasn’t some sort of apparition sent to remind me of my carefree days of youth.
                You just don’t see many kids like that alone anymore.  And Louv has the answer – fear. The news media and others have young parents scared stiff of everything from head injuries to strangers abducting children. We now have “Amber Alerts,” cell phones, and even tracking bracelets for kids. We’ve got our kids tethered as though they were criminals.
                Louv’s main contention is that we’re inhibiting children’s creativity by not allowing them to form a relationship with nature, and that by allowing kids to roam fields and woods; we give them hands on experience that translates into learning.
                He also contends that modern suburbs have zoned out those little wild places where kids can get lost in nature.  I saw this when I was the editor of a suburban newspaper and attended more government meeting than I could stand. When it came to empty lots, fields or even parks that had a little wild space, residents went nuts – anything that didn’t fit into their neat, little suburban life plan was a problem.  Property values are everything.  Suburbia has made them one of their Ten Commandments – “Thou shall not allow anything that could lower property values.”
                Because of that, the fear factor and our obsession with making kids study too hard, the streets of suburbia are empty of kids these days. When I first started working at newspapers in the early 1970s, photographers could easily find photos of cute kids doing things on the street or in parks. When I left newspapers in the early 2000s, photographers couldn’t find a kid on the streets.
                And if they did, the fear factor was there.  One incident tells it best.  A photographer happily came back to our office with some photos of kids taken in a park, and was happy about it. He sat down briefly at his desk and the phone rang. His face turned beet red, and he told the caller: “Yes, that was me.” He talked to the person for a few more moments, and then looked up and said: “That was the mother of the kid I took a picture of. She called to see if I was some sort of pervert.”
                I’ve experience that myself. I do a lot of bicycling in my neighborhood and I’ve learned not to go when school is letting out.  I changed my habits after I was cycling past a school bus stop where parents were waiting for their kids. I was met by icy stares from parents who apparently thought I was a child abductor.
                Louv addresses those fears, and comes up with good, solid numbers that say there are no more child abductions by strangers than there were in the past, and that most are committed by other family members, usually as part of a child custody disagreement.
                But perhaps his most controversial premise that goes against the grain of modern educational theories is that kids shouldn’t be spending too much time in front of their computers, they should be outside gaining real experiences, not virtual reality.  When I read that, I had a flash back to my grade school days.  I don’t know if schools still do this, but my class use to take walks around the neighborhood in the fall and pick up leaves that we then took back into the class room and learned how to identify.
                That’s the kind of learning that we’re losing as a society in our seeming obsessive quest to turn out kids into little learning machines.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Road food: A list of diners and dives

