Photo and story by Donna Iverson
Every fall, I develop apple nostalgia.
All this goes back to my childhood and the family farm in Whitehall, Michigan. In a rundown orchard, my grandfather grew two Apple varieties, Jonathan and Northern Spy. Always a big fan of children's detective novels, like Nancy Drew, I figured Northern Spy was my signature apple. And I liked a sour apple, so I picked them before they ripened. ..even though I was warned it would cause stomach aches ..which it never did.
I lost touch with Northern Spy during my adult life, when I lived in Vermont. There, I bought my most of my apples at the supermarket, usually choosing Granny Smith, which like Northern Spy is an heirloom variety.
When I retired and moved back to Michigan, I started buying my produce at local farmers markets, and rediscovered Northern Spy.
"Spies for pies," said the woman customer standing next to me at Knudson's Farm stand out of Ravenna. I wasn't planning on making a pie, I just wanted to taste that favorite apple from my childhood.
Back then, I would wander through the "back 40", searching for wild edibles. I considered the orchard to be a source of wild edibles, because as far as I could see my grandfather did absolutely nothing in the way of orchard care . No pruning, no pesticides, no checking for infestations, no harvesting, .....he seemed to give it no attention whatsoever.
But the apples grew in spite of him.. As did the large garden down by the chicken coop, which had as many weeds as vegetable plants.
Fresh from the farmers' market, I brought my apple home and took a bite ..yup, that was the taste I remember, although a little sweeter because it was ripe. Almost immediately, that bite raised questions?
Was Northern Spy a Michigan native apple, I wondered? An online search revealed that Northern Spy originated in upstate New York circa 1800 and is grown today mostly in New York, Michigan and Ontario. It is definitely a northern cold loving apple whose tree produces fruit in October and November. At one time, it was the third most popular apple in the country.
This heirloom apple remains extremely popular along with MacIntosh in this part of Michigan, according to farmer Dave England who grows them in his orchard in Mears. While American taste is trending toward sweeter apple varieties, Northern Spy is holding its own, England said. It's prized for its flavor, not its looks. What it lacks in appearance, it makes up in taste, with a balance of sweet and acidic undertones.
Although the Northern Spy is sometimes misshaped and bruised due to thin skin, it remains the first choice of many people, according to England. Give me a bruised heirloom apple over a modern hybrid any day, said the customer behind me, waiting to purchase this locally grown, open-pollinated variety.
An heirloom apple is one that was grown in the early parts of human history and genetically distinct from commercial varieties, which are bred for bright color, sweetness and ship-ability. Other heritage apples that are grown in Michigan include Macoun, Cortland, Empire, and Baldwin.
Apples are in fact the state's largest fruit crop, and Michigan is the third largest producer of apples in the country, behind Washington and New York. The average US orchard size is about 50 acres. An apple tree can live around 100 years and in colonial times, almost every farm had at least one apple tree.
The Northern Spy is winter hardy and stores well, for the entire winter, in fact. It is especially high in Vitamin C, and is popular for making pies and cider. So if you should run across Northern Spy at the market, give it a taste test and see if this antique apple wins you over.
Photo and story by Donna Iverson
I don't know why I find tree burls so fascinating. Partly, it's because I admire the trees ability to heal itself. And not only that, to make something beautiful out of the injury.
The wood inside the burl is swirled, beautiful and rare. Many of these burls are decades old and grow each year that the tree is alive.
While you may not immediately see the beauty in a tree burl, pretty much any woodturner does. They covet tree burls, transforming them into one of a kind bowls that can sell for hundreds of dollars. And they have been doing it since colonial times.
My first introduction to these exquisite one-of-a-kind burl bowls was at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont which displays these two-hundred-year old wooden treasures alongside handmade quilts, blacksmith art, and pewter cups. Burl is also used to make furniture, guitars and even watches.
Burls are most commonly found on maples, walnut trees, oak and cherry. But burls can grow on any kind of tree that has been subjected to some kind of stress, such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold growth. Once a burl forms, it takes 30 to 40 years to get to a size where it can be transformed into a man-made work of art.
