The kind folks at the C. S. Mott Center for Sustainable Food had hired me to shoot videos of some enterprising young farmers who are using passive solar greenhouses called hoophouses to extend the growing season. My plan was to attend the Michigan Land Institute’s Taste the Local Difference dinner at the Grand Traverse Resort on Tuesday, then visit Nic and Jen Welty of 9 Bean Rows outside Traverse City the following day, before venturing to Jimmy and Marci Spencer’s Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs the day after.
The “-cation” part of the trip would be taking the time to use my new Canon EOS 5D Mark II to shoot pictures of all the cool scenes I remembered from previous trips. For years, I have regretted missing the chance to get a shot of the sign outside St. Johns on M-27 that used to read “Turtles – Live or Pan Ready.”
My late friend Declan, who used to shoot for Life magazine, always said that the best pictures were the ones etched on his retinas but never captured on film. The most wondrous images always seem to appear when you don’t have a camera in hand. Or you mean to go back later but never do.
Like William Least Heat Moon (Blue Highways) and John Steinbeck (Travels with Charlie), I would take the back roads all the way there and back, camera at the ready. And this time, I would be sure to capture the image of the New Era potato chip lady on that silo I spotted outside Portland last year.
The good news for you is that I will spare you an extended saga of my car problems. (Cue the theme from the Titanic.) Suffice to say that $1200 in repairs prior to leaving ended up costing me two unexpected trips to various garages for the problems my local mechanic created. [My heartfelt thanks to the fabulous folks at the Bill Marsh dealership in Traverse City (ask for Jerry – he’s the best).]
However, because of fears about my car, one picture I missed along the was was the two Goth kids dressed in black in Marion (how lonely must that be?). And I was also reminded of Obama’s candid comment about folks clinging to their Bibles and their guns as I passed church after church, interspersed with the occasional deer processing facility in a succession of small towns on the way north on 66. But I didn’t take the time to capture those either.
After the folks at Bill Marsh fixed the car, I was able to take some images at the Traverse City Farmers Market, with its wall-to-wall cherries of all varieties.
I also took the time at the Weltys’ farm to photograph their chickens. Nic and I had a good laugh when one of his hens hopped into my van after I left the door open a bit too long retrieving my video gear.
A couple hours after leaving Nic and Jen’ place, a few miles outside Elk Rapids on my way to Petoskey, I was horrified to hear strange sounds coming from the van again. Oh those @#%)*(#&%()@& mechanics, I grumbled.
I glanced in the rear view mirror to see if I could safely pull off the highway. That’s when I saw one of the Welty’s hens, a white one, perched on the top of the back seat.
The strange sound was the chicken cackling as she pooped on my road atlas.
I had checked my van for chickens before leaving the Weltys, but apparently this chicken had hunkered down way in back where I couldn’t see her. I had become an inadvertent chicken thief.
What to do? By now, the chicken was truly unhappy, tap-dancing on the back of the seat and clucking up a storm. I had visions of the police finding my van wrapped around a tree with a chicken pecking my face as I lay unconscious.
In desperation, I took the first right and was thrilled to find a farm a few miles down on the right where I could see some chickens in a pen. (What luck!)
Surely these people would know what to do with an errant chicken. But no one was home. Again, what to do?
My plan was to put the chicken into their pen, hoping the owners would be happy to have a new addition. But the moment I opened the van’s sliding side door, that chicken took off like the Roadrunner.
Last I saw, her little white tail-feathers were disappearing deep into the woods.
My friend Casey, who knows much more about chickens than I do, tells me it is a good thing I didn’t get the hen into the pen. Apparently I would have truly clucked up if I had because that thing about “pecking order” is real, and the poor dear might well have been pecked to death.
This is also my coward’s way of breaking the news to Nic and Jen that they are minus one chicken (just tell me where to send the check).
And sorry – no picture. Like my old friend, I didn’t have my camera in my hand at the time.