by Alan Marble, September 24, 2019
At the September 2019 level Lake Michigan is very close to the all-time high recorded in 1986, when Wildewood responded by building retaining walls. Most cottages and homes were built on tiny lots platted generations ago: lots 50’ or 100’ wide, and 100’ in depth. Many of those owners face a serious threat to their homes today, with no room to move their cottages away from the bluffs. The concerns are of property loss, cottage loss, and a restriction (or for less physically able folks, the loss) of beachcombing, a solitary activity that pulls many of us to the shore. The same bluffs we find so attractive during “normal” water years now loom as an eroding threat to future generations walking the beach and roaming the dunes.
There are inevitable questions arising from any discussion of altering or reinforcing the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Perhaps foremost is the concern with what may happen to an “unprotected” property shoreline when retaining walls or seawalls are constructed on adjacent shoreline. As described in more detail below, nature will be the primary driver of what happens to the CSA dunes:
- If waters remain high or continue to rise, further erosion on CSA common grounds is inevitable, whether or not a wall protects adjacent properties.
- If the lake level recedes over time there may be a period of time during which the trading of winds, waves and sand may result in short-term erosion to CSA common ground. But this should be mitigated as wind-blown sand, the primary element of our dunes, accumulates and once again secures the shoreline. That was the case after Wildewood built retaining walls in 1987 and the water level started dropping soon thereafter.
Any CSA baby boomer who wandered the beach as a child, bent over in search of Petoskeys and chain corals, could stand at the foot of the old concrete stairs and look south, and see nothing but shoreline. Today, a view from the base of the mostly-collapsed stairs clearly reveals the Frankfort lighthouse, two miles distant. Millions of tons of sand, till and clay have eroded away, carrying forests, bluff-top fences and parts of some dwellings with them. It is a natural process, probably accelerated by man’s activities, that will continue long after we are gone.
Shoreline erosion along these fragile shorelines is inherent to the nature of the bluffs. Formed by glaciation thousands of years ago, our soaring dunes are comprised mostly of wind-born sand atop layers of glacial till (gravel) and clay. There is little resilience to this composition... erosion is an everyday thing, regardless of the lake level, from wind, rain and, occasionally in winter, ice (which can form a barrier against erosion, or be a powerful destructive force). When high water levels are added, the erosion is visible daily, and even hourly, during sustained high winds. The winds along the western Michigan shore vary constantly, both seasonally and on a day-to-day basis, with infamous Lake Michigan fall storms doing the most damage.
Lake Michigan erodes all unprotected shoreline equally. On a local view, the 1987 Wildewood retaining walls (and also a short stretch at the north end of the CSA grounds, constructed by CSA residents at/about the same time) served the primary purpose by retaining soil as it collapsed, trapping it and providing a base for sand dune recovery as the lake receded. Its other purpose, preventing further erosion from wind and wave action, has been apparent as the water crested this spring. The adjacent CSA common ground to the north of Wildewood has been adversely affected this spring, primarily from the relentless wind and wave action, not from any “scouring” effect.
The potential for increased erosion to adjacent CSA common ground may go up as the water level recedes, but only to a point. With alternating prevailing winds (NW to SW) the effect is muted, and windblown sand will aggregate to rebuild the dunes accordingly. There is proof of this alternating effect in that, prior to the sudden surge in the level of Lake Michigan in the early spring of 2019, the Wildewood shoreline and CSA grounds shoreline were even.
Should the CSA join the proposed Wildewood project? Currently there are no buildings on CSA common grounds threatened by erosion. History tells us the shoreline is as dynamic in rebuilding as it is fragile when under attack. The dunes and bluffs will rebuild, with astonishing speed, if the lake level goes down. If the lake level continues to rise, most human efforts to stop erosion of the fragile shoreline will be to naught.
By Tom Clapp August 8, 2019
The recent experience with the CSA water system bacteria contamination has generated a number of questions about private wells on and around the Assembly. As a concerned private well owner, I have done some research on the subject and thought it might be of interest to others.
I started with a stop at the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department on M-115. (http://www.bldhd.org/sewage-well-evaluation-form). They were very helpful and provided sample bottles and instructions for collection and delivery to SOS Analytical (http://www.sosanalytical.com) in Traverse City.
