Archives for posts with tag: hiking

Sundays and Making Wood…
A.V. Walters–

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We’re busy building. I suppose, given how late it is in the season, we could/should just power on through and build every day. But there are other priorities in the mix. Once built, we’ll need to heat our new home. Our plan is to heat as much as possible using wood from the property. One cannot wait until the snow is thigh-high to go out for firewood. “Making wood” is what the old Finns call it, back home. Mostly, we’re cutting deadfall. There’s plenty of it these days, because those damned (but beautiful) Emerald Ash Borers keep killing the ash trees. At least the wood will still make good fires, and keep us warm in the winter.
Anyway, we decided to take one day a week to cut firewood. Sundays. It’s a lovely change of pace, and brings us deep into the forest. It’s still backbreaking labor, especially on our steep hills but there’s always something new to see. Today it was Indian Pipes.

Indian Pipes are a rare form of plant. Also called “ghost plant,” they are a luminescent white—turning to a soft pink. They have no chlorophyll, and so cannot make their own food. Instead, they tap into certain kinds of fungus, which themselves have tapped into certain trees. The fungus-tree relationship is mutually beneficial, but the Indian Pipes are parasitic—they do not give back to either the fungus or the tree. They actually flower, like a regular plant—and are food for bees, both in nectar and pollen. Because they have no “plant” color, many think that the Indian Pipes are fungal. Without chlorophyll, they don’t need sunlight and can grow even in the densest of forests. No bigger than the spread of your hand, they’re easy to miss on the forest floor. They are often found in areas with beech trees or pines. We have both.

We’ve seen several patches of them this summer. When I was a kid we used to find them in the northwoods of Keweenaw County. We picked one once, from deep in the forest, to bring to a naturalist friend for identification. She chastised my parents, because the ghost plants are so rare. That got my attention—an adult wagging her finger at other grown-ups—my parents! No picking! I took the admonishment to heart and, to this day, I treat Indian Pipes with respect. indian pipes2

The Indian Pipes were our big score of the day. Of course, the firewood, too. All of it came from trees that had already fallen. Unfortunately, when the ash trees fall, they take prisoners—crashing to the forest floor, dragging their neighbors down with them. Today we gathered mostly ironwood (hophornbeam), beech and a little maple. We’re clearing trails for future access, so the day’s haul was moderate. Next Sunday, we’ll be at it again and who knows what we’ll find.

Marching Through the Seasons

A.V. Walters–

Still Closed.

Still Closed.

Most of the country is experiencing Spring, in all its glory. Some, in the northern reaches (like my mum) feel the warmth, see the birds, but still have 6-8 foot snow banks, and the woods are still zebra-striped—tree trunks and snow. Some of us have a little bit of everything.

Granted, if you look out the window here, you can only spy a few stubborn patches of snow, hidden in shady spots, or where the snowplows had piled it deep. Here, in town, we have snow-drops and crocuses in bloom. The daffodils aren’t far behind. But if you go into the woods, it’s a different story.

Our favorite hike takes us up and over three layers of wooded dunes before it delivers an amazing high-bluff view over Lake Michigan. The secret of the variable unfolding of season is revealed on those dunes.

The path, compacted by hardy winter hikers, may be the last to melt.

The path, compacted by hardy winter hikers, may be the last to melt.

The exposed, or south-facing slopes, are snow-free. There, the forest floor is carpeted with leaf litter and spring plants, pushing through to the sunshine. These early plants of the forest floor are well on their way staking out their spots in the sun—wild leeks, trillium and dutchman’s breeches. They’ll get established before the ferns pop up—later competing for sun and water. Stepping into the woods, I try not to tread on the sprouts, but they’re everywhere. One wrong step and I can identify who’s first in the race for spring. It’s the leeks—pungent and oniony. These early pioneers into season have a built-in defense against the winter-starved deer.

Wild leeks!

Wild leeks!

Just on the other side of the rise, it’s also a different story. On the north-facing, or shade sheltered slopes, it still looks like winter. The snow is deep enough to make for tough walking (and slippery purchase.) In a few weeks these slopes will catch up, Spring–the sequel. But north-facing slopes have slight variations in vegetation, with cooler, damper, shade-loving plants having the edge.

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As you traverse the dune forest, up and down, you alternate your way through the seasons—winter, spring, winter, spring. Until last week we had the same dichotomy in town. All through the village it was winter on one side of the street while the snow was gone on the other.

The forest floor, now visible, is littered with the fallen ash trees, victims of the Emerald Ash Borers.

The forest floor, now visible, is littered with the fallen ash trees, victims of the Emerald Ash Borers.

The critters tell a different tale. To them, it’s clearly Spring. Robins, cardinals, chickadees and sparrows are reveling in the bounty of seeds and worms to be found in the warming earth. The deer, who, all winter would stroll down our road at dusk, now have the full run of the fields. They still come by, but now they’re grazing on the first bits of grass that will be our lawn in a week or two. We’ve seen a pair of pileated woodpeckers, too, our attention drawn by their relentless carpentry pounding.

The destination of this hike is the ever-changing face of the Great Lake. Last week the Lake Michigan was almost clear—with just a lacy edge of ice along the shoreline. This week the wind has changed and we see shifting continents of float ice, punctuating the deep blue of the open lake. Seagulls are back, bobbing and nearly indistinguishable from the small chunks of ice on the surface.

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We’re due for some heavy rains this week. I think that will finally spell the end of the snow. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the in-between.

Look at those red branches, waiting to leaf out.

Look at those red branches, waiting to leaf out.

