In Search of a Less-Crowded Hike — Barker Sanctuary

 

Last Friday’s day off of Jeff’s work, sent us outside our neighborhood once more, seeking a less-crowded place to hike than last week. We both first thought of the Kellogg experimental forest, but, alas, MSU had closed it to the public. Jeff then suggested the Barker Bird Sanctuary northwest of town. So we twisted around the rural Michigan roads to reach our destination. To our expectation, the tiny parking lot was empty. To our disappointment, as we were getting prepared to hike, another car pulled in, a dog walker. Our two “groups” headed in different directions from the two trailheads looping through the meadow-woods-swamp. Interesting how with this pandemic there was not quite the total give-in-to-nature relax about the hike. We kept expecting to pass Mr. Dog Walker. We did see him twice, but only at a distance. (Whew.)

The gentle rolling hills reminded me of my grandparents’ farm in southern Ohio. And, of course, there were birds, not hundreds crying out or flying overhead, but enough variety to make our ears perk up and eyes to search.

The Octopus Tree was there, as well as wild flowers, lichen, moss and fungi.

Benches scattered along the trail for quiet watching or reflecting. We did take advantage of one, and were at peace.

The wooden bird blind seemed a bit claustrophobic to enter on that particular day, with one way in and out, and a 2′-deep mud rut  between doorway and bench. But it’s still nice to feast on familiar.

On the other side of the pond, Jeff noticed two people with two dogs jogging the trail from behind us. We found a spot where we could step off the 6′ wide path to allow further social distancing as they passed. But they slowed to a walk, and finally stood on the trail next to us, the one dog coming within a couple feet of us, with owner following. We stepped back some more. He-in-the-lead said, “You didn’t need to move over because of me. I’m not that special.” As neither of us knew how to respond, we’d kept silent with perhaps an awkward smile between us. They walked on, probably thinking we were as socially-awkward strange as we thought they were for not taking social distancing seriously.

We returned to the lot to find our little, ole van contentedly alone.

All-in-all, the hour+ hike was good for us, and a lovely visual distraction outside of our own lovely neighborhood. The last time we visited Barker Sanctuary was October, 2018, with a couple of photos below to show the variety of the seasons of this natural setting.

 

Stay safe, everyone. Enjoy nature when and where you can. Pray for an end to this pandemic.

 

A Woodland Hike…At Last!

 

Last Friday – Jeff’s day off of work – we decided to finally venture out of our house and either take a drive past some woods, or maybe even hike into some. The last time we hiked was March 13th, seven weeks ago. In the past seven weeks of our pandemic shelter-in-place, we drove downtown to the church building once to video a communion, and then last Tuesday at 7AM, I bravely entered a small store for groceries. Otherwise, it’s been home-deliveries and neighborhood walks. But on Friday, a good old day off, and with great trepidation from us both, we headed to the woods of Fort Custer State Park, about 20 minutes drive from our house.

We took face masks, but expected to only wear them if there was no way to avoid another human (e.g., passing people walking towards us on a narrow trail).

Our first shock came as we headed to the park: at 10:30AM, the Meijer grocery store had about 200 cars in its lot. And, oh, the traffic on the road! It was busier than a normal pre-pandemic Friday day-off day out.

Our second shock: Oy-yi-yi! The park itself was incredibly crowded, and we didn’t even go to the more popular places.

We bumped down a dirt road towards the Kalamazoo River. Usually when we’ve gone there, the small dirt parking lot is empty. Last Friday? Three cars. Crowded! We parked away from them and were getting ready to head for the river when a truck pulled in with three teens who popped out and headed to the out-of-the-way trail going along the river. The very trail I thought no one would be on.

Looking up the hill from our parked van, I spotted a bushed-over trail going away from the river…and away from people.  It looked like a deer trail, but as bushwacking is not unfamiliar to us, and the woods beaconing, up we headed through the brush. It connected to an equestrian trail. The thing about hiking on an equestrian trail is if you aren’t diligent about watching your step, well, horses are big old free-soilers, you know. I kept thinking we’d see someone, or need to step off-trail for a horse which had right-of-way. We didn’t see either person or horse.

We heard a lot of birds, and saw two tiny blue butterflies. Spring wildflowers were blooming,

and the mayapples were starting to bud.