                Eating on the road isn’t always a pleasant experience, which I learned while researching my travel book, Michigan: An Explorer’s Guide.  My goal was to stay away from fast food places, and review and list as many locally owned spots as I could.
                I found plenty of new favorites and renewed some old acquaintances during the year I spent on the road.  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the small, mom and pop breakfast restaurants, where locals start their day.
                There seem to be more in the Upper Peninsula, probably because they haven’t felt the competition from fast food places.  One favorite is B’s Country Café on U.S. 2 in Iron Mountain.  The wait staff knows the patrons by first name and how they take their coffee. The décor is 1950s, but so are the prices. A cheese omelet cost me about $5 and kept me going all day.  Another U.P. favorite is the Kaleva Café, a fixture in the mining town since 1918. The breakfast I had would have kept a copper miner working hard all day. There’s also a bakery, with bread and pastries.
                I also renewed my friendship with the Union 76 truck stop on U.S.  west of  the bridge near St. Ignace.  I’ve had a fondness for it since the 1970s when I first stopped there on my way home from a back packing trip to the Porcupine Wilderness State Park.  I was young, and didn’t have a credit card, and had just enough money for gas, the bridge toll and one meal. Perhaps, that’s the reason I can still remember the taste of the bacon and eggs at 2 a.m.
               For some reason, I can't help stopping at Spikes Keg 'O' Nails for a burger if I'm in the Grayling area anytime near dinner. My fondness for the place goes back nearly 20 years, when I stopped there with my hungry sons. The power was out but they managed to get me a beer and feed my boys. The experience made me a repeat customer.
                But while I love roaming the U.P., Sunday evening isn’t a good time to go looking for a meal.  I pulled into Ironwood on a late Sunday, planning to spend the night and check out the town. Pretty much everything was closed, so I ended up in my motel room with a dinner of beef jerky, cheese and beer. As I dined, I watched Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel, as she was eating in a small bistro in Italy, and realized not all travel reporting jobs are created equal.
                After my adventure in great eating in Ironwood, I came up with a list of travel food that I now carry.  I doubt it will ever make the Food Chanel, but here it is:
·         Beef jerky.  It’s a great source of protein, and besides I love to stop at those roadside jerky stores and outlets.
·         Pickled eggs. They usually can be bought at the jerky stores, and make for a good, quick breakfast.
·         Canned corn beef or Spam.  Both can be consumed cold they’re cooked, but can easily be fried in a pan.
·         Canned sardines and herring. Both are fish dishes and I’ve convinced myself that they’re healthy and are brain food.

So take that Samantha, you can have your Italian bistros, and please pass me the Spam.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The nation gets a taste of Michigan weather

             Watching the various TV networks talk about the so-called Arctic winter freeze the nation is experiencing is amusing when you live in Michigan.  It’s not really news to us; it’s just another typical January in Michigan.
                A friend recently moved to a Deep South town in Mississippi, and sent me an e-mail about how the town is in a panic because there’s a bit of snow and temperatures hit the 20s. Folks there are worried their pipes are going to freeze and they’re buying winter coats.
                Us folks from Michigan don’t have to do that, we’ve already have coats, and as one northern Michigan guy once told me: “You just get up in the morning and put on layers until your warm. But you never really get warm, and at some point you get use to it.”
                I think he said it best for all of us. Too bad the TV networks don’t interview him, its good advice for our southern cousins.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Secret hide aways: State Park cabins, yurts

One of the best kept secrets in Michigan is that the State Park system rents wilderness cabins and yurts to stay in during both winter and summer. They're scattered around the state, but my favorite are in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the western Upper Peninsula.
It’s the largest state park in Michigan, with 60,000 acres and it offers a wide range of activities, from cross-country and downhill skiing to backpacking and mountain biking.
For years, many cross-country skiers have headed to the park in April for spring skiing at its best. Temperatures hit the 40s and there’s still snow on the ground.
During the winter, the DNR rents yurts, which are 16 feet in diameter and are equipped with bunk beds, mattresses, a cook stove, axe, bow saw and cooking and eating utensils. Reservations are suggested. Rates are $60.
There are 17 rustic cabins scattered around the park. The most popular is the Lake of the Clouds cabin, which sleeps up to eight. Rates are $60.
For larger parties, there’s the Kaug Wudjoo Lodge, which originally was the park manager’s home. It has a stone fireplace and a rustic interior, and sleeps up to 12. Rates are $1,225 a week. Reservations are required.
For more information, call 906-885-5275, or go to the DNR website,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We hit the road Kerouac style in the early 1960s

