The day after Christmas we headed Up North 150 miles into Antrim County, an outdoors lover’s paradise. We made our base in Mancelona with its proximity to the Shanty Creek mountain system: Summit and Schuss mountains.
We stayed at a chalet in the Lakes of the North community; a sprawling development in the woods complete with an indoor pool inside a clubhouse.
A network of trails weaved through the entire area making it ideal for snowmobiling, Nordic skiing or snowshoeing.
Shanty Creek Resorts near Bellaire were approximately 20 minutes away. Schuss Mountain with 450 feet of vertical drop offered downhill skiing for both kids and adults. The “Bunny Hill” was serviced by a Magic Carpet; moving escalator on the ground. The Cedar Creek Lodge at the foot of the hill offered respite from the brisk wind. A shuttle communted between Schuss and the lodge.
The ski school was in full swing with people falling all over tied to their skiis. We wanted to do dog sledding on Saturday, but due to low snow cover, it was postponed.
Any winter sport including mountain biking on a fatty bike could be spotted here. We ate our lunch at the River Bistro inside the lodge beautifully decorated for Christmas.
Jake with family explored Summit Mountain which brough back memories. Back in the 1990s, it was only known as Shanty Creek. That’s where Jake learned how to ski. Coming full circle, he was now teaching his own kids, Josephine and Dominik, the old skiing tricks.
As the saying around Shanty Creek Resorts goes: “Teaching new pups old tricks.”
Little town of Bellaire
Bellaire is probably best known for Short’s Brewery, Bee Well Meadery, Hello Vino and stores like Little Treasures and the Flying Pig. When the snow conditions are not good for skiing, Bellaire provides a back-up plan.
“We call it Halloween here, when the slopes are deserted,” said the clerk at the meadery.
Some of the sweet mead creations here were: Apple Pie and Cherry Vanilla.
The town of Central Lake is home to Bachmann’s General Stores and Mammoth Distilling; both are great sites to explore.
“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” read the storefront.
Truly, you could find here anything from hardware to books, and everything in between.
The “Cherry Bounce” bourbon was one of the many hand-hewn products at Mammoth with the actual still in the back.
Discoveries “Chain of Lakes”
Our team’s biggest discovery was the “Chain of Lakes,” a natural waterway traversing 80 miles across 14 lakes and rivers. The chain starts in Elk Rapids and ends in Ellsworth.
Recently, it was designated as the first water trail in northern Michigan to encourage water preservation and engagement with nature. According to the DNR, it will positively impact local economies of towns along the water trail and encourage healthy lifestyle.
The water trail was designed for non-motorized watercraft and fishing. The water trail has 81 access sites managed by 16 governmental jurisdictions and non-profit organizations that stretch through four counties: Antrim, Charlevoix, Kalkaska and Grand Traverse.
“We’re coming back in the summer,” was the consensus of our team.
Lowell, MI- I walked into Bob Kietzmann’s farm on Grand River Drive yesterday, in the wake of the bad news of Monday’s frost damage to Michigan asparagus.
The barn was empty with all but a scale and a can with the label touting asparagus for $2.50. Empty yellow caddies were laying all around. There was also a black notebook, the Kietzmann’s Asparagus Ledger for people to sign off on their purchases. The sale of asparagus at the farm has been based on an honor system since it started 24 years ago.
Usually, there are yellow boxes loaded with firm green stalks of asparagus, people digging in and picking for the best ones, and a bunch of recipes on the table. The bustle lasts well into mid-June on a normal year..
And the week of Mother’s Day is always the busiest time for asparagus, according to owner Bob Kietzmann.
It didn’t take too long for Kietzmann to arrive on the vacated barn scene. Yes, there wasn’t even a sales sign off the busy road that parallels I-96, near the Lowell exit.
“Can we help you?” asked Kietzmann.
“Sure, I want some asparagus,” I said.
“Well, the good guy up there arranged that we won’t have any, until next week,” said Kietzmann tilting his hat as he squinted into the late afternoon sun. “Mine froze too.”
