On Chasing Girls and Movie Stars

A Slice of Life Along the Grand in the Off-Season

(Hurray, Hurray: Paddling Begins Again Soon)

Joe Writes . . . 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

May God grant you

 a first love to chase ’round the playground,

a lifelong friend for inspiration,

and a true love to share the journey.

(I have had, or still have, all three.)

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One of our granddaughters is being chased by two boys at recess. She is seven years-old, in the first grade, and not complaining. She enjoys and encourages the chase. Not yet sure which boy she will marry, she chases them if they try to take a break.  Love is wonderfully uncomplicated in its early manifestations.

My granddaughter’s courtship rituals evoke my own memories of chasing a girl named Tina – Bird Legs, my father called her – around the playground in Cleveland when I was her age. Bombarded as we are by signs of an impending apocalypse, it is reassuring that some me things don’t change.

During the summer I moved to Michigan – 1967,  before I started seventh grade –  I was briefly infatuated with a girl in my new neighborhood named Sara and called her on the phone one afternoon to ask if we could “go together.”

“No thanks,” Sara said. Surprisingly, I wasn’t crushed even though she answered without the slightest hesitation. As I recall we made plans to meet up with the neighborhood gang later in the day and life went on just as it had. School started in September and I became intrigued by a girl named Theresa. Theresa liked me back and our romance, which consisted of talking together in the hallway between classes, lasted a couple of weeks.

I quickly lost track of Theresa but Sara and I remained in contact, to varying degrees, throughout our lives. Sara and her husband now live in the Pacific Northwest but she’s still got family in Michigan and I occasionally get together with Sara and whoever else is around when she comes back to visit.

Sara is an accomplished actress who has landed substantial roles in several independent films. I admire her because at our age it’s a hell of a lot easier to watch tv and eat ice cream. Sara came to her passion for acting later in life and in doing so provides an example as to how one can view the sunset without being mired in a web of disappointment and abandoned dreams.

Sara’s most recent film has been screened in the Northwest  but is not likely to be shown in Michigan any time soon. I told Sara how much I wanted to see the movie and a few days later a DVD arrived in the mail; she lent me her only copy. My wife, Linda, and I made plans to watch the movie on a Saturday night, which brings this story back full-circle to our granddaughter.

On that Saturday night we were torn when our granddaughter asked if she could sleep at our house. We told her that of course she was welcome but that she would have to entertain herself as we would be watching a movie. She wisely decided that wouldn’t be much fun and chose to stay home. Before we said goodbye I made arrangements to pick her up for Sunday School the next morning.

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“What was the movie about?” my granddaughter asked me as we drove to church.

“Well, it was kind of a grown-up story so I don’t think you would have liked it, but a friend of mine was in the movie and that made it fun,” I said.

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Sara,” I said.

“Did you used to be in love with her?” Natalie asked. Where did that come from, I wondered. I chuckled.

“Yes, I guess I was. For a little while and a long time ago. But I suppose, in a way, I was in love with her,” I said.

“Did you chase her?”

I prepared an explanation of evolving courtship rituals but then figured, what the hell? Why confuse the issue?

“I sure did, Honey; I chased her all over the playground,” I said.

“Yup, that’s what you do,” she said, knowingly.

*            *            *

 Do you know the poem Jenny kiss’d Me? My mother recited it to us when we were young. It could be changed to Natalie chase’d Me.

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add

Jenny kiss’d me.

– Leigh Hunt, first published in 1838

leigh hunt

(James Henry) Leigh Hunt, 1784-1859. Portrait by Benjamin Robert Haydon.


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Joe@lengthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely)

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Snapping Turtles and Olive Loaf

February 9, 2018

Joe Writes . . . 

A belated Happy New Year. We are anxious to get on the river again, even to the extent of planning to paddle amidst the ice floes if we get a winter thaw. Right now, however, it’s just too cold. We may be kind of kooky, but we’re not certifiably insane. (At least I’m not; there’s room for debate where my brother is concerned.)

I crossed over the Grand and the Kalamazoo Rivers several times yesterday while making the Ann Arbor – Holland round-trip to visit my mom. The Grand was frozen bank-to-bank in a few places and half-open in others, whereas the Kalamazoo was pretty much clear of ice everywhere I looked. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps the current is swifter in the K’zoo? I worry that we will get out on the Grand easily enough but that the ice – while allowing a big path down the center – will prevent us from reaching the bank where we intend to take out. I am not aware of an ice-breaking attachment for the canoe.

