Tag Archives: Bruce Catton

“Finding Beauty in Northern Michigan”: Catton Award Winner 2016

At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.
At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.

By Morgan Bankston, Winner of the 2016 Bruce Catton Awards

The leaves beneath my feet are the only sound I hear besides the howling of the wind. The trees are shedding their coats, getting ready for a brisk winter. Colors of orange and yellow float around me. The wind is whipping around me, breaking me out of my thought. I hike farther up on the bluff. Rays of red and pink sunshine envelope me in a ray of heat. The cold weather nips at my cheeks, turning them a pinkish color. The farther I hike, the colder it gets; my wind breaker is slowly losing its effect of keeping me warm.

“Come on, Mom,” I say. “We need to hurry if we are going to make it to the top by the time the sun sets. “

I climb faster than the rest of my family. I look behind me and see they’re still staggering on the trail, trying to catch their breath from climbing the enormous hill.

At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.
At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.

In front of me, I see a huge tree, about the size of an elephant; its leaves lay scattered on the ground beneath it. The trunk reminds me of a spider’s legs, strong, and curvy. The branches seem like they’re never ending, going up into the sky and cascading outward.

I run over to the tree and start to climb its long branches, climbing from branch to branch to get higher off the ground. Looking up, I see three abandoned bird nests at the very top of the tree. I decide to climb as close to the nests as I can before mom tells me go get down. Up I go, closer, closer to the nest before I hear a loud scream.

“Get down here right now, young lady!” my mother screams.

I pretend I don’t hear her. I climb higher, but the branches are getting thinner and thinner. I can’t go much higher or a branch will snap.

Giving up, I adjust my feet and climb down each branch, one by one.

I make it down to the ground safely and start running down the path. All of the trees are losing their leaves, turning an eerie gray for winter. It’s quiet and peaceful. No birds are chirping or singing, just the howl of the wind in the trees.

At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.
At the Bruce Catton Essay Awards Ceremony, April 2016. Image courtesy of Stewart A. McFerran.

I press on along the trail making sure to stay on the path. I turn my head and see something that resembles a large cave on the other side of the trail. I turn around to make sure my mom isn’t looking; then I hurry and run over to the cave. Up close, I see that it is, in fact, what I suspected: a bear den. I walk around it; thank goodness there was no bear living it the cave at this moment. I continue to run around the cave to check it out. It’s  made of sticks and rocks which cover the whole thing. Large sticks are poking out of the den. I look down and see four little bear paw prints all over the ground smushed in the dirt.

Bored, I run back to my family quietly without anyone knowing I was ever gone. I run up behind my sister and poke her in her sides. She turns around  and swats my hands away while sticking out her tongue. I turn and run in front of everybody, making my way to the top of the hill.

The path turns left and opens up into a huge “sugar bowl.” Sand is all around us, leading to the very bottom, in the shape of a bowl.

I stand at the tip-top, take off my coat, boots, and hat; then I begin my run down the hill. As soon as I take the first step, all of the sand comes down with me and falls at my side. Slipping and sliding, I make it to the bottom and get on my hands and knees to climb up the hill again. After five times, all worn out, I climb up the hill, but want one more slippery ride down.

When I reach the top, I stand up and look out into the distance. I can see everything from here. Millions of trees, orange, red, and gray surrounding me. I turn around and see all of Lake Michigan. The dark blue covering what feels like half of the Earth around me. The lighthouse is in the distance.The sun is setting just beside it; a serene pink and yellow colors.

I think to myself —this is my home.

The Tenth Annual Bruce Catton Historical Award Reception was held at Mills Community House, Benzie County, in April 2016.   Families of the freshman authors and community residents came to honor the young authors and their teachers, Ms. Rebecca Hubbard, English teacher, and Mr. Dave Jackson, history teacher who inspired the authors. The students were assigned to write about a special event in their life, trying to create a memorable experience that would delight an audience. The readings given adult performers proved the students had succeeded. Similar to author Bruce Catton’s memoirs that included many of his life experiences as he grew up in Benzie County during the early years of the 20th century, the students included many descriptive details in essays that reminded their audience of similar experiences in their own lives.

