My wife Jan and I made a trip to California mid-December to see Lisa and Lil, our daughter and granddaughter. It was an early, wonderful Christmas for us. Lisa planned our whole week to perfection, a gift she has, understanding the most interesting and fun things for a family or a group and making it happen.
We spent the first few days in Sacramento for a perfect Christmas. Lisa had helped Lil write a letter for Santa and posted it into a tiny mailbox on the TV stand. Santa came while we were there and took it one night. “He’s sneaky!” Lil said. We had gifts around the Christmas tree and lots of playtime with Lil. She received a camping set from her Aunt Sara and “Gunckle” and we spent a lot of time pretend camping with visits from her stuffed animals, cooking meals in the plastic campfire, flicking plastic bugs, the camp set had everything! Jan read Lil some new books including one about a crayons revolt that had them both laughing – belly laughs! Lil received lots of gifts including a baby doll with lots of clothes and a basket that Great Grandma Phillips, my mom, gave Lisa when she was a child. A family heirloom.
Lisa helping Lil with the pajamas on her baby doll.
For part two of our trip we spent three nights at an airbnb in Glen Ellen, a small burg just north of Sonoma, and took day trips to the Jack London Museum and a Railroad fun park. The museum was really something. I knew a little about Jack London and have read a couple of his books, Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, famous books, but didn’t know anything about his life. He wrote over a hundred books and they had first editions behind a glass case. And his whole life story from childhood to his death. There’s a grave marker on the site along with a home he built (which is now in ruins). I felt like I knew him by the time I reached his gravesite. Quite a remarkable man.
Thank you Lisa, for thinking of this! You knew I’d find it fascinating.
The Railroad fun park was a blast. We all took the train ride around the park which included a stop at a kid-size town with a chapel, a jail, a store and other basically kid-size buildings with fun things inside. On the spot Lil joined in play with the kids from another family running from building to building. She’s so well adjusted and social for a three year old. Good job mom! Lisa and Lil went on other rides including a carousel, a small Ferris wheel, an airplane ride, and finally some whirly thing with a strange name.
Back at the airbnb the girls used the hot tub (not my cup of tea) which gave me a chance to catch up on some reading. Lisa and Lil gave me an amazing book about the Rolling Stones for Christmas. There’s an analysis of every song starting back in the blues years up through rock and roll. It says who played what instrument and even points out wrong notes in songs. As a musician I am not alone! This should be it’s own post.
I knew the week trip would go by in a fast blur and sure enough suddenly we were at the airport and heading back to Michigan. I would have loved to stay out in California with them.
Coming soon: Trout fishing stories even if I have to make them up.
I started going to estate sales a few years ago and began collecting vintage cigarette cases. The ones I have are in good shape and some have art deco and art nouveau designs. According to my ebay searches they are worth several times what I paid (which was ten dollars or less.) I think fifteen is the most I’ve paid. There are some very interesting ones on ebay, some listed up to a hundred dollars or more, but I have to remember this is a hobby, not a business – just buy bargains. There are several good antique stores West Michigan but I have seen very few of these and they were priced at ebay levels or higher, so that’s out. This means estate sales and the odd garage sale.
Auctions are another avenue for collectors, and fun, but they are usually an all-day affair and there is no telling when an auctioneer will get to the table that has the item you want. You have to wait for the really big ticket items to be sold first and sometimes there are thousands of items spread out. That said, you never know just what kind of things you might find at an auction including musical instruments, quality art, or that thing you have been thinking about and now here it is and maybe cheap.
Michigan is really in the deep freeze right now and trout season opens the end of April so hobbies, like collecting, is one way to get out, move around, and get some exercise. I’m still working part-time, but not a lot, and I read way to much if that’s possible, so having a hobby to get through a Michigan winter really helps.
Around Halloween of this year my wife and I flew out to California to see our daughter and granddaughter, Lisa and Lillian. While out there Lisa had the idea of visiting Yosemite which was a three hour drive from Sacramento. We rented an airbnb close to the park and made a one day trip. The park is set up for a drive through with parking and trails at scenic stops. I took lots of photos and we couldn’t have had more fun.
There is something disturbing about giant boulders even when they have been in the exact same spot for centuries. But the thing that really struck me was the vertical faces of the mountains: Even at a distance it seemed like you could reach out and touch them. An odd feeling or maybe an optical illusion?
