Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring is Sneaking Up on Us

It is officially Spring in my book:  I found my first blooming flowers out and around the house on Sunday, 

and I hung out my first batch of laundry of the year! 

Things are starting to green up nicely.  Here are some of the native flowers I planted out front last summer.

Not everything fared so well, though, I'm afraid.  This is my poor sand cherry.  Looks like something made a right thorough meal of it over the winter.  All my other young trees and shrubs made it through the winter without rodent damage, but on Sunday I noticed that the sand cherry was not so lucky.  Some of those chew marks are three feet above the ground!!!  Now, I know we had more snow that folks around here are used to, but we didn't have three feet of snow!  It must've been buried in the snow I shoveled off the deck.  I'm not sure it's going to make it...only time will tell.

And this morning there's a towhee scratching under the feeder outside my office window.  It's another bright and sunny day, but the 70+ degree weather from the weekend is gone...we are at a brisk 40-something with a chill wind this morning.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky winter day.  The wind was cold, but the day was beautiful.  Too bad I had meetings almost all day!

This morning looked like it was going to be another beautiful day, so I came in to work a little early, and, bundled up in multiple layers, I put on my snowshoes and hit the trails.

Oh my goodness - it's been FOUR YEARS since I've been on snowshoes!  How in the world did that happen?

I used to snowshoe every week back in the 'dacks, sometimes every day for stretches of time, but we've just not had enough snow here in MI to justify snowshoes...until this winter.  

I was warned:  you're gonna freeze!  Pishaw!  It's above zero!  Piece of cake!  In fact, I had to take off my mittens, and I didn't even have my coat zipped up.  Soon my thermal shirt was quite damp.  I was over-dressed.

Tracks were numerous, but variety was slim.  Deer, yes, plenty of deer.   And plenty of mice as well.

Fox?  Nope.  Coyote?  Nada.  Forget any martens or fishers - wrong habitat.  Too cold for the raccoons and opossums to be out and about (I wonder how many opossums aren't going to make it this winter).  

Coming back through the Bug Field was when the winds hit me - and brrr, they were chilly.

And beneath each crabapple tree the snow was stomped down by the deer who had gleaned all the low-hanging fruit.  What remains is out of reach and is left for the birds (and the flocks of robins have been taking advantage of it).

I didn't go far - maybe a mile.  I will say, though, that I was surprised at how much my legs ached!  It's not like I was setting trail in three feet of powder, but it was enough of a workout, doing something I haven't done in four years, that I was feeling it before I was halfway around my loop.

Sadly, both bindings on my snowshoes broke.  I made these about 25 years ago...I don't know if the company will still carry replacements or not.  Will have to check on the internet to see if I can find them.

In the meantime, it was a great morning out!  Woo-hoo!

Friday, January 17, 2014

WIld Rice and Anishinabe Ceremonies

This weekend I am at the annual Stewardship Network Conference in Lansing.  It's a great place to network with people from across the state, the Midwest, and even, now, some folks from back east, who are all involved in land stewardship at one level or another.

This year the conference has a number of programs about wild rice (manoomin).  Now, perhaps you've heard of wild rice...you might even have eaten it...but the odds are it wasn't "real" wild rice (which is only available from the Native peoples; that which we buy is a genetically modified/engineered rice grown in paddies mostly in California) .

I wasn't planning to attend any of the wild rice sessions during this conference because we don't have wild rice where I work, and where I live it's not wild rice habitat (dry, flat fields of glacial outwash).  BUT.  The keynote speaker this morning was Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinabe nation in Wisconsin who is probably most famous for her political and environmental activism.  Her speech focused on the tar sands pipline (Sandpiper) that "they" are trying to run from North Dakota to Lake Superior.  The environmental destruction that is caused by these pipelines, the tar sands oil fields, and fracking are enough (or should be enough) to give anyone pause.  The tears flowed without stop down my cheeks as I watched the slides and videos she showed of the devastation these practices leave in their wake.  And Michigan is the most highly "fracked" state in the country - the whole state is under assault.  Ugh.

Winona's focus, however, was on what the pipeline (and fracking) might (very likely) do to wild rice in the states.