We walked into Kietzmann’s sunlit office to chat about the asparagus that has been damaged by the frost. Kietzmann estimated he lost approximately 20 percent of his crop.
“It’s really hard to say,” he nodded.
Three years ago, kids from the Saranac FFA (Future Farmers of America) planted 50,000 crows of asparagus over four nights on a six acre parcel.
“It takes six years for asparagus to be profitable,” Kietzmann said.
However, asparagus is a fast growing plant. It can grow anywhere from two to three inches overnight at 50 to 60 degrees.
“It grows best at night,” said Kietzmann.
We took a ride into the nearby asparagus field. Kietzmann pointed out the translucent asparagus stalks damaged by the frost wilting into the ground.
The good news is that the first and second pickings were early this year at the end of April due to warm weather.
“Anything that is in the ground didn’t freeze,” said Kietzmann. “We already had two rounds.”
On a good harvest day, one picking is in the morning around 7 a.m. and the other one is at 6 p.m.
The picking height of asparagus is from seven to 10 inches, and there is hardly any waste.
Kietzmann started picking wild asparagus in the ditches along the road as a kid dreaming of a day when he would have a ½ bushel for himself.
“I’ve been picking it since I could walk,” he said.
Well, that day came after years of milking cows and building farm equipment.
“We’ve picked asparagus in the snow in May,” he said. “We’ve only had three year like this with the frost damaging the asparagus.”
And Kietzmann loves meeting customers from all over Michigan.
“I have guys come in here buying asparagus for their mothers,” Kietzmann laughed. “They’ve never even tasted asparagus.”
Some customers ask for asparagus bunches like they find at the stores.
“Well we don’t have that here,” he said.
The rider for picking asparagus has two blades that cut the asparagus in two rows and throws it in the bin. Now, due to frost, asparagus will have to be sorted from the damaged stalks.
By July, the asparagus plants tire out or fern out.
“Then it’s done for the year,” he said. “I spray for weeds after we’re done picking.”
At Heidi’s farm market stand on M-50, there was some asparagus from Hart still left, that was cut last Sunday.
Luckily, the shortage is only temporary, until next Monday.
Lowell, MI – Are you ready? It’s almost that time of year again. Some of you are already excited just by the photos on this page. Your eyes widen, your pulse quickens and you begin to find yourself constantly thinking about that elusive little mushroom that has the potential to drive many of us mad. Mad with a passion that burns from within.
Ah yes. It’s the morel mushroom.
The dreary winter blues and long, dark nights are a thing of the past. Soon the deep, dense floor of our Michigan forests will start to spring forth with life! Daffodils, tulips, and day lilies will soon begin emerging from the complex, rich soil beneath. Cardinals and robins will begin their quest searching for mates and gathering materials for their nests and their soon-to-be hatchlings.
And that my friend, is a sign of good things to come. Every year around this time, I become consumed, or somewhat obsessed with the hunt for the morel. My family and I take time away from work, school and the constant stir of busyness and technology to hit the woods in search of that tasty little morsel.
We will walk for miles on end without hesitation or a second thought about our diligent pursuit. All the while, we enjoy each other’s company and great conversation. Our eyes glued to the ground and rolling hills around us. We gaze out ahead of us looking for that peculiar looking protrusion springing up from the ground.
Sometimes they are very evident, ready and willing to be seen and picked. But many camouflage themselves, just below the blanket of a fallen leaf or a leaning stick. More often than not, you only catch a glimpse of the glistening dampness off their cap. Or maybe just the faintest little section of the light tan color of their stems. You’re more likely to only see a portion of the hunted, and not the whole thing at any given time. This is what drives me.
This is just one of the many things that brought our family back to Michigan after a two-year move to the Carolinas. The first to appear is the Black Morel. This is my family’s favorite. It has an almost beefy, meaty like taste. The Black Morel have a tendency to grow near poplar or aspen trees in the early spring.
