Roaming along the River.

Today’s destination was Belanger Park in River Rouge, which runs along the Detroit River.  It was the first time for me visiting this venue, although I’ve meandered along the Detroit River boardwalks at Elizabeth Park, Bishop Park and Dingell Park plenty of times.  The primary reason for my visit was to check out the Belanger Lighthouse.  Yes, it piqued my interest last week at the Grosse Ile Lighthouse tour, and it was a beautiful day, so I headed over there.  The boardwalk and lighthouse are pictured above.

Yesterday was a stormy day and we had torrential rain multiple times.  Three days of rain would likely have caused lakeshore flooding in most of the parks I frequent, so this excursion was a safe bet, though I did wonder if water would be slopping over the seawall like once at Bishop Park – it was fine.  The sky and clouds were a myriad of colors; at times the clouds were dark and angry looking and sometimes the sky was bright blue with fluffy clouds that were like huge cotton balls.  The wind was brisk at times; if you look closely, you can see the flag flapping in the breeze. 

It was a great outing and I got in six miles while strolling the River boardwalk and around the grounds.  Here’s what I saw on today’s trek.

Déjà vu  – just look at the view!

Yep, this lighthouse looks very similar to the one I profiled last Sunday and I mused that I have gone my entire life without going anywhere near a lighthouse and suddenly I have visited two in six days!  The Belanger Lighthouse may look similar in color, but it does not have the rich history of the Grosse Ile Lighthouse.  You cannot tour inside, but you can get up close and you needn’t cross a long pier with no side rails – whew!!!  (And with wobbly legs no less from that 51-steep-step climb up and down to the lantern room.)   This is a functioning lighthouse and was built in 2003 as a memorial to the lost Great Lakes mariners.  This is the front and rear view.

There were no facts or stats by the lighthouse, except a plaque and info showing the lighthouse was built in 2003 by volunteers and dedicated the following year and the info about the Edmund Fitzgerald

So,  I researched a little for some info and discovered that the Belanger Lighthouse has been certified by the U.S. Coast Guard as an aid to navigation, and, unlike the lighthouses requiring a “keeper” this lighthouse is automated.  From its lantern room, it projects a continuous white light.  It is a hexagonal wooden tower, topped with a weathervane and is 56 feet tall (the Grosse Ile Lighthouse was 40 feet tall). 

As mentioned, the Belanger Lighthouse is a memorial to the men of the ill-fated freighter, the Edmund Fitzgerald, whose crew of 29 were lost in a storm the evening of November 10, 1975 and subsequently memorialized in Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

When the Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, it was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes and remains the largest ship to have sunk there. Its tie to River Rouge is that it was built in that City.

There are memory paver bricks, but it is unclear if any names represent mariners lost in the Great Lakes or merely donations for the lighthouse project.   

Fishing, freighters and much more.

When I finished taking photos of the lighthouse, I decided to explore the River’s edge where just a few fishermen were casting out this morning – one was sitting on the picnic table with his fishing pole propped up against the railing.  I saw this sign indicating the fishing was good and took a photo of it – you’ll recall at Lower Huron Metropark last week, there were warnings about eating the fish due to the PFAS contamination.

While admiring the view, I ran into Christy, who was seated on a park bench, similarly admiring the downtown Detroit skyline and Ambassador Bridge which connects the U.S. to Canada. 

We chatted it up for a bit and I learned about the park and lighthouse. Christy’s uncle was one of the volunteers who helped build the lighthouse and her daughter was married on the lighthouse steps.

Christy was waiting on her husband to return to Belanger Park.  He was in a small boat making a video for a PBS documentary about a group of kayakers who were paddling down the Detroit River on their annual Lower Industrial Rouge Tour.  The kayakers are members of the Riverside Kayak Connection and they have partnered with the Friends of the Rouge since 2007 for this annual event.  The kayakers began at the Melvindale boat ramp, went down the River, past the Ford Rouge Complex, and under the suspension bridges.  After a two-hour trip, these kayakers were the first of the group to show up, along with Christy’s husband who is in the nearby boat.  

While we chatted, we watched one freighter, from the BigLift line, hauling oversized cargo.  It passed by going extremely fast for a ship of that size.

Another freighter was nearing the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit.

The BBC Leda, was waiting in the wings.

Pleasure boats dotted the waterway as well. Here are some other sights from along the Detroit River boardwalk.

The power plant was sending plumes of steam into the sky.

Just a gal and her gull.

I have an affinity for seagulls.  Unlike the heron who bolts as soon as I start to take a picture, seagulls are more good-natured and will pose in place for a very long time.  So, I’m sorry … I just could not help myself and took tons of seagull shots.  This seagull, whom I’ll name Jonathan, was willing to let me stalk him as I walked along the boardwalk and I didn’t even have treats for him. He flew and landed every so often to keep pace with me.

It was a bit windy by the water and it kept ruffling his feathers.  Jonathan let me get quite close – isn’t this a fine-looking feathered fellow?

Occasionally he got a little antsy and hopped down on the other side of the barrier.

Jonathan appeared to be woolgathering while staring out to “sea” …

… alas, he grew tired of posing …

… and flew off, muttering, er, … screeching to himself.  I don’t speak seagull so I’m not sure what Jonathan said, but he didn’t return and thankfully he did not fly over my car.

