July 24, 2016: Exploring the Headwaters

Tom Writes . . .

I had imagined a sunny summer day on the river, but I woke up at 6 am, and it was raining like Noah. I left my home in West Michigan before 7 am, and the rain never really let up. At the same time, Joe was driving from the eastern side of Michigan, but he did not have rain. The rain was moving from my side of the state toward the place where we were to meet, a little place called Michigan Center.

We met up there in the center. And we scouted the places where we could start to canoe. We wanted to start at “The Source” of the Grand River. However, the Grand River actually has no “Source.” I understand now, why all the famous intrepid nineteenth century British explorers had such a hard time and took so many years to find “The Source of the Nile.” The mighty Nile is just like our nowhere-near-as-mighty Grand River, at its start. No single specific “Source.”

gr truck july 24Canoe trips take a great deal of scouting and arranging. e.g. One needs to find a place to put the canoe into the water, and start. This place might be behind a convenience store, or in somebody’s back yard. There are very few Official Canoe Start Sites. Then, one needs to find a similar place downstream, to stop, and pull the canoe out.

You need to take two cars from the start spot to the gr chase vehicle july 24pull-out spot, and leave one car there. Then, you need to drive back to the start spot in the other car, launch the canoe, and paddle. After hours of paddling, you need to find the pull-out spot as viewed from the river (not always easy). And, then, load up the canoe, and head back to the start spot, to get the first car.  Is that clear? Clear as a muddy river?



gr store sign july 24Joe and I assessed the weather. Rain and lightning. We assessed a couple of pull-out spots. Dubious. So, we drove to the not-even-a-town of Liberty, Michigan. We put the canoe in at a lake known as the Mill Pond, at the Liberty General Store. We paddled the twisting length of that lake, upstream, until we grounded the canoe out on black silty mucky mud. Impossible to paddle farther upstream. We brought black silty mucky mud up into our beautiful new canoe, on our paddles, just by paddling that far.

The Mill Pond actually is lovely: Mostly covered in water lilies, with white flowers and yellow flowers and lily pads. We saw swans with their swan babies (cygnets?) and kingfishers. We probably were lucky to be there on a cloudy rainy day. I believe that place would be a big mosquito paradise on a regular sunny summer day.

So, we can say we paddled to “The Source of the Grand.” But please google the Liberty General Store. It does not have an actual web site, but if you click on the Google-provided map, it shows the Millpond, and it shows creeks leading farther upstream. I assure you, it is impossible to navigate those creeks. Joe and I really did canoe to “The Source of the Grand.”

We paddled back. In the process of pulling out the canoe, I lost my cell phone down in the mucky lake. Felt and was a fool. But! We got it back, and it still works! Thank you, Poseidon and all river gods and goddesses! I will tell that whole story some other time in some other forum.

Joe made me tie all the knots for holding the canoe onto his truck for the trip home. I worried, but he says they all held.

Joe Writes . . . 

Drenching rain, lightning and thunder almost caused us to give up without getting the bottom of our canoe wet on this first day.  The explorer in each of us could not allow that to happen – our ancestors having sailed the Great Lakes with wooden hulls and canvas sails – so we drove to the Liberty General Store, south of Jackson along the US-127 corridor and as close as we could drive to the source of the Grand River.  The manager of the store had given us permission to leave our vehicles at the store even though the business was closed this Sunday.

There is a dam at the store, the site of an old mill on the river, and a resultant millpond. From the dam we set out upstream towards Grand Lake, one of two sources of the river.  We would not reach Grand Lake this day due to low water and Giant Bridge Spiders but we got as close to the source as anyone in a canoe could get, which to my way of thinking is damn close.  Perhaps we’ll go all the way to the source on a day when the sun is shining, the water higher, and the spiders less voracious.

The first portion of the millpond was relatively free of lily pads, offering an easy paddle to a low bridge, so low that we at first wondered whether we would be able to make ourselves small enough to glide underneath.  We bent low at the waist and used our hands to pull ourselves under the bridge.  It was at this point that I noticed huge spiders dangling from webs with strands as thick as the rope we used to tie our canoe to my truck.  These Giant Grand River Bridge Spiders – for such would my research later reveal them to be, Pons Araneae Gigundus Flumen – apparently didn’t notice us until we were halfway under the bridge, at which time they began – in unison – scurrying towards us in from all directions.

“Duck your head!” I screamed to my brother, then grabbed the bridge’s clammy undergirding and pulled as hard as I could, sending our canoe roaring out of the darkness and into the next pond.  If you’ve never heard spiders scream in anger and frustration . . . well . . . it’s is a sound you’ll not forget.  Trust me.

We now entered the first of two connected but distinct ponds, both choked with lily pads.  It was a bit spooky as we paddled forward, the lily pads seeming to grasp at our canoe and the frequent but unidentified sound of numerous large ‘somethings’ belly flopping into the water up ahead, bellyflopping always just before we could focus our attention and our eyes to determine what it might be.  Soon there was roiling water at the water line of our canoe.  Muck from the shallow bottom mixed with tepid water, causing the invasive Eurasian Trefoil to fan out and quiver enticingly.  Had I been in the Everglades I would have suspected angry alligators or playful manatees, but we were at the headwaters of the Michigan’s Grand River.

River nymphs?  Dragons?  Only an impression of flame – sensed rather than seen out of the corner of one eye – confirmed the latter.  These local dragons are reputed to be more playful than dangerous, and I was able to relax at last and enjoy their company.  Neither my brother nor I had played with dragons in many years.

The river gods, we’re quite sure, used this shortened first day to teach us lessons certain to come in handy on some day and at some place further along in our journey.  Tom dropped his cell phone in the millpond but retrieved it – in perfect working order, it was in a sealed plastic bag – after 30 minutes.  We left our paddles and a life jacket on the ground while we drove off to scout future legs of this journey but returned to find all items just as we had left them.  Tom cut his toe in retrieving the phone.  Lessons learned.  In the future all valuables will be securely zipped into pockets.  In the future we will remember to check for items which, if lost, would leave us stranded, perhaps in a location where it would not be easy to recover from our negligence.  We will bring a first aid kit, and Tom will not wear open-toed sandals.

No harm done, lessons learned, onward.

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