Lisa, adventure is her middle name.
Lil with “Elephant”, her favorite
Three Generations enjoying a perfect fall day.
We’ve planned another trip for December, this time an airbnb in Napa Valley to celebrate a green Christmas? That will be interesting.
Driving down Sturgeon Valley Road last Friday, early afternoon, it occurred to me I was driving through a forest fire. The colors seemed to close in from both sides of the road. The yellows, oranges and reds were illuminated by the bright sun. The feeling passed but the thought stayed with me.
I met Natch, Jake and Feral at a favorite remote camp spot, burnt clutch camp, which is near the Pigeon River and Grass Lake on Ford lake Road. I arrived on Friday afternoon and expected Natch around 9:00 PM so I had a fair amount of time alone. I pitched my backpack tent and readied the fire for later then went for a long walk on a trail that leads to the river. I hooked a Carhart beer holder to my belt and also a hunting knife on the extremely remote chance I might come upon a bear. I wrote a paper in college about bear attacks in national parks and the stories stayed with me. Most of the really gruesome stories involved grizzly bears, not the black bears found in Michigan, but I figure if it ever happens I’d rather have a knife on me. The reason I was even thinking about bears is a story told to me by my doctor, whom I had just had an appointment. She knows I camp and mentioned how a grizzly approached her and her sisters out west. On the same trip she was standing on an outcrop of rock, looked up, and saw a mountain lion staring at her. I have a very fun, interesting doctor. With camping experience!
After the long walk, which was hypnotic because of the colors, I had a sandwich at camp, played a couple songs on my camp guitar, then decided to walk some more. Incredibly Natch got off work early and showed up closer to 6:00. We took the same trail back to the river. The light was fading and when we turned back to camp believe it or not I heard a growl. A low, guttural growl. Possibly bear. The trail drops off on one side and the sound came from down there. It didn’t strike fear in our hearts or anything like that, we were working on some beers and feeling light-headed like you legally can in Michigan now. We kept walking. It was good. We lit the fire at camp and had some leftover pizza Natch brought along. We saved the cheese brats for the next night.
Saturday morning Natch and I went into Vanderbilt for some breakfast. On the way we spotted a bald eagle and took some photos. I stopped the car and we got out. It crossed the road, tree to tree, and didn’t seemed concerned about us. Natch took this photo.
We dropped thirty bucks plus tips on an “okay” breakfast so my earlier story of making breakfast in my trailer to save money reverberated. We headed to the river about 10:00 am and left a note for Feral and Jake to know when to expect us. The temperature was in the mid-sixties and warming up. The Pigeon River stays open past the normal close of trout season but you can only keep rainbow trout. Last year, same time, Natch caught a twenty inch rainbow. So it can happen. We didn’t catch anything but we would not have traded that slow wade up the river for anything. The colors along the stream were spectacular. We had no cares or expectations of another rainbow trout. It just felt great to be up north.
We had just returned to camp when Feral and Jake showed up. Jake brought the 1961 Apache Chief camper. They set up the camper and went bird hunting.
There’s some slashings along the bottom of a ridge close to camp (next to the trail to the river) and they started there. Feral walked on one edge of the slashings, Jake the other. Natch and I headed up the ridge to check out the view. We heard Feral shout and two seconds later saw Jake shoot. We could see him search for the bird. They kept hunting along the slashing and Natch and I did some exploring. Natch speculated that an old two-track trail we stumbled on led to a spot we could drive to. Last year we took a faint trail off Tin Bridge road down some hills into a field. The faint two track stopped at a north south intersection of another faint two track. Natch guessed if we took that trail south we would end up on the trail we had just discovered. Long story short, we drove over there but someone put up a berm on the two-track so people couldn’t drive in there. I am guessing the DNR fun police. It’s okay for logging companies to drive into remote areas of the game area and clear cut, leave a mess, and make some two tracks impassable, but two fishermen can’t take an old trail into an area to access the river or explore. But don’t get me started on that… I have too many examples of river access blocked by the DNR.
When Natch and I fished the Cornwall stretch Natch found an elk skull and placed it on a log next to the foot trail. Feral and Jake took the foot trail hunting, found it, and stopped for a photo.