Many, many years ago, the Anishinabe people lived in the Northeast.  Their prophets predicted a time of trouble ahead, and the spirits told them to go west to where the food grew on the water, to follow the turtle.  Over the course of many years, they migrated westward, ending up in what is now Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin - those places where wild rice grew in abundance in the lakes and wetlands.  Wild rice is spiritually and culturally important to these people - it also became one of their most important food sources.

Then European colonists arrived in the east, and many of the native people faced devastating losses.  It turns out the Anishinabe prophets were right and by moving westward their people were saved...for a while.

When settlers also moved westward, the native peoples, as we all know, were shunted off their traditional lands and onto smaller and smaller reservations, usually in locations that were of little value.

The Anishinabe, however, even when they ceded many of their traditional lands, were guaranteed access to hunt, fish and harvest rice on non-reservation lands.  But as their culture was slowed eroded away, by the practice of sending their children to Indian Schools away from their homes, among other things, they gradually loss their connection with the land, especially the wild rice.

Luckily, some elders remembered.

In the 1980s, the treaties that guaranteed them access to the land's resources was once more recognized and they started to relearn and reconnect with the wild rice.

Today, in Michigan, wild rice is slowly being restored to some of the remaining lakes where it once thrived.

There are two species of wild rice:  Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris), which is "common," and Southern Wild Rice (Z. aquatica), which is a protected species in Michigan (I didn't catch if it was endangered or just threatened).  Most of the rice in Michigan is growing in the northern part of the state, but it could grow down here in the southern parts.  In fact, a coworker of mine told me that some wild rice recently appeared in Haehnle Sanctuary, where we go to watch the cranes.  I think I'm going to have to schedule a visit!

This evening the folks here from the Anishinabe tribes held a pipe and a water ceremony to thank the Creator for the gathering this weekend and to send our prayers out to "all our relations" and to the Creator to protect the water and the rice, and to guide us in protecting the resources of this land. 

It was very moving.  I chose not to take any photos because it was a sacred ceremony.  It was also an historic gathering and ceremony, and I was very honored to be a part of it.

Every year the Anishinabe up at Lac Vieux Desert hold Wild Rice Camps when they harvest the rice, and they are open to anyone who wants to attend.  I've put this on my bucket list.  I plan, in the next year or two, to make the pilgrimage to the western UP to attend one of the camps.  Should be a wonderful learning experience.

Wild rice - manoomin.  I learned something new about Michigan today.  Miigwech (thank you).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Arctic Vortex

Yes, even here in south central Michigan we were hit by the recent Arctic Vortex.  In fact, it was, not counting the wind chill, -20*F at my house...something I haven't seen since I left NY!   Why, even Grand Rapids was reporting -35 (sans wind chill).  Brrr!

The winds were whipping out of the north - this is the snow built up on my east-facing kitchen window, between the screen and the glass.  I could look out and see the poor frigid birds.

I made sure to keep the feeders stocked!

Meanwhile, out the other side of the house, I shoveled a path to the "regular" bird feeding station.  The birds went through a lot of seed over the three or four days of this weather event.  I scattered a lot on the ground so greater numbers of birds could get their share.  Once the bacon pieces and old pancakes went out there as well, the crows flocked in.


We only got a foot or so of snow, but it was hard to tell thanks to that wind.  I have some drifts that are mid-thigh deep, and other spots where there was just a dusting.  The drifts were enough to confound the neighbor's ATV-powered snowplow...so only a portion of the driveway was cleared (but it was the important part between the garage and the road).

In this video you can see some of the snow whipping up from across the road (the wind was now coming out of the south).  Watch the branches dance!

Eventually the sun did come out, giving the late afternoon a lovely golden glow.

Michiganders, at least in this part of the state, have lost sight of what winter really is.  Give 'em three inches of snow and a 30 degree day, and after two days they are dreaming of summer and wishing winter were over!  Me, well, despite shoveling, I appreciate a "real" winter.  I even broke out my snowshoes in anticipation of a good snowy hike in search of critter tracks (sadly, the rains hit before I had a day to go out on them).

Yesterday and this morning our weather was back up to the low 40s, with plenty of rain.  Although...right now the winds are howling and there is snow once more in the air!  Sure hope all that rain hasn't frozen into sheets of ice before I get home!  It looks like the roller coaster weather of 2013 is going to continue into 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

End of a Year

Hello, Friends.