Monochrome

A.V. Walters

Bluff View

Bluff View

Winter. Pretty much black and white, right? Hardly. Maybe because we are cloaked in a postcard perfect layer of white, it forces one to take a closer look. There’s a world of color out there, if you look for it. The snow itself is a constantly shifting set of hues, depending upon the light. Right now it’s brilliant white, with the edges, drifts and footprints defined in shades of grey and blue. Just after dawn or at dusk, the snow glows pink—what my mother calls “The pearly hour.”

But, it’s more than that. At first glance the naked trees are black, grey and taupe. Looking closer reveals myriad shades and colors. The dogwood tips are a deep ruby. The cedar trees mix the characteristic yellow-green of their foliage with the rusty seeds at the tips. Across the street, our snow is interrupted by some kind of dried seedpod in a dark umber and waving, golden dried grasses. That gold is echoed above in the clinging brassy parchment leaves of young beech trees. Look deep into the forest and you’re rewarded with the winter greens of the white and red pines (with their warm brick and brown trunks)—to the almost-blue green of the spruce. Driving through the county side, I am surprised by the range of color in the sleeping, winter fields; the amber corn stubble poking up through the drifts; the burgundy tips on the cherry trees; the shocking, spilling-over, yellow of the naked willow branches; and the dense green of the snow-flocked Christmas trees that survived to see another season.

Today we went for a hike along the beach. Along the shore and extending out in the shallows, Lake Michigan has its usual winter, ruffled collar of jumbled frozen piles of snow, slush and ice. Out about fifty feet, the collar gives way to the steel grey waves, lapping and spraying occasionally at the ragged edge. This is a sand beach and the winter surf sweeps the sand in with the frozen frothy foam at the end of the waves’ reach. Parts of the beach are slick and icy, dangerously dusted with fresh blown snow. Other parts are sheets of frozen sand, lifted and arched by the heave, and hollow underneath. It’s a world away from its usual summer world of flip-flops, bathing suits and kayaks.

We’ve noticed an odd behavior at the parking-area turnaround at the township park/beach. Folks in the area drive down to check up on the Lake. Whenever we’re there, we see it. These are winter people, who, on their way somewhere else, detour down to the park for a glimpse at whatever the Lake is doing. They pull up and sit for a few moments, just watching whatever winter has in store that day. Today was not windy and the Lake was quiet. Sometimes it’s wild and crashing.

We think of it as our winter hike but we’re wrong. Today we ran into our neighbor at the beach. He’s an elderly gent; we see him out walking his dogs, regularly. There was a family, with lots of little bundled kids out cavorting and sliding on the icy beach. And then, there were all the footprints, evidence that any number of hardy souls come out regularly in the cold to enjoy the beauty and colors of winter. It’s nice to know that others appreciate the winter landscape, as we do.

We Are Not Alone

A.V. Walters–

Over Thanksgiving, about 8 inches of snow fell in Western Michigan. If, up to then, we’d had any doubts about winter, or where we’d moved, that white blanket made it clear where we were. This isn’t Two Rock, anymore, Toto.

The snow was lovely; we’ve walked in it every day, here around town and in the trails along the dunes. I was reminded how snow records comings and goings. Here in our cozy cottage, we could remain oblivious to what’s going on outside. We see deer in the field, across the way, but we’re otherwise not privy to the wild world.

Not so with the snow. Whether you see them or not, the critters leave their marks. Just in this little yard of ours, we see deer tracks, many different birds, a zillion squirrels, big rabbits, little rabbits, a raccoon in the back alley and something we can’t recognize—it appears to be feline (with bigger feet than our cats.) We don’t actually see these things in the yard, (except the squirrels) but they are here, their trails are clear evidence of their comings and goings. There are a lot of deer. We see them often in the field and even on our “town walks.” The yards here in the village are peppered with well-stomped deer trails—everywhere where there aren’t dogs. A garden could never make it here without a substantial fence. We have to remember that, when we finally settle and start planting.

One of the funniest things is that people have yard décor here, including fake deer. Go figure. Stepping out to take out the trash in the evening you’re likely to bump into the real thing—so, what’s with the statues? I note that one of our neighbors has deer statues, (well, they’re actually flat, metal deer) and it is in the direct path of many deer tracks. Do the deer feel compelled to check it out, or is it just coincidentally placed where the deer go? In Two Rock we didn’t have fake cows or sheep (but, I shiver to recall, Elmer did have a fake deer.) The whole garden statuary thing is lost on me. Lighthouses, ship anchors, wagonwheels, windmills, gnomes (lake freighters!)—I just don’t get it. Instead I look out to the field and count the real critters.

Yesterday we took the bluffs trail. It pleases me that the trails are heavily used, even in winter. There’s still snow in the woods, so we can count the tracks of hikers, dogs and snow-shoers. The trail is a bit treacherous—a brief thaw glazed over the compacted hikers’ tracks and re-froze it all into a slick, lumpy ice-field. We neglected to wear our spikes, so we found ourselves walking in the deeper snow on the edges. It’s a workout, picking your way on the safe untrodden and crunchy parts, but it’s better than landing on your ass. It gives depth to the word, trudge—with its combined onomatopoeia and connotation of hard going.

I looked back at the trail and laughed to see that other hikers were also sidestepping the beaten path—our tracks mixed with theirs on the edges, making for a very wide trail—the equivalent of eight hikers, abreast. It looks as though we came through together—a crowd of belligerent nature lovers—when in reality we rarely see one another. We only know that other hardy souls are out in the woods, because of their tracks.