Trees hadn’t started to leaf, so the walk was rather open, even going near a swamp.

Over one section, the path cut through grass. There was woodland before and after it. So, knowing the history of the park, and similar places in other Michigan parks, I’m guessing that was once someone’s lawn, although the brambles grew thickly around it. If I were curious enough, I’d research it.

But then (and now) I’m simply delighted that the two of us were able to be alone in the woods, and forgetting about the world for just a moment, to take one glorious hour’s hike.

 

Hiking Around the Double Dammed Lake

 

Actually, this lake within Fort Custer State Recreation Area has no name. It is labeled on the top of the map as a green-colored maps wetland. Therefore, I gave myself permission to name it: Double Dammed Lake, for at one end there is the man-made dam, and further downstream there is another dam, constructed by beavers. Hence, Double Dam. With all my stops for photos, it took us about an hour and a half to hike the wooded trail around this lovely, peaceful place.

 

There were 20-30 mph winds last Friday when we hiked it. You’d think walking through woods would make it less windy. I thought so. It was not so. I suppose leaves are needed to barricade the wind force. But because of the wind and the lack of leaves, we listened as the trees spoke to us — creaked to us might be more accurate — as they rubbed against each other.

 

After our quite winter, it was lovely to hear the voices of birds speaking. There were crow, red-winged blackbirds, and hawk. We saw duck last Friday, too. Other days we have seen geese and trumpeter swans there and an abundance of birds.

Sometimes when the water level is low, like last Friday, an abandoned road is revealed through this wetland-lake. It gives me pause, wondering about people who used this road long ago to reach their homes and farms, this road which is mostly under water these days.

 

As we headed over the man-made dam, Jeff asked if I wanted to take the road back to the van (the slightly longer route), or bushwack over the hill. I chose the more direct line, following what looked like a deer trail through the tall grass. About one third of the way up the steep hill, I got winded and asked, “Who picked this way?” But going that way confirmed my guess, first by the flattened grass and then by the piles. This was indeed a deer path, with deer beds and piles of droppings, hidden out of sight until you suddenly came upon it.

 

All in all, it was a wonderful little adventure with my best friend on a late winter day.

 

 

Allegan State Game Area, Swan Lake Trail

Since our “hike” this past week was to walk around and do Christmas window-shopping, and the snow on the ground is rather light, anyway, I thought I’d post an adventure we took one October (and again, one spring), halfway around Swan Lake in the Allegan State Game Area (DNR), in Allegan County, near…you guessed it…the town of Allegan, MI. And guess what else? There are even swans on the lake! Well named.

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This is an out of the way place to find and to hike in, and were you to blink, you’d pass right by the hidden trailhead. But simply wonderful for Carlson adventures. In fact, going on the nearby backroads (even on residential roads) our van’s GPS map only showed our little you-are-here marker blinking in the green wilderness of the screen.

The hill trail around the lake is difficult to capture with photography. On a long stretch, one slippery step, and into the lake we’d go. The lake is just out of the first picture range. We would have grabbed trees on the way down, of course. If. But no need.

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Part of the trail takes you through the woods and out of sight of the lake for a while. Squirrels, birds, mice, deer. This detour away from the lake is in order to get to a place easy to cross over the stream leading into it. I would imagine in springtime, the snow-melted stream would require passage over this bridge.

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There were also some of the barkless trees we’ve spotted throughout Michigan, revealing the petroglyphs in the ancient language of Wormtongue. <– Jeff’s term. I’m pretty sure this one refers to a bison.

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Because the trail was unkept, both times we could only travel halfway around it before decided to turn back. The area is intended more for hunters and fishers than for hikers.  After climbing over and under and between branches, and assending steep hills to get around several downed trees on the trail, after an hour we decided it would be easier to return than to proceed further into the unknown. Besides, climbing around fallen trees gave us a good workout besides just hiking. The second time doing it, besides different fallen trees, the ground eventually became too soggy to proceed.

But I would hike this trail again and again, hoping someday to complete the route around the lake, enjoying every moment of solitude (with hubby and swans), and deciphering the Wormwood codes, no matter how much of the trail we covered.

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Merry Christmas to all! Stay safe and warm.