We like to gather enough to have a few meals while they’re fresh and then dehydrate some for storage. We also share with those who are unable to get into the woods due to disabilities, or just lack of confidence in foraging for a wild mushroom.
The next variety in line to come forth are the Gray Morels. They have a nutty, buttery flavor to them and they are not only delicious, but beautiful. The Gray Morel is associated with ash, apple, elm and wild cherry trees.
If you are lucky enough to find a good haul of these, you’ll be in Morel heaven for some time. I know a great place right around the corner from my house that produces a ton. Just ask me for specific locations … I’ll be sure to share. On the other hand, a true Morel hunter will never show his hunting grounds.
Finally, you have the Yellow/White Morel. When you discover these, you’ll know the season is winding down. That still doesn’t break my heart to pick them. This particular species still has me stumped. I’ve found them under conifer, ash, cherry, apple and aspen trees, in open fields, and in green lawns. I’ve even found this species growing out of gravel in our driveway. Now that’s weird, but convenient.
Morel Mushroom hunting is a great experience for families. Parents don’t have to worry about a kid sitting still and being quiet like when hunting big or small game. There are no lines to untangle or hooks to be baited. Just a good old-fashioned walk in the woods with loved ones. And if your lucky… a delicious reward.
Lowell, MI – As the nature awakens, we celebrate Earth Day today. The first widely recognized Earth Day was held in 1970 when an environmental Teach-In group planned an event for April 22.
But every day is an Earth Day celebration to recognize the greatest resource of all, and that is our planet Earth.
To celebrate the Earth Week, I started my annual walk to the Franciscan Life Process Center (FLPC) on Monday. The 1.8 mile hike on a gravel road has been a staple of my mental and physical sanity since 1995 when we moved out into this northeast corner of Kent County in West Michigan.
I marveled at the untouched nature coming to life; plants vigorously emerging from the wet dirt from yesterday’s rains, robins hopping under the pine trees among the new ground cover.
Crisp morning air and dew covered the new grass and stems.
The area consists of preserved farmland thanks to late philanthropist Peter Wege, apple orchards, woods and streams. Wild flowers are now popping out in the woods, and morel mushrooms are around the corner, or should I say around the stumps.
I love the farm markets with the local produce starting soon with local asparagus.
Different trail systems like the Fred Meijer River Valley trails and Lowell Area trials meet here at the confluence of Grand River and Flat River. We’ve been blessed with an abundance of natural resources from the Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve in Lowell Township, Wege Wittenbach AgriScience center, Sessions Lake and Fallasburg Park. Hundreds of inland lakes dot the picturesque region.
The Midwest entices with its variety of seasons, landscapes, Great Lakes and diverse communities.
I am bringing back the popular IW Inspiring Women series for the winter. The series carries the logo of the enigmatic orchids which come in a thousand of varieties, each bringing joy with her own beauty. Much like the women in this world.
In this series I bring to you the stories of women who inspire others with their character, actions and the love for what they do. As daughters, mothers, grandmothers and wives, they all make a difference in their own way.
All of them juggle different responsibilities; to themselves, to the families and to the society at large.
Their value is not listed in dollars they bring to the economy, but in their contribution to bettering the lives of other people.
Meet artist turned hunter Linda Kropf Phillips
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI- I first met artist Linda Kropf Phillips, owner of Natures Serenity, at a little known bazaar in the historic village of Fallasburg two years ago.
She was manning the booth with her brother Jerry Kropf. Most people in the area know the name Kropf, as the well- established owners of the Kropf apple orchards.
“Are you related to the Kropfs?” was one of my questions during a recent interview with Linda.
“Which ones?” she asked.
“The apple farmers?”
“My father was the carpenter in the family,” Linda said.
It was her father Bob Kropf ,who not only inspired Linda, but who also taught her perfection in glass etching of gun cabinets and everything else in business, like reasonable pricing.
“My dad challenged me,” she said. “I worked in his wood shop for 20 years at Murray Lake. He taught me a lot of woodwork. I taught myself glass etching on china and glass cabinets.”
