The woods were silent yesterday morning except for the roar of truck tires on 131 to the west. The sun was hidden by the morning fog over the field as we walked through the grass trying to find a trail. The state park has been doing the best it can to erase our footprints. Two track trails are cut off by fallen trees and streams that appeared out of nowhere, eroded through the soil and sand, etching its way into the swamp below. The shotgun in my hands wasn’t as heavy as I remembered. The squirrels reminded me just how dumb we are. Creatures with the technology to send us to the moon in our pants pockets can be tricked by the slight of hand of the woods. In the early hours of the morning the woods came alive to the sound of woodpeckers, deer snorting at the scent of two men wearing freshly laundered clothes, crickets in the field, and blue jays fighting over the remains of a nest they bullied their way into. The hunting was good, but it wasn’t great. One rabbit slipped past us disappearing into the three-foot-high grass and we found more coyote tracks than we did deer. At the end of the hunt two unfortunate souls were in our bag. Last night we enjoyed wine, a Chianti and a Spanish red I had never heard of. Both were thoroughly enjoyed over much needed conversation. It is during hard times that we learn who our friends are and receive the comfort that we need. There is a magic in air as I walk through the trails and listen to absolute silence and a good drink is one that is enjoyed with friends. There is still joy to be found in the roughest of seas, calm waters do not make a good sailor. The world has a strange measure of perfection that is expected from everyone but no one can achieve. The woods don’t judge. The world is perfect in its imperfect beauty. It is rare that man will create something that will improve on its own. The empty lots and dilapidated houses of my own town remind me of that. This system that we created will fade away on its own, eaten up by its own rules and horrible expectations. The only solution is to castrate the world and let mankind disappear in a low whimper. Life continues to go on. Is there anything more to ask for than good company, a walk in the woods, some wine, and a full belly. Anything more than that doesn’t matter.
I still remember the day you died, now three years ago but feeling like yesterday. Out of all the deaths I could imagine yours was the one I had the most respect for. It wasn’t the suicide or drug overdose that we hear so much about, although you did flirt with those from time to time. I dread the care facility, the place where you rot away and people forget about you while they steal your stuff. Bedpans and seated showers are not the place for me. You died doing what you always did and weren’t going to stop from old age or loneliness, I know your wife died six months before. It seems like we all have someone waiting for us on the other side. How was it greeting Anthony Bourdain to the other side? I can imagine the feast you had prepared of duck breasts and pigs cooking in every way possible. They are selling his things now and I have seen some of yours. You are scattered around the country now, autographed books, your photo at Dick’s Pour House, French wine, and people still complain that you owe them money. Have a check ready for when they arrive. Tomorrow I will be cooking up a batch of pumpkin bacon soup from one of your favorite cookbooks by Fergus Henderson. The house will smell of bacon and garlic, and I will become fat as I prepare for winter. Hunting season is here and while we don’t have dove or quail in these parts it is calming to be in the woods and clear one’s head that the world always tries to fill with someone else’s gibberish. We all need to get away, even the crickets are singing their song in the city longing for a time that there wasn’t a city, when all of this was theirs and the only concern they had was what to eat and who to breed with. Humans were like that once until things became so damn complicated. What is it about our nature that causes us to destroy the little bit of good that we have? Are we all greedy? Is it some kind of lustful thirst that we can not satisfy pushing us toward our own demise? The empty bag of potato chips beside me might hold the answers. We continue to take until there is nothing left.
The day appeared to be a bust. For some reason I thought that Dick’s Pour House was in Traverse City but I was horribly wrong. Our mission was to hit the peninsula with all of the wineries visible from Traverse City. For years I had heard stories from people about going to Traverse City and how the wine was “soooo amazing.” I had gone on the south west Michigan wine trail several times and found most of the wines to be far superior than anything I had tried from up north. Harrison on the other hand had a different opinion. “I have yet to find a domestic red wine worth drinking.” His taste stayed with the French reds and I had to admit a fondness for Italian reds and the occasional Cotes du Rhone. I found no harm in exploring a region that has been working on creating tasty wine and thought maybe Jim was selling himself with not exploring what was available in the region.
The day started out with breakfast at the Flap Jack Shack, a retro establishment that looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s film with wooden beams holding up a cathedral ceiling, orange seated stools around a bar with a marble top and glass tiled side. The only thing missing would have been shag carpeting but that was likely removed years before due to health code violations.
I chose a sausage gravy omelet while my wife ordered a skillet meal. Zoey had a banana sushi dish coming her way. The place was packed when we walked in. the day was 9-11 and the television wouldn’t let me forget what the day was. For days now I had gone without a television and the one day I try to forget for my own sanity I have to see images of the trade center towers and the pentagon building on fire. Meanwhile the current president is on record stating that trump tower is now the tallest building in New York city on the day that it happened.