As if on cue

I wandered around the grounds at Belanger Park, which is just west of the River Rouge Power Plant.  This Park is actually between two industrial sites and I could hear the coal-carrying trains circling the plant and tooting their horns while doing so.  I was reading the sign about how the site is slowly becoming a natural habitat. 

As if on cue, while reading about the new-and-improved area, a beautiful Monarch butterfly settled first onto the yellow daisy. 

Next, that winged creature dipped and swooped as the breeze threatened to wreak havoc with its flight pattern over to the goldenrod.  It made it over safely, but was hanging on for dear life, opening and closing those beautiful wings often as it braced itself to stay steady on the bright yellow flowers.

I’ve been blessed seeing butterflies lately – soon they will begin their long journey to warmer climes as they kiss Summer in Southeast Michigan goodbye.

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The wasps are giddy!

After Labor Day, the unofficial end of Summer, it seems we just morph into the harvest and Halloween season and go with the flow.  Mums have replaced weather-beaten petunias in porch pots and I’ve already seen the first Halloween décor in the ‘hood.    The whole morning walk has changed dramatically the past few weeks.  Not only must I detour two blocks over due to the significant construction on my regular route, but the angle of the sun is different – the sun is getting up later every day and it sure is starting to look like Fall at Council Point Park.

Here in southeast Michigan, this season has had absolutely no rhyme or reason to it and our Summer chugs along, with merely ten days left until Fall … on the calendar anyway.

We had about five days of below-average temps, so long sleeves, or even a light hoodie were welcome in the morning – yesterday it was 74 degrees F (23 C) and 94% humidity when I stepped out the door for my morning walk.  Ugh!  The homeowners who closed up their pools are wistful for making such a hasty decision. Because Fall kept stepping on Summer’s toes, Mother Nature punished Fall for doing so with some whopper storms last night and more are on the way today and tomorrow – that effectively shows Fall who’s boss!

It’s apple cider time! I popped into Meijer the other day and the harvest goodies take up almost as much space in the grocery store as the Halloween candy, costumes and décor.  Pumpkin “everything” seems to compete with caramel apples and of course apple cider.

Speaking of apple cider

The wasps are giddy at Council Point Park.  The wormy apples are plentiful and gathering on the ground and across the perimeter path.  They are either dropping off the tree on their own, or yanked off their stems by the squirrels.  The squirrels and birds take a few bites, then leave the rest of the apple on the ground to turn brown and rot.  Walkers step on them, squashing them nearly to a pulp, then the heat ferments those apples so walking under the tree is like opening a container of apple cider. 

What apples the squirrels and birds choose to discard, the wasps are quick to hone in on, so any time you walk past this apple tree, the wasps are buzzing about … let’s just say that buzzed buzzers must be avoided if at all possible.  A fellow walker told me his dog was stung by them a few years ago at this very location.

The squirrels’ mindset is “Winter is on the way. Must. Gather. Nuts. NOW!

The squirrels scamper over to greet me and they do their usual begging routines …

… or perhaps act nonchalantly like “oh, were you going to favor me with some peanuts Linda?”

Sucker that I am, I soon drop nuts near their front paws like they are tiny princes.

Occasionally they’ll stop to munch a peanut …

… but mostly they scamper away to hide those nuts, and soon their paws are fast and furiously digging holes here, there and everywhere …

… so much so that nut gathering becomes a blur. So much for photo ops, huh?

And then there are dribs and drabs of color around Council Point Park.  

I’ve been walking at this Park since 2013 and it has always amazed me that the raggedy bushes and spindly saplings that grow along the Ecorse Creek banks are the first to show their shades of Autumn. 

I’ve already seen colorful Poplar and Maple leaves littering the pathway or pavilion area.  

There are berries that the birds delight in eating.

Weeds and wildflowers provide a touch of color to otherwise blah greenery near the Creek banks.

I kind of like these delicate white wildflowers.

Even the algae bloom makes a colorful, but yucky statement.

The burrs aren’t as vibrant as the berries and blossoms, but make a stunning, late-Summer appearance. They remind us that days of “brrrrrrrrrr” are on the horizon.

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Sojourn in the sticks.

I’m feeling a little weary this morning.  Over the weekend I walked almost 15 miles, drove about 80 miles and stayed up late to describe my adventures in two very long blog posts.  It is raining  right now, so here I sit, in my jammies, taking a load off my feet and writing about Sunday morning. 

As you know, in a separate post I detailed my tour of the historic Grosse Isle North Channel Lighthouse and our delightful trip as we wended our way along East River Road through the historical neighborhoods and saw sites marking history-making events from long ago. We even caught a glimpse of a freighter and tug barge steaming down the Detroit River.

My lighthouse tour was at 1:00 p.m. so I had time to sneak in a walk at the Island’s nature preserve.  I hoped that on a peaceful Sunday morning I might be lucky enough to see a family of deer, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, I found it amusing that later in the day I would see deer in the exclusive neighborhood near the lighthouse, as our group waited to board the bus to return to the museum where we began the tour.

Earlier this Summer I’d made a few trips to the island looking for a good place to park and walk along the shoreline and/or trek through the woods.  A fellow walker at Council Point Park lives on Grosse Ile and had been showing me family of deer he kept seeing near his home.  So, he gave me some pointers on nature preserves and quiet places to see deer – this is one of them in  a Grosse Ile Open Space area.  These pictures were taken on a sunny day, the last time I visited this venue, but I took the same trails yesterday, but never took the camera out of the pouch as it was very dark and gloomy the entire day.

