A New Year; New Plans

I walked out of the office today, took a look at the forest and thought that we should get our maple buckets and taps ready as the day had the same feel as a late winter day. Except one look at the calendar and it shows that today is January 10, not March 10. This is not a good thing when one has not yet put on the snowshoes, or the cross-country skis once this winter.

I am a lover of winter and winter weather, but it appears that Mother Nature is disappointing us once again. The one benefit of the sunshine and the mid to upper thirties temperatures makes it enjoyable to be out and is a good preventive against Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A hike in the forest today with a small group was great for both the body and spirit.

The one good thing about long winter nights when you can’t get out to snowshoe, is that the mind turns towards future expeditions and planning for those expeditions begins. I have not done as much backpacking over the last couple of years due to other things happening in my life, but for 2012, I am dedicating part of the year to the planning, preparation, and commencement of a thirty-mile backpack at the Porcupines Mountains Wilderness State Park. Not as much mileage as I did in 2009 at Isle Royale, but this should be a great hike in the “mountains” of the western Upper Peninsula and on the shores of Lake Superior. I hope to have great companionship on this trek and not only will we do a little tent camping, but also stay at a few of the rustic cabins too. Talk about swanky accommodations. It will be the Ritz of backpacking!

Backpacking the Porkies is just one of the plans I have for 2012. I chose not to make any grandiose New years Resolutions this year as I tend to have a tough time keeping to them. So instead, I made one resolution:

“I resolve to hike a little more; to kayak a little more; to camp a little more; to play my banjo a little more; to write a little more; to give a little more; to love a little more; to live a lot more.”

 On that, I am planning on going to the Midwest Banjo Camp in early June, my first intense banjo study since the John C. Campbell clawhammer class in 2010. I love playing the banjo, but am not exactly dedicated to practicing, so my skills are still quite limited.

And one other big plan for 2012 is to do more writing. I am embarking on a possible book on Michigan’s lumber history and whether I get a publishing contract this year or not, I am going to write this book. This is my chance to be more of a research historian again as opposed to just a museum administrator. If no contract comes my way in 2012, I am confident it will still happen.

All of the rest will fall into line after these.

Happy 2012!

–Rob aka the “Hiking Historian”

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Being a Historian Again

I am a historian. I became one because I love to learn about the past and share my findings with others. I like to do this through research, writing, the presentation of programs, and plain conversation and sharing.

But in museums, there just aren’t a whole lot of jobs to be just a full-time historian. You need to be an administrator, curator, educator, interpreter, exhibit designer, janitor and all-round jack of all trades. If the historic site or museum you operate is small and remote, one must wear many hats. This has been my experience of late. These many hats have not allowed me to do much historical research or writing.

Until now.

This summer, as I was meeting with a research historian of the CCC (Civilian Conservsation Corps), I was getting into a funk because I was a bit jealous of this woman and a couple of other people who were asking me to help them with advice and information for their research. Now it is nice to be considered an expert in the field and someone others go to for help, but I want to be out there adding to the scholorship of the specific areas of study too. Not more than two weeks later, my luck and attitude changed.

I had an email out of the blue from a book editor who asked me if I was interested in writing a book on Michigan’s lumber history. Although the plans for this has not been completely ironed out yet, I am confident that this project will come to fruition. If nothing else, it should lead to new research on my part and new articles for journals.

And when it rains, it poors.

Since this opportunity arose, I have been flooded with requests (well flooded for me) to do programs that require additional research. So I think what I will do is take each new speaking request and make it an opportunity to add to my research for what I call “The untitled book of Michigan Lumber History.”

I am out of my research historian funk. I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of historical research and discovering new and exciting things about Michigan’s lumber history and reforestation and conservation. And it does not hurt that I have friends who keep passing new information my way as well.

I feel like a historian again. Now I need to get back hiking!

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The Sweet Taste of Summer

Summers in Northern Michigan are pretty awesome. Not only do we have warm days and cooler nights (usually) that makes it rather enjoyable to live and survive without air conditioning (most of the time), but there are plenty of tasty delicacies just waiting for you out in the forests and fields.