Back at camp Jake and Feral wanted to hunt some more and Natch and I decided to replenish the firewood. We drove to one of the clear-cut areas and used his battery powered chainsaw to lop off the ends of small pine trunks sticking out of brush piles. It took maybe fifteen minutes to put a row in the back of his new truck. That’s another story. He traded in his jeep. At the last trout camp Natch talked about a mysterious, impossible to find electrical problem that rendered the jeep undriveable. He replaced the CPU himself, no luck, and took it to the dealer who also could not track down the problem. He finally found a mechanic that could diagnose and do the repair but by then he had no confidence it wouldn’t someday happen again. So he traded the Jeep in on 2019 Chevy truck. Nice truck!
Back at camp we had a visitor. A tame chipmunk. Feral and Natch hand fed it crackers. It was completely unafraid of people. Feral kept feeding it smaller and smaller pieces and at one point it decided Feral’s finger might be food and clamped down on that. It let go but surprised Feral, no damage done.
At beer o’clock we built a fire and Jake surprised us with gifts. He’s a blacksmith and artist and he handed me a hand-forged fire poker. And, he made wrought iron bottle openers for each of us. Thanks Jake! I wished I would have taken a photo right then.
We knocked down some beers and laughed about the kind of junk guys laugh about. Built a fire. At some point we made the cheese brats to knock the edge off the beer. By ten o’clock we were exhausted by the very long busy day and I am sorry to admit we crashed early. The next morning we were all up by 8:00 packing up and saying our goodbyes for the season. And promising to do it again next year.
I spent a few years chasing leads looking for a fiberglass “eggshell” camper. I watched Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace as well as local RV dealership listings. I almost bought a Boler off marketplace but it looked like too much work for the price. What I learned was if you don’t call first on a listing you may as well forget it. And there are lots of scams, especially on marketplace with listing for a thousand dollars or some such low price. I didn’t bother with those but you can imagine the story – some financial crisis where money is needed or it’s my dads trailer and I just want to get rid of it caused he passed away. Can you send some money to hold it?
I found my Scamp at a RV dealership. They posted a listing without pictures so I called about it. They said they wouldn’t be able to post photos until the customer dropped it off. It was a trade-in. The person I spoke with asked if I wanted to get on a list so I agreed and gave them my contact information. Darned if they didn’t call two weeks later, the day it was dropped off. They said I was first on the call list and did I want to see it. I was there in a half hour and bought it on the spot. They were emptying the cupboards when I pulled up. I had a pretty good idea of pricing and expected them to say anywhere up to 15k. They said $11,995.00. The trailer had every option except a heater but hey.. light a burner in the morning to take off the chill. I am not figuring on much winter camping.
It’s a great trailer, designed well. It has a dinette at one end and bunk beds on the other. And plenty of counter space… next to the stove on one side, and next to the sink on the other. A very functional kitchen. Later models added a side dinette but why a second dinette? It only takes a minute to turn the front dinette into a double bed. The tabletop swings down into place with arms and rearranging the cushions is simple. The top front bunk is rated for 150 lbs but the lower bunk sits on top of molded fiberglass so that’s available for anyone including myself. I slept there one night after a trout camp beer night so I wouldn’t have to change out the dinette. No problem.
The main selling point for eggshell campers is they are waterproof. Keep vents and openings sealed and you have zero problems. According to Feral all regular campers eventually leak, water finds it’s way in. And that was in the back of my mind when I was looking. Something practical with a lifespan.
My Scamp 16 has a toilet/shower but not sure if I will use either since it requires clean-out. Which is not difficult, or expensive. Five bucks at a dumping station. It’s lightweight. Mine weighs about 1400 lbs according to the registration and I can tow it with my RX300 SUV. So that was a selling point also. Appliances include a microwave and refrigerator, best run with shore power, but the fridge runs on propane also which makes no sense to me but I tested it and it works. If you are looking at used Scamps, they have a 13 foot model (total length) which takes away counter space so my advice is don’t rule out the 16 foot models. That extra 3 feet weighs next to nothing and you get extras.
