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Musings from The Hill House

The Hill House

This will be last FULL day of my artist-in-residency program at The Hill House in the Jordan Valley area of northern Michigan. There is a lovely notebook journal lying here on the table, its blank pages staring me down, inviting me to put pen to paper. The following is what ultimately I left behind:

“Journaling has always been difficult at best for me, because I have always allowed my thoughts to be expressed as images. It’s hard to summarize what experiences I’ve had over the past ten days-  onto a page or two of blank paper.

Each day of residency I spent my time traveling extensively all over the region – getting to know the area, the landscape, and locating “the spots” for photography opportunities. But today, because it was a bit rainy and overcast, I finally slept in and took the day at a much more leisurely pace. Sunrise at this time of year has been well before 6am, and sunset at almost 9:30pm with the afterglow lasting well past 10pm. By the time I reach my destinations, that makes for an extremely long day in the great outdoors. I’m happily exhausted.

After last night’s thunderstorms, deliciously cool air is flowing through the beautiful log cabin, where I sit with hot, fresh coffee in hand. Breakfast consists of juicy, organic strawberries purchased at Providence Farm & CSA – some of the sweetest I’ve ever sampled. While I miss both of my sons and my husband, and my dog – part of me can easily imagine living here forever. I’ve always wanted to be in a log cabin deep in the woods. And here… I am.

Yellow Lady's Slipper 1879-12

Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Some of the places I’ve traveled to this week have been incredible. The Jordan River Road winds along the Jordan River, well known for its world-class brook trout fishing and for its scenic canoe trips. It is the largest tributary of  beautiful Lake Charlevoix. While the road is quite remote (I never did see another person while traveling its length!), the path is decorated with amazing wildflowers. I spent at least two days examining the blossoms and taking in all their beauty. For a moment, the phrase “overcome by nature” comes to mind!  My older son and I also spent two hours kayaking along the scenic twists and turns of the river – an experience I’m sure neither of us will ever forget. Visit Swiss Hideaway Canoe and Kayaks to rent your gear – they are very gracious and knowledgeable hosts.

Good morning, sir!

In a week’s time, I’m on my third fill-up of gasoline (sigh!). I’ve visited Mackinaw City, Wilderness State Park, Bliss, Cross Village, the famed Tunnel of  Trees, Good Hart, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Boyne Falls, Charlevoix, Torch Lake, Fisherman’s Island State Park, Intermediate Lake, Ellsworth, East Jordan, Norwood – and many other places. Some of which – I probably was a bit crazy for going off the beaten path and two-tracking to locate! But it’s all about the journey, right?

This was not only a photographic tour – it became a Michigan history lesson for myself. There were locations that connect to past communities and much simpler way of life (though obviously – a much more difficult existence – as folks settled this wild land). Those who worked the farms, struggled through the harsh Michigan winters – the farmers, the mariners and sailors, fishermen, missionaries, fur traders, lumbermen – should all be commended for their sheer determination to make this region home.

Some highlights? Finding lady slipper flowers. A hot oatmeal breakfast at Wagbo Farm after a birding walk in the rolling meadows. Sunset at the Charlevoix lighthouse. Munching on smoked whitefish dip and crackers while gazing out at the Mighty Mac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac. A dinner of the most delicious stuffed Golabki and Zurek Soup (traditional Polish sour soup) at the landmark Legg’s Inn in Cross Village. Tears flowing while reading tombstones in a old cemetery in East Jordan. A visit from an enormous tom turkey and his harem of ladies in tow – peering into the front sliding glass door. Taking one single step into Lake Michigan to discover a large Petoskey stone at my toe. Fireworks at the East Jordan Freedom Festival. Breathing in the scent of wet forest and leaves. Basking in the humid warm sunshine along the Lake Michigan shore. Enjoying the eclectic, funky mix of old record albums at the House. Deer snorts and barred owl calls in the woods behind the house. Seeing my first porcupine (Sorry – no photo – they move much quicker than I realized!).

My lucky find…

Things I’ve learned? Be flexible. Schedules can change. Drink plenty of water. Don’t leave a dome light on in your car. Meet a few locals who can help you or tell you the great spots to visit. Sit outside and do… NOTHING. Buy local produce and snacks. Try hard not to think of what amount of work awaits upon your return from residency, as it will all be there waiting anyway. Accept new challenges, but be reasonable about limitations. Keep a good map handy at all times. Talk to little kids and old people. Avoid the poison ivy (it’s everywhere).

My time here passed all too quickly. My images shall serve as proof it all really happened and I was HERE. Without a doubt, I will be back. Endless photo opportunities await.”

Thank you to ISLAND (the Institute for Sustainable Living and Natural Design) for making it all possible, and for Jen for my goodies such as maple syrup caramel corn, red wine and cookies. It will be remembered fondly… always.

There’s much work ahead – to comb through the 1000+ images – to bring the best ones to completion for all of you to enjoy. Look for more posts in the weeks ahead featuring photos captured during this special time. As time permits, the images will be posted to Flickr:

Enjoying the back porch on the last day…


  1. Sounds wonderful!

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