Yes, there was no challenge too big for Linda to handle, whether it was the etching of a standing bear and a partridge flying over his head, or other intrinsic scenes from nature.
“I found a picture of a standing bear in a magazine,” Linda said.
One of her first drawings was a sketch of the GI Joe doll. Some four decades later, Linda easily found the pencil drawing at the house. And it was not just the doll, but also some sketches of the Beatles.
Linda started drawing when she was 11 years old. Growing up as a 4-H girl and doing rodeo, she loved to draw horses.
She went to the Alton country school from 1964 to 1968 prior to going to the Lowell public schools.
“I rode my horse to school,” she laughed.
But, sometimes it was mom Jan Kropf who played the bus driver loading up the kids in a car and hauling them to school.
Linda graduated from the Lowell High School in 1976, and she received the perfect graduation gift.
It was tuition for one year at the Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. She had already taken advanced ceramics and design classes in high school. In sixth grade, Linda also took art classes from local artist Jan Johnson.
Four years ago, Linda started her Natures Serenity line of artwork on slab and drift wood.
“I love being outside, hunting, taking pictures of nature and kayaking,” she said.
While kayaking on the Flat River on the morning the Whites Bridge in Smyrna burnt, Linda found pieces of driftwood and metal from the bridge down the river.
She painted the covered Whites Bridge on a piece of driftwood and hung it on the metal from the bridge. First the driftwood had to dry out and Linda coated it with three to four coats of polyurethane to preserve them.
The two pieces sold at the Danish Festival in 2014 in Greenville with half of the proceeds going to the “Rebuild Whites Bridge” organization.
Artist Linda is also an avid hunter, who annually heads out into the woods in the Upper Peninsula with her husband Scott. Naturally, she would not reveal their “sacred hunting grounds” somewhere northwest of Marquette.
Scott has been hunting for the last 45 years, while Linda started hunting 11 years ago. Before that Linda rabbit hunted with her brother. She took her first deer with a gun, when she was three months pregnant in 1986.
For Linda, family always comes first.
“I started going with Scott with my camera and took my artwork with me,” she said. “We go during the gun season hunting for bear, and I bow hunt for deer.”
Naturally, Linda who took up bow hunting three years ago, is inspired by the great outdoors and what it has to offer. Her booth at the Dec. 3 Rogue River Arts Show was an amazing display of nature’s scenes on wood. Everything from deer, fowl, fish, Queen Anne’s lace to footprints captured on a wooden slab. Some of the artwork boasted 3D imagery in detailed foliage and branches during different seasons.
“I like the fall, so bow and arrow wins,” she said. “I feel safer.”
One of her scariest experiences was while hunting on the ground.
“I had a wolf behind sniffing at me,” she said. “I was nervous. I thought it was just a squirrel crinkling again.”
Well that “crinkling squirrel” turned out to be a 157 pound black bear. But, these adventures do not prevent Linda from going “Up North” to hunt in the “sacred land.”
“We stay in a camper, 10 days at a time depending on the weather,” she said. “Sometimes it’s two hours to the closest processor.”
And back home in Lowell, the dinner always features some wild game, whether deer, bear, fish or fowl in the form of burger, roast or steaks.
“We have deer all the time,” Linda said.
Most recently, based on popular demand from the less macho side of the population, Linda added to her wildlife art portfolio paintings of chickadees and cardinals.
“It runs the gamut from deer, moose, bass and I added flowers, “she said.
Natures Serenity artwork is available at Bodacious in Rockford and at Pinky’s Place Antique & Artisan Market in Grand Rapids.
Her busy art show season starts in July with the Fourth of July Artist Show in the UP, Lake Odessa Arts in the Park on Aug. 5th, Danish Festival on Aug. 19th & Aug. 20th and Rockford on Sept. 10th
The last show of the season is always the Rogue River Arts & Artisan Show on the first Saturday in December at the Lowell High School.
