An expression that perfectly meshes the blend of science and rustic wisdom that go into proper moonshine manufacture. Readers with long memories might remember we visited with Moonshine eight years ago, in "Setting the scope on a Jackal bow." We visited him again Saturday afternoon, well, because no visit to Ontonagon is complete without stopping by his neatly-mown property. We visitors examined his solar lumber drying kiln, cleverly crafted out of an old school bus—his father was a bus driver. As well as his automatic deer feeder, constructed from a garbage can suspended under a tripod. "Twice a day," Moonshine said, with a touch of pride. Why go hunting for deer when you can just lure them to you and shoot them? He's had his health troubles lately, and didn't tell his usual skein of deer hunting stories, but my friend Rick knows them all, and told one or two, with laughter all around.
Beers were distributed, and Mike's special Maple Moon brought out, for those so inclined, who pronounced it fine indeed, smooth and satisfying, while I asked him questions: the beverage was distilled from grapes and peaches, making it a kind of brandy. "Though you could distill water..." he added, trailing off, the "but why would anyone want to do that?" being unvoiced.
The simple white house, he said, was built by his grandfather in about 1900. Though Mike expanded it, and he planted the tree above when he was a boy of about 6, which would make it 75 years old, since he is now 81. The white pine would grow straight and 100 feet tall in the forest but, finding itself uncharacteristically alone, spread out wide, as if in search of the company we all crave. Mike has been making moonshine for 60 years, and announced he has given it up, though not before teaching the art to a grandson.
|"Moonshine" Mike Guzek
We talked about the local bar, Stubb's—well, there are a couple others, but Stubb's is the one that counts, in our book—named for its long-ago owner, Stubb Nelson, who acquired his nickname because one of his forearms was missing, back when people were named for their exceptional physical qualities. Whether the limb was lost to a logging accident was discussed, but it was so long ago now, it wasn't quite remembered. It probably was; logging was the main industry around here 100 years ago, and among the most dangerous professions ever.
While logging feels like part of the vanished heroic past, there are still some 800 logging and trucking firms in Michigan, not to mention sawmills, pulp and paper mills, and wood processors of all kinds. Bars are also doing well, though not around here.
"Once there were 11 bars in Ontonagon," Mike said. Rick explained how an unfortunate bypass highway skirted the town's main drag, which fell into decline. The various bars were discussed, including Johnny's, which was out in the woods. "My parents went there," he said.
Mike's mother was a nurse, and remembered loggers coming in after brawls Saturday night.
They'd have them strip off their clothes and wash themselves, prior to treatment, and once a bag of discarded clothing was so infested with lice that the bag moved, his mother said. Like his father, Mike was a truck driver for 30 years for the Gitchee Gumee Oil Company. Lately he's been a handyman—he built the tight, immaculate cabin I slept in. "Gitchee Gumee," in case you don't know, is not some garble that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow invented, but Ojibwe for "Big Water," the Native-American name for Lake Superior.
I lingered in his shop, admiring the neatly arranged, if cobwebbed, tools, and the smell of oil and metal and old rubber. They were beautiful. After saying our reluctant goodbyes, we headed back into town, and I noticed that we passed an ancient bar called "Johnny's," now boarded up and sagging. Time takes its toll on everything, but we persist, best we can.