The grain of the burl can be compared to a ball of yarn. It’s as though the tree’s cells went haywire and decided to tie themselves into a knot, according to Kevin Smith, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
Because burls wood is so valuable, a pouchier industry has developed with chain-saw welding thieves harvesting burls in our national forests. The redwood forests out west are especially attractive to burl thieves, as these burls can be several feet in diameter. It has gotten to the point that rangers have positioned cameras to catch these thieves.
While wood artisans and poachers are known to take a chainsaw and cut the burl off the trees, ecologists recommend against it. The burls contribute to the forests ecosystem of growth and regeneration. And if the tree is in your yard, cutting the burl off will kill the tree. So best wait until the tree dies or has to be removed to get your hands on one.
So next time you are out and about and spot one of these surprise treasures still attached to the tree, stop to admire its beauty growing out of deformity. Burls stand as testament to an old time craft that modern technology can not replicate or mass produce.
Story by Donna Iverson
Doll houses. Toy train sets. Miniature soldiers. Lots of us love miniatures. Small things intrigue us, like goldfish, bonsai trees, chickadees.
Add to that fairy doors opening into tree cavities, fairy houses and fairy gardens. If you search around your neighborhood, you are likely to stumble across one of these delightful creations.
Fairy doors are fairly common in Michigan, especially in Ann Arbor which has a love affair with them. These diminutive doors, about 6 to 8 inches high, are found throughout the downtown area, ...numbering up to a dozen small portals nested in city tree trunks.
Residents can leave messages and gifts for the fairies who pass through them ..including small thimbles of honey, shiny objects and copper pennies, their favorite metal.
While fairy doors hold a magical attraction, I am more intrigued with fairy gardens. Fairy gardens often include a fairy house, real plants like creeping thyme, small pebbles, and furnishings sized for fairy beings.
Plants especially attractive to fairies include sunflowers, honeysuckle, yarrow, lilac, daisies, coneflower, lavender, and basically any flower attractive to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Miniature edibles are also a nice addition including cherry tomatoes, wild strawberries, and baby carrots.
The design is as unique as the gardener creating them. If this interests you, there are two approaches: you can go out and buy everything you need to create a fairy garden from a hobby shop or even big box stores. A wooden birdhouse could easily be transformed into a fairy house. And that gnome in your garden will reassure any fairy that your yard is a safe space.
Or, you can take the DIY approach, and begin scavenging for the needed items ..maybe make your own fairy door from a small rectangle of wood. Find a favorite tree to attach it to and then add found pebbles, miniature plants and some doll-sized furniture. This is the recommended approach as fairies prefer nature materials and appreciate the humans who offer them a natural habitat.
Fairy gardens can also be created as indoor gardens, perhaps built on a small surface, like a coffee table. Some fairy garden creators will want to draw out their plans ahead of time and maybe even make a list of needed items. Others may want to start with one item like a fairy house, and add items as they are found or made.
Whatever your approach, you will enjoy creating your fairy garden and imagining the diminutive creature it may attract. Which brings us to the question, do fairies really exist? I'd like to think so. Because if the quantum physicists are correct, that we live in parallel universes, then surely fairies must inhabit one of them.
Story and photo by Donna Iverson
It's that time of year to think like a squirrel. In other words, plan ahead.
If you are as clever as our rodent neighbors, you can have flowers in March, maybe even February. What you need to do is purchase spring bulbs like Galanthus, otherwise known as snowdrops. Then plant them in the ground during October or November at the latest.
Although small and dainty, snowdrops are capable of pushing through snow cover or frozen dried leaves and covering your lawn in white bell-like flowers. They are the first spring bulb to announce spring, even though spring may still be months away in Michigan.
Like many of my favorite spring flowers, snowdrops originated in the wild. It is native to Eastern Europe and Russia. Eventually, it was brought to England during the time of Shakespeare, who claimed it as a native, although it wasn't. And then on to America.
Today the plant has been cultivated into many varieties, including double-flowered ones. But I am remain partial to the common single flower native.