Grosse Ile Wildlife Sanctuary.

The morning was quiet as I pulled into this small nature preserve at Horsemill and Thorofare Roads.  It was woodsy, but not so dense that I didn’t feel comfortable walking there alone. 

The occasional car whizzed by on Horsemill Road, but other than that, it was dead silent as I meandered through the woods.

Now, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in a little nature, just barely off the beaten path, this is the place to be.  It was quite humid and the scent of fresh mulch on the trails and heaped up nearby made for a heady experience. 

The dappled sunshine showed me some of what this little nature preserve had to offer, like glimpses of water and sure footing as I walked along. 

There were signs of interest, as well as facts and figures to make you say “wow – I didn’t know that!”

Unbelievably, both hour-long treks yielded no deer pics, as I had hoped; in fact, I saw no squirrels or birds, nary a bug or a butterfly, and not a single human either. 

It was just the trees –n- me.

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1906 – it was a very good year.

After yesterday’s trek with a country twist, today’s offering promises something out of the ordinary.  For me anyway.  Not a hint of nature, unless you want to count some shots of the Detroit River.  I didn’t even see a seagull cruising in the skies above. 

I went to visit the Grosse Isle North Channel Lighthouse, located on the Detroit River’s biggest island, a/k/a Grosse Ile, which, according to Wikipedia, is 9.6 miles (24.9 kilometers) long and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide.

The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1963 and is now closed to the public and its structure sits on private property.  However, the Grosse Ile Historical Society, once a year, on the second Sunday in September, conducts their annual Lighthouse tour.  There are four groups of twenty-four people, who are taken by bus and escorted by a member of the Historical Society along the narrow dock to this Lighthouse.  All donations paid for the tour are used for upkeep of the structure.

Commemorating 1906 and celebrating Grandparents Day.

I booked this trip a month ago and kept my fingers crossed the weather would be good.  Last year, I likewise registered/paid in advance, and the day of the tour was rainy so I didn’t go. 

I was happy the event was taking place on the same date as Grandparents Day, (here in the U.S. a day to honor your grandparents), because the Lighthouse was built in 1906, the same year my maternal grandmother was born.

I often mention my grandmother in my blog posts.  She was born November 19, 1906  in Ariss, a tiny farming community near Guelph, Ontario.  She had eight siblings.  Six of them were boys who grew up and bought their own farms near my great grandparents, living in that rural area until their deaths.  Likewise for her two sisters, who moved closer to town, but never forgot their Ariss roots.  Wilhelmina, or “Minnie” as my grandmother was known, was the exception, as the only one of the Klein kids to stray to the “Big City” … that “Big City” being Toronto, where she worked in the manufacturing industry and met my grandfather.  This picture is from 1926 of my grandparents with my mom.

So, the way I figure it, 1906 was a very good year for new beginnings … Minnie Godard,  née Klein, and the Grosse Ile North Range Lighthouse.  Technically, a portion of the Lighthouse was built in 1904, but the permanent fixture, the Grosse Ile North Channel Front Range Lighthouse, which I toured today, was built onto its current concrete foundation in the year 1906.

The Lighthouse.

Originally there were two lighthouses on this island.  They were known as the Grosse Isle South Channel and Grosse Isle North Channel Lighthouses and their range lights guided mariners sailing along Grosse Isle.  The South Channel Lighthouse structure is gone and only this historic structure remains.  The black-and-white photo by the U.S. Coast Guard, featured in the header image shows the Lighthouse, circa 1904, on its original structure. 

The Lighthouse may look tall in this old photo, but its actual height is just 40 feet.  It is not as narrow inside as I suspected it might be.  If anything was narrow, it was the dock/pier upon which you must walk carefully to get to the Lighthouse.  As you see above (and below in my photos), it is a skinny pathway and on either side is a lot of water, perhaps a little daunting to one that does not know how to swim (like me).  I wondered how close the water would be to the pier area, as we are five inches higher than normal due to heavy rains in the Spring.  I was surprised to find plenty of clearance.  My worries were unfounded (as usual).

I arrived shortly before our tour departure time of 1:00 p.m.  There were many people milling about on the front lawn of the Grosse Ile Historical Society.  I figured they were just like me, early arrivals for the 1:00 p.m. tour.  I guessed wrong as they were actually tour members of a lighthouse club.  I didn’t know that I would get a crash course in lighthouse lingo and meet some people who are enthusiastic about visiting lighthouses around North America.  Who knew?  Of the four groups of 24 persons that would tour the Lighthouse today, the first two groups were members of a club known as the “United States Lighthouse Society” and this was news to me.  So 46 members of this group were on the first day of a seven-day tour, beginning in Detroit.  The tour was entitled “Lake Erie North” with stops along Lake Erie in Chatham, Dunville, Simcoe and then on to Niagara Falls.  They will visit a whopping 25 lighthouses this week. 

