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A trip to the AuTrain River down from the power plant by the Falls to do a special video for a special woman on her special Day. We planned ahead, anticipating the black fly situation, so we recorded it a week ago figuring (hoping) we'd beat the black flies. Well, we didn't but then that makes this video more authentic! It does point out why the Schmeck family went to AuTrain for the month of August and not in the spring. No matter the month, this is a beautiful place with great memories for Steve and his sister Nancy. And we enjoyed making the video, so, Happy Birthday Nancy!
LINK to video, or click on photo.
May 25, 2021 -- Apple Blossom Time!
They don't seem to care if it is hot or cold, wet or dry, a 'normal' year or a record year, when it's time it's time -- they bloom, and almost always with great enthusiasm. To be sure, a few do take the year off, while others are so full of blooms you can't see any of their leaves (usually the crabapples like the showy one in the photo). There are young trees trying out their first few buds and older siblings taking a middle road. If all goes well it looks like it will be a very good apple year.
The annual carpeting of the forest with beautiful white flowered green leafed Trilliums (and their companions the wild leeks) is a spring delight that always amazes us. I remember that first summer, more than 40 years ago, our first experience with this phenomena. It was (and still is) pure magic. The blooms are at their peak right now so we decided a song among the flowers would be just the thing. And a good setting for "A Satisfied Mind". Click on the photo or HERE to link to the YouTube video.
May 18, 2021 -- First Asparagus
It's a constant stream of Firsts and Welcome Back's this time of year - birds, plants, bugs, weather - an exciting time of year. Every moment is new, a lot of fun. And the first asparagus shoots are a very welcome and delicious return. This year they've been able to grow without the usual late spring freeze since our last cold night was May 12 (22 degrees) and with this ongoing very warm weather we're now getting I don't expect another. Grow on asparagus!
May 10, 2021 -- Appreciating Windbreaks
We've had a stretch of pretty strong north winds but if one finds a place out of the wind it can be almost warm. A few of the plants from the greenhouse have ventured outside to start getting used to the outdoor environment, while their less hardy friends stay inside because they don't think upper 40's is that warm. But those days are coming and soon they'll all be out basking in the fresh air. Meantime the brave early ones find it quite cozy on the south side of the wood shed where they can ignore that north wind.
The plants aren't the only ones to appreciate a nice wind-break. Lilli found herself a nice new spot to sit and survey her kingdom. She sat there like that for quite some time before deciding all was well and she might as well head on in for her afternoon siesta. Or maybe she just needed a break from all that intense spring green.
May 5, 2021 -- Bruno's Run Full Circle
It's interesting how our criteria changes with the seasons, and conditions, and what we consider when planning our days. We knew we wanted to walk the entire Bruno's Run Trail, about 11 miles, and wanted it warm enough to be able to enjoy our breaks. But also, being May and knowing the area has plenty of water and bogs, we needed to go before "they" arrived. No doubts, today was the day. Low 40's, brisk cold north wind (well, at some point you have to decide that's OK or you'd never go anywhere), mostly sunny (hurray!), with forecast temperature heading for 50. Ideal. We put all other plans aside and gathered our gear.
We had done three pieces of the trail in December, January, and March, and today we'd connect them all. With no snow those we had walked before would feel quite different. The closest trailhead was at Widewaters so we began there going counter-clockwise, along the beautiful Indian River, across Hwy 13, and up along the ridges. We enjoyed the differences between this and our last walk in snow and about ten degrees colder. Though one is in the woods the entire way around it is so varied and interesting, with sections of conifers, predominantly hemlock, then in and out of fairly thin hardwood stands, the large dead beech and other trees falling and leaving room for new generations and species. Ridges and bogs; river, creeks and lakes and more lakes; the trail winds up and down, around and between, over and through. And now there was occasional bird song to brighten the day.
We knew we'd be coming on soon to that special lunch spot of winter's walk but it still surprised us, coming around the corner, and suddenly there was that small lake - Dipper Lake - and the bench. It was too early for lunch but we did stop to admire the Lake, soaking up the sun, enjoying a snack. But this is a windy spot so we didn't stay long. It was a day of much changing of layers due to being in and out of the cold wind, but comfortably so and there was more than one remark made that this was such a perfect day. The sun overhead coming through the trees was wonderful.
The south east section was new ground for us, along Wedge Lake, mostly looking down on it, coming close to a leg (or would it be a foot?) of McKeever Lake, and bogs and wetlands. Along here was the only significant wet section we ran into, and thankfully we were able to get across without issue thanks to a few small dead trees (with great appreciation to whoever put them there) and a handy walking stick. This time I let steady Steve go first, but I made it, too. There is the beginning of a board-walk bridge under the water. Guess it needs to be raised up a bit.
When stepping onto the small bridge (it did rise up in the center to be over the water) a small frog dashed for cover in the water, then another one followed. There was plenty of hiding places, the clear low water was incredibly full of plants and brush and bog-stuff, a whole world. Then Steve spied something interesting and very different -- frog eggs! Several clumps of them. We didn't know if they'd show in a photo with the strong reflections of the trees in the water but there they are. Much prettier in person though.
Soon we were at the Deer Creek bridge where we had turned around from our north-northeast walk in December starting from Pete's Lake. This time with no snow we sat on the small boardwalk lead to the bridge to eat our Orzo-ghetti and PB&J lunch, warm enough that we chose shade. It felt good to take off shoes and socks, eat our lunch, lounging with plenty of just emerging plants to point out to each other, some we recognized, some not. And, thus energetically occupied, we had contact with our first, and only, other hikers - a young couple with a large, nervous - I don't want to go by those people - dog. We quickly offered to get up and move off the side of the boardwalk but they said no, we'll just go over here, being the other side which thankfully was dry enough. They encouraged the dog with some treats and she did make it by, with pets and good-dogs while we just talked calmly with the dog's humans. They were from Lansing and the semester just ended (I'm assuming college) and they just wanted to get out of the city so came up here. We were glad it was great weather for them, and not a busy time on this popular biking and hiking trail for the dog's sake.
