The Pere Marquette and philosophical conversation about art, graffiti and lost liberties
By Charles Chandler
Photos by Keith Payne
What can you do when you can’t do what you want to? Experts advise focusing on what you can control and what is in front of you. Good advice, how about that big train going by? Last week I was social distancing with a friend and fellow White Cloud Resident. We were relaxing in comfortable rocking style camp chairs on their property along the White River and the Pere Marquette Railroad. The sun was warm, the Orioles were singing in the branches overhead. The river was sparkling and gurgling along below the bank and a trout fisherman was wading upstream near the iconic wooden Pere Marquette railroad trestle. It was rumored that a nervous doe was nearby trying unsuccessfully to hide an improbable number of tiny fawns. It felt kind of like I was in one of those bucolic Norman Rockwell paintings.
We were enjoying a cool adult beverage bottled in Michigan, some salty fattening snacks, and complaining about our liberties being taken away. We were having trouble determining exactly which liberty we were losing. We knew we were losing something because our President, our Guvnor, and Ted Nugent were talking about our Michigan liberties. It was one of those philosophical moments that senior adults have. Our conversation was interrupted by the whistle of the approaching Pere Marquette Freight Train (PM). Now what to do, weighty decisions had to be made in the moment. Focus on the passing train or the fly fisherman.
Most of the time the PM Freight Train wins. Who doesn’t watch a passing train?
Most of the residents in White Cloud that I hang out with like the PM Freighter. We refer to it as “Our” train. The crews almost always wave. The train is mostly quiet, always slow and their light schedule makes its appearance more interesting than intrusive. Sometimes at our street crossing four or five cars we will have to wait a few minutes when the crew is adding or dropping cars at the feed mill. Sometimes we will see folks do a U-turn to try and find another street to reduce their few minutes of wait time. We have a saying, “what’s the rush if you had someplace to be you would already be there.” As a small rural town, we feel that the train connects us to the larger commercial world.
The other thing the PM does is bring us some of the most interesting and sometimes beautiful boxcar art or if you prefer spray-painted graffiti. I know, I know, but art and vandalism are often in the eyes of the beholder. I am not condoning a destructive criminal act of vandalism. So, before you fire off like a fourth of July bottle rocket there is a continuum here that can be considered. Examples of spray-painted graffiti range from the scary gang symbology, the crude vulgar adolescent scribbling under the local bridge to beautiful expansive urban murals. Yes, there are as many different laws, views, and opinions about spray paint graffiti as there are fleas on a stray dog. In many municipalities spray painting is illegal, unsightly and where forbidden, expensive to remove or cover-up. It is a well known modern problem “whether rural or urban, a big city or small town, graffiti is a persistent issue plaguing communities in America. An estimated $12 billion is spent on cleaning up graffiti per year in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.” Some spray painters are caught arrested, fined, made to pay restitution, or thrown in jail.
What I can speak to is this, graffiti is an ancient human art form and the meaning of the content and the intent of the painter is complex. I bumped into this concept in my first Cultural Anthropology class when Professor Garrick Bailey asked this question. In human development which came first, art or self-awareness. I don’t know but I do think both happened really close together. The act of doing and enjoying art is innate in humans. Humans have for a very long time expressed themselves in various places, forms, and mediums. Today you can see 45000-year-old examples of stylized animals painting in French and Spanish caves. Is it graffiti or art? These images are now universally accepted as an art form done by imaginative Neandertal painters in charcoal and ocher on touch lit cave walls. This form of expression marches from these ancient caves on down through time to the pictographs found in our southwestern rock shelters and canyon walls. Again, graffiti vandalism or art? These examples are symbolic and the content and intent of the peoples that put these images up are lost to time.
Spray painted graffiti is symbolic and a recent pop-cultural phenomenon that developed in the 70s. It began in the dark of night by some pioneer tagger and the motivation was said to be notoriety. The output of these first acts were a few mysterious symbols representing a new urban language that few understood (I personally think it was a protest against Disco Music).