I learned that all persons in this group have “lighthouse passports” which resemble a regular passport, and just as you get stamps at various ports of calls or countries you visit in a regular passport, they similarly covet a stamp marking their visit at each lighthouse.  One woman in our 1:00 p.m. group, was not with the tour group, just attending as she is a  lighthouse aficionado, and she wanted her passport stamped with today’s adventure.  She  told me she was already on her second passport of lighthouse visits and showed me her last entry which is the Grosse Ile Lighthouse.

So I was the only person who was a “newbie”  in our 1:00 p.m. group, as I’d never been in a lighthouse before.  The group was warm and friendly as they regaled me with tales of where they had toured in the past and what they would see on this trip.  They will visit two lighthouses in Michigan today:  the Grosse Ile Lighthouse and the Belanger Park Lighthouse in River Rouge.  I was rather red-faced when I told them I never knew River Rouge, (a nearby city), had a lighthouse.

We left the museum, which is actually a former train depot built in 1904. 

Vintage-type signs all around the depot/museum describe life back when this was a bustling depot and commerce in the area was done by train until 1931 when the Grosse Ile Parkway and “free bridge” were finished.

The bus driver stopped along the shoreline as we traveled to Hennepin Point.  Our guide, a member of the Historical Society, narrated stories of historical significance to the island, including the homes of the wealthy homeowners who made their fortunes in local products like Vernors (soft drink) and Kelsey-Hayes (automotive parts).

We traveled along a row of stately homes on Lighthouse Point Drive.  Once off the bus, we  walked toward the Lighthouse.  Once a year, the owner of the home (who owns Mans Lumber) permits these four tours to be conducted.  We assembled on the homeowner’s front lawn by the shoreline, approximately 50 feet from the Lighthouse which sits on a 25-foot square concrete pier.  The wooden walkway is actually a private boat dock.  I asked if the five inches of above-normal rainfall covered the pier in the Spring and it did.  Good thing no one had to light the lantern if waves were lapping at the pier!

I had read up on the history of the lighthouse and its restoration through the years.  I knew it sustained much damage this past Winter, when the Polar Vortex froze most of the Detroit River solid and the ice piled up and thick chunks plowed into the Lighthouse base and railings causing much damage.  You can see the ice chunks and damage by clicking here:

I saw the solid ice and ice chunks at Bishop Park, also on the Detroit River, and did a post about it.  I was amazed at such a sight of the entire River being solid ice and waves had frozen in mid-air.  It was a sight to behold.  The Lighthouse was partially repaired and tomorrow the scaffolding will go up and painting and further restoration will begin.

We followed our guide who allowed eight persons access at a time.  We were told there were 51 steps to ascend to reach the eight-sided lantern room, where all but two are the original windows/casings. 

The steps were steep in the circular staircase.  The inside was not well lit and the wood paneling was dark making it difficult to ascend the steps.  This was a view along the way.

The last 11 steps had no railing.  My tour buddies were all good with the steps, having done countless lighthouse tours in the past, but I was dealing with my eyeglasses, still dark from being outside, and the steep stairs.  We arrived in the lantern tower. This is how it looks from the outside.

This is the view from the lantern tower:

Here at the lantern tower we were given a lecture on the Lighthouse, its significance in guiding mariners, as well as its various Lighthouse Keepers through the years.  And then there was the trip down again.  I was dreading it and I have to tell you that my legs were still wobbly as I walked across the wooden ramp which is a private boat dock used to access the Lighthouse

Here are some photos of the Lighthouse against a very dark sky with many brooding clouds. 

When we finished the tour and waited to board the bus back to the depot, some tour members spotted four fawns in the bushes in a neighbor’s yard and the Mama deer loped across the driveway as we were boarding.  I’d already tucked the camera back in the case, so no pics.  It was an interesting and fun trip.

 [Photo credit for header photo: United States Coast Guard]

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Smiling faces and wide-open spaces.

Everything was going great, and then there was that proverbial fork in the road.

Decisions, decisions … I’m horrible at decisions, especially when I glimpse two vehicles behind me in my rearview mirror and their drivers are honking. 

Patience is a virtue people – cut me some slack!  Especially because Google Maps never mentioned no stinkin’ fork in the road in those directions I so carefully copied from my computer screen early this morning.

Well there was no time to dawdle, nor risk more horn honking and maybe even a stray finger showing up when I next glanced in the rearview mirror.

So, I chose the right fork, though I saw nowhere straight ahead that I was supposed to be making my next turn.  I knew the last part of those directions would be problematic … every few tenths of a mile, it was either a left or right turn.  Well, I put on my right blinker and moved along, just to get those drivers off my tail and also figure out what to do next.  After all, nobody said I had to be the first one standing at the gate when the DeBuck’s Sunflower Festival opened this morning.

Just relax Linda!

But, soon I found myself on Waltz Road and I knew I was on the wrong track – sigh.

But I kept rolling along anyway.

A big sign said “Welcome to Huron Township” and before the afternoon was done I would pass through the villages of New Boston, Waltz and Willow, all part of Huron Township.

Gradually my irritation with my direction SNAFU disappeared as my mindset shifted from: “Must of Got Lost” to “Roll with it” and I eventually settled on “Out in the Country”.

I conceded I was enjoying this road trip, though it was not getting me to the sunflower farm anytime soon. 

I continued on my journey, past all the tall corn stalks bending with the breeze.  Okay, I could do that too … bend with the breeze, I mean, go with the flow.

Oh look – a turkey farm and a pig farm.

A sod farm too.