When they were gone we re-assembled and got ourselves afoot. I checked out how high the bridge was above the creek, wondering if one could cool one's toes in warmer weather. Close, but slightly longer legs would be needed, and it wasn't exactly comfortable seating on the edge of the side-board. Steve spotted a small fish.
So off we headed up the trail. This part is the section of Lakes, the trail running down along then up and away, mostly near McKeever and Grassy, farther from Pete's. It would be fun to bring the kayaks to explore any, or all, of them. They are all large enough and interesting enough for a fun day. Probably later in the summer though as we had seen the first black flies of the season while eating lunch. That time was arriving. But not yet and we remarked once again what a beautiful perfect day this was.
The day warmed, the trail showed signs of recent maintenance and grooming with many blue trail-marker diamonds as it passed by and near Pete's Lake Campground. We considered pocketing a few of those plentiful markers to put up here and there on the 2/3 of the unmarked sections of the trail, but we didn't, of course. In the non-snow months the trail is pretty obvious with few questionable spots. But in the snow you have to hope someone who knows where the trail is has gone on before. But today it was an easy-to-follow walk. We crossed an access road then Hwy 13 to the Moccasin Lake turnout and trailhead. The one where we couldn't find the trail east two months ago in the deep snow. Now it was obvious - right across the south entrance to the turn-out. We had been looking across the north entrance, between those two short posts which usually indicates here is the trail for hikers (being too close together for vehicles), but not this time. But we very much appreciate having the trail at all, and this turn-out on Hwy-13 with outhouse is especially appreciated by us and very many other people being a stopping point for travelers, snowmobile/ATVers, fisherfolk, bikers, and hikers. It's also a beautiful little Lake.
On down the trail, along Moccasin Lake, happy to turn off into the woods and out of the wind, along the straight historic rail-bed and the interesting plaquard site-spot. This is a very much-trod part of the trail so exposed roots keeps one on one's toes. We decided to stop and eat dinner (leftovers) at the small bridge across a narrow spot where the Indian River flows from Fish Lake into the widewaters section, a very relaxing spot with its own early black fly scouts to remind us that it's May. But early and peaceful. It won't be long and the campground will be open and full of vacationers, the road full of cars and campers and boats of all kinds, birds and bugs in the air and smaller critters active on the ground. It's a great interim right now. We were so happy we took the day for a hike.
A somewhat muddy walk along the River and we were back to the car, and home before Lilli could wonder how late supper was going to be.
April 29, 2021 -- Early Harvests
This is the time of the year that a few humble plants get a lot of attention from me. As the winter crops in the greenhouse fade or are eaten away I'm anxious for fresh outside greens. It is early yet for most garden plants, temperatures below freezing still common, so I doubly appreciate these hardy souls. Besides being welcome edibles these plants are also easy, independent, and reliable. And they don't need to be planted each year, or at all, by me. They do just fine on their own.
The one I make the most use of, both now and again in the late fall, is Garden Sorrel, a tasty leafy edible perennial.
It's a sour (oxalic acid) leaf, though I guess lemony or zesty might sound better, and is appreciated for extra salad greens. It adds a bit of zing and is good mixed with milder lettuce, which is often in short supply right now. It works as a cooked green, too, though I don't use it that way very often. It is very similar in taste to wild Sorrel (which we have in plentiful supply) but much larger leaves and so much easier and more convenient to harvest. Right now the leaves are small since they've just started growing, and this human keeps picking them, but it won't be long before they are 4-6" and well outpacing my harvests. They thrive in a garden plot but a few years ago I dug a clump into the orchard "lawn" between an apple and a gooseberry and it is growing just fine there, companioning well with the grass.
Some years there is Spinach in the garden that has overwintered well without being eaten by someone other than me. This year I have two plants which survived and are re-growing nicely, the fresh leaves appreciated. But they don't go far, and it's hard to decide whether to use them in luncheon salad or in dinner. There is still dried spinach to use but right now I'm looking for fresh, so I turn to other growing green things. While other crops may be in short supply, there is one we have in abundance -- Leeks! They don't take the place of spinach but they do add a nice mild flavor to a meal and I often harvest a half dozen or so leaves to add to what else I have. Though the south and east woods are carpeted with leeks we didn't used to have many near the house. But I transplanted a couple clumps under the wild apple near the shop and they apparently love the site, spreading and providing easy harvest. There are also clumps growing here and there, wild-planted. I don't make use of the bulbs though they certainly are edible. They're a little small, fussy and pungent for my taste. Onion are easier. But when the stored onions run out and the new ones not ready yet, then leeks are a readily available option.
Chives are pervasive, some might say invasive, on our homestead and literally on our home since we planted it there when we first buried the roof and it has thrived ever since. Actually, it thrives about anywhere. I long ago stopped growing it in the garden and let it grow wherever it wants. Though the young chives are a bit thin yet they are already giving our salads a bit more green and a light chivy flavor. And it won't be long before they will also be providing beautiful lavender flowers. What a cheery plant.
We have plenty of dandelions and there are always some nice plants in the garden, in spite of the trowel-wielding-gardener. I occasionally cut up some leaves to add to dinner greens, probably more because it seems like one should than because they add much. But mostly I leave them to flower for the bees. One has to admire their hardy tenacity though. I like having them around.
