A Summertime Cucumber Treat

Joe Writes . . . 

Tom and I will be on the river again in mid-August. We planned four consecutive days of paddling to finish our quest but Tom’s butt has forced us to change our plans. He got so sore from our two consecutive days of paddling that we decided four days would be impossible. We will do two days – from Grand Rapids below the dams to halfway to the Big Lake – and then take some time off before finishing our trip. We still hope to finish in August, although I could see the conclusion of our trip sliding into early September.

I haven’t even been to a farmers market yet this year, a sad commentary on the depravations of The Great Isolation. I won’t be able to hold out forever, however; real tomatoes will call me to the Ann Arbor or Dexter market soon. One of my favorite summertime vegetable treats is this Danish Cucumber recipe from Robin Mather’s book ‘The Feast Nearby.’ My mom made something similar and usually served the cucumbers with cottage cheese or fresh tomatoes . . . or both!

Danish Cucumbers

Adapted from The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

2 cucumbers
1 sweet onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar* (I use white vinegar)
1/2 cup water*
2 tablespoons sugar*
Freshly ground black pepper (this recipe benefits by lots of pepper)
Coarse salt, such as kosher salt (just a pinch at the end)

*I generally double these items in order to make enough liquid to cover the cucumbers in a large jar.

Before slicing the cucumbers, taste one slice to see if the peel is bitter. If so, or if the cucumber has been waxed, peel the cucumber before slicing. Fresh cucumbers from your local farmers market are best for this summertime treat.

Slice the cucumbers into thin slices and place into a non-reactive container—glass jar or bowl. I usually make these in a quart-sized Mason jar. Add the sliced onion.

In a separate bowl, mix together the vinegar, water, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add ground pepper to taste. Pour over the cucumbers and stir to combine. Add kosher salt to taste; not too much, just a pinch.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Tastes better the second day. Keep the cucumbers refrigerated and use within a few days.

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Two Days on the Grand in Photos

Joe Posts . . . 

July 4, 2020

Your intrepid explorers, Tom (l) and Joe Neely.

Click on individual photos for captions.

July 5

Click on individual photos for captions.

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly.  I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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A Grand 4th of July on the Grand

Tom writes…

Fourth of July, 2020
Ada to North Grand Rapids

The logistics of canoe-ing are monstrous. You already know our boat, the Billie V, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, far from our current paddling area in West Michigan. Well, we got her over here, and put her in the lovely brown, calm Grand River, yesterday.

Fourth of July! And, one of the first things we saw was a soaring Bald Eagle, emblem of the USA. Fantastic! Back when Joe and I were kids, we had zero eagles in this part of the country. Eagles, we thought then, only survived in remote desolate places in western mountains. But, No, now! Environmental action has brought them back. Hallelujah!

And, birds we never have seen before on this trip: Kingfishers, lots of them. Belted Kingfishers, overall gray-blue, with white necks, with crests and pointed beaks.

We had sort of a self-imposed disaster hallway through the day: We wanted to stop for lunch. We paddled to what looked like a nice sandy beach area on the right bank. But, it turned out to be a nasty, stinky, sucking mud bank. Both of us got stuck in the awful mud, and I fell into the water twice. Oy.

We got away, and ate our lunch (great sandwich buns from the Schnitz Bakery in GR) on the float. No more attempts to land for lunch.

Tom continues . . . 

July 5
North Grand Rapids to Riverside Park

As I said, canoe-ing logistics are a monster. We paddled about 20 miles July 4 and July 5, but I had to drive 80 miles for that adventure. We have to drive to our destinations, and leave a car, and then drive back to the start points. And later, drive back to the start points, to pick up the other car. Then, back to the destinations, to pick up the boat!

Brother Joe had to drive about 320 miles, because he lives on the other side of the state. So.. We had 20 miles of paddling, plus a total of 400 driving miles. Yikes!

Now, we have paddled as far as we can go, before the un-paddle-able Grand Rapids dams. Grand Rapids, Michigan, no longer has river rapids, but it has six dams. We have pulled the boat out, but we will need to haul it ten miles or so downriver, to the southwest side of GR, when we start paddling again, in August.