I look back at the history of this blog and ponder "what happened?"  I used to write every day, sometimes more than once.  I had hundreds of photos to share, adventures to post, and curious moments to ponder.  What happened?

Moving to Michigan was the big "thing" that happened.  Now, you might think "hey - a whole new place to explore!" and I surely did think the same.  But moving from a life surrounded by wilderness (literally) to a place that is so developed and overrun by the influences of humanity has left me feeling as barren as the landscape.

At work I spend most of my day staring at a computer screen (have I mentioned the "mouse elbow" I developed nearly a year ago and after two agonizing shots of cortisone and three months of physical therapy remains nearly as painful as it was before all that?), and with a half-hour commute each way between home and the office (where I often put in 10 hours a day), I don't have a lot of time to spend at home exploring.

The passing of Toby also had a profound impact.  Since the end of March, when I said my final goodbye, I have not gone for a single walk that wasn't work-related (and even those are few and far between)!  I've become a sofa curmudgeon!

The afore-mentioned arm problem meant no gardening to speak of:  couldn't dig or weed.  In fact, this year's carrot crop is still in the ground, rotting, because I could not harvest it.  And the weeds took over the veg garden - I have robust crops of grasses, pigweed, ground cherries and more.  The peas and beans died on the vines.  Had a great onion crop, but I don't have a good place to store them, so they either froze on the back porch or have started to sprout in the laundry room.  You'd think an old farm house with a root cellar would have ideal root storage capabilities, but when the guys put in the insulation, it resulted in a warmed up root cellar and a jammed door.  End result:  root cellar is no longer functional as such.

The arm, which was healing after the first round of PT, suffered a relapse when I did the October paddle.  It is from this trip that the arm has never recovered, and the PT stopped working.  Prognosis:  no more paddling!  ACK!  Something will have to be done.

To make up for the lack of a dog in my life, I began volunteering at the local humane society this fall.  I started off cleaning kennels (arm objected and therapist said "no more"), but have graduated to dog walker.  I go, when I can, to walk and work with many of the needy pups who are looking for their forever homes.  I don't go nearly enough, although I did put in three days already this week!  If you follow my Facebook pages, you will have "met" several of the dogs I help take care of.

Frustrations at work and with my arm built up to a head this month.  At the suggestion of a friend I went and had a Reiki session, and it has sent me off in a new direction...or revisiting an old direction.  My poor spirit, like my beans, has been withering in the vine.  I'm now making an effort to feed and heal my spirit, and maybe my arm will follow in its wake!

So, a complex year draws to a close.  I fully intended to do a winter solstice celebration this year, to cleanse the pains of the old year and welcome the new...but I fell asleep on the sofa!  Still, I can transfer the intentions of that night to the upcoming turn of the calendar year.

And Adirondacks, beware!  I'm planning to come back in 2014 - at the very least leading an eco-tour from here!  No more just sitting here and wishing I was there; this year I'm going to go back, even if it is just for a visit.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Grand Day Out

This last week has been a classic Indian Summer.  Cool crisp nights and mornings, followed by gloriously sunny, clear blue sky days.  The only thing that is really lacking is autumn color.  Oh, there are some trees that are spectacular, but we are still over 50% green and many of the colors are dull, with lots of tans and browns.  And plenty of trees are just dropping their leaves.  No, this is not a fall to be noted for its color.

But, glorious weather is glorious weather.  It was a perfect day for a paddle and on Sunday GREAT had its final public paddle of the season.  We paddled the Grand River north of Jackson, putting in just off Route 127, south of Leslie, and did a six+ mile stretch to Dixon Road, where we took out at a DNR access.

Getting to the put-in was a bit of a challenge, unless one knows the area.  I don't, so I first ended up on a dead end road on the opposite side of the river.  I could see 'em, I could talk to them, but I couldn't get to them!  Then I ended up just off the highway (127) - with a fence between me and the rest of the group!  Finally, my personal "GPS unit" hopped in the car and we drove up to Leslie and back down the correct road (thanks, Kat)!

This trip turned out to be one of the smaller groups we took out this season - about 40 people.

As always, folks have to sign in for boats and PFDs, and sign a waiver.

There was plenty of help at the sign-in table.

