New poetry collection showcases beauty of Northern Michigan

By KATE HABREL
Capital News Service

LANSING — In his most recent book, poet Russell Thorburn imagines familiar characters from around the Upper Peninsula and beyond.

In “John Lennon on the Beach in the Upper Peninsula,” Thorburn imagines the titled celebrity wading on the Lake Superior shoreline:

“Just the idea that John’s here, his arms wrapped around his body,

like some whaler whose ship went down, glows in me like fire.”

A 2013 grassroots fundraising campaign earned Thorburn the unofficial title of the U.P.’s poet laureate. His recent book, “Somewhere We’ll Leave the World,” celebrates the joy of wandering. It’s his seventh poetry collection.

His poems take readers on what Thorburn calls “parallel journeys” through nature and history. He uses familiar characters and personal experiences to call attention to the scenic beauty of Northern Michigan.

“The Lake Superior shoreline is very unique, and I love walking along the water, especially in winter,” said Thorburn, who lives in Marquette. “These characters, the environment, and my relationship within that environment created these poems.”

John Lennon isn’t the only famous name to appear in the book. Walt Whitman, Billy the Kid and Marilyn Monroe co-star in several poems.

But celebrities aren’t the only people featured in the book. Thorburn also connects the landscape with soldiers in the Civil War.

“Union soldiers came back here to heal,” he said. “Quite often I read about people who served in Iraq or Afghanistan — they take a wilderness walk. So I thought, well, this is kind of like a precursor to that.”

Of course, Thorburn didn’t completely ignore the view. Images of nature and animals often surface in his poetry. Foxes are a common sight—sometimes appearing in unusual places. From the poem “Chinese Restaurant:”

“She tells the animal he can eat only what’s

on the carryout menu: egg rolls, noodles.

She shows him a table in the corner, not

understanding why a fox would want Chinese

at this hour.”

Several poems are based on events in Thorburn’s life. It’s those experiences that started his artistic career.

“It began much earlier when I was 18 or 19 in the Detroit area, and I had a garage band,” Thorburn said. “Music was very big back in Detroit, so there’s poems about that. And as a teenager and in my 20s, I wandered around. I hitchhiked. So a little bit of that spirit is in there too.”

Thorburn includes several poems about his time in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, California. He was a resident artist there in 2012, staying in a desert study center near Soda Lake.

There’s a little bit of something for everyone in the collection—recognizable faces, natural beauty and musical turns of phrase.

In the end, Thorburn’s poetry insists that the journey is worth as much as the destination.

“I’m not trying to educate anybody, or teach,” Thorburn said. “It’s just to have the poem, and they’re on the journey with me as a reader. I hope you get on the bus and go on this journey.”

“Somewhere We’ll Leave the World” is available from Wayne State University Press for $16.99.

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Order Up: The Bear Claw Cafe has bears everywhere but the menu

By MAX JOHNSTON
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Bear Claw Cafe in Copemish is full of bears. Don’t worry — they’re only decorative. But they are part of a unique diner whose owner wants you to look at the animal differently.

The Bear Claw Cafe sits right off a highway not too far from Manistee in the village of Copemish, population 191.

The cafe is hard to miss. Just follow the bear paws painted on the sidewalk — they’ll lead you right to the front door.

The dining room is small — only 10 tables or so — but it has a lot of bears. Teddy bears hang from the banisters, carved wooden bears sit on tables and Polaroids of bears cover walls.

Scott Grant, the café’s owner and operator, describes some of the bear-themed decorations.
“These here are local sightings here in the area of bear that people have gotten to take pictures of,” Grant said. “This guy right here, he’s probably pushing 600 pounds.”

Grant’s not picky when it comes to decorations.

“It’s not hard, anything black bear,” he says. “There’s a story behind most of them.”

Looking around, you might expect a live bear to be flipping your pancakes. In fact, the only thing without bears is the menu, unless you count the burger named after one. “In the fall and in the spring we do a Kodiak Bear Challenge here, which is a 6½-pound burger. You have an hour to eat it. If you eat it, it’s yours. If not, it’s 23 bucks.”

Grant’s passion for bears goes back to when he was a kid, hunting with his family, but he hasn’t gone lately. That’s because in Northwest Michigan, it can take more than a decade to get a bear hunting license. Because of that challenge, a lot of other hunters are eager to shoot a bear, but not him.