                A recent re-reading of Jack Kerouac’s classic American travel novel, “On the Road,”  has made me realize that we’ve lost the ability to hitchhike or drive across the continent and actually experience the country, rather than watch the countryside speed past us on a freeway, with stops at the same fast food places that are at every interstate exit.
                The irony is that freeways and the Internet have expanded our worlds, but at the same time have diminished our ability to experience it.
                When ever it’s practical, I get off the freeway and take the old state roads that wind past small mom and pop operations, and look at the skeletal remains of towns and businesses that once thrived on travelers who were “On the Road.”  My own travel blog, On the Road in Michigan is a homage to Kerouac and that time in the 40s and 50s when we could experience the country by traveling.
                My family’s first trips were from Detroit to Arkansas to visit family members, and I remember in the fall driving through cotton country and seeing African-Americans in wagons pulled by mules, taking the cotton to market. I also remember a fuss in a gas station when a black man tried to use the rest room. I didn’t have to read about racial intolerance, I experienced it.
                But even those were the bad old days, there was still a sense of excitement to travel, the was a sense of the unknown that we’ll never be able to recapture in these days of GPS coordinates in our vehicles, and apps on our phones that put every bit of road information at our finger tips.
                For some reason writers tend to portray the 50s and early 60s as a placid era when everybody was boringly compliant, dull and conservative. I think it’s based on the assumption that somehow the late 1960s were a more exciting time, with the Vietnam War going on, civil unrest in major cities and drugs rampant.  Take your pick. When would you rather be 10-years-old, 1958 or 1968? My pick is 1958.

                Kids were still free to roam. For Kerouac hitching a ride was a way to see the country, but for the kids in my Westside Detroit working class neighborhood in the 50s and 60s, it was a way to get around. Not everybody had a muscle car.  And it was acceptable.  My football coach advised us to wear our letter jackets because it was easier to get a ride if motorists thought you were a jock.
                On occasion, friends would go the Kerouac route and hitchhike to California, with a variety of consequences. Some made it out there, others ended up in jail along the way when money ran short, and petty larceny was the only way to get out of a small town in Iowa.
                My neighborhood wasn’t exactly made up of college bound, preppy kids portrayed in the TV show “My Three Sons” – it was pretty solidly blue collar, with a lot of auto workers.  For a while in the early 60s, the thing to do was drop out of school and join the Marine Corps, which you could do at the time.
                These 17-year-olds who returned home, many of them hitchhiking, in their uniforms looked pretty romantic to us, and they talked about what seemed to be faraway places like Parris Island or San Diego.  They were headed to places like Okinawa.  We hadn’t yet heard about Vietnam that was yet to come.
                They’re experiences opened up the world to us, and we were able to get a few places by hitchhiking.  One of my early hang outs was a pool hall about five miles from my house which I regularly hitched a ride to. It exposed me to a world of pool hustlers and other con men, when I was about 14 years old. In my small way, I could be part of Jack Kerouac’s world of shady pool hustlers, con men and guys who spent their afternoons at the race track.
                I once told my then teenage sons they should get out of the house and go hang around on a street corner, like I had done. Their answer ways that I was “old fashioned.”
                And what should I expect from a generation that grew up on video games and computers? Why bother to go see something, when we can look at it via Google Earth? There it is on our computer screen in living color, so why bother to take the trip?
                Kerouac still has the answer, to get the feel of the country.  In “On the Road,” he paints a broad mural of what America looked like in the late 1940s, with the beauty of the countryside and all the warts of big cities like New York or Los Angles.
                His descriptions of pool halls, bars, teen soda fountains and greasy spoons took me back to my teenage years in the 1960s when we hung around on street corners, and hitchhiked where we wanted to go.  We weren’t trapped in subdivisions, like kids are now; we had the city of Detroit at our disposal either via bus or our thumbs.  We were free to roam unlike middle class teens these days who are tethered to the parents via a cell phone or text messaging. 
I remember my parents asking me where I was going and my response was “out.” They’d then ask when I’d be home and my answer was “when I got there.”  These days I suspect that would be considered child abuse. But those days seemed much safer in retrospect, and it’s understandable that my parents didn’t have too many worries about letting me wander around the city.
Recently, I quizzed some folks about my age who grew up in my old neighborhood about hitchhiking and general street life.  One woman said she met her husband when he was hitching a ride, and another friend told me about the people he picked up. “One guy was wearing a fur coat in July. Another asked me what planet we were on.”   On another occasion, he picked up a woman, and the conversation turned to where they worked.  He told her about his job, and asked her where she worked. Her reply was: “I’m working right now.” She then asked to be dropped off on a street corner, where she went back to plying her trade.
It’s all pure Kerouac and kids now don’t know what they’re missing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New U.P. Almanac delivers facts, funny stories