And a ton of road kill – eww!  The road kill was gory enough to see, but I had to roll up the window, shutting out that cool breeze, when I smelled a skunk.  “P.U.!” as we used to say when we were kids and smelled a skunk.  (I know I just lost a few of you and I had to check Urban Dictionary to ensure it didn’t have some other meaning in 2019.)

Wow – I was really out in the boonies!

There were multiple roadside stands like this one.

The stand was unattended, so you bought your goodies on the honor system as you see from the sign.  Across a narrow gravel road was a huge garden brimming with a bounty of beefsteak tomatoes in different stages of ripening on many tangled vines.  A few cukes were suspended by stems that grew between large leaves that wandered around the floor of the garden.  I looked for a “no trespassing” sign and there was none.  I saw no humans or big dogs and the only sentries “guarding” the garden were these sunflowers.  I decided to take a few pictures just in case I didn’t make it to the sunflower farm today – at least I’d have a mini sunflower fix.

Back on the road again, I passed through the tiny town of Waltz, Michigan.  I haven’t been this way in decades and my head swiveled back and forth as I drove down the main street in this quaint town.  There was The Waltz Inn, just as I remember it.  On our Sunday-drive-in-the-country jaunts, my folks and I sometimes went there to eat.  The Inn is over a century old, rumored to be haunted and has a colorful prohibition history as well.

I decided I was hopelessly lost by now and of course I did not have a paper map in the car, no GPS tracking device, nor a smart phone, just my flip phone.  All I had was my written directions and I had already strayed far from my original route.  

Before I turned around to head back to wherever, I saw a sign for Apple Charlies, a popular cider mill.  It’s been years since I was at this venue either, so what the hay, maybe I’d make a pit stop here as well.  That side trek didn’t happen since I got to the intersection to turn and it was blocked off by a brigade of police vehicles with lights flashing, but no sirens.  I waited in a long queue as 100 motorcyclists with their riders rolled in front of us.  Wow – pretty impressive.  I wondered what the occasion was – funeral of a fellow biker, maybe a ride for a cause? 

Since the police diverted traffic to accommodate the bikers, I went down still another road – “this will be interesting” I thought, glad that I had a full tank of gas. 

Before I had too much angst, I saw a sign for Lower Huron Metropark – well, this was on my Trek Bucket List.  Dare I go here and just skip the Sunflower Festival until another day?  Sure, why not?  

It was the first time here and just like the other Metroparks, it did not disappoint.  I took in the sights as I walked along a pathway that wound parallel to the Lower Huron River.  I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt with cuffs, long pants with cuffs and socks to thwart any mosquitoes, as the health department is warning everyone to keep covered when walking near any woodsy areas as we had a death from EEE, (the mosquito-borne virus), yesterday and several other cases have been discovered.

I said “good morning” to a few walkers or bicyclists, but I pretty much had the trail to myself.  The occasional colorful leaf fluttered down onto the pathway and the refreshing cool temps were reminiscent of Fall. The camera was clicking away as I inspected wildflowers near and spilling over the split rail fence and the bees and butterflies were plentiful.  I’ve included a few of those shots below.

Blooms, butterflies and bees.

The wildflowers were so vibrant …

… and a few Monarch butterflies danced and hovered over them.

Bees busied themselves, burrowing down into the blossoms.

Signs touted fishing in the area where I walked along the Huron River, but it was catch-and-release only due to PFAS contamination in the water.

You see one fellow fishing, but the dock where most of the fishing is done was empty.

There were a few oddities along the way worth noting.

We’re happy to yield to turtles, but it sure would be nice to eliminate these tent caterpillars which seem hellbent on ravaging all the leaves on this bush.

As I passed each mile it made me want to savor the perfect Summer day as this season is on the wane now.

Peaceful is the word I’d use to describe these three canoeists paddling down the Huron River Water Trail.

I walked seven miles before hopping into the car to head home.  I’ll get better directions and try again next weekend – how difficult can it be?  After all, this Park and the Sunflower Festival were in the same city and same zip code!   

Tranquil time in nature versus the busy festival atmosphere was just perfect.  In retrospect, I believe I did NOT take the wrong fork in the road after all. 

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Tuesday Musings.

The school bells are tolling again.

Today all the schools are back in session.  I don’t have to look at the calendar date – nope, and I don’t even rely on common sense – just my senses:  who can miss that yellowy-orange bus amid a sea of SUVs, all grinding to a halt as they enter a school zone?  And look at the school kids hefting brand-new backpacks and not even attempting to hide their sullen looks as they trudge to the door where the principal greets them with a smile.  Those scowling kids see right past that principal’s silly grin as they anticipate 179 more days of tests, homework and alarm clocks going off at the crack of dawn.  

Next, while I wend my way to the Park, of course I could hear that school bus, chugging up and down the street, gears grinding like it was hauling a load of middle linebackers, instead of just a group of school kids. 

Once that bus had passed, in its wake was the unmistakable smell of diesel fumes as huge plumes threatened to choke every squirrel and bird in the ‘hood … and Yours Truly too.

Yep, school is back in session, the 2019 version.