When you purchase your bulbs, plant them immediately and do not let them dry out. Snowdrops will grow under a deciduous tree in partial shade, as they originated in damp moist woods and along river beds. They can easily be naturalized in a shady area of your lawn where there isn't heavy foot traffic. They will be finished blooming by mowing time. You will need about 10 to 25 bulbs for a good showing. It is also possible to grow them in a pot on your deck, if you are an apartment dweller.
Reportedly, snowdrops are toxic to cats and dogs, but they would have to eat the whole patch before suffering ill effects, like nausea. As for humans, the snowdrop contains an alkaloid called galanthamine, which scientists are experimenting with it as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
In the wild, their habitat is threatened. In Europe, it is illegal to dig up and collect the bulbs.
As for the history of the plant, it was once called Candlemas Bells, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It can still be found in many churchyards, where it has escaped back to the wild. Symbolically, it represents hope and light. During WWII, the English referred to US army military police as "snowdrops" because of the white helmets they wore.
Today, if you are a collector of snowdrops species, you can call yourself a "galanthophile."
Happy spring. ..even if it is October.
A visit with Mr. Verne Williams White Cloud’s Amateur Radio Operator Extraordinaire.
By Charles Chandler
Mr. Verne Williams grew up near the Diamond Lake Tavern and has been a resident of White Cloud for a while. Of some local notoriety, he is the only baby ever born on the Hospital steps at Gerber Memorial Hospital. In White Cloud as you travel east on Pine Hill and immediately alongside the Pere Marquette railroad track you will notice Mr. Vern William’s home. A most interesting place and probably a perfect metaphor for Mr. Williams. It is small, compact and tastefully decorated with wind chimes, whirligigs, solar panels, U of M signs, bird feeders, and bits and pieces of electronic hardware. If you are not sure what is going on at this location just glance upward and count the antennas. There are about 23 and most were designed and built by Mr. Williams from repurposed and salvaged materials. This structure is Mr. William’s home and his Amateur Radio Station. Mr. Williams or KC8FUV is the well-known “go-to technical guy in the Amateur (Ham) radio world.” Amateur or Ham is a term that is used to differentiate Amateur radio or not for profit radio from commercial or for-profit radio.
This front porch interview is about Verne and his views on the value of radio. For the technical folks, this is not going to be a TED talk. You can contact Verne and he will be happy to answer your technical questions about the science of Amateur Radio. I have had applied physics and understand radio at an academic level and spent some time in aircraft radio racks. However, I think that the phenomenon of speaking into a microphone and attaching that human voice to an energy wave and it is received and understood in Ludington, or London England by another Ham operator is pure and simple magic.
Verne “has always enjoyed communication and started his career and hobby at about eight years old with a tin can and a string set up. His parents soon bought him a walkie talkie set and “I was hooked on radio communication for probably the next 60 years.” He has worked in “public and business band communication servicing and installing communication systems. He did a tour in the Army as a Communication Specialist and then began service and repair work for the likes of the Muskegon County Fire Departments. “I have been the Emergency Services Coordinator for Amateur Radio for Newaygo. Head training coordinator for Emergency Service Amateur Radio Training for Newaygo, Muskegon, Osceola, Lake, and Mecosta counties.”
He has also been a member of the US Army MARS Program. It is the “Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) a United States Department of Defense-sponsored program, established as a separately managed and operated program by the United States Army, and the United States Air Force. The program is a civilian auxiliary consisting primarily of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in assisting the military with communications on a local, national, and international basis as an adjunct to normal communications. MARS has a long history of providing worldwide auxiliary emergency communications during times of need.
“The range of Ham radio transmission is not known and no one knows how far these transmissions can travel. Some operators with the right kind of antenna systems can do a moon bounce. We can aim the antenna on a particular angel at the moon and then bounce a signal to a different place around the earth. It is like shining a flashlight at an angle on a mirror. The light will then reflect off at an angle to another spot in the room.”
Exposing the depth of my deficiency on the subject I asked Verne who and where was his audience?
“See those radios antennas on my vehicles and the house here? My audience is other Amateur radio operators wherever they may be and we discuss a variety of topics. Technical topics, hunting, autos, really most any appropriate topic. My favorite quote is from Walter Cronkite. He was a Ham operator and said ‘Amateur Radio Operators are all but Amateurs’. Radio is not only our hobby but becomes a big part of our lives. We do things to serve the public.”