After filling my belly and watching zoey cover her face with peanut butter and whip cream we drove through town and went up the county road into the peninsula in search of some good wines. Our first stop was an old school house, Peninsula Cellars reminded me of a few places back home, specifically Texas Corners brewery that also used an old school house for their place of business. The tasting was cheap, $5 for five wines and everything on the menu we tried was to our liking. Not wanting to spend all of our money at one place we bought one bottle and went about our travels. I will say I am looking forward to having Detention again at some point and the Foreign Exchange Student was a delight on my tongue. Take that as you will.
Next on our travels was Bonobo Winery, a scenic place that over looked the wine fields and had a deck that people could enjoy with a glass or five. From the start there were a few things that were odd. It was $12 to try five wines and there were only five wines to choose from. The wines were nothing to brag about and their prices said more about the owners than their quality. As we went through our tasting more people came in and they appeared to be models straight out of a mall shopping catalogue. All the women in this place were blonde and tried to fit some kind of breasts, waist, bust ratio that I was not too impressed with. Hair was blonde and cut to a specific length that wasn’t too long or too short. Blue eyes were either fake or real. Tans were fake, sprayed on by some latin American pool boy.
A storm rolled in and while we were waiting for our last couple of glasses two guys that could have been fill in for the movie Sideways walked in. the mouthy good looking guy kept making comments and asking to do things that were not only never done but also illegal under the law. No, you can’t grab your flight of wines and sit on the deck watching the storm roll in. none of the wines appealed to us and in the end we raced out of the tasting room to the car in down pouring rain to find an antique shop next door to de-douche from the experience.
The antique shop was amazing. A three story barn with tons of things to look over and Zoey found an old metal doll house to test her tetenous shot against. Downstairs I found a copy of Hemingway’s By-Line: a collection of correspondence and articles written by the man over four decades. This was put together after his death but considering how hard it is to find his non-fiction I had to dish out the $16 for this hard cover edition with the dust cover.
Next in line was Bower Wines, the second oldest winery on the peninsula and featuring dogs on many of their bottles. The place was busy and to do a tasting there was to spend an hour waiting for a spot to open at the bar and to wait for the drinks to eventually be poured. I ended up enjoying a 2018 wood free Chardonnay and bought a bottle to take home. I learned a little history of the wine industry for the area but nothing spectacular. Before the 1990s the wine trade did not exist here, so maybe in Jim’s defense they did not know what they were doing at first and his opinion was correct for the time.
The rain cleared and we were on our way. 2 Lads were waiting for us and the place did not disappoint. The view over the lake was spectacular and at first the tasting was a bit of a disappointment. $12 a piece to try five wines and there were a few snacks to enjoy with it. Who ever had the idea of adding a spicy dip to the snacks is a fucking idiot and should be taken out back and beaten. Regardless, the wine ended up being good and I had the pleasure of trying a Cab Franc that was so tasty I paid the $35 for a bottle that I never could justify otherwise.
On our way out of the peninsula we stopped at Brys wines and by this point we didn’t want to do a tasting, burned out on bad wine and over priced samples that said “our stuff is so good you should be pleased that you tried it.” I found the more a place charges the less confidence they have in their product and for good reason. Brys was also $12 for a tasting of five wines and at this point we decided to just buy a glass and sit on the deck. I was a nice view but the point to was to figure out where to go from here.
We had not thought that for ahead and decided to hit Dick’s Pour House regardless of the drive. Dick’s was on Leland Lake and we had 30 minutes of driving to kill. We pulled up to Dick’s and found a small one story diner that had been remodeled several times over the years. There is a famous photo of Jim playing pool in this place and these days there is no pool table to be found. The two lights with green domes still hang from the ceiling but a table top bar now sits under it for people to congregate. Hear heads hang on the wall. The bar has an art deco design from the 1920s or 30s. next to the bathroom entrance hangs the picture of Jim playing pool.
Its easy to see where the table once was and who knows why they decided to get rid of it. I ordered a blue cheese and bacon burger with Horny Monk beer from petosky while my wife ordered a salad. I would learn later that Dick’s was on its third generation of owner and that the people running it still knew who Jim was. Instead of talking to anyone we ate our meal, paid the tab, and left. Dick’s had a similar flare as the Dune Saloon with the taxidermy and old wooden bar, it was easy to see that this was the kind of place Jim would go to. In the corner of the place was the old wooden booth that the payphone would have been in.
We left Leland and went home. The day had been long and involved, and in the end, even Zoey was eager to be done with the day. You know you have done too much when a two year old feels like it had its butt kicked.
