Thursday, October 29, 2009


Little Beaver Lake

We pushed off in Red Canoe with barely a glance over our shoulder, hurriedly strapping seatbacks into place, and grabbing day packs and paddles--anxious to make up for what had been a late morning’s start followed by several detours down the invitingly shaded, sandy paths on Michigan’s UP. This spot on the map, Little Beaver Lake, looked to be an easy paddle. A 39-acre lake, adjacent to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, bound by dense, piney woods and ringed with horsetails, dragonflies darted from ridged stem to ridged stem, lighting at the tip—tipping, tail-up in the strong midday sun.
Hidden in the far corner, a secret passage.

Aptly named for the residents of these waters, the narrow channel with tall pines to either side appeared from its widest point, to dead end in a large, tangled mound. Slender, trimmed sticks, their gnawed ends angled and left piled on top, confirmed recent beaver activity. But, as we slowly glided forward to get a closer look, the shallow water flowing past the dam easily carried us through the passage to the lake beyond—Beaver Lake, its broad, smooth surface, at over 750 acres, many times larger than that of Little Beaver.

Beaver Lake

The water was dark, but clear--again tannin-stained from the bark of the trees surrounding it, but reflecting deep blue of a cloudless sky above. A broad sandy shelf, dotted with large, half-buried, freshwater clams, extended more than 30 feet before dropping off to deeper water.

We stepped out into the warm, clean water of the shelf and pulled Red Canoe to the edge.
A colorful mosaic of small, smooth stones collected here and several large snails cruised the bottom until it became the shore, where grasses and wild orchids grew in a narrow strip between water and woods.

freshwater clam in sand

freshwater snail

Barely seen against the dark trees across this expanse, there was a flash of color--as two kayaks, their double-bladed, yellow paddles rising swiftly along the shoreline, quietly circled the large lake and disappeared from view. Until, on this fine September day, we were left alone, looking out across Beaver Lake, walking ankle-deep in the clear, amber water.

Heading back toward the passage an hour later, we soon encountered a bird, swimming toward us in the shallow water, the small crest of her rusty head parting the surface, as she peered below for small fish—a common merganser.

Dipping and lifting, and dipping again, the drops of water fell from her face, as she moved forward, swimming strongly.
Common Merganser

Until, as if we were of no concern, she arrived to within just feet of Red Canoe.
We turned and paddled slowly beside her, across the clear water of the sandy shelf, for many strokes. Then, she turned and was gone.

I wonder at these close encounters, when nature seems more trusting than I would expect, if it is the sound and speed of our lives that teaches them to fear--a fear of man that is learned by our loud presence.
For, in these spaces that preserve solitude, it seems it has not learned to accept us, but has simply not yet learned to fear.

click image to enlarge

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Summer secrets

Eastern Bluebird at nestbox

I love the golden woods,

where, even on the dimmest days,

what little light there is seems more.

And boughs barely seen under splendid array,
stretch long and lean toward the sky.

Eastern box turtle
Now, are summer’s secrets revealed.

American beech leaves

Turkeytail fungi

White-crowned Sparrow

The falls on Avey's Run
Cincinnati Nature Center

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Monday, October 26, 2009

An Ocean of a Lake

American Marram grass on the dunes of Lake Superior

I pause, wandering the dimly lit aisles of a small, densely packed general store coupled with one of the few gas stations sparsely scattered across the northernmost shore of the U.P. of Michigan. Bread and milk, canned goods, a few frozen confections and assorted toiletries share shelf space beside a broad selection of fishing lures, beef jerky and t-shirts.

Sea Rocket, Cakile edentula,
on the beach at Grand Marais

We arrived here the day before, after several hours’ drive along the dusty, unpaved roads connecting the small communities along the northern shore of Lake Michigan with the more remote villages bordering the larger lake to the north—Lake Superior, Gitche Gumee, Big Water.

We walked at sunset along the shore of this cleanest of the Great Lakes, 160 miles across and 350 miles from side to side. Gentle waves washed smooth colorful stones in the shallow water beneath our feet. While, just out of the lapping waves’ reach, piles of larger stones left higher on the sand suggested this calm is sometimes otherwise.

A gull at sunset

As we approached, gulls flew up from where they’d been standing, facing the wide water, in a long trail of white to float and bob on the still, evening surface.

This is Grand Marais.
Beyond its bold beauty is its space apart from all else.

A t-shirt on the rack says it quite plainly.
End of the earth…2
Grand Marais…4

tracks on the beach

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Saturday, October 24, 2009


sunrise on northern shore of Lake Michigan

I could spend hours just walking the shoreline—
exploring that space where two worlds converge.
While one foot skims the cool water of this great lake that extends to beyond the horizon, the other stands upon the finest grains of sand, their own sea of sorts, in dunes windswept to the tree line.

vegetation on the dunes spreads by underground rhizomes
which anchor sand in place

Lake Huron Tansy (?)
state-listed as threatened

And, though many would place greater value upon this sandy beach and pay handsomely for a lakefront lot, smooth and prime, my choice would easily be the other, the more rugged--
the rocky shore.

small shells in pocket of rock

Here, as water levels fluctuate with the season, seeds settle into the smallest crevices, emerge from within pockets of small shells held between the stones. At times very dry and at others abundantly watered, the plants surviving at the rocky shore are tough, yet simple and lovely. In keeping their low profile, they are sheltered by the very rocks their roots struggle against to take hold.

asters and lobelia

Shrubby Cinquefoil planted in bed of small shells

Houghton's goldenrod (?) if, so, also
state-listed as threatened

I walk on sandy beaches.
And wander, stone to stone, flower to flower, along the rocky shore.

a million of the smallest shells

sunset on northern shore of Lake Michigan

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