It’s February in Michigan and everyone fights cabin fever in his or her own way. Lately Iolive loaf have been eating nostalgically to ward off the depth-of-winter-crazies. Nostalgic eating entails revisiting the foods of one’s youth. We had chipped beef on toast not long ago , a dish with a decidedly unappetizing nickname (think roofing material) which was a mid-week dinner  staple around our house in the 1960’s. I’ve also been lunching on olive loaf with American Processed Cheese-Like Food and mayo – Miracle Whip, not Hellman’s – served on soft inexpensive white bread. I can’t find Wonder Bread but there are plenty of close substitutes. Koegel makes the best olive loaf and it’s produced in Flint. Don’t beat yourself up for eating processed meats; congratulate yourself for eating locally!

Linda’s dad went through a nostalgic eating phase during the last several years of his life. He had me searching all over for turtle, which is available online at around $25 per pound. Bernie was not an extravagant man and would never let me pull the trigger on mail order turtle even though I was willing to do so. He was always hopeful that I would catch him a big snapping turtle when we were out on the river; thank goodness I’ve only seen smaller turtles. I was never particularly anxious to initiate combat with an armored foe who has long, sharp claws and would just as soon remove my fingers as swallow a tadpole.

Perhaps next time I’ll write about the ultimate in eating nostalgically; i.e., middle class American goulash served with an iceburg lettuce salad and a side dish of red Jello congealed around some sort of canned fruit. It’s a topic worthy of its own entry, so until then . . . listen to the river. Trust the river and take the river’s side (industry and big agriculture have plenty of friends already.

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The River Heals


December 23, 2017

Joe Writes . . . 

Happy Holidays to all who care about rivers, woods and water in Michigan and all over this land. Be vigilant; these are perilous times.

I was recently gobsmacked by the realization that I have lived longer than my father did. Ralph H Neely, Jr., lived for 62 years and 8 months. He died in 1988, a few days after Thanksgiving. I’m at 62 years, 11 months, and counting. Fully mindful that no one knows when their hour will come (Ecclesiastes 9:12), this voyage along the length of the Grand is one element of my attempt to embrace a lifestyle aimed at securing some degree of joyful longevity, something my father did not have.

The number one longevity-enhancing step I took was to quit drinking alcohol. I was never a moderate drinker, and for the better part of my 50’s I drank myself into isolated places where nothing could touch me, at least until the next morning. The next remorseful, hung-over morning. It’s damn near certain that I would not have followed through on this journey down the river were I still drinking. I just didn’t have the energy back then. (I have written previously about alcohol being a factor in my decision to begin this journey.)

How our father would have loved following our journey down the Grand! Come  to think of it, perhaps he is. I wish he could come with us for a day; three big guys in a canoe might present a problem but we’d find a way to make it work. Dad wasn’t really the outdoorsy type but neither were my brother nor I before we began this quest.

To everything there is a season. A time to retreat from the world, and a time to run its rivers. That’s from Ecclesiastes, too, although unchurched baby boomers are more likely to credit the Byrds. With this voyage I have found a new challenge and am having a great deal of fun. My life’s clock runs backwards.

What makes your rapids run?

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When in doubt, take the river’s side. Industry has plenty of friends.

If you enjoy our blog please follow us here on WordPress, like us on Facebook and recommend us to your friends. Contact us by leaving a comment here or as follows:

Joe@lengthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely, the mercurial one, think John)

Tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely, the happy-go-lucky one, think Ringo)


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Startling Discovery Along the Grand

In the winter, when weekly outings are not possible, the mind roams more freely in search of a topic . . .

Joe Writes . . . 

Conspiracy Against American Masculinity?

While canoeing the Grand River I believe I uncovered proof of a conspiracy aimed at the emasculation of the American male.

The long underwear I bought at Costco – a set for my brother and a set for me – does not have a fly. Wrap your head around that and tell me there’s not something fishy going on here. Underwear purchased at America’s flagship retailer, underwear clearly labeled as being for men, does not have a fly.

I’m glad we had pulled off the river and were shielded from view while I fumbled and groped my way to the sad confirmation that my underwear was not on backwards. For just a moment I wondered if I had slipped into my wife’s unmentionables by mistake, an idea quickly-discarded by the certainty that I could hardly fit one leg into her delicates, let alone the whole package (so to speak).