Compared to many sites where we have launched, this one was great.  It has an easy slope down to the water and the river is shallow right along the edge - I barely got a foot wet, thanks to Jack's launching prowess.

 Before we hit the river, Don, our trip leader, made a few announcements, mostly about the condition of the river.  It was going to be a smooth paddle, but there would be a lot of debris to weave around.  The clearing crew had spent 32 hours on the river cutting through downed trees and limbs, opening up the way just enough for single boats to pass through.  We were advised.

I was borrowing a kayak from my friend Kat.  My Spitfire is still not repaired from the last trip.  The repair kit has arrived, but I'm hesitant to do it myself, even though I've watched the video.  I've gotten as far as flaking off the cracked "paint" and sanding it, but when it comes to mixing and applying the gel coat, I'm a-feared I'll get it wrong!  So...here I am testing out the borrowed boat.  It was a snug fit, but once I was in, it was comfortable.

This trip I was one of the two middle boats, so after about half the group launched, I put in.  As you can see, the launch was nice and easy.

And here are the first two bridges - Route 127.  We went under quite a number of bridges on this trip.

And even more trees!

The river is wide enough here that folks with few paddle skills won't have to worry about bouncing off the banks.  However, there is plenty of debris to dodge, so knowing how to steer and make some quick turns is a real plus!

This lovely old sycamore made a picturesque overpass.  I was going too fast to get a good shot, so as I was cruising under, I just held up the camera, snapped a shot and ducked to avoid hitting the branch, hoping for the best.

The start of this video is a bit rocky (I was trying to balance the camera between the top of my PFD and my chin), but it shows the loveliness of the river and what a great paddle it is.

This is a Youth Haven Ranch Nature Preserve along the left side of the River.  Public or private land?  No idea, but they've built a really nice bridge there.  

We also passed this little cabin. Actually, we passed a number of houses - only a few of which fell into the McMansion category. 

I thought this might've been one of those garden gazing balls that got washed downstream, but apparently it's a bowling ball!  We suspect Jim stuck it there while out clearing the river.  This next weekend there is a clean-up being held along this stretch of the river (f you want to help, contact GREAT at 517 416-4234), and we suspect he put it here so it would be collected when the crews come through on Saturday.

We saw three turtles:  one wee painted, a map, and this fella, which I'm not sure from this blurry photo if it is a painted or a map.  Darn boat was moving to swiftly to get a good shot.

We were also greeted by this black sharpei.

There are plenty of open stretches where one can just drift along without having to dodge downed trees and limbs.  Beware, however, of logs hidden just beneath the water's surface.  They leave no clue that they are there...and I think I found most of them.

Just past this lovely wooden bridge...

was our take-out point.  Jack was waiting for us to arrive.  

Somehow, despite all the boats that passed me, I ended up much closer to the front of the group than the middle.  So, I had plenty of opportunity to get photos of the rest of the group as they approached the finish line.  This was quite a change for me, since I am usually the sweep boat, bringing up the rear.

There was plenty of help to get all boats up the bank.

 We were on the river maybe 2.5 hours, give or take, depending where in the group one was paddling.  We had no swimmers on this trip - everyone negotiated the obstacle course without incident.

After all the boats were loaded onto trailers, cars, and trucks, many went to the Roadhouse for an early dinner and drinks.

It was a perfect October day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

September Come and Gone

It was a rather gloomy Sunday in September when I decided on a whim to go check out Seven Ponds Nature Center east of Flint.  I'd heard great things about this facility and decided to go check it out.

By 11:00 AM it was already extremely warm and humid.  The two-hour drive yielded one cloudburst, but it didn't clear the air.  It was the kind of storm that merely made the humidity worse.

When I pulled into the parking lot, there was only one other car there - probably that of the girl who was working at the front desk.

It's a very nice facility - lots of open space and some great exhibits.  This beaver exhibit, for example, has a space underneath where kids can crawl inside and see what it is like to be a beaver.

They have a large bird-viewing window with comfy chairs lined up in front.

I just loved the expression on this raccoon's face!

Heading out on the trails, one passes two nice gardens:  The Herb Garden,

and The Butterfly Garden.  Bees were out in good numbers, but I didn't see too many butterflies.

I chose to take the trail that went through the woods and on out to the grassland.  Along the way, I passed a third "garden" - the Woodland Wildflower Garden, which is completely surrounded by an 8-foot fence - the only way to protect woodland flowers from hunger deer. 

