My early childhood summers (1955-1959) were spent at a pastoral cottage in Union Pier, Michigan. My mother and I stayed in Union Pier and my father worked in Chicago during the week. He joined us on weekends. In those days, it was very rustic in Union Pier. Especially the water, which tasted like rotten eggs. It was well water, which we Chicagoans had never tasted before. These were in the “prehistoric” days before most people had air conditioning, before the advent of bottled water, if you can imagine that.
On Sundays, my father and I would go to a natural spring in Warren Woods. We brought big empty bottles to fill with fresh spring water. And all week we would drink the most delicious water we had ever tasted. (An underground oil spill contaminated the spring in the 1970s.)
Before we filled the bottles, we loved to explore Warren Woods and marvel at the hearts etched into the tree trunks by lovers from long ago – Sam loves Fay – 1908. We climbed over the many fallen tree trunks, not understanding why no one cleared the tumbled trunks away.
We didn’t know that Warren Woods is a rare beech maple climax forest – one of very few left in Michigan. As such, it was hallowed ground. In fact, none of the trees or foliage in this unspoiled 300 acres can be moved. This was so to preserve the pristine condition of Warren Woods for generations to come.
We stepped gingerly among the native plants and watched as the trees seemed to open their branches to embrace the sky. My father and I were transfixed by the beauty here. We noticed that we felt different in Warren Woods, more invigorated, calmer somehow. No doubt about it, there was an excess of oxygen here and breathing it was intoxicating.
We loved how the air smelled, of sweet sap, musky wood and wildflowers. I imagined the ground to be a filigree of ancient animal skeletons. As we wandered through Warren Woods every Sunday morning, we felt a strong spiritual presence.
The road we took I now know to be Three Oaks Road. But in my childhood innocence, I called it Three Yolks. This was probably because, after filling the bottles, we went into Three Oaks to purchase fresh, just laid eggs – another new sensation for big city people.
Fast forward to 1984. I was in the middle of a divorce and needed to get out Chicago for Labor Day weekend. A friend told me about a new bed and breakfast in Lakeside, Michigan. Driving over the Chicago Skyway, reminded me that no toll road to Southwest Michigan existed in the fifties. My family rode to Union Pier on Highway 12. Even so, the drive animated my sweet memories of the area.
The Pebble House was a revelation. It arranged my thoughts, as past and present came together in the Pebble House’s “Arts and Crafts” décor. Through the years, I visited often and became friends with the owners, Jean and Ed Lawrence. I asked them about Warren Woods and shared my childhood memories.
Jean told me about E.K. Warren, the wood’s namesake, who put the town of Three Oaks on the map. She told me there wouldn’t be a Warren Woods, without him. I knew nothing of this and doubted my father knew either. And quite a story it is.
E.K. Warren was a turn of the century industrialist. He discovered a new material to make corset stays for turn of the century women. The going material used for stays was whalebone, which women found to be uncomfortable. He pioneered the use of turkey feathers, instead. Featherbone was such a success that girls and women moved to Three Oaks from the countryside to work at the Warren Featherbone Factory. The population of Three Oaks doubled.
Warren was also a conservationist. Long before he acquired his enormous wealth, Warren bought 300 acres of woodland in an effort to preserve a forest primeval. Wildlife flourishes on the trails throughout Warren Woods, which to this day remains undisturbed and a natural treasure. As Warren famously said, “Money is only as good as it accomplishes good.”
Warren Woods is now a State Park. People travel from all over to visit this beautiful beech/maple forest, where some trees are as old as 450 years. Such mature growth havens are extremely rare – and this is one of the finest – a reminiscence of how Michigan once looked.
I now had a heightened appreciation of Warren Woods. When I returned to Chicago, I told my father about it. For his birthday, I bought him a weekend at the Pebble House. He fell in love with Warren Woods once again and visited often over the years. When my dad died in 1995, I sprinkled his ashes all over Warren Woods.
In 2003, my husband and I moved to Sawyer, Michigan. Now communing with my father is as easy as a visit to Warren Woods. I feel him in the patient flow of the Galien River, gently winding its way through the all-knowing, father of us all … Warren Woods.