Sunday, April 25, 2021

Life between the Lakes, part 42


There has been an increasing number of flying fish over Muskallonge Lake since the spring thaw. This is not a new species of fish, but rather the unlucky ones who end up in the talons of the Bald Eagles and Osprey.

From a distance, it’s easy to tell an eagle from other birds. While many of them fly by flapping their wings and going against the wind, the eagles appear to be the ones controlling the air. The way they rise, dip and glide above the tree line commands respect and leaves me in perpetual awe. But often I wonder if they take time to enjoy the view or are only on a constant search for food?

Trout season opened this weekend and currently, the folks at Pine Stump Junction are hosting a trout tournament, sponsored in part by Bells Brewery. The largest fish between now and next Saturday, May 1st, will be declared the winner. Please play fair. No stocked fish from lakes are allowed. Pine Stump also now has the Michigan lottery up and running. You can stop by and play Club Keno or to buy tickets for your favorite lotto games.

The Foster Camp at High Bridge on 407 was in full swing for the trout opener. As a kid I remember my Dad would always mention the great Ernest Hemingway as we crossed the Two Hearted River at High Bridge by their camp. And for years the story confused me and I thought Hemingway was the one who lived in the cabin you can see from the road. Oh, the sweet confusion of youth!

Fishing is on and live bait at Deer Park Lodge is back. They have crawlers, worms, spawn and wax but won’t be getting minnows for a while yet. The recent walleye survey of Muskallonge Lake was promising for anglers, showing significant growth in numbers for the mature adults. This week I got my fishing gear out of my storage area and hope to hit the water soon, though I am not sure exactly where just yet.

I walk my retired Greyhounds, Jack and Needa twice a day along County Road 407.  They always identify areas along the road where animals have crossed and Jack never misses an opportunity to lift his leg and mark a spot. I hear animals in the woods and sounds I cannot explain along this road. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest, when no one was there to hear them; thus answering the age old question.

In years past, the lake often looked the same to me every day but since the thaw, it changes every second. The water lapping on my feet today is the same water that I swam in as a kid, replenished by snow, rain, and underground springs and purified daily by God.

On Wednesday morning, during sunrise, there was a cloud-bank that resembled a chain of humpback whales, parked in mid-air over the south side of the sky. They played follow the leader, inching westward at their own pace.  At the same time, the blinking communications tower I can see on County Road 410 went from red to white and the yard became alive with winged movement as a new day was ushered in.

I could do many birds a favor by taking out the bully raven who hogs the bird feeder. But I won’t.

When he leaves the birds hiding in the trees rush to the feeder. Maybe they have an arrangement that I am not aware of? Maybe he protects the smaller birds from other prey, but I tend to doubt it. After all, every bird on earth has the same motive; survival.

Each day I am introduced to a new bird call and a new burst of color in the forest catches my eye. The birches seem whiter. The pines look a little greener and become more fragrant. Early ground cover is springing up all over the place along with the daffodils and crocus.

But I am greying. The faces of my dogs are turning white while the birds outside never seem to age.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 41


There are only two establishments that are consistently open and qualify as social stops between Deer Park and Newberry. The first is the famous Deer Park Lodge at the east end of Muskallonge Lake, which I have written about before. They offer cabin and boat rentals and have an amazing general store that can accommodate almost anything you need within reason. The second is another famous stop along County Road 407 called Pine Stump Junction.

Prior to the Drink Shack/Cookery that currently operates there, the history of pine stump is simple but fascinating. In the late 1800s, while many areas had post offices that were inside a saloon, store or other structure, Pine Stump was an unmanned post office while the “Rural Free Delivery (RFD) system was implemented.

Located in a remote part of the Upper Peninsula, the junction was marked by a huge pine stump with a big iron mailbox attached. The mail that arrived via-Newberry (the closest town about 20 miles to the south) was left in the box to be picked up by people from the camps along the Grand Marais-Paradise road that ran east-west and the Deer Park Road that ran north and south.


Seriously. I wonder how many love letters were intercepted in those days and how the absence of return mail impacted the lives of young adults. Think about it.

When the settlement of Deer Park was established they formed their own post office and the service between the two points continued as a north-route from Newberry to Lake Superior while the east-west route remained in place.

This week I went to Pine Stump to have a couple drinks and let someone else do the cooking for a change.  I sat at the bar and ordered a round and it wasn’t long before an older couple I knew from down the road came in, said hello and immediately began socializing. The wife sat down and began a conversation with the waitress/barmaid while her husband chatted with me. A few minutes later a group of men entered and sat down at one of the large tables.

When the waitress came to take their drink order my friend politely excused himself and walked toward the table.  I heard him ask if any of them were former military and could tell by the responses that some of them were. I heard him offer to buy them a drink as a small token of appreciation for their service to our country. They all sat and chatted for a while. I tip my hat to you Jim. You are a great American.

He returned to his wife’s table when their pizza arrived. I was at the bar so I turned around and formed a sociable triangle with them. Between the three of us and the waitress, the four of us chatted for a while about nothing in particular other than the, occasional power outages, the largest snowfall of the last 20 years and the way the northern lights can turn the sky from green to dark-red, to white before disappearing after their shimmering display of beauty is complete.

The bar/grill know as Pine Stump has gone through several owners during its existence. It has turned over three times in about the past ten years with each new owner bringing their own energy and visions for improvements and prosperity. It is a hotbed in the summer and offers occasional live entertainment.

