Friday’s Meandering Morning

Jeff and I left the driveway under overcast skies, having no idea (nor care of) which direction to head out of town. He drove east. We ended up on Verona Road, heading towards Marshall.

The little Marshall Schools park and lake (Gueniveen) was crowded with three cars sitting in the dirt parking lot. It had rained enough the past couple of days to make the trails be too muddy for us to traverse, anyway.

We passed the park and kept going east. I told my cautious husband that I wanted us to stop at Bossard Farm to see if they were open. I’d tried four times in town to get some lemon grass from Horrock’s, and failed four times. Bossard was open. The greenhouse was open. I had a lovely chat with one of the owners about their having to butcher more cattle than normal (with the panic of packing plants closing and beef becoming unavailable). As I headed out, I saw a masked friend from church. I felt so happy to see someone I knew (besides husband and neighbors). I felt like a puppy wanting to wag her tail off. (Oh, this pandemic!)

Jeff then suggested we try to find the little nature area we found east of Marshall a couple of years ago. We did. Jeff packed a lunch for us. Instead of eating in under the covered table area and we chose to eat in the van in case someone joined us. The grass was too wet to hike the mower trail down to the lake. But we assume it’s right beyond the trees in the distance. (After looking at the map on the board, I found I’d assumed wrong. Still too wet to explore. We hadn’t brought proper okay-to-get-wet-in shoes or clothes.)

After the song-bird-y lunch, we continued down the road and passed Stuart lake. I have always been fascinated with the cement posts and structures near this residence. I’d love to know the history about those.

Beyond that lake is another little lake with a public access. It is called Upper Brace Lake. About 75% of what we could see from the dock was natural area. Very serene.

There is one tree near the dock which reminded me of an Ent who had gone to bathe, but froze to look like a regular tree when humans approached.

It was not a 1-3 hour hike-day, but all in all, a very pleasant morning out.

Stay safe, everyone. Pray for an end to this pandemic.

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.

 

Indoor-Outdoor Adventures During the Time of a Plague

Backyard Feeder

Of course, the Coronavirus-19 is not called a plague, but it might as well be considered one. Shelter-in-place. No close human contacts. Keep clean. Stay safe.

But there are ways to have outdoor adventures with even staying indoors. You could watch birds from inside your house.

You could look at nature shots.

You could draw or paint nature shots. You could write a memory of an adventure you had. You could read about unfamiliar adventures in books.

Whatever your Indoor-Outdoor adventure may be, stay safe.

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.

 

 

Northern Winter Beaches, Changes and Playtimeu

[THIS was in my drafts folder. SERIOUSLY? It was the last time we travelled, actually. And here, sheltered-at-home, crocuses and daffodils are starting to pop up. Where HAS my mind been lately? I’m sure you all can guess. So stay home. Stay safe. Love to you.]

Friday. Jeff’s day off. Sunny day. Off to South Haven and Van Buren State Park on Michigan’s western coast. A very favorite place of ours in all seasons, especially not in busy summer – when it is crowded with people, dogs, and bugs. We went to three beaches: the state park, and South Haven’s south beach and north beach.

It was briskly-cold. City temp was 30 degrees with a wind chill of 17. But there on the beaches, the wind roars mightier, and the temperature is colder yet. After only a few minutes of photographing waves, my iPhone simply shut down. It couldn’t stand the cold. So I stuck it in my jean’s pocket to warm up. Have you ever held a baggie of ice in your pocket? Similar feeling. Makes your eyes go cross.

The water level is high, with some docks in the channel marinas being washed over with incoming surges. (Earlier I also posted about the high water level four hours north of us in Leelanau County, at Fishtown. I wonder if the high water is also happening across the pond in Wisconsin?)

But with all the changes, and a day off now and again with cooperating weather, we still love to play outside (Jeff skipped ice on the lake.) We hiked the narrowing beaches, listened to the lapping waves, and talked to hungry gulls…well, I talked, anyway.

Jeff skipped flat ice vs rocks.