The last time he went bear hunting, more than 20 years ago, Grant had a chance to shoot a bear but he says he didn’t want to.

“It just wasn’t what I wanted. I knew that bear was in good shape, and it would probably live for a lot of years, and it was just too small for me,” he said. “It wouldn’t even have made a throw rug. I’m looking for something that will cover my dining room.”

Grant’s other passion is food. After working as a chef in Grand Rapids for more than 25 years, he retired and moved to Copemish. But he couldn’t stay away from the kitchen, so he bought some property and opened the Bear Claw Cafe.

Everything he serves is made from scratch, from the gravy to the bear claws themselves.
“Hanging above my door is my philosophy — ‘simple foods cooked right are delicious’ — and that’s what we do here. Everything is homemade,” Grant said.

Customers may come in for the food, but he wants them to leave with some knowledge.
“People ask me about bear all the time, and I tell them the same thing I’m telling you –you really don’t have to fear bear,” Grant said.

This story was produced under a partnership with Interlochen Public Radio and Great Lakes Echo.

New folk album explores environmental issues

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — Stephen Jones didn’t initially set out to put together an album of songs about modern life in Midwestern America.

But that is exactly what he did.

Jones is a retired journalist and current history professor at Central Michigan University. He’s also been a songwriter since high school.

His most recent record, “The Road We Build,” features songs that capture moments of his experience living in the Midwest. They also discuss contemporary social events.

The title comes from the first song on the album.

“That song kind of captured an idea that I was interested in,” Jones said. “To one extent or another, nearly all these songs embodied this idea of, ‘the world is what we make it.’”

Jones sings and plays acoustic guitar throughout the album. He is joined by his friend George Brown on guitar, upright bass and synthesizer. Dan Hazlett, who recorded and mixed the record, also provides instrumental backing.

The result is folk music that captures moods both energetic and contemplative.

Jones’s previous records were made up of strike songs, some of them parodies of existing music. In 1999, he wrote a song called “Marquette Range,” inspired by a conversation he had with a miner in the Upper Peninsula.

“That song is not his precise words, but it’s my recollection of the essence of our conversation,” Jones said. “It was sort of a quantum leap over the other songs that I’d written before. That was the first what I would call ‘real’ song that I wrote.”

“Marquette Range” became a songwriting springboard. It was picked up by folk singer Lee Murdock and featured in his album “Standing at the Wheel.” It was also the first time Jones said he felt he captured a moment of his experience in the world.

The rest of “The Road We Build” came in bits and pieces. As the years went by, Jones kept composing as the world around him kept changing.

Every song tells a unique story. “Marquette Range” expresses a miner’s struggle to support his family as the mining industry changes. From the song:

“A few more years, I’ve heard them say, they’ll shut it down and move away,

Kicking us aside like dogs with mange

Played-out hearts upon this Marquette Range.”

Many of the other tracks also discuss current events through a personal perspective. “Standing with Standing Rock” came from Jones’s experience going to the protests about the Dakota Access Pipeline at North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation in November 2016.

His time there gave him an appreciation for the effort to peacefully protect both the water and the rights of the indigenous people, Jones said. The song developed out of what he saw and heard there.

In a similar vein, “The Albatross” looks at the Flint water crisis through a unique lens.

The song is an homage to poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In it, Coleridge tells the story of an old sailor who, after killing an albatross, watches his crewmates die. His only chance at redemption is to tell other people what he did — and warn them against repeating his mistakes.

“It struck me that ‘water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink’ was what Flint was about,” Jones said. “This tremendous injustice that had been done to the people of Flint, especially the children, who are more susceptible than anybody to the impact of lead contamination.”

The track “The Andersons Don’t Live Here Any More” describes how many families lost their homes when the housing bubble burst in 2008.

Jones saw houses vacated and payments rising in his own Detroit neighborhood. It’s only now starting to bounce back, he said.

Each song is inspired from a different event. Trying to single one out is, according to Jones, like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite.

But it’s what he calls the “moral dimension” that binds the record together.

“There really is only one lesson to learn in life: pay attention,” Jones said. “Everything else is just context. I’m trying to let the experience of the world bounce off me in a way where it can lead somebody to think about things in a different way, or see an angle they hadn’t considered.”

“The Road We Build” is available for digital download from Amazon and Spotify.

Kate Habrel writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Recycle your home?

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — You may recycle in your home, but did you know the building itself can be recycled?