Long ago I planted some Johnny Jump Ups in my garden, not realizing how prolifically self seeding they are. Decades later they still pop up to be, mostly, weeded out. But I let some go. They're so persistently cheerful. They are flowering already, before even the dandelions. Though I seldom pick the flowers for our own salads I've added them as a colorful garnish to a potluck dish. But I do dry some for my mixed herb tea. They're quite mild flavored but they add a nice color touch, especially mixed with white and yellow chamomile flowers. Mostly I share them with the bees and just enjoy their easy flowering.
Now rhubarb isn't destined for the lunch or dinner meal, and the stalks aren't near large enough to harvest yet, but it won't be long. And spring is when we really enjoy that flavor, cooked with (plenty of) brown sugar or maple syrup and mixed with last fall's canned applesauce -- mmmm, I can taste it already! It's fresh and tart and juicy, and at least a few bites of the raw stalk is a necessary spring ritual. Rhubarb is also about the very first edible that starts growing when the snow has receded, then I know Spring is coming.
Oh yes, LilliB reminds me, I almost forgot a most important one. Generally the fenced garden is of no particular interest to her, but this time of year she often leads me to the gate when she is out and about and I start heading that way. There are rituals to follow. We go in and head straight for ... the Catnip, of course. Well, a bird or bug, or something might distract for a few moments, but the destination is pre-determined. Being scritched and rubbed and petted while munching a Catnip snack -- ahhhh, life is good. Then off she goes to check out all the other so interesting spots that the garden and orchard has to offer. But when I leave, she leaves. It's time to go back to the shop and harass the chipmunk.
April 25, 2020 -- Walking the Skating Loops at Rapid River Ski Trail
With a stretch of rain/snow/sleet days forecast (you have to love the diversity of spring weather!) today was the last day to get in a hike before those indoor days started. We'd had a number of decent outdoor homestead work days which felt good so were in the mood to take the day off for a hike. The whole Bruno's Run trail had been in our minds but when the day arrived with temps in the 30's and a very brisk north wind we decided to save that for a nicer more leisurely day. When we'd been on the Rapid River Ski Trail in December it had been well wooded with wind-blocking conifers, just right for this day, so back to that trail we would go. It was sunny but still cool in the morning so we did a bit of shopping in Escanaba while the day warmed up some. It wasn't exactly warm at about 40 degrees but that was a lot warmer than our previous trip here and we now had our clothing systems pretty well worked out. The trick is to wear enough to be warm at the start (or the end if you are still out when the sun and the temperatures go down) yet have enough room in your pack to stuff in jackets, mitten, hats when it warms up. We had both sun and hill climbs to warm us and gusty north wind to keep us cool. What more could one ask for!
We had done the very nice B Loop last time so decided to check out the Ski Skating Loops this time. We knew there would be some low spots but hoped the wider skating loops might allow for easier walk-arounds. Plus it would be side-by-side walking most of the way which we enjoy. We'd had a bit of snow on the ground at home and there was some here, too, but it was minor. So we headed out on purple Easy Loop A (a nice gentle way to start and end a hike) to get to red Skating Loop S1which was in the same central section as our previous walk. The terrain was similar with beautiful conifer woods and hilly sandy high ridges amongst the bright green wetlands swamps and lowlands. This section is designated "moderate" but they are not overstating the ups and down with their loopy symbol. One minute you'd be looking down, down at the low area below, then the next you are down there looking up. As the sun was mostly overhead and the trees mostly blocking the bulk of the wind we ended up with cold weather jackets in our packs and much modifying of other layers. It really was a beautiful day for a hike and a beautiful area. We did run across, or I should say "very carefully skirted" a few wet sections but got by with only minor wet feet. The bogs were wet and well thawed now.
At the junction area of the central S1-B (red and gold) and S2-D southern (green and blue) trails we headed into new territory onto Skating Loop 2. We were surprised to meet a bicyclist since this isn't much of a biking trail with the steep and very sandy hills. But she said she had skied the area so was familiar with it, and she walked the steepest grades. Even the central area isn't for casual walkers but this farthest section has a "most difficult" jaggy peaked up/down sign, and the various hills have names such as Yahoo!, Holy Wah!, High Rise, Coronary Climb. And they aren't exaggerating! The ridges are high and the wetlands low, and wet, and beautiful. We refrained from taking more photos of the bogs (see Days River hikes) but did try to take one looking down into the lowlands from a ridge, but it is hard to get the scale in a photo. The best thing is for you to walk it and see for yourself. Well worth it!
The bicyclist had gone on ahead of us but soon we met her coming back. She said there was a wet part up ahead that she didn't think she could ride her bike through but maybe we could find a way around. And sure enough, a short ways ahead we found ourselves at the top of a steep sandy slope looking down on a nice little pond at the bottom, with generous wet bogs on either side. Definitely a "wet" patch. Mmmm. Well, we'd traversed wetlands before so down we went, heels dug into the soft sand, to where the trail disappeared into the water. It didn't look too promising, wet bog moss as far as we could see, but maybe some of those hummocks and bumps in the bog were solid. I went first (Steve's big on sending the light-weight canary first). Nope, not solid. That one either. There's a tree mound - very slippery, and wet. So I continued, stepping carefully, looking for possible dry footing though my feet were definitely not dry by now, going for the shallowest wet, hanging on to the small conifers, trying not to slip into something deeper. I made it to the other side to find Steve still at beginning, doing something. He was teetering on a high (relatively speaking) mound taking off his shoes and socks. Then he made his way around barefoot on (or rather, in) the squishy carpet of beautiful moss. This worked pretty good until the end when what looked like a shallow area turned out to be a calf deep bog moss covered little pond. Oh well. So he ended up with dry shoes and socks but very wet pants and long-johns. While I had wet shoes and socks but dry pants, being a bit luckier in my choices of foot-falls.