Doing a little more digging I found we had used Great Lakes Water Quality Laboratory, Inc. (http://www.greatlakeswaterlab.net) in 2014 and still had some sample bottles from them. I called them to see which, if either, set I could use. The representative suggested I use the new ones from BLDHD and sent me an email with instructions. The email also contained some informative links on who should test, how often, and what to test for. The email is repeated below.
My questions have been answered and I now have the tools I need to make sure our cottage water is safe. I hope this helps answer any water well questions still out there.
“Thank you for reaching out to our laboratory for drinking water testing information. I have attached our request for water analysis form and instructions for collection. I also included some links to helpful information from the CDC, EPA and EGLE.
Great Lakes Water Quality Laboratory
6461 Sunset Dr / PO Box 131
Lake Ann, MI 49650
By Ginanne Brownell Mitic, August 2019
The late great Nobel-winning author V.S. Naipaul stated—and I paraphrase—that as a writer, every word you write should be painful. While I think this is a bit overly dramatic and extreme, I take his point that word choice can be a heavy and intense exercise.
I have just completed my first book, a non-fiction narrative account of a youth orchestra in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, which is currently being touted around by my agent to publishers. As I was in the three-year process of writing my book Sir Naipaul’s words haunted me. I struggled how to best describe the deep blue of the vast Kenyan sky (Azure? Sapphire?) and I went back and forth as to whether “pungent” or “fetid” was the most expressive word to describe the stench of the Dandora dumpsite, which is on the edge of Korogocho where my orchestra members live and play their music.
Finishing the book—at least the writing part—has come now as a relief and it’s been interesting this summer talking with my mom, Eleanor (who is working on her second book) and my two brothers (Joe who is as well working on his second book on independence movements in post-colonial southern Africa, while Reb’s book is mentioned below) about the writing process. It’s also been fascinating to find out more about other authors within our CSA community and I suspect Sir Naipaul’s words have struck a chord at some point for all of us writers as the tapping of our keyboards echoes through the northern woods. As the Authors and Artisans fair is almost upon us, August 7th, here is a roundup of some books and plays that CSAers have completed in the last few years:
"I Spy... A Pig in A Plane” by Kristy Pollina Kurjan (children’s lit & lifestyle magazine)
Kristy grew up spending her summers at the CSA and her first job was a lifeguard at the CSA beach. She now lives in Traverse City with her husband and three children. She is currently the editor of “Traverse City BayLife Magazine”. She told me via email that, “I have three baby board books published by my company, KPO Creative LLC: “Nap-a-Roo”, “Dream Sweet Dreams” and “The Many Ways To Say I Love you.” My fourth board book in the series is titled and coming out this fall.” The books can be purchased at stores throughout the country and locally they can be found downtown at The Bookstore in Frankfort. They are easily found on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Kristy-Kurjan/e/B00L1TXZ56
“Inside the Front Page” by Russell Freeburg (non-fiction memoir)
I never intended to write a memoir…An old friend, Gertrude Terry, is responsible. She asked me to join a writing group in her home once a week. She had this caveat: I had to work on a memoir or I couldn’t come. Her stipulation seemed a fair exchange to enjoy her company along with the company of other writers. “Inside the Front Page” is about my time in the newspaper business working for the Chicago Tribune in Chicago and Washington, DC. I actively covered four presidents and met others as governors.
Previous books by me are “Oil and War” published in 1987 by William Morrow and Company and “There Ought to be a Place” published by the Congregational Summer Assembly. “Oil and War” tells about the role oil played in victory or defeat in WWII. “There Ought to be a Place” is a history of the first 100 years of the CSA.” Russ’s memoir is available on Amazon or stop by the cottage and buy an autographed copy to benefit the CSA Education Fund. Follow his blog at russellfreeburg.com
“Birthday Candles” by Noah Haidle (play with previews beginning in New York City April 3, 2020 and produced by Roundabout Theatre Company)
The play will be at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street and Debra Messing (from “Will and Grace” fame) plays Ernestine Ashworth, who spends her 17th birthday agonizing over her insignificance in the universe. Soon enough, it’s her 18th birthday. Even sooner, her 41st. Her 70th. Her 101st. According to the Roundabout’s site the play is of, “Five generations, dozens of goldfish, an infinity of dreams, one cake baked over a century. What makes a lifetime…into a life?”
