Pandemic Day Off

Last Friday, we finally had the chance to hike again. We also immediately remembered why we prefer hiking autumn through springtime: mosquitoes and other biting insects!

 

We left for Fort Custer State Park at 10. It was more crowded than even a regular (non-pandemic) day off. For instance, by 11:30, the beach area was full of summer fun people. We decided to hike our favorite little trail circling a widening area of water (“swamp” on the maps), beneath the dam. It’s wooded 97% of the way.

 

It’s a trail not normally used by many others, and, in fact, there was only one other person on that trail with us — a bicyclist speeding past. We stepped aside too quickly to check if we were ankle-deep in poison ivy.

We’d seen plenty of it on and along the trail. Such a pretty green. But, thankfully, there was none where we’d moved aside.

I’ve called this trail The Double Dam Lake Trail, but last Friday, we discovered that the beaver dam had been dismantled some, so that only the lodge remained with the creek flowing around it. I wonder how long that will last?

 We were surprised there weren’t many wildflowers out, just some clover, daisies, and raspberry blossoms. And from the abundance of white flowers, we know in two weeks there will be plenty of raspberries along this trail.

 

We realize there may have been other flowers we passed. After all, our hike was considerably shorter than normal because of all the dozens of other trail inhabitants flying in front of our faces, and any bit of exposed skin.

Even so, we enjoyed our trek through Michigan woodland.

Ya know? There shouldn’t have been that many mosquitoes around us, because we’d sprayed repellant on our clothing, including hats. I’d also worn a twisty mosquito repellant bracelet as well as a battery-operated fan contraption, which has always worked in the past, but Friday, I moved it from my belt to my neckline. I even had a bandana I swung in circles in front of my face. Still. Those little critters sure were hungry. I’m wondering if all our spraying (even from planes) and repellants aren’t making today’s mosquitoes resistant to the “old” repellants.

 

Later in the afternoon, we had to depart our home for an hour for a house showing. We decided to head south to Athens. Since it was National Doughnut Day, of course, we had to stop on our way at Station 66 for some of their homemade doughnuts. Because of the coronavirus, they were only doing window-orders. At the time I was there, 14 customers mulled around near the windows. Only 3 of us wore masks. I found it interesting that we mask-wearers were the only ones trying to implement social distancing of 6′. The others would walk right by us, or stand immediately behind me in line. (If you would allow one short rant: It’s their decision to wear masks or not, but for mask-choosers, it’s a safety concern. Not maintaining distance from strangers is not only risky, but also so disrespectful.)

We drove on down to Athens and stopped in their little river park for a bit. We were saddened to see the park equipment sectioned off (safety from virus).

 

We walked to the bridge, covered with Mayflies, as another car pulled in — right next to us. It’s a fairly big parking area. Back into the safety of our car.

I was thinking of all the dangers we encountered today. There was a risk of the COVID-19 from unmasked people, or even of strangers walking around inside our house and touching things. There was risk of diseases from mosquitoes (e.g., West Nile Virus, EEE, and La Crosse encephalitis, to name a few). Not to belittle the plant which loves me so, poison ivy. And let’s not forget arachnids. The brown recluse spider does damage, as well as ticks which could gift lyme disease and more.

In our past, we’ve lived-hiked-camped in bear-cougar-rattlesnake-moose country, but even those larger animals never deterred us. I suppose it would be safer to remain in one’s home, but lovely as our house is, and as much as Jeff and I get along with each other, we still enjoy being around friends and family, as well as exploring the great outdoors. So, even with the risks, we will continue to take the precautions needed to keep ourselves safe, and to interact with people and nature, and always trusting and continually thanking God.

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.

 

Pandemic Neighborhood Giveaways

On the bright side…is there a bright side to this pandemic?…

Then perhaps take out the word pandemic. And continue reading, thank you.

With our grandkids living three states away and growing up way too fast, this week, knowing the libraries are closed as well as schools, I have given away two bags of picture books (and a couple other ones tossed in) to walking neighbors with kids. I knew the names of the previous giveaway bag of books. Today’s giveaway, I simply don’t know their names, but identified the bag left on our corner by who they are: 3 boys, 2 mamas, and 1 puppy. I chose books which I thought the different ages of the boys would  enjoy.

Yes, our grands live too far away to read these, and when their own libraries open up, they will be able to once again enjoy those millions of hard-cover books. YAY! But in the meantime, I hope to spread a little bit of literary joy to our stay-at-homers. I wish we had more kiddos living in our neighborhood.

We remain 15′ or more from our neighbors, and to our knowledge, none in our neighborhood have contracted the coronavirus. Still. Stay safe. Be wise. If they were worried, they could leave the bag of books in their garage for a couple of days to be even more cautious, receiving this gift of books from a stranger. Even though I don’t know their names, there has always been a friendly wave-connection.

I wish I could snuggle my grands onto my lap and read to them. Can’t. Someday I will. Until then…keep on reading.

Never give up. Never surrender.

The Town That Disappeared 333x500 Sandys

Unicorn Jokes

April 10th is National Unicorn Day.

 

All of April is National Humor Month. So here are three unicorn jokes for you this morning:

Q: What did the unicorn say when it fell?
A: I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyup.

Q: What card game do unicorns play?
A: Uno.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Unicorn.
Unicorn who?
Uni cracked corn and I don’t care.

 

Stay home. Stay safe.

 

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.

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 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.

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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.

 

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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.