The trail went up from there on dry land so we laughed, I took off my shoes and socks, and together we walked barefoot for awhile, enjoying the warm soft sand and pine needle covered path as our feet dried. Then taking a break in the sun Steve put his shoes and socks back on and I went sockless in my wet shoes for awhile so the footbeds could dry a bit before putting on dry socks (we both carry dry socks in our packs), hanging my wet wool socks on the back of my pack. We were glad the weather was mild, and grateful neither of us had fallen full in the bog. We decided, for next time, that the time-honored solution for crossing creeks and streams of taking socks off, shoes on, pants rolled up would have worked better. But we appreciated quick drying synthetic hiking clothes and shoes. We were sorry we hadn't taken a photo of that scenic spot but we weren't going back to do so.
On around S2 we went, or rather up and down we went. It felt good to be out doing something we enjoy and feeling good physically. There came on one bog spot that the trail workers had dug the ground from beside the path, piling it on and raising the trail above water level and on top of a culvert. It was rough and messy yet but very much appreciated. It's not easy to turn a ski trail into a non-snow hiking path through this terrain and we're happy they are doing so. It's such a great place to walk.
After the steep hills of the southern part, then the moderate (relatively speaking) central section, we were back to the Easy A Loop, enjoying the wind-down walk. The sun was going lower and the temperature falling a bit but the wind had been wonderfully moderate on the ground amongst the trees. We especially noticed the plentiful Wintergreen ground cover here, seen throughout the entire area, the smooth leaves shining so bright among the dried pine needles and leaves. It was an eight and half mile walk, more vertical than horizontal, and a thoroughly enjoyable less than 4 hour hike. And we still have D Loop to look forward to, once it has dried out some.
One more thing that makes this a special ski and hiking trail system is the absence of logging. The area is full of impressive large conifers and the lack of logging has allowed the area to settle into a healthy and natural setting. I don't know the history of the area, when the Ski Trail was established or how long it has been since it was logged but it has been awhile. It sure would be nice if the DNR would follow this example at Days River. Meantime, we're happy for what is offered there but doubly impressed with the Forest Service leaving this area free to be while maintaining the trails.
April 18, 2021 -- Beauty on the High Ground
South of our property is a long limestone cliff that we go up to reach the road. You can just see the top of the roof of our small garage in the photo. It is a beautiful and intriguing spot that greets us whenever we go up there, with moss covered limestone blocks full of crooks and crannies and magical openings. We imagine who might be living in there. There have been fox tracks, and chipmunk, squirrel, others, though we've never seen anyone actually go in or out. But maybe whoever lives there doesn't make any tracks.
April 17, 2021 -- Pruning and Growing
A brisk but beautiful day today allowed me to finish pruning the large apple trees inside the orchard/garden fence. It's been a lot of reshaping these past years but they are now all looking good so the pruning isn't as difficult which is nice. They still love to grow branches where I don't want them to be so it's an every year event but enjoyable. I admit, I like getting up close and personal with my trees! While I was making (relatively) smaller cuts with hand pruners, loppers and pruning saw Steve was making big cuts taking out some vigorous white pines near the path to the hangar and cutting back blackberry canes so we can walk by without getting snagged. They do love to grow which is fine, but we like to have some space, too.
And it is a very growing time of year, everything moving and so amazing. The leeks in the woods haven't minded at all the colder weather as they spread their so cheery carpet of green. They go well with the fresh green of the fir trees interspersed in the hardwoods. So many things are coming along - the first Spring Beauties flowering, the Trout Lillies coming up under the protection of the leeks and growing grass, rhubarb making headway in the garden.
The sky is active, too, and not just with clouds. The Cranes are on the move and we had a large flock, maybe 75-100, stop over the night west of here, maybe visiting the locals who have been around for several weeks now. This morning as the day warmed and the thermals began the group took to the sky, vigorously calling to each other, group after group finding a thermal to circle higher, joining others, higher and higher, moving north. I stop and watch until I can't see them any more. Underneath the Cranes, much closer to the ground, soar several large Vultures and as they moved off south one stayed behind off to the north and I realized it was an immature Bald Eagle. The hawks are on the move, too. As I was up on the ladder pruning a shadow went over and I looked up to see a beautiful large white (male) Marsh Hawk* swoop over my head, low over the garden, up and over large apple trees then off east over the woods. You can be sure it was very quiet in the orchard as everyone kept very still. I went back to work, then the Phoebe started with its two note song, the Chickadee pair headed back to check out what they could glean from the compost pile, and the Bluebird flew back up onto the tail of the windmill, hanging on tight as it turned in the wind. It was a great day to be outside on the homestead.
* Since I didn't remember which Marsh Hawk, male or female, was white (the other is brown) I looked it up, only to find that they changed the name -- our impressive Marsh Hawks are more properly to be called Northern Harriers. Since they did this almost 40 years ago and we've been calling them Marsh Hawks all this time with no problems I guess it won't be of any concern if we continue to call them Marsh Hawks for another 30 or 40 years. They are a beautiful bird/hawk, easily identified with that bright white patch on their rump, and one we enjoy even more now when we don't have chickens.
April 16, 2021 -- Greenhouse Beginnings and a Hiking Day
This past week has seen quite a bit of rain and cold and wind, with a few weather breaks to get us outside now and then. But mostly it's been a good week of working on indoor projects. Steve has made good progress on his redesigned rudder system on his boat and I've enjoyed finishing a number of small projects. And life in the spring greenhouse has begun which is always fun. Most of the winter's plants have been eaten or removed except for one vigorous alyssum that seems determined to fill the space left by her departed neighbors. Or maybe she's just trying to get across the isle to greet the new plantlets on the bench by the window. Quite an amazing creature.