This whole fly-less underwear thing would not be surprising if the offending product were being sold exclusively to men in Stockholm or Brussels, European men having been emasculated eons ago. But this is America and men here don’t pull their pants down to relieve themselves. This cultural norm has its roots in the Old West when the wise man kept one hand free and close to his six-shooter at all times. European men, on the other hand, generally kept both hands free for weaving tapestries or grooming small white dogs.

Please know I am not one who ordinarily gives credence to conspiracy theories. A black helicopter, more often than not, is just, well, a black helicopter. And despite what my friends on Facebook insisted to be true I never believed that Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton were personally coming to seize my guns. Not really.

So just certainly as there is a War on Christmas – “Happy Holidays” my red neck and thank you, Mr. President – American masculinity is under attack. And this attack is well-timed, for who can defend the norms when each day brings fresh revelations of American men at last being called to account for their boorish, degrading and sometimes criminal behavior?

So the times they are ‘a changing. And while the changes are mostly for the better, I hopeHenry 8 codpiece that men’s underwear-without-a-fly goes the way of the codpiece. The codpiece, as you may know, was worn over a man’s genitals and was all the rage among fashionable European men in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The word itself is derived from the Middle English “cod” meaning “scrotum,” and I did not make that up. I never wore a codpiece, but I’m sure it was no more convenient to tend to nature’s call while doing so than it was for me on the banks of the Grand River on a cold December’s day in 2017, not far downstream from Grand Ledge, Michigan.

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The river flows.

As for me and my house, we choose the river.



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Don’t Eat the Red Berries!

December 1, 2017

Tom Writes . . .

Grand Ledge Dam to Jones Road Bridge in Eaton County

 Training for the Winter Canoe Olympics

We really like our canoe, and we really like our river, and, we are couple of old guys with flexible schedules. So, we went out on the cold water, and had a great time today.

Today, I got to take the skipper’s seat in the stern, for only the second time in two years. Joe went to the bow, in order to concentrate on photos and videos. However, this time of year yields mostly brown and gray images. We have lots of images, but they are not colorful.

The only colors in our paddle today were blue sky with white mares’ tail clouds, and, when we went ashore, bright red berries on shaggy undistinguished bushes. Plus, of course, our yellow canoe and our bright-yellow foul-weather jackets. The

dec 1 browns

The brown of December

rest was late-season brown and gray trees, fallen leaves, and water. Water about the color of a squirrel: a little bit grayer than tan.

One thing we noticed was Sycamore trees. These are not the dominant trees in the riverside forest, but, this time of year, their distinctive white bark stands out.  I cannot tell you what the bushes with the bright red berries are. Sorry. I was not smart enough to gather some of the berries, nor to take some leaves from the bushes, nor even to take a picture. When I got home, I tried to google red berry bushes, and I looked in my tree book, but Holy Riverside! too many bushes with bright red berries!

dec 1 red berriesThese are the sort of red berries Joe’s and my parents used to tell us not to eat. They told us they were poison for kids, even though the birds could eat them. Not poison for birds. Did your parents tell you the same thing? Joe and I never ate these kinds of berries, and we never died (yet). Did you ever eat them? Did you die?

Writing of birds: We saw one of our totem Great Blue Heron, Kingfishers, and Blue Jays.

We wondered whether fishing was allowed this time of the year, and we missed our friend Dave Miller. Dave would have known about the fishing rules.

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A Rare December Outing on the Grand

Joe Posts . . . 

Travel down the river with us – digitally, at least –  while we wait for Tom’s customary – and interesting – travelogue piece about our December 1st outing from the dam at Fitzgerald Park near Grand Ledge to the Jones Rd. bridge some 5 miles downstream.

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A Post-Thanksgiving Hike Along the Grand

Tom Writes . . . 

Golden Friday – November 24, 2017 (Exactly One Month before Christmas Eve)

Grand Ledge, Michigan

In two years on the river, the town of Grand Ledge is the farthest downstream we have

grand ledge approach

Approach to Grand Ledge from the Grand, River with the town’s iconic water tower in the distance

paddled. Today we walked: Joe cannot paddle now, due to a shoulder injury. Today, the sun beamed and the temperature reached fifty degrees Fahrenheit (= 10 degrees Celsius). That is lovely and warm and comfortable for Michigan at the end of November. No rain, no snow, not even much mud, and no talk nor even thought of politics, to mar our happy hike in any way. (You might note that this 50 degree temperature is the same as on our September 1 paddle. In that September post, I wrote that 50 was pretty chilly, but now, three months later, 50 feels pretty warm.)