                For Upper Peninsula devotees, the newly published Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Almanac is a must have.
                Put together by Ron Jolly, a Traverse City radio broadcaster, and Karl Bohnak, an Upper Peninsula meteorologist, and published by The University of Michigan Press, the Almanac is a hefty 580 pages, and provides almost more than enough information.
                There are plenty of numbers and statistics, which often tell us what we already know – the U.P. is cold and snowy in the winter and it can be hot in the summer. But there are some real nuggets of information, such as the name “Cloverland,” which an Upper Peninsula newspaper man used to describe the region in an effort to attract farmers and stock raisers.
                The campaign did attract some sugar beet farmers and some ranchers from the West for a short time in the early 1900s, but the endeavors didn’t profit and most were gone by the late 1920s
                Not much has escaped the notice of the authors, including the exclusive Huron Mountain Club northwest of Marquette, which has long been a retreat for Midwestern business tycoons, including Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. The club along the shores of Lake Superior has 30,000 acres and is limited in membership to about 50.
                The Almanac  features a section on well-known Upper Peninsula residents, and while many people know that George Gipp, the Notre Dame player made famous by the movie line “win one for the Gipper”  was from the Calumet area, it also takes note of the lineman who played on the same team and was a blocker for the Gipper. He was one Hunk Anderson who was born in Hancock and graduated from Calumet High School.  The Hunk eventually made it to the NFL and eventually was head coach at Notre Dame during the 1930s.
                Jolly and Bohnak have really done their homework on this one. The actress Doris Packer, no her name wasn’t ever on a movie marquee, played the principal of Grant Avenue Grammar School on the “Leave it to Beaver” television series.  Packer was born in Menominee in 1904 and later moved with her family to California.
                The are many Mackinac Bridge facts, which include the famed Yugo that when over a side rail and plunged 150 into the Straits during a blizzard in September, 1989.  But there’s also the story of an Air Force pilot who flew his $3.5 million jet under the bridge on April 24, 1959. The pilot, John Lappo, of Muskegon, said at the time he had a life-long dream of flying under a bridge.
                There’s also a section on how various U.P. towns got their names, and my favorite is the Baraga County town of Covington.  Seems that when it came time to name the community in the late 19th century, nobody could come up with a name, so in the spirit of the times, they looked to the bottle – a whiskey bottle -- for inspiration.  On the bottom of the bottle was the name where the whiskey was made – Covington Kentucky. So the town was born.
                Perhaps those who name the subdivisions where many of us now live could use some of that inspiration, and maybe we’d have Jack Daniels Acres instead of Quail Ridge, or something equally as silly.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thoughts of a hidden beach in January

With the temperatures in the teens this weekend, my thoughts went back to summer days and beaches that I want to see again. I found this one between Copper and Eagle Harbor on Lake Superior in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I was doing the research for my travel guide and stopped to snap a picture, but didn't have time to explore he beach as much as I wanted to. There wasn't a soul around and I would have liked to have walked out on the wooded point in the photo. I plan on getting back there this coming summer when doing research on a new paddling guide to Michigan for my publisher, The Countryman Press.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cardinals and Blue Jays

In the winter I try to help out our little feathered friends as much as possible with a bird feeder and a water source, but this year there seems to be fewer birds. But then on Thursday there was a sudden attack staged on the feeder by Blue Jays and Cardinals. Not quiet certain what accounted for that, but it was an exciting moment. One poor bird flew into a window. It survived. I'm sitting here on New Year's Day waiting for them to return. It's better than watching the Rose Bowl Parade.