Caught Between Three Lakes

Each summer members of my father’s extended family gather at the summer home on the shores of Lake Michigan. Each year, I am privileged to join them for a few days. My primary focus is on spending time with cousins, swimming, playing games, enjoying the beach, and savoring good food with good company. But I always have time for hikes and exploration.

Nearby Ludington State Park has a number of great trails, all of them tempting. It’s tough to choose between them! I don’t spend much time on the decision. On this trip to the park, I walked my favorite loop, for the umpteenth time. Not to worry, there’s always interesting things to see on the Lost Lake, Ridge and Island Trails. Three trails, three lakes, and me caught between them, caught in all their wonder. Continue reading

Lost and Found

Lose yourself in Nature and find peace.   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a few hours along the lake shores of Western Michigan, one loses sight of many things – and finds so much more.

LOST: Traffic.

FOUND: Freedom.

LOST: Pavement.

FOUND: Softness.

LOST: Smog.

FOUND: Clarity.

LOST: Noise.

FOUND: Tranquility.

LOST: Trash.

FOUND: Beauty.

LOST: Deadlines.

FOUND: Constancy.

LOST: Budgets.

FOUND: Treasure.

LOST: Self-doubt.

FOUND: Tenacity.

LOST: Narrow-mindedness.

FOUND: Perspective.

LOST: Stress.

FOUND: Imagination.

LOST: Anger.

FOUND: Serenity.

Lost on the Lakes

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1665acsNow, as the cold days draw near, close your eyes and dream…dream of a Michigan summer…

The sun shines brightly in an azure sky laced with fluffy white clouds. All is quiet but for the fading voices ashore and the rhythm of the paddle. Dip, swish, drip, drip; dip, swish, drip, drip.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1527acsThe kayak glides effortlessly across the deep blue of Hamlin Lake toward an island of rich greenery and white sands. A cool breeze brushes warm skin and paints ripples on the canvas of the water.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1546acsAt the small island’s tip, driftwood and old pilings bleach in the sun while a single tree keeps watch. A kayak rests on the shore, awaiting the return of its paddlers from an exploration of the island’s wild interior.

Across Hamlin Lake lies the inviting inlet of the much smaller Lost Lake. A spit of land barely ten feet wide separates the two lakes.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1598acsThe Lost Lake Trail spans the inlet on an elevated walkway. Underneath, an uprooted stump has wedged itself under the bridge. This is the land of drowned forests, cut down and buried under water in the name of progress. Progress complete, the lakes are now a place for play.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1550acsLost Lake is serene, and the water amazingly clear. Every tree stump and aquatic plant can be seen with clarity.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1620The coves offer a sheltered place for water lilies and sedges to grow. On the isthmus, a tree leans at a precarious angle. The peacefulness of a summer’s day is deceptive; the Lake Michigan coast is a harsh environment, and whipping winter winds take their toll on trees clinging to the water’s edge.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1661acsA towering sand dune offers a place to stop, rest and explore.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1681acsIf snails would seek sanctuary from predators, they will not find it here. The shallows of Lost Lake offer no hiding place. Yet again, the crystal clear water astounds.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1712acsA pair of damselflies patrols over a field of water lilies.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5156acsWee mushrooms loom large over moss and pine needles, a landscape in miniature on the forest floor.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5163acsTiny treasures such as this captivate the imagination and tempt the soul to linger.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1728acsBut nearby the narrow entrance to a small cove beckons, dark and mysterious.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1754acsAt its mouth, a fallen log has been eaten away by time like Swiss cheese. In one nook, new life has taken root.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1814acsNothing is so tenacious as a plant. It takes but a tiny bit of soil, tucked in a crevice of an old tree stump, for a new tree to sprout and grow. Water, soil, light. What more could a tree wish?

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1900acsMallards splash and bathe by the roots of an overturned tree…

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5134acs…while a green frog idles in the shade.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1846acsAn intricate entwining of twisted white limbs adorned with greenery graces the shore. Tree sculpture is but one form of Nature’s artwork.

All too soon, fierce winter will intrude upon peaceful meditations of summer. When it comes, find sanctuary in dreams of sheltered coves and sand beaches. The dip, swish, drip, drip of the paddle. The plants swaying sinuously beneath the clear water, the sparkle of the sun on the surface, the sand and the trees reflected there.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1890acsSavor the moments spent lost in reverie… on the lost lakes.

On The Ridgeline

MI Ludington State Park_9626aLudington State Park is only five minutes away from my family’s home in Michigan. Its lakes, dunes, woodlands and miles of trails draw me there time and again.

MI Ludington State Park_9390acsThe Island Trail running between Hamlin Lake and Lost Lake is my favorite place to explore. Birch, maple and pine trees line the sandy path.

