Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To See a Crane

We quickly pulled as far as we could to the side, wheels barely dipping off the paved highway, while heavily-loaded logging trucks pushed tall walls of air ahead of their massive profiles rocking the car, and I wrestled free of my seatbelt, scrambling for binoculars and camera.
The graceful birds stepping along the horizon, then crossing the crest of the hill to an unseen field beyond, barely visible against the gray sky where it met a well-worn pasture and several weathered barns could only have been the cranes.
Until then, an image seen only in others’ pictures—illustrations to stories told of their great flocks in migration, partners paired for life, dances of courtship seen only by those of the northern plains, the birds with the prehistoric past.
In an instant they were gone, and I was left holding a foggy lens, still missing that crisp, clear view so desired of the tall bird with the crimson forehead, the long, dark bill.

Bracken Fern

Miles later, we entered Seney NWR—a great attraction of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula encompassing 95,000 acres of wetland, shallow pools, and deciduous and coniferous woods. Still bearing the scars of the lumbering trade, this previously exploited land is now managed for wildlife. Preserved within a tall glass case inside the visitor center, beside a fabricated tree from which the great owls of the north woods peered down with lifelike golden eyes, a Sandhill Crane stood, motionless in the characteristic pose straddling her fuzzy young colt. There, for one who might never have the privilege of seeing one walk in the wild.
I stood and stared from the other side of the glass.

Then, slipped out the back onto the short walking trail circling several pools. The woods smelled of Balsam, their quiet darkness interrupted only by sunny stands of paper birch and poplar, their light leaves quivering in a cool breeze. Afternoon sun set aglow fields filled with the tawny tones of Bracken fern and goldenrod. The last of summer’s water lilies dotted the clear amber water, tannin-stained of Hemlock bark and White Pine. And dragonflies big and small soared over open spaces. Seney’s wilderness is home to black bear and gray wolf, marten, bobcat and moose.
In the shallow edge water beside one of many small islands, providing safe and secluded nesting sites for the hundreds that gather here, a family of Trumpeter swans dabbled within view of the walking trail.
But, still I saw no cranes.

Seney NWR

Large darner, Aeshna sp., eating smaller red dragonfly

Pool along the Pineridge Nature Trail

Trumpeter swan cygnet (L) and adult (R)

Returning to the car, and with instructions from the staff and parting good wishes for successful sightings, we drove the seven-mile, single dirt lane auto tour--a fine thread stitched in a winding path across Seney’s vast wilderness fabric, with scattered pull-outs for pauses, and a suggested time to be taken, one hour.

Marshland Wildlife Drive

A young loon, his head still in brown velvet, beads of water slipping from his back, dove and disappeared again into deeper water. Herds of swans napped in the shallows. A beaver broke the stillness with a loud, “crack.”

Common Loon, juvenile

And, wading beside a distant island, breaking the expanse of rippled blue, stood 2 tall, gray birds--afternoon sun on each crimson forehead, with the long, dark bill of the Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Cranes wading

By evening, we found our way to an access road--closed to vehicles but taking a biker or hiker deeper into the refuge, where we left the car and set off on the less-worn path. The pool was large and littered with logging remains, its glowing banks stained the same amber shade as the waters around us. An enormous puddled plain, where faded stems of grasses hid the tall birds well.
And we sat at sunset watching, as, above us, others joined them.
In pairs, calling their rattled song, to one who would have the privilege to see a crane.

Gray's Creek

Sandhill Cranes on a puddled plain

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Feet in the sand

Evening on Lake Michigan

I walked to the edge and stepped into the cool, clear water of this great lake—Michigan, where a long sand beach, briefly interrupted by washed rocks along the southern island shoreline, reflected the rosy shades of an evening sun.
And stood looking over its rippled surface to the point where it dissolved into sky--
waves stealing sand from beneath my toes, and replacing it above, until I was planted there--
absorbed into its perfectly sculpted velvet plane.

Kalm's Lobelia

Ladies' Tresses

Between the fading blades of beach grass, there is a delicate blue, barely seen scattered across the dunes feet from shore. Delicate white orchids still catch the last amber rays, though their twisting stems are barely 6 inches tall.

And, as the sun drops deeper into the western horizon, glowing warmly over Hog Island, a calm settles over the water--the shallowest waves still reaching in their cleansing and settling way.
A small sandpiper walks in their wake, scurrying just ahead of my feet, his back strikingly mottled—matching a pattern that could be piles of small stones or pockets of tiny white clam shells.
And stops stepping to look at me.

Until his feet, too, are buried beneath wave-washed sand.