 

 

Kellogg Experimental Forest, Lemmien Loop in December

The 716-acre W. K. Kellogg Experimental Forest, managed by Michigan State University, lies between Augusta and Richland, MI. There are several trails in the Forest, including the North County National Scenic Trail. We did hike on a short section of that particular trail last Friday,

but our goal was the entire 2.5 Lemmien Loop I’m familiar with nearly every step of the loop, knowing the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the connecting trails, how far from the pine “nursery” to the lean-to or sugar maples. But as we hadn’t hiked it in two or three years, we chose it for our Friday hike.

I tried my hand at black and white photos. Did I catch some essence of the woods?

Winter is a good time to hike, as any mosquito types (that I know of) hate the cold. The last time we were there, we returned home to learn of the killer EEE mosquitoes in our county. Friday, we had the trail to ourselves. Unfortunately, we also saw no wildlife. No mosquitoes, deer, fish, chipmunks, squirrels, or even birds. We’ve seen them all before. We heard crows in the distance, but could not see them. It made for a very peculiar woodland hike indeed. I found a deer hoof print, slightly melted into a shape of a heart.

Jeff noted green leaves still clinging to a tree.

The keyhole tree was still there.

The True Fir Test area had grown a bit from the waist-high trees we’d seen the first time we hiked this 16 years ago.

New signs had been added since our previous visit, including information of the planned harvesting of the so-straight and tall red pines (trees used for telephone poles).

Because it was the longest hike we’d taken in a while over not-flat terrain (because of my bum-now-healed knee), it proved to be an Advil night. Well worth it, along with the photo memories from the hike through a lovely woodland area.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Hike Revisited; Leelanau County Parks

 

I traveled to Wisconsin over last weekend, which meant no Friday hike with my awesome hiking partner. so I shall revisit two short hikes we took at the end of October up in Leelanau County, near Empire Michigan: Chippewa Run Natural Area and across the road (M22) to the Beaver Pond Trail.

Because of my aching knee, we only hiked part of the Chippewa Trail, through the field, into the windy woods, and over the creek crossing and just beyond.

We lingered around the creek, as we became engulfed in the beauty and natural silence of fall.

We crossed the road just to check out what Beaver Pond Trail was like. It was just a sampling of the trail, but, as always in Leelanau County, well worth even the taste.

 We lingered a while overlooking the beaver pond in reflective silence, away from sights and sounds of other humans.

It also rained every day up there (with gale warnings and power outages), but that couldn’t stop us from getting outside. Also, rain grows mushrooms!

It’s always great to discover mushrooms. I’m now on chapter three of a fantasy dealing with mushrooms. They can be very inspirational, don’t you think?

 May you find time to hike in nature or sit and rest in the out of doors. May you find peace at this season.

Hiking During Hunting Season

(Deer photo by FB Colorado writer friend, Roni O’Connell)

Generally speaking, hiking during hunting season (with gun) is not recommended. Bow-hunting time is another matter, for it takes longer to reload, and wearing orange seems sufficient. Not so with guns. And, I’m sad to say, some hunters are simply careless. I have heard rapid gun fire hiking during hunting season, assuming that the hunter spotted a deer, shot, missed, shot again, repeat. My concern is that I’ve known stories of hunters doing this very thing, focusing on trying to shoot the deer, and not seeing another hunter nearby while the deer passes. So…where to hike on a Free Friday during gun hunting time?

Marshall Riverwalk, and the North Country National Scenic Trail!

  

Although a familiar “hiking” spot, and late fall, Jeff spotted a shivering, camouflaged blue heron this time ’round. It’s always fun to spy animals in the wild.

I realize I’ve blogged about this “hike” before, This time, I dint even need hiking poles. Even though I’ve written about it before, it’s safe to walk outdoors here during hunting season. Plus, it’s lovely any season, summer, spring, or fall. Haven’t tried it in winter. Would rather be in the woods.

     

This Marshall Riverwalk is a super easy hike (not much up and down at all), and always different in each season with the constant flowing stream.

  

I was a little concerned this time with what looked to me like an oil spill on water areas near oil pipeline markers.

There’s always the worry here, especially after the largest inland oil spill in the continental USA, in 2010, broke/started just northeast of this location. Wish I could have done more back then besides clean oil off a few turtles. Our land! We are the stewards. Or need to try to be.