I give some credit to the canoe-ing population of Grand Rapids: A group is working on restoring the rapids, to create a nifty, exciting paddle route. But, now, there is no viable portage option. The Sixth Street Bridge has a sign warning paddlers of the Sixth Street Dam, but GR has no place to pull out before the dam.

And after that, there is a boat ramp after (downstream from) the first dam, but no way to avoid the next five dams. What the heck? It is much easier to paddle through Lansing, Jackson, Eaton Rapids, and other dam sites, than to get through Grand Rapids.

Cheers to the people who are working on restoring the Grand Rapids rapids. We will put in again, at Johnson Park, SW GR, in August. I hope we will see you out on the river.

Note from Joe: I’ll get some photos of our two-day paddle up soon.

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly.  I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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As the Brothers Resume Their Journey, Uncle Joe Calls BS

Joe Writes . . . 

I’ve found a lovely spot for writing about getting older, here in front of the picture window in my living room. I can swivel the chair and look out over our lawn, with the sun just beginning to show itself over the trees on the left edge of my view. My neighbor, who flies an anti-Trump flag that reads “Any Functioning Adult 2020,” walks his little white dog out to retrieve yesterday’s mail. Linda and our little white dogs are still asleep. A doe strolls by, stopping to eat some gout weed under my neighbor’s tree; I wish the neighborhood herd would turn its attention to the invasive plants in our yard. The Amtrak train’s whistle is evocative of something romantic and far away. My pleasures this morning are simple and abundant . . . 

As we begin to emerge – rightly or wrongly – from The Great Isolation I’ve seen a few of my contemporaries report on social media that the greatest joy is in resuming their work-outs. They would have us believe that their physical prowess is undiminished, that they can plank or bike or lift weights just as well as ever and – man oh man – it’s so great to be setting personal records again. Uncle Joe calls bullshit.

We pay a physical price for getting older. The only way to avoid paying that price is to die. One can minimize the price by eating right, exercising, not smoking, abstaining from excess (that’s been hard for me over the years) and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Good inherited genes help, too. But time takes its toll, and at the end of the dance one always divvies up receipts with the band.

While I’m excited at the prospect of resuming our journey, I’m sobered by the reminder provided by the morning’s first ten steps. The first ten steps of every morning are painful. One knee is arthritic and inflexible. The other knee is ok most of the time, except when it isn’t. My brother and fellow-explorer has his own physical challenges. The first ten steps are a reminder that we need to get this done this year, in 2020. No more dilly-dallying. The sun’ll come up tomorrow, but there’s no guarantee any of us will be here to see it. Stuff happens.

So there’s a sense of urgency mixed with excited anticipation as the countdown to paddling continues. I miss the blue herons but it was hard enough to get in and out of the canoe two years ago; how much worse will it be now? When we started this project in 2016 it never crossed my mind that physical challenges might make it difficult to finish.

Our mother knew too much heartache in her life but was usually able to maintain an optimistic outlook. She was fond of saying, “You never know what might be around the next corner!”, her way of encouraging us not to give in to despair. She wanted us to believe that something wonderful was on the horizon. Her philosophy is worth celebrating but no amount of optimism can change the fact that 65-year-old knees and canoes are a problematic combination. There may be a metaphorical meadow around the next corner but I’m just as likely to be pushing a walker as skipping across its flower-strewn length.

I think everything’s gonna be alright, but please send prayers and positive energy our way should we be tempted to falter. As always, we’ll keep you informed of our progress. Que sera, sera. Bring it on!

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly.  I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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Our Quest Resumes on the 4th of July!

Billie V flag pic

Just as our nation declared its independence from the tyrannical rule of George III on the 4th of July in 1776, we will declare our independence from the physical decline of advancing age – and our disdain for the despotic rule of Donald I – by resuming our quest on the 4th of July, 2020. 244 years have passed, but the American thirst for independence is unslaked.

We will paddle from Ada through downtown Grand Rapids – portaging safely around the dams – over the course of three days beginning July 4th. We will then finish our journey in mid-August. If you would like to join us for a day on the Grand please leave a comment here and let us know how we can get in touch to make arrangements. BYOK/C (kayak/canoe). We will maintain safe social distancing and wear masks when we are within 6 ft of each other. PFDs required, too.

