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2021 Year in Review: Our favorite feel-good stories

Nick Hansen next to the largest tree in Michigan.
Nick Hansen
Nick Hansen next to the largest tree in Michigan.

Let's be honest, the 2020s aren't off to a great start. But there were some lovely, interesting, feel-good stories in 2021. Here are some of our favorites:

"I couldn't keep that tree a secret." Giant U.P. white pine named tallest tree in Michigan

Nick Hansen went looking for fish, but what he found was something a lot bigger.

Hansen, a freshwater stream ecologist and second year graduate student at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability, went hiking in the Upper Peninsula's McCormick Wilderness last May to investigate the area's fisheries.

"It was my second time to that location — the first time was nearly ruined by the insects," Hansen wrote in an email to Michigan Radio. "We vowed to come back in the off-season and explore the area due to the massive trees and seemingly untouched environment we noticed on our first trip. Fish are what brought me to this location, in which I was successful, but the trees are what made me decide to go back."

There was one tree in particular that caught his eye: an Eastern white pine that towered above the rest.

Mornings in Michigan: Back to the barn

Stateside Executive Producer Laura Weber Davis took us to Starry Skies, a horse rehabilitation farm where she spends her weekend mornings, away from humans.

Woman kisses horse's nose
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The thing about being on a farm is it’s really hard to be in your own head. The sounds, sights, and smells of a farm are all consuming in the morning.

It’s impossible to worry about a global pandemic, or work, or anything, really, when the rooster is crowing, eggs need collecting, the horses need feeding, and the stalls need mucking.

I rode horses as a kid and into high school. I never owned one; it was a classic case of girl-begging-resistant-parents-for-pony. But as an adult I craved the barn things, and the immersion of working with horses.

That’s what brought me to Starry Skies.

After months of isolation, life starts to return to normal for Michiganders in long-term care

Jamie Capp helps, from left to right, Margaret Clark, Diane Chisholm and Betty Doyle keep a balloon aloft at New Hope Valley assisted living near Saginaw. They've only recently resumed activities like this after months of isolation waiting for COVID-19 va
Brett Dahlberg

Three women in their 80s and 90s sat around a table together last month, taking swipes at a bright yellow balloon emblazoned with a smiley face.

Margaret Clark, Diane Chisholm and Betty Doyle are residents at New Hope Valley, an assisted living facility just outside Saginaw.

Their game of keep-the-balloon-off-the-floor was overseen by Jamie Capp, who said it was a bit of physical therapy to get upper-body muscles moving and practice hand-eye coordination.

But Clark, Chisholm and Doyle have only recently been able to start playing this game again.

As COVID-19 swept through Michigan’s long-term care facilities, thousands of residents died. Staff and administrators at those homes said people who lived were forced by the pandemic into an isolated existence with little contact with anyone outside of their rooms.

95-year-old message in a bottle found in the Cheboygan River

When Jennifer Dowker went diving in the Cheboygan River on June 18, she wasn't expecting to find a piece of history.

Dowker owns and operates Nautical North Family Adventures in Cheboygan, which does glass-bottom shipwreck tours, snorkeling, and other activities in the area. She says she was with a potential client who was hoping to scuba dive, and was going to clean the windows of her glass-bottom boat when she found the message in the bottle.

jennifer dowker with a message in a bottle she found in the cheboygan river
Courtesy Jennifer Dowker

Dowker says the bottle was about 2/3 filled with water, and she and her first mate, Rob Hemmer, knew they had to preserve the note. Hemmer took it home and put it in his freezer to preserve it.

The note reads as follows:

"Will the person who finds this bottle, return this paper to George Morrow, Cheboygan, Michigan and tell where it was found? November 1926."

picture of back with tattooed flowers
Courtesy of Carrie Metz-Caporusso

Ann Arbor artist Carrie Metz-Caporusso's "roll flower" tattoos celebrate the beauty of fat bodies

There's a new generation of tattoo artists working right now that are pushing for a more inclusive approach to the industry. For a long time, much of the tattoo world was dominated by men, mostly white, who were a little rough around the edges, and focused on American traditional style tattooing. But the artists of today are changing the industry and looking at bodies and design in new ways.

Carrie Metz-Caporusso is one of those tattoo artists. Metz-Caporusso is a non-binary tattoo artist in Ann Arbor. Their latest project is all about celebrating fat bodies as they are with a design Metz-Caporusso calls “roll flowers.” The delicate floral pieces incorporate the crease of body rolls into the tattoo design.

Eastside Detroit homeowner on keeping the Halloween spirit year round

For the house on the corner of Agnes and Seminole in Detroit's Indian Village neighborhood, Halloween is a yearlong celebration.

A house decorated with skulls, dragons, spiders and other spooky adornments.
Erin Allen
Michigan Radio
A Detroit homeowner leaves Halloween decorations up 345 days a year.

Spearheading this operation is a woman named Tina. She adorns her yard with skulls, skeletons, spiders, eyeballs, tombstones, dragons, ghosts, ghouls-- and, of course, demonic flamingoes. They stay up all year round. Even during Christmas.

“Just throw Santa hats on them, and they're fine,” she said.

A blonde six year old boy stands in front of a colorful painting holding a brownish fossilized mastodon tooth
Courtesy of Mary Gagnon
Julian Gagnon loves to pick up sticks and rocks while he's out on hikes with his family. In one recent trek in Rochester Hills, he found something a little more special: a fossilized mastodon tooth.

6-year-old discovers rare mastodon tooth, and donates it to University of Michigan museum

Lots of first graders dream of dinosaurs, mammoths, and other prehistoric creatures. Not many discover real ones. But 6-year-old Julian Gagnon did, stumbling on a rare 12,000 year old mastodon tooth while looking for interesting rocks and sticks on a family hike in Rochester Hills.

It was a bright spot in the water that initially caught his attention while walking near a creek at Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve.

“I walked over there and I saw this cool rock, and I kind of picked it up and looked at it,” Gagnon said. “I didn’t know if it was a rock or if it was a dinosaur tooth.”

When baseball’s biggest star played in the Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain

The year was 1926. Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth and his New York Yankees had just lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in game seven. What was the Great Bambino to do next?

He was going to stop by the Upper Peninsula’s small mining town of Iron Mountain for an exhibition baseball game, of course.

George Herman “Babe”Ruth is pictured here with Nello “Fungo” Tedeschi, one of the pitchers for the opposing local team. Ruth played an exhibition game in Iron Mountain on Oct. 28, 1926, shortly after the New York Yankees lost the world series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Courtesy of the Dickinson County Library
George Herman “Babe”Ruth is pictured here with Nello “Fungo” Tedeschi, one of the pitchers for the opposing local team. Ruth played an exhibition game in Iron Mountain on Oct. 28, 1926, shortly after the New York Yankees lost the world series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.