This friendly village

By Marilyn Jones, Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

Everyone seems to know I had a birthday
Lovely cards, visits, and gifts were fun,
My kids took me out to eat
March days showed off, with a warm sun.

How many towns have a library delivery service?
I just make a list of books and DVDs,
When they come in, a library friend delivers
For that personal service, there are no fees.

Their smiling faces are such a welcome sight
Cyndie and Bobbie will be having Book Club soon,
The pandemic is on its way out
I’m hoping things will be “normal” by June.

Cheerful greetings from Tom, Roxanne and Pam
Always give me a happy lift too,
They have all become good friends
During lonely months, they provided
Something to do!

The phone rang and Sheri told me
“I’ll drop off a movie you asked for”
What a surprise…she had a gorgeous bouquet
Spring flowers were such a lovely surprise,
With a special card, it made my day.

I asked, “Do all your customers get flowers?
She laughed and said, “No, only you.”
The special treatment is a blessing to me
Isn’t that a generous thing to do?

Brenda’s pretzel Jell-O salad in 3 layers

INGREDIENTS:

Base Layer
2 cups pretzel sticks
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1/3 cup sugar

Middle Layer
8 oz. (1 block) cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz. Cool Whip

Top Layer
1 large packet of strawberry Jell-O
2 cups pineapple juice
2 10-oz tubs of frozen strawberries

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Break by hand 2 cups worth of pretzel sticks into 1-inch pieces.

Melt 2 sticks butter in a bowl and then stir in 1/3 cup sugar until well mixed.

Add pretzels to melted butter/sugar mix and stir until all are coated. Take mixture and spread into an even layer in a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Bake pretzel mixture for 10 minutes. Take out and let cool to room temperature.

Next, in a large bowl, cream together with hand mixer the softened 8-oz block of cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar. Then fold in 8 oz Cool Whip. Once the pretzel layer has reached room temp, spread the Cool Whip mixture evenly on top. Pro tip: make sure the edges are sealed with mixture so the next layer doesn’t seep through.

Last, in a medium saucepan, heat up 2 cups of pineapple juice. Once it reaches a boil, whisk in the large packet of flavored Jell-O. Whisk until dissolved, then turn off burner. Now add in your 2 tubs (10 oz each) of frozen fruit. The fruit will begin to melt in the warm mixture – continue to stir. Once fruit has fully unthawed in Jell-O mixture, let the pan cool to room temperature. Pro tip: if needed to speed up process, rest sauce pan in an ice bath for 20 minutes.

Once the pan/Jell-O mixture has cooled completely, pour over Cool Whip layer.

Place glass pan in refrigerator. Let set for at least 2 hours.

Your pretzel salad is now ready! Enjoy! 

The other backyard birds: Not in plain sight

A white-throated sparrow. Photo by Jeanne Church.

By Jeanne Church

Our second-story deck offers the perfect perch for photographing birds in the nearby trees – but I didn’t always know that. I used to think that I would scare them all away if I stood in plain sight, that I would need to hide inside a bird blind in order to get any pictures at all. Eventually, though, I discovered that if I just stood still long enough, I’d become invisible! The birds would no longer notice me and I could get a multitude of pictures at very close range. This remained my favorite birding spot for quite a long time.

At some point, though, I decided to move my little “photo studio” UNDER the deck. I had been wondering what the “downstairs birds” were doing; the ones I couldn’t see from the upper deck unless I leaned over the railing. I thought a change of scenery might do me good, but didn’t expect any surprises, just a different point of view.

I set my camera up on a tripod, as I had on the deck above, and prepared for a long wait. Usually, it takes the birds 20 minutes or more to return after I’ve startled them with my presence. Slowly, they fluttered back and landed on the snow in front of me gobbling up the sunflower seeds that had fallen from the overhead feeders. All the “regulars” were there – cardinals, juncos and jays, but what were those other birds? One of them was about the size of a large sparrow, with reddish feathers on its back and very distinctive triangular markings on its snowy white chest. What the heck was that?

Whenever I see a bird I’ve never photographed before, my heart skips a beat and I momentarily hold my breath as I grip the camera firmly and take aim – hoping that my settings are right and that the bird won’t fly away before I take the shot!

The bird in question that day turned out to be a fox sparrow – so named because of its beautiful fox-colored feathers. These birds are only here in Michigan for a short period of time during the winter as they migrate north to their breeding grounds in the far reaches of Canada and Alaska.

If you want to attract them to your yard, fox sparrows are mostly ground feeders and they will happily clean up the seeds under your feeders if you have a place nearby for them to hide – like bushes or brush piles.

Another bird I spotted that day, but have also never seen at my feeders, was a white-throated sparrow. It’s a relatively easy bird to identify with its little white “bib” and distinctive head markings (black and white stripes on top and small patches of yellow on each side of the bill).

According to the Cornell Lab’s website “All About Birds,” white-throated sparrows will readily visit feeders – but they’ve never visited mine! It also says that white-throated sparrows “stay near the ground”. It must be that my second story feeders are too high for them; that they feel too vulnerable up there. These birds, like their cousins the fox sparrows, prefer to be close to the ground and will eat the seeds that have fallen there – but only if they have nearby bushes where they can take refuge.

So, if you’ve been focusing all your attention on the birds up in the trees and on the feeders in front of you, take a moment to look at who might be hanging out down below! You might be pleasantly surprised! Be sure to grab your binoculars, though. Lots of those little birds look exactly alike from far away!

Fishing at its best and coldest

By Kathy DeMott

There are those who love to fish. Then there are ice fishers. They face frigid temperatures bundled in layers of clothing, pulling a sled filled with supplies to sit on bucket seats for hours on a frozen lake in hopes of catching the next big one. For some, it is a way to enjoy the outdoors, time with friends, or “a place to go when I get on my wife’s nerves.” For many, it’s family tradition.

South County has a plethora of lakes to choose from, each with its unique draw. Sunset Lake is often one of the first lakes to freeze so fishers come early to catch blue gill. Hogsett Lake has pike and a sledding hill for the kids. Deeper lakes like Indian and Portage are great for perch.

Safety is critical. Proper clothing is required; the better insulated, the longer one can fish. Ice fishing float suits are designed to help you float until you can climb to safety if the ice breaks. If this happens, roll to safer ice before standing. Fishing with others is recommended.

Once suited up, bring an ice spud to check the thickness of the ice. According to the Michigan DNR, there is no reliable “inch-thickness” to determine safety. The strongest ice is clear with a bluish tint while weak ice appears milky. Slush on ice weakens it and snow-covered ice insulates it, which could slow the freezing process or weaken the ice. Avoid open waters or shores with water present.

Don Kinney, 72, has been fishing since he was five. “If there’s a fish to be had in Vicksburg, I know where it lives. I’m a fishing fool.” He likes the convenience of Sunset and Hogsett because they are close to the beaches and easy to access. Austin Nufer says, “ice fishing allows you to fish in places you can’t access with a boat.”

Scott Byers of Vicksburg enjoys making memories with his children. He admits it can be work, drilling holes, moving site to site, but says, “Ice fishing is like a fishing bonus.” Courtney Zuniga says the cold temps are worth the reward of fresh fish.

There are plenty of fish stories such as catching a 31-inch pike on Indian Lake, a six-pound bass on Sunset, and a 42-inch pike on Portage. It’s part of the thrill. John Kiel of Schoolcraft grew up fishing with his dad and brother and now is teaching his daughters. Once while tip-up fishing with friends they tried hotdogs as bait on half the lines. After an evening of cards, coffee, and camaraderie, they had caught just as many pike with hotdogs as with shiners.

Double L Bait and Marine on South Sprinkle Road tries to keep a variety of perch minis, shiners, wax worms, and suckers as well as ice fishing supplies. Owner Clarence LaComb said ice fishers like to “chat it up” when they stop in; he enjoys the interactions. Whether they’re an avid ice fisher or just getting started, he invites them to stop by for supplies, bait, safety tips and a few good fish stories.

COVID-19 vaccinations begin to roll out

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services calls for all residents 16 and older to be vaccinated by September.

By Dr. David Schriemer

It has been a long year of mask wearing, social distancing, concern for those infected with COVID-19 and mourning those who have died.

The release of effective and safe vaccines for COVID-19 is great news. Supplies of vaccine are limited, so the vaccine is being released to higher risk groups first. This is a massive effort. The lack of solid release dates of the vaccine for each county and different risk groups has caused significant frustration and anxiety.

The vaccines are safe and effective. They went through the same rigorous process of testing and approval that all new vaccines must. What was different with COVID-19 was that vaccines were being produced while studies were ongoing.

Dr. David Schriemer gets his Pfizer vaccine to protect him from COVID-19.

As physicians, my wife, Paula, and I received the COVID-19 vaccination that was available. I received the Pfizer vaccine, Paula received the Moderna vaccine. Each of the current vaccines require two doses 3-4 weeks apart. Neither of us had a significant reaction.

Supply and distribution of the vaccine continues to be challenging. Vaccines are being administered by hospitals and county health departments. Pharmacies were contracted to immunize residents of nursing homes, assisted living and senior living centers. Only as vaccine is received can appointment slots be opened up for vaccinations. Bronson patients can check bronsonhealthcare.com for updates. Borgess is contacting patients to schedule appointments and county health departments also have vaccination sites.

Information about vaccine availability is constantly being updated. Look for information from your county health department (http://www.kalcounty.com/hcs/), hospitals and reliable news sources.

Schoolcraft Eagle’s Nest, making a difference

Schoolcraft Food Pantry volunteers Peggy Crissman and Jan McNally.

By Kathy DeMott

An eagle’s nest is where the eagles prepare for and raise their offspring. Eagles mate for life and return to the same nest each year for shelter and protection. Appropriately named, the Schoolcraft Eagle’s Nest is nestled next to the elementary school and provides a home for programs that support families.

Schoolcraft Friday Pack is a 501c3 nonprofit organization operated by volunteers and donations. According to President Jill Strake, the mission is to provide nutritional weekend food packs for food-insecure students in their school district, similar to the Generous Hands program in Vicksburg.

Many volunteers, including students and retirees, collect and pack prepackaged food and snacks for weekends, summer and holiday breaks. The packs are then discreetly put in lockers weekly. Families are referred by school staff or can contact Friday Pack directly.

The Eagle’s Nest is also home to the Schoolcraft Food Pantry which began at the local First Presbyterian Church. It’s now a satellite of South County and part of Loaves and Fishes. According to Jan McNally, the mission is to provide monthly nonperishable food for at-risk families in the Schoolcraft school district. McNally, along with Peggy Crissman and Nancy Rafferty, coordinate the pantry. Rafferty, whose heart is to help others without judgment and with confidentiality asks, “Are you in need and do you want help?”

Crissman said, “No child or person should go hungry. We could feed everyone if we put our minds to it. It’s our community that makes this food bank successful.” The main source of food comes from the school food drives each year. In 2020, they reached out to the community through fliers and Facebook for their annual food drive, and the community responded generously.

Many churches, businesses, individuals, and clubs help financially as well as the volunteers that clean the building, pack and deliver food monthly to 19 families and 36 seniors and adults. Harding’s in Schoolcraft also helps with food and certificates, and has a donation bin at the store. The library has a bin and has donated books to families with children.

To learn more or receive benefits call Eagle’s Nest at 269-488-5847.

To donate, write checks to: Schoolcraft Friday Pack Inc. P.O Box 50, 629 E. Clay Street, Schoolcraft, MI 49087.

For food pantry: Schoolcraft First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 635, Schoolcraft, MI 49087 with “food pantry” in memo line. Contributions are tax-deductible.

Adams Kids, another organization aimed at helping the needs of infants, closed Dec. 31.

Penny Allen, Sue Kuiper and Brenda Bowers launched Adam’s Kids to help provide diapers, wipes and formula for infants. The name of the project was a tribute to Brenda’s son, Adam Worrall, a Vicksburg student who died unexpectedly of a heart condition. He was known as a giver of his time and heart for others.

For 12 years, Adam’s Kids provided the supplies to those in need. As it grew, it reached out to local churches to provide satellite locations for families. The churches began to handle the need, Kuiper said, and Adams Kids began to receive fewer requests. Most of those were coming from Kalamazoo and Portage residents.

Organizers decided needs were being met elsewhere and decided to close.Remaining supplies were donated to Twelve Baskets. For help, contact Maternal Infant Health programs for referrals at (833) MI4-MIHP (644-6447) or by e-mail at mihp@michigan.gov.

Construction updates from the Mill

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Despite COVID challenges, projects at the Mill remain close to schedule. Masonry work continues, as do lead abatement – paint removal – and roofing.  Jackie Koney, the Mill’s chief operating officer, anticipates masonry should be done by the end of this year. She remains hopeful that lead abatement will be complete in the late spring. Even though the masonry and roofing had to stop for a bit with COVID, the contractors have been able to make up some of the time. COVID rules allowed lead abatement to continue because of special permission from the State. The photographs, taken by Taylor Kallio of Alterra Media, help to capture the size and scale of the roofing project.

A walk with Mother Nature in area trails, preserves

By Jeanne Church

When I first started taking nature pictures a few years ago, I didn’t realize there were so many places to explore in southwest Michigan that I had never even heard of before. I had been limiting myself to a few nearby areas that I already knew quite well, but soon found myself wanting more variety. My best resource for new preserves and sanctuaries ended up being the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC).

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is a local nonprofit conservation organization that is working to “improve our habitat, protect our water quality, support biodiversity, connect people with nature, and help families conserve the land they love.”

On its website, SWMLC (https://swmlc.org/) provides a map and descriptions for 17 of their public preserves in seven different counties that are free and open to the public from dawn to dusk. I have been to several of these preserves multiple times and have also become a member of the organization to help support their efforts in preserving and protecting the natural areas that I love.

One of the first SWMLC preserves I visited was Wolf Tree Nature Trails. A “wolf tree” is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “very large forest tree that has a wide-spreading crown and inhibits or prevents the growth of smaller trees around it.” One of the trees at the preserve probably sprouted from an acorn in the mid-1800s when settlers were still arriving from the East!

My first visit to the Wolf Tree Nature Trail came in the summer of 2017. As I exited my car, I was blown away by the wide expanse of wildflowers that greeted me! And, as you might imagine in a field full of flowers, there were butterflies everywhere busily working their magic. A photographer’s heaven!

Another SWMLC preserve I enjoyed visiting was Spirit Springs Sanctuary in Mendon. I arrived there shortly after daybreak on a warm July morning and was taken aback by the loud and lovely chorus of American bullfrogs echoing across the pond! I happen to love bullfrogs and have taken hundreds of pictures of them, but my favorite one came from this preserve!

Of all the nearby places where I have taken pictures, though, the one I visit most is neither a preserve nor a sanctuary— it’s a fish hatchery! The Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan is a great place for a leisurely walk and a wonderful place for pictures! There are more than a dozen ponds on the property making it an attractive environment for a wide variety of critters including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs and turtles—plus the occasional deer, fox, rabbit and eagle! The Fish Hatchery is free and open to the public every day of the year.

This is just a small sampling of all the beautiful places in southwest Michigan waiting for you to explore. Put aside your worries and discover how restorative a short walk with Mother Nature can be.

Jeanne’s blog: picturewalks.org

The sandhill cranes of South County

Sandhill cranes in flight. Photo by Jeanne Church.

By Leeanne Seaver

The sound of sandhill cranes often wakes me as the flock descends to forage in a field nearby. Their primordial chorus is utterly unique and evocative. Something deep within me feels the instinct to call back. Maybe some elemental aspect of my DNA recognizes their ancient voices. Cranes make an almost prehistoric noise that would have been familiar to early humans living in wetland areas from Canada to Florida. Indeed, these birds have been around longer than our ancestors.

Factoid: Sandhill cranes are the oldest living bird species in the state. Their fossil record goes back 2.5 to 10 million years. If the pterodactyl and heron had a baby, it would probably look like these big gray birds. Both adult males and females sport a bright red splotch on their heads. Standing four to five feet tall with an average wing span of six to eight feet, they are also Michigan’s largest bird. Those wide wings are designed for soaring – as high as a mile up – which is a distinct advantage over strenuous flapping. Cranes can easily remain aloft for hours riding thermal currents and staying out of harm’s way on the ground. They’ve been clocked in flight at 50 mph, and have been known to cover nearly 500 miles a day.

The crane’s long-necked, spindly-legged presence is an important indicator of Michigan’s climate – both environmental and political. There are lots of marshy plants, seeds, insects and small amphibians to eat. Plus, every legislative proposal to legalize hunting sandhill cranes dies a swift death by committee at the Capitol.

Hunting sandhill cranes has been illegal in Michigan since 1916. Although they’re not considered an endangered species here, these magnificent birds still face significant threats from environmental pesticides, loss of habitat and foraging areas, plus the usual predators with an appetite for cranes and their eggs. Then there’s the human factor – cranes are famously intolerant of people. Approaching or encroaching on cranes is likely to prompt the nervous crane couple to abandon its nest entirely, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the species.

Left to their own devices, the monogamous breeding pair will set up housekeeping on the ground near marshes or bogs where there’s plenty of nesting material and good things to eat. April marks the beginning of the brood season. Both parents take turns incubating their brown-speckled eggs for up to 32 days. One to three babies hatch with eyes wide open. These downy-covered “colts” (not chicks) require a few weeks of intense feeding, although they begin exploring beyond the nest just 24 hours outside the egg.

Against all odds, one colt usually survives and hangs out with its feathered folks for a year – until the next brood hatches – which is why sandhill cranes are often seen in groups of three. Newly independent juveniles join in nomadic “survival” flocks until four to seven years of age when they start looking for love.

Cranes clearly like being with other cranes. Their social nature may be the key to their longevity – both as a species and as individual birds that have been known to live nearly four decades. A chatty lot, we can often hear sandhill cranes even if we can’t see them trilling and squawking and sounding at times like they just can’t clear their throats. Group trumpeting is part of a communication exchange that may help with locating food and roosting places, whereas “unison calling” between males and females is all about romance. Factoid: The female calls twice for every one male response. Make what you will of that.

While I can’t find anything to verify this theory, I believe some of that boisterous noise is announcing the location of their next dance. Wherever there are cranes, there’s going to be a dance. Crane couples will be doing an exuberant, leaping, twig-tossing, bouncing, beak-swishing dance. This is one of the most astonishing and beautiful things about sandhill cranes, but admittedly, their dancing is about more than courtship.

“Dancing facilitates pair bonding and allows rivals to assess one another and parents to educate their young chicks by dancing with them. Pre-adult cranes practice dancing for years before they select a mate. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance.” (About Sandhill Cranes (songbirdprotection.com)

With amazing spectacles like that in mind, the Michigan Audubon Society has hosted the Sandhill Crane Festival every second weekend in October at the Baker Sanctuary near Bellevue. The event celebrates all things crane, and is timed to catch sight of the migration. This remarkable process begins in late summer and early fall when sandhill cranes by the thousands from Canada down through southern Michigan start their journey to warmer climes. The stunning exodus continues through late November, and the return begins in March.

Except for those few sandhill cranes that are content to stay here year-round.

You’ve seen them and heard them – the stalwart few who over-winter here. There’s usually enough roosting, food, and open water sources to maintain a small sandhill population in South County. And to all four seasons of my great delight, one of those hospitable locations is the stubble field within earshot of my morning.

Vicksburg District Library kits help improve literacy

Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby displays one of the literacy kits she is bringing to the Vicksburg District Library this spring for circulation.

By Adrianne Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library

Through the COVID-19 closure, the Vicksburg District Library has been taking care to offer what services it can for patrons through curbside services. While a decent number of adults have taken advantage of these services, Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby is working to increase use by her target patrons – children and teenagers.

The solution? Fun take-home literacy kits.

She and Cataloger Barry Raifsnider are putting together various reading, gaming, and crafting kits to keep patrons from of infant to high school student engaged with literacy-focused activities during the health crisis.

Willoughby is excited about the new project. “I attended a children’s librarian conference, the Virtual National Institute, and observed a presentation about these amazing literacy kits,” she explains. “I wanted to offer something similar to our families because I often get requests from caregivers on how to help children with early literacy skills.”

The Vicksburg District Library has gone through various stages of closure since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation in the early spring of 2020. The Library was closed completely for the entirety of April and May 2020, opening to the public once more in mid-June with limited services, strict social distancing measures and use of face mask regulations in place. In October, the Library closed entirely for a two-week period due to staff exposure to the virus. In mid-November, following in the footsteps of other public libraries in the Southwest Michigan area, as well as the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Library closed its doors to the public, but began to offer certain services via curbside, strictly by appointment only. The Library has indefinite plans to operate this way for the foreseeable future. The hope is the circulating kits will keep children and teenagers engaged with their literacy skills through the Library closure and virtual schooling sessions.

What is included in each kit depends upon the age and the desired content of the patron. Kits for early readers will include a variety of books, plus create-your-own-story cards, as well as games. Kits for teenagers may include a couple of young adult novels, an easy craft to do at home, and some snacks. Once the checkout period has finished for the kit, patrons return the kit to the library, and the entirety of the parcel is quarantined and sanitized by library staff. It is then set up for circulation for the next patron in line.

Willoughby has been providing a service like the kits since the current closure began. For fans of those who choose books by walking through the stacks, she has been creating customized book bundles for patrons based on their reading preferences. “We do currently offer story time kits and crafts for children and teens as well,” Willoughby adds. “All you have to do is contact the library to request yours and schedule an appointment for pick up. I do love creating the book bundles for our patrons. If you don’t know what to read, be sure to request one!” The literacy kits expand upon the book bundle concept to include items beyond books, but still include an engaging literacy aspect.

The take-home literacy kits currently do not have an official name, but advertising will be shared on the Library’s website and social media when they are ready to be circulated later this winter and early spring. In the meantime, those interested in reserving personal book bundles or craft kits can contact Willoughby at (269) 649-1648 or check out the Vicksburg District Library website at http://www.vicksburglibrary.org.