Sunday, January 31, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 20. Extended edition.


And just like that Lake Superior has started to freeze.

I had not been down to the big lake for the last few days and once I stopped hearing it, I figured I should check on it.

When I took this picture, I was standing on what would normally be about five feet of water and the ice shelf I’m on is about five feet in elevation.  The shore is about twenty yards behind me. The shelf goes out about 100 yards but has not built up very much as of yet. We are expecting a warming trend this week so it is hard to say what is going to happen to it. I am guessing it will remain pretty much “as is” since this is the first time some “serious ice” has accumulated this winter.

Over the last couple days it has been bright and sunny; clear skies and great sledding. When I drove through Pine Stump Junction yesterday there were at least 100 sleds.

Thursday afternoon and evening brought a remarkable display of weather. Within about twenty minutes we had light snow flurries that turned into a ten minute sideways blizzard, followed by a crack in the sky that poured gold over the woods as far as I could see.

On Friday a new group of snowmobilers checked in down the road. This is their first winter here after buying the place in the fall. They invited me over for a beer so Jack, Needa and I stopped over and we shared some Two Hearted Ale and some very smooth moonshine. The group also learned almost everything I know about greyhounds. Lol

Later that night the dogs and I were out walking.  It is pitch black around here at night except for when the moon is full.  I have lighted collars for Jack and Needa and I carry a light myself. There was a car coming slowly toward us and it stopped when it reached us. That’s what we usually do around her; making sure everyone is OK, seeing who it is etc.

So the guy rolls down his window and we begin some small talk. After a few minutes I introduce myself and come to find out he’s read my books and claimed that he loved them. LOL. Not only that but he lives in Royal Oak! Small world.

The moon has been full so stargazing hasn’t been great, but still worthwhile. I don’t take this beauty for granted because once I find a house in town, it’ll be gone and then small town life will start.

I’ve hired an editor to help me as I write a new book. She has done editing work for me for several years and I am very comfortable with her. She knows my style of writing and is great at what she does. We got to talk today and she made some great suggestions.

For the first time in years I am enjoying listening to music again and have been spending a good deal of time diving into some of my favorite stuff (all generas.) I’ve also been in touch with a close friend.  (He's not on Facebook, lucky guy.)

We formed a band back in 1994. Unfortunately we did not have a long shelf life and split up harmoniously, when he moved to Arizona.  We recorded quite a bit while we were together and had a limited release EP/Cassette for friends back in the day.

He recently discovered some other material we were working on at the time that I had forgotten about. Over the years he did some work on the tunes . . .and forgotten about them too.

He completed a few of them with vocals and some instrumentation, while others remained in a state of being unfinished and not polished.  They were basically forgotten about until I asked him if he still had them. He sent them this week and I think they still respectable enough for public consumption. As a result, we are thinking of releasing an album of these tunes sometime this year.

Listening to what I was doing 27 years ago is a little sad and melancholy.

And we talked about it.

Part of me is very proud of what we did. Part of me wonders where all the years went. And part of me is sad about the chance that we never got.  We talked about how our failure to get a record deal in the 1990s might have been God's intent to save use all from drowning in our own puke from an overdose in hotel room someplace because of the way the vile entertainment industry chews people up and spits them out. Sometimes the worst thing a person can get is what they asked for.

There’s words, music, wonder, beauty, and hope emanating from my little haven in Deer Park tonight and I hope the same is happening for you wherever you are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 19




Life between the lakes, part 19

I have been the primary camp chef for about the last 20 years or so at the cabin. It is a role I embrace. Nobody has died or had any unpleasant experiences with my meal preparation--- so I’ve got that going for me.

But now the younger generation is taking on more of the work in the kitchen, which is fine by me. Fortunately great culinary talent runs in the family. Originally I took on the job because the truth is I much preferred cooking to doing the cleanup and dishes.

At the cabin, we have a gas stove (in the old days it was a wood burning stove) and our indoor plumbing is the pump in the corner of the room. Each major meal takes advance planning. We often grill in the summer when Charlie brings up a cooler full of top shelf meat products from Fareway grocery in Des Moines.

My Cousin Charlie’s daughter is the up and coming culinary superstar in this bunch. She is a loveable teenager who rolls her eyes a lot when I crack bad jokes (or good jokes) but she is meticulous and adventuresome, creative and very competent in the kitchen.