After more than a week without a long walk we were ready to take a day off to hit the trail, and since today was expected to be warmer (mid 40's), almost partly sunny, no rain, and less than gale force winds it was a day for a hike. There was that brisk north wind to contend with so we'd walk in the woods. The previous week of unusually warm weather had spoiled us a bit but we did still remember how to dress for the cold, and we did.
We didn't feel very adventurous and Steve needed a bolt from town so we went for an easy hike at Days River Pathway, this time skipping the extra Skating Loop. The north wind kept us from overheating and the sky cleared to a beautiful clear blue for a time giving us some nice sunshine. It was a beautiful day, with a lot of adding and removing layers with the changes in sun and wind exposure, though nothing too extreme. The wetlands were indeed wet, and no longer frozen. The creeks and river were running a good pace thanks to the recent rains. But the trail was surprisingly dry thanks to the sandy soil, and the snow was gone.
We stopped at the small bridge to admire and enjoy a small falls in the creek made by fallen trees and branches. In the summer I imagined how good it would feel to cool one's feet in the clear water. Today our feet were happy to be in warm socks and shoes!
We walked the whole Pathway again but this time in reverse. It's surprising how different things looked just by going in the opposite direction. Plus one can see the bicyclists (of which there were several) in order to quickly step out of their way rather than having them surprise us from behind. There seemed to be more steeper "ups" going this way which I'm sure the skiers and bicyclists enjoy since it would be "downs" for them. Though I guess the ups and downs all have to even out. We met several other hikers, too. It was nice to see others obviously enjoying the day as much as we were.
We had a lunch in the woods near a pleasant quiet bog, then later took a break by a noisy rush of water over a short dam across Days River where the path goes near, with calm water on one side and rushing swirls of water on the other. We wondered at the history and the reasons for this small cement barrier. [Looked it up when we got home and it was built in 1978 to prevent sea lampreys from heading up river.] This spot is the only large opening on the trail as it crosses a wide power-line clearing and we enjoyed warming up sitting out in the sun amidst rock fill on the hill by the River.
It felt good to be back on the trail and we enjoyed our four hour walk.
April 7, 2021 -- House Cleaning Time
I had on my list of things to do to clean out the birdhouses but hadn't gotten to it. This early spring weather (and a lot of hiking days!) has scattered my schedule . But today when I walked into the orchard I heard a new bird voice, familiar and happily welcome - the bluebirds were back! I didn't see them but I immediately changed my plan, got ladder and tools and went to work cleaning out the birdhouses. We have eight on the fence around the acre orchard/garden, four along the south and center are the domain of the bluebirds and barn swallows, each with their favorites, and the other four varies as to occupants. As I pulled out old nesting materials of the first four I was happy to find apparently successful nests, used and empty, or made but not used. The bluebirds and swallows had a good year.
Our houses are of two designs, the older ones I have to take off the tops, hence the ladder. The newer ones are of better design and one screw allows a side board to be opened from the bottom, hinged at the top. When I got to the 5th box, on the far east fence near a white pine woods, I pulled up the side board (no need to climb the ladder for these) to find a nice pile of grass. Obviously this box had been filled but not used. I put my garden fork in to pull the pile out and instead out jumped a surprised mouse, onto a VERY surprised woman. Down she went (the mouse, not me) and immediately ran back up the fence post and into her nest. I wish I could have taken a photo of her because she was a beautiful beige white footed mouse. Well. I debated, very likely babies were aboard but I didn't really want to house a mouse. So I went and got a bucket and lid, carefully scooped mouse and nest in and moved all to what I thought might be a nice place under a large low on-the-ground fir branch. She, of course, scurried off but hopefully returned to repair and re-establish her nest somewhere else to her liking.
The other three boxes were uneventful. The one by the north fence gate was full of twigs as it often is, the domain of a local wren. The last box is one of the newer ones, down at the northwest corner, not used its first year two years ago. There is more traffic here and near to the woods and more shady so not likely to be as popular. But I had noticed chickadee activity last year and sure enough they had built, and used, a cozy nest full of moss and feathers in this box. Mostly the chickadees nest in the plentiful woods so it will be interesting to see if anyone uses this box this year.
My job done I headed out the gate and as I did I saw the male bluebird, landing briefly on that last nest box before flying back into the woods. I like to think he came out to say Hi and thanks for the house cleaning job.
April 6, 2021 -- Little Presque Isle
A coming rainy spell meant (to us) that this was a day to get in one more hike. It was foggy, mid 40's cool, and there was mention of wind and possible and scattered showers but that was minor. We'd go to Marquette and walk the Little Presque Isle trail along the Lake, starting farther north at the parking lot near the Point and the Isle. The last time we were in that area was many years ago, part of a local Sierra Club clean-up session with many of the wonderful people who had been instrumental in saving this special area from development, allowing us and so many others to enjoy its incredible array of wonders, where almost every step is a "wow" moment.
When we got to Marquette we stopped at Jean Kay Pasties to get lunch, going out as usual to local Presque Isle Park to eat. I'm sure I'm not the only one that gets the two names confused, but Little Presque Isle - LPI - is about 5 miles north. We watched rail cars of ore going out on their long, tall dock to await a freighter to take their load. It was really warm in town, 60 degrees, but cooler here with the wind off the water.