Joe’s life-long friend Dave Miller joined us. To me, he looks the same as he looked in 1970 (last time I laid eyes on him), except that his hair is white now (used to be sort of brownish or reddish). I forgave him for white hair because my hair is just as white. Note, though, that Dave and I still have actual hair. This cannot be said fully honestly about Joe.

grand ledge 3 of 7

Path from Island Park to Fitzgerald Park

We started walking downstream at a new-ish park (Editor’s note: Jaycee Park) on the left (south) bank of the river, on the east side of the town. There is an asphalt and partly wooden municipal path from here which leads to Island Park, on the west side of the town. At that place, the path changes into a narrow dirt path with rocks and tree roots, halfway up the slope of the river bank. Not a difficult path, and not steep either, but much more rustic than any urban river walk.

We saw the usual Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks. We also saw a Pileated Woodpecker, a good-size black and white bird with a bright red crest. We were happy and lucky to see it. Here is what the Audubon Guide says about this bird: “This elegant woodpecker is adept at keeping out of sight. Obtaining a close view usually requires careful stalking.”

Stone outcrops line the landward side of this path. And, across the river, we could see

grand ledge 4 of 7

Sandstone ledges on the north bank

grander outcrops. About a half-mile along the path, we could see the famous Grand Ledge, the biggest stone face. (Obviously, the town is named after this ledge.) These stone cliffs are unique in southern Michigan. We actually were walking in a mini version of the Grand Canyon, where the river has cut through old rock, and the rock rears up on both sides.


There is a high railroad bridge across the river. It has a sidewalk with a railing. If you climb up the cliff from the path, you can cross the bridge to Oak Park, and get to the high cliffs on the other side. We did not take the bridge, but if you take this path, I recommend that you take the bridge, and then walk back across, back to the path. It is not a long detour.

We continued downstream to Fitzgerald Park, and past, on subsidiary paths, to a big old dam. We found a place below the dam, where we will put our canoe into the water, when we continue our canoe trip. We plan to do this as soon as possible. Our friend Dave will join us. If Joe’s shoulder prevents him from paddling, we will put him in the middle of the boat, sitting on a cooler. Dave and I will paddle, and Joe can just loll amidships, similar to Cleopatra on her barge on the Nile.

We walked back the way we had come. We spoke with some families on the path on the way. When we got back to downtown Grand Ledge, we walked up to the main drag. There were three or four good-looking restaurants. We asked a woman on the street what her favorite restaurant was. She directed us to Cugino’s. We went there and had wonderful Italian food, with great friendly service, for cheap.

I must praise the town of Grand Ledge. It is attractive in a nifty preserved way, and it seems to be thriving. It compares well with many well-known “quaint” Michigan tourist towns such as Charlevoix and Saugatuck. According to its web site, Grand Ledge has 7,791 people, and 13 parks which cover 110 acres. Also, Eaton County and Clinton County deserve praise for their parks along the river.

I drove home. About an hour. I bought a Christmas tree and hung a Christmas banner on my front door. Happy holidays! May the River Angels give you great joy!

(Editor Joe here. After lunch Tom headed home to Grand Rapids while Dave and I drove to Lincoln Brick Park – on the north side of the river and downstream from the dam – and hiked along the river there. Lincoln Brick Park is another nice spot for watching the Grand. Earlier in the day I remarked that we hadn’t seen our usual Blue Heron, and speculated that they must fly south for the winter. Dave and I did, however, see a Blue Heron gliding over the river at Lincoln Brick Park. There is interesting information about Blue Heron migration here which points out that while most do migrate, there are always a few – the stubborn ones, apparently – who do not. As a further aside, I’m not at all sure one can – or should! – walk across the railroad bridge Tom mentions above. Even if it is possible to access the bridge, I can see the train scene from the movie ‘Stand By Me’ playing out high above the river.)

Above, left to right: pileated woodpecker, the dam at Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge.

Contact Us: 

Joe Neely, joe@lengthofthegrand.com

Tom Neely, tom@lengthofthegrand.com

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