Read about some of our earliest trips on the Grand here. We began our quest way back in 2016!

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly.  I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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The Headwaters Dam on the Grand River

Joe Writes . . . 

With the news of the Edenville Dam failing on the Tittabawassee River near Midland and the resultant extensive flooding, I was motivated to take a 45-minute drive to the headwaters of the Grand River yesterday evening.

The Grand River flows out of Grand Lake, a clean and beautiful lake with no public access in southern Jackson County and, after a mile or more, a dam forms a millpond behind the Liberty General Store in Liberty Township. The millpond’s water flows over the dam and thus begins what many people view as the start of the Grand River. While not entirely accurate, this point does mark the start of the somewhat accessible portion of the Grand.

The headwaters dam is on private property and, leaving aside for the question of whether the dam should be removed (there was a time in the 1980’s when the millpond dam was removed),  it would be comforting to know how well the dam is maintained and how often it is inspected. These questions  spurred my journey to the headwaters yesterday. As seen in the photos below, there is a lot more water going over the dam now than there was the last time I visited the headwaters. This is to be expected in light of recent heavy rains and is not intended to imply the dam is failing, but what if the millpond dam were to fail? Is there a plan in place to deal with the consequences?

Video is likely a better tool with which to appreciate the difference. View the water flowing over the millpond dam in December of 2017 here, then watch video from May 21, 2020 here.

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly. Tom has been scouting the final – but substantial – leg of our journey down the Grand and is anxious to share his plans with me. I will visit with him and learn what he has in mind and as soon as it is acceptable and safe to do so. I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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Polio: Two Plagues Ago

Joe Writes . . . 

My mother wrote about the pandemic which most affected her generation, polio. It’s disturbing to note that while polio has largely been conquered, HIV/AIDS (the intervening pandemic) has not. There may be a lesson in that reality. It’s entirely possible we won’t conquer COVID-19 any time soon. We may need to find a way to live with it. Time will tell.

The following is an excerpt from our mother, Catherine McNabb’s, writings. I compiled some of her writings as a gift for her 85th birthday, and they are available for Kindle at Amazon. Cassie died in June of 2018; she was two months shy of her 93rd birthday. The picture below was taken on her 92nd birthday.

mom at 92 birthday

L to R: me, Joe Neely; our mother, Cassie; my sister, Amy Wisner; my brother and fellow adventurer, Tom Neely.

Polio Past: 1930s and Beyond (by Catherine Verschoor Neely McNabb)

Summer was the ‘scare time’ – – crowds must be avoided, especially for children. The public swimming pool at Briggs Park was forbidden – but it was pretty far away and nobody’s mom had a second car in our neighborhood anyway. Lake Michigan was acceptable for swimming and that was always the place of choice on rare swimming occasions, so not being able to go to a public pool was not much of a loss. Movie theaters were suspect also, but since we went to perhaps one movie a year that was not much of a loss, either. I know my parents were somewhat paranoid about the most innocent sneeze or scratchy throat at home or among playmates, but, for us kids living at the edge of town, summer went on much as usual. The epidemic seemed to pass each year with cooler weather.

When I started in a new school for junior high a nice, talkative boy named Bud Malewitz sat behind me in morning session for a couple of weeks. Then he was absent. I found out from his cousin, Virginia Emerson, that nice guy Bud died from polio. Wow!

During my college years I made a lifelong friend, Elly, who transferred to the University of Michigan during our sophomore year. She and a handsome Sigma Chi from the fraternity next door – a returning Army veteran who survived the worst of the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine – fell wonderfully in love. After Elly’s graduation they were married ASAP. They lived in a real dump near campus – – anyone coming up the stairway could look into their bedroom through the milk chute!

Elly worked steadily to get Jim through his final year and then Jim landed a good job in Denver, in his chosen field of advertising. Elly was joyously pregnant, and they came back home to Grand Rapids to say goodbye to family and pack up wedding presents which had been stored for them there. The car was packed and the day before they were to drive west Elly became ill. It was the dreaded plague, polio. She lost the baby and was put into an iron lung, supposedly permanently. I recall visiting my active, beautiful friend in that hospital ward.

