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  • Between Kennel and Creek
  • Phillip Sterling (bio)


We are not likely of a single mind as we celebrate the sun's sour breath the last week of March, a patently dreary month this year, remarkable for how often the meteorologists of West Michigan updated the record number of overcast days in "recorded history." It's the lead story on many channels—trumping any regional concern for political piracy, gender dysphoria, or the looming extirpation of multiple species (bipeds among them). As a result, I've been stirred into action. I've taken to my yard, where I can distance myself from media's daft diversions by virtue of some mindless repetitive task (which, in my case, promotes emotional composure and contemplation). Consider the term "recorded history," for example. On the one hand, it is an anthropocentric misnomer, representing as historical our culture's madcap fascination with superlative aberrancies in climactic observation; on the other, it is mere tautology: the word "history" defined in my American Heritage Dictionary as "a chronological record of events" (my italics).

WOOD TV, the NBC-affiliated television station in Grand Rapids, refers to its weather department as "Storm Team 8"; WWMT, the CBS affiliate licensed in Kalamazoo, promotes the forecasting segment of its daily news broadcast as generated by "The Severe Weather Center." Neither station appears to have any interest in the calm between storms, nor in any manifestation of weather considered normal, usual, or average. Consequently, they no longer serve my interest in observing the unremarkable calm of a cloudless, early spring day. [End Page 87]


While a considerable amount of research has provided evidence that the Sun Dance was a predominant tribal ceremony of Great Plains Indians, anthropologists are less certain as to whether a similar tradition was practiced by the indigenous tribes of the Great Lakes region. Beyond the reputed burial and ceremonial mounds of certain paleo-Indians discovered in Southwest Lower Michigan, "evidence of these ancient cultures is meager," admits the posted research from the Department of Geography at Michigan State University. The earliest regional tribes of record—the Chippewa, the Ottawa, and the Potawatomi—were thought to be primarily agricultural. Their subsistence depended on rain as much as sun. Thus their predominant tribal celebrations took place during, or immediately after, harvest.

There is no evidence that indigenous peoples of Michigan—whose history can be traced back approximately 10,000 years—had any interest in tracking and then establishing a record for the consecutive number of sunless days. A cloud-free day in spring—however unusual—was likely no cause for celebration, sour or otherwise.


Today will be "mostly sunny," they say. And this morning, by my way of thinking, sour and warm. Warmth begat by sourness, I'm guessing, as the thaw has released into the suddenly still air winter's moisture and from that moisture winterkill's pent-up scents: compost and decay, odorously reminiscent of the memorial grounds in Southeast Lower Michigan where I worked as a gravedigger some fifty years ago.


The pasture too has been freed, mostly, of the layer of ice left behind by last week's late-season storm, a storm that also imprecisely amputated—as by shoddy application of an osteotome—the ancient pine that stood handsomely between our house and barn like a monument to an earlier time, a time before houses and barns. Now, post-storm, the pine's not so grand; to the contrary, [End Page 88] its barkless and shattered limbs raise some concern for the safety of any horses paddocked below, which gives me pause (wherein I estimate the cost and timing of the tree's safe removal).

The younger red maples beyond the barn have, in contrast, begun to affirm their names in the burgundy blush of twig tips and buds, despite several days of windchills in the teens, and the newsworthy sun—finally!—is nudging along the more slumberous sugar maples beside the road, stirring their sweet promise.

Odd, I think, the lack of birdcall on such a morning. Do I intimidate? Initially, the only sound is the whoosh and snap of the pine boughs I've been loosing from their scattered dismay...


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pp. 87-98
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