The splashing waves onto the pier rails seemed nature-artsy. There were a number of other people out and about taking photos, including a man in waders on the south beach.

img_2443

 Besides the seasonal variations, our western coast has changed over the past couple of years. For example, Van Buren State Park beach has vanished, due to high water and erosion. Part of me wants to say how awful this is; another part knows this is nature.

A Before Shot of the beach, which doesn’t even show the end of the sidewalk; and a couple taken this weekend, showing how the sand is eroding underneath the sidewalk’s end.

DSC08730

 

img_2228

Michigan’s shoreline has Critical Dunes. That means they move – with the wind, with the snow, with the rain. Here is a favorite little building of ours, taken in both summer, and this past winter weekend. Seems like this particular critical dune is moving in on the outhouse, soon to make it a buried house. Bye-bye, sweet little, dependable house.

 

img_7717

Life is full of changes. A dramatic one for us is happening this year as we move this fall to the other side of Lake Michigan. That will be a big change with plenty of unknowns, but will also carry with it family, exciting new adventures, and more places to explore.

Redundant River Revisited

Battle Creek River Riverwalk, East of Bailey Park — Revisiting the Redundant River!

There’s a reason why people need sunshine and blue skies: It lifts one’s spirit. There’s a reason why day after day of overcast, low gray clouds is depressing. It nails one’s spirit down. Last Friday — too gloppy for woodland hikes, and too tired of mall walking — we finally got out among some woods and water, onto the Battle Creek Riverwalk.

 

Jeff usually gets a day off each week. On Friday, the iffy, hovering around freezing with precipitation kept us from wood trails (too muddy) or traveling to a larger city to walk a new mall or window shop (no new things, please), or visit a museum (surrounded by lots of walls). So we chose a section of the Battle Creek Riverwalk.

The people factor.

Hiking within city limits is sure to draw out the people factor. This was our second time parking at the tiny playground area. The first time, a nervous, pacing man near the parking lot made us linger getting back into our van…because there was a woman and child playing on the playground, and the guy was just acting suspicious. After another car arrived, he climbed into the backseat, was handed something, and then got into his own car and they both drove away. Had we just witnessed a drug deal?

This time, when we arrived at the parking lot, there were two men with heads down and close together, with their hands over their mouths. Smoking or sniffing? On our return, another seemingly empty car was in the lot. As we climbed into our van a hand rose from the backseat and reached towards the front. I don’t even have a suggestion as to what that behavior was about.

Sadly, there were also car tracks on the walkway. They caused the thinner snow sections to ice over. On the other hand, the rough tread marks made it easier to walk upon without slipping.

The people factor also made us ponder why a dam was necessary here.

When outdoors, there is always the animal factor. With civilization across the road, we heard barking dogs On our side, the woodland side, we saw ducks and geese swimming, and one black squirrel scurrying across the ice to another tree.

 

We certainly don’t hike for the other people factor. The animal factor can sometimes interesting, especially in wilderness. But the geographical factor is mostly why we continue – the water, the land, and the trees giving our eyes, ears, lungs, and heart some rest. We find that even during a gloomy mid-winter stretch in Michigan, there is still beauty in the gray.

Return to Fort Custer

Our last three Fridays (free days) have been kind of bizarre. With the January bleak-and-dreary weather and drippy trees with muddy-slushy ground, we haven’t done much hiking. Today, though, we were blessed with a 90-minute hike at Fort Custer recreation area. Besides a ranger removing a life jacket from a drain and an orange-capped hunter in a car, we had the park to ourselves. Blessed.

With the snowy-melted-refrozen ground, every step was a crunch.

We did discover something new to us: At the group campsite area, which we have passed through dozens of times in the past 16 years, we found a lake access spot. It’s sloped down to the lake and only good for kayaks or canoes to be put in. But new discovery!

It was a quiet hike (except for our crunching steps). Nothing much to comment on, so here are some other photos from today:

 

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.

A Swan Lake 01.JPG

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.

A Swan Lake Trail MI.JPG

IMGP3404.JPG

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.

Jeff on Swan Lake Bridge 08.JPG

IMGP3454.JPG

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.

A Swan Lake Petrogiphs.JPG

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.

IMGP3446.JPG

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.