WALKING IN the FOOTSTEPS OF THE PAST: Life in Benzie County by Freshman Bruce Catton Award Winners

By Shianne Knoch (left), Second Place winner in the 2015 Bruce Catton Awards

There was nothing on my mind that summer morning except going to the beach. It is a few days after the fourth of July, and the town is almost tourist free. I walk down my short road known as Corning Avenue and hear the normal sounds of my neighbors’ dogs speaking back and forth to each other. I get closer to the end of the road and see some of the younger boys at my school playing basketball at Market Square Park. They yell my name and wave a hello before continuing their game. I take a left and head down M22 and walk under the big, oak trees, while being passed by people on bikes and children with ice cream running down their faces and hands, trying so hard to get the last bits of the mouth-watering ice cream. I get to the end of M22 and turn down Main Street. I walk down the uneven sidewalk and pass by Mineral Springs Park; I hear the normal sound of children yelling and screaming with joy. I leave the park behind and continue down Main Street in the little town of Frankfort. I’m greeted by many of my friends and adults. Living in a small town, you learn to know everyone and they learn to know you. I smile at every one I pass while walking and just enjoy the many sights and sounds, and even the smells that Frankfort, Michigan has to offer. I finally make it past the people and the stores overflowing with people, and as I get closer and closer to my goal, I walk that twisty sidewalk that will take me to the pier. But, I have no intention of walking down the pier.

I turn right and land in the soft, white sand. I sit and dig my feet deeper and deeper into the sand, feeling the little rocks and shells tickle my toes. I lift my head up to the sun and let its warmth consume me. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there, but I awaken to the sound of Davy, a local man who lives in Frankfort. I hear him singing to himself while he picks up the cans and bottles that were left behind form the fourth. I smile to myself, knowing how happy he is. I turn away from Davy and look at the still water. It’s just sitting there waiting for someone to come and play. But I refuse its offer to come and play; and I head down to the water.

Shianne Knoch: 2nd Place, Genevieve Pomerleau:1st Place, Sam Buzzell: 3rd Place
Shianne Knoch: 2nd Place, Genevieve Pomerleau:1st Place, Sam Buzzell: 3rd Place

Once you get past the first turn, and you can no longer see the pier, the beach becomes a magical place. It’s so open and untouched. It’s so alive and beautiful that you can’t look at one thing for too long, or you might miss something else beautiful. I pull up my pants so that I can walk with my bare feet in the water. As I get further down the beach, I see an opening between two trees, and in the middle, I see – a chair.  I walk faster and head for the strange chair. When I approach the chair, I notice writing on every inch of the chair. There are names, dates, initials in hearts. On top of the chair, there is a date that reads 2003. Here I am in 2014, looking at a date from 2003. This chair is falling apart; it almost looks like it is weeping. One of the legs is almost torn off, and the paint is chipping. I run my fingers over the different names. As I move my hand down the chair, a piece of the arm falls off, no bigger than my fingernail. I pick up the tiny piece of wood and place it in my pocket. The wind starts to blow and I hear the whines and the creaks of the chair as the wind blows through it. I sit there for some time reading all the names. After my legs grow numb from being still for so long, I stand up and spot a marker. I put my name and the date on the chair that day. I think to myself of how crazy it is to be writing on this chair. Someone could have written on this chair this same day in a different year. I was walking in their footsteps. I leave the chair behind with my mark on it.

I went back, looking for the chair, the next year, but the chair was nowhere to be found. Instead in that same clearing, there was a small sand hill with rocks piled up on it. There were names on the rocks, and in a tree branch hanging down was a bag with a notebook and markers. Inside the notebook, were writings from people.   There were dates and names just like there had been on the chair. But some people also wrote their thoughts down, leaving them for someone to find.  As a tradition, I wrote my name in the notebook and signed a rock and put it with the other rocks. I noticed some names of my classmates and some local people, as well. I stepped away from the grave of the former weeping chair. I felt something poke me, and I cringed at the pain and felt tears cloud my eyes. I put my hand in my pocket and felt for the item that is bringing me pain. I pull out the piece of wood-chip. I had forgotten I had brought it with me. I look at the chip and realize what I must do. I picked up and moved some of the rocks and started to dig a hole. After the hole is deep enough, I put the last remaining piece of the chair in the hole, and I cover it with sand. I put the rocks back in their original places, and step back.

I turned around and left; looking back once as a farewell and a promise to be back next year. I’ll never forget that weeping chair and of the history it held.

Congratulations to Shianne Knoch for her excellent essay, and her second place finish! We look forward to reading more from Shianne.

Grand Traverse Journal will publish the first place winner’s essay in the July issue.