Above the dam, the sound of rushing water stilled.

 

I imagine a blue sky reflected in the river-lake would have been quite pretty. Someday.

Along with the browns and grey, there were spots of red berries and orange lichen and orange barkless tree in the river’s edge.

 

I also spotted some more turkey tail mushrooms on our 90 minute walk. Then I found these other mushrooms on a sawed log. Didn’t realize till later–only after zooming in–that they, too, are turkey tails. They’re everywhere, I tell you. Everywhere!

Even out walking for such a short time is refreshing and calming to the soul. May you, also, engage in outdoor adventures for refreshment for your soul.

Scenic North Country Trail…Again. The Blue Bridge

 

I know they are giving out awards for people who have hiked 100 miles of the Scenic North Country Trail in 2019. Do we get a thumbs up for hiking 30 miles?

Last Friday, with overcast and wet ground, and in the lower 30’s all morning, we chose a close-to-home hike on the Scenic North Country Trail, starting at Helmer Road and going west along the Kalamazoo River — that wonderful river which flows past the ghost town of Singapore (which I wrote a historical fiction about, The Town That Disappeared), and draining into Lake Michigan.

We’ve hiked this trail before, and ridden it on bikes. Each time is unique.

And did I mention overcast Friday morning? Did I mention in the lower 30s? Did I mention the wind? No? Well, at the beginning of our hike, there was a nippy wind greeting us, from 5-15mph, so said the Weather Channel. Chilly but undeterred, we hiked on.

 

We carefully trod over the lichen-covered blue bridge, a bridge I’d seen from across the river for over a decade before we finally hiked to it. Poor blue bridge. Did I mention covered with lichen? It was. Did I mention the boards are rotting and quite slippery? They are.

 

We saw a tank painted on the walkway. Jeff commented that as a solo tank, it was ungrateful. Two would have make it…tanks (thanks).

 

There were also some amazing mushrooms at the base of a fallen tree. I’m working my mind around my next story which will be concerning mushrooms. But then on Friday, Jeff finished the fourth of my War Unicorn Chronicles books, and asked for more (unicorn tales). Such a dilemma.

 

Oh. And while walking alongside the Kalamazoo River near mowed areas, don’t be looking around at the pretty nature sights. Instead, mind your step, or you may just land in some goose poop. And those rust streaks are old, stained goose left behinds, but old enough not to be squishy.

Funny how about an hour after we got home, the sun burst forth at last. But the temp was still in the lower 40’s. I imagine the sun brought people out into the great outdoors. During our overcast and chilly hike, Jeff and I had the trail to ourselves. Also, with the bonus of no mosquitoes!

 

May your days be mostly sunny, but may you also walk briskly through the overcast, chilly days.

Another Friday, Another Hike (Ionia State Park)

Last week held another Friday, Jeff’s day off, and therefore another hike. Hurray. A hike. In fall. With Jeff. Triple hurray. I told him I was glad to have him as my hiking partner. He replied, “Your Hiking Viking!” Perfect.

It’s bow hunting season within Ionia State Park, so I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be mistaken for a deer. You may think me silly in bright hat, gloves and vest, and also carrying cross country ski poles as hiking sticks — good for balance, muddy or icy ground, and leaf collecting. But the only other hiker we met during our 2-hour hike was a woman and her dog, both dressed in hunter orange. Not so silly after all, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 33 degrees out, for the first time in months I dressed in layers. I felt like Linus in Charlie Brown — so bundled, but well worth it. Wasn’t cold a bit. Couldn’t move much, either, but I wasn’t cold.

Only really sub-zero temps, wildfires, tornadoes or hail deter us from hiking through God’s creation. Jeff even got to play improv frisbee golf.

The sights of being in the woods during late fall is glorious, and so refreshing. We started our hike in sunshine, still 33 degrees. By the time we’d stopped for third lunchies, there were light flurries (snowflakes) drifting around us. Can’t help but love the variety of nature.

From crazy mushrooms, to tall trees, to babbling brooks and flitting snow, Ionia is beautiful in the fall — or any time, actually.

 

So why do I journal my hikes on a writing blog? Settings. Experience. Nature’s eye candy. All valid reasons for various reasons, including writing.

So why don’t you, too, get outside. Experience nature. Breathe. Enjoy.