Back in April, a couple of my relatives came to visit for an overnight stay. Michael Sanford is my sister’s husband Kevin’s brother, and although not by blood, my brother, too. His son Alec, skateboard extraordinaire and able protégé, also joined for the twelve-hour drive from Framingham, Massachusetts, by way of their hometown of Concord, a small village in central Michigan.

My relationship with the Sanford boys is a significant one, considering I more than likely would have nevertaken on a country home and substantial acreage without their influence. Having grown up in Concord, these ‘ol boys were born off the grid, being country way before country was cool. They were the ones who first showed me how to run a wood stove without burning the house down, how to wield a shotgun (“paint the sky Paulie, paint the sky!”), and how hunters plays an important and noble role in many rural communities. I remember meeting Mike and Kev at the start of Pheasant season in a hay field twenty years ago, as they rolled up in their bright orange hats and vests. When I inquired how the day was, they claimed to have been skunked, not having seen a single bird all morning. Just as we clasped hands, almost on cue, a big, brilliant long-tailed male flushed from the brush a hundred yards behind them. “Might that be one right there?” I offered up. “That might be!”, they replied, turning, loading, locking and taking off running. Love it when signs of abundance spring forth from the natural world.

Mike’s the consummate handy man and can craft just about anything, swinging an axe and running a saw like an old school Midwest woodsman. Alec appears to be not more than a step or two behind him. Who better to take on the task of opening up access to the middle branch of the Black River that touches the Southeast corner of the property? Down there the wetland’s swampy, black-green muck makes it like the Mei Kong Delta during a hot Vietnam summer, having swallowed down more than one flip flop in my attempts to bushwack my way through. As forecast, by morning they’d cleared a path, put in earthen embankments, and carved a set of stairs into the path’s steep slope. By afternoon, in words taken from Alec’s Facebook post, “Got the opportunity to clear a path, build two footbridges and construct a set of stairs. With the help of my dad we were able to drop two trees and drive 200+ nails into 30″ deck boards in order to make the Black River more accessible to my Uncle Paul ‪#‎hardworkalwayspaysoff” Amen to that. Considering the structure of this place will span gaps and barriers to better living for many, the passage provided a needed addition.

Now, after a sweat, in the heat of the summer, we can submerge ourselves in the cool waters of the Black, fish for steelhead as they make their way up to spawn, and drop a kayak in more readily for the long float and portage to the lake. Say what you will about guests being like Lake Michigan Steelhead, perhaps giving off a distinct scent after three days. Kin or anyone else who can craft cool stuff are always welcome to come here and stay a spell.

I will walk alone by the Black muddy river
And listen to the ripples as they moan
I will walk alone by the Black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own – Grateful Dead