Annual Bruce Catton Awards honor Author, Encourages Students

By Stewart Allison McFerran, Benzie resident

Bruce Catton, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author born and raised in Benzonia, graduated from the Benzonia Academy in 1916. Nearly one-hundred years later, students from the Frankfort High School class of 2016 have written essays about their experiences and observations, in the style of Catton. Their essays will be read aloud in dramatic fashion at the Mills Community House, Benzonia, on April 8th at 7:30pm. The best essay will win the 9th annual Bruce Catton Historical Awards, coordinated by Kay Bos.

Bruce Catton's Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, on display at the Mills Community House. Photograph courtesy of the author.
Bruce Catton’s Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, on display at the Mills Community House. Photograph courtesy of the author.

The Pulitzer Prize that Bruce Catton won is on display at the Benzie Area Historical Museum, across the street from the Mills Community House on the hill in Benzonia where Catton grew up. The Presidential Medal of Freedom that was given to him by Gerald Ford is also displayed there. But most important are the copies of his book, “Waiting for the Morning Train,” that are in the library for students to read.

mcferran-cover“Waiting for the Morning Train” is Catton’s memoir about growing up in Benzie County. It was written after he had served as a war correspondent in WWI and written books on the Civil War.  Catton’s book, “A Stillness at Appomattox,” won the Pulitzer and has been widely read by people all over the world. It helped our Nation come to grips with the bloody Civil War.

There is no one waiting at the train station in downtown Beulah at the moment. It has been over 50 years since The Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad has passed by, let alone stopped to pick up a passenger. Catton describes in “Waiting,” that the Catton Family rode the Pere Marquette Railroad to the depot in Thompsonville. From there they could change to the Chicago and West Michigan or the Ann Arbor . Riding the “Ping Pong” to Frankfort, the Cattons could board ferryboats to points West such as Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In all, a much slower-paced traveling experience than we have today.

Bruce Catton,  ca. 1960s. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.
Bruce Catton, ca. 1960s. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Catton’s writing gives powerful images of life in Northern Michigan a century ago. While describing the idyllic life in Benzonia he shows how life and the land have changed. One big change was the arrival of the first car that drove up and stopped at a baseball game in Beulah. All the baseball players stopped to watch the car.

Concerning the land, fewer industries had an impact on Benzie County like the lumber industry. The sawdust from the mills covered the streams and smothered the fish spawning grounds. In “Waiting,” Catton wrote, “Despite his disclaimers, Man stands at the center of the Universe. It was made for him to use and the best and wisest are those who use it most. They destroy pine forests, dig copper mines and run open pits, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short, by the act of destruction”.

Dave and his model Ignatius, with students of Frankfort High School. Year-long preparation for the Catton awards can be exhausting, but Ignatius is always present to provide encouragement. Photograph courtesy of the author.
Dave Jackson, teacher, and his model Ignatius, with history students of Frankfort High School. Year-long preparation for the Catton Awards can be exhausting, but Ignatius is always present to provide encouragement. Photograph courtesy of the author.

American History teacher Dave Jackson and English teacher Rebecca Hubbard have taught about Bruce Catton and his place in the cannon of American Writers. Frankfort Juniors are urged to write about their experiences in Benzie County, and luckily are able to follow in Catton’s footsteps, both literally and literarily. The Betsie and Platte Rivers flow near the student’s houses. The points at which the rivers meet Lake Michigan are places the students gather. Catton changed our Nation with his writing and so can students in the class of 2016.

The youthful experiences of Bruce Catton informed his later writing, and we can all benefit from his insights on Nature and War. Youths growing up in Northern Michigan today can view the world through the Benzie prism as Bruce Catton once did. Frankfort student Casey Aldrich wrote about her adventure to the Clay pits and a stop at Franny’s Follies, and her classmate Bret Zimmerman left shore to troll the deep waters of Lake Michigan and returned with ten salmon over twenty pounds.

Catton did leave Benzonia after graduating and stated: “There was nothing to do but grow up; We could take our time about it. Let the morning train come whenever it chose. We could board at the proper time with confidence.”

Stewart Allison McFerran has a degree in Environmental Studies and worked with Frankfort students on a robotics project. He led an Antioch College environmental field program to the Great Lakes and worked as a naturalist at Innisfree. He worked as a deck hand for Lang Fisheries and currently is an instructor at NMC Extended Education program. He lives on a Benzie stream. He did graduate studies in science education and was a Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He grew up on a Lake in Michigan where he caught and released many turtles from his rowboat “Mighty Mouse”. This is McFerran’s first contribution to Grand Traverse Journal.