According to Verne, the 9/11 disaster and other major disasters are the times with they provide assistance. During those tragic events, most communication links fail. They become overwhelmed, the 911 systems and most phone systems become overloaded and fail,. At this time those Armature Radio operators that have backup power, step up and provide limited communication services where other communication systems are failing.
This correspondent has experienced these failures on three different occasions. The first was during the Terrorist Attacks on the New York Trade Towers. I had been with friends on a mountaineering outing on Mt Saint Helens the day before the event. On September the 11th I was on an early morning American Airlines flight from Portland down to Dallas. After about 30 minutes we were diverted back to Portland. After we landed everything went quiet and I spent the next 5 days making my way back to Dallas. The other two times were during the Houston hurricanes. I tried for a couple of days to contact my kids to see if they had evacuated or were now on their rooftops. Very troubling times.
“We always welcome new people that want to get started in Ham radio. I am happy to answer questions about and mentor anyone wanting to get involved in Ham Radio. For who we are, “in the beginning, Ham radio operator were mostly men, not necessarily by design but by interest, I guess. But slowly and surely more and more women became HAM operators. Now we have a great number of women who are Ham Radio operators. Ham Radio is very democratic and is open to anybody that takes the time to study, pass the exam and get a license to go on the air. There are no color barriers. no gender barriers, no race barriers, no ethnicity barriers, no religious or even age barriers to becoming a Ham radio operator. There is family over in Howard City and the mother, father, and eight-year daughter are all Ham operators.
Verne mentioned that now you don’t need to know Morse Code to pass the exam. “The United States Federal Communications Commission phased out this requirement for all license classes on 23 February 2007.” It appears that you can get an entry-level Ham radio set for around $300.00. Verne suggested that you should build your antenna. He pointed to several rooftop examples that he had constructed from found items and old TV antennas.
Verne said that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He has soldiered through two rounds of treatment for esophagus, stomach and brain cancer. “Normally people with my type of cancer live three to seven months after treatment. I have stayed very upbeat about my situation and have not thrown in the towel and am still here. Each day I get up and try to find some way to contribute to Ham Radio. I build antennas, service radios, and microphones, design and build radio parts that you can’t get elsewhere. I have done this my whole life and will continue as long as I can.”
“Lately, I have been dedicating a lot of time writing a book to leave behind to the Ham radio community. My purpose is to compile and document my years of experience, and knowledge in hopes that is can be used by other Ham operators. Creating this book that will help dispel some myths about Ham Radio and give a lot of information that other beginners or operators can have for free. I don’t want to Copywrite the book because it is not about making money. My only request is that if someone gets a copy, they make another copy and then pass that one on to someone else. I just want to be a productive member of society.”
Well just shut the door. He didn’t state it specifically but it was obvious that Verne valued Amateur radio and felt strongly enough about its value that he is spending his precious time passing his technical and tribal knowledge along to other operators. Sitting on Verne’s front porch listening to his smooth radio voice and the occasional passing car bump over the railroad crossing was one of those rare moments that makes you pause and say thanks for the gift.
SideBar: “For additional information about becoming an Amateur Radio Operator click on this link https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/mobility-division/amateur-radio-service.
Many people start their involvement in amateur radio by finding a local club. Clubs often provide information about licensing, local operating practices, and technical advice. Newcomers also often study independently by purchasing books or other materials, sometimes with the help of a mentor, teacher, or friend. Amateur radio enthusiasts have significantly contributed to science, engineering, industry, and social services. Research by amateur operators has founded new industries, built economies, empowered nations, and saved lives in times of emergency. Ham radio can also be used in the classroom to teach English, map skills, geography, math, science, and computer skills.”
The NCCA-Artsplace Fall Community Photography Contest is a free annual contest for all ages and all levels of skill. The 2019 contest 53 entries and award winners were selected by Jackie Danielson.