Despite the dire predictions, Elly did make progress. With determined work at rehabilitation she advanced to a wheelchair, then walked with crutches and a brace, which she wore until the end of her life. She learned to manage a house and even drive a car with specialized equipment.

Elly and Jim tried hard to adopt a baby but were denied due to her disabilities. In time, and after a couple of miscarriages, they had a son they named David. They raised their son with love and caring help from friends and family. Elly eventually held a part-time job at a hospital desk; that made her so proud!

About 15 years ago  (note: this was written in 2004) Elly developed post-polio syndrome. I decoupaged a notable crutch for her that is still on view in a public display case at the orthopaedic center in the local hospital. In time, I helped her plan a Gathering of Friends Party, which was held at the hospital where she was a patient. A few days later, and with her doctor’s help, she chose to be sedated and have her breathing machine turned off. Jim and her sister were right there with her. What a love story! What a valiant lady! What a beloved friend! I miss her every day.

(Cassie loved limericks and wrote this one in 1994)

Here’s to the beautiful Eleanor Lee,
As valiant a lady as ever you’d see.
But in order to win’
She got help from her Jim –
Together they’re tops on the family tree.

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly. Tom has been scouting the final – but substantial – leg of our journey down the Grand and is anxious to share his plans with me. I will visit with him and learn what he has in mind and as soon as it is acceptable and safe to do so. I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

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New Skills Born of Necessity During The Great Isolation

Joe writes . . . 

All of us have learned new skills during The Great Isolation. Out of necessity. My wife, for example, cut my hair and trimmed my Old Man Eyebrows and I look three thousand times better as a result. I bought a toilet snake and accomplished what toilet snakes are designed to accomplish without calling Doug the Plumber and we once again enjoy the full complement of residential sanitary services.

How about everyone who has learned to make a mask, or attend a Zoom meeting? And what about skills we always had but of which we were not aware? (Intelligent readers will note how I skillfully twisted the previous sentence so that it both sounds pompous and does not end in a preposition.) I’m thinking here of my innate beard-growing ability. All my life I assumed that I could not grow a beard, only to discover that in five or six weeks I have grown a fine beard. Hemingway-esque. Judge for yourself; there’s a photo of me in all my bearded glory in a recent post.

The biggest stretch for me has been changing the oil on my old lawn tractor. In the past I

joe changing oil

My wife was so surprised at me changing the oil that she took this photo and sent it to all her kids.

would often tell women I was trying to impress that “I can’t change your oil, but I can write a poem about it.” My wife thought it was funny many years ago, and we’ve now been married for 15 years. Fifteen wonderful years, I should add, as she always reads these posts. But I did change the oil in the trusty old Craftsman with its 17.5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton. Immediately after draining the dirty oil and filling the crankcase with new I was troubled by a nagging notion that I might have added too much oil . . . but what harm could result? If there’s too much oil the excess will burn off or unobtrusively leak away and contaminate the ground water; right?

So I’m cutting the grass for the first time of the year and every two or three minutes am completely enveloped in an cloud of thick bluish-white smoke, an impenetrable fog. As I continue mowing I anxiously run through various scenarios as to how I might come up with a thousand dollars to buy a new lawn tractor. With that vague notion of too much oil prodding me on, however, I did some research and discovered through YouTube that the consequence of overfilling a crankcase can be impenetrable bluish-white smoke and financial anxiety. I drained the excess oil and everything is hunky-dory. No more impenetrable fog, and if I find a thousand dollars I can spend it on grading and re-seeding the lawn.

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While searching for a different poem by Wm. Butler Yeats I became reacquainted with his poem The Stolen Child, first published when Yeats was a lad at university. The Stolen Child includes the following lines:

There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;

We have seen such places along the Grand, my brother and I.