As we drove north to LPI the temperature slowly dropped until it was back where we started - mid 40's. I replaced layers I'd taken off in town. We were the only car in the parking lot on this cloudy cool mid-day but soon another car pulled in beside us with three men out for a walk. There would be many more when we returned 5 1/2 hours later. This is a very popular area. Though we were most familiar with the trail along the Lake (it's also part of the North Country Trail so no bikes) this special recreation/natural area is about 430 acres, including Harlow Lake, Wetmore Creek, Hogback Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and numerous trails and special and historical sites. There just anything like it anywhere else.
Definitely different than any of our other hikes, in a big way. This is an incredibly scenic "every step is a photo op" walk. The challenge was to gaze and marvel at the views without stopping every few minutes, while at the same time keeping careful eye on the trail, stepping carefully and deliberately up and down, over and around the abundance of roots and rocks. Cool and foggy near the Lake, warmer inland, we added and removed and added layers as we went. The Isle of Little Presque Isle name disappeared and reappeared in the mist.
The cliffs along the Lake are interspersed with magical small coves of beaches, some accessible, some not. The sound of the waves pounding against shoreline changed as walked along from one to the other. There is no boring spot along this trail.
At the southern end we chose to turn west inland, continuing on up (emphasis on UP) the North Country Trail, instead of going south up the back of Sugarloaf Mountain which we'd done before. To say this is a rocky section doesn't come near to an adequate description. Sugarloaf may get the most attention but it is only one of many and not the highest (I assume Hogback is). But walking around and up the lesser cousins here is amazing enough. With a magical bog on one side and huge rock on the other, this entrance to the inland rock section of the trail was more than a little special.
We don't normally do much rock scrambling so this was certainly a different kind of trail for us! Up a cut between two huge rock (hills? mountains? outcroppings? I don't know the proper term but they were definitely big and hard and high and impressive) we carefully stepped among the old leaves covering a path littered with rocks of multiple sizes. At that point we both (1) appreciated the good grippy soles of our shoes, (2) will be looking for a summer shoe with similar sturdy grip but a smaller footprint, as in no wide sole to catch on nearby rocks. It was definitely up, and it was great fun, this southern edge of the Hogback Mountain area and farther north the Huron Mountain Range.
We came down briefly, literally and mentally, to cross CR550 then back up we went amongst the big rocks. As the trail went by a particularly inviting smooth rounded rock nearby I called for a break, so we veered off to climb up on top of this wonderful rest spot. I wondered how many hundreds (thousands?) of hikers had sat and rested there before us. Removing shoes and sock we gazed at the incredible views and snacked then stretched out on the amazingly comfortable lounge. The sun came through the haze enough to warm two contented hikers. After a bit voices brought us back to the day as a group of hikers went by below our rock. As they disappeared we re-organized ourselves, tightening shoelaces for the "back down" trip, and down off our rock we went.
The walk back was as wonderful as the first half, seeing different views, different wonderings. We were in no hurry and the entire hike was one of appreciating the moments and the amazing terrain and landscape. We added layers as we came again closer to the wind off the Lake. We met more people, particularly near to the parking lots, as it was now "after work and after school" time. It still wasn't even close to "crowded", just pleasant. The north section along the LPI Point has its own generous landscape of rock to greet walkers coming and going.
The temperature had dropped a few more degrees and I didn't mind getting into a warm car, heading back into the warmer city to do our shopping at the Marquette Food Coop. Home along the fog-bound Lake we pulled into the turn-off on M28 to eat our dinner along side the sound and hidden view of Lake Superior. The fog lifted as we headed inland and we had a pleasant trip home. We'll be back, not only to explore again LPI and some of the othertrails. In particular we want to continue on the NCT south and north to see where it goes. There is no lack of hiking to be done here!
April 5, 2021 -- Indian Lake Pathway
When we walked the local snowmobile trail Saturday we passed by two spots where the Indian Lake Pathway trail crosses, a reminder that we wanted to walk that trail now that the snow was gone, and before mosquito season, since we had guessed that the lower Loop area might be wet. Today we had to go into Manistique so we stopped on our way home to walk the now bare trail.
It was indeed bare of snow (except for a few spots) and the low Loop 1 was indeed wet. In fact we spent as much time finding ways around the marsh and water filled low areas on the trail and surrounding grounds as we did just walking this section. As we remembered (it was only two months ago that we walked this trail in the snow) this is woods thick with young re-growth, and much easier to walk when frozen. It may dry up later in the summer but spring is a time to avoid this Loop. It would be beter to go on the snowmobile/orv two-track to where the Pathway trail crosses and just walk Loops 2 and 3.
But soon we were on the 2nd Loop which is higher, hillier, and with a more complete woods of mixed ages and types. There were even a couple of large, healthy looking live beeches, along with the many young ones doing their best to reforest this once heavy beech woods. We left most of the "trail ponds" behind. It was a beautiful sunny mid-50's day and we enjoyed this section. Since this is a "lightly" managed trail one had to keep alert for rough footing, especially those sticks that jumped up to try to trip you when you stepped on one end. Quite a different walk than the fairly easy snowmobile/ORV two-track. There was a wind but in the heavier woods it was light and we warmed up and shed layers. Just before we got to Loop 3 and the higher terrain we were ready for lunch, spying a creatively shaped cherry tree to stop near. This is also where the Pathway Trail and the snomo-ORV trails run side-by-side for a ways before the hiking trail crosses to head up into higher ground. It was so nice to have it warm enough to enjoy sitting, removing shoes, admiring the woods around us.
We looked forward to the hills and ridges of Loop 3 with its "most difficult" ZZ designation (for skiiers). A less logged, even nicer woods section it was hard to keep an eye on the rough trail while gazing at the forest. We weren't disappointed, this is a real nice trail, a beautiful forest, and some nice views down into lower valleys. It was also much easier walking without a foot or so of snow. Fun to touch base with remembered spots - where we ate lunch, where the intrepid skiier had to dismount to go over a large downed tree, then the tree across the steep down-hill. Plus a few more downed trees. The dead beeches are still falling.