Pine plantations might be dull, species-wise, and rigid in their layout, but they sure make for nice photos down a trail!

In less than 15 minutes I was at the edge of the grassland.  This field was part of a major habitat project.  I hesitate to use the term "habitat restoration" because historic Michigan did not have many grasslands.  Oak-hickory forests and oak savannahs were the primary habitat types in the lower part of the lower peninsula.  Oh, and wetlands (fens) - most of which have been drained.

Still, it is nice to see native flowers in non-garden settings, growing to their full height and splendor, like this silphium.

It was prime time for many native sunflowers, coreopsises (coriopsi?), black-eyed Susans, and the like.

I was surprised to find wild bergamot still hanging in there!  I have recently learned there are two strains of wild bergamot:  one blooms early in the season, and the other later.  I believe the eastern variety is the earlier bloomer.

A few purple coneflowers were in bloom.  To me these will always be garden flowers - they just seem so out of place in the wild!

Ironweed - the best of the purples!  This tall native wildflower is so purple you can almost taste it.  It is one of my favorites.

Grasslands are by nature rather flat, so it is great that they have put in this viewing platform for visitors!

And here is the view.  As you can see, lots of green and yellow.  But on foot one sees the patches of other colors.

Like boneset - patches of white.

And pale purple obedient plant - another one that I'm only used to seeing in gardens!

The native grasses were just getting going.

And there were one or two spikes of blazing star (Liatris).

Here we can see the tall waving heads of big bluestem grass,

and Indian grass.  Indian grass becomes so colorful in the fall - it is just glorious.

Blazing star comes in several varieties, but I believe this is rough blazing star.

The dogwoods have been just loaded with berries, and they were at Seven Ponds, too. 

Beautiful mountain mint was still in bloom.

The trail system at Seven Ponds is divided into two chunks, one on either side of the road that drives through the property.  I was wandering around the chunk on the north side of the road.  You can see three of the seven ponds here.

Continuing from the grassland and through the woods, I shortly came out at a mowed field, with a lovely oak standing sentinel. 

Hard by the oak was the largest of the ponds.  I could see the railings of the bridge, but no sign of water.  Must be this pond is quite aged, I thought - all filled in with vegetation.

Like these white turtleheads!  I watched a bumblebee for a while as she slipped in and out of the blossoms in search of nectar and pollen.  They must've been pretty well picked over because she didn't seem to be having much success.

Where there's a bridge, there must be water!

And so there was - a winding channel that was being filled in by cattails and other wetland plants.

Monarchs were few and far between this summer, but this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar seemed to be doing just fine.  Unlike the monarch caterpillars, these fuzzy caterpillars are just as happy to gnosh on the older milkweed leaves as they are the younger, more tender ones.  This helps spread the wealth, as it were - it allows the monarch to capitalize on the younger leaves without the tussock moths going hungry.

At long last, I saw the pond.  There was an observation tower here, but the view was narrow.

Much better was the view from the dock a short way down the trail.

The heat and humidity seemed to have put a damper on wildlife at the pond, though.  It was still and quiet.

This fenced in area caught my attention, though.  What could they possibly be fencing off here?  I still have no answers.

A spidery flower that I've only rarely seen was in full bloom here:  wild cucumber.  The plant is not rare, but usually I only see its fruits - spiky cucumbers about the size of a small plum.  

Once more back in the woods, and on my way back to the visitor center, my eyes were drawn to these brilliant berries.  Prickly ash!  This is another MI native that continues to fascinate.  I still don't have the plant memorized to the point where I can recognize it at 100 paces, but a close-up look usually yields enough clues that I recognize, like the distinctive thorns, and, in the right season, the berries.

The highbush cranberry was also in peak fruiting mode!  What glorious colors - and it looks like plenty of food for the birds this winter.

Overall, Seven Ponds was a nice enough place - but from the small bit I saw, I must say I like Dahlem better.  Maybe it was just the weather, but there didn't seem to be a lot there that spoke to me.  Views were limited, and the landscape has a lot of obvious  "unnatural" aspects:  plantation, non-natives, mowed fields.  never the less, it is worth a trip and I'll go back sometime on a cooler, sunnier day!