Sanderling, feet buried in sand

photographer on the beach with the little bird

Sunset over Hog Island

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Miles of smiles

Determined to complete the ten-hour drive within the hours of daylight, carrying Red Canoe from the southernmost tip of Ohio to an unknown cabin on the lakeshore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, an early morning’s start, by late afternoon, left us giddy with anticipation of a wonderful week.

click photo for a smile

And each hour further into a landscape that resembled the north woods of the Northeast, a place I grew to love as a child, made me wonder if I have been imprinted, much as a young animal identifies most strongly with those images to which he is first exposed.
Why the gritty texture beneath my feet or the silhouette of a jagged tree line against the evening sky, still sends the sensation of its being a perfect “fit,” even after years in different surroundings.
And why a place I've never before been, instantly feels like home.

Mackinac Bridge as seen from the U.P.

We amused ourselves imagining conversations involving this interesting display where we stopped to refill our gas tank.

Caption Contest
(Yes, those are 50 lb. bags of carrots!)

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It is not as I left it.
Gold-tipped fields where green strongly grew tell of time’s passing--
two weeks.

Monarch caterpillar feeding on Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

And knowing I would not see their departure in my time away, I left the three hanging—chrysalises of monarch cats that had fed from a vase at my table—chewing their way as I sat watching, around the leaves and stems of a sand vine wrapped into coils as my centerpiece, before shedding their stripes for gold-studded jade.

Monarch caterpillar hanging in "J" before shedding skin to become chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis, day 1

Monarch chrysalis, day 5

Just one, a bit odd, his face not covered by a case, as the others--
the curtain behind which he would change, strangely parted at the tip.

Parted Curtain

The three, left outdoors on a bench—
open air waiting for wings.

Hours north we traveled, Red Canoe tethered expectantly on top of a car filled with packs and paddles, boxes of food and an extensive assortment of footwear.
Leaving behind the fields of corn and soy,
the cozy old homesteads dwarfed by clusters of huge silver silos,
the dark fertile soil that covers our heavy base of clay,
the tall cell towers stepping beside a broad highway,
until the horizon became thick with trees jutting into a bright sky.
And there sand met clear water, then vanished into blue.

Two empty cases hang—
clear wrappers left on faded leaves where butterflies burst free one morning when only open air was watching, and unfolded their wings to the sky.
And one still peeks from behind the parted curtain, though his face has darkened and his body turned black.
Tens of thousands, minus one, this year, to make the journey.

caterpillars on vines in vase

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Monday, September 7, 2009


Spring foal, first summer

I have a case of the hiccups—
nothing serious, more an annoyance.
That intrudes into the easy flow of writing.
Makes me pause and take a few slow breaths.
In the calm I continue, slowly forward.
And from that deep, dark place, they return.
Those rude little misguided impulses.
And irritate the heck out of me.

Maybe you’ve noticed, the here again--and then gone.
The cheery little post and then nothing.
Miles between scattered pictures days apart.
But please know there’s nothing really wrong.
It’s just a bad, bad case of the hiccups.
And for time that may pass while I say nothing—
I am simply holding my breath.

Taking 2 weeks to feed my soul--
a long, cool sip of nature's finest.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Moving on

I would like to think the worst has moved on—
that unpopular child that waits on the doorstep, steamy and red-faced, a cloud of heat around him, asking to play, while those inside watch through the glass, leaving nose prints upon the chilled windows.

For today, cool air has come knocking.
With windows open wide, fresh breezes run through the house, trip up the staircase and dance with curtains at the sill.
Of all, days such as these are my very best playmates.

On a cool evening last weekend, we lit a fire—
back at the ring of stones beside the pond, where a pile grows through the warmest weeks of the year with the pulled stems of garlic mustard and trimmed canes of multiflora rose.
Weathered and dry, they take the match easily.
And fed by small locust branches, erupt into a tower of flame.

Gathered, shoulder to shoulder around the small ring, we watched the stars take their places in a clear sky, one by one, above the roof of the old barn. And found, among our reflections of summers’ days, a small snake scurrying to the shelter of the lush, tall grass behind us.
Moving on, as indeed it is with all things.

garter snake
(click to enlarge)

keeled scales

stripes and spots

a lovely chocolate brown

I come across snakes often on our rural property--always Black Rat Snakes, both young and adult.
I have never found a garter snake, though, And saved him for pictures in the daylight.
He was approximately 10 inches long, had a red tongue and strongly keeled scales that gave him a rough feeling as he moved through my fingers. He now is settled in to the rock wall of my herb garden.

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