Noah wrote in an email that the CSA children’s operettas were his first exposure to theatre of any kind. “I played a bee in 'Sky Happy,' a squire in 'A Dragon's Tale,' and all I remember from 'Tom Sawyer' was sitting on the edge of the stage pretending to fish. I was probably the worst actor to ever grace the Assembly's stage. Which is maybe why I became a playwright. From a bee to Broadway. An unlikely journey." Tickets for the play are available at roundabouttheatre.org
“The U.S. Senate and the Commonwealth: Kentucky Lawmakers and the Evolution of Legislative Leadership” by Reb Brownell and Senator Mitch McConnell (non-fiction/history)
My brother Reb, the former deputy chief of staff for the Senate majority leader, co-authored this book that details the history and evolution of U.S. Senate leadership institutions (including the vice presidency, the Office of President Pro Tempore, and the Office of Majority Leader) through the lives and careers of prominent Kentucky senators (like Henry Clay). No matter what side of the aisle you are on, for those interested in politics, it’s a well-researched and important read. Richard A. Baker, US Senate Historian Emeritus, has stated that the book “is prize worthy” and sets forth a compelling case for Kentucky’s unique contribution to the U.S. Senate. The book is available on amazon.com.
“What She Ate” by Laura Shapiro (non-fiction/biography)
Journalist and food writer Laura Shapiro spent a number of years researching the six women she chronicles in her 2017 book. According to her website: “Everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food, as if the great and notable never bothered to think about what was on the plate in front of them. Once we ask how somebody relates to food, we find a whole world of different and provocative ways to understand her. Food stories can be as intimate and revealing as stories of love, work, or coming-of-age. Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table.” An engaging summer read for those interested in how food has shaped the lives of some of history’s most intriguing women. Also on amazon.com
“One Woman’s Journey: Childhood 1923-1938” by E.C. (Kay) Fischer (autobiography)
Born in Greenfield, Ohio in 1923, the sweeping autobiography of Kay’s first 15 years is an insight not only into her personal history but an important account of an American childhood in the early part of the 20th century. Her self-published book (the first of what she says is likely to be nine or 10 volumes) takes readers from Missouri to Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington State. Kay is currently busily working on volume two, which will be focused on her courtship and early marriage (and will also cover World War II including her time working on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago), so stay tuned. To obtain a copy, email
“Vendetta’ by Robert Wangard
Published posthumously after Robert’s untimely passing last April, the book is the eighth in the Pete Thorsen mystery series and set in rural northern Michigan. In this thriller, a visitor appears at Pete’s lakeside home, bringing along personal baggage that upends the lawyer’s world. Pete needs the help of his detective friend to clear his name against accusations that could end his career. The murky world of sleazy sex clubs and mob bosses feature as intriguing backdrops in his page-turning “Vendetta”. You can order it at amazon.com and find it at The Bookstore in Frankfort.
By Max Buzzell, June 2019
The air is cold and the leaves of the previous autumn crunch underfoot as I fumble up the steps of my family’s cottage, bucket of cleaning supplies and vacuum in hand. For 10 years now I’ve helped with this spring cleaning. There’s something exciting about taking that first step across the threshold each new season; it’s as though I’m walking into a place devoid of time, its thin boards bound together both by its history and its future.
Lovingly dubbed “The Catherine” in memory of its previous inhabitant, Catherine Stebbins, our little cottage has a past I’m still discovering. With each spring I stumble upon boxes of Catherine’s writings, stacks of old business cards, or envelopes of photos. We have our own family history here now, too. The staircase my dad and grandpa built, a box of notes I wrote back and forth with my grandma, our favorite VHS tapes stacked high.
Over the course of the time that I’ve been helping with this spring cleaning task, my reason for doing so has shifted. Initially, it was one of my ways to spend time with my grandma, Luanne. We’d wipe and we’d scrub and we’d polish; I’d pretend to be little orphan Annie, she’d try her very best to play the mean Miss Hannigan…. Once the place was clean and she and my grandpa had made the move from their house in town out to the Assembly for the summer, I spent time with her on walks to the Assembly building or by attending a church service. After my grandma passed away, I kept cleaning the cottage as a way to stay connected to those memories of her, and to make sure my grandpa had a good place to stay for the summer. Sitting on the screen porch with a good book or making a pot of coffee with my grandpa have become my new memories in this place. We discuss business (which yards we’ll mow that day), or listen to NPR and as we keep the fire burning.
