Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Digs

It may not be the greatest home on Earth, but for the next year it is mine. Now all I have to do is finish packing up my house and figure out how to get all my stuff to Michigan!

The best thing about this place is it is only about 10 minutes from work. AND the next best thing: there is a small library less than half a mile up the road.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Michigan Views

Yes, yes, I am in Michigan again. This is my third trip out here now, the second in the continuing mission to find a place to live. Some possibilities have finally turned up, and I suppose one can live anywhere for a year or two.

But, instead of dwelling on that, I thought I'd share some of the scenes I have seen these last few days, starting with this very interesting bridge in Toledo, Ohio.

Now, one really shouldn't be looking through the viewfinder of one's camera while one is driving, especially on a major highway. Still, I really wanted to get a photo of the suspension (?) structure of the bridge, and this one shot (above) just didn't capture it.

So, after I fiddled with the camera to try and get a setting, I finally just had to aim out the window and hope for the best - blind photography. It really is a visually stunning structure.

I've been in MI now for four days, each day seeing me on the streets and roads and calling rental agencies in search of a dwelling. In between the viewings, however, I've taken in some of the sights of Jackson.

This really is a rather fascinating city, with a diverse and rich history. Sadly, it seems that most of the industry has folded or moved out of town, leaving many empty factories, vacant lots, and much unemployment.

Still, there remains plenty to see and do.

One of the attractions, which is closed for the season, is The Cascades. I heard about this last week from one of the VIC volunteers who has traveled out here with his family. It is a series of man-made waterfalls, built on a man-made hill. At the very bottom of the fall it looked like there is an amphitheater of sorts; I imagine that in the summer there are shows here featuring the falls.

The afternoon I stopped by, there was no water and no visitors. Everything was locked away behind a prison-like chainlink fence with barbed wire along the top. The fence is the reason for the grey blurs in the photo below.

The next afternoon I drove around the more scenic rural countryside over toward the charming little village of Concord. It had been raining off and on, and dark clouds dashed across the sky, letting the sun peek out at intervals.

This part of Michigan has a few very low and gently rolling hills, but even so, flatness and great expanses of sky are emphasized, especially where large agricultural fields are the norm.

In this particular field, the cattle had been turned loose post corn harvest.

Most of the animals didn't even bat an ear in my direction. Only a few looked up in curiosity.

This one however, really didn't know what to make of me. When I parked the car along the roadside, he was grazing right at the edge of the fence. Then I started to walk towards him. PANIC! He looked up, and bolted at high speed. He didn't go too far before he turned around to see just what it was that was possibly going to attack. I took his photo and reassured him that I was no threat. Meanwhile, a couple sandhill cranes croaked in the background. I looked for them, but they remained invisible. I learned last night that the count over at Hahnley Audubon Sanctuary a few days ago was over 5000 cranes - a record.

I continued the drive toward Concord. This is lovely countryside.

Now, you've just gotta love a place that paints signs like this on the sides of their buildings!

Concord is also one end of The Falling Waters Trail, a paved footpath that runs almost 17 miles, from Concord through Jackson. I only just set my toes over the end here - I had places I needed to go, so I couldn't stay and stroll.

The waxing moon glanced over the trees at the beginning (end?) of the trail.

And this brings us up to yesterday. I had some time to kill between viewings (sounds like I take in the funeral home circuit, doesn't it?), so I drove to Ella Sharp Park, a city park of something like 500 acres!

One of the destinations in the park is this planetarium. Sadly, it was closed.

The Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History was open, however, and for a mere $5 I was able to stroll through about five small galleries. They had a very interesting "wildlife" exhibit, featuring primarily birds donated from a local collector. These were stuffed birds as well as woodcarvings and bronze casts. The artistry was amazing.

I also greatly enjoyed the exhibits about the local history. This is where I learned of all the various industries that used to call Jackson home, from automobile parts to garden hoes and potato planters. One of the first television sets (pre-WWII; the image was cast upwards and viewed via a mirror that reflected it out 90 degrees) was created here, too.

They had a room filled with Saturday Evening Post covers, all Norman Rockwell paintings, and featuring mostly seasonal issues: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Outside there were some interesting sculptures:

The drive through the park passed this stream. Jackson is the headwaters region of several (all?) of Michigan's major rivers, including the Grand and the Kalamazoo. This might be one of them.