The first place award was given to Mark Andrews of Newaygo for his photograph “Chairs on a Dock”. Second place was awarded to Wyatt Wright of Newaygo for the entry “Autumn's Reflection” and Ashley Wittenberger of Newaygo was awarded third place for “Sun Bee”. Honorable Mention awards were given to Jonathon Soto of Newaygo for "Estrella", Tracy Hill of Cedar Springs for "Crossing", and Nan Pokerwinski of Newaygo for "Bounty".
All entries will be on display through October 26 in the corridor gallery at NCCA-Artsplace, 13 East Main Street in downtown Fremont.
By Terry Grabill
Fall is an interesting time to be a birder. To me, spring migration is so much easier to get excited about. The process of emerging from the blanket of winter in Michigan is a tremendous rush of fresh and new. Anxious to find what nature has brought north I’m happy to scour the marshes and woodlots in hopes of seeing old friends in their bright breeding plumage and singing all the way.
Fall migration is a real thing and brings the breeding birds and young south from their Canadian summer homes. Maybe it’s the lament of the passing summer that makes me less excited to get out in the field. Maybe it’s that these southern migrating warblers are just not the bright jewels dancing in the trees that they were a few short months ago on their journey north. Roger Tory Peterson, the father of modern birding, dedicated whole sections of his field guides to these “confusing fall warblers”. I’d like to think that I don’t value the spring versions more. Perhaps I’m just vain enough to feel better when I’m birding with friends in spring when I can identify most male warblers at a glance and while they’re singing. Fall warblers are often left as “some little warbler” in my notes. I don’t bird with people much in fall…it’s harder to show off!
Fall migration, if you can call it that, begins well before the celestial autumnal equinox. Shorebirds start moving south as early as late July. It boggles the mind that these tiny sandpipers and plovers should fly such a distance (often from Southern South America) only to reproduce, get their babies fledged, and turn around in mid-summer. August on the mudflats is a terrific place to see these incredible travelers. By the first of “fall” the shorebirds are well south. Around us, flocks of blackbirds make rivers of black over forests and fields. These are red-winged blackbirds, grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, and starlings. Their cloud-like flocks are often seen to flow in a phenomenon known as a murmuration.
Waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) also migrate south in fall. Their journey is much later than songbirds. Many only go as far south as is necessary to find open water to feed in. Several species of ducks from the far north winter on our Great Lakes. Winter is a great opportunity to see long-tailed ducks and scoters as well as an occasional eider. Canada geese and mute swans are common after the others have gone to warmer climes. Andrea and I are outside often on fall evenings and will sometimes catch a white cloud of migrating tundra swans barely visible against the dark gray night sky. They mark their passing with a constant whistling through their wings.
I’ve only recently paid attention to sounds in the sky at night in late summer and fall. I suppose I’ve never paid attention to it before because I find it an intimidating ID challenge. On quiet evenings in late September and into October, night-migrating songbirds are talking all the way! A few nights ago, while Ann and I were saying goodnight to nature on our porch, we heard a chorus of call notes and chips moving over us. Man, I wish I had any clue what species we were hearing! I just muttered, “Kenn (Kaufman), would be able to ID all those calls”. Kenn is a real-life birding legend that we’ve had the good fortune to bird with in the past.
Fall is a special time for birds. Along with Spring migration, it’s a time that reminds me that these little travelers are a group of animals that truly connects our world. They’re not bound by political or geographical boundaries. It’s humbling to watch these tiny creatures and imagine the things they’ve seen and the trials they’ve faced. I think I like fall birding more than I knew.
For BirdGoober.com, I’m Terry Grabill
Photo and story by Donna Iverson
It's the Great Pumpkin time of the year. Like he does every year, Linus will be out in a field somewhere awaiting its arrival. Hoping that 2019 will be the year that the Great Pumpkin appears on Halloween with presents for believing children. He's been waiting a long time. Since 1959 in fact, when the first Shultz cartoon appeared featuring the Great Pumpkin. Followed by a classic TV special in 1966 called "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown."
While he waits, smaller, lesser pumpkins are springing up all around us. ..in our gardens, in our stores, on our steps, and decorating our living spaces. We can't seem to get enough of the lesser pumpkins.
But this year, Michigan residents may find those local carvable pumpkins harder to find. Farmers and gardeners report our pumpkins are not turning orange but remaining greenish orange due to a wet summer. And prices may be higher.