Many moons ago it was the first day of school for me too

I didn’t take the bus, as E.A. Orr Public School was just a stone’s throw away from the cul-de-sac, a/k/a Sandmere Place, where I lived.  All us kids in the neighborhood were around the same age and someone’s older sister would herd us along to school every morning and again at the end of our school day.  Big sister Monica was puffed up with importance as she walked alongside all of us fresh-faced tykes.  We giggled aplenty and childish squeals erupted as we tripped along Sandmere Place, but when we got to Tansley Drive, we obediently did as our parents asked and clasped onto a friend’s free hand.  Then, with Monica in the lead, we were a brigade of munchkins marching across this busy street.  We arrived safely at our elementary school (pictured below) simply because there was safety in numbers.

I wasn’t scared in the least and I figured I had this kindergarten thing licked, because we’d already practiced spelling and vocabulary words, plus I learned math by adding and subtracting animal crackers or Smarties, the Canadian equivalent of plain M&Ms.  (Despite those fun exercises, math has never been my strong point and evidently I was not a stellar speller, despite Mom’s coaching, because I enlarged the photo to check out the name tag on my dress for the first day of school – I’m pretty sure I wrote my name, not Mrs. Kellett and I made an abomination of it.)

Long before I started kindergarten I could rattle off:  “My name is Linda Susan Mary Schaub, and I live at 497 Sandmere Place, Oakville, Ontario, Canada.  My phone number is Valley 7-3219.“   (Oh my, but the human brain is pretty amazing isn’t it after all these years?)

When just a handful of days remained before kindergarten began, and I would finally don my new plaid dress and sport a barrette that was positioned just so, to pin some wayward strands of hair from my eyes so I could see the blackboard, Mom sat me down and said that yes, I was a big girl going to school, but she had something important to tell me.  No, it was not a spiel on the birds and the bees, nor to bust the myth about Santa and his reindeer, but instead, it was a lesson on “stranger danger” even though this was decades before the term “stranger danger” was coined.  Sadly today’s 5-year olds are much savvier about such unpleasant subjects, than we were circa 1961.  That’s thanks to the internet which they readily access on smart phones and tablets.  Face it, they know a helluva lot more about life in general than we ever did at their age.

So, after Mom imparted her wisdom to me, she said  “now don’t be scared, learn lots of new things and make Mommy and Daddy proud of you.” 

So, off I went, leaving behind my comfort zone of Mom, “Romper Room” and “Captain Kangaroo” and began kindergarten with Mrs. Kellett and all my new classmates.  Some were already my playmates from the neighborhood.  We learned a lot and had mid-morning milk and cookies and a nap on a pad that was placed on the classroom floor.

So what advice did Mom give me all those years ago?

As I recall, it went like this:

“If someone tries to give you candy or sweets, politely say ‘no thank you’ and then run away!”

“If someone tries to lay a hand on you, scream as loud as you can and then run away!”

“If someone calls you over to their car, you run away!”

“Don’t get into anyone’s car – ever.  That means even a neighbor’s car, even someone you know – don’t get into their car.  You know what to do Linda, right?”

“And, if someone tells you Mommy or Daddy were hurt and they’ll take you to them, run as fast as your legs will carry you!”

“If you are lost, look for a policeman, or ask someone to find a policeman, then tell him your name, address and telephone number that you memorized.  You can always trust a policeman.  When Mommy was your age, all the kids wanted to walk across the busy street in front of the school with the policeman and hold his hand.”

“So, have you got all that Linda?”

Wow, that was a lot to absorb and I obediently said “yes Mommy” … a lot to fill a little kid’s head with.

As a kid I always toed the line – my parents were strict and with no siblings to back me up or help forge new trails, I was all on my own.  I never forgot Mom’s warnings as I advanced through elementary, middle and high school.  Even as I wandered the halls of Old Main on Wayne State University’s campus in Detroit, her words echoed in my mind.  I was always aware of my surroundings and I was always careful.

Until one rainy day.

I was wearing a brand-new outfit, a sky-blue sundress made of silk voile fabric.  There were at least a thousand tiny white polka dots splashed across the bodice and a swirl of tiny pleats that swished when I walked.  A white linen bolero blazer completed the ensemble.  It was the first day after the Memorial Day holiday and I was excited to get dressed up with white sandals and a white purse since it was now acceptable to “wear white” … suffice it to say I thought I was “all that”! 🙂

Because the dress had an under liner it had to be dry cleaned … in fact, a warning on the label said “do not wash!”  There were no worries as it was supposed to be a beautiful and sunshiny day.  But alas, the weather forecasters didn’t always get it right (even back in the 80s).  I was sitting on the bus on the way home and out of the corner of my eye I could see dark clouds gathering.  I couldn’t concentrate on my book as I stewed and fretted over the fate of my dress once I got off the bus, since I had to cross busy Fort Street and walk a block or so after that.

As the bus pulled over to my stop and I hopped off, the big fat drops started a’ flyin’ and soon there was a rumble of thunder as well – just great.  I dashed to take cover under the drive-in bank’s concrete canopy, prepared to plant myself there until the storm was over, even if it took all evening.

But, after hunkering down for a short time, I heard a horn honk and a police car pulled into the bank’s parking lot.  I watched the rain-spattered window roll down and a young police officer gave me a toothy grin and said “it looks like you’re going to get your pretty dress all wet – want to hop in and I’ll give you a ride home?” 