DSC_1229

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We are glad you found our blog. If you like it, please tell a friend and share it on your social media. We would be delighted if you would leave a comment here, and will respond promptly. Tom has been scouting the final – but substantial – leg of our journey down the Grand and is anxious to share his plans with me. I will visit with him and learn what he has in mind and as soon as it is acceptable and safe to do so. I often end my posts by writing “Please take the river’s side; Industry and Big Ag already have plenty of friends in high places.” During The Great Isolation I will add, “. . . and wear a damn mask!” Be well.

Posted in learning, Michigan, Pandemic, poetry, rivers, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Many Robins So Far, but no Bugs

Tom Writes . . . 

robin

Photo Credit: stolen from the internet

Today, I met my friend Kelly, and we walked along the Grand. The fat brown part of the Grand, above the dams, just north of downtown Grand Rapids. Lovely morning, pale sunshine, not-a-cloud blue heavens, bird sounds, red buds and a few tiny new green leaves.

In the next few days, I will try to scout our remaining route on the Grand from Ada – where left off – through Grand Rapids and then on to Lake Michigan. The doctors finally have cut me loose. I have a wound/incision on my ankle. It caused a major infection, a few months ago. But now, it is just a scab. (Wanna see a picture of it? No.) I officially am allowed to get it wet now, after five months! So, I can canoe. (And can take a normal shower.) Hallelujah!

My Cynthia and I have seen many robins for the past few weeks, more than usual. April is the time of year when robins always return to West Michigan. But the weather has been cold, and I believe they all should have stayed in the South until May at least. What will they eat? It is much too cold for bugs here, now. Probably too cold even for worms.

A couple robins have visited our back porch. They have been landing on top of ourhanging porch light fixtures. One of them has tried twice to make a nest on top of one of the lights, has brought long strings of dry grass and weeds. But, the top of the light seems too slippery for a nest. The breezes blow all the nesting material off, and it falls to our porch floor. I have considered picking it up and trying to smoke it, because I am trying to quit tobacco, but I am not that desperate yet.

They seem to have given up on the nest, today. Good. I am sure they can find a better place. And I hope they find something to eat. Welcome, spring robins!

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Thank you for visiting our blog. If you enjoyed it, please share it on social media or with a friend. If you leave a comment we will respond. We Neely brothers look forward to getting back on the Grand River in 2020. Don’t be a dummy . . . stay in and stay safe. This, too, shall pass.

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A Northern Michigan Walk in the Woods

Joe Writes . . . 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

lines 1 – 4 from the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

 

April’s showers have indeed pierced the dreary drought of March, and Spring is arriving even here in northern Michigan. Ramps carpet the forest floor, to be replaced in a few weeks by trillium. The ramp is a wild leek found in the woods here in the early Spring. They are easy to find right now; Linda has been sautéing the green leaves with spinach for breakfast and in other dishes where she might normally use garlic and/or onion. I can tell when she brings them into the house, as they have a pungent but not unpleasant garlicky aroma. This is our first year of identifying and using ramps, and we leave them largely unmolested by merely snipping off a few leaves. We only occasionally harvest the bulb, which looks like a scallion and can be used as such  or any time a mild leek flavor is desired.


from Birches by Robert Frost

I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.

birches 1

The bare white birches provide nearly the only contrast to the monotonous grey of every other tree’s trunk at this time of year. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


A Drinking Song by Wm. Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

joe and linda april 25

And how could I not look at her and sigh? My companion on this walk and my walk through life.


from Lift High the Cross, a 19th-century English hymn by George Kitchin

Lift high the cross
the love of Christ proclaim
’til all the world adore
His sacred name

the cross st ignatius

There must be a new cross on the steeple at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Middle Village/Goodhart, on the shore of Lake Michigan north of Harbor Springs. It shone in the sun and I immediately thought of this hymn, which I suppose I’ve sung a hundred times in church without realizing how much I liked it until I saw this cross gleaming in the sun.

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Thank you for visiting our blog. If you enjoyed it, please share it on social media or with a friend. If you leave a comment we will respond. We Neely brothers look forward to getting back on the Grand River in 2020. Don’t be a dummy . . . stay in and stay safe. This, too, shall pass.

Posted in Environment, Michigan, nature, Northern Michigan, poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment