June 27, 2022
Nearly five minutes of tranquility (with traffic) along Fleming Creek in Parker Mill County Park, with guest appearances by an eastern comma and some barely discernible ebony jewelwings.
Nearly five minutes of tranquility (with traffic) along Fleming Creek in Parker Mill County Park, with guest appearances by an eastern comma and some barely discernible ebony jewelwings.
The train to Ann Arbor left on time, but was delayed immediately south of the station. Between that, speed limitations, and whatnot, the Wolverine was at least a half hour late. Could have been worse.
On the train, a man sitting behind me offered to heft my suitcase onto the overhead rack. I feel like this means I’ve graduated from “not cute enough to help” to “too old and decrepit not to help.” I said, “Sure,” but by the time he’d gotten up on his hind legs, I’d managed to heave it over the railing. I flexed my right bicep and said, “Have to stay in shape!” I’m not sure he was amused.
The trip was uneventful. In some ways I miss the possibility of having an interesting companion. When I arrived in Ann Arbor, the temperature was in the mid-80s, and the setting sun was beating into my eyes. At first it didn’t look like I’d be able to get a Lyft, but just as I’d resigned myself to walking (uphill), one became available. Whew.
I sat on my balcony for awhile as it got darker, gradually becoming aware the railing was dripping wet. I moved indoors, maybe because it felt a little cooler. Also at some point my phone exploded with weather alerts. The radar showed lots of thunderstorms moving toward both Chicago and Ann Arbor. Lots of thunderstorms with lots of red at their cores.
Awhile later the downpour came, which sounded great on the skylights (two in the living area, one in the kitchen area, one in the bathroom). When I looked out the back toward the neighbors’ yard, it looked like the downpour was rising as a bright mist. It would have been a great visual effect in a movie.
Next came the lightning through the skylights, then thunder. At one moment, they were nearly simultaneous. I felt very cozy, even when I woke up during the wee hours and there were a few flashes of half-hearted lightning.
The weather looked iffy all day, with lots of cloud cover, even if it didn’t do much of anything after all. I felt lazy, too, and my right Achilles tendon is continuing to bother me. In the mid-afternoon I ordered from Zingerman’s — a “Tard’s Tenacious Tenure” sandwich (turkey, avocado, muenster, Russian dressing, etc.), two kinds of pickles, BBQ chips, potato salad, key lime pie, and a Spindrift raspberry lime drink (water?). Enough for two meals. That’s one way to avoid the Zingerman’s line.
Every time I thought about going for a walk somewhere, a look at the sky and a twinge from my legs and Achilles tendon deterred me. This couldn’t go on for a week.
Maybe it was on this day I noticed the birds. From the balcony I’ll see a male cardinal once in a while, plus the usual European house sparrows and starlings. I might also hear the occasional coo of a mourning dove. This time I saw not only a female cardinal (on the fence) but I noticed most of the birds flying back and forth and landing in the trees and on the roof above me were house finches (they seemed less colorful than purple finches). I spotted a chipmunk running around between the neighbors’ yard and the B&B’s parking area and fence (under the “Park Not Here” signs).
Given the recent news I’ve tried to avoid about birds dying from a mystery illness, I was surprised by the number of birds and greater diversity. I wondered if someone nearby had put out a feeder (not recommended at this time), but their focus was on the trees and the roof above me.
Finally I ventured out, to Sava’s, where I ordered sweetie fries and a pasta entree, plus shoestring fries and a different pasta entree to take with me. And “A Lonesome Dove,” a really, really good cocktail. I don’t know why I didn’t have two.
Normally, I would have sat outdoors to watch the world go by, but the new arrangement has larger tables outside. i would have felt odd. Indoors, it was more like watching who was and wasn’t taking COVID-19 precautions. The three women at the front were mask-less; the server wasn’t. Does that mean they are vaccinated and he isn’t? Or that he is, but he’s extra cautious for personal reasons or because he has closer exposure to patrons?