A group of researchers at Michigan State University studying the science of domicology — the term they use to describe the policies, practices and consequences of abandoned structures — are examining how wood from abandoned buildings can be reused.

The average Michigan home holds about 6,000 board feet of lumber, enough to fill two school buses, according to George Berghorn, an assistant professor of construction management at MSU. And the state has 244,000 abandoned homes.

The lumber in abandoned buildings includes a mix of aesthetic products such as doors, siding and windows that can be sold as salvage. However most of the wood in homes is structural material used to construct the frame of a building — the support for the walls and roof. Continue reading

Reclaiming buildings can create jobs

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sometimes deconstruction can yield surprising finds—like human body parts.

Workers with Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit deconstruction organization, once saw a human arm among other trash in the basement of a blighted house.

At first, they thought there was a body in the house, said Jeremy Haines, its executive director. On closer inspection, workers realized it was just a mannequin.

Fake body parts aside, the house the organization was taking apart was one among many abandoned houses in Detroit. According to a U.S. Census five-year estimate, more than 183,000 homes in Detroit are vacant — accounting for 75 percent of the vacant houses in the state. Continue reading

Researchers seek new ways to salvage abandoned buildings

By DARIEN VELASQUEZ

Capital News Service

LANSING — Constructing, remodeling and demolishing buildings have significant environmental impacts: Natural resources are used to build them and large amounts of waste are sent to landfills when they come down.

What do you call that?

Researchers at Michigan State University use the word “domicology” to define the study of policies, practices and consequences of what happens to empty buildings.

It’s a term that doesn’t officially exist – yet. But George Berghorn, a self-described domicologist and assistant professor of construction management at MSU, is working hard to make it one. Continue reading

Detroit architect honored in new book

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Admirers of architect Wirt Rowland finally have the biography they were looking for. It was a long time coming.

Rowland was arguably the premier skyscraper architect of the early 20th century. He designed prominent buildings around the country for years. Yet his name is hardly known outside of architectural circles, and no one had bothered to write a book about the man.

That’s what struck Michael G. Smith of Bloomfield Hills and led him to write the just-released, “Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture” (Wayne State University Press, $44.99).

The tome is comprehensive and meticulously detailed as Smith explores the rise of Rowland through the ranks of the architectural world and his work in Detroit. Despite his lack of training, Rowland earned a position in the city as an apprentice draftsman in 1901. Four years later, he was the lead designer for the two largest construction projects in Michigan. He went on to work for some of the most prominent architectural firms in the city, designing five of Detroit’s 16 prominent skyscrapers Continue reading

Another legal lap ahead in horse pulling doping dispute?

By BEN MUIR

Capital News Service

LANSING — It has taken five years, four judges and three rounds in a lawsuit to decide a doping scandal between a state horse pulling association and one of its members.

And it’s still not over. A fourth round is possible.

Many thought it was over after a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of a Chippewa County man accused of breaking competition rules.

The case started in 2012 when a horse owned by David Esslin of Goetzville, then a member of the Bear Lake-based Michigan Horse Pulling Association, tested positive for an illegal substance. Esslin was fined and suspended from the association.

Esslin fought the drugging allegations by suing the association, successfully, for thousands of dollars.

The association banned Esslin after the lawsuit. Esslin wanted back in, so he took the group to court, where a Clare County Circuit Court judge ordered his reinstatement. The group appealed the reinstatement but lost that battle as well, according to court documents. Continue reading

‘Saving Arcadia’ tells conservation success story

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — For Michiganders, going “Up North” is a common answer to questions about upcoming vacation plans – and for good reason.

That region holds Michigan’s dunes—landforms integral to the state’s history and tourism. They also hold stories of grassroots advocates and volunteers who successfully preserve these pristine landscapes.

Heather Shumaker, the author of “Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes” (Wayne State University Press, $22.99), explores the near 40-year battle between Arcadia Dune conservationists and CMS Energy, the holding company of Consumers Energy, a natural gas and electric public utility.

Located along Lake Michigan’s coastline and almost directly across from Wisconsin’s Green Bay, the Arcadia Dunes’ conservation story begins in 1969. Elaine Putney, an orchard farmer, received a knock on her door from a sharply dressed man. The man, Gerald Derks, was offering to buy land from Benzie County residents on behalf of Viking Land Co., which — as it would later turn out — represented Consumers Power Co. Continue reading

Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading