Sawyer to the Indiana line. 15.8 miles/139.3 total
Friday, September 25, 2009
It is 11:20 a.m. and I'm in Sawyer, next to the Warren Dunes State Park, on what should be the last walk in the State of Michigan. It’s Indiana or bust for me today. It’s a somewhat cool and breezy day, but the clouds are high, and I see patches of blue. I’m walking right now across the street from, and parallel to, the grounds of the state park; I still haven’t reached the entrance. The reason for that is that yesterday I snuck in a back entrance some distance from the main entrance, but right near the campsite where my motor home was parked. So in an effort to be as precise as possible and to say that I walked every foot of this walk, I've gone back to the point where I snuck through the opening in the fence.
Today will be my last day of picking up empties. I’d expected to get quite a few more than I did. Yesterday I only picked up 3, and the day before 6. Altogether, counting the best day I had, 28, I've picked up only about 80 cans and bottles. Picking them up isn't a chore--they're light enough. But walking along with a garbage bag filled with empties sets one off as a certain kind of traveler. At least I'm not pushing a grocery cart.
Down the road from the park I enter the village of Sawyer. As I get closer to Indiana, I carefully check every empty to make sure it is indeed returnable; Indiana cans, of which I've been seeing more lately, are nonreturnable. Some readers aren't from a bottle deposit state (or for that matter, like mes cousines, from the U.S. at all). So here's the rundown on the process of collecting empties from the roadside. First of all, the container has to be, if not fully cylindrical, at least not crushed to the point where it can't roll through the MRI-like machines at supermarkets that read their barcodes and decide whether to give you your money. Some plastic bottles might have been run over a few times but they can pop back. Aluminum cans, once they’re flattened, are beyond redemption, but if they’re just a little dented they can be used. Only carbonated beverage containers are returnable--beer and soda pop, including some energy drinks, like Monster and Red Bull. That’s it. There are a couple of states, including Maine, which accept noncarbonated drink containers, but most, like Michigan, don’t.
The next step in the process, after this initial selection, is to check out the can before picking it up to make sure it’s not lying in the middle of poison ivy. Then I pick it up and empty it out, holding it away from my body. You’d be surprised how many times you will find slugs inside beer cans (or not surprised, if you happen to know the affinity of slugs for beer, and the recommendation to put pans of beer in your garden to catch them). So I empty the liquid out, and shake out any dead, drunk slugs. I also check to see if the liquid coming out looks as if it belonged in the can in the first place. For example, if what comes out of a beer can is dark brown, it might have been used as a spit can for chewing tobacco or snuff. Tobacco juice is usually really fermented and putrid-smelling by the time you go to pick a can up, so I don’t mess with those. In the case of clear plastic bottles, I sometimes see coke bottles with yellow liquid inside them. I’ll let you use your imagination on that one, but those I don’t pick up.
All this is one of the reasons I carry a small bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer with me. It occurs to me at this point that some of these things sound like warped Hints from Heloise. Hints for the wayfarer and collector of returnable empties.
Of course, only about 10 states total in the U.S. even have returnable bottles and cans. Elsewhere the beverage manufacturers and retailers succeed in lobbying the legislatures (bribing them, in other words) to vote against returnables. They always use artificial, high-minded aruments against having returnables, like the fact that we should be encouraging individuals to recycle all plastic, glass, and aluminum, and not just singling out the pop and beer, and how unfair it is to single out just carbonated beverages. The reasons for these arguments, of course, is money. It must be costly to deal with deposits, if you’re a beverage seller. You probably have to remit the deposit in advance to the state, or at least bank it separately, and then collect and pay out. In other words, you’re probably not permitted to make money on the “float” from the deposit between the time you collect it and have to pay it back. Or maybe the manufacturers have to pay the money and get reimbursed later by the state. Obviously somebody has to give up some money for a time, or else businesses would be behind the whole returnable thing all the way. Instead, they’ve been able to keep returnables out of the picture in 80% of the country. And it's no coincidence that the most progressive states--in the northeast and the west, particularly, are the ones with returnables. (Any program in which absolutely no former slave states participate usually has to be a decent one.) How Michigan got in there--and with a deposit of 10 cents instead of 5 cents like the rest--sometimes amazes me.
Now if you’re an anti-litter person, you recognize that having a deposit on containers cuts down on roadside trash, and that no amount of exhortations to civic responsibility to recycle can replace the motivation of having a monetary deposit on these containers.
Harbert is the next little community I come to. It’s a bit more upscale and artsy than Sawyer. Galleries. Antique stores that sell real antiques, and are presided over by fussy-looking old queens, looking up at you from over their reading glasses as if trying to decide whether you’re going to ruin their day somehow. The kind of “antique” stores I like are the ones that are really junk stores. It’s at those places that I am likely to find an old jack knife, which is what I collect.