(For the record, I’m fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and I generally stay masked in public indoors as much as possible. The precaution is not a big deal.)
Afterward I stopped at CVS, where I got some dental stuff I needed and candy I didn’t. I wandered back through the park with the benches, which I finally realized is not so much a park as a green space between two University of Michigan buildings. That was the extent of my adventures for the day . WEAK!
I wanted to see if I could handle the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown and get in stops at Cafe Verde (now the People’s Food Co-op Cafe) and the Motte & Bailey used bookstore. I figured out how to use the bus system — after a fashion. You pay the fare online, activate your day pass just before boarding, and show it on your phone to the driver. Schedules and status are online. That much was simple. What proved to be challenging was getting to where I thought I was going — the Hands-On Museum, which is close enough to Kerrytown for me to walk. What I didn’t know was that Huron Street is under construction in that direction, so the bus detoured to the transportation center south of the post office. My nerves, joints, and Achilles tendon were going to get a workout whether they liked it or not (they didn’t).
I made it to Kerrytown, where I saw the People’s Food Co-op (always Cafe Verde to me) was closed, how temporarily I couldn’t tell. That had been my second choice for lunch. My first, The Lunch Room, where I’d had such a good salad two years ago, had been closed permanently in 2020. Sigh. I went over to Kerrytown Market & Shops, where Spun has taken over the space formerly occupied by Hollander’s.
Then I remembered I wanted to get something at Sweetwaters, which turned out to be a sandwich, coffee, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. Hey, I was on vacation. After a long sojourn there and a second biology break on the second floor, I stopped and bought these at Ann Arbor Spice Merchants — something I’d never heard of.
By the time I was done, the farmers market participants were packing up, and if I remember right the sky may have been dripping. It was odd to see no one sitting outside the People’s Food Co-op, where I noticed greenery taking over between the pavers — perhaps a sign of much-reduced foot traffic? No one had been sitting around earlier, even before the sky started spitting.
With a last wistful glance at Cafe Verde, I made my final stop at Motte & Bailey, which never disappoints. That’s where I found a book on the Pennsylvania Wilds in the front window display worthy after returning from a visit there. This time I was excited to see a history of Niagara Falls. If only I could carry more back. And had more time to read (starting with The Pennsylvania Wilds).
At this point it didn’t look like I was going to be able to get a Lyft, and I hadn’t fully figured out the transit system’s detours (I called customer service, and two representatives were as confused as I was). I walked the relatively short distance back — maybe seven-tenths of a mile — slowly and painfully. I have to get past this.
The weather was as good as it was going to get, and I was running out of days, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to make my long-desired visit to Parker Mill County Park. Two years ago, even pre-COVID-19, I’d been afraid of being stranded there.
The building under construction in 2019 is open now, with the name All Seasons Ann Arbor. It turns out it’s a senior living community. Now I wish I’d taken a photo of it from the Parker Mill parking lot. I wasn’t keen on such a big development so close to the park, but finished of course it’s more attractive than a construction site. It’s sprawling. It looks like independent living only, and you’d have to call for costs. No doubt out of my league.
I didn’t know all that when I arrived, just that it was done and was fronted by a monument sign. I was there for its neighbor.
I’d have preferred a sunnier day, but as long as it didn’t rain life was good. After a pit stop I walked down the slope and found not much had changed. A couple of families with loud, active children overseen by what looked like grandparents (residents of next door?) were playing by the pump and rocks, so after a look around I headed for the other side, which seems to be less visited. While I was there I saw only a few adult walkers plus a handful of cyclists whizzing by on the bordering paved bike path.
I didn’t find the mushroom patch from 2019, but the creek still burbles along, and the pavilion still sports a rooftop of plants and trees. This time I noticed many of the rough-hewn log benches are rotting away, which I don’t recall two years ago — two years of weather.
In the mid-afternoon the woods were quiet except for the drone of traffic on Geddes. I know birds have their active and quiet times, but I wonder if even mid-afternoons were not so quiet before DDT, climate change, and Nile virus. In the 1960s, my dad wondered where all the robins of his youth had gone. My childhood norm, which he was pointing out, was different from his, and my nieces’ norm was different from mine no doubt — but they may not know that. I wonder.