Nowadays, I do some of this spring cleaning for my own stays at The Catherine. I’ve prepped the place for aunts and uncles, cousins close and distant. Recently the most exciting part of this job has been cleaning for the arrival of my oldest cousins and their kids. Watching the youngest of my family experience the Assembly for all its tennis and swimming lessons, Monday Night Dances, and chances to meet lifelong summer friends, I have observed how the Assembly has shaped and will shape many generations.
Though the Assembly has yet to stir from her winter slumber, there’s an air of anticipation as I mop the floor and wipe down the bookshelves. In just a few weeks the silent neighborhood will be busy with the sound of our summer neighbors: the accidental slamming of an old cottage screen door, the excited sound of games in the ballfield drifting over to Standish, and the sound of a bike chain backpedaling. Soon our cottage will be teeming with people too, generations of Buzzells remembering our past, enjoying our present, and knowing that the Congregational Summer Assembly will be a part of our future.
August 1, 2018
We are lucky to have in our CSA community writers, poets, novelists, playwrights, biographers, actors, directors, producers, painters, potters, dancers, singers, musicians and a plethora of other artistic talents. Some people who have professionally gone into a number of artistic careers got their starts in operettas, participating in arts and crafts and singing in the Sunday choir.
Along with our regular operettas, arts and crafts classes, authors and artisans gatherings, and concerts, over the years many other events have taken place. As Stunt Night was revived, it became clear that not only does the CSA love fun cultural events, but also loves to share serious creativity. Poetry recitation, serious music and story reading sometimes have shown up in the Stunt Night programing, along with silly and playful offerings. Looking back through Assembly history in the past plays were performed along with--or instead of--operettas. In recent years, different members of our community have offered some inspiring artistic events. Bruce Clements directed a reader’s theater performance of the play “The Winslow boy” by Terrence Rattigan; Gibson family members have offered magical evenings of poetry and music.
So, how did the Arts Committee happen? A few years ago, a group of CSAers started talking about expanding arts programing. A proposal was brought before the Board of Trustees and the Arts Committee was formed in the fall of 2015 and started activities last summer. The first co-chairs of the committee were Barb Perry and Jane Taylor. While Barb leads the CSA as President this year, Jane Taylor leads our artistic community as the chairperson of the Arts Committee.
The Arts Committee hopes to achieve two things: first, we have many creative ideas and are looking for individuals who will take charge of making them a reality; second, we want to support artistic endeavors at the Assembly. So when a member of our community dreams up something to try out here, we want to encourage and facilitate those dreams. We especially encourage active participation in the arts—not just passive spectating (fun though it may be!)
This year, the arts are alive and well at the CSA in many of the usual ways that our community is used to seeing including Stunt Night, Artist Workshops (with help from the Women’s Association), periodic poetry challenges, and a book discussion group. All these current offerings were created or supported by the Arts Committee.
Two new workshops demonstrate the goals of the Arts Committee. Friday afternoon writing gatherings were created because a member of the committee, Julia Gibson, felt writers would benefit from the focus and intention in gathering to write. Friday afternoons at 2:00pm in the Lounge, all are welcome to join the quiet gathering of writers, whatever your area of writing might be.
Another workshop was created when members of the committee noticed that sometimes participants felt lost in the arts workshops. We thought it would be useful to offer solid training in basic drawing skills, a training that is missing from so many people’s background. We approached Judy Dawley about starting a series of instructional art classes to help people develop those skills. On Thursday afternoons the packed class consists of people of every experience level. Everyone learns something new. Judy has a strong background in teaching artistic skills, and she was the perfect person to create this series of classes. She offering a total of six classes this summer each concentrating on different skills. Come join us Thursday afternoons, July 12 – August 16, from 2-4pm in the Assembly Building.
In the future, the committee wants to help artists with whatever they dream of doing here. We can imagine things like a Reader’s Theater, instrumental music groups, hymn-writing workshops, trees-in-art celebrations, storytelling evenings at the fire pit, open mic performances, photography gatherings and plein air painting throughout the Assembly. We hope to coordinate events with the Spiritual Life Committee, with whom we feel we have some overlap of interest, and also with Ecology and Youth programming.
So bring your own ideas – we want to hear them! Ask for support from the Arts Committee whenever you want help creating a new activity. New members who are ready to work on some aspect of the programing are welcome to join the committee. We look forward to fanning the flame of creativity in many new ways. We hope you are enjoying the activities we have started and would love to hear from you!