Today I begin my journey back to New York. I'm waiting to hear back from one more landlord, and then I must make some decisions. It will be good to sleep in my own bed again (tomorrow?) and to see the critters. Many thanks to the pet sitters who have been helping me out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now That's Creative!

Are you looking for something interesting to do with all the invasive plants on your property? Then you might be interested in reading this article, which I discovered this morning via a link on the NY Flora Association's blog.

If you are plant nut like me, then not only will you find the article interesting, but you will also cheer on the creative genius of Patterson Clark. Here is a man who didn't merely recognize a problem, but found a creative way to turn that problem into an asset. He does this by using invasive plant species to make paper, ink and printing blocks for his artwork.

We can use more people like Patterson Clark.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Walk Toward Camp Santanoni

Sunday morning I was being a slug - lying in bed, reading (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - about the 12th or 15th time). It was about 12:30 when a friend called to ask if Toby and I wanted to go for a walk over at Santanoni. SURE! I really should be getting up anyway.

So, we drove over and met Judy and Spike. This time I took my camera. Even though there isn't anything blooming, you just never know what photographic opportunity might present itself.

Like, for instance, these lovely percherons, just in from hauling some hunters and their gear back to the parking lots from the interior portion of the Santanoni Preserve.

Mostly Judy and I chatted while Spike and Toby sniffed and piddled. We walked this way a couple weeks ago, after several days of rain. The streams were rushing and crystal clear then, and I was sorry not to have brought the camera along. Today they weren't as robust, but the bubbling falls were still pleasant to listen to.

And Toby found the water good to drink.

The highlight of the walk was the large patch of milkweed we encountered. Most of the pods were completely fluffed out. Who could resist?

We left the field well-seeded for nest year.

And I know you are dying to see Spike, so here he is: airborne!

And ears all flying. He's a Maltese and just cute as a button.

We did over four and a half miles - took us about two and a half hours, because we were chatting and the dogs were sniffing and piddling - no one was in a hurry. Met the same hunters as we left that we met when we arrived. They had gone out to Long Lake in hopes of catching a float plane ride, but the pilot was not around, so they were heading back in as we were leaving.

We all got some fresh air and exercise, and we liberated hundreds of milkweed seeds. All in all, it was a very good day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ways of the Six-footed

As many of you know, I love books, especially old books (although a lot of new books are very good, too). What I love about old books is the language. In our fast-paced world today, we are quick to get to the point and we waste little time in flowery prose. Not so the nature writers of yore.

A recent acquisition of mine is a small tome published in 1903 by a wonderful naturalist named Anna Botsford Comstock. I've mentioned Anna before, namely for her Handbook of Nature Study. Even back in her day Anna noticed that children do much better in school when nature study is part of the curriculum. Even just time spent outdoors increases students' attention spans and their interest in learning. While Anna's books are often forgotten today, her message is reiterated in the latest outdoor education movement spurred by Robert Louv's Last Child in the Woods.

But I'm not here to pontificate on the merits of outdoor least not today. Today I'm focusing on my new little book: Ways of the Six-footed. As you might imagine, this slim volume (it's less than a half inch thick and only stands about six inches high) is about insects.

I haven't gotten very far in it (page seven), but I had to put it down to share with you Anna's words about the mosquito in her chapter regarding singing insects.

Of all the members of the families of flies, the mosquito has received most personal attention from the poets; perhaps because she has been lavish in personal attentions to them. Bryant has deemed her worthy of a separate poem, in which he recognizes her as a fellow-singer:--

"Thou'rt welcome to the town; but why come here
To bleed a brother poet, gaunt like thee?
Alas, the little blood I have is dear,
And thin will be the banquet drawn from me."

How much we might enjoy the song of the mosquito if it were not associated with the unwilling yielding of blood to the singer is problematical. Perhaps if Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony were always to be played in our hearing when we were occupying the dentist's chair, we would soon become averse to its exquisite harmonies. Therefore it is no wonder that we do not think of music at all when we hear the distant horn of the mosquito; instead, we listen with patient exasperation as the sound grows louder, and we wait nervously for the final sharp "zzzzz" which announces that the audacious singer has selected a place upon us which she judges will be a good site for a pumping station. We do not like her noise a whit better even though it be a love song.

