On the Shores of the Inland Sea

Summer morning, Lake Michigan. The path to adventure beckons! Come, spend a day with me. Let us see what treasures we find along the shores of the inland sea.

Silky soft sand gives way to an endless ribbon of pebbles.

Like snowflakes, no two pebbles are alike. Each glistening gem shines in its own unique light.

Patches of wildflowers flourish in the dune meadows.

In the marsh at the foot of the breakwater, a Great Blue Heron stalks his prey.

Ahhh – lunch!

In these parts, the forests march clear to the edge of the water. Fallen timber abounds, exposed to the wind, waves and sun, weathering into marvelous driftwood tableaus.

What have we here? Critter tracks run like zippers up and down the sand. Tiny tracks mean tiny critters. It’s likely this was made by a bug.

Along the path, grasses dance in the breezes that sweep over the dunes.

Afternoon lengthens into lingering evening. Cocktail hour for bees! For tonight’s drink, we offer the nectar of Russian sage.

The glassy calm waters of the big lake entice the paddler to sea with the offer of a golden sunset.

In the glow of the evening, a sailboat awaits tomorrow’s adventures.

The sun sets on Lake Michigan, an enchanting finish to a delightful summer day spent on the shores of the inland sea.

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.

On Empire Bluff

The old ones say “the journey is the destination,” and many times that is true. There were wonders to be found along the trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes, to be sure. But the destination – oh, my, the destination…

The destination at the end of this trail quickly became my new favorite place in Sleeping Bear: Empire Bluff, a sandy ridge high above Lake Michigan. The path to it snaked through thick forests of beech and maple, ending at a boardwalk along the bluff. 160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4791acsOpenings in the greenery offered a sneak peak of the vistas to come.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4806acsLooking down at Lake Michigan 400 feet below. The variety of hues never cease to amaze me. How many names are there for these shades? Blue, green, turquoise, aquamarine, cerulean, azure, beryl, cobalt, peacock… I don’t think there are nearly enough words to describe the colors of the lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4846acsThe view from the Empire Bluff Overlook. The shoreline stretches north along the Empire Embayment. A sand bar separates South Bar Lake from Lake Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dune itself – or what is left of it after years of wind erosion – is a small dark hill perched on the tip of the sandy bluff in the distance. Offshore to the left, partially obscured by cedar trees, is South Manitou Island.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4895acsEveryone comes for the view. Not everyone pays attention to it. Sometimes I wonder where the next generation of conservationists will come from if kids never get their faces out of their phones, even when in the presence of beauty such as this.

At least some folks are putting their phones to good use. I took cell photos here too, mostly to tease my friends: “I’m on top of the world, and you’re not!”

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4873acsNot all is right with that world up here, but it’s hard to find fault with this loveliness. I was enthralled with the purple flowers that covered the open sandy slopes. I couldn’t resist them, even though I knew them for what they were – a dreaded invasive plant.

Spotted Knapweed, Centaurea stoebe, to be precise. It’s an Eastern European aster that arrived on the West Coast in the 1800s, probably in an alfalfa shipment. In 80 or 90 years, it spread to 26 counties in the Pacific Northwest. 20 years later, it was in 45 of 50 states. A pioneer species, it takes over fields, road sides, sand prairies, anywhere there is open disturbed land. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

But it’s such a pretty nasty

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4834acs2This metallic green sweat bee thought so, too. There are a lot of species of sweat bees all over the world. Which one this is, I have no idea. It was enough to just watch it flashing emerald green in the sun, busily pollinating the invasive plants.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4885acsDriftwood and weathered old logs made for decorative accents among the wildflowers, grasses and small shrubs.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4880acsA pair of Bald Eagles soared over the ridge.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4919acsThe joint was jumping, literally. Grasshoppers abounded. If I got too close, they’d hop a foot or two in the air, and fly away with buzzing wings. In flight, they looked like butterflies. Here’s the Grasshopper King, about to take up his scepter.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4933acsLooking up the hill to the east.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4898acsBeyond the boardwalk, the sandy trail continued along the knife’s edge of the bluff. To the south is Platte Bay. I turned back here, leaving other wonders to be discovered another time.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-4-empire-bluffs_4811acsThat’s the thing about favorite places. They always leave you wanting more.

