Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Love Me Some Michigan Shirts

Turns out I have quite a collection of Michigan shirts. I was cleaning out my closet last weekend and found my old Great Lakes Shirts (I have two and my wife has one to match). We gave these inkblot shirts as gifts to our wedding party and we mailed a set to family in California as Christmas gifts – a huge hit if you are strapped for ideas this year.

Also buried in a pile of old clothes, I found the “Smitten with the Mitten” t-shirt that I bought at Ypsilanti’s Shadow Art Fair. And I couldn’t have been more excited when I saw my wife’s new Google Ann Arbor shirt. Add my Yooper Steez hoodie and I’m starting to think I’ve developed a habit. Next on my list, either a Michigan Awesome shirt or Lake Michigan: Unsalted.

I’m always complimenting someone’s Michigan t-shirt, high-fiving passersby, or sending my wife links to online stores as subtle hints. I’d be a complete addict if it weren’t for the fact that standard shirts only last one wash until I’m too tall to wear them again. So until I find a vintage “Say Ya To Da U.P., Eh?” shirt in size large-tall, I’ll send gifts and spread the good word.

*I was tempted to write this post on all my Michigan stuff: photos, clocks, paintings, walking sticks, etc., but it got a bit unruly. Saved for another day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wilderness: Tip of the Lower Peninsula

On a great recommendation I went camping at Wilderness State Park. This shoreline park is located at the northwest tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and is 8,000 acres of pure Michigan beauty.

Want to swim in the Straits of Mackinac with a simultaneous view of the Bridge, the Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula? Wilderness is the place for you. Interested in forests so thick you can’t even see through them, let alone walk through them? Are you into plant species like pitcher's thistle, Houghton's goldenrod, Lake Huron tansy, Pumpell's bromegrass, and butterwort? This might just be the park for you.

What’s a piping plover? Only a federally-protected, sparrow-sized bird that resides along the park's gravel beaches of a strip of land running out into Lake Michigan. There’s 50 breeding pairs in the US and 16 of them are at Wilderness.

If you’re interested in 20-mile hikes through wetlands, forests, and along some of the most beautiful expanses of shoreline in the state, I highly recommend this park. Follow small rivers through cedar groves and try to find the freshwater spring from whence they originated. Gorge yourself on steak, fine wine, and S’mores at modern beach and forest campsites.

Best of all, hike over hallowed ground and imagine yourself carrying a musket, imagine the cedar-stained water is blood from a revolution, hike to the very tip of the Lower Peninsula, then cross a 300-yard expanse of Lake Michigan and stand on an island that makes you feel like the first man.

Check out this photo slideshow from my trip:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Michigan Fiction in Kerrytown

Last Sunday I attended the “Fictional Michigan” discussion at the Kerrytown Concert House, part of the 8th annual Kerrytown Bookfest. The panel discussion was led by Eric Olsen and featured authors Bonnie Jo Campbell, Michael Zadoorian, Kristina Riggle, and Wendy Webb.

The discussion was interesting to me, for it focused on my two great loves: Michigan and literature. Panelists agreed that the success of Michigan fiction comes from readers who have a deep connection to the Great Lakes and to Michigan’s small towns, large cities, and rural landscapes. The book buying public in Michigan wants to read, not about the east or west coast, but about our own unique corner of the world. The panelists also discussed the importance of independent bookstores (particularly in northern Michigan towns), and the historic indifference of New York and Los Angeles publishers to Michigan fiction.  It is nice to hear someone preach to a choir that you’re a part of – or aspire to be a part of.

If anything can be taken from the panel, it is this: If you’re a Michigan writer, you absolutely must be a marketer too, and be willing to beat the pavement whenever possible. Manhattan probably doesn’t care about you, so you have to care about yourself. Also, your best resource is independent bookstores that will plug books by well-liked local authors. If you’re a member of the reading public, make a concerted effort to support Michigan writers and to shop at local bookstores. Sounds simple enough.

As a side note, I’m always torn about literary events. On the one hand, I’m happy to live in a community that supports the arts; on the other hand, I often find supporters of the arts off-putting because of the snobbery they can bring to the events. Since the Kerrytown Bookfest is not so much a “literary” event as it was a celebration of all books, the crowd seemed more diverse and lighthearted, which was a welcome change of pace.

The mission of the Kerrytown BookFest is to “stimulate and promote public interest in the educational, artistic, and cultural role of the book and printing arts; authorship and writing; book preservation; reading; publishing; and libraries.” This year’s event included three National Book Award finalists; several Edgar Award and Anthony mystery award winners and nominees; a Caldecott winner and numerous Michigan Notable Book Award winners.

For more information, visit the Kerrytown Bookfest website and AnnArbor.com, and be sure to support all the local authors on the “Fictional Michigan” panel:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Frankfort, Michigan: Like a Dream

Nestled along the Lake Michigan coast, Frankfort is the quintessential Michigan city; what the childhood of my dreams looks like. Lake Michigan does not get much better for water quality, and with the main street running straight through town and down to the shore, Frankfort perfectly integrates the community with the lake, making dinner and a sunset as easy as a day at the beach with an ice cream cone.

Frankfort is fairly isolated, but close to wine tasting and and other northern Michigan attractions. Plus, driving an hour and a half through northern Michigan’s rolling hills to get to Traverse City is a pleasure, not a hassle. For national park visitors, Sleeping Bear Dunes is only an hour’s drive, and spring-fed, sand-bottomed Crystal Lake is just up M-22.

Frankfort features an interesting mix of old, new, and surprising businesses. There is a Celtic gift shop, which also sells Scandinavian paraphernalia, for the non-discerning immigrant. Betsie Bay Inn is a newly remodeled Bed & Breakfast that makes one hell of an omelette. Across the street is a dingy local bar with live music – with a view of the Lake, of course.

Just up the block is one of northern Michigan’s most talked about restaurants, Fusion. Though the cuisine seems slightly misplaced for such a small town, it’s not too bad. The Mai Thai’s are delicious, as are the noodles. The sushi leaves a little to be desired, but I think availability is the biggest culprit.

I spent my entire meal at Fusion eavesdropping and watching the old couple next to us. They could not get enough of the fruity cocktails, and were always at a different point in their drinks, so when he would finish, she would have 2/3 of a drink left. In order to “keep each other company,” they both kept ordering another, never able to finish at the same time, all the while making small-town chit-chat with the waitress.

There’s a Kilwin’s franchise on the main strip. The owner recently moved back to Frankfort from Ann Arbor, recognizing the city’s potential. She left when Frankfort was a poor northern city, but has returned to see an embrace of the tourist industry. “We used to be small and poor,” she said. “Now we’re quaint.”

Frankfort provides the perfect access point to the best of northern Michigan. Traverse City and Leelanau wine country are close, Sleeping Bear is not far off, ski resorts are nearby, and the tiny village is filled with good restaurants and people, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world.

For those interested in visiting Frankfort, I recommend the Harbor Lights Resort. These vacation rentals are located right on Lake Michigan’s beach, and the old gentleman running the front desk is a great story teller, if average napkin-map cartographer – a multi-talented concierge for a fantastic city.

*First posted in 2008 after my honeymoon beer and wine tour of the Lake Michigan coast.