Looking into the history of the pumpkin, it turns out to be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables and is native to North America. Pumpkin seeds have been found as far back se 7000 BC in Mexico. Native Americans used it as a staple in their diet, as did the early colonists who cooked pumpkin stew, baked pumpkin bread and created pumpkin pie.
A member of the gourd family, along with cucumbers, cantaloupe, zucchini, and watermelon,
pumpkin is a good source of Vitamins A and B as well as potassium and iron. Planted in late May, it takes 120 days to fruit. And biologically, pumpkin is actually a fruit and not a vegetable.
It is grown on all seven continents, except Antarctica. And the way things are going, it may soon find a home there.
Several Midwestern states are the top pumpkin growers in the country, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. ..all a zone warmer than Michigan.
As for size, the average pumpkin weighs about 7- 18 pounds. The record for the worlds' largest pumpkin is held by a Belgium man, with a Guinness World Record weight if 2,624 pounds. The US record is held by a New Hampshire man, with a pumpkin that weighed in last year at 2,528 pounds.
As for me, I will settle for a pumpkin latte, made at my favorite corner coffee shop.
Story and photos by Donna Iverson
Something about plants with purple flowers have always attracted me ...whether it's a wildflower, like purple trillium; a weed-like creeping bellflower or a spring-flowering bush, like lilac.
About this time in late summer, it's New England Aster that catches my eye as it has escaped to the wild and can be found in the most unlikely places. Of course, I love the cultivated variety of aster too, especially when it appears in my garden bed unexpectedly like the one pictured here. I imagine it's seeds blowing in the wind and steering their way to my community garden bed.
But my first love when it comes to asters, is the native New England Aster. This year, I found it flowering along the Lakeshore Bike Trail which follows an abandoned railroad track. New England aster signals that fall is near, along with goldenrod and the ubiquitous chrysanthemum.
Although it is a wild native plant, you can grow New England Aster in your garden. Like most native plants, it is drought resistant and can tolerate less than fertile soil. Plant it in full sun if possible. While you can start it from seed, it is probably best to buy small plants from your farmers market or plant nursery. Seeds can take up to three years to produce flowers. It would be at home in a wildflower garden, rock garden, border or even a formal garden as an accent plant.
Deer avoid it and it isn't toxic to horses or dogs, although it is poisonous to cats, so probably not the best plant to grow if you have felines.
As for pollinators, New England Aster is a winner in this category too. It attracts butterflies including the Monarch, bees and goldfinch who eat the seed. Often it is the last flowering plant of the growing season, providing much-needed nectar for pollinators and a burst of color before winter sets in.
Checking on its range, it turns out to be winter-hardy in lower Michigan and is found throughout New England, the Midwest and even the Southwest.
Foragers seek out New England Aster as it is leaves and flowers are edible, They can be added to salads or brewed into tea. And again, the Native Americans are ahead of us on this, harvesting New England Aster as a food crop hundreds of years ago.
Other cultivated plants in the aster family include marigolds, chrysanthemums, calendula, and zinnias. In fact, the aster family is the largest family of flowering plants in the northern latitudes.
In ancient times, it was considered an enchanted flower and it scent was believed to drive away evil serpents. Yes, serpents. Aster is also the talisman of love and symbol of patience. For those of you born in September, it is your birth flower.
Michigan POW Camps in World War II at Fremont Library
Live @ the Library, a series of events including author visits and writing workshops is welcoming Greg Sumner to the Fremont Area District Library to present an interactive slide show about his book Michigan POW Camps in World War II which will feature the camp in Fremont.
During World War II, six thousand German and Italian war prisoners came to Michigan. They picked fruit in Berrien County, harvested sugar beets in the Thumb, cut pulpwood in the Upper Peninsula and maintained parks in Detroit. While the work programs were not without their flaws, many of the prisoners established enduring friendships with their captors. Author and U-D Mercy history professor Gregory Sumner tells the story of these detainees and the ordinary Americans who embodied our highest ideals, even amid a global war. This free program will begin in the library’s Community Room on Tuesday, October 8th at 7:00