The Scamp didn’t get a lot of use this year. My wife was down from surgery for a while and we both caught Covid so there was quarantine and dancing around that. We took it to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a fast weekend but the year was tricky as far as getting away. I took it to spring and fall trout camps with my buddies where I became the camp cook which was fine. Really, I volunteered. It saved everyone money since we often went into local town restaurants. Now we eat for about the price of one restaurant meal. I bought a large All-Clad non-stick skillet which is indestructible and large enough to cook anything. I fried up sausage and made egg scrambles every morning. A couple minutes of cleanup and we were ready for the trout streams. No time wasted driving and waiting for slow service.
I gave my 1961 Apache Chief camper to Jake, Feral’s son (there is an earlier post on this). I know he will be as picky as I was about taking care of it. I should mention it is a main source of visits on the fichigan site. It may be the only one in the world with great, original canvas. You will find lots of photos over the years and some ads for it from the 1960s. Jake asked if I was going to miss it and I told him no, I have a new adventure ahead with the Scamp.
They say be careful what you wish for and we got our wish… A cold spell with rain that would bring large brown trout upstream to spawn. Not exactly good camping weather. We fished the Sturgeon and the Pigeon and had our best luck on the Pigeon. (Not counting the 25 inch hook-jawed brown trout Natch fought on the Sturgeon before watching the lure fly loose.) We kept some browns for a Cajun trout dinner and Jake and Feral took a few home. We camped at Pickerel Lake, site #5, which was just large enough for the Scamp and two tent campers. The fire pit was back at the rear, out of the wind, so that worked out great. About that wish for bad weather.. we still had campfires every night, even in a cold drizzle.
Natch and I made a trip to no-man’s land on the lower Pigeon, downstream from Tin Bridge, a stretch I keep vowing to never fish again because the walk in is so brutal… no good trail and a lot of brush busting to get past a half mile of open flat stream to reach the good holes and bends. Ironically we had no good luck (except for a small brook trout) until we were almost back to the bridge where Natch caught an 18 inch brown. We made a deal with Feral and Jake – they had to bring back two small ones or one 18 incher for dinner and we would do the same. Natch saved the day for our tough trip. When we got back to camp they had a cooler full of trout. They downplayed it like it was no big thing.
Feral and Jake went bird hunting a couple times. They both had double barrel percussion cap shotguns and hiked for miles. One trip lasted four hours so I give them some credit for stamina. They saw some Woodcock and took shots but no bird for the grill. I learned something about primitive weapons: cleaning them is a lot of work involving hot water down the barrels and lubricant on everything. They had it down to a science but it still took a half hour or better.
I cooked up the trout and made breakfast in the Scamp trailer every day, so I earned my keep as a cook, if not a fisherman. That’s two eighteen inch trout frying in the pan. I filleted them boneless and halved them so we each had two pieces to go with the baked beans. Next time I’ll remember to bring some homemade tarter sauce using Polish dill pickles. The photo I really wish I had was the final game board after beating Natch at chess. I expect he will be wanting a rematch.
Denny and his wife Lorraine camped over at the Pigeon River campground on Sturgeon Valley Road. They came over the first night with a loaner guitar for Feral, custom built by Denny. A Martin kit with antique tuners and 12th fret neck joint. I played a couple songs on it and it had that great Martin tone. Wish we could have jammed a little longer, it was cold. Sorry I didn’t get a photo!
Feral and Jake have been torturing me with phone calls and photos of their fishing trips up on the Pine River near Mikado:). According to Jake… “The weather turned dark yesterday. Pretty suddenly. I made quick plans with Feral to head to the Pine and try out the stretch from the tubes to the campground. After driving through a downpour that wreaked havoc on Harmony Weekend, an art fair in Harrisville, we turned off F30 onto the dirt road to the campground. Two young guys fishing by the bridge said “no rain as yet’ but we could hear thunder in the distance. We put on our waders which were still wet inside from the last trip.” (see the earlier post, Fishing in a Downpour) and headed upstream.
“The stretch looked promising with deep holes and grassy banks. Casting was difficult and we did some pruning as we moved upstream to ensure better casting lanes next time we did the stretch. We saw fish. Some nice browns and lots of brook trout. I caught a couple small ones and Feral took a brook trout worth keeping for dinner. It was a good trip up through some really pretty country. We kept thinking we would see a bear. It never rained. Funny how that happens sometimes.”
According to Feral, ” I made a cast that ricocheted off a log right into a nice pool impossible to cast. Jake didn’t question it.”
