Too many movies, not enough mandolin.
Some Grand Rapids, Michigan music history: In the late 70’s I played in a band called Preston Arendson with Scott Zystra, Jack Gant, and Abe Rhoorda. We played the local bars and achieved some local fame as a folk/rock/country band with 3-part harmonies. We all wrote original songs but Abe and I really worked hard at it. Scott and Jack were the music talent that took our raw songs and turned them into something special. We played local bars like the Intersection, Eastown Saloon, Olsen’s Rib Shack, and others. We broke up after two years. It just suddenly happened and I think all of us view the breakup from different perspectives but maybe the best answer is that it was time to move on. Jack and Scott went on to play in various bluegrass bands but it was the end of the road for myself and Abe, at least playing bars.
Long after the band breakup I still dreamed of writing a “concept album.” Popular bands like Jethro Tull, The Eagles, and others had done concept albums in the 70’s so as a songwriter it seemed like an interesting goal. Scott had purchased a farm up near Mesick, MI and built a recording studio in his barn so the timing was good (around 1996.) I was working two jobs, a day job as a technical Illustrator and part-time evening job as a patent draftsman. I used about half my evening job pay to run up to Scott’s studio on weekends and lay down tracks. I insisted on paying his studio rate but he did more work than he ever charged.
It was clear to me then and now that we were partners in the project. He is an accomplished musician/guitarist with the best music ear of anyone I’ve ever met, and creative, and the quality of our work rested on his talents. The “Without a Hitch” music CD is an great effort produced at the wrong time. I was raising daughters and he was raising sons. We both had too many responsibilities to actually play the music publicly which was further complicated by the one hundred mile drive between us. And Jack Grant, our bass player from Preston Arendson, was living in Colorado. He drove to Michigan to lay down tracks under tough conditions – learning new songs on-the-fly and playing flawlessly. I was amazed (and thankful!)
Yesterday I found a copy of early cover artwork which I proposed to Scott. But he would have none of it, insisting he was doing his job and that my name should be on the CD. We reached a compromise with the band name Wrong Agenda which actually was prophetic: A strange collaboration at the wrong time in our lives. No way to promote and sell it – people need to hear bands play live, and songs on the air, in order to get sales and recognition. I did send a copy to our local PBS radio station, WGVU, and heard one song, Thirty-Nine Steps, playing on my car radio while waiting in line at a bank. I couldn’t believe it!
I have a case of the CDs tucked in my basement. I tried selling them on this site but no orders. Music needs promotion!!
We centered our trout camp on the first weekend of May which worked out well. We had the Pine River to ourselves. Jake, Feral, Natch and I met up at our remote spot on Thursday. Natch brought his new trailer, the first use for him, and he had set-up figured out like an old pro. It’s pretty large (compared to my Scamp) and has lots of new technology including solar panels, a TV with antenna, wireless booster, hide-a-bed, full bath, etc, things to sell a wife on it but not practical for the low tech camping experience we typically enjoy. We generally don’t spend time in campers – it’s all fishing and campfires. Except for breakfast which I took over when I bought the Scamp. I should mention Natch went from a 1964 Apache tent camper last year, a slightly new camper than Jake’s, to this. Natch is a technology wiz so in a sense this makes perfect sense. His tent camper went to one of his boys.
The fishing was good, no big trout but several 16-17 inchers. I cooked up a trout dinner on Friday night which was good since Jake and Feral, who rode together, mysteriously had to leave on Saturday. I’m still scratching my head about why they had to go considering they were both so anxious to camp. Jake brought the Apache Chief camper. They set it up on the edge of the hill. They had breakfast and Feral said something about his legs were sore and they packed up. The regular plan was head home Tuesday. A sad moment for Natch and I who were counting on their company.
Natch and I sometimes fish together but with so much river and good stretches to fish we sectioned off the river and went for it. Fishing alone is really the ultimate experience. Each bend and piece of cover, logs, holes, are a playing field to explore. Figuring out the best cast to a new piece of cover is a science. Where are trout likely positioned? Where to stand to make that cast? What type of cast will drop the lure in the right spot? Should I put on a bigger lure? (big lures for big trout) Frankly, you are too busy calculating to miss having company on the stream. Counterpoint: Sometimes it’s nice to have some dialog while fishing and see the other guy catch a nice trout. It’s all good.
The locals (at the Tustin Store) said no one was getting Morels. We had to try. Natch found a few and I found one. Maybe it was the weather. It was pretty cold at night and after the back and forth spring/winter weather this year the Morels may have come up early and froze or maybe they’ll show up this week. We did have one Morel to split four ways with the trout dinner. I dropped it into a puddle of butter next to the trout fillets.