The menu has also undergone some changes which have not been popular with  me and those who have taken my informal survey as well as insider information I gather during my stealthy recon missions. (Bring back the Jumbo Chicken Wings Rob, and make your pizza great again.)

I realize it is a difficult task to leverage a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The food supply is limited and the rising cost of getting items from one place to the next can be staggering when you are trying to make payroll and post a profit, especially with the challenges of Covid.

They’ve been doing an incredible job at Pine Stump during the pandemic, especially during this year’s short and less profitable snowmobile season. I will continue to patronize this great place even if some of the items on the menu fall short of what my pallet desires. After all, the atmosphere cannot be beat!

In the old days, resorts, tourist attractions, hotels and places like this used to have guest books, where people signed in, putting a stamp on the arrival of their vacation. It was done mostly as formality and also because it was a fun thing for families to do. Pine Stump used to have and use them but the tradition seems to have become lost.

While I was there I went through some of the old guest books. Unfortunately, they skip around a bit and there are big chunks of time missing in the volumes. All of the entries were etched on the parchment, either in pencil, pen, magic marker or an occasional sharp crayon.

I found several entries from my family that occurred between 1989 and 2013. When I flipped through the pages, I saw what seemed like almost every city in Michigan but still managed to learn a few new locations.

There is something magical about this area. Whether you call it “up north,” or “the UP,” it holds a magic and beauty that is easy to recognize yet hard to define. Many people return to the area because they’ve never found another place like this. I believe them and I know why they return.

There are sacred family stories etched in these books with very few descriptive words. It doesn’t take much to create a lasting memory in these parts; just your name, your hometown and the date you were there.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Life between the Lakes, part 40



Muskallonge Lake had its first fisherman of the season last week. A teenager from St. Clair Shores got his Grandmother’s old Evenrude working and launched the Alumicraft into a chilly Muskallonge Lake.

Outboard issues plagued his three or four trips but the payoff came with the sweet smell of the gas/oil mix when the motor kicked in allowing him to glide across the otherwise empty lake and bring in a nice Northern Pike, which was caught and released.

Last week there were DNR personnel on the lake conducting a survey for Walleye to measure the natural reproduction of the fish after the fisheries completed some stocking a few years ago. I know a guy who took some beauties when the lake was frozen, so it is encouraging to see the continued growth and expansion of the population.

We had a lot of fog last weekend and on the afternoon walk with my dogs we heard a freighter passing the site of the old Deer Park Lifesaving Station blasting its horn. The fog on the big lake looked like a steam room set on high.

The freighters have what is known as “Restricted Visibility Sound Signals.” Regulations state that a power-driven vessel making way through the water must sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes one prolonged blast.

A friend of mine who currently resides in Point Lookout near Au Gres on Lake Huron introduced me to an app called “Boat Watch.”  This app shows real time positions of ships on the great lakes, their names and what type of vessel they are. She alerts me when she sees a freighter and I make note to see if it is within my sight after its journey through the Soo Locks. With the shipping lanes reopened, the traffic on Lake Superior has been full speed ahead.

A few days later, snowflakes, the size of Kennedy half dollars, were dropping like lead as the precipitation on the radar stretched from Houghton to Sault Ste. Marie and northward and from Engadine halfway to Hudson Bay up in Canada.

When it comes to weather, Meteorologist Karl Bohnak has been my trusted source for as long as I can remember. I invented a game with family and friends surrounding his weather reports. After Mr. Bohnak gives his “exclusive radar forecast” everyone in the car guesses what the DJ will say at the end of his report. It is usually: “Thanks Karl,” “Thank you Karl,” “Thanks very much Karl,” “Thank you KB,” or any variation thereof.  I haven’t had a visitor since New Year’s Day and I was trailing 3-2 at that time.

Maybe I need to get our more.

The geese honk at my dogs and I on our morning walk and we routinely (but not intentionally) flush out ducks from the cover of Cranberry Lake on our afternoon mile. The other we witnessed  hundreds of earth worms committed suicide on CR 407 after the pavement ends in a muddy stretch of road.

The neighborhood ravens, whom I have named Mr. and Mrs. Evermore, seem to know we walk every day at three o’clock and squawk at us, hoping I will drop some scraps for them to eat. If I do, they are gone by the time we turn around for home. If I don’t, they badger me up and down the road. Sometimes this alerts a cluster of hawks who glide in slow circles above and follow us down the road. It is a great feeling to be so close to nature.

This was my week to get sick. I was impressed by the efficiency of the Gibson Family Clinic in Newberry, who tested me for Covid (I was negative) and began treating me for a case of bronchitis. Kudos to Aunt Carla who drove to town to pick up my prescriptions, which have improved my condition every day. In the meantime,

Tiger Jack Burke and Anita Wood (my greyhounds) have not missed their daily walks. I tell people that taking care of my greyhounds is like being a mail carrier in my variation of the mail carrier’s oath: "Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Sleet, (we’ve had them all this week) Nor Dark Of Night (nor illness) Shall Stay These Couriers From The Swift Completion Of Their Appointed Rounds. 

Life between the lakes assures me that living in the Upper Peninsula is never boring and nothing is ever predictable. Everything changes and evolves at God’s pace and we would be fools to try and pretend we know what is coming next.

The worst case scenario is that the world keeps on turning. While the best case scenario is pretty much the same.