Casting all sense and sensibility to the wind, I smiled sweetly and said “sure” and got into the police cruiser.  The officer asked my name and address and we were off, (thankfully without the sirens going), and not a thought in my head except how I was salvaging my new outfit.  He pulled up in the driveway and I said “thanks a bunch – I appreciate it immensely” and I hopped out. 

When I got into the house, my mom said “I thought about you coming home in the rain with your new outfit – why, your dress is bone dry.  Did someone from work give you a ride home?”

I told her about my good fortune. 

She said “oh, was it one of the cops you knew from Carter’s?”   (I worked at a diner through college and we prepared all the meals for the prisoners, so I got to know all the police officers who came to pick the food up.)

“Nope, just a young officer, likely fresh out of the academy, who was being polite, considering I’m a lot older than he was – he was just being nice Mom.” 

She didn’t miss a beat and said:  “well I thought I raised a smarter kid.  Didn’t you pay attention to me all those years ago?” 

Hmm ….  well, I didn’t miss a beat either and said “but you always told me it was safe to trust a policeman when I was a kid, so why is it any different now, if I may be so bold and brazen as to ask?”  (My mom and I didn’t always see eye to eye on everything.)

She sighed long and loud and took a moment to respond, and when she did, she said “Linda dear – sometimes you just have to use your head for more than a place to hang your earrings.”

Well, chastising me like that stung a little, but I have to admit it was a bit reckless on my part.  No, I was not a babe in the woods, so blame it on vanity, or even stupidity if you will.  Or perhaps I was just too trusting. 

After that episode, I got a fold-down golf umbrella and a lightweight, full-length raincoat and they stayed in my bus tote bag year around for the rest of my commuting days.  Of course, if you listen to the news these days, there are the occasional rogue cops, or persons impersonating a police officer who stop women for traffic infractions.  This was just a nice officer being a good guy.  But yes, I do concede you have to have your wits about you every time you step out of the house, no matter what age you are. 

So why did I relay that silly story from eons ago?

Saturday morning I got to Council Point Park and soon thereafter, a truck carrying a crew of grass cutters arrived and began to unload their large and noisy industrial lawn mowers.  Well that was a bummer because I knew the squirrel interaction would be zero, because once the machines started up, the squirrels would beat a hasty retreat to their respective nests to cower in silence.  I knew the grass cutting would continue even after I departed, so I deposited peanuts on the picnic tables, a few park benches and a cement wall to give my furry friends a snack later. 

But one squirrel, either oblivious to the roar of a half-dozen large lawnmowers, or very hungry, threw caution to the wind and came to see what I offered, though he appeared a bit wary to this tall stranger, obviously a “newbie” to this venue.  As I stood there trying to coax him over to the park bench for some peanuts, he gave me the once-over to determine whether I was indeed trustworthy enough to come down from his high perch atop a chain-link fence, where he hightailed it once the noise began. 

He looked down at me with a hint of disdain.

Then he tip-toed along the top of the fence, treating it like a thick tightrope, and I pictured the gears in his brain simultaneously matching the soft clicking noises I made to try to woo him to the short tree next to where I stood since he didn’t seem to like the park bench.

Alas, he deemed this stranger posed no danger, so, with a little fancy footwork …

…  he joined me on the ground where I coaxed him closer to me with peanuts, many more than he could stuff into his mouth (though he would surely try to do so).

Unfortunately, the fellow with the weed whacker came along and fired that baby up – the noise was deafening, and my furry friend took off, the half-eaten peanut shells scattering to the wind.  He beat it up the tree at the speed of sound, and, heart pounding, he looked around …

… so, was he looking for help, (the squirrel equivalent of “phoning a friend”), someone to come fetch him from the horrible noise and a stranger who was way too close for comfort?

His safe haven became a fork in the tree and that cranny seemed tailor-made for him.

There he perched, just waiting for a chance to bolt and be done with all these intrusive humans.  When I tried to put some peanuts up there for him, I obviously intruded into his personal space, and he shot right to the top of the tree.  He’s no Parker and we’ll have to work on establishing some trust here.  I tried to find him each successive time around the walking loop to no avail.   

So here’s a quote to close this longish post:  “Safety is as simple as your ABCs – always be careful.”

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Cone zones, country roads and …

… a special anniversary. More about that at the end of this post.

I stayed close to home and didn’t venture far on this first day of the long holiday weekend.  There is construction everywhere, and, with so many of our parks still soggy and swampy and the media advising us to stay away from woodsy and marshy areas due to the EEE mosquito-borne virus crisis, I figured it was prudent to just stick close to home.

Honestly, driving isn’t very fun anymore between dodging orange barrels and cones and then there are all the potholes.  There are so many road construction projects in the Mitten State right now, the traffic reporters are tongue tied by the time they relay them all and “the Game of Cones” is how the media refers to Michigan’s current road construction woes. 

Our new governor’s campaign promise was she would “fix the damn roads” so drivers, fed up with car-swallowing potholes, flat tires and broken axles, were buoyed by her proclamation.  To gain revenue to repair those roads, Governor Whitmer had proposed a gas tax of $0.45 cents, ($0.15 at six-month intervals beginning in October), but it likely will not be implemented as scheduled.  So, our roads will continue to crack and crumble and they are even a walking hazard. 

Corncobs, ‘maters and cruising on a country road.