If you are lucky, you can get an early harvest of wild strawberries in June. I say lucky, because those things are tiny and often overlooked and being close to the ground, in my experience they are quickly gobbled up by ground squirrels, chipmunks and other small animals. But even just a small handful will be a great treat.

Soon June turns to July and if you can survive the onslaught of mosquitoes and you withstand the bloodletting, it is the real berry season: blueberries and raspberries.

Where I used to live I had a great blueberry patch next to the house all to myself. I lost that at my new place, but there is no shortage of blueberries in the area. Of course you have to compete with bears, wild turkeys and other wildlife. I once watched a family of turkeys wipe out my entire blueberry crop. So get out there early!
My favorite raspberry patch happens to be at work. What is usually a two-minute walk from my car to the office may end up as a ten-twenty minute walk on some days. It is almost impossible for me to pass up those plump, ripe, tart raspberries. I almost never have the will power to pick them to take home, but instead, I eat them right off the bramble. However, these fresh wild raspberries did help me out on a romantic backpacking trip once. Including these as part of the dessert made for an excellent weekend for us. Now having a yard, next year there will be raspberries growing in it.

In the past when the raspberries and blueberries were done, so was berry season for me. But in the last couple of years, I have finally acquired the taste for blackberries. The one trade-off I got with the new place was a small blackberry patch. Not many there yet, but hopefully it will be growing larger. I have found a windfall of them though at an old orchard just down the road from me. Not only have I been eating a lot of them lately, but I am freezing quite a bit of them for a taste of summer when we have sub-zero temps in January and February.

This find has brought me to a new treat for me: collecting wild apples. I have always loved apples in the fall. I make my own apple sauce, I bake with them and eat them religiously. But these apples have generally come from the farm market. I have a new plan for this year: picking them off the tree myself.
The old orchard that I frequent is the “Ward Orchard.” This was an active commercial orchard and farm from 1900-1928. The Ward family operated this to do two things: supply food for their lumber camps and their lumber town of Deward, and to prove that agriculture was viable on the cutover lands of the north.
The orchard failed in the late 1920s and eventually the land became part of the AuSable State Forest. Although it has not been an active orchard for more than eighty years, many of the apples still bear fruit. These are small apples, but they are certainly delicious. And I can safely say that these are organically grown. I do not know my apple varieties, but apparently the Wards grew about 26 different varieties of apples and a couple of varieties of pears. I haven’t found the pears yet! While picking blackberries tonight I ate a couple of apples right off the tree. Mmm good!
I plan on going back out there now with bushel baskets to collect apples. I can taste apple pies, applesauce, and other treats in my future. And the blackberries aren’t done yet either!

If you have any wild fruit growing near you, I advise you to get out there and pick some and enjoy it while you can.

Enjoy the summer harvest while it lasts!


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The Fickleness of Spring

“April showers brings May flowers.”

But what does April snow showers bring? It happens every spring: we get a taste of beautiful, near summer weather early (like last weekend’s sun and 75 degrees) and then we get hit with weather like today; snow, 28 degrees and gusting winds.  I’ve lived in Michigan all of my life, so I should expect this, but you know, I never do. Once April hits, heck once March hits, I expect that Spring is here to stay.

If Spring was a woman (or for women, a man), it would be that one that I fall head over heals in love with at first sight, she flirts with me, we have fun, but she tears my heart to shreds. That is Spring in Northern Michigan!

I know how I am affected by this schizophrenic weather, but how are the animals affected by this? We had the robins and great blue herons come back by mid-March, and then a foot of snow fell. This week, we saw phoebes and flickers return, and now this. It’s only a couple of inches (if that), but still. The frogs are calling, but then the ponds ice up again, so they have to retreat back into the mud. All of these animals, like us, have their survival methods, but you know they have to be thinking “WTF!”

