In Search of the Northern Summer: Part VII (Journey’s End)

I do believe I recall mentioning, in the past, that we are pretty fanatical about fresh fruit and produce. It may’ve been the whole vegetable gardening thing or the obsessive u-picking thing that tipped you off before I mentioned it, actually. At any rate, I bring up this particular interest of ours because it played a rather large role in determining how we set our course for home.

With summer being a tad early, this year (not exactly a complaint, mind you), all of the fruits that we enjoy u-picking were ripening early. So, even though it isn’t the best way to end a vacation, necessarily (manual labor and all), we decided that we were going to have to pick cherries and blueberries on our way home otherwise we’d completely miss the opportunity.

The Leelanau area is about 6 hours away from home, so we knew that time was of the essence. I decided that — since I get a bigger thrill from picking blueberries — we’d save time by buying pre-picked cherries from an orchard and could then make haste and find our way to the blueberry farm (before dark and fatigue could set in) in time do some good picking.

After having our final, excellent breakfast at the Snowbird Inn, and saying goodbye to our rooms (which we’d already grown attached to) and to our hostess, we hit the road, heading for the Old Mission Peninsula on Grand Traverse Bay to find Santucci Farm.

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The Old Mission Peninsula divides Grand Traverse Bay into a western and eastern arm, meeting with the mainland right inside of Traverse City. Michigan is the world’s top producer of cherries and most of those cherries come from this corner of the state. IMG_0955The Old Mission Peninsula is a remarkable strip of land — rocky coastlines with some sandy beach spots, high bluffs and hills in the middle, all covered with a patchwork of wineries and cherry orchards. From the mainland to the tip of the peninsula is only about 18 miles and yet it’s where most of Michigan’s Montmorency cherries come from.

Santucci Farm is about halfway up the Peninsula. We were discouraged when we drove up and discovered that they had sold completely out of their already-picked cherries. Before we could turn to reach for the door handles, we were handed giant buckets and — with beaming smiles and well wishes — were sent on our merry way into their vast and beautiful orchard to pick our own danged cherries!

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What seemed, at first, a minor set back for our itinerary proved to be good fun. Sprinting around in a cherry orchard can send anyone’s age spiraling backward a few digits… at least that’s my excuse. We couldn’t resist exclaiming every time we supposedly found the “mother lode” and — five minutes later when we found another… and another.

Finally pointing our sails southward and homeward, we couldn’t resist the siren song of some of the finest ice cream that can be found. We first discovered it at a little ice cream stand in Cedar, MI, at the recommendation of our innkeeper. Later, Nicole did a quick search and found that the ice cream is produced in New Era, MI, and was, in fact, conveniently located on our homeward route. It was just meant to be, I suppose! Just a stone’s throw from Highway 31, the Country Dairy Farm Store & Visitor’s Center has every single delight your dairy-hungry spirit yearns for. In addition to their fabulous ice cream, all of their products are completely free of rBST growth hormones and their small family of farms is where it’s all produced, processed, and bottled. Naturally, then, their ice cream and milk has a quality all its own since they completely oversee the process and can choose to not cut any corners.

In addition to the cheeses, milk, and ice cream, the farm store is also a restaurant serving quite a large menu of choices — not really high-brow cuisine, mind you, but certainly better than your typical fast food. Here’s the kicker: almost every menu option comes with a “bottomless glass of milk”. Seriously! You have unlimited refills on 2%, skim, or chocolate milk. Who else, I ask you, can offer you such a thing?!

5574_1195481089884_1314166690_533433_2579276_nPrying ourselves from our booth and back into the car, we continued our journey southward to Fennville, MI and Earl’s Berry Farm. This was our third year to pick blueberries at Earl’s. We keep coming back because the location is convenient, the people are friendly, and the blueberries are superb (not to mention cheap). While the blueberries were as great as ever, this year was certainly the hardest we’d ever worked for blueberries!

Normally, I consider blueberry picking an almost meditative activity — each plump berry falling into the giant bucket, very slowly making it full. 5574_1195480969881_1314166690_533430_7915022_nThis year, however, I was not able to ponder such monk-like observations. Unlike years past, we arrived late in the afternoon and in a very hot summer — one of the reasons, by the way, these beautiful pictures of Earl’s are actually snagged from my older brother who came all the way from Louisiana, last summer, for some u-pick fun. (Thanks, Benji!) This year was a far cry from the first time I picked blueberries — which happened to be in the middle of a very cooling light rain with a slight breeze! In contrast, I found myself practically on my knees trying to hide amongst the giant bushes to escape the red hot heat of the sun. This was surely penance for that aforementioned bottomless glass of milk!!

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In spite of the less-than-agreeable weather, James and I picked eighteen pounds of blueberries and Nicole picked six. Though that seems extreme, you’ve never had these blueberries, so you couldn’t possibly understand! I’ll be making posts about these little blue gems in the coming weeks and months, maybe you’ll see why we needed eighteen pounds.

M22 1Upon leaving Earl’s, it began to really feel as though our vacation was coming to an end. To try and keep our spirits up, Nicole and I started up with the Alphabet Game, again, so that the monotony of the final two hour drive wouldn’t seem quite as final.

We’d left home in search of the Northern Summer: relaxation, rest, adventure, local food… and apparently local ice cream. Even though we’d only given ourselves three and a half days to find it, we amazingly found it and hopefully have managed to take a piece of it with us. When the harsh reality of the midwestern winter sets in, we’ll need only to turn to our pantry where we’ve stored our homemade cherry preserves or drop some frozen blueberries in our cereal bowl in order to taste some of this one-of-a-kind summer. Good Harbor Bay 2

And, when we’ve grown weary of endless, dimly-lit days of white and grey, maybe we’ll turn to this little chronicle of our journey to catch fleeting glimpses of emerald, azure, and rubies that will remind us of the inspiration we felt as we stood in the shelter of the cherry orchard; as we browsed in the endless shops of Leland; as we finally lost contact with the real world at Good Harbor Bay and the Snowbird Inn; as we ate ice cream on both full and empty stomachs; as we made all these new memories while dusting off some older ones.

Bookstore Dog (St. Joseph, MI)A part of me is always grateful to return home, I suppose — no matter where I’ve gone and no matter how much fun I’ve had. Anything gained from observing the outside world lacks substance and context until it’s unleashed in “the real world”. Gratitude somehow reverberates more fully and continually when you’re surrounded by your own familiar four walls.

Aside from the beautiful memories I managed to capture on this search/vacation, I’m grateful for our friend and neighbor, Nicole (the eager co-conspirator and accomplice); and, of course, for my husband, James (winner of many medals for patience and also captain of our four-wheeled “ship”). So… sigh… I wonder where we’ll go next summer?

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~ by Jason on August 2, 2010.

2 Responses to “In Search of the Northern Summer: Part VII (Journey’s End)”

  1. As always, great post! I thought those pics from Earl’s were familiar. As soon as I saw the Earl’s sign I thought, “Wow! Jason got a shot kinda like the one I got!” Ha! You guys have a great week! Love ya!

    • Yeah, your pics from Earl’s were (dare I say it) better than the pics on their website! Thanks for letting me snag a few of them for this post. 🙂 Love you too!

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