Messed-Up Michigan by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Changing Times

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

David in the dark up at Interlochen, 1994

Though Michigan is thought of as an industrial state due to its automative industry, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, it has a long agricultural history as well, with dairy farms in the middle of the state, and lots of cherry orchards around the Grand Traverse peninsula on Lake Michigan, more than 2/3rds of the way up the coast towards the Upper Peninsula. We ate tons of delicious cherries (in many variations from cups of the fruit to slices of pie to crumbles to anything else the chefs could think of; the fruit was plentiful) at camp (about a half hour inland and south of the the bay), all summer long. Michigan State University is a land-grant school, started to study agriculture. We teasingly referred to it as “Moo U”.

Somehow, going on Daylight Saving Time messed up the cows milking schedule (to say nothing of our own circadian rhythm, as noted by doctors and scientists as a compelling reason against the permanent change), so during the 18 years I spent as a resident of the state, there would be occasional referenda voting down the “spring ahead, fall behind” schedule change and we would be one of the few states not on DST, which was very confusing.

It also meant, for those of us at away in the northern wilds of camp at Interlochen (this happened once or twice during my six summers, from 1964-1969), that it got light earlier in the morning, but also, earlier in the evening. Those of us in the High School division sort of loved this if we were on a date. We were quite far north and on DST, it wouldn’t be totally dark until around 10pm (after we were called to our cabins), which made it a bit difficult to go to “Date Gate” (where you’d go at the end of a date to make out with your partner, under the watchful eye of the counselors). You WANTED it to be dark, so you’d have more privacy for whatever intimacy was being initiated (not much for those teenagers, but still…).

Years later, I was on the National Alumni Board and during the summer, if Dan was not available to babysit (several years, he rode his bike that same weekend in the Pan Mass Challenge, a huge fundraising ride for the Dana-Farber Cancer Center, and was gone all weekend), so I took my kids to camp with me. They came to the Operetta and hung out with my beloved Intermediate Director, Emily Boyd, who was now the head of the Minnie Building (a hospitality site) while I was in meetings.

The rest of the time, we explored the camp together. They loved being in the glorious pine forest, at the Wishing Well, the Melody Freeze (where one could get ice cream treats, food or go inside to the store). But at night, out in the woods there was no light pollution, as we truly were in a forest. They begged to be allowed to stay up late and see what it was like to gaze at the inky black sky. I took them to a field at the end of the row of cabins where we stayed. Art students put plaster casts for their projects out in the field. This was 1994. My kids were 9 and 5. They found it creepy and fascinating. They asked me to take a few photos on my Instamatic (long before iPhones). The featured photo shows David that night, eyes wide open in the dark, beaming his delight. Perhaps not as a function of the time change, but still in the dark, in the woods that I so loved my entire life too.

In our cabin at bedtime, 1994


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. pattyv says:

    I got so into camping with the boys, staying up in the black of night to gaze at the stars. It took me back to my own camping days with my two sons. Although Jersey skies aren’t as pitch black as Michigan’s, It still held the same kind of magic for us. Great piece, thank you!

  2. Jim Willis says:

    Hi Betsy! Great memories of Michigan, Moo U, and the summer camp experience. You kept me along for the ride all the way. I was once offered a faculty job at Michigan State, but I need a few more sunny days than East Lansing provides. Before making my decision on whether to accept or not, I checked out weather history for the city and found it had only 71 fully sunny days a year. So I said no, as I did years later to a Seattle university. Southern California is the only place I’ve lived where people actually look forward to a few clouds and rain!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Our state paths cross again, Jim (as you may recall, I now live a block from Boston College, where we are getting a bit of snow at this moment). And that youngster in the cabin photo now lives outside Seattle (and does have Seasonal Affect Disorder, so has those lamps to get enough light).

      I’m glad you enjoyed my Michigan memories. Since I was a kid growing up in Detroit and its suburbs, I never thought about its climate. It was all I knew (I always expected there would snow on the ground for my December birthday; that’s just the way it was). If you’ve read Khati’s stories, you might have read that her father was at MSU for a time and she spent formative years in East Lansing. Maybe we can get her to weigh in on the subject.

      Being “up north” was fun for my kids and me, so different than being in the city, even if I did have meetings and such. It smells so good there! When the founder bought the property in 1928, it was a logging camp and across the highway it is still a state park – pine forest.

  3. Lovely memories of those camp visits and starry nights with your kids.

    We spend time in the Connecticut foothills where the night skies are quite different from the light-polluted skies in Manhattan!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    A good black night with a million stars (okay, lots more than a million) is a treat everyone should experience. Light pollution makes that really hard anymore. So much of science, philosophy and religion have come from star gazing and trying to understand where we are in the universe. I had to laugh at “Moo U”–I lived in East Lansing and the joke was that it started out as the Cow College, became Moo U, and then the Udder University.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I love this comment about the stars and one’s ability to look and be inspired by them, Khati. And thanks for all the other joking references to “Moo U”. You have so many more than I knew, since you actually lived in East Lansing.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    The trip north from Traverse City up the peninsula is a lovely drive. The wineries and orchards! The UP so draws us that we have put off a return to Europe until 2024 because Gina REALLY wants to go back to Copper Harbor this year (much more mountain biking there, too!).

    Michigan really is an amazing place.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Except for a day trip to Mackinac Island with my family when I was really little, I’ve never been to the UP, Dave. We used to vacation in Charlevoix on Lake Michigan when I was a kid and that certainly was beautiful (I still have versions of my father’s home movies to help my memory). Michigan does have a lot to recommend it.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember growing up in MI and the light during summer nights when I was young that made it hard to fall asleep. I would protest going to bed when it was not dark, but I always lost that battle.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Like you, I’ve never been a big fan of DST. I understand the basic principle, but also didn’t like it staying light so late. And I’ve seen a lot of friends on FaceBook express the same sentiment lately.

  7. Betsy,
    I have known some other people, such as my mother, who were smitten w the camp experience. She was captain of her Color War Team. She recounted her happy and exciting camp days to me when lulling me to sleep. She was ebullient when driving my sister and me northwards into the White Mountains for the start of our camp experience. I did not inherit her camping gene. And in the forests late at night, in the open arms of nature, I do not feel at home.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As you point out Jon, summer camp is not for everyone. I made life-long friends up there at the National Music Camp (we now Zoom once a month; with one, we text daily). They are among my closest friends. My older child went to a camp in Maine and had a middling experience; it changed ownership during his time there, became more of a sports camp and he was bullied (we only found out later and were NOT happy to learn about this). Our younger child never went. She spent a week at computer camp (a day camp experience) and that was enough for her.

Leave a Reply