Getting your feet wet


IMG_20170923_225109 this was the best way to approach Wagner Lake in Marion. I’m always rather suspicious of a lake where your feet disappear when you step in the lake.  You see Wagner lake is a rather dirty lake.  That’s why it’s better to swing into the lake than to step into it. The kids in the Marion Boys Club found out we’re going t The kids in the Marion Boys Club found that out quicker than a speeding bullet. I don’t know how that lake got so dirty?

In memory of Mike McMillan


donald-mcmillan I only learned about the death of Mike McMillan A few days ago. I serve with Mike at the Marion boys club in the 1970s
At the time Mike was program director and I was the educational director
I remember Mike for his gentle sense of humor his compassion for his position and his leadership ability. He will be sorely missed by that community. I would hope that the current Grant County Boys and Girls Club will honor him in some special way. Perhaps the leadership award given in his name with the appropriate. Wherever you are now you are in a far better place. I feel honored to have known you.

Feeling Groovy


4442575 one of my readers informed me about the Marion Boys Club singers. I was the educational director of the boys at the time. Dale Knaur was the director of the group. They made a record of about 16 songs. However the album was not a big success because you couldn’t see the cuteness of the boys while you listen to the music
The group eventually went to Washington DC to sing at Congress and was only the second group ever to sing there at the time the other group being the Beatles. The congressman gave them a standing ovation and I was so proud of the kids that day. So now you can see what the album looked like. And this post is being dedicated to the memory of Mike McMillan who passed away last month
Mike was the program director of the Marion boys club at the time.

The Rock Formations of Shanty Falls


This is the great rock formation found at Shanty Falls just south of Wabash. It overlooks Shanty Falls itself and is found just to its right as you face the falls. You can actually sit down within this formation and enjoy a lunch.

About a quater of a mile further away, in the direction of the Wabash River, is nearly a mile of rock formations, many with caves within them. This was always a fun place to explore when I was a kid. One could have a very complete day at this locality.

How many of you have been to Shanty Falls? At the top of the falls, the creekbed is nearly solid rock for about a half mile coming down toward the falls. Leave us a comment as to your experiences at Shanty Falls.

Black Bear Honey Escapade


Once, hen hiking in the Manistee National Forest in the 1970’s with the Marion Boys Club, we happened acorss an overlook that provided us with a full view of the valley below. What we saw was amazing. We noticed a bear trying his best to get into a large log that was obviously full of his favorite treat- Honey! With our binoculars, we focused in on that log and saw a mass a bees surrounding that bear even though he seemed to give them little notice.

That bear was more centered on the honey within that log. His claws shredded it time and time again as he stuck his nose deeper and deeper into that log. The bees did their best to discourage him but he was not to be denied. The boys each took a turn at the binoculars to see what was happening and then we moved off to leave the bear to the task at hand. I don’t think that he bear was ever conscious of us being above him on that overlook as his attentions were turned elsewhere.

Instead of finishing our hike that day, we returned to the car for the trip back to Big Bass Lake as I thought it wise to cease our hiking of that day in the event that other bears might be in that same area. And, while the bear might have had his full of honey, the kids had a “honey” of a time watching his efforts from that overlook and that is something they will never forget.

The Roads of Camp Martin Johnson


These two roads lead both past Camp Martin Johnson and into the camp. The dirt road leads directly into the camp whereas the other road goes past that dirt road. Both these venues were used by one of my boys clubs when we hiked over from our property to visit the camp and were granted permission to do so. This was my Marion Boys Club.

The hike was a lengthy one just to get there and even longer as we toured the camp. Another of our leaders met us at the camp via rowboat while towing a second one for our watery return back to our campsite.

While at the camp we noticed activities in progress including a well staffed and operated waterfront. My other leader had to ask permission to come aboard and dock with our two rowboats as he awaited us to get there by land.

Camp Martin Johnson wa a YMCA based camp with its main operation in the Chicagoland area.

Baby Spiders


75d9a42915d6f167c74391ecb3c72427

After a night hike in our forest, the boys piled out onto Noreika Road and their flashlights began scanning the road. In the forest I only let them use their flashlights in the event of an emergency as lights tend to rob them of their night vision.

Just then a member of the Marion Boys Club caught an object in his beam. As I approached the youngster, I noticed a sense of awe and wonderment in his bulging eyes. I glanced down and saw a mother spider in full view with its babies on its back. Soon all the beams were directed at that spider and try as she might she just could not avoid the spotlight.

After a few moments the boys moved on but they were still talking about that incident all the way back to camp and even as they got ready for bed. In the morning it had passed.

But his sense of awe and wonderment will continue on in this new series that will appear every now and again this year. What will demand its attention next time?

The Antics of T.J.


T.J. had that Chuck Connors look after he fired off his rifle in the opening credits of The Rifleman. If you doubt that, just look at the eyes of T.J. and Connors, if you can remember back that far.

As for TJ himself he was at home in the water. He loved swimming either in Big Bass Lake or Lake Michigan.  And, I never foun out what his initials meant.  Even his best friends did not seem to know.  His parents must have provided him a most unusual first name. 

But what made TJ stand out most was that Chuck Connors look.  Don’t you think?

Big Bass Lake Over The Years- 1970’s- 3


During the 1970’s the significant events for me at Big Bass Lake were the multiple trips I took to our family farm with Boys Clubs of America including the Marion Boys Club, Salesian Boys Club, and the Hoffman Estates Boys Club. The Marion YMCA even took one trip there using their large bus as our transport vehicle.

Our picture today is of our pointe just off our wooded beachfront. The Marion Club took the most trips to Michigan including two spring trips where we stayed in cabins off our property. The remainder of the trips for Marion were tent trips to our property. Salesian took one tent trip where it rained every day but one. Hoffman Estates had two trips, one in tents and the other in a cabin.

On every trip a midnight visit to the Haunted Island and House occurred. The Marion club on one of their trips visited Camp Martin Johnson which closed in 1976. I worked at the Marion club from 1972-74. Side trips always included trips to the Ludington State Beach, the Lake Michigan Recreational Area, and to the Pine River Bridge near Wellston.

The first campers got to meet Otto Bartlett, the owner of the Big Bass Lake store before he sold the business. The Marion kids also saw our old house before it was replaced by the newer cottage closer to Big Bass Lake. That Marion club also spent a night in the two room cottage on a stormy night where my grandmother actually walked down to our beach advising us to leave our tents for that evening.

The Hoffman Estates kids saw a wolf on their trip to a nearby cabin as part of their adventures while the Marion kids saw a bear. All the Salesian kids saw on their trip was raindrops except for one clear day. Thus the 1970’s were a time for kids to enjoy the pleasures of Big Bass Lake and the surrounding area.

Enroute to the Farm


These are two of my boys club members on a trip to our family farm from Marion, Indiana. I took Indiana 15 out of Marion and in Wabash switched to Indiana 13 all the way to the state line of Michigan. We entered a town called Mottville and took a highway over to Michigan 131. We stayed on that route through Grand Rapids and then connected with Michigan 37 at Newago and stayed on that until the Club 37 restaurant just outside Wolf Lake.

I tried to keep the kids amused and we played various games such as Alphabet where the kids had to begin with A on billboards and find a letter all the way to Z. Of course, the immortal, “Are we there yet?” was always the chorus most of the way until we hit the Manistee National Forest. From there on the scenery changed from just farms to forests and lakes.

On the way back home, the “Are we there yet?” chorus never came about. Instead the conversation was filled with talk about the Bloody Antler Trail, the Haunted Island, Big Bass Lake, and Lake Michigan among many, many more things.

Night Monsters in Big Bass Lake


First night imagination was great on any camping trip and with the Marion Boys Club it was no exception. The imagination starts to flare up after the evening campfire as the embers provide little light. Now and then the boys would hear sounds coming from Big Bass Lake that they could not identify. Add to that, the evening campfire spoke of a monster lurking beneath the darkness of the waters.

Then every sound the boys heard was amplified according to each of their vivid imaginations.  Calvin Little heard what he thought was a splash in the water so he headed right for his tent.  One boy was sitting on the portable potty and a nut fell on his head and he thought the sky was falling. 

Then there was Kenny Huffman who thought he saw something surfacing out in Big Bass Lake while he was soaking his feet in the lake.  He quickly withdrew to his tent.  I often wondered how the boys could think that a canvas tent would protect them from their imagined monsters?  Even the croak of a frog sent boys scattering in every direction in the thick darkness. 

Of course, when offered, no one wanted to go rowing that evening.  I sometimes wondered what those frogs, squirrels, and other living creatures thought about how those great big boys were so frightened by them?  I think I know now what creature comforts means.  Or to be a boy again with all that imagination!

The Quagmire Creature Encounters Mark O’Brien


Once on a trip with the Marion Boys Club one of our boys was using the commode late at night and said he heard bushes moving about behind him near the quagmire swamp and thought he had encountered The Quagmire Creature.

This monster is said to have inhabited the quagmire swamp behind our wooded beachfront.  This is one thing that I have never mentioned before about our property because only two boys from separate clubs ever related to experiencing it. 

We could never find any evidence of any sort of tracks the next morning following that incident.  Jay reported hearing low growling sounds behind him.  He finished his business quickly and ran back to the tents but told no one until morning.

On a trip with the Hoffman Estates Boys Club, Mark O’Brien also reported seeing the Quagmire Creature.  Whereas the first boy only heard the creature, Mark said he actually saw it.  He was collecting wood behind our campsite a good fifty yards away from the main site when he saw this creature emerge from the bog and advance toward him.  He must have been observing Mark from the swamp for some time.

Mark himself was a troublesome youth and was always getting into mischeif.  He appeared angelic but within him were many devils.  I can only speculate that Mark may well have seen him and maybe even encountered him.  But when the Quagmire Creature came face to face with Mark it was probably more than it bargained for.  When the boys heard his accounting of the incident many believed that it was the creature that fled for his life and was never to be seen or heard again. 

You’d have to know Mark to really appreciate this accounting.  But never again on any boys club trip was there any sighting of The Quagmire Creature.  Once with Mark was more than enough for it I am certain.  I can almost visualize it jumping headfirst into that swamp never to be heard from again.  What a pity for it made for great campfire stories.

Night of the Monster at Big Bass Lake


After a rather spooky outing to the Haunted Island that night, the Marion Boys Club kids returned to our wooded beachfront for a campfire of ghost stories.  The boys wanted to know how that island came to be made known as haunted (you can find that story on another post at BBL and Beyond under the category Haunted Island).  As I began that story, all of a sudden the boys heard two large splashes about forty yards out into Big Bass Lake.

They huddled together as I informed them that the monster of Big Bass Lake might be making known his existence to them.  Kenny Huffman, who had already been really scared at the Haunted Island, drew so close to me that I could hardly breathe.  And he was the only kid over sixteen on this trip! 

I told the boys how the monster makes his appearances only on the darkest night as he comes up for a cupful of air and anything else he can gulp down.  Andy Freshwater’s eyes got really big at that time.  Just then the boys heard another splash even closer in to shore.  He must smell us, I suggested, to which the kids headed directly to their tents.  By the way, it wasn’t fish making those splashes either but rather Dale, another supervisor on the trip.  He used a few large rocks when he was supposed to be using the latrine to scare the kids. 

We could both hear the boys letting their imaginations run loose within their two tents as they began guessing just what kind of monster they were hiding from?  So, who knows what is really lurking in the dark and gloomy depths of Big Bass Lake at night?

Errie Big Bass Lake on the Night of the Monster


I suppose just about any lake can be rather spooky at night but even more so Big Bass Lake when the “Monster” story is told over an evening campfire. What eerie creature lurks in the depths of Big Bass Lake appearing only in the dead of night? I told our campers it must have been seen several times by the kids of Camp Martin Johnson over the years but have yet to have a confirmation on that.

Just what does that creature look like? No one really knows for certain. An old fisherman on the lake stopped by our campsite when we were there on a trip with the Marion Boys Club and related that he was on the lake just after midnight when the water began to churn below his boat. He related that the disturbance nearly sank his boat. He did not stick around for a face to face meeting but headed to shore faster than a speeding bullet. The boys were riveted to his every word.

As he turned to return to his boat after that tale, he dared any of the boys to head out onto that lake with him to the very spot where he had once located the creature.  To his dismay not one of the boys took him up on that challenge.  The next day, the boys wanted to row out to where the old man claimed to have seen the monster which was just to the north of Haunted Island (where else?).  In his tale, he claimed of spotting a few rowboats sunk at that location but the boys could never find evidence of that. 

Still, none of those kids desired to head out to that location at night.  On tha trip, the old man’s story even outweighed the Haunted Island for dread of night.  Who knows what evil lurks beneath the surface of Big Bass Lake?

The Frog Monsters of Seaman Lake


On a spring break camping trip to the Big Bass Lake area we stayed at a place on Seaman Lake because it was still too cold to camp out on our beachfront property. At least that was what I thought until we arrived there to find it flooded over as well. So we stayed at a cabin on Seaman Lake which is about two miles away.

Even in mid spring frogs could be heard croaking away in the evening and one night on our glassed in porch I told of the legend of the frog monsters of Seaman Lake to my Marion Boys Club kids. Legend had it that the frog monsters would jump up the hill to take captive kids that weren’t doing all their chores.

That porch was lighted only by two candles that evening and the kids could hear frogs croaking in the distance even as I spun that yarn. With each passing moment they huddled closer together especially as one frog in particular seemed to be getting louder.

At just the right moment I sneaked my arm behind one of the boys and rapidly knocked upon the glass window pane which sent them all flying every which way. Of course in a few moments they were all boasting how they knew it was a fake all the time. Maybe they did, but what about those frogs in Seaman Lake?

By the way, I wouldn’t recommend a rowboat filled with water as a good escape route for when those frog monsters come to call!

The Strange Depression On Our Field


070724_flying_saucer_02

Not far behind our old barn on the field is a strange depression that looks for all appearances to be about the exact shape as the indention of a flying saucer. It is the only place on our half-mile long field with a depression like that. In fact, it is the only indention on that entire field. How did it get there?

Well, it made for a great story line outside our woods for boys club campers. None of the kids could explain that depression either. They were quite dumbfounded as to how it got there but that is the same amazement that has held me captive since I was a young boy. I’ve visited that location many times and sometimes if I had the motivation would start digging there just to check it out more thoroughly.

Can you imagine if you were driving down the Big Bass Lake Road on the southwest side of the lake and saw a flying saucer there? Would you stop to check it out or continue on your way even a tad quicker than usual? The haunted island has a more vivid story to it but this one remains a gigantic mystery as to how that depression was formed in a field that is otherwise 100% flat? Maybe Rod Serling might have had an answer for one of his Twilight Zone programs?

Marion Boys Club Facility


Marion Boys Club

This is the old Marion Boys Club in Marion, Indiana, where I once served as their Educational Director. I was actually working for the Marion Public Library under the direction of Librarian Jane Ballard. I served in this position three years and part of my responsibility there was to also serve as host for the Marion Boys Club Happenings, a live television program telecast on the then Marion/Indianapolis Channel 23.

The club facility at the time of my employment consisted of a library, a television room, a snack bar, one large games room, and a senior games room. The club also had a large fenced in playground with a full length basketball court that was illuminated by several light standards.

Later this location added a gymnasium but that was after I left the area. Now the club is located at a different location in Marion.

Camping Meals with the Marion Boys Club


Some of my fondest memories of my boys club camping trips revolved around meal times. After the fire crew filled the firepit with woods the cooks for that meal took over. On one trip with the Marion Boys Club, Andrew Freshwater had teamed up with Keith Hansel to prepare the meal which was trail pak macaroni and cheese.

After getting water from Big Bass Lake they heated up their kettle with water and then added the trail pak mix. Andrew was the chief stir person that day and as the mixture got hotter it thickened making stirring a tad harder. He then set that portion of the meal aside to cool a might while Keith stired up the Kool Aid mixture for the meal adding water purification tablets to it since that water would not be boiled.

Diced ham was then added to the macaroni and cheese making a great meal. Conversations during meal times were great. The kids talked about the activities of that day and what was about to happen once darkness set in. On this particular night we were going to head for the Bloody Antler Trail and the boys were excited about that.

Often after meal times the kids would retreat to the tents for a brief rest or some would engage in off shore fishing. Others would hang around the campfire for talk as the clean up crew took over to get the dishes washed in the barrel provided for that purpose. Meals were always fun as good talk mixed with great food.

The Pond on Our Property


Just off Noreika Road and our old logging trail was a trail that led to Matson Road behind the swamp that surrounded our wooded beachfront.  The Marion Boys Club discovered that pathway on one of their trips to our property and its initial impact on them was enormous.  It was at twilight on a foggy night and when they first encountered this pond, its overhanging branches looked like ghostly specters.

Our two photographs display it from an aerial perspective but it is the one on the ground that is most interesting.  Our property has trails that exit onto Matson Road in various places but this one is the shortest in distance.  However this pond appears invisible from the road with only a short hill between it and our forest.  The kids fully explored this area on that trip and some even tried fishing te pond but with no success.  On this particular trip the pond seemed the largest that I had ever seen it as the amount of rainfall that spring must have swelled its size. 

Trips with other boys clubs largely ignored this pond even though they used that trail.  It just proves that how on some trips particular parts of our property caught the attention of the kids eyes more than others.

Was Keith Hansel Possessed at The Haunted Island?


The Marion Boys Club made a visit to the Haunted Island on a stormy night. Ghost stories were told once there and we even looked at the burial mounds just north of the Haunted House. Outside of a little wind at times nothing spectacular happened there. Or so we thought.

I took many pictures on this trip and especially of the Haunted Island and House.  Several pictures of individual boys were taken by that house.  However it wasn’t until we were back in Marion, Indiana, that things started to develop. I showed the boys the many pictures that I had taken and the one of Keith Hansel showed his eyes flaring red and glancing upwards.  Unfortunately, that pictures was lost in a fire.  But it appeared as if Keith had been possessed by the spirits of that island.

That one picture had the most conversation around it and the boys could not understand why it was just Keith’s picture that had that red-eye effect.  Was it merely photographic red eye or something more?  Sometimes strange things happen at that Haunted Island and this was one of them!

Keith’s Pre-Camping Prayer


Prayer is a good thing to do on a camping trip and I often prayed with the boys prior to bedtime. We even talked about God often around the campfire. But young Keith once shared with me his pre-camping prayer that he had with God before his first ever trip to our property in Michigan.

1.  Keith prayed for safety for all the kids going on that particular trip.

2.  He prayed that the Haunted Island wouldn’t be too scary.

3.  He prayed for good weather.

4.  He prayed that the fish would be biting.

5.  He prayed for safety down the Bloody Antler Trail.

6.  He prayed that all the food would be cooked to his satisfaction.

7.  He prayed that his tent would not leak nor would there be any severe storms.

8.  He prayed for swimming and boating safety on Big Bass Lake.

9.  And, he prayed that the trip there and back would not be too boring.

Get this!  All of his prayer requests came out A-okay! 

Keith Hansel Listens to Shells by the Lakeshore


Have you ever used a sound shield? Sound shields are whirling type noise makers that make it difficult to comprehend what is being said in a room if the sound shield is just outside that room. To a lesser degree sea shells are much like sound shields. But instead of a loud noise one hears a low whirling type sound within a particular shell. And on this day at Lake Michigan, Keith Hansel was listening to those very sounds with a shell he had found on the beach.

Oceans have many more shells than can be found around the five Great Lakes but they are there if you look hard enough for them. Keith let me listen in on his and that soft whirling sound is very relaxing. I find it similar to the purr of a cat as to how it can relax you.

I asked the boys of the Marion Boys Club to have a half hour sea shell gathering contest with the winner getting an extra mug of A&W Root Beer when we stopped in Ludington for lunch later that day. Needless to say the boys scurried about faster than a jack rabbit in order to gain that prize.

Surprisingly enough, Calvin Little found three shells so he was proclaimed the victor. He didn’t care much about listening to those shells as his only purpose for gathering his total was to gain an extra root beer. Yet those boys that did find some shells, like Keith, checked them out by putting them to their ears to listen for that slight whirling sound. Not a bad way to spend a morning in Ludington on a day that was too cool for swimming.

The Marion Boys Club Extension at Matthews, Indiana


One of my duties at the Marion Boys Club was to serve as a once a week unit director in Matthews, Indiana, for about twenty local kids. We were housed in an old church that had been converted into a gymnasium. The bathrooms, however, were a disgrace and the local authorities who placed us in that building should have fixed them up much better than they did.

The boys played kickball, dodgeball, ran relay races, and even did some sketching in a makeshift arts and crafts class.  Often times we would leave the quite warm facility and retire to the outside steps for a breath of fresh air and some talk.  The local boys really enjoyed their once a week club.

Matthews was a small farming community near Taylor University.  Our interest in the club lasted about a year before the town hired a part-time director to supervise the boys.  One of the Matthews boys even went on one of our camping trips to Michigan and had a ball.  His story will be forthcoming. 

A Distant Relative


Sometimes you just never know where you might meet some distant relatives. My Marion Boys Club kids had just that type of occurrence on a time we opted to stay at the Seaman Lake Resort over that of our wooded beach. Pictured here is Lloyd, Steve, and myself along with some relatives I had never met on my Grandmother Noreika’s side of the family.

Little Corrie was the standout for as I recall she was most in puppy love with Keith (not pictured) at a time when Keith was not interested in girls. Thus, for Keith, this trip was like one from hell. Several times he begged me to return to our wooded beach and camp out there. But, after a little counsel, he chose to make the best of it.

Corrie seemd to have a crush on Keith and followed him nearly everywhere. She also had a more silent crush on Steve (pictured just before me) but he was much too old for her. When Keith found that out he tried to fan those flames in every way possible. Of all the trips Keith had been on to Michigan this was his least favorite.

It was also the second time that we opted to use Seaman Resort, the other time being on a trip to the area in very early Spring over spring vacation in Marion


Foggy Road

Now and then its good to take camping excursions by car, at least to begin with. On this particular day we followed a dirt road into the Manistee National Forest about ten miles away from Big Bass Lake and entered a fog bank for about two miles. I stopped the car and about five boys unloaded from my station wagon and began exploring the forest in that area. It was a rather cool day even though the month was July.

We came across a small lake that had no cabins or cottages anywhere in sight. One of the kids thought it was a previously undiscovered lake but we were too close to the road, less than a mile, so I thought that was not possible.

Sometimes its great just to get into your car and find th first dirt or sand road off the main road and just plain explore. I like to get at least four or five miles down those roads before selecting a place to start. Those kinds of trips the kids really get into. That was done about twice on a week long camping trip just to give the kids something different from our property on Big Bass Lake. Side trips were also fun and different.

By the way the fog never lifted during that side trip and that made for an errie walk for the kids. It was just another thing for them to talk about on the way home after that trip.

Wagner Lake Adventures


Wagner Lake just outside Marion, Indiana, was the host for a week long camping experience for the Marion Boys Club each summer.  Being used to being able to see the bottom at Big Bass Lake in Michigan at even ten feet or more, it was hard to get used to one’s foot disappearing in Wagner Lake at the depth of two feet! 

Yet the camp had some marvelous hiking trails and even a dam that faced Indiana 9.  The lake also had a channel at the north end that was similar to what one might find in the Florida Everglades.  While at camp the kids had many contests including scavenger hunts, jump the pit contest (filled with mud), and rowing races.  The jump the pit contest was on the shoreline of Wagner Lake and I never was sure as to which was the dirtiest, the pit or the lake itself?

Often times we would take boat excursions into the channel at Wagner Lake after dark which the boys thought was real spookyThat channel was almost impossible to enter after a hard rain as those waters emptied into the lake and the current into the channel was near impossible to try and get into it. 

I don’t think that I ever saw clear water at Wagner Lake on any of our visits there as the water was always murky brown.  Still the boys enjoyed their time there and that was the bottom line.

How About a Leisurely Pontoon Boat Ride on Big Bass Lake?


To show his appreciation for helping him put in his dock one summer, Albert Matson took the members of the Marion Boys Club on a tour around Big Bass Lake.  They saw areas of the lake they rarely had viewed as their usage of the lake was largely of the southwest and southeast portion of the lake. 

We traveled through the “narrows” and past an ever active Camp Martin Johnson as the boys watched the waterfront swimmers have a great time.  They had always wondered where those 6am bugle calls came from and now they knew! 

We then circled both Four Winds and Turtle Islands and then proceeded to the area where the channel between Big and Little Bass Lake was located.  From there Al took us to the extreme northern section of Big Bass Lake and then back to his pier.

The boys had a great time on the tour and thus their labors for putting in his dock that early summer day was truly rewarded.

When Deer Tracks Looked Like Bear Tracks


Bear Swamp

There is a section of the Manistee National Forest not far off our land called “Bear Swamp”. There was a time when a group of kids on a camping trip poured out of a darkened forest into a Christmas tree farm just outside the borders of Bear Swamp. Most of the boys were between the ages of 11-13 but one 18 year old was with us.

As we approached a towering evergreen the kids noticed tracks in the dirt. They were easily identified as deer tracks but to give the kids a thrill I said they were bear tracks. Their eyes brightened and got larger as they bristled with excitement. I looked in the direction of Bear Swamp saying, “That’s where he’s headed, toward his swamp!” I suggested we track him.

All of the kids couldn’t wait to get started except for the 18 year old who said, “Norris, you’re crazy!” It was at that point that I told them all that the tracks they thought were bear tracks were simply deer tracks. But that’s not where the story ends!

A scant second later a large buck bolted from behind the evergreen tree and we all hit the ground as it was so unexpected. The eighteen year old though bolted for the nearest tree to climb and moments later we all had a good laugh about the whole episode and it was the talk of the trip back home after our camping trip was over. In fact, I’d reckon to say that they still talk about those “bear tracks” to their kids. It was the big one that got away. You know, I thought that was only said about fish?

Our Quagmire Swamp


swamp800

Just behind our wooded beachfront on our property was a quagmire swamp. It was quite close in proximity to our second campfire pit. It ran all along the backside of our camping area and was one of the primary reasons we each year had a fern smoke fire to rid that area of mosquitoes.

Some of the kids were real curious about that swamp. Quagmire takes a person down slowly. Unlike quicksand, which one can actually swim in, the same does not hold true for quagmire as the consistency is too thick. Keith, in particular, was real dubious about it. He once asked if he could wade in but I told him what if he got in and started to sink? He said throw me a rope and I said what if the rope broke? That was the end of that conversation.

Another time on a YMCA trip to our property, another supervisor was not watching the kids too closely on a hike as they were scattered about and one boy actually stepped nto a quagmire swamp. It was a small area and he was pulled out, but the suction took his shoes and socks, plus his pants. He was coated with thick black mud. By the way, the only thing that really works taking the aroma off is to wash with tomato juice.

We had several quagmire swamps on our property and the boys were warned about them. Our errie photograph above is the impression I wanted to leave on the boys about the dangers of those quagmire swamps.

A Late Winter Trip to Big Bass Lake for The Marion Boys Club


The kids of the Marion Boys Club took the opportunity over an early spring break to visit Big Bass Lake in what amounted to the end of winter. We took as our base of operation the resort on Seaman’s Lake a mere mile from Big Bass Lake. Winter was still upon the area as a light coat of snow covered the ground and Seaman Lake was still iced over but only with a thin coat. I say that because in about two feet of water it caved in under the weight of both Calvin Little and Kevin Hansel. Only their feet got wet but both were frozen as they entered the cottage to change clothes and shoes.

Fortunately the cottage was just up a hill from where they went in. And despite warnings to the contrary about the dangers of ice told them continuously on the way there, they just had to experiment. They wrapped themselves in two Indian blankets that kept them quite warm to the point that they didn’t want to leave them for over an hour.

Our second day there saw the temperature rise into the low 50’s and the snow cover was gone by mid-day. I took the boys over to our property on Big Bass Lake and I parked the car just off Noreika Road where we usually parked for summer trips. To both the boys and my surprise, the area we usually camped at was under two feet of water! The lake extended all the way to the swamp behind our camping area.

So we opted instead to take a hike on the logging trail all the way to Matson Road. The kids marveled at how “naked” the woods appeared without leaves and how far they could actually see across our property. We ate our lunch near the creek by the phone lines before heading back to the car. Our next stop was at the Big Bass Lake store where the kids purchased some snacks for the night ahead.

We were only at the area for four days over a brief school break. On this trip we took no night hikes as the weather was still kind of brisk and the nightly wind went right through you. The next to last day there we took a trip to Driftwood Valley and the boys were taken aback as to just how desolate that area was at this time of year. There was no talk about wading in the Little Manistee River that day as the temperature was only in the mid 40’s with a stiff wind.

All in all the boys really enjoyed the trip and especially the nights in our heated cottage. Instead of campfires we rallied around the old heat burning stove. Graham crackers with strawberry jelly really hit the spot on those nights. The following day we left the resort for home and the boys looked forward to our summer trips there where tents would be the order of the day at Big Bass Lake.