I could go only so far in the one direction, while the other seems to lead away from the creek. I didn’t want to spend my limited energy finding out. Behind the pavilion is a fence, so I walked back to the pump area..
I looked for ebony jewel wings, but they weren’t as plentiful with the sun hidden under the clouds. I had found some on the other side of the bridge on some rocks, but they were in shade and too far away for the iPhone camera to capture. No crayfish. Not even a butterfly that I remember. Not the right conditions, apparently.
Looking at the park map, I found an accessible trail (boardwalk) past the pioneer cabin and went as far as the beginning of it before I realized I was both hungry and out of steam (or spoons). Reluctantly I headed back to the parking area and finally requested a Lyft. To my surprise, there was one not that far away. On the ride back, I noted The Ride bus stop near Parker Mill County Park. Just in case.
When it wasn’t pouring, it was raining. When it wasn’t raining, it was drizzling. I curled up with a book and writing, maybe TV, but I really wanted at least one visit to Nickels Arcade and Comet Coffee. Finally, around 4:30, I left umbrella in hand, well, over head. I walked past Ye Gods and Little Fishes, but it was too wet to risk the iPhone for photos or videos. And the lighting could not have been drearier. Late fall in late June.
I got to Comet Coffee in a relatively dry condition, ordered coffee, a cookie, and a couple of high-end chocolate bars for later. The particular coffee I got was expensive but divine. If it were available here nearby, I’d be reallocating my pay.
My intention had been to stay as long as they were open (another hour) and as long as no one wanted a table. Soon I realized I am way too heavy for the delicate cafe chairs in the arcade. I expected to go splat with an embarrassing crash at any moment. More incentive, if I need any, to lose weight. I stayed as long as it took to drink the large divine coffee and eat the large cookie (part of the weight loss plan, right?). I didn’t mind the occasional drip from the arcade’s glass roof — not as bad as a 1990s CTA bus.
By the time I was done, I didn’t have it in me to check out some of the stores I like, so I headed back. My timing was perfect. Not too long after, the sky exploded. I made it to a tent on campus set up for some occasion, which had a warning sign about not sitting there during bad weather. A handful of us risked it, although I didn’t stay long — too heavy for the folding chairs . . . I shouldn’t have had that cookie. Of course I fled just as the deluge was at its worst. By the time I got to my room, my sleeves were wet, my pant legs were wet, my socks were wet. When I left on Sunday, the shirt sleeves were still damp. This was first time in Ann Arbor the weather was more uncooperative than not. But I’d never done so little walking, either.
I had lunch with friends at Conor O’Neil’s, which was busier than I’d seen during previous visits. I usually go during the week, though, and this was Saturday with a soccer game on the many tellies.
During the week, I saw some people wearing masks while others didn’t. I assume some, like me, are vaccinated, maybe many or even most. I tend not to wear one in the uncrowded outdoors, but do mask up indoors. Not everyone does. It’s easy to get a sense everyone is tired of being cooped up, constrained, masked, and lonely. The world’s dominated by extroverts for whom Zoom is no substitute for a social Guinness and a world soccer game.
I wonder what next year’s visit will be like. If there is one. (A visit, not a next year. Don’t get me started.)
Lyft is my new favorite thing — as long as I can afford to use it once in a while. I love creeks (even more than Lyft) and while in Ann Arbor had a hankering to visit Parker Mill on Fleming Creek. My left leg has been protesting lately, and I don’t have to walk far there to see the creek and a little bit of the woods. I discovered it’s only a little more than four miles from the bed & breakfast, which in Chicago would get me only halfway to downtown. I fired up the Lyft app.
The driver mentioned he takes his dogs to Parker Mill Park. “You feel like you’re in the country but you’re not at all.” I asked him if I’d have a problem getting back. “No, this is a main road between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I live in Ypsilanti.” I asked him what kind of dogs he has. “Shiba Inus,” he answered. One of the few breeds I know a little about. He told me about his, a dominant female and a rescue male.
As he left me in the parking lot, he pointed out what looked like typical exurb apartment blocks going up next to the park. Look in that direction and you won’t feel like you’re in the country anymore.
There have been a few changes at the mill. There’s a new Bison pump (for filling water bottles?). Two slides descend from it, and before I left someone pumped water for their dog. He looked like he wondered why he couldn’t get his usual dish, but made a half-hearted attempt at a few slurps.
Some rocks may have been rearranged, with new concrete forms (seats?) added. A new set of steps with a red handrail to match the pump has been added. These steps and handrail made it easier for me to get down to the creek, although they aren’t exactly rustic.
I headed under the overpass, where the water seemed deeper than I remember. When I turned my head to the right, the water sounded faster, more urgent. When I turned my head to the left, it sounded deeper, like the flow had decreased. I did this a few times with the same results. Since the creek’s flow didn’t change every time I turned my head, it must have been me. My hearing loss is mild to moderate in the left ear, moderate to severe in the right. I heard more, higher frequencies when my left ear is turned toward the creek. It’s a disturbing feeling, especially since the first ENT I saw (almost 15 years ago) said the loss will progress. It doesn’t help that usually fluid sloshes about in my right ear, partially blocking it.
I continued along the creek under the road until I reached the footbridge over the creek into the woods. Two women, not middle aged but not young, ran toward me, screaming. I briefly looked for the ax murderer who must have been pursuing them. I didn’t see one, and the women slowed down, laughing breathlessly. “A HUGE bumblebee! HUGE!!!” If I could arch my eyebrows like Spock, I would have. Just then, an average-sized bee buzzed by. They fled in terror, half screaming, half laughing. The bee, unimpressed and uninterested, wandered off.
After that, I didn’t see anyone as I wandered through the woods along the creek. I went mainly in the direction that reaches a dead end at a wire fence. I didn’t have steam to go the other way, especially since in late June the weather had finally turned hot, which drains me of any little energy I have. My Osprey ultralight stuff pack, water resistant and not letting any air through, either, was glued to the sweat soaking my back.
I spotted one flitty red admiral that wouldn’t stay still for a photo, and a tree with picturesque mushrooms that weren’t going anywhere.
At last the creek drew me back, although no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find crawdads. I wondered if the water flow had changed and disturbed them, or if I couldn’t spot them in the deeper water.
This side was more populated, especially as the afternoon progressed. Cyclists, hikers, dog walkers, even a man on a bike accompanying a woman who was trying to manage the downslope behind the mill on old-school roller skates. She was young (20s) and fit, and it cheered me to see her grasping the wooden fence, stiffly and awkwardly taking baby rolls forward, finally crashing in slow motion into the grass where there was a break in the fence. This wasn’t her first rodeo; she was wearing thick knee pads.
A sloppily dressed man, smoking and yelling (presumably into a headset, although I didn’t see it), came along, unclear on the concept of a relaxing walk in the park. Maybe his doctor told him he should walk more.
A very old man came along, slowly and gingerly making his way down the steep paved walkway the roller skater hadn’t mastered. He was moving faster than I had.
As on my previous visits, ebony jewelwings flew around, sometimes landing to rest and sun on the rocks near the water. An eastern comma glowed with color when its wings opened, then disappeared when its wings closed.
Near the mill, a big, much-injured tree shelters a picnic table. I half expected a druid to emerge from its trunk and wondered if some of its wounds had been lightning strikes.
I hated to leave and hope to return.
After a leisurely breakfast and some moments in the sunroom overlooking the lake and the wind turbines, we packed and, after the now-traditional stop at Tim Horton’s, headed north on Route 5 to Old Fort Niagara. On Grand Island, we debated a detour to Beaver Island State Park, but there wasn’t enough time.