Anna then goes on to describe the male mosquito, with his feathery antennae designed to pick up his lover's song. How beautiful, even poetic, is her near-praise for this small insect that we mostly consider a pest.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November on the Trails

Last Sunday was the first sunny day I'd seen in a while, so I decided to take the dog for a walk over on the VIC trails. Toby was eager to go, for it had been a while since we walked here and there were lots of new smells to investigate.

The night before we had some granular snow fall, and there was frost everywhere, but the early morning light on the still-green ferns was beautiful.

I couldn't resist this line of puffballs. Many of the puffballs have been pretty well smooshed by those using the trails, but this batch still looked pretty good.

Another canine had walked the trail before us. Fox or coyote - I didn't look closely enough to make a determination. I got a chuckle out of this set of tracks, though; it seems the critter had a bit of trouble with traction on the frosty boards. I walked carefully to avoid a similar slip.

As we neared the beaver pond, I heard quite a rushing of water. If there was any doubt before that the beavers have left, it has evaporated. The trickle from my last visit here is now a roaring breach.

The pond is nearly drained.

I was fascinated by the ice on the remaining water.

To the right of the logs, it was all feathered and rippled,

while to the left it was smooth as could be (without being glass-like). Wind or current had to be the cause.

The lower dam below the bridge had also experienced a rupture. I wonder how long it will be this time until beavers return, patch things up, and call the pond home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Visit to the New Work Place

Yesterday I made a stop at my future place of employment to stretch my legs and while away some time before an appointment to look at an apartment. I took a quick walk with the camera in tow, just in case.

Here's view of the entryway with its wonderful gardens.

I only had about 45 minutes, so I walked quickly. I found myself drawn to the same plants I photographed last month when I was here. Could that be because they were still green? Last month I mused over this one, and now, based on something I read in the Conservancy's newsletter, I'm thinking this is the buckthorn - invasive! This was one of the plants I was on the lookout for this summer while doing my invasive inventories, but I've seen it so seldomly (like maybe twice) that I don't have it locked in my memory yet.

The stream was trickling along. Last week some severe storms passed through the midwest and the Conservancy had some tree damage on their property. I could see where they were doing some cleanup, but it also looked like they were tackling some of the invasives, for I walked past at least one pile of Russian olives that were cut and stacked.

I was happy to see a familiar native plant: nannyberry, one of the viburnums. Birds love it.

Some tall green shrubs caught my eye next. They had little red berries. What could they be?

The understory was dominated by them. (This should've been a clue, and I know my friend Jackie knows what it is already.)

A closer look at the leaves, and the stems, and I suddenly knew what it was!

They may call it the Winged Wahoo here, but we know it as Euonymus, or the horrible burning bush. I've seen it as individual shrubs down in the Saratoga region, some quite tall, but here was a perfect example of what happens when non-natives get out of control on the natural landscape. I really need to rip out the two burning bushes at my house...and the Japanese barberry (which I saw last week has begun its invasion: I found two stalks of it in my field).

Today I had some time to kill between apartment hunting appointments, so I stopped by the Conservancy again. This time I got to meet some of my future co-workers. What a terrific bunch of people! I am really looking forward to working with them.

After a lengthy chat and introductions all around, I got a tour of the buildings, a jar of Dahlem Maple Syrup (Mmmmm!), and reassurances that they would all keep their eyes peeled for suitable housing for me. I am ever so grateful.

Then I got directions to the farm portion of the property, which I had yet to see. It's essentially just around the block from the Conservancy headquarters. I drove over and saw the wonderful old white barn, with the terrific new high tunnel nearby.

Driving around the loop, I came to the Community Garden, which is quite extensive! I believe it is about an acre in size, surrounded by a deer fence. The plots are something like 20'x20' - a nice size. Here's the view to the left of the gateway (you can see the beds have mostly been cleaned up for winter)...

...and the view to the right.

The top of the barn peeked up over the tall grasses. There isn't a whole lot of elevation here - I had to climb on the car to get high enough to see enough of the barn to photograph!

So, things are looking up a bit today. I still haven't found a place to live, but I remain hopeful that my new friends will ferret something out.

Meanwhile, I'm on my way back to New York. I have a dog and a cat awaiting my return, a class to teach on Monday, and I have to be in the office on Thursday. Then, well, I may be headed back out here to look for housing once again.