On The Trail of A Sleeping Bear

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5015acsIf it’s Michigan, it must be Sleeping Bear Dunes.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4997acsEvery summer that I visit Michigan, I try to spend a day in the sprawling Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Every summer I discover a new favorite place.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and Glen Haven.

The Port Oneida Rural Historic District and Platter River Point.

This year it was…

Wait. We have to get there first. In Sleeping Bear Dunes, the journey is the destination. Here are some scenes from the trail.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4734acsGlaciers played a large role in shaping the hills and lakes of the area, depositing deep layers of sand and debris. In this poor soil grows a dense forest of maple and birch. Scattered boulders known as “erratics” were carried here by glaciers from their origins far away.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4776acsAlong the path I look at every fern. Finally, a wood fern I can identify. See the spores along the margins of the frond’s pinnules? It’s a Marginal Wood Fern!

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5049acsOtter Creek.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-2-stocking-drive_4644acsMy new friend is bright-eyed and curious.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4737acs 160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5070acsSunny opening in the woods along the shore of Otter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5059acsOtter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4987acsThe best destinations offer journeys of their own. This path took me to my new favorite place in Sleeping Bear Dunes…

Paddling Michigan

110708_mi-club-mich_5097acsI learned to kayak in Michigan.

I’d spent my adolescence canoeing, but decades had passed, and kayaks were a different craft altogether. So I listened carefully as Betsey showed me how to get into the kayak, and warned me of the dangers of getting broadside to the waves. Then she gave the stern a little push and said “Paddle!”

Faced with deceptively strong one-foot waves and starting to veer dangerously sideways, I did just what she said. One stroke. Hmm, this odd paddle has a blade on the other end too. Let’s try that one. Two strokes. Then three, four, five strokes, and without knowing it I was out beyond the waves, maneuvering the boat like I’d been born to it.

I was a kayaker.

110718_mi-club-mich_5083acsFlash forward five years, and once again I found myself in Michigan, this time with a lot more kayak experience under my belt. I’ve paddled ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both with companions and alone. Heck, I even own my own kayak now. But until this year, my Michigan paddling had been lake-bound: Lost Lake and Hamlin Lake, Lake Michigan.

No more. This year, I finally got out on a Michigan river. Two of them, in fact!

Up first, the Lincoln River. Getting there required a 1½ mile paddle north on Lake Michigan. During which time I realized that I’d left my waterproof point-and-shoot camera behind. Phooey.

150822_mi-lake-michigan-kayak_1934acsI’d tried this trip the year before, but had been turned back by wind and powerful longshore currents. Don’t the clear skies and crystal aquamarine water of this photo from last year fool you. Lake Michigan is not to be trifled with. Underneath that rippled surface was a northward flow as unyielding as any spring tide.

No such drama from the lake this time! This year she was a lamb, lying calm and blue under sunny skies. The trip to the mouth of the Lincoln River took a mere fifteen minutes. Once there, I sought the shelter of some trees. It was getting hot, and the shade was welcome.

160723_mi-lincoln-lake-102454acsAnother happy fifteen minutes took me under a footbridge and into Lincoln Lake. Finally I gave in and dug my cell phone out to take photos. I own two DLSR cameras, four lenses and a waterproof camera, and there I was, using a phone camera.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_102746acsLooking back toward Epworth Heights. My great-grandfather built a house in this Methodist resort a century ago, and my dad and his cousin Sherry spent summers there throughout their boyhoods. I grew up with Dad’s tales of Michigan, and fell in love the first time I set foot in the state. Must be in the blood.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_103728acsTranquil scene along the Lincoln River. I spotted several Great Blue Herons, a couple of Belted Kingfishers and numerous turtles along the shores of white pine, hemlock and birch.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_110150acsThe mouth of the river, with Lake Michigan beyond. A nice day for a paddle, no?