Fishing in a downpour and the river’s rising. And the water’s getting milky. From my experience this is the absolute best time to be on a trout stream. The trout start feeding aggressively and move out into the middle of the stream. And they can’t see you. They can hit within a foot of the rod tip. It’s the perfect time to put on a slow flashy spinner or large flashy Rapala. Time to see the big ones come out from under the banks.
But that’s not the way it happened for Jake and Feral so the killer story I had hoped to write about fishing downpours, after seeing the above photo of Feral, went right down the drain.
According to Jake, “The stream was low and clear. I caught a 19 inch brown on the first bend. Feral took a good one soon after for the freezer. We had some light rain on and off but were well into the stretch when it started raining hard. Heard some distant rolling thunder. Nice ambiance. We were soaked through when it cut loose. It rained right down the waders making it a sloshy walk back to the truck. The river came up quickly. We couldn’t believe we didn’t catch another fish after the downpour.
So there you go. My best fishing advice debunked. That said, if they did the same stretch again, right away, I suspect they would have done much better…
After a failed trip to catch a trout ( it happens) I found myself in my home office appreciating the comfortable setting. I’m surrounded by some of collecting I have done at estate sales so that adds to it. You can see the King Kong etching by Michigan artist Bruce McCombs, and the painting, by Feral, of me on the Sturgeon River drinking a beer in the rain. The brown trout mount is a 25 incher caught on the Sturgeon. The guitar is a 70’s Ventura which is a solid maple copy of a D-size Martin. A great guitar.. really sweet tone that just keeps getting better. I have been learning a new song, Times have Changed by Bob Dylan, another masterpiece of metaphors and abstract thinking. It’s actually an old song but new to me. The song won an academy award for best song for the movie Wonder Boys.
The second photo shows the messy side of the office. The easel has some artwork I started for the Calder Arts Festival last June but didn’t finish in time. It’s inked line art of a raft I was on in the WLAV raft race back in the early 70’s. Basically done from a photo. I was going to watercolor it but then froze… not really sure if it would be as nice as I imagined. On the wall behind the table is an acrylic painting I did for a trout camp challenge a few years back based on a white chair spotted on a bluff overlooking the Pine River. Long story but if you go back in the archive of fichigan you’ll find the story. The artwork of a sparely dressed woman painting a nude girl in a white chair was actually pretty tame compared to my fishing buddy’s entries, well, Natch in particular. He really shook up trout camp. The photo on the wall is the notorious Phillips Gang, another post in fichigan. I’m about twenty in the photo.
With my patent drafting work on a slow burner I did some writing last week, a short story for the annual “Write Michigan” contest which I have entered a few years running with no success. But heh, I’m trying. This time I’m entering a horror story born of a nightmare. Woke up thinking there were elements of the dream that could make a very original story. I’m hopeful. We’ll see.
I need to get out for more trout. Will keep you posted.
I drove up to the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River this week after watching a weather report saying there would be an all night rain. When I arrived there was no evidence of rain. It is a good hour and a half drive so I made the most of it. It was frustrating because I saw trout and had two hit the lure but no solid hook-up. I fished for an hour and a half before calling it quits and driving up to the Pine River, another half hour, hoping that it might have rained further north. There are lots of stretches on the Pine to choose from. (No sign of rain.) I decided on a stretch that is easy to wade and easy to get back to the car. My back was sore from wading the Little South (and too little exercise) and I was hoping to make short work of finding dinner. I didn’t see trout in some of the best initial holes and found myself looking into a narrow opening in some overhanging branches. An extremely difficult cast up to the shadowed river edge. I had put new line on my reel and felt confident about my casting so I made an underhand flip cast which landed exactly where I hoped. Half way back I couldn’t see the lure but saw a very nice brown trout porpoise as it looked for the lure. He didn’t take it so I waited a few minutes to make the same, exact pinpoint cast. The pressure was on. You might compare it to making a very difficult, long putt twice in a row. Or hitting the bulls-eye twice in a row with a re-curve bow at fifty yards. You get the idea, don’t flinch under pressure. This is the trout dinner. So I made the cast and the lure went up under the branches and landed within inches of the first cast. This time the trout was there and ready. It was hooked good. I field dressed it and put it on the stringer. I fished another bend and called it quits. I had dinner. I felt like I had earned it.