Nominate a woman who has in any way inspired you this year or in the past. In the IW women’s series, I have featured artists like Kathleen Mooney, entrepreneur Station Salon’s owner Nancy DeBoer, hiker Gail “Chosen” Lowe who has hiked all five national trails in the USA, Lowell Area Chamber director Liz Baker, former Lowell city clerk Betty Morlock, trail developer Carolyn Kane, founder of SowHope Mary Dailey Brown and many others.
E-mail Emma via the contact page or on Facebook at emmapalova@Facebook.com
Hunting season 2015 opens strong, artist inspired by hunting
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI- Today is the opening day of the firearm hunting season in the Midwest. It will last until the end of November.
It may or may not mean anything to big city folks, but out here in the country it is a big deal.
Some school districts like Portland schools in Ionia County close for the opening day, so kids can go out and hunt with their dads.
Although I am not a hunter, I have so many friends, both female and male, who are hunters that I had to post this to honor their passion.
The first who comes to my mind is my artist hunter friend Linda Kropf Phillips of Lowell. Inspired by nature and hunting, Phillips has created a line of slab wood paintings “Natures Serenity.”
The second hunter is a long-time friend from former Czechoslovakia, Miroslav Hlavenka. He now resides in Montreal, Canada. Hlavenka is an awesome chef a la naturelle.
Both are hunting now, as I write this post that could also be called “Living in harmony with nature.”
Annually, the sports hunting industry fuels the economy in many ways from direct hunting permits, & gear to indirect sports hunting tourism.
And the experts predict a good hunting season due to unseasonably mild weather.
“The deer had a lot to feed on,” said TV sports commentator.
This morning opened strong with clear skies and 50 degree temperatures. Hundreds of hunters in camouflage headed out into the woods.
As I drove to an appointment through the country, I could see cars parked by public hunting lands.
One opening day, I actually headed out into the Lowell State Game Area and joined a local hunter for a great experience, and a great story.
We always took photos of proud hunters who brought their deer in at the various newspapers that I have worked for.
Phillips of Lowell is already in Upper Peninsula with four guys determined to get their deer.
We postponed our interview for IW Inspiring Women series until Phillips returns in December.
Phillips fascinates me that she is both an avid hunter and a very apt nature artist and she shows that off in “Natures Serenity.”
She was one of the first artists at the Fallasburg Village Bazaar last year.
Hlavenka used to hunt already back in former Czechoslovakia. He picked back up his passion in Quebec, as he heads out into the woods.
Back in Czech Republic, hunters and public at large celebrated the hunting season with the annual Hunter’s Ball in the winter months.
The hunters wore their green uniforms and made hunter’s goulash for the occasion. It was either venison, boar and rabbit stew or steaks with potato dumplings and red cabbage.
There is something about hunting that’s inherent to human kind. That’s how we survived in the first place all the earth’s elements, agriculture came later.
Whenever I see deer in my garden feasting on apples or turkeys running in the cornfields, there’s joy in my heart, that peace will prevail.
With the upcoming Thanksgiving next week, there is a lot to be thankful for.
Driving through the woods and the fields on a beautiful sunny November morning, crossing the Thornapple, Grand and Flat rivers, I realized how grateful I am for the surrounding nature, for the harmony, for the fall abundance and the co-existence of it all.
Send me a picture of you and your deer and I will post it on my Emma Blogs, LLC portfolio of sites.
Watch for a recipe for Hunter’s Stew coming up.
Also in the works are stories in the IW Inspiring Women winter series. They have the logo of the orchids.
A note to all. I am participating in a 30 day content writing challenge by Learn to blog. All posts reflect my views on today’s world including my own.
This morning I woke up to a Facebook post that made me cry from Czech homeland. It was from Radhost mountains in Czech Republic. I’ve been to the Radhost mountains many times even though I am a bad downhill skier, but the area has grown close to my heart.
Plus we got our first snow in Michigan yesterday.
I want to share the beauty of Radhost with all my friends.
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