August 20, 2004





The sunflower pictured to the right has literally ‘grown’ to become a pleasant addition to the summer scene in our neighborhood. Perhaps it was lodged in a shovel of snow near the bird feeder or maybe the chipmunk or chickadee carried it to the flower bed next to the deck. Whatever the case, its presence was quite unknown for several weeks even though the inadvertent drops of water from the lawn sprinkler must have been received as a kind gesture during a couple periods of early summer drought. Strangely enough it was the south west sun that provided the energy to raise a spindly stalk out of the flower bed. The day the sunflower was discovered was the same day the wild carrot volunteer was pulled from the bed.

Free of adjacent competition and having been spared from the mulch pile, the sunflower responded with impressive growth and soon was poking its stalk above the floor of the deck. Long before the flower bud had formed the stalk began to assume its dutiful posture of facing the east sun. When the flower finally emerged it seemed appropriate to photograph this solitary guest and add its photo to the digital disc of other summer visitors. Seldom do we find satisfaction with the first picture of any subject so multiple shots are usually the rule. During several attempts to frame this picture the effort to keep the sunflower as focal point was so intent that the American flag in the background remained unnoticed. Only when the wind had placed the flag to full furl did we discover that the shot was now complete.

Traveling north from the southern lower peninsula has for decades been dubbed, ‘going up into God’s Country’. Along the I-75 corridor I was never sure if God’s Country started at Bay City or Standish, but it seemed by the time you hit the famous ‘double nickel M-55’, between Tawas and Manistee it surely must be God’s Country. Is it the wall to wall forest or the incredibly fresh air? Maybe you like the crystal clear streams and rivers with a year around chill or perhaps the inland lakes where you can watch your toes wiggle in water to the top of your swim suit. Whatever the reason, welcome to God’s Country!

But it’s more than natural resources. It’s being an American in a state clad with the blend of immigrant traditions stretching from the lumber boom of the 1880’s, through the era of agriculture and the Great Depression to the dominance of the automobile industry in the 1980’s. Conservationist Aldo Leopold is credited with the statement (at least something to this effect, we’ve seen it quoted from many sources); "in nature when you tug on one thing you usually find it is hooked to something else." The same can be said about the people of our state and the roles each play in filling the social-economic patterns of the broad picture.

That’s northern living! It begins with the God given splendor and beauty of the natural resources punctuated by the frequent display of American Pride, Old Glory proudly waving from flag poles all across the north. Northern living is a uniquely mindful experience that allows a person to sense the physical and spiritual wonderment of being alive and being in the center of it all. Within the next few weeks the celebration of Labor Day will signal the end of the summer season but ‘up north’ the signal is more the ‘beginning’ of a new season and with it the excitement of new discoveries.

So it will be with the solitary sunflower. Its appointed task is not yet complete and during our morning coffee break we will anxiously await the promised visit of the chipmunk, chickadee or grosbeak as the seeds plump to ripeness. That’s the way it is with northern living in God’s Country.