Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 29, 2013

Phil Power: Michigan a true wonder

BY PHIL POWER
Columnist

---- — ‘Michigan, My Michigan.”

That’s the refrain of a song widely (but inaccurately) believed to be our state song. Sung to the tune of “Oh Tannenbaum,” the lyrics were originally composed in 1862 but recast in 1902 by Douglas Malloch to include the fine lines:

“The whisper of the forest tree

The thunder of the inland sea

Unite in one grand symphony

Of Michigan, my Michigan.”

Recently, my wife, Kathy, our black Labrador, HomeTown, and I drove back home from our cabin on the south shore of Lake Superior. It’s a long drive — eight hours, if you put the pedal to the metal —and it gave us lots of time to reflect on the wonders of Michigan, Our Michigan.

The day before we left, just as we were eating lunch on the porch, we looked up over the river that runs in front of our cabin just in time to see the flash of white head and tail of a mature bald eagle sail by, brilliantly lit against the clear deep blue sky.

Once on the verge of disappearing in our state, the eagles have come back now that use of DDT, the insecticide that weakens their eggs, is banned.

The moon was full our last night at the cabin, and as we walked out into brightly lit woods — swatting the innumerable mosquitoes that have infested our damp state this summer — we heard the “hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo” of the resident great horned owl, calling to find a mate. The wind came up just a little, and all we could hear was the faint, faint whisper of the breeze through the white pines.

Nothing else. Yes, there can be a lovely sound of silence, here in Michigan, My Michigan.

We were on the road the next day, with a stiff wind from the south kicking up little whitecaps as we crossed over the majestic Big Mac and counted the northward-bound cars from out of state, filled with folks eager for their own time Up North.

Of course, the orange barrels were up on I-75 as we headed south.

Why, we wondered, are there miles upon miles of orange barrels when no construction activity is in sight? (Does somebody at the Department of Transportation have it in for us folks driving south?)

We remembered how in past years the oaks on either side of I-75 had been defoliated by the ravenous Gypsy Moth caterpillar. This year, the oaks looked healthy and green, while a few maples were just beginning to turn red. The human “Leaf Peepers” will be out in the U.P. in a few weeks, eager to see the crimson-and-gold wonder of Michigan, My Michigan.

When I was a little boy, returning home from summer camp in August was a very big deal. Sure, I missed my parents and was happy to be home. But more so, I loved the sweet corn that at long last had come into season. I still remember what a struggle it was to get bits of corn out of the braces I wore then, but that was nothing compared to wonderful taste of fresh Michigan corn on the cob.

We grow heirloom tomatoes in our garden at home, but the summer has been cool and only a few cherry tomatoes were ripe by the time we arrived. We can’t wait until we get to the juicy big Brandywines and dark Cherokee Purples that will be ripe in a week or so.

A little olive oil, a little salt and a pinch of basil over warm ripe Michigan tomatoes!

Ah, Michigan, My Michigan.

A few years ago, I gave Kathy a little hand-cranked cider press for her birthday, and as we drove we commented on how many apples we have this season. We’ll be making fresh cider within a month, sharing with friends.

I remember my father and I tried to make hard cider years ago, but we bottled it a little too early. Within a week, we heard the bottles blowing up one after the other down in the fruit cellar, and we knew we had one big mess to clean up.

Now that we’re home, we’re looking forward to the farmers’ market on Saturdays, to making fresh tomato sauce from our own garden, and to picking the raspberries and peaches that are just now coming ripe. Kathy eats them for breakfast, just as they are, and I like picking and snacking as I walk between the rows.

With the summer coming to an end, we’ve got lots of football — Wolverines, Spartans, Lions — to look forward to. We’ll see friends who have been away for the summer. We’ll have a cold one as we oversee things cooking on the grill. In the cool, bright, clear morning light we’ll see the swallows clustering as they prepare for their annual migration and hear the prehistoric gabble of the Sandhill Cranes.

Nowhere on earth is there such wonderful things to relish as we settle into the routine of the long, glorious days of early fall here in Michigan, My Michigan. Michigan, that is, Our Michigan. All of ours.

Phil Power is a former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent. He is founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a centrist think-and-do tank. The opinions expressed here are his own. By e-mail at: ppower@thecenterformichigan.net.