Walking through Rural Michigan from Marshall through Albion, Homer, to Litchfield

May 2016 Update: Three Days and 41.9 Miles

Jeff slacked packed me.  A typical day is where he drops me where I last stopped.  He takes his time, finds a location where we might spend the night, drives to a relatively nice location such as a small town, and starts walking toward me.  It might be only a mile or two or up to four miles and then we walk back to the vehicle.  We catch lunch or some ice cream.  I get off my feet for an hour.  Then I walk the rest of the afternoon.  We arrange a time, usually between five and six, he picks me up and we go to our camp site.

My feet were hurting.  Ten days ago I had purchased a very expensive new pair of hiking shoes.  Instead of breaking them in around the home I took a seven mile walk with a friend.  I got the mother of all blister on my right heel.  It was not just a blister.  It went right into the raw flesh.  To compensate I wore loafers on the first day of this three day hike.  That also raised issues with my sole, large toes, and two others, and the start of another heel blister on the other foot.  Each morning I spent 20 minutes patching my feet with gauze, mole skin, a wrap, and tape.  I looked and felt like a wounded warrior.  The last two days I wore my old but comfortable hiking boots, falling apart, but they worked.

Thursday afternoon rain was forecast.  The sky was growing a menacing dark.  I could hear the distant thunder.  Large open 50-100 acre newly planted corn fields were on both sides of the road.  The only trees lined the road, ideal attractions for lighting I thought.  I tested the wind and felt it would blow the storm west of me. It did. Minutes after Jeff picked me up it was raining.  We searched and found the campground.  No one was there.  We camped at Motel Nine and cooked our macaroni and cheese outside the motel door.  We looked and acted the part of a couple of rednecks.  We did not leave any beer cans though.

Walking south on 26 Mile Road I was approach by a horse and buggy with a young man driving to town for a few groceries.  Later I ran into a second one.  Then I saw something I had not seen since leaving Africa.  It has been decades since I have seen it in the States…clothes drying on clothes lines in the back yard of a farmhouse.  In the yard were a couple push lawn mowers.

This hike was all rural country road walking and quite the contrast from 1950, when I was a young boy on a dairy farm, and today’s operations.  There are still many farm steads with the hip roof dairy barn, the granary, milk house, chicken coop, corn crib, and a tool shed or even a small pole barn.  None of these buildings are used for their original purposes.  In contrast, I saw operations of several thousand acres.  Hardly a tree in sight.  Huge pivot irrigation systems.  In the middle of several hundred acres were two airplane size hanger pole buildings filled with machinery inside and out. While there a tractor trailer pulled in hauling a large bulldozer.  There was at least 12 employees working there based on all the parked vehicles.

I walked over to look at some of the equipment.  There was a 24 row corn/bean planter.  My dad used a converted horse drawn two row planter.  Our neighbor who was the most successful farmer in the area in the 1960s had a four row planter.  My memories are of a rural lifestyle.  Today it is a commercial enterprise.

Those were the days of plowing, disking, dragging, going over the field several times, then top dressing and cultivating two or three times.  Now days it is once, maybe twice over.  The idea is control the weeds with chemicals, top dress immediately upon planning, not exposing the soil any more than necessary.  I find it frightening to see hundreds of acres with hardly a weed waiting for planting.  There are almost no tree lines, no natural barriers to the streams, leaving me wondering where the chemicals are going.  That horse drawn carriage is starting to look pretty good.

In my youth I had a fantasy of being a vagabond, just traveling anywhere and everywhere, stopping whenever, and helping people.  Maybe I am fulfilling this fantasy by long distance hiking.  I do know that if I was alone I would not stop and sit in Litchfield town square eating a banana split with my son.  On my own, I would have kept on keeping on…much more task focused than I care to admit.  Being with him is the best part of just living in the present.  I love this man and our relationship.

I really do not want to even admit to this.  It is not bad but seems so insignificant.  There was a field of newly planted corn.  It was just coming up.  It was a stony section.  About thirty yards off the road, there was an especially large stone, large enough that it could cause some serious damage to equipment.  I went over and carried it to the side of the road.  It must have weighed 40 plus pounds.  Sometimes walking through the small towns if I see trash and a trash barrel to put it, I pick it up and put it in the trash containers.  I am not sure why I do this.  I do not feel guilty when I don’t do it.  I am certainly not under any obligation to do so.  I do feel good about helping.   Is this normal or weird?

The four cities I walked through truly reflect rural Michigan.  They all came into existence about 1830-35 and were established on the Kalamazoo River.  Water power was used for grist and flour mills, lumber mills, and other manufacturing needs.  I walked through Ceresco that never survived as a municipality although it had a dam producing power plant for over 100 years.  Each town has a fascinating history full of colorful characters.  I ended this walk in Litchfield.  In the middle of the town square is a historical marker to Rose Hartwick Thorpe who wrote The Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight.  The memorial is all about remembering small town America.

CURFEW MUST NOT RING TONIGHT
by Rose Hartwick Thorpe (April 5, 1867)

Slowly England’s sun was setting oe’r the hilltops far away,
Filling all the land with beauty at the close of one sad day;
And its last rays kissed the forehead of a man and maiden fair,–
He with steps so slow and weary; she with sunny, floating hair;
He with bowed head, sad and thoughtful, she, with lips all cold and white,
Struggling to keep back the murmur, “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

“Sexton,” Bessie’s white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
With its walls tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp and cold,–
“I’ve a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew, and no earthly help is nigh.
Cromwell will not come till sunset;” and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

“Bessie,” calmly spoke the sexton (every word pierced her young heart
Like a gleaming death-winged arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart),
“Long, long years I’ve rung the curfew from that gloomy, shadowed tower;
Every evening, just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight hour.
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right: Now I’m old, I will not miss it. Curfew bell must ring to-night!”

Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow.
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
“At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must “die.
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. “Curfew must not ring to-night!”

Some flowers that stood out and I recognized were Cut-Leaved Toothwort, Canadian and Northern White Violet among many others I did not recognize, White Trilliums, and lots of Spring Beauty.  Lilacs were blooming in every yard and along the road.  They were dark blue, red, purple, beautiful and had great aroma…and I did not take a single picture of one.  However, I did get a great picture of a Sand Hill Crane.  Interestingly they breed mostly in remote Arctic.

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