Our Forest Past The Big Swamp

On a trip to our property with the Marion Boys Club a surprising consensus took place on a hike down our logging trail. Most of our hikes terminated where our big swamp near the phone lines was located. At least on the logging trail. You see that trail continued onward all the way to Big Bass Lake Road but was rarely hiked by any of the clubs that came to our land.

Instead we usually took a smaller trail along our creek that led to Matson Road.  Yet on this particular trip we went straight forward past the wide expanse by the phone lines nd continued on the logging trail.  Almost immediately the forest thickens and another large swamp is found on the left side of the trail.  The boys on this trip thought this stretch of the logging trail was even more spooky than the Haunted Island. 

The difference was that our largest swamp is located in open spaces whereas this latest swamp is enshrouded by dense trees.  The trail itself curves around this swamp until Big Bass Lake Road is reached.  And, in this area of our hike, the Marion Boys Club kids were spooked by a deer that bolted out from the forest causing them all to hit the ground because it was so unexpected. 

The boys requested that this part of our land not be revisited again.  It was not easily accessible because there were some obstructions in front of this part of the trail that caused us to make a slight detour to get around them.    I guess once was enough for that dark forested portion of our land.

Firepit Cooking


On our camping trips to our property all our meals came by way of one of two firepits. Two holes were dug about two to three feet deep and then two as close to identical logs were balanced over each pit to hold the various frying pans we utilized. Firepit fires are far better than surface fires and keep the heat of the fire largely confined to the firepit itself.

If we had two courses each was cooked at the separate firepits to double the ease of preparing the meal. The kids enjoyed that concept. One pit was close in to our actual camping area while the other was on the fringe of our campsite somewhat away from everything else. From macaroni and cheese to hot dogs with meat, our meals came right out of those great firepits. Many a marshmellow were cooked there as well but usually at the fringe firepit.

A good ash base was also built up for when I chose to cook in the ashes be it a baked potato or foil burgers. The two overhanging logs had to be continually checked for if they burned through our meal would end up in the pit too. Usually two to three sets were used over the course of one camping trip.

Stange to say but the cookers on our camp work schedule was the favorite one for the kids far exceeding clean-up or wood gathering and fire starting. If you’re camping out try firepits for the maximum in safety.

Swimming at The Pointe

Swimming at our Pointe, which was about sixty yards from our main beach, was often done either early or late in the day. That was due to the close proximity speedboats came to that area in making their run southward past the Haunted Island. The Marion Boys Club kids liked to just sit in the shallow water splashing each other to relax. Jay Davis particularly liked this spot because the Pointe beach was had a sandier bottom than even our main beach.

Swimming races were often conducted between the two beaches as were boat races. The depth of the water here was about four to five feet deep.

During the day the Pointe was often used for fishing and Ricky Bradshaw thought this was the best place to catch perch. The boys wandered into the shallow water rather than fishing off the shoreline. Aside from fishing and swimming, the Pointe also had a tire attached to a tree making for a great swing. And, at times, an older boys tent was placed at this location.

Thus our Pointe always saw plenty of activity during all our camping trips to our land.

Forest Pathway to Big Bass Lake

This is the area just off of Noreika Road where all my boys club trips unload either the car, van, or bus. The tents then go down to the wooded beachfront first which is a distance of about sixty yards. With the tents go a shovel, cycles, and a rake. While some boys begin redigging our two fire pits other start to cycle the area where the tents will be going.

Our second load down is our food supply for the trip followed by all personal items that the boys brought with them. Everything is unloaded at one time and then taken down to our campsite in shifts. After the area where the tents are to go are cycled and raked, the ferns that have been taken down are put into the firepits to smoke the area. The purpose of that is to reduce the population of mosquitoes in the area.

The whole process is one fluid motion as for the last twenty miles of any trip I specify what each boy is to do once we arrive at our property. Our food is stored in a locked crate and moved to the mess tent while other boys get our commode and tarp up and running. And, just as soon as camp preparation has been completed, dinner has to be started as we usually arrive at our property about 4pm in the afternoon.

Following our first supper we do some last minute add-ons to our campsite such as stringing a clothes line and also getting some wood chopped for the next day’s meals. Then an evening swim takes place followed by a short hike on our property. The last thing we do on that first night is have a campfire roasting marshmallows at our second firepit near the swamp. Then its time to hit the tents for a good nights sleep.