So you hop into the car to get from Point A to Point B, but driving has lost its appeal in my opinion.  Back when I was a kid, and even a teenager, I remember my folks and me going on a Sunday afternoon drive.  My father had a 1972 Chevy Impala and it was the Sunday car.  During the week he drove a VW Fastback stick shift and that was because he worked near a cement factory and didn’t want the cement dust collecting all over his “baby”.  So every Sunday, we’d take a long drive out in the country. 

Long before the large produce markets were available, and even before the tiny farmers market set up shop in our city, come August, a Sunday drive in the country was the ideal way to get the pick of the produce from the roadside stands. 

We would pass by dozens of roadside stands, trying to accomplish “one-stop shopping” and, as my father slowed down the car, my mother craned her neck to peer at each stand’s offerings.  Sometimes there was a sign advertising their produce; other times you could see the husks of corn, their silks riffling in the breeze, or the bright red tomatoes spilling out of a wooden basket.  There would be cukes big enough to put a knot on your head if you chose to wield them just right.  Sun-ripened peaches and plums would magically become a cobbler or kuchen before week’s end.  My mother would call out “do you have green beans, I’d love to make a stew?”  And, if it was time for new potatoes, she’d be salivating thinking about those too.  Mom would boil them with the skins on, split them open and spread pats of sweet butter which formed golden pools on our dinner plates.  When we finally stopped the car, I remember you’d just point at a basket and they’d have it turned upside down and the contents emptied into a brown bag in a heartbeat.  No cash registers were around as the tallying of all produce was done in the proprietor’s head, or on a scratch pad.

My mom was a tough customer and wanted to check out the beefsteak tomatoes herself – she was not going to take their word that there were no mushy ones on the bottom.  Her inspection tended to rile the vendor and he grimaced while he said  “lady – I throw the bad ones out or eat ‘em myself!”  She’d reluctantly relent and grab a basket and off we’d go, returning the following week, weather permitting.  This continued through September.  Often the vendors had bouquets of Fall flowers for a song, so sunflowers and cheery mums, the occasional daisies or Black-eyed Susans would grace the kitchen counter until the next Sunday outing.

I had such vivid memories of those roadside stands while passing some enroute to Oakwoods Metropark last Saturday morning.  I couldn’t help but flash back all those years ago, as it was such a regular ritual and an excuse to run “Old Betsy” at the same time.  We’d get home later in the day and Mom would have those tomatoes out of the basket, washing the field dirt off and slicing them with the long, serrated knife in record time.  Occasionally she’d swipe one for herself, leaning over the sink with a huge tomato in one hand, the salt shaker in the other, a happy grin on her face and juice dribbling down her chin as she savored that guilty pleasure.  Mom was like the character of Edward X. Delaney in the Lawrence Sanders novels, the Detective who liked devouring sloppy deli sandwiches over the sink as  he pondered his tricky cases.  Our tomato slices were stacked on hot, crispy buttered toast, no bacon or lettuce … a no-frills treat.

Trek bucket list.

It is eight years ago this Labor Day weekend since I began my walking regimen, so I decided to write about that special anniversary.

Just like last year, in the Spring I made a mental list of what walking or miscellaneous events I would like to attend and parks I wanted to visit.  The incessant Spring rain annoyingly messed up my weekend walking agenda, and, when finally the torrential rain ceased, the lakeshore flooding kept me away from several of the state parks and Metroparks as well.  It seemed wherever I did venture, parks were soggy or muddy or worse, mosquito laden.  So I may have not fulfilled my trek bucket list, but, a constant in my walking regimen is Council Point Park, my favorite nature nook, and it never disappoints.  Though I began my walking regimen on Labor Day weekend of 2011, I never started walking at this venue until May of 2013. 

Rules of the road.

No walk is the same, nor is it mundane.  If you are mindful of your surroundings, there are endless things to notice and take delight in at the Park, or even along the way, as you will see in the captioned photos below: 

AVOID One eye opened, one eye closed SYNDROME.
Always have that robust cup of coffee in the morning before heading out; otherwise you might mix up your favorite squirrel’s treats!
have a big breakfast.
Load up on lots of protein and carbs.
If you dilly-dally on WordPress in the morning, this is how you will look bolting out the door.
You’ll keep a spring in your step that way.
Or you’ll look and feel bedraggled even before you leave.
set a goal as you step out.
Strap on that pedometer – you go girl!!
start every day with a clean slate.
No worries, no thoughts, just let your mind be a blank as you stroll.
remember to practice mindfulness.
That way the joy from your walk will stay with you the rest of the day.
always be curious.
Pretend you’re a kid again and explore everything.
don’t litter!
It’s okay to feed your furry and feathered friends, but don’t leave any messes behind.
always stay vigilant.
Don’t go off the beaten path on your own and watch for Mute Swans who may chase after you.
Surprises are not always fun!
don’t ever stop.
Why? Because you’ll lose momentum.
always be filled with awe.
Stand up and take notice of everything that crosses your path.
remember not to sweat the small stuff.
And remember to watch for small stuff along the perimeter path.
don’t blow your own horn all the time.
It’s good to be proud of your walking regimen, but keep it to yourself, except when you’re blogging about your total steps. 🙂
always watch for photo ops.
Especially when fellow walkers pour Cracker Jack on the perimeter path.
always look behind you.
A passel of squirrels might be following at your heels.
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