I am solo in my kitchen and cook every day for myself and Jack and Needa. They’ll usually have lean ground beef with their kibble in the morning along with a dollop of cottage cheese. They get baked chicken breast for their mid-morning snack after our mile walk.

Dinner will be kibble and sardines or tuna fish or more chicken breast with a low sodium chicken broth or more beef with an occasional cooked carrot and scoop of peanut butter to keep their interest. After our evening walk, they get scrambled eggs and a dollop of low-fat yogurt and then they go to bed. My goal is to take such good care of them that they outlast me. 🙂

Several years ago a family member came up with a nickname for my sister because my sister is just one of those all-time great people you might be lucky to find in your lifetime. Her nickname? Deb the Greatest.

Today Deb the Greatest lived up to her name when I got a message from her telling me to go look outside because a package she sent had just been delivered.

She sent me two pizzas from Loui’s in Hazel Park, MI. I can hardly wait for suppertime. The dogs will get their scrambled eggs tonight, but I’m eating Loui’s. . . in Deer Park, Michigan. . .which is probably a first for both Deer Park and for a Loui’s pizza.

Living on the lake is hard to beat.

Having a sister who sends you Loui’s pizza. . . PRICELESS.

And don't forget to read her "punny message" in the second photo.

#DebtheGreatest: Translation: "One of this sweet world’s rarest finds."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 18, SPECIAL EDITION

If you divvy up Muskallonge Lake into equal slices, it is safe to say that everyone with property has their own little slice of Heaven.

A few years ago, a longtime fixture on Muskallonge Lake, Deer Park Lodge, was sold. After nearly 30 years the previous owners turned over the keys to Rick and Kristi Jackson.

Deer Park Lodge has always been one of the Upper Peninsula’s best kept secrets. The cabins are always full in the summer; a time when most people think the UP is at its best. But ask a snow mobiler or ice fisherman and they will tell you otherwise. It truly is a four season’s destination.

Transitions like this are often hard. When you have the same owner for such a long time, people, especially locals, can be slow to accept the change. But what Rick and Kristi have done with the place is nothing short of amazing. Much of what was there, they didn’t have to change. Why would they when there was already a winning combination in place?

They offer six cabins that can sleep various amounts of people, per cabin. The cabins are available year round with an occasional break during slow times so Rick and Kristi can take a vacation. But if you book a cabin and make the drive, you can literally leave with nothing but the clothes on your back and make a week or weekend out of it. In other words, even though you couldn’t get yourself together enough to pack properly, you will still have a vacation to remember.

The store is stocked with literally everything you need, unless you are one of those “high maintenance city folks” who expect cappuccinos in the morning with eggs Benedict while having your pillow turned and a mint left on top of it.

The store carries the important things like beer, wine, an impressive assortment of liquor and enough food for three square meals a day. You do your own cooking. But they also have clothing, light hardware, books, propane, firewood, souvenirs, candy, personal items, boat and motor rental, a laundry mat, camping supplies, maps, fishing and game licenses and everything a fisherman would need for a successful trip.

They have made some awesome additions to their inventory as well. Forget your gloves, hat or goggles? They’ve got ‘em.  Need your wi-fi? They’ll give you a password. There is a backup generator so you’ll never be left in the dark and if you ask Rick nicely, he might even tell you the best places to fish. Having back troubles or discomfort? Kristi is a Doctor of Chiropractic who had her own practice down state for over twenty years.

While staying at Deer Park Lodge, you have access to some of the best destinations in the UP for fishing, hunting, hiking, rock hunting and star gazing. In the neighborhood, you are only a few minutes from Lake Superior and you are right in the middle of some of the best snowmobiling anywhere in America.

I will post their web site in a follow up message because these days it seems Facebook does something to posts that include links

Rick and Kristi have become fast friends of mine up here. They love what they are doing and it shows and they would LOVE to extend their hospitality to you. Tell ‘em I sent you and they’ll give you a cabin with a great view.

Ok, actually all the cabins have a great view. You won’t regret your decision to come and experience some of the best outdoor living the Upper Peninsula has to offer.

I’m Pete Wurdock and I approved this message.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The great Al Stewart


A few thoughts about Alasteir Ian Stewart

I was born and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan. It is a northern suburb of Detroit of about 60,000 people and the hometown of Glen Frey of the Eagles. I am 55 and the youngest of three children. As a kid I didn’t have much choice of what type of music I could listen to. I had a transistor radio and would be thrilled when I could pick up the Canadian stations and developed a fondness for Gordon Lightfoot when I was only about ten.