On one hand, grassy marsh meadows soon give way to dark Lost Lake. On the other, big Hamlin Lake lies sparkling in the sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9420acsThis year I finally had a chance to walk the Ridge Trail and complete the loop. As you would expect from its name, the Ridge Trail runs along a sand dune ridge. Unlike the smaller grassy beach dunes, these dunes are wooded.

The trail climbs so steeply at first as to need wooden stairs, and then settles into a gentler rise. The top of the ridge is narrow; just on either edge of the trail, the land drops precipitously into deep valleys.

MI Ludington State Park_9516acsThe higher you climb, the more exposed the ridge becomes. Old tree stumps show the effects of wind, rain and sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9430acsIf you’re tired from the climb, you can have a seat. Dunes are living things, constantly shifting with the winds. Here the sand is slowly devouring this bench.

MI Ludington State Park_9541aAs the dune is blown away from the bases of the trees, it reveals a marvelous tangle of twisted roots. Lichen and moss clothe the exposed bark.

Roots like this and the weathered remains of old trees lie everywhere on the ridge, a sculpture garden left behind by elfin artists.

MI Ludington State Park_9578aFrom the summit, Lake Michigan appears, playing peek-a-boo between the fallen trees.

MI Ludington State Park_9586acsThe Old Sentinel.

MI Ludington State Park_9616acsFurther along, a side trail winds through open dunes to overlook Hamlin Lake. A great spot for lunch, except for the mayflies. Can you see that X-shaped thing hovering over the small bush in the center? (As always, click the photo to see a larger image.)

No, that’s not a tiny spaceship. It’s a mayfly that managed to photo-bomb my perfectly nice landscape shot.

FUN FACT: Mayfly naiads (the immature stage) live a year or two on the bottom of lakes, molting several times. The final molt produces the adult mayfly, which will live only a day or two. They’re harmless to humans – except that often they all mature at once, creating swarms that can really annoy the unsuspecting picnicker.

MI Ludington State Park_9695aWhat goes up must come down, and soon enough the Ridge Trail descends to rejoin the Island Trail.

Last winter was rough here in Michigan, and portions of the path must be traversed with care. Erosion along the shore of Hamlin Lake undermines soil and trees alike.

MI Ludington State Park_9760aIn a marshy bay of Hamlin Lake, a Great Blue Heron pauses from fishing to offer a fitting benediction to a happy day on the trail.


MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6031a By now the interested blog viewer will have gotten the idea that I’m rather fond of wildlife. You might think by the sheer number of bird photos that winged creatures top my list, but in fact I’m a mammal kind of girl. My all-time favorite animals are American black bears. All right, I admit, it’s the cute factor, but if I were twenty-five years younger I’d be in school right now, studying to be a wildlife biologist and hoping to work with black bears.

Frustratingly, I’ve never seen one. When I was 16, one strolled through my unit at summer camp, and I slept right through it. The Philadelphia Zoo has Asiatic black bears, but not American, and when we visited the Cape May Zoo, their bears were inside while the enclosure was being cleaned. I even have bad luck at zoos.

MI Mitchell SP Sign_7536aThe closest I’ve gotten is this sign, near Mitchell State Park. Not your average “Deer Crossing” sign is it?

It’s becoming my new excursion mantra – “Great trip! But NO bears…”

Here are a few Michigan images that didn’t make it into previous posts, but I like too much to leave out.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6183aLost Lake, Ludington State Park

Sign CollageMichigan Highway 116 runs past endless beaches and right into Ludington State Park, and M-22 is the route through Sleeping Bear Dunes. The locations they provide access to are so popular there’s a whole cottage industry of M-22 and M-116 trinkets. Also common are Michigan T-shirts: “Lake Michigan – Unsalted and Shark Free”.

MI Mitchell SP Flower_7240aMI Mitchell SP Flower_7383aOn the trail at Mitchell State Park

Ludington CollageSome things you might see around Ludington, including art at the Waterfront Park, and the House of Flavors. Fantastic ice cream with really creative flavor names. “NSA Feature Flavor”?

MI White Pine - 19 Windmill_5471aAs the sun sets on another wonderful sojourn to Michigan, good memories flood back:

  •  MI Tricycle Kim_7701 acsTelling time by the toot of the Badger’s horn
  • Getting Jersey-sized waves on the first day
  • Dirt roads and red barns
  • Kayaking
  • Betsey’s delight with the scallops at Steamer’s
  • Meeting Doug and Suzanne – YAY! – and Terry and the Obrechts
  • The Club Mich sign
  • Getting lost
  • Barefoot Brownie ice cream, aka Bear Claw
  • Michigan cherries
  • Sherry’s battle with the ants
  • Going from way too hot to almost cold, and getting to wear an International House sweatshirt when it was too cold
  • Sherry whistling the blues to the accompaniment of Doug’s guitar
  • That darn tricycle
  • Forgetting to sign the garage before I left

Most of all, long conversations with wonderful people. I’m especially grateful to Betsey and Sherry – thanks guys for inviting me into your wonderful home this summer.

On the way out of town, let’s take advantage of one more opportunity to have the “Ludington Experience”, shall we?Stearns Park Collage

The REAL Ludington ExperienceMI Sunset_5732a

Coming up: Summer’s Fleeting Beauty

Michigan’s Shy Wildlife

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Northern Pearly-eye_6060a I went to Michigan hoping to come home with lots of amazing wildlife shots. Last year I saw minks, for gosh sakes. And this year I have this great new long telephoto zoom lens. Confoundingly, Michigan critters are quite camera shy. No mink, no deer, only one chipmunk.

Birds – oh, yes, there were birds. I could hear them all around me, nattering away constantly. But they insisted on playing hide-and-seek with me, teasing with brief flashes of black and yellow, but never settling down long enough to visit.

Here are some of the animals I did manage to capture, mostly of the winged variety. Above is a Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly in Ludington State Park. Check out the natty striped antennas.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6213aAmerican Redstart, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7291aSong Sparrow, Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7415aChickadee, Mitchell State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6402aUnidentified Warbler, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Maybe a female or juvenile Blackburnian? A little help, anyone?

Eagle Filmstrip 1 No text A juvenile Bald Eagle searches for prey, spots his quarry, closes in, and – IMPACT!

Eagle Filmstrip 2 No Text

To the victor goes the spoils.

Looks like fish for lunch today.

MI Nordhouse Dunes GSF Butterfly_5898aGreat Spangled Fritillary, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Who comes up with these names, anyhow?

MI LSP Sable River Trail Common Buckeye_7084a Common Buckeye, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Widow Skimmer_6452aWidow Skimmer, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Sable River Trail E Pondhawk_7051aEastern Pondhawk, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7458aSometimes dragonflies, butterflies and birds of the same species come in different colors. Usually it’s a male/ female thing. For instance, here’s a Ruby Meadowhawk female. Not particularly Ruby, is it? MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7365aBut here’s the male Ruby Meadowhawk, and now it’s obvious where the name came from. Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Wildlife Midland Painted_7353aAnd now, for some scaly things: Midland Painted Turtle, Mitchell State Park. The front fellow’s a little shy, typical of most of the critters I saw – or didn’t see – in Michigan.

Near misses: Occasionally along the Mitchell Heritage Nature Trail I would hear “shish-shishhh-shish” as a small snake slithered off into the grass. I rarely actually saw them. I also heard the distinctive banjo-like “twang” of a Green Frog a few times.

MI White Pine Village_5430aEnding on a furry note: Chipmunk, White Pine Village.

Coming up: Mich-mash

Michigan’s Natural Heritage: The Ludington Dunes

MI Nordhouse Dunes Lake & Dune_5846 aMy dad told many fond tales of his boyhood summers spent on the shore of Lake Michigan. It sounded wonderful – lakes, beaches and forests – right up my alley. So when my California cousins invited me to join them at the family home in Ludington, Michigan, I jumped at the chance. This is the third summer they’ve opened their home and their hearts to me, and I’ve loved every minute of the chance to spend time with family. And, like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, I’ve fallen in love with Michigan! During my stay, I’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity to explore the natural areas on the Northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Of course, I’ve taken enough pictures to fill a multitude of blog posts. So we’d better get started!

Nordhouse Collage 2 This was the first year I got to the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area north of Ludington State Park and Hamlin Lake. Lying within Manistee National Forest, the Lower Peninsula’s only federally designated Wilderness Area encompasses 3450 acres of forest, dunes and interdunal ponds and marshes. The dunes were formed nearly 4000 years ago and can range as high as 140 feet. The Ludington Dunes Ecosystem has the largest area of fresh water interdunal ponds in the world. So why is it that every pond I’ve seen between the dunes in the last two years has been dry? Drought has taken its toll, on the ponds and the critters that live in them.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Marsh_5826 aOn the way to the trail-head, I drove through Manistee National Forest along a gravel and dirt road. Along the way, I stopped to check out the marsh area of Hamlin Lake (above) and the pine woods surrounding it (below). Notice how the trees grow in straight rows close together. This is a pine plantation, an area of pines planted for reforestation after the original trees were cleared in the logging boom of the late 1800s. Naturally-growing forests don’t look like this.MI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5833 a

The trails through the Wilderness Area are legion, and as they say, “minimally signed.” Meaning, there are NO markers. Navigation even with a map is tough, as there are numerous social trails and wildlife paths not shown on the map. I tried to take the one trail that had trail markers, only to come to an intersection of four trails where the only marker pointed back the way I came! So, I obeyed it, and went back the way I came. Never let it be said I don’t do what I’m told.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Lake & Dune_5838 aMI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5883 aMost of my hike went along a trail that paralleled Lake Michigan, along a wooded ridge above the lake. This was easy to follow without getting lost, and offered some great “peek-a-boo” views of Lake Michigan (above). At the edge of the trail, the side of the ridge dropped steeply away to the dunes 100 feet below. Not the place to search the treetops for birds while you are walking! Birch trees are numerous among the hemlock, beech, maple and pine trees of the forest. Birches are my all-time favorite tree; I can’t resist photographing their beautiful white trunks again and again.

MI Nordhouse Dunes Mushroom_5869 aI’m sure I saw a tiny fairy peek out from under the cap of this mushroom. Didn’t you?

MI Nordhouse Dunes Tree & Trail_5926 aThe Road goes ever on and on…

Ludington Collage 3Ludington State Park is nearly 5300 acres of sand dunes, ponds, wetlands and forests on a strip of land between Lake Michigan to the west and Hamlin Lake to the east. It’s a popular place for boating, fishing, swimming and camping. The black and white striped Big Sable Lighthouse stands guard at Big Sable Point and offers a wonderful view of the dunes, woods and lakes to those who climb it, as I did last year. The eight trails winding through the varied habitats of the Park are what keep drawing me back year after year. This year I tackled the Lost Lake and Island Trail, which follows a wooded sand dune ridge along Lost Lake before turning toward Hamlin Lake and returning through marshlands over a series of small islands.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail_5992 aLost Lake (above) and water lily (below).MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6467 a

Views of Lost Lake. MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail_6188 a MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6037 a

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6196 aMI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Flower Tree_6175 aMI Ludington SP_6257 a2Hamlin Lake is man-made, created in 1856 as a holding pond for logs awaiting processing at Charles Mears’ sawmill. Subsequent dam collapses wiped out the village of Hamlin, and the lumber mill closed. But the lake was becoming popular for recreation, and a new dam was built in 1914. The shoreline is dotted with old tree stumps, often with grass or tiny trees growing on them (above). Nature’s version of gardening in miniature. It amazes me where things will grow.

Sand dunes line the shore of the Hamlin Lake (right).

See? I can’t resist birch trees. Here’s why – white tree, green leaves, blue water. Can’t you just feel the breeze brushing your face here in the shade?MI LSP Sable River Trail_7179 a

Coming up: Michigan’s Natural Heritage: Cadillac Marsh

Wee Furry Beasties

4 HNWR Muskrat_8941 ASGood morning, all you bonny lads and lassies out there in Animal Kingdom! This is the “Wee Furry Beasties” Countdown Show on 99.9 KRTR – Critter Radio! I’m your host Fergus Alastair MacRatt, comin’ at you with all the warm and fuzzy hits you need to get you through your day.

Let’s get right to the countdown, shall we? Kicking it off at Number Six, we have the King of Nibbles himself, Brer Rabbit, with his hare-raisin’ version of “Little Bunny Foo Foo”.Rabbit 2 Vertical

HNWR Groundhog_2990 aHere’s a fair Groundhog lassie and her wee bairn that just can’t resist the call of the open highway. At Number Five, it’s Big Mama Woodchuck and Whistlepig Junior, singing “On the Road Again”.HNWR Groundhog_5585 AS

Next we have Slinky Mink checkin’ in from Michigan’s Big Sable River. Look at that pink nose – this lad needs some sunscreen! Doesn’t stop him from rockin’ out with our Number Four hit, “Pop! Goes The Weasel”.LSP 3 Mink_8666 ac

My, it’s early in the day for this yawnin’ Raccoon! Our next performer, Little Rascal, had a bit of a nap, but he’s awake now, and swingin’ in the Number Three spot with “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”.HNWR_5757 ACS

Now, we all know how chipmunks love to stuff their little furry faces with good eats. Everybody’s favorite Chipmunk, Alvin, reckons he likes dancin’ with the lassies even more. In at Number Two, here he is now with “Cheek To Cheek”.LSP Big Sable 3 Trail_8169 crop ACS Orig

Ah, savin’ the best for last! You know, we Muskrats get a bad rap sometimes, but really we’re just rockin’ along, tryin’ to get along. 4HNWR Muskrat_8917 ANobody says it better than Susie & Sam with our Number One hit, “Muskrat Love”.

Well, that’s it folks, this week’s “Wee Furry Beasties” Countdown.

Next up on “Forest Follies”, we have a mind-boggling tale of three foolish humans (and really, is there any other kind?) Aye, seems they set out one evening to track down a ferocious varmint, and got a wee bit more than they bargained for.

Until then, I’m Fergus Alastair MacRatt, keepin’ it wild on 99.9 KRTR – Critter Radio!CMPSP Muskrat_9717 acs 2