I’d been to Old Fort Niagara perhaps twice. Once a couple of my friends had come with us — I remember this because somewhere I have a closeup of our faces as we sat in the back seat of my dad’s van. Also among my photos there’s one of my dad and mom walking across a bridge or embankment in the middle distance. The enormous weight gain that had snuck up on him jutted out prominently, while a couple of yards behind him my mother struggled to keep her hair from blowing in the wind. It’s not a flattering photo, but I like it because it’s one of the few unposed photos I have of them together.
My dad may have taken me one more time, after my mother died and I had graduated from college. I can’t remember if we went to both Niagara Falls and Old Fort Niagara, or just Niagara Falls, but I recall eating lunch in a parking lot and feeling how odd and wrong it was to be on a little adventure without my mother.
When I’d been to Old Fort Niagara before, I’d been struck by the number of college-age boys dressed in redcoats, firing muskets and cannons — funny to think that, like me, those kids have aged into their fifties. On this day, the fort wasn’t overrun by college-age redcoats, but by characters of various ages from several wars and conflicts, from pre-Revolutionary War to the Korean War and beyond — in tribute to Memorial Day. It was a little disconcerting to see GIs at the old fort.
We listened to part of a long presentation about uniforms and the story of Betsy Doyle, who during the War of 1812 ran hot shot up the stairs of the fort’s French Castle. I struggled to get up the stairs even once without toting deadly hot shot.
I’m sure I saw a lot more of the fort on this day than I had before, but I’ve never seen as much as I could. It was a beautiful day, too, with a slightly hazy look that I associate with this area, located across from Canada at the mouth of the Niagara River. It truly feels like a place out of time.
On the return trip, i took a photo of what I’d always thought was a wrecked barge jutting up from the Niagara River north of the Peace Bridge, with trees thrusting through the deck. Since then I’ve read it’s an old water intake station. There go all my assumptions and memories, as I remember my dad pointing it out to me.
On our last pass down Route 5, we made a final stop at Red Top Hots, although it wasn’t quite the same without BL freezing in the lake breeze. After stopping at the house to say goodbye to BL and family, we picked up a perfect souvenir of western New York — Weber’s horseradish mustard, which I don’t remember from my childhood at all.
Next we hurried to Chestnut Ridge Park to find the eternal (not really — it gets blown out frequently but can be relit) flame waterfall. Google Maps seemed determined to send J’s car down a footpath through dense woods, but I wasn’t convinced. As we meandered around a bit, seeing lots of high schoolers in the backs of pickup trucks (which surprised me), finally we asked a man walking his dog where to go. It turns out there’s a parking area for the trail off 277 that was easy to find, but in the meantime we’d lost an hour or an hour and a half of daylight by the time we arrived at the trailhead. I wish I’d remembered my way around Chestnut Ridge! We did get a brief glimpse of the toboggan run . . .
The trail to the falls isn’t too rough, although it’s steep in places, with rocks and logs in the way along the creek. By this time, fatigue had set in from several days of walking and standing, and I couldn’t make it past an uneven part of the trail near the water, even as young people leapt past me and others walked by without a care. As J. continued on, several people offered to help me, but I was physically and psychologically stuck, deterred by what may seem to most to be a tiny obstacle, but it was too much for me at that point in time. J. did see the falls, which he said were farther off than he thought based on what people were telling him. Although there wasn’t a lot of water, the flame was lit. I wish I’d seen it.
We left for Geneseo at about 8:15 p.m., traveling through East Aurora, Warsaw, and Perry on Route 20A, all of which J. liked. One deer crossed the road, and J. spotted a second. Along the way we passed dozens of wind turbines, just like in parts of Illinois on our way back from the Illinois River Road. Route 20A is more twisty than most roads in Illinois, and J. found himself hard pressed to keep out of the way of impatient locals, pulling over when possible to let them pass. At last, shortly before 10 p.m., we arrived at Temple Hill Bed & Breakfast, to be greeted by our friendly host, her friendly dog, and welcome rest after an exhausting but exhilarating few days.