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.

Last Call

140702_MI Sunset 2_0416aThe sun is slowly setting on summer. The Fourth of July feels like yesterday. Now it is Labor Day, and autumn awaits.

One last glance at this summer’s Michigan memories.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0223acsSand cliffs along Lake Michigan.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0159acsKingfisher with fish.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9945aFlowers in Buttersville Park, south of Ludington’s harbor.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0242acsBusy bee.

MI 3 Buttersville Beach_0246acs50 shades of green.

MI US-31 Overlook_9332acsBarn in the mist.

MI US-31 Overlook_9319aUS-31 overlook on a drizzly evening.

140702_MI Sunset 2_0414acsSunset from the backyard.

140702_MI Sunset 2_0483aLake Michigan on fire.

140701_MI Sunset 1_9913aThe lights of Epworth Heights.

140701_MI Sunset 1_9910acsClub Mich at twilight. Time to bid farewell.

Sweet dreams!

Up North

140703_MI 1 SLBE Platte River_0724acsUp North: more than a location, it’s a distinctly Michigan state of mind. At once relaxed and adventurous, and in tune with the natural beauty of the land.

140703_MI 3 Leland_0873acsNo time in Michigan would be complete without a road trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the beating heart of Up North.

This year, however, I expanded my northern Michigan horizons beyond Sleeping Bear.

I traveled the scenic byway of M-22 from Manistee to Leland, covering 76 miles of its 116-mile length.

Just south of Leland, I crossed the 45th parallel, which I can say without doubt is the farthest north I have ever been.

140703_MI 3 Leland_0843aAlong the mouth of the Leland River lies Fishtown, a collection of preserved rustic fishing shanties. Most now house quaint shops, but Fishtown remains an active working waterfront. The weathered walls of these shanties have withstood many years of Michigan’s brutally harsh winters, and they wear their tenacity proudly.

140703_MI 3 Leland_0845acsThe Janice Sue is one of two vintage fish tugs still actively working among more modern vessels, while serving as a symbol of the village’s fishing heritage.

140703_MI 1 SLBE Platte River_0712acsThe main attraction Up North is Sleeping Bear Dunes. My first stop was the Platte River, just north of Point Betsie in the southern end of the National Lakeshore. Doesn’t this look like fun? These canoeists are close to the end of their journey, at the mouth of the river where it joins Lake Michigan.

140703_MI 5 SLBE Alligator Hill_0982acsThere’s a lot of ground to cover Up North, and lots to see. My legs needed stretching after all that driving, and the Alligator Hill Trail fit the bill perfectly.

Sunflowers graced the small meadow at the trail head, and small bugs graced the sunflowers.

140703_MI 5 SLBE Alligator Hill_0989acsEarly on, the trail wound through birches and white pines, underlain with a carpet of ferns. As the path climbed the hill, the forest grew darker and deeper, with beech and maple trees replacing the birches and pines.

140703_MI 5 SLBE Alligator Hill_1031aAt the top of the hill, the payoff: a stunning view of Lake Michigan. Looking south, with North Manitou Island on the horizon.

140703_MI 5 SLBE Alligator Hill_1030aLooking north, Up North

FUN FACT: Lake Michigan is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world, and the only one of the five Great Lakes that lies entirely within the United States. Its freshwater sand dunes, some of which are in Sleeping Bear, are the largest in the world.

140703_MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida_0942acsA pastoral scene in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

140703_MI 6 Arcadia Bluff_1059acsWith daylight waning, it was time to push on towards home.

A roadside sign said “Scenic Overlook”, so I stopped to overlook the scenery. I always do what I’m told.

Wow. This is Arcadia Bluff. What a view.

There are steps that scale the bluff, with landings every so often for rest and reflection. I climbed every one of those steps, and was glad I did.

At the top, I met a man who, having made the trek, was in no hurry to leave. He’d brought a chair and a beverage, and had been perched there for over an hour, happily smoking a cigar, chatting with travelers and watching the sun set. Now that’s the life. Laid back and soaking up the wonders of Michigan.

Up North. It’s more than a location; it’s a state of mind.

140703_MI 6 Arcadia Bluff_1055acs

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.

The Forest Primeval

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9078acsNo cathedral built by man could match the majesty of this forest sanctuary.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9082aRugged russet trunks rise straight and true to the arched ceiling of deep verdant green.

All is hushed but for the small rustlings of squirrel and chipmunk congregants below, and the whisperings of the wind in the pines that tower above.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9104aThe floor is laid, not with stone, but lush ferns and wildflowers. Where some old giant has fallen, light streams through the canopy as through stained glass. Porcupines, pine martens and bears have all walked the aisles of this forest older than time.

The air is still, the mood solemn, the spirit mysterious, eerie, primeval.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9101aOnce upon a time, pine forests covered 10 million acres of the North Country. Now only small remnants remain. This 49 acre old growth white pine forest endures at Hartwick Pines State Park in Michigan.

The pines here are thought to be over 300 years old, stand 120 feet or more, and may reach four feet in diameter at breast height. Eastern hemlocks and red pines attend these kings. Below them is a shaded understory so dark, it seems eternally twilight.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9116aAt the edges, where maples and beeches mingle with the pines, rests a small chapel.

A church within a church.

Quaint and cozy, yet somehow superfluous.

Are not the pines themselves enough to inspire reverence in such a setting?

Must people seek the Creator within walls while all of Creation stands without?

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9214sStep from the forest cathedral, and other mysteries beckon the soul.

 

 

This dirt road, for instance.

Don’t you want to know what’s around the next bend?

Let’s see what we can find.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9134aThe Au Sable River meanders its way through wetlands and woods, singing a soft hymn as it goes.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9173aTwo very different dragonflies share a pew.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9185acsA Northern Crescent butterfly preaches from a sunflower lectern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9211a

A choir of brightly cloaked angels.

 

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9245acsGlory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Glory Lake reflects the glory of northern Michigan in the colors of azure sky, cobalt water, and emerald pines. At the top of a tall tree nearby perches an Osprey, looking for prey.

Glory Lake, and its sister, Bright Lake, are kettle ponds formed during Michigan’s glacier period. Ice blocks that broke off from the glaciers formed depressions that filled with water after the glaciers retreated.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9294acsA trail leads from the ponds into a diverse woodland.

Besides the aspen at left, there are white, red and jack pines.

Spruce, hemlock, and cedar.

Beech, maple and oak trees.

Shrubs, ferns, wildflowers, and a potpourri of plants are also abundant.

It’s a botanist’s dream.

 

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9286a

Behold! – Lycopodium!

These are club mosses, but don’t be fooled by that name. They are not true mosses at all, but vascular plants.

Like teeny tiny Christmas trees a few inches high, they bring joy to those who spot them.

These little plants are much favored by the true of heart.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9281aAt trail’s end, a quiet spot for contemplation. From towering pine trees to miniscule club mosses, ferocious dragonflies to gentle butterflies, the mysteries of the land inspire reverence and wonder.

May Nature’s blessings be with you all. Go in peace.