It seemed shorter going back down and back along Loop 3, then 2, stopping to look at the maps at the intersections even though we knew where we were. It's a well marked fairly simple, enjoyable trail. But toward the end of Loop 2 we were back to the wetlands, making our way around mini-(and not so mini) swamps, trying to keep our eye on the not very distinct this time of year trail. Most of the path looked quite different in its spring coat instead of white snow. We ended up taking the north cross path of Loop 1 without knowing it until we found ourselves on the NE leg instead of the SW leg heading back to the parking lot. The wind had picked up and was felt more in this open area, and not exactly warm yet. It was good to get back to firm and dry ground! Plus a warm car. But overall we enjoyed our afternoon re-visit to this nice local Pathway.
April 4, 2021 -- Pear Gets Another Trim
Last year I had decided to cut off one of the three trunks on our ailing tall old seedling rootstock pear, hoping that would help. Well, I'm not sure if it triggered a tremendous attack of fireblight or if that was the result of our record long hot summer, fireblight being something we seldom see here and it loving that kind of weather. One way or another it was a rough year for the pear. But the season ended with some green leaves so it was still alive. Still not knowing the best thing to do I decided to go ahead with my plan to remove the second largest trunk, leaving the healthier and youngest (relatively speaking) north section. My deciding means Steve sawing, of course, which he did with no surprises, dropping the large trunk between windmill and solar panels, and not near any nearby young fruit trees. Actually, the tip didn't come close to anything and it was all without incident, but with a lot of hauling tangly pear brush away. Steve did that while I continued my pruning. Should every orchardist have such an accommodating, and much appreciated, partner! It is with high hopes that I wish our old pear a healthy recovery. I'd sure love to have it stay around for many more decades.
April 3, 2021 -- A Long Walk North-Northeast
Warm weather - light south wind - sunshine. The odd weather pattern continues, with no complaints. We enjoyed working on the homestead yesterday and this day we decided to enjoy a long hike. Not inclined to drive anywhere we walked out our front door north, then east along the local snowmobile trail. Sans snowmobiles, of course, now an ORV two-track. We were on our way by 10:30 and it was already warm in the low 40's, quite unusual for this time of year.
Straight up (more or less) the middle route to the east-west A-Frame gravel road, our usual walk through the red pine plantation then mixed hardwoods (which was our landscape all day). Very gentle and relaxing. As the day warmed up one or two layers came off and into the packs. But it was still April-warm, not summer, and the light wind and shade of the woods kept us from over-heating.
At the gravel road (snowmobile trail in the winter) we thought we'd turn right, walking down the road to paved Thunder Lake Road where the snomobile trail crosses just a little ways north. But this east-west road still had a lot of packed icy/snow, and mud, so we chose to cross and continue on the trail north where we were pretty sure there was a cutoff loop down to Thunder Lake. It was a much nicer trail than walking the road anyway. We found the east cut-off and it did indeed loop -- right back south to the gravel road! But we were now farther east, cutting off some of the walk on the icy-snow. And since we enjoy that north section it was fine, and it wasn't far to Thunder Lake Road.
The snomo trail crosses a ways north but we took a two-track right across which led shortly to a gravel pit. It was getting time for lunch so we just headed off into the woods toward the official snomo track, looking for a convenient downed log for seating. It wasn't too hard to find a nice seat in this beautiful hardwoods and we were soon settled for lunch.
Today we'd stocked up a little more, filling up our new 16 oz Thermous food containers with spaghttiettes, so we dug in and reveled in the pleasing setting and great weather. Then we continued through the woods to the two-track snomobile/ORV trail and headed east.
This is a fairly flat section, much of it (if not all) is along an old narrow-gauge railroad bed. The first couple miles was quite rough with pit-run rocks making some uneasy footing, but the route was through beautiful mixed hardwoods and older red pine plantations. Being mainly an east-west route and having been well packed by snowmobile traffic (this is a popular route) there was still a fair amount of icy-snow patches to traverse or get by on the edges. Then we left the rocks for welcome, and easier walking, dirt/sand through a more recent red pine plantation.
We were in dappled sun/shade most all the way, cool but not cold. It was a wonderfully easy, relaxing walk. None of the ups and downs of the ski trails! We stepped off the trail for one ORV then later for a group of four, mainly couples, all out enjoying the day as we were, each of us in our own way. It was a great day for a ride as it was for a walk.
It was easy to keep going, but at 3 hours out we came to a good turn-around spot -- a major intersection of two trails and a spur over to the Big Spring Inn (a major destination for the ORV crowd). It was only 3 more miles to the Big Springs but we decided we could save that for another day. The Park wasn't open yet anyway. We retraced our steps, heading back, enjoying the trip west as much as the initial trip east.
We stopped for a late-lunch as we neared Thunder Lake Road fairly near where we had stopped initially. This time we chose a spot near the trail in a little patch of young beech trees, their rustling leaves keeping us company while we ate.
We chose the shorter down-the-road route this time, turning off the A-frame road at the first, most eastern, trail heading south towards home. Part way down we met up with an ORV that stopped and we had a nice chat with a neighbor, now retired, out enjoying the day. As we parted and continued our walk home we reminisced about the many times in years past we had met his Dad in these woods, out cruising the logging roads in his jeep.
Five and a half hours since we'd left home, and about 14 miles later, we walked in our door, marveling that we were no more tired than we had been after much shorter walks earlier in the winter. It was such a beautiful day, still sunny and relatively warm. So we dug out our camp chairs, set them in the sun by the woodshed, propped tired feet on stools and relaxed as the sun went down behind the trees. All in all, a really nice day.