Now it is a global form of communication, still controversial, still illegal, reviled by many, and little understood outside of that subculture and law enforcement. The over the top apocalyptic graffiti that I see is often in the interurban environments, in the poorer, gritty minority neighborhoods. Said to be most often gang-related in a local dialect and never meant to be understood by we travelers.
To that end it has been stated by these vandals or painters that “the voicelessness of our society is something we shouldn’t run away from or turn a blind eye to, we simply must find a way to express our feelings and attitudes, and evoke some kind of reaction in the apathetic culture around us. What better way to demonstrate your thoughts and emotions than to put them on a wall in the middle of a public area for everyone to see, experience, and, ultimately, think about.”
Again, I am not condoning illegal vandalism and spray-painting graffiti on a boxcar is illegal. But I am thinking about it. I know these boxcar spray painters are trespassing and working for hours on their creations in their dangerous railroad studios. According to internet sources, it cost rail car owners about $1000. to repaint the lower half of a railroad car.
With all that said I think the examples we see here in White Cloud on rolling PM freight car galleries are the very best. They are done by modern masters in some dark faraway freight yard. Some of these examples are the fine art of spray-painted boxcar graffiti. From our sunny riverside seat, we watch the PM freight cars roll by. Commenting on each unique example of art or graffiti, we defer the argument. We cannot understand the message, motivation, and probably the wasted talent, but we know good when we see it. The colors, the light and dark shadings, and the forms are exceptional. I am privileged to see this visual feast of human expression.
After the last car we turn back to see if the wading fly fisherman had caught a trout. With our adult beverages in hand we continue our conversation regarding which liberties we are losing while waiting to see if one of the tiny adorable and impatient fawns will show themselves.
Invasive weeds have been an issue on inland lakes for many years and this season is no exception.
In an endearing endeavor to help out grandparents Kevin and Jan Waller with a little weed control cousins Maddox Herin and Jace Pregelli dove in and graciously engaged in some major removal efforts.
Attempts to get them to relocate their work next door to N3 World Headquarters, also inundated with greenery, went unheeded.
Fireworks are a big part of the 4th of July celebration for many folks.
Unless of course you live on a lake, then fireworks seem to be part of a summer-long celebration not bound by any time of day nor time of year restrictions.
But we digress.
The Croton Fireworks have always been some of the finest around with the magic of pyrotechnics illuminating over the pond.
But this year, like so many other other events that have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Croton ‘works will not be lighting up the sky.
From Debbie Wright, Chairperson of the Celebration Committee:
"Just wanted to inform everyone that the Newaygo County 4th of July Celebration Committee has canceled the 2020 fireworks show for Croton Township. The donations that we have received so far will be applied to the 2021 celebration. The committee has discussed a community “stay home, stay safe” celebration. More to come on that as we work out the plans."
And so it goes
One of the most enticing annual events in our area is the Russell H Gilbert Kids Free Fishing Day in White Cloud held each June.
This fishing phenomenon was started by its namesake, the former mayor of that fair city, who wanted to give area kids a day of fun and festivities complete with prizes for the youthful anglers. It is truly a magical time as scores of kids toss their lines into the water at the anointed time and pull out everything from one of the stocked and tagged trout to frogs, minnows, turtles and on one memorable occasion, a mailbox. There are prizes, giveaways, other activities and donuts. Good donuts.
This would have been the 38th year the family and friends of the late Mr. Gilbert would see the culmination of a year’s worth of fundraising come to fruition at the Mill Pond site. But as many local, regional, state and national events have gone, so goes Kids Free Fishing Day.Organizers were forced to pull the plug due to concerns raised by the ongoing pandemic.
“It is with sad hearts that we have no choice but to cancel KFFD for 2020 because of COVID-19,” said Diane Patrick, one of Mayor Gilbert’s daughters. “However we are super excited for 2021 and hope to make it the best ever.”