Natch and I camped until Tuesday. Played some chess and scrabble. Had a great time fishing and Morel hunting. Some great campfires. Too much beer and brats (gained 3 pounds). Ready for this new year of fishing.
If you view the above photo you may be surprised to know that this was once a beautiful access spot to the Pine River in northern Lake County, Michigan. The stump in the middle of the photo was a beautiful mature tree. I parked under it last fall (and for the last 30 years). A nice shady spot. Just beyond the stump there was a faint two-track (not drive-able) under a canopy of mature trees that led to a spot next to a steep bank down to the river. I would scale the hill and fish upstream from there. I should mention that the Pine Rive is a blue-ribbon trout stream with a healthy population of trout: Browns, Rainbows, and Brooks. This spot is visited by trout fishermen from around the state. I have talked with many of them. It (was) a treasure.
I discovered this last Saturday on the opening weekend of trout fishing. Another appalled fisherman was there and we lamented the senseless destruction of what had been a beautiful spot. And a nice ‘”disperse”camping area. A large family group use to camp in the large clearing just north of the tree every year on opening weekend but stopped camping there after some clear cutting done in 2017. In 2017 the clear cutting stopped at the edge of the large clearing where they camped and was sickening to look at. So goodbye to that family. This year they clear cut up much closer to the river. Finished the job so to speak.
I don’t know who makes these decisions. A google search of clear cutting in Michigan brought up a story in Grayling, Michigan where residents tried to find answers and frankly the only answer is there is a bureaucracy in State Forest Management that is untouchable. They hold hearings that nobody is aware of and they say they always send a representative to an area before it is clear cut. And they follow guidelines set forth by other supreme bureaucracies. I can only say this: No human being in their right mind would have approved of this destruction if they understood the importance of this spot to so many Michigan fishermen.
Okay, I am not camping in the Amazon and probably never will. But I do want to share a couple things I purchased which I’m very happy with. Starting with some flashlights. What I like about these is they use an AA battery which I always have on hand. They fit in a pocket and/or use the belt clip. The beam is adjustable. They won’t blind anyone – just practical illumination. And well made.
This canvas duffel is pretty amazing and macho. Beats toting several days of clothes in a flimsy tote or carryall. Good size for a few pants, shirts, etc. Well made. Inexpensive. Great gift for any camper or weekend traveler.
I have one 20lb propane tank on my camper and I was worried about running out halfway through cooking a trout dinner. Buying a second tank and hardware to switch tanks seemed like the only option until I read about this. This allows you to switch from a twenty lb tank to a 1 lb propane canister and finish the cooking. Genius.
This portable camping toilet is perfect for remote camping and has a snap on lid to use as a camping stool. Enough said.
The general trout season opens the last Saturday in April in Michigan and it is maybe the second biggest holiday for sportsmen next to rifle deer season. For more years than I can remember I met Feral and other buddies up on the Pine River in Lake County on the Friday before, remote camping near the river. At midnight we took a mountainous hill down to the river and lobbed crawlers with a load of split shot into a hole below camp. The weather was alway in question – sometimes balmy spring and sometimes snow. It didn’t matter because it was a ritual, our New Year’s.
Fishing was never too productive. If we had followed lessons from our mentor, Jake Lucas, we would have worked cover along the river using long rods and non stop casting to feel the bait crawl along the river bed waiting for that subtle nibble. Instead we propped rods on fork sticks and cracked a beer. Sometimes we reminisced about previous years and sometimes it was enough to just hang with our buddies and watch the rod tips for any sort of action. The real fishing, at least for us, started at daylight when we put on waders and cut off stretches of river to work with spinners. The real lesson we absorbed from our mentor: wading upstream and hunting trout with pinpoint casting.
Our camping evolved from pup tents to leaky cabin tents to classic tent campers and now, at least for me, an actual trailer. Natch is looking too. Something pretty nice about not having to worry about the canvas which requires extra care to keep in good shape. In my case, my buddies warmed up to breakfast in a warm camper last year rather than time consuming trips to local restaurants.
We have no solid plan this year for the Opener but more and more we wait until the following weekend. Less fishermen on the river and a better shot at finding Morel Mushrooms. We have a general area that produces courtesy of my late brother in law George. His son, Josh Nowicki (a famous photographer) has a post online with a good explanation about how to find morels. Here’s a link. https://www.michigan.org/article/trip-idea/secret-morel-mushroom-hunting-michigan
The fichigan blog gets readers from all over the globe and I like to think folks that don’t have our opportunities in other countries appreciate that we have so much public land and access to trout filled rivers, free remote camping opportunities, and a chance for adventure a short drive from home. I love Michigan. Our New Year’s is coming up.
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.