My travels took me to Leland Michigan, the county that Jim lived in for a good portion of his life. There, not far from the shore of Lake Michigan is a place called Blue Bird tavern and bar. My wife and I made our way through town first stopping at the Leland book store. Unlike Grand Marais, the book store had a small section dedicated to local writers and half a shelf was filled with Jim’s books. While I have most of his fiction, the non-fiction and poetry can be hard to find. So, I bought Just Before Dark and The Shape of the Journey, a collection of poems including some posthumously released.
The three of us walked through town where my daughter threw a fit several times and had this strange fascination with throwing rocks into the lake. When a duck swam by minding its own business she screamed “DUCK!” and the animal dived under the water, passing by three boats, before resurfacing again at the end of the dock. It is no wonder you have to shoot one out of the air during hunting season otherwise you might never find the darn thing.
Eventually, we made our way to the Blue Bird only to find the front door was locked. I couldn’t find anything posted outside as to what was happening but a woman came around the back of the building to water plants and she explained things to us. “This time of year, the blue bird closes on Mondays. It’s a wonky time of year and they reduce their hours because of the lack of tourist.”
I was disappointed. I had seen photos of Jim playing pool inside and appearing to have a good time. According to some articles I had read this was a usual hangout when he was living at the house. Feeling defeated we left and decided to try and make up for the disappointment with a place across the street called The Cove. Parked outside was an old Buick pickup truck and a boat car, or floating car, or a car with a boat motor. I don’t know what it was called exactly but it was red and looked like something out of the 1950s. The Cove was dark inside with a deck overlooking the bay. The town was a series of old shanties that were in various states of disrepair, the wood, bone dry and never painted, cracked and aged with the seasons.
The special at the Cove was white fish. This surprised me but it also didn’t due to the fact that white fish has no flavor and you can make it taste like anything you want. After much debate and not wanting to spend the money on these options we were reading on the menu we finally decided to forget about the cost and enjoy the deck. I ordered the stuffed white fish and my wife had the fish and chips. Why on earth fish and chips is a $25 dish I will never understand. This is street food, poor people street food. Nothing changed about it. They aren’t stuffing the cheapest fish with foie gras or mixing the batter with unicorn semen. These items are defrosted, battered and dropped in a deep fryer. There is no reason that fish and chips should cost more that ten bucks. But we caved in and waited for our food. Thankfully we did not order drinks.
My meal, for all of its glory can with a salad, hand made roll, a side of mashed potatoes and a vegetable of the season. This season was corn, cooked with butter. I’m not sure who put this meal together or why it was priced the way that it was. The fish was the only labor-intensive item on the menu. The salad was chopped romaine lettuce and only romaine. The mashed potatoes were put on the plate with an ice cream scoop. Then there was the corn. Yes, it was good, yes it was perfect, but for $25 I would expect a little more that half an ear.
Out on the water the little red car drove up the dock and people rushed over to our side of the deck to see it. I already had to deal with the old couple that was turning around glaring at our daughter who was having a bad day and I have to say that she will likely have more of those in her future. The car turned around in the dock and drove back into the lake disappearing in the distance.
The stuffed whitefish, while it was good, the only thing that impressed me was the shrimp and scallops they used to stuff the fillet. The wrapped pieces had paprika dashed on top and the fatty oils balanced the salt sprinkled on top. These two pieces were good and I can not say anything to the contrary. I don’t know if these were anything that Jim might have had, hell I don’t know if the Cove was around when Jim lived in the area. All I know is that a man I know told me that he ran into Jim at the Blue Bird Tavern several times and I would learn more about that later.
We left Leland, bellies full and hoping that we could loosen our belts at the next stop light. That night I pulled out some of my books and found a passage in The Raw and the Cooked where Jim talked about Folgarelli’s and the sandwiches they made there. I mentioned it to my wife and she said it was a place she had wanted to go for years. That would be our next stop but for another day.
On the way home we stopped at Left Foot Charlie and bought some bottles of Cinnamon Girl cider to have out by a fire. One the way home it rained. Zoey took over an hour to fall asleep and we didn’t get to make the fire. It was that kind of day.
School day poems of John Milton. Written at the age of 16 years old, Milton showed promise of being a future poet. This section was found in volume 4.
On the morning of Christ Nativity brought me back to the things I needed to read for religion class. 13 years of religion class is difficult to forget and hearing those words again, regardless of their context, brought back memories from long ago. These days Christianity has a new meaning for me. The stories and mythology were finally explained to me as an adult and not an idiot for once. I don’t know why the church always treated people as if they were simple minded and couldn’t handle the meaning behind what was being said, it took a clinical psychologist to explain the old testament in a way that didn’t make it appear to be a huge pile of infantile crap wrapped in a diaper. So maybe there is something more out there then we could ever understand, things that science doesn’t have answers for. Milton had a talent for poetry, a skill he clearly worked at. Some would say that he was blessed and that the talent came from somewhere else, I would like to think he had the skill and focus to improve something he enjoyed.