The event has always been supported through local fundraisers and is unconnected with any other organization which is impressive in itself. KFFD has also proven itself to be an amazingly well organized affair as evidenced by their ability to keep the droves of kids with poles following the guidelines.
As a media person who has covered countless festivals, events and activities KFFD is one that never fails to put a smile on my face. There are so many stories going on all at once in a most pleasing cavalcade of charm and kid inspired chaos. One of my first experiences there was shared with my eldest grandson Quintan who was three years old at the time. While managing to cobble together a story and snap a few photos we spent a fair amount of time untangling fish line since a 3 year old sometimes struggles with patience and the concept of allowing a bobber to remain in place.
Despite the extensive linework and the container of worms that tumbled their way into the pond, that particular year remains my favorite of all.
And now the 3 year old is about to become a senior in high school.
I am certain my recollection of that day is replicated in many manifestations and hold a special place in the memory banks of hundreds of parents, grandparents, aunts uncles guardians and others who have ever accompanied a young angler to this piscatorial party. It is truly an event that inspires fond reminiscence for all involved.
This is the ultimate in family fun and with many fundraising activities put on hold or postponed organizers will be looking at ways to support the belated episode 38 of the KFFD story coming next spring.
Want to help? Check out their facebook page for a few of their current initiatives.
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
The staff at N3 World Headquarters have missed our occasional travels to our metro neighbor to the west. While loving our local dining establishments, Muskegon is also home to some favored fooderies we want to see survive these troubled times.
Our Hands in the Dirt gardening columnist Ms. Iverson responded to our request for Take Out Favorites with this missive on Morat’s, a gem of a bakery if there ever was one.
If you want a place to indulge your taste buds ....a pastry from Morat's Bake Shop at 820 Terrace Street in Muskegon is worth the trip.
A peek inside reveals shelf-loads full of biscotti, scones, muffins, and every kind of donut your heart can desire. Most customers find it hard to buy just one. The bakers also specialize in homemade bread which is cooked on site, including rye, multi-grain, English Muffin, and a bread made from a local brewery's spent grain. Other products for sale are cakes, pies, honey, soups, and store-ground oatmeal. A hot cup of steaming coffee is also available for purchase.
While you can step inside and purchase as many donuts as you can carry, you can also order online and pick up at their drive-up window. The bakery workers pay careful attention to safety wearing both gloves and masks.
Co-owners are Carolee Morat and Dan Castle who opened the bakery on Terrace Street in the summer of 2018. The previous summer they had sold baked goods from a rented chalet in the newly-opened Western Market in Muskegon. The baked goods sold out every day and so they decided to open their own store near the Farmers Market. Today they are both a retail and wholesale bakery. Before the pandemic, they sold to restaurants and schools, but that part of their business has ground to a near halt.
But you shouldn't bet against them. Morat's bakery has a long history in Michigan. Back in the 1920s, Caroliee's great great grandfather, Frank Sherman immigrated from Vienna and opened bakeries in Chicago, Hart, and Reed City. By the 1960s, the Morats owned bakeries in Whitehall, Mears and New Era.
History aside, one bite into one of their donuts will make your day. In addition to ordering online at http://moratsbakeshop.com , you can call to order at 231.722.0202. They are open 7am to 5 pm Tuesday- Saturday.
Writer implores you to ‘Take a Hike’
Story and photos by Charles Chandler
Tired of being homebound? Are you homeschooling and both teacher and students are about to have a meltdown? Looking for something to do that is safe, cheap, healthy, interesting, and fun? Then put on your shoes, get your coat and gather your tired self and the family and go take a hike.