My Dad was a high school vocal music teacher who favored jazz like Brubeck or the great masterful choral pieces from composers like Bach and Brahms. My older brother was into progressive rock bands like Genesis and Yes. My sister went for more of the singer/songwriter types, so I heard a lot of James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg and thankfully, Al Stewart. My mother enjoyed all of it.

I knew I loved music. After leaving a small liberal arts college in Michigan I went on to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA to further my knowledge of music and grab a ringside seat in the excitement and passion music brought to people.

All of the styles of music I inherited from my family were important and influential in my career as a musician, playing rock and roll, jazz and show tunes professionally, but never at a “full time musician” level. I also managed a popular singer songwriter from Michigan who had some great regional success with his music, gaining praise from people like Mitch Ryder, Mick Taylor, Bruce Springsteen (who recorded a song with him) and some of the heavyweights in the world of rock journalism

As I got older I developed a deeper appreciation for the singer/ songwriter genera. It took the lead in what I loved to listen to and became a trajectory of where I wanted to go in life. After a while I set aside Genesis, Rush, Yes and Zeppelin but in no way have I abandoned them. Both music and lyrics were always important to me and I’ve spent my life gravitating toward music that “means something” or weaves a great story allowing my imagination to follow it into a deep ethereal bliss like Stewart’s does.

I loved to take in the lyrics and found meaning in them beyond just the appreciation of music. I became a writer later in life and have written five books of various subject matter. Currently, I have entered a dream as I am living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan writing sort of an historical fiction book about a lost locomotive hidden in the woods from the logging era in the late 1800s.

What led me here was a complicated path but there is no question in my mind that the influence of these select few musicians helped shape my style of writing. Which brings me back to our friend Al.

My first real taste of Al occurred when I was in junior high and the DJ played “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” at our Friday night, “sawdust on the gym floor” dances. There was something magical about those songs and it still rings true for me in a nostalgic way when I hear them today. They remind me of who I was then, where I came from and what I was doing at the time I kissed adolescence goodbye.

My sister had a copy of Modern Times and she told me about a song on it called “Apple Cider Reconstruction.” That’s a strange name for a song I thought to myself, but she played it and I loved it. Then I listened to “Carole” and “Sirens of Titan.” The latter wove an exciting narrative and piqued my interest even more into lyricism and I enjoyed the music.

As my brother and sister went off to college, I had to start buying my own records. It helped that I worked at a record store for a while and getting records at a hefty discount allowed me to continue down my path to Al, one record at a time.

By the early 1990s I was completely hooked on Al and knew he would forever hold a coveted spot on my extensive playlist, sandwiched between Gordon Lightfoot, Fogelberg, Genesis, Chopin, Chapin, Yes and Vivaldi.  College wasn’t for me because I wanted to play rock and roll, which I did. My band was on MTV once, LOL. I came from the Springsteen “we learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school” crowd.

I kept up with each of Al’s new releases and then one day I decided to go backward and sought out the older, out of print records like Love Chronical’s, Zero She Flies, Bedsitter Images and the rest. I fell in love with Denise at 16 and it changed the way I began listening to this fascinating songwriter.

I think Al did some of his best work in the 90s and 2000s. He could write and record songs he wanted to, not that he had to for the sake of a record company breathing down his neck looking for a hit single. There is no doubt the breadth of his subject matter would have continued to flourish anyway, but when he made these records he didn’t just head into the studio with his guitar in one hand and notebooks of beautifully written lyrics in the other.

Al Stewart is one of the gifted few who was in the business of doing something magical and often times breathtaking in a dirty and chaotic business. Each time Al went into the studio, he did more than record a new batch of tunes for public consumption. Stewart he went in and created masterpieces which will stand the test of time.

To date, I’ve only seen Al once at a nightclub in Windsor, Ontario Canada and he was in what I call his “rock stage” at the time. Last Days of the Centuries had just been released and, as was the case, he played several selections from it along with the hits. I loved it. I remember running into Peter White in the bathroom before the show but was too nervous to say anything. But I really wanted to meet him. All I could come up with is “Hey, you’re Peter White. We have the same name.” He shot me a look of confusion as he zipped up and got the hell out of there quickly.

