Plus, there is the not insignificant issue of mosquitoes and other biting bugs in spring and summer. Given that the state bird of Michigan is the mosquito, and I am a mosquito magnet, I’m wary. Fall, however, is reputed to be bug-free and delightful, so we’re planning a future September/October visit.
Enjoying Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live by all kinds of random best-places-to-live polls. It’s easy to see why. It’s pretty, it’s a university town with lots of cool free things to do, there’s a creative food scene, and the people are warm and welcoming.
We spent a couple of days exploring many of the attractions offered by the university, including the excellent art museum, the trails at the beautiful arboretum, the botanical gardens, and the campus with its Gothic law library that could be a stand-in for Hogwart’s Great Hall in the Harry Potter films.
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You know how I said people are warm and welcoming in Michigan? We made two new sets of Michigander friends while we were there, all of whom happen to be avid birders. We first met Pam and Dan while birding in Ohio earlier in the month. They live near Ann Arbor and met us at Brighton Recreation Area where we were camping for a fun couple of hours of hiking and birding.
Another day while wandering the trails at the campground, we met Brian, Emily, and their big loveable dog Bear. Brian and Emily invited us to join them for a unique birding adventure at a nearby metro park, where a Sandhill Crane had adopted a Canada Goose gosling to raise along with her baby (called a ‘colt’).
It was hilarious to watch the little goose toddling along after the gangly Sandhill Crane mama and colt. When the birds walked into the pond, the cranes continued to stalk along on their long legs, but the gosling plopped down and paddled furiously to keep up. I wonder when or if it will notice that it’s not like the others.
Best of all was when Brian and Emily took us on a trail where small wild birds can be hand-fed. We walked the trail, hands outstretched with offerings of black sunflower seeds, coming to a standstill when birds showed interest. One at a time, Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees fluttered down, landed on a finger with a gentle grasping of sharp tiny claws, tilted their heads to make eye contact, and snatched up a seed before speeding off. It’s thrilling to gain a wild creature’s trust, even for a fraction of a second. (Any reservations I had about hand-feeding these particular birds were assuaged when I read this article in Audubon.)
Visiting The Henry Ford Museum
The Henry Ford Museum is a curious place. It’s filled with cars, of course, from Ford’s first attempt at creating an automobile to presidential limos to Rosa Park’s bus to a VW Camper Van. And full-sized trains. And full-sized neon signs, a retro diner, and Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic aluminum house. There are furniture displays, farming equipment, a Civil Rights display, and a walk-through-time section where you can peruse an array of items chosen to define your generation.
The somewhat hodgepodge collection is tied together by Ford’s passion for the inventions that forever changed America. He was determined to build a simple and inexpensive car (the Model T, available in any color you wanted as long as it was black) and he came up with the idea of an assembly line to make the cars affordable. Henry Ford was a major force in the Industrial Revolution and played a formidable role in radically transforming the way we think and live.
Was that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s not the first time I’ve pondered that question. From a society that valued thrift and craftsmanship, we morphed into a nation of avid consumers and a throw-away society. There have been so many pivotal choice points throughout our history: What would have happened had we chosen to pursue electric instead of gas-powered vehicles? What would have happened had we put more energy into mass transportation instead of cars for individuals? What would happen if we valued artists and craftspeople as much as we value mass production?
Despite the nagging philosophical questions, we enjoyed wandering the vast collection, spending time on whatever caught our attention. Again, it was random. I loved the 1970s geodesic dome, a counter-culture revolution to the industrial revolution. It was a perfect slice of history, down to the Mateus bottle with a dripping candle (one of my prized possessions in college), macrame plant hangers (I made many of those), and handmade pottery dishes (still have some of those).
There was also a 1957 classroom, complete with “duck and cover” drill instructions written on the blackboard. I was in third grade in Miami during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We practiced those ridiculous, terrifying drills often: “1) Duck under your desk, 2) Put your head down, 3) Cover the back of your neck with your hands.” Even in third grade, I thought that was a pretty lame defense against a nuclear attack. I think they forgot number 4: “Kiss your butt goodbye.”
Oh, one more thing—the Henry Ford had a very cool, but temporary Star Trek exhibit. We are not Trekkies, (meaning we don’t dress up and go to conventions) but we love Star Trek and have seen every episode of every series and every movie. Eric got to be a Borg for a moment. It was kind of scary.
A Day At Greenfield Village
Along with amassing thousands of items for his indoor museum celebrating all things industrial, Henry Ford gathered up a random assortment of more than 100 historical structures and created Greenfield Village, the first outdoor living history museum. Located next door to the Henry Ford Museum, we returned for a second day of exploring (don’t try to do both in one day, there’s far too much).
There’s the Wright Brother’s Bicycle Shop, Noah Webster’s family home, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and much, much more. We had lunch at the authentic Eagle Tavern by candlelight. The menu was simple, similar to what we would have been offered at a tavern in the mid-1800s. We enjoyed baked local whitefish, mashed potatoes, and lightly sauteed asparagus. It was truly delicious, and the experience was unique.
We happened to be there over Memorial Day weekend and were initially dismayed to discover we would be sharing the village with the yearly gathering of Civil War Reenactors. More than 400 reenactors descend to camp at the village and live as though it is the mid-1800s. We anticipated insane crowds, but it’s such an enormous property that it wasn’t a problem. In fact, the reenactors lent an air of authenticity that made our experience even better.
To visit the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, we stayed at Wayne County Fairgrounds, an easy 20-mile drive away. It’s a flat, open campground, but we stayed in the back row in a grassy site, far from everyone else and had plenty of privacy (and good Verizon coverage and a crummy little serviceable laundry). We much preferred the more natural, wooded campground at Brighton State Recreation Area (we stayed there to visit Ann Arbor, but it’s too far for visiting the Henry Ford Museum), but the fairgrounds is also a good location for visiting Ann Arbor. How’s that for a convoluted explanation?