Night Camping

I think that on all my camping trips to our property my favorite times were at night. During the day we would swim a lot or take side trips to Ludington or the Lake Michigan Recreational Area, or even to Wellston and the Pine River. But after supper the real great times began. One time each trip was reserved for a voyage to the Haunted Island but largely our hiking times began at dusk until about one o’clock in the morning hiking both on our property and down the Bloody Antler Trail by and near Bear Swamp.

On our property we would travel down the old loggging trails that led to two large swamps and then to a creek. We would play hound and the hare or scouting games or just enjoy the night air. Once we went over to the blackberry patch but there were too many mosquitoes also enjoying that fruit.

Some nights we would just stay by our camping site and roast marshmellows or hot dogs while telling stories or singing songs. Some of the boys enjoyed sitting on the soft moss while taking in the night time beauty of Big Bass Lake. At times we took a rowboat excursion onto Big Bass Lake to take in all the stars of the heavens.

Talks about God were also not uncommon on those trips as many boys prayed before heading back to the tents for sleep. The kids just seemed to open up more in the evenings as the night air was more refreshing and stimulating to their thoughts. Campfires were real special at those times. Some deep theological issues were discussed right there in God’s creation.

After a full day of activities and campfire times sleep was welcome and appreciated at all times. After all another day of activities was about to come forth.

The Noreika Farming Land

This open area amongst the trees of our forest was the Noreika farm land that extended nearly all the way from just west of the public landing to Noreika Road alongside Big Bass Lake Road all the way. Beyond Noreika Road was our forest land and that extended all the way to the north side of Big Bass Lake to and including the west side of Matson Road.

Yet that open land must have meant back-breaking work for my grandfather and his sons along with whatever hired help he could afford in those times. I recall my grandmother, Barbara Noreika, telling me that my grandfather spent long grueling hours with his horse team pulling out countless stumps from that field which must have originally been just as dense with trees as the rest of our forest.

My Uncle Joe once told me that he did not have the physical frame for such work and that his bad back at that time must have been a result of those early days where he helped his grandfather clear the land. It must have been a primary reason why my father left the farm at such an early age (twelve) to seek work away from the Big Bass Lake area. Even my grandfather once fell from his wagon while his horse team was pulling up stumps causing him to be laid up for quite some time.

Then, I also wonder why that singular tree way not cut down with the rest of the trees which you can observe in the middle of the field on the lower right side of this picture. Maybe it was a place to gain some rest under its spreading branches after a hot day of work on that field? I have often wondered how long clearing all that land took before it was ready for the plow? And, what crops did my grandfather plant over the whole of that field? Did he understand crop rotation?

In later years all that land was plowed for hay to feed the few cows we had left on the farm. It was stacked nearly to the rafters of our barn. But in its heyday I can well imagine fields of corn, wheat, and barley. Plus, my grandmother had a large garden just outside the house area full of all kinds of vegetables for the table. You see in those days food for the family largely came from the land itself along with milk and other related dairy products from the cows and chicken from the barnyard along with eggs. Pork and bacon came from the small pig farm we also had. It must have been such a hard life for my grandparents and for my father and his siblings.

Gold From the Forest

Disease free wood in Michigan is gold in them thar forests. I know that our woodshed was filled to the brim with wood that was ready for early and late fall and then again in early spring. No one stayed at our cottage in the winter.

Having supplies on hand is like having a lifeline in the cruel winters around Big Bass Lake. Back in the 70’s fewer than 15% stayed in that area year round with most of them heading for Florida. I think that state doubles its population in the winter.

As it was, our wood burning stove didn’t heat the whole cottage, only the living room and kitchen. You could feel some of that heat also in the restroom if the door was left open. I suppose the same could be said of one of the three bedrooms that was closest to the living room.

Given the fact that our cottage was away from the forest by a good 100 yards, the full impact of the winds pushed against it in the winter and our cottage had a lot of windows. That is why non-diseased wood was gold in them thar forests, especially for those that stayed at the lake year round!

Our Farming Field From Two Directions

These two pictures, one from winter and the other from summer, provide you with the full length of our family field. In the picture from winter you are looking north along Big Bass Lake Road and the trees you see in the distance are just after Noreika Road which cuts through the middle of our property. The forest beyond for nearly another half mile was our property as well and it extended north along Big Bass Lake Road all the way to Matson Road and then even some along that road.

The summer picture looks at our field southward also along Big Bass Lake Road almost to the Public Landing. This was the field that my grandparents farmed. Although it looks quite large the majority of the property was forestland.

