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The Fred Meijer Heartland Trail

1. Waiting for Wildlife

Northeast out of Greenville on the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail. It’s a flat, dedicated trail with only one stretch along Peck where you have to share the road from narrow bike lanes painted on either side. The vehicles go by fast, but they go by only once in a while and leave plenty of room. (At least they did today.)

Not long after the route becomes a true “trail” again, there’s a bridge over a small creek. It seemed a good place to view the land. The water was brownish-clear, just like the Flat River into which it eventually flows if you follow maps south to near Belding. 

So I leaned against the rail and watched the water run, waiting for something to happen down there. A snake. Or a turtle. Or a fish, perhaps. Waiting for some kind of wildlife event.

A water bug skates across the smooth surface of the water, leaving a tiny V-shaped wake behind. Ok, I guess that’s it. Then snap! a bird swoops out from under the bridge and snaps and misses and snaps again, grabbing the unsuspecting bug.  It swoops back under the bridge and out other side into the woods. Circle of life.

I put my feet on the petals and resume riding.

2. Lunchtime

There was an octagonal table in the shade of some Maple trees on the other side of Derby Road. It had been about an hour, and it was time for a little something. So I pulled a ham sandwich out of my pack and a can of fizzy water. I devoured them.

There were Aspens with quaking leaves mixed in with the Maples. The air in the shade was cool. There was a garbage can with a new trash bag liner beside the table and a portapotty on the other side of the trail. 

A guy on a recumbent tricycle came from the other direction. He stopped for a break in the portapotty and smiled when he saw me.

“How far did you go?” I asked.

In halting words, he said he had ridden from Greenville to Alma. My eyes widened. (That’s the full 42 mile trail.)

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a long ride.”

His eyes widened and he puffed up his cheeks and blew air out his mouth as if to say that he was bushed. But he didn’t say anything.

“Right,” I said. As he began to turn back to the trail, I said, “You want a protein bar?”

He shook his head and then strained to push a couple more words out. “Burger,” he said. “Burger. King.” It took quite a bit of effort for him to get those words out, and even then, they were a bit garbled. But the point he was making was obvious — he had devoured his lunch, too. We both laughed.

He turned to the trail again, but then he stopped and looked back. 

“Baandt pottock,” 

I cocked my head. “What?”

He squinted and pushed the two words out again. “Bland pottik.” 

I still didn’t understand.

He shook his head and pushed a different word out. “Stroke,” he said, pointing to himself. 

“That’s ok,” I said. “But what were you saying?” I walked a little closer.

“Baandt. Bland. Blandt. Plant,” he said.

“Plant product!” I said laughing. “You had a veggie burger?”

He laughed and nodded.

“I had a ham sandwich,” I said.

He smiled, nodded and waved as he drove back towards Greenville.

“Have a good ride back,” I said.

He pushed out words of thanks and was gone.

Sky Turns Black

Forty years ago a young man spent the summer with his grandparents. They lived in a tiny town. His grandmother talked with him sweetly, showed him where the wild strawberries grew, marveled at his soft hands, introduced him to good friends down the street. His grandfather tried to teach him to use a theodolite, how to lay straight runs of concrete blocks, took him walking in the woods, showed him the shadows under the Hemlock trees.

It was summer. They were at the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone. The sun set late.

From his bed upstairs, the man would look out the window and gaze at the lingering light of the summer night sky. It was hot that year, and a window fan helped cool the room as the sky slowly darkened. He would breathe deeply to smell the air. He would roll over and gaze again and again until the sky beyond the fan was finally black.

His grandparents have long since passed away. The house where they lived is gone. That young man is not young, anymore. But a summer sky on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone still holds his gaze. It makes him look up again and again. He smells that air. Outside, the summer sky finally turns black, letting the man know that he may finally go to sleep.

Morning Activities

1. On The Western Shore

The camp on the western shore of the lake gets direct sun until noon and shade after that. So they swim in the morning. 

Today after the swimmers swam and some kayaks returned from a trip perhaps into the next lake, a mass of campers embarked in canoes. (How it is possible to make such cacophony with paddle against canoe?)

They move in the quasi-direction of the next lake, zigzagging and spiraling and meandering until social forces pull them into spirals and tight circles. They glom together like magnetized iron shavings.

But look! There are two campers who have their heads on straight. They have gone in the other direction and are sitting still, paddles in their laps, heads turned in wonder at their noisy compatriots.

These two have it right. Sit silently in the noonday sun, don’t paddle because you don’t have to. Summer breeze makes me feel fine. Every thing’s alright.

Alas, the social field lines reach even this distant pair, the law of attraction allures them. The camper in the back begins to paddle. They join the drifting glom.

2. On The Eastern Shore

Nothing going on over here, folks, except…

...a tray of breakfast and a book

Gone the Sun

The sunset came and went simply this evening. No pyrotechnics.

In the distance, there was a pastel blue sky. Central Time Zone over there, don’t you know. Still daylight. The fair and industrious Trudy would have been coming home from shopping at Target under that daylight, perhaps.

Nearer at hand, there were clouds gliding over the White Pines across the water. They were already in shadow, and there was barely a hint of lavender in their gray. Beyond them were wisps of higher clouds still in golden daylight, now more golden-orange, now more orange-pink which gradually faded to gray-lavender as I stood on the dock. It did not take long.

When I began writing this, enough dusk was still in the sky that the silhouettes of those Pines were visible. But the dusk had faded to black, and there are no silhouettes left to see. Day is done. 

How’s that, Jasper?

Sharing the Golden Glittering

How to share it with you, that sunlight on the water? How to describe it, the brilliance of its golden glittering? I cannot. Even the camera cannot. But wait. Perhaps the camera can.

the camera capturing the golden glittering using comic book mode

There you have it.


During the day yesterday waves raced out of the southwest, and there were whitecaps on the water. By late afternoon the clouds and rain had passed, and sunlight glinted off gently swelling waves.

sunlight glinted off gently swelling waves

The late summer evening sunset was remarkable.

the sunset was remarkable

Today there is barely a breeze on the face of the deep, and a spirit verily hovers on the face of the water. A reflection of the forest on the western shore is smeared in various hues of green, pulled toward a shore of cattails and lily pads.

smeared in various hues of green

In the shallows beside the dock, a Bluegill just darted out of the shadows chased by a Bass. Beyond the drop-off, ripples just radiated from where a fish snapped at flea-flies who ventured too close. And a Great Blue Heron just launched itself out of hiding in the cluster of swamp roses near the dock, flapping its wings in prehistoric fashion, startling a fish offshore who (perhaps unwisely but in the event harmlessly) jumped.

Two nights ago tree fell in the woods. You couldn’t help but hear it. There was a snap, a creaking groan and then a clamorous crash. It was an Oak, and its trunk snapped far above the forest floor. A tree equal to its girth 30 feet up would have been a prize in any yard. Its wet dark green foliage now lies on the ground, mingled with that of Maples and Pines and Sassafras that it destroyed in its demise.

its trunk snapped far above the forest floor

The new hole in the canopy beckons to seedlings

the forest canopy beckons to seedlings

and White Pinelings

White Pinelings

and a nearby Beech that has been waiting decades for just this eventuality.

a Beech that has been waiting decades for just this eventuality

Perhaps you think I seek to taunt you with this, to stir feelings of envy. And perhaps it would just make things worse to tell you of the Robin in the trees by the lake’s edge sweetly singing to some far away partner in song. And of the Mourning Doves. And of the Peewee. And the Titmouses flitting in the branches of the White Pine trees.

But I am not trying to tease. I am just trying to tell you how it is up here on this lake in this woods on this marvelous, sunny day that I wish would never end.

Olivetti Praxis 48

It was because of poor penmanship. There were several of us who were evidently judged in need of intervention by virtue of how we wrote. Perhaps they will write more neatly if they see how neat things could be.

So several times a week, we were excused to a glass-walled room behind our fifth grade classroom where there were rows of scrumptious Olivetti Praxis 48 electric typewriters.

src: Wikipedia commons

The keys were labelled with green “frosting”. They were smooth and contoured and caressed your fingertips. And they had carriage return keys on both sides of the keyboard. I was in heaven. 

In the end my cursive did not improve, and as I recall, the experiment didn’t last very long — likely just a thesis for a graduate student at that long-since-shuttered laboratory school. Still, I did learn to touch type. 

Years later, when computers swept onto the scene, I remember remembering those twin carriage return keys. At first, I felt cheated that computer keyboards so obviously catered to the right-handed typists, and then I began to doubt my memory. Perhaps there had not been two carriage return keys after all.

This morning I finally looked for evidence. When I found the picture above, a flood of memories of using the machine instantly came back. And although the picture is tantalizing, it is ambiguous, since the keys in question are not labeled. But those are, I tell you, the two carriage return keys (as you can clearly see here), and now I know that my memory was not playing tricks.

Two carriage return keys. Imagine it. Oh the world that could have been.

Cashews and Pickles

She came into the room at the beginning of the sixth period final. It was the last exam of the year. But she was exempt, so I was surprised to see her.

“Here, Mr. Hasan,” she said. “Thank you,” her long dark hair framing a relaxed smile.

She handed me a card and then left for the cafeteria, where the exempt students were assembling. It was a long, sweet note that concluded with these words:

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’m going to miss algebra. I hope your summer is full of cashews and pickles!

They know us really, really well.

The Abyss

“Remember,” I told them. “You have a week to get late homework to me. Anything later than that falls into the abyss.” 

I drew a picture. I attached it to the message. In class the next day, I taped it up in the front of the room.

don't throw your homework into the abyss

“What’s this?” I asked the students.

“The abyss,” someone said.

From this, and from the flood of late homework that arrived over the next few days, I think it’s fair to say they got the message.

Very Suspicious

It was the second day of final exams. The first period students were coming into the room. I was passing out the answer forms — half-sheets of paper with a box for each multiple choice answer.

This class never gets multiple choice tests. They didn’t know what to make of it.

“Is that all!?” one of them asked before he had even looked at the paper.

“No, it’s the answer sheet,” I said.

“How many problems?” he asked, evidently still not having looked at the paper which consisted of little more than 17 numbered boxes.

“Seventeen,” I said.

“Is that all?” someone else said in a tone of sincere surprise.

“Wait,” I said, turning toward them. “You mean you want me to put more problems on the test?”

“No, no, no!”

I looked down at my desk to take attendance.

“Very suspicious,” one of them mumbled. “Mr. Hasan giving a multiple choice test. Very suspicious.”