I pass the Episcopal Church of the Mediator. I suppose they’re referring to Jesus. I never really thought of Jesus as a mediator. Sounds a little too impartial. Like he's getting paid by both sides. Nevertheless, "Mediator" sounds trendy and liberal, as opposed to Church of the Avenger, or Church of the Righteously Wrathful.
For the benefit of my cousin Claire and her husband Gustavo, I will mention here that I am walking right next to the Amtrak train tracks, the same ones that they take on the trip from Chicago to Grand Rapids. At 4:00, the Amtrak passes me, heading southwest toward Chicago.
The next little village is Lakeside. More antique stores, and again not the kind I usually go in. Lots of costume jewelry, and lots of really nice furniture, all very high priced.
Next down the line is Union Pier. I’ve always been partial to places that have “union” in their names. They remind me of labor unions, or the Union, that is the north during the Civil War. In either case it’s kind of a nice evocation. “This is a Union Pier—Rebels disperse.” Or, “This is a Union Pier—no scabs allowed.”
At about 10.5 miles into the walk, the Red Arrow Highway ends as it merges with U.S. 12, the old Michigan Avenue. A quarter of a mile later I enter New Buffalo, the last municipality in Michigan. New Buffalo is the home of the Bison, which must be the name of their high school team. It’s a small city, of just over 2000, a beach resort town.
There’s a new Indian casino here in New Buffalo—Four Winds, that has no doubt brought new money and jobs with it. New Buffalo also, because it is at the extreme southwest tip of Michigan, tends to play up the whole southwestern angle. All kinds of little references to the American Southwest—Mexican food and horned cow skulls. The El Rancho Café and Mexican Cantina. There’s Joe Jackson’s Southwest, a landscaping place, with pictures of sombreros and cacti on the front of the store. (And speaking of cacti, I saw an actual cactus plant growing in the ditch near that nuclear plant that threatened to kill you if you trespassed on it. The prickly pear variety, I think. Maybe it got thrown out somebody’s window as they passed by and took hold, I don’t know.)
The New Buffalo story is this. Of course the area was first explored in the 17th century by the old French guys—Pere Marquette and La Salle, but they took little note of it. For the Americans, it started in 1834, when a ship was wrecked along the Lake Michigan coast, at the spot of the present town beach. The captain, named Whittaker, became interested in the area, and decided to get permission to start a town there. He named it after his home town, Buffalo, New York. He went back home and persuaded Buffalonians to resettle.
I come to another cemetery. Lots of Germans--Geertz, Schwenk, Schroeder, Kruger, Wittenburg, Nagel. And some English folks. The name of the cemetery is Pine Grove.
I am pulling out of the south end of New Buffalo. Nothing now between me and Indiana but a few miles of lonely highway. The cars are coming by fast. All on their way to somewhere. Probably the casino. The exhilaration of having almost made it to another state carries me along, despite fatigue. After a week of dunes and motels and art galleries and antique shops, I’m ready to descend into whatever the Hoosiers have in store.
At Judy’s Motel, I know that I have 1.7 miles to the Indiana line. A couple more shops and I will have slipped the surly bonds of the Great Lake State. Here’s the Mix N Mingle Interior Design and Home Furnishings store, and the Grand Beach Motel, and another antique store, also specializing in new concrete statuary of all kinds—lions, madonnas, angels, gargoyles. Now I can see the Indiana state line sign. Still too far off to read the words.
A quarter of mile from the sign, and I can clearly read the state name. Here at last is the state line, and the sign: “Welcome to Indiana, Crossroads of America.” Under the sign is another, attached to it, that says, “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home.” That was added this year, no doubt, due to the 200th birthday of Lincoln. Now no fewer than 4 places claim Lincoln. Kentucky, where he was born, Indiana where he grew up, Illinois, where he became a lawyer and ran for office, and Washington, D.C., where he was president.
At 5:08 p.m. (or 4:08 central daylight time, which it now is), I cross into the Crossroads of America and leave Pure Michigan. A tenth of a mile later, in the parking lot of a fireworks store closed for the season, is the motor home.
Just a final recap of Michigan walking stats. Got 25 cans and bottles today, for a total of 104. That's a little over 4 gallons of gas, anyway. For road kill, the raccoons won it, hands down. Saw 29 of them (and that's just the ones I noticed, of course). Second was possums, with 15. There were also 22 unidentified small mammals, most of which were probably coons and possums. After that were 10 squirrels (they're a lot faster I guess, and can use the overhead wires to cross), and 8 snakes. Remaining were about 10 miscellaneous categories.
Now for a couple of days off, to go to Ann Arbor for the Indiana-Michigan game and to rest up.