An even bigger adventure awaited a few days later. My cousin Becky, her husband Ron and their friend Mark invited me to go on a day-long canoe trip on the Pere Marquette River.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4094acs Looking over partner Mark’s shoulder, Becky and Ron in the red canoe about to slip around the bend.

Canoeing! I’d lived in canoes as a teenager – I’d paddled, floated, talked, sang, ate and even slept in them. This was familiar as coming back home.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4102acsAnd yet, not so familiar. The rust showed. I was surprised at how awkward canoeing felt. I had always paddled in the stern of a canoe when I was young, so that’s where I asked to be. Poor Mark gamely put up with my out-of-practice (and very different) paddling style for the day. He was generous with his tips and I learned a few things from him. I definitely wasn’t the veteran canoer I used to be.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4116acsOur lunch spot along the Pere Marquette River. The river is lined with white pine, birch, cedar and beech trees, along with wild rice plants. Tiny damselflies were everywhere. We passed a white-tailed deer and her fawn, and two wood ducks, and were in turn passed by a Belted Kingfisher.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4121acsAfter lunch I amused myself looking at the pebbly riverbed. I think there might have been small fossils embedded in at least one of these rocks.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4126acsThen I remembered my camera is waterproof. I’ve always wanted to try an above-the-water/ below-the-water split shot. The rapidly moving water makes for an unusual boundary.

When we got back on the river after lunch, Mark took over in the stern. I spent the rest of the trip wondering where to put my feet. There is NO space in the front of a canoe. Now I am quite sure that I’ve never paddled in the bow before in my life.

With experienced Brother Mark at the helm, I had time to do a little more photography…

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4148acs…And sit back and soak in a beautiful day paddling on a wild Michigan river.

Searching for Peace

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end…

 140703_MI Point Betsie Lighthouse_0653acsWar. Terrorism. Murder. Violence.

2015 was a banner year for mankind to be cruel to one another. I have been growing more cynical with the years, but it’s hard now to retain any faith in the wisdom and goodness of humanity.

Abroad, terrorists are slaughtering hundreds in the name of a religion their so-called “beliefs” don’t resemble in the slightest. On the home front, politicians vying for the highest office in the land spew hatred, fear and humiliation in the pursuit of attention and power. It’s enough to make a nature girl weep.

Trail time offer a respite from the cacophony. Walking along a peaceful lake or thunderous surf, watching the infinite variety of critters going about their daily lives… All serve to remind me that man is but one of the species sharing this planet. To the bufflehead ducks swimming by, I am of no consequence. Somehow that soothes my soul.

But what in nature can restore my faith in the human species?

…It is here we must begin to seek the wisdom of the children
And the graceful way of flowers in the wind.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8925acs Art!

Man’s need to create beauty reminds me there’s a flip side to the boorishness and hatred. Even far from paint brushes and sculptor’s tools, the artistic hand of man can be found.

140503_Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6088aSometimes it’s a small garden statue placed just so among the flowers in the woods.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8942acsSometimes on my meanderings, I come across cairns, these small stacks of stones. Cairns originally functioned as directional signals on trails, but have been raised to an art form by creative wanderers.

140124_Bartams Bridge Guardian_0288acsOnce I came across a humorous figure perched on a bridge, placed there just for the amusement of others. And in its serendipity, I am reminded of our sense of community, our need to comfort and cheer one another.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0617acsAt Point Betsie in Michigan, the entire beach is covered with a wondrous variety of weatherworn cobble. Perfect for creating art.

Seeing these works of trail art reminds me of humanity’s love for beauty, and gives me hope that our race may one day put behind us cruelty and hate.

And the song that I am singing is a prayer to non-believers,
Come and stand beside us we can find a better way.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0651acsLyrics to “Rhymes and Reasons” by John Denver.

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.