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,

Tom Neely,

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Dam Removal Plans in Grand Rapids

Interesting article about Grand Rapids’ dam removal plans. One day all the dams will be gone – along the entire length of the Grand – and the river will run free.



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Chair of MI Natural Resources Commission Says Not So Fast to Idiotic Crane Hunt Proposal (my words, not his)

Many thanks to our Emmet County Correspondent for spotting and forwarding this update on the process that would need to be followed before a crane hunting season could be established in Michigan. I don’t think it will ever happen; the vast majority of Michigan’s citizens simply have too much sense for such idiocy.

image2 (1)


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Coming Up: Cold-Weather Canoeing

October 29, 2017

Joe Writes . . . 

(Post-publication note: lots of great ideas being received from knowledgeable friends, will update this post with those suggestions soon. Many thanks and keep ’em coming.)

We are considering a cold-weather outing in November, perhaps from Grand Ledge downstream towards Portland over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve been doing some brainstorming on what we need to do or bring in order to be safe and have come up with the following, some of which is original and some borrowed from various articles found while searching the www.


The Grand last year in December; we don’t expect ice at Thanksgiving.

I am no expert in cold-weather canoeing; truth be told, if we undertake this Thanksgiving journey it will be my first cold-weather outing.  What would you add to this list? Some of this advice applies regardless of temperatures, but becomes more important in winter because the river just might kill you if you’re not prepared.

Bring . . .

An extra paddle. If you lose a paddle you don’t want to go wading after it in cold water.

A lifejacket. Wear it. Warm water sometimes – but not always – leaves room to make up for accidents and vanity; cold water does not.

A fully-charged battery for your phone.

A new, secure plastic bag – double Zip-Loc, whatever – for your phone. A good argument can be made that your phone is the most important life-saving item you will carry on your trip, but your phone is no more significant than a fart in a windstorm if it doesn’t work.

(True story: my brother accidentally dropped a plastic bag containing his phone into the millpond at the headwaters of the Grand River. He poked around in the muck and the milfoil to no avail; it was gone. We left to retrieve a vehicle and came back after 30 minutes. The water had cleared a bit so he asked me to call his phone, which I did. Damned if we didn’t see a light begin to flash under water! He got down on the concrete and reached an arm into the water to retrieve his phone, which was dry as a bone inside the plastic bag.)

gr tom searching 4 wallet july 24

. . . and the phone still worked!

A cushion to sit on. Get your buns off the cold seat. Don’t use a towel, use something that won’t absorb water and make matters worse. A towel inside of a garbage bag might work.

A basic first aid kit. The river can be a lonely place during the bright days of midsummer; it’s likely to be desolate in cold weather. You should plan on treating all injuries until you get back to civilization.

Extra clothes and a towel in a water-proof bag. Socks, underwear, pants and a top. If necessary use a second water-proof bag for back-up outer wear, shoes and an emergency blanket.

A plastic bailer of some sort. I used to tell my kids that nothing good happened after midnight, and I’m telling you now that nothing good comes of water in the bottom of a canoe during winter.

Plastic bags for your feet. Maybe you’ve got high-tech, water-proof footwear and, if so, that’s great. If not, something as simple as plastic bread bags – two for each foot, worn over your shoes and secured loosely around your calf with a Velcro strap – can keep your feet dry. Try to keep your feet dry from the get-go but bring extra socks, shoes and plastic bags in case of the unexpected.

Two types of hats, one with ear flaps and one without. Both should be water-resistant. My brother would recommend that you wear a hat which protects your neck.

Lightweight rain gear. The only thing worse than being cold is being wet and cold.

Water for drinking. It may be cold outside but you will likely get just as hot and thirsty as you would on the 4th of July. Drink water on a regular basis throughout your trip, and have extra water available just in case.

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Cranes Are Not For Hunting (at least not in Michigan)

Joe Writes . . . 

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a resolution asking the Natural Resources Commission to classify sandhill cranes as a gamebird. Once classified as a gamebird, the NRC could seek permission from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a hunting season on the birds.

What nonsense.

There is no evidence that the population of sandhill cranes exceeds a naturally-image2 (1)sustainable level, hence no need to manage the population by hunting. Furthermore, there is already a remedy in place allowing farmers to kill those sandhill cranes which damage crops, although I cannot find any indication that such crop damage is substantial. To further accentuate the absurdity of this action by the House of Representatives, the sponsor of the resolution described sandhill cranes the “the ribeye of the skies” before admitting he has never actually eaten the bird. Right.

Why, then, did the House of Representatives ask the NRC to take the first step towards establishing a hunting season for sandhill sranes? Apparently because some hunters – and some organizations including the the Michigan United Conservation Clubs – would consider the establishment of a hunting season on cranes to be a positive development in that it would result in increased opportunities to hunt. That sentiment, however, needs to be balanced against the wishes of Michigan residents who, like me, strongly oppose legalized hunting of sandhill cranes.

Fully aware that some will be tempted to immediately label me a liberal, tree-huggin’, gun-grabbin’, anti-huntin’ activist for expressing this opinion, I am compelled to point out that my bona fides as an outdoor enthusiast stack up fairly well. I’m not Mort Neff, but I do alright (readers of a certain age will understand that reference).

The time my brother and I spend exploring the Grand River puts us in touch with nature, and in Michigan’s out-of-doors, on a regular basis. I have held a hunting license at various times in the past, and although I’ve never killed a deer I have tried to do so. I think Ted Nugent’s a fool based on what comes out of his mouth, but I’m OK with him legally whacking and stacking whitetail deer. The best stew I ever cooked was made with Michigan venison loin given to me by a farmer/friend who killed the deer in his back 40 acres. I’ve hunted and eaten rabbits and ring-necked pheasants, back in the days when ring-necked pheasant could be found in south-east Michigan.

I currently have a Michigan fishing license and I’ve eaten trout – trout I caught myself – fresh from a Colorado mountain stream. I’ve even become violently ill after killing and eating a prairie dog . . . shot it with a .22 and cooked it over an open fire on a stick as part of a survival hike back in the 1970’s. (That particular memory had been successfully suppressed until just now and I confess to feeling a bit queasy. It was the worst thing I ever ate, and I wonder if sandhill crane tastes any better. ‘Ribeye of the Sky’ my sweet bupee.)

The last time Michigan’s citizens were given an opportunity to decide they clearly conveyed that not every creature which can conceivably be shot needs to be hunted in our state. Voters soundly rejected legalizing the hunting of mourning doves in 2006, and I suspect the hunting lobby knows that voters would treat the prospect of hunting sandhill cranes with the same disdain.

Yes, I understand that some states allow the hunting of sandhill cranes. That’s wonderful: anyone with the urge to hunt cranes can do so without having to travel too far. This is Michigan, and in Michigan some birds are for hunting and others are not. Leave the sandhill cranes alone.


Michigan Natural Resources Commission (operating under the Michigan Department of Natural Resources), phone no. 517-284-6237, . . . let them know how you feel on this issue!

Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition, , phone no. 517-321-3683, . . . information on sandhill cranes and other Michigan birds.

Contact Us: 

Joe Neely,

Tom Neely,


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