Thursday, April 15, 2021

Life between the Lakes, Part 39


I’ve been the extended part a family who has had a camp on Muskallonge Lake since the 1930s and have spent decades enjoying Deer Park and the surrounding area with family and our fictive kin. Those before us made sure we knew the history of this amazing area and I treasure the people, the land and the surroundings along with all and the rich historical heritage found in Luce County.

I’ve been privileged to spend the winter renting Aunt Carla’s guest house on the north side of Muskallonge Lake. It has given me a ringside seat to the beauty found in winter, where the usual traffic consisted of the snow plow, mail carrier and a handful of the year round residents.  I witnessed the freeze, the winter and the thaw but who knows where this wild ride of Upper Peninsula weather will take us next week?

My two adopted Greyhounds, Jack and Needa, are now senior citizens, but they the first ones up and nudge me out of bed before sunrise. I’d rather sleep in, but when Mother Nature’s Kodachrome brings those nice bright colors to the forest in hues I’ve never seen, I am glad that I’m awake to witness this four and a half billion year old ritual.

Small clusters of colorful crocus are springing up all over the yard. For the first time in four months, the top of the lake is shimmering in the afternoon sun and the shoreline is alive with wildlife activity. Red squirrels chase each other along the shoreline suggesting the coyotes are not the only ones with love in the air. Flocks of geese and ducks fly just above the waterline with the precision of the Blue Angels flight team.


The warmer temperatures, accompanied by calm days have allowed the scent of pine to return.  The last square of snow in the yard disappeared a week ago. Previously it was a drift that was up to my chin in the middle of the dog run for Jack and Needa.


On a cool day last week I was warming myself by the burn barrel when I saw the shadow of the eagle before he saw me. He was in a low, slow glide and I wondered if an eagle’s memory was as good as its eyesight. The eagles and osprey have resumed the free, all you can eat fish buffet served up on Muskallonge Lake. If only I had a Goddess to feed me smoked whitefish and inspire me, maybe then I could finish the novel I set out to write when I moved here.

Although the sunrises are divine, I prefer the slow bow Mother Nature takes at the end of the day. During calm, clear evenings on the north shore, the surface of the water becomes rose colored as the sinking sun melts the colors into one huge pool. But when the sun is swallowed, it leaves a colorful tombstone in the sky, looking like the planet Jupiter is just behind the tree line. It is something worth beholding, admiring and remembering.

Mamma don’t take my Kodachrome away.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Between the Lakes, part 38



Life Between the Lakes, part 38

Two weeks ago the town of Newberry lost a great friend to the community, Fred Dunkfeld. He was a business man who spent 48 years committed to the restoration and operation of the Tahqualand Theatre in Newberry. His remarkable photography decorated the real estate office and captured his love for the outdoors.

Fred started his life in Southern Africa, initially in Swaziland moving to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as a toddler where he completed his schooling. It was in Rhodesia that his love for nature developed which lead to expertise in capturing it on film through his photography. He moved to the United States in 1955 and later earned his pilot's license. In the mid 1960's, Fred landed in the Upper Peninsula and stayed forever.

Watching a movie at the Tahqualand Theater was always a unique experience. Fred was dedicated to the restoration of the theater for the 48 years he owned it. He’d sell the tickets and then head up to the projection booth to run the movie.

While running a picture, about halfway through, Fred would stop the projector, throw on the house lights and then stick his head out of the projection box and yell “Inn-terr-mission!” This allowed patrons to take a bathroom break and purchase more movie snacks at the snack bar, served by Fred.

In a small town like Newberry, the words on the marquee now say it all.

But sometimes saying it all is an understatement.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 37


Yesterday I spent part of my afternoon with my new friend Dean Oswald. If you have ever been in the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula, you may have seen signs for his bear ranch, located just a few miles north of Newberry.

The ranch does not open until Memorial Day, but Aunt Carla knows everybody up here and Dean and Jewel are good friends. As a result we were able to arrange a visit to see the three new cubs at the ranch. I am pictured here with three month old “Peanut.” Dean told me he will be about sixty pounds in three months. Before you ask; yes, his claws were sharp.

When asked if he has ever had any close calls with any of the bears over the years, Dean’s reply was “only once.” One of them bit him on the hand when it was being fed. Evidently the impatient, hungry bear was not being fed fast enough for its liking.

I also learned a lot during our visit, such as how to spot a bear’s den in the woods (dugouts near fallen trees) what they will eat (everything) and how, unfortunately the bear population in Michigan has dramatically decreased because of the “powers that be” in Lansing calling all the shots.

The Oswald Bear Ranch is committed to the welfare of abused, neglected or orphaned bears by rescuing them from various harmful circumstances.  The bear ranch is also an educational facility that is dedicated to teaching youth about rescued cubs and the care needed to protect black bears and their environment.

Their long history of protecting a natural resource, the North American Black Bear, and managing the environment of the 240 acres rescue refuge has earned a 5 STAR rating by Conservationist!

Studying, documenting and interacting with their black bears for over three decades the Oswald’s have an unprecedented amount of knowledge in the understanding this unique creatures, and they generously share it with others.

Dean Oswald is a true hero. What he has done for the safety and welfare of the bears is extraordinary. If you are in the Newberry area this summer, make sure and stop by Oswald’s. It is a great family outing that is affordable and guaranteed to be memorable. You will not be disappointed.

And as a bonus, I will close with this brilliant poem by the great Jim Harrison. It makes me wonder why anyone would want to hunt a bear in Michigan.


My Friend the Bear

Down in the bone myth of the cellar of this farmhouse, behind the empty fruit jars the whole wall swings open to the room where I keep the bear.  There's a tunnel to the outside of the far wall that emerges in the lilac grove in the backyard but she rarely uses it, knowing there's no room

around her for a freewheeling bear.

She's not a dainty eater so once a day I shovel shit while she lopes in playful circles.

Privately she likes religion—from the bedroom I hear her incantatory moans and howls below me—and April 23rd, when I open the car trunk and whistle at midnight and she shoots up the tunnel, almost airborne when she meets the night. 

We head north and her growls are less friendly as she scents the forest-above-the-road smell.  I release her where I found her as an orphan three

years ago, bawling against the dead carcass of her mother.  I let her go at the head of the gully leading down to the swamp, jumping free of her snarls and roars.

But each October 9th, one day before bear season she reappears at the cabin frightening the bird dogs.  We embrace ear to ear, her huge head on my shoulder, her breathing like a god's.