Newaygo County has an abundance of magnificent public lands waiting for you and the family. We are at the southern entrance to nearly a million acres of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. We have easy access to it through a variety of trails, and County, and Forest Service roads. According to Forest Service staff, people visit the National Forests for a couple of reasons. For a resource like firewood or to harvest a deer, fish, or collect wild edibles. Or to enjoy a recreational experience like camping, hiking, boating, or birdwatching. Hunting season is months away so now is time for the recreational folks to hit the woods and waters. Our County is known for its microclimates and within our National Forest, there are many interesting natural communities. These include woodlands, wetlands, prairies, swamps, bogs, fens and marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, and small streams. Here, you will find different trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, insects, birds, animals, and fishes that inhabit these natural communities.
In my opinion, walking is the very best way to experience and explore our National Forest and public woodlands. This is so easy because we live near the North Country National Trail. This national foot trail runs the length of Newaygo County and is well marked and maintained. Access to the trail is available at a variety of local trailheads and road crossings. Just follow the blue blazes and enjoy the scenery. If you are new to the trail or want more detailed information to follow these two-official links. You will find excellent maps for both the North Country Trail (NCT) and the Huron-Manistee National Forest. https://www.nps.gov/noco/index.htm, https://northcountrytrail.org/, https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/hmnf/recreation/natureviewing.
Some of my favorite NCT hiking sections begin at the TrailHead at Croton Dam on Croton Drive. Others are from the 40th street TrailHead to E. Echo Drive. From E Echo Drive to W. Center Line road. From W. CenterLine road to the Highway 20 Trail Head. These are easy family-friendly sections and offer a variety of interesting woodlands, streams, and wetlands. You can do an out and back or spot vehicles and walk from point to point.
Regarding family outings, as a hiker and former outfitter for REI, I humbly offer a few suggestions that may enhance your hiking and walking experience. Don’t overdo it. Match the distance and difficulty of your rambles to the littles and elders. You want the small one to enjoy the experience, their legs are shorter and they have to walk faster and take more steps than adults. The seniors may not have the stamina and need to rest more frequently. Try to separate the kids from their ever-present backpacks. You want them unencumbered so they can skip, hop, run, and generally tumble along the trail. They have been living in a box so when they are outside it is time for them to decompress. Take one pack for water bottles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bird books, bug spray, and so on. Leave room for the jackets and other stuff that will be going on and off as you move along the trail.
This is one for the adults, don’t try to over-control the outing, let the kids be noisy and ask as many questions as they wish. Don’t try to be a world-famous naturalist, it is OK to say I don’t know, haven’t a clue or that is a really good question. Ask them to keep their questions in mind and when they get home have them Google up their answers and share what they learned from their query. Let them be curious and teach them to become situational and self-aware. Ask them to occasionally, stop, look, and listen as they move along the trail. The Forest can be a nosy place when the wind blows and the birds are about. Address their concerns if they mention bears, lions, and tigers, recall that they spend a bunch of time engaged in TV or on small media devices and with their imagination. In Michigan, our terrors are ticks, mosquitos, and black flies.
As the weather warms, find a section to explore that has a small spring-fed stream preferable with a gravel or sandy bottom. When you find one of the gems, turn the kids loose. There is nothing more beautiful than watching small children play in these small streams. Again, adults don't over-manage the situation, so what if they get wet or muddy. The children’s job is to play. This is their work and they are serious about it, this is how they develop their imagination, learn to invent things, collaborate, and become adults. The forest is a wonderful magical place for this to happen. If you do want to become that world-famous naturalist get a copy of A Field Guide to the Natural Communities of Michigan published by the Michigan State University Press.
If you meet other folks on the trail, just step off and maintain your social distance and be courteous.
If you find that you and the family enjoy being out on the NCT walking through our incredible National Forest then do this. Find a section of the trail and Forest that interest you and your family and become patrons of that plot or section. Experience your favorite plot through the seasons and note how it changes and who and what lives or passes through. You will be amazed at how a few acres of forest change throughout the season. Be advised that the Huron-Manistee National Forest is not contiguous, it is a patchwork, that includes different shaped and sized holdings. These acres of public land can be marked by spots of blue boundary paint on trees or those brown carsonite markers or not at all. When I want to ensure that the place I am going to explore is on public lands I check the Land Atlas & Plat Book for Newaygo County. If you don’t have access to one you can always go to the Library and copy the plat of the section that you want to explore. You can also download apps to your smartphone that will give you all kinds of geographical information.
When out exploring the National Forest, I always look for a place that has interesting or unusual features. One favorite is the section around Toft Lake located on Spruce street just north of 40th street. Look for the small parking lot on Spruce. In this section, there are some unusually tall pines and large oaks. Some of these old veterans have long lightning scars that have healed over. There is an old homestead foundation with patches of little blue legacy flowers. There is a small steam, a distinct trail, and miles of sandy two tracks to ramble down. Lots of birds and a resident bullfrog that occasionally sings at the outlet of small Tofft Lake.
Another family-friendly spot is the Loda Lake Wild Flower Sanctuary.
If you haven’t hit your nearby North Country Tail or started exploring our beautiful diverse Huron-Manistee National Forest, hurry, just put your shoes, load in the car, and do it.
Now is the time because the big spring show is about to begin, the trees are leafing out, the birds are here and flowers are starting to appear. The philosophers say that our wild places will save our souls. I suggest that getting everyone out for a walk can save your sanity and social distancing in the fresh air could save your life.
Music Festival Cancels in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
After much discussion and with respect to the ever-changing uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, the Michigan Irish Music Festival board of directors has made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 festival. A variety of details were considered by the board, including the unknown timeline for allowing large gatherings and the comfort level of patrons who wish to attend.
“First and foremost, the safety of our volunteers, patrons, musicians, and vendors was the most important factor in this decision,” said president Chris Zahrt. “It is also important that we make this decision now due to the hundreds of details and months of planning required to produce the Festival.”
Information surrounding COVID-19 changes on a daily basis. The successful execution of the festival involves significant upfront planning and logistics with attendees, vendors, and entertainers from across Michigan, the country, and around the world.
“Everyone is facing challenging times right now, and in order to ensure the long-term success of our event and organization, this difficult decision was the best plan to allow the Festival to move forward,” said Zahrt. “Please stay safe, stay healthy, and know we all look forward to celebrating with you in 2021.”
For those that have purchased tickets in advance, the Festival will contact you within the next 14 days with details via email. The Festival is also communicating with sponsors, volunteers, musicians, and vendors to provide them with details regarding this decision.
There are rituals that announce the coming of summer in this patch of the bipeninsular paradise we call home. Part of these are the festivals and celebrations that are sprinkled throughout the region.
In Newaygo it has always been the Memorial Day Celebration when a winter’s worth of works by crafters find their way onto the tables of dozens of vendors at Brooks Park. Visitors and residents combine to pack the park as well as the downtown eateries and shops holding sidewalk sales.
But not this year.
Like so many festivals that have been shoved to the wayside by the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines involving social distancing and large gatherings Memorial Day 2020 will not see any booths sprouting at Brooks and that coveted first elephant ear of the season will have to be postponed.
Thus far plans are to hold the event during the 4th of July weekend according to a press release from the River Country Chamber of Commerce organizers of the early summer celebration. Additional planning is proceeding in concert with the Newaygo County Health Department, the Newaygo Police Department, Newaygo County Emergency Services and the City of Newaygo.
"The safety and health of our entire community, guests, volunteers, vendors and staff is our first priority and always top of mind when making our decisions,” said Chamber Executive Director Colleen Lynema.
Among area festivals cancelled thus far include Holland’s Tulip Festival, Festival of the Arts in Grand Rapids, Electric Forest in Rothbury and the 4th of July Fun Fest in Hesperia. A bit farther out, two of the state's biggest July events, the Cherry Festival and the Ann Arbor Art Fair have already pulled the plug for this year.
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