The one thing this weather will do, is make that spring weather even sweeter when it is FINALLY here to stay. If you go out, bundle up. If you stay in, throw another log on the fire or snuggle up in that blanket on the couch. Myself, a hot cup of tea, a good book and imagining what I will plant when I can finally garden, oh around Memorial Day.

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Fun with Friends and Learning New Things

I just got back from the Spring MOMCC Conference in Dayton, Ohio and I am feeling exhausted, energized and content from seeing old friends and colleagues once again.

Somehow we need to stretch time during these conferences to make the day last oh, about 28 hours instead of the 24. From driving long distances, touring the host site, opening reception activities, hospitality room socializing, sessions, keynote, resource group meetings, dinner, more socializing and playing music, there just does not seem to be enough time to sleep! Oh well, that is what tomorrow is for, I guess.

Although the seeing of old friends and colleagues is always the best part of these conferences, where we do a lot of informal networking and comparing of experiences, besides the above stated socializing, the sessions and keynote are the most important parts of the conference.  From the exchange of information and the new lessons learned, I always go back to work looking at my job in a brighter light. It is refreshing!

But I have to go back to the seeing of friends again. As if you haven’t figured it out already, I am an extroverted and social person. I love living where I do, but most of my friends seem to live far, far away. So it is great to get a chance to see them once or twice a year.

Well, I’m back to work this week and ready to charge ahead!

–Rob Burg

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Museums, History and Friends

I’m looking forward to heading on a short trip to Dayton, Ohio later this week for the Midwest Open-air Museums Coordinating Council (MOMCC) Conference, hosted by Carriage Hill Metropark. The MOMCC Conference is always a great time to network, learn about new trends in outdoor museums (especially living history museums) and visit with good friends, old and new.

I have been very lucky to have been a member of this organization for more than ten years, now. I have developed some very good friendships and professional connections from attending these conferences. And through these connections, I’ve learned a lot that has helped me personally in my career and professionally in better developing my historic sites. I have always had great support from my own organization, but it is even better to have the support of one’s own peers.

Maybe the best part of these conferences is the comradship that one enjoys outside the official conference events. We are a relatively small profession, and many of the folks I have known from former jobs (Greenfield Village) and graduate school (Eastern Michigan). And one good friend in the organization has even been a life-long friend from when we grew up on the same street. And of course there are the ones that have become good friends, solely from just being in MOMCC. We are all like-minded and deal with much of the same problems, so blowing off steam while having a beer or two is always good. And of course the music. My love of historic and traditional music has developed from these conferences and it was one of my MOMCC friends who has become a bit of a banjo mentor for me. Rob is the one who showed me the way of the Clawhammer banjo style, so MOMCC is to blame!

It won’t be all fun and games at the conference. I will be co-presenting on a panel for a session on “Farm Sweeteners.” Some how folks think that I am a maple syrup expert, so I will be talking about how anyone can do this program on their sites. Heck! If I can do it, anyone else can too. The other two will talk about honey and sorghum. I’m thinking of just bringing some maple syrup for people to taste and not talk at all! 😉

I will also be blogging from the conference. I was recruited to blog on the ALHFAM blog about the conference (MOMCC is the midwest regional of ALHFAM: The Association of Living History, Farms and Agriculture Museum), so others in the nation and Canada can see just how great we are in the Midwest! So, I guess I better be on my best game this week!

It’s time to pack my suitcase, get the banjo ready and hit the road on Wednesday after work. It is always great to catch up with good friends and to learn a little bit more professionally in the process. I’ll be seeing some of you in a few days!


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Turning a House into a Home

I’ve been in my new place for just over a week and it still feels like I’m staying at a friend’s house. I’m slowly paring down the boxes and finding places for everything, but it is taking time.

One thing I am finding to make this my home is to get my pictures up on the walls, my books on the shelves, and personal stuff out. It is starting to feel a little bit more comfortable.

I think the best way to make this into my home will be having people over. But after I’m a bit more settled. A house-warming party when it is a bit warmer in the Spring or early Summer. And music: Sweet banjo music! I’ve got some steps to sit on to play.

Next step: Curtains!

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