The value of Alan Parson’s producing in the seventies breathed additional life into the masterful tunes like Lord Grenville and Palace of Versailles. So when records like Between the Wars, Beach full of Shells and Sparks of Ancient light came out, some of us were just discovering this brilliant man’s ability to recreate history on vinyl and cinematically bring characters, times and places to life with his intense and beautiful vision.

His pallet has always been vivid and rich in color. The listener could imagine themselves on that night train to Munich or on the road to Moscow and could sympathize with characters like Marion the Chatelaine because Al was able to reach through time and channel these people so perfectly that he brought Marion to life again in this beautiful and tragic song.

I felt for her. The first time I experienced the song, I wept for her.

After a rough last three years, I experienced a contentious divorce, a writing career that was stalling out and the beautiful and heartbreaking experience of taking care of my mother 24/7 through her decline of Alzheimer’s disease. But when she passed last September it was nothing short of a sad relief.

Music and life to some degree became flat and dull to me and nothing seemed particularly interesting anymore. It was probably a combination of depression and the invisible Tsunami of grief that hits us from behind when our second parent dies. This is because it brings back memories of when the first one, (in this case my Dad, who passed in 2015) and also intense feelings of sadness and loss.

You can’t stop it and even if you think you can emerge from the grief unscathed, you won't be able to The emotion is hard hit for a human heart to absorb, much less process and live with when suddenly you become an orphan overnight.

Listening to Al Stewart these recent weeks has brought laughter back into my spirit and it feels great to enjoy and absorb this great music again. It has also been awesome reading so many posts about Al and other interesting things from the people in this group. Now when I punch up a file on my computer I don’t just listen to Al’s records but rather I experience them.

In December I moved away from a city someone in my family had called home since the mid-1920s and went almost as far north as the roads allow. It’s calm and peaceful where I currently reside as you can tell by the picture of the road accompanying this post. I am in a small guest house/cottage of a friend sandwiched between an inland lake and the great lake they call Gitchie Gumee; Lake Superior.

Over the winter, which can be quite long up here and deliver over one hundred inches of snow, I am trying to get my creativity and focus back by trying to be a writer again. The guest house I live is perfect. A beautiful lake sits frozen only about thirty feet from me and I watch the sun crawl up over the cloud banks each morning bringing reds, golds and orange colors into the sky while creating a captivating crystal glistening on top of the snow. This is a very remote area and I am surprised that internet service reaches us. I am secluded and have only about five neighbors within a three mile radius. After those three miles, it is another twenty eight miles to the nearest town.

In the spring I will move into that quaint, little town called Newberry, where I hope to resume my life as a writer (born without a trust fund) writing about things that are meaningful to me like Al Stewart. I kid with people when I describe Newberry, telling them on one end of town is a prison and at the other end of the town is a hospital. Ergo, whichever way my life goes I shall be taken care of.

I’ll eventually find some kind of job doing something I love to put food on the table, wine in the cupboard and keep my two Greyhounds fed. But right now I am not in a rush. I can feel myself healing and feel my heart beating again and music, particularly Al’s music, has had a lot to do with it.

The view from my kitchen table, which doubles as my desk, is a peaceful one. Right now the sun is muted and obscured by clouds. Light snow is falling, the blue jays are acting like assholes trying to keep the other birds off the feeder as the windsock occasionally twitches in the cold air blowing in from the lake.

The pine and cedar trees are full of snow and look like a Currier and Ives Christmas card. This morning, one of my Greyhounds, tuckered out after our morning mile must have sensed something emotionally intense going on inside me. So before she laid down to nap, she came and rested her head on my lap insisting I rub her neck and scratch her ears as we listened to “Somewhere in England.”

I have fresh bread baking in the oven and the feel the satisfaction of my two dogs who are sleeping comfortably on their soft beds. Their contentment always brings a smile to my face. I’ve just punched up a playlist for the afternoon: Somewhere in England, Denise at 16, Lord Grenville, Katherine of Oregon, Fields of France, Sampan, Flying Sorcery. Laughing into 1939 and At the end of the day.

And yes, it includes Time Passages; a song whose memory will take so long to fade. It is a subtle reminder to me of what a flicker our existence is.

“Well I'm not the kind to live in the past

The years run too short and the days too fast

The things you lean on are the things that don't last.”

And well. . . I’m sure you know the rest by heart.