The winter photo was taken by Ed Hawks and the summer one by myself. The summer shot was taken from Noreika Road.

Night of the Hunter’s Moon at Big Bass Lake

On a brisk July evening at Big Bass Lake I spoke of our indention on our farm field. The whole of that quarter-mile stretch of farm line was perfectly level with the exception of one area that was circular and about ten feet deep as each step took you down a notch. Why had that area also not remained level as the rest of our field?

Speculation had it that a flying saucer once landed in that very location.  When I took the boys of the Hoffman Estates Boys Club to that very spot under a Hunter’s Moon, the wind began to pick up almost on que.  Our farm field lies between Big Bass Lake Road to the west and our forest to the east.  The boys had picked various spots around that circular area to sit while I told of the options of how that had been created. 

Due to the chill the boys had worn wind-breakers that evening and as the wind began to increase, the boys moved lower and lower into the crater to escape its chill.  Soon they were all nearly at the bottom.  Another thing had happened as they retreated lower into the crater and that is the distance between themselves got shorter and shorter until they were all lined up in one line together.

Just then something blew across the crater and the boys hugged the ground for dear life.  It might have been some brush but on a Hunter’s Moon night, who really knows?  And right after that occurred the boys asked to return to our wooded beachfront.  One of the boys suggested that had experienced a ghostly specter that night.  Only the Hunter’s Moon knows for sure!  And it wasn’t saying a thing!

Night of the Thunderstorm at Big Bass Lake

On a camping trip permeated by rainfall you’d think a thunderstorm would not have unnerved the boys from the Salesian Boys Club one night. The storm swept over the Big Bass Lake area after 2am and the wind was howling. All of us stayed in the tents as the rain just poured down from the sky. Yet all we felt was drips and drabs as the canopy of trees overhead took away the majority of the heavy rainfall.

Some of the boys slept right through that storm even though the thundering was ferocious at times. I looked out my tent flap and could observe white caps on the lake. It was a good thing that we brought our two rowboats well onto land that night as the signs of a storm were telling late in the day by the cumulous clouds overhead.

One of the boys in my tent drew in close to me with every passing thunderclap. As I tucked him back into his sleeping bag I told him that storms make for great sleeping but he said, “How, with all that noise?” I replied that they must be bowling in heaven that night and there were a great many strikes to be had. I don’t think that convinced him that all was well.

After about a grueling hour, the storm passed by and all we heard till morning was the dripping from the trees that consumed most of that water. In the morning one boy groaned that our clotheslines had not done their job as all the clothes were wet. I reassured him that they would be dry by the end of the day which they were. All bad things do pass you know. All in all it was an interesting night at Big Bass Lake. By the way that day after the storm was our only completely dry day of our trip.

The Hikers Dress Code

These two boys would NEVER have been dressed like this on a hike had they been with any of my boys clubs. You’d never see any boys from the Marion, Hoffman Estates, or Salesian Boys Clubs look like that on a hike. Prior to going on any trip to our property I sent out a dress code to all parents of the kids that would be going with me to Michigan.

On that list were jeans or sweatpants, tennis shoes (one leather), two pullover long sleeved sweatshirts, three T-shirts, underwear, swimming suit, shorts, and work gloves, which were optional. On the Salesian trip boys also brought their dress shoes since they were going to church as I had a large group of Catholic boys. But it should be noted that just as those boys would not have worn their dress shoes without socks, the same would be true on hikes yet with their tennis shoes. Without socks parts of the shoes tend to wear on bare feet producing painful calluses. And, the same can be said in regard to hands when rowing a boat. Just as socks with shoes, bare hands are safer in gloves especially going down hill. One boy without them grabbed a tree and the bark of that tree tore the boys skin on his hands badly. The next time he was at the store he opted for work gloves over snacks.

Long pants or sweatsuits also protect the skin from poison ivy, nettles, or underbrush and bushes that can stretch the skin. Sweatshirts also protected the skin from those very things. Even around camp some boys wore their full sets of clothing for chopping wood, collecting it, or for cooking. If you’ve ever had an hot ember strike your bare skin near a fire you’ll have a whole new appreciation for sweatpants and shirts.

Close in to our campsite the boys either walked around in bare feet or in their canvas shoes with bare feet. Short walks were not likely to produce calluses. Even when rowing some boys wore shoes to project their feet from the hot metal rowboats. Those that opted for just bare feet were often denied entrance at the Big Bass Lake store so they learned from that experience fast.

At the end of each trip the boys had a whole new attitude about my dress code.