April 2-4, 2021 -- Happy April! and Easter Cheers!
March 29, 2021 -- Changeover in the Shop
March spoons are shiny smooth, oiled, photographed, labeled, and added to the winter's inventory on the Spoon Page. All but one of this batch are of apple which really glows. But times are a'changin' in the shop. I hardly recognize it. Tools are sharpened and put away, chips, shavings and sawdust bagged, the floor swept clean, winter's accumulation of miscellaneous this and that have found other homes. And the woodcarver is now waiting for this cold snap to pass so the outer shop will be warmer and he can move out there to start working on his boat. He has a winter's worth of ideas to test out, and a new sail that needs a mast. There may still be ice on the bay, and we can't yet drive down, but boating season is coming.
March 28, 2021 -- The Diversity of March
I think nature particularly enjoys having fun in March. We thought it was beautiful, waking up to the changed landscape. LilliB didn't agree. She stared at it through the window and waited until Steve shoveled the path before going out.
The scene out our back window...
Late wet March snows are nice because you know it will melt soon and you don't have to think much about whether you will work inside or outside today.
March 25, 2021 -- Bare Ground!
What a difference a few weeks can make. We had stopped by Days River a week ago on our way home from Escanaba (and a nice walk around town with friends) to see how the trails were looking - melting but still pretty muddy and quite a bit of ice and packed snow, so not yet. Two days ago, also returning from Esky and a nice long hike around town and through the parks, we stopped to check. Bare ground, though still some icy/snow patches showing. It's quite interesting how our criteria changes with the weather patterns. Today was cloudy, 28 degrees with a light NW wind, but no snow or rain or high winds in the forecast. Great weather for a hike, considering. Surely Days River would be clear enough now and we wanted to "finish" that trail, going all around including the Fifth Loop that we hadn't gotten to in December. The days being much longer now we would have plenty of time. And we felt like going on a longer hike.
After having an unusual stretch of warm weather in the 40's it took a bit of thinking to dress and plan once again for cold. I made and packed a lunch of hot spaghettiettes and we took hot drinks. It did get up above freezing but remained cloudy with that moderate north wind, which we were mostly protected from by the trees. We did get to take off a layer or two now and then but mostly it was pleasantly cool and we thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful pre-bug post-snow season. It was such a treat to walk the trail again with only occasional patches of icy snow. Thanks to the sandy soil the mud was minimal. We had the entire Pathway to ourselves except for a group of boys/young men we passed, carrying fishing poles and gear, obviously disappointed, heading back to the parking lot. When Steve asked how they did he got a mumbled "didn't even make it to the river", at least that's what we think the fellow said. I imagine the trek looked shorter on the map than in reality, and they didn't appear to be into hiking. Hopefully they found an easier accessed site to fish.
This is such an easy trail, just right for a longer stretch but with plenty of interesting ups and downs. As one heads north the woods get more pleasing, from the thoroughly managed, logged, and pruned red pine plantation of the first loop into progressively less logging, older, and more varied woods. It seemed that we kept heading up and up and up, with some downs, of course, looping along ridges through pines, then hardwoods, then mixed conifers, then more mixed woods. The crows pretty much kept us company throughout and we saw one squirrel. We stopped fairly early in the hike for lunch, being hungry and it being quite a while since breakfast, finding a nice downed log seat just off the path. Our spaghettiettes (spaghetti broken up into easier managed small pieces before cooking) were still hot. Re-fueled we hiked on.
The beautiful looping Days River comes close to the trail at several spots in the 2nd and 3rd Loops, running briskly down below, even though there is minimal snow melt to help it along this year. And the bridges over the creeks, now without their mufflers of snow and ice, are always a stop-and-admire highlight. Toward the upper part of Loop 3 we headed down and down into a magical world of bog and swamp with numerous small culverts and fill to keep one above the wet. The water was mostly frozen and the moss an eye catching bright green in a muted brown and gray world. We agreed now was the peak time to admire this section and it shone as a special gem, the moss very much alive.
The trail didn't stay low for long. Soon we were climbing once again, onto and through the really nice woods of the high ground Fourth Loop and onto the farthest north Fifth Loop. This northern part is well worth the walk to get to with such a beautiful woods, impressive large trees, and equally impressive high ground. The east and north part of the section follows the Days River and you can often look down (and it is very much "down") onto the brisk flowing, often fairly wide, incredibly loopy dark river and the narrow flood plain on either side. There are small rapids here and there so the audio adds to the joy of following along the River, especially where it turns in near to the trail. This Fifth Loop makes the Days River Pathway, for us, a particularly special trail.
After we made the turn around the tip and headed away from the River and starting back down the west side of the Pathway we stopped for a break and to finish our lunch. It was so nice to have mild enough temperature (and mild wind) that it was comfortable to take a longer sit-down break, instead of the quick snacks of winter. The spot we chose was apparently a particular crow's chosen territory. He let us know in an admirable array of voices and calls that this was his area and, I think, he (or she) would much prefer we just move on down the trail. So we did.
The west side was as enjoyable as the east. We once again ran into (or I should say, through) the bog area of Loop 3 and that beautiful moss, frozen but very much alive. The photo just doesn't do it justice but we did our best to admire it thoroughly.
Towards the end of the Second Loop the "Skate-Ski Loop" crosses and since we both felt good, though this was our longest walk yet, decided to add this extra couple miles to the hike. Now the entire trail is well marked (with appreciated new additional markers and signs at the previously confusing Fourth/Fifth Loop intersection). But I don't think they planned on hikers walking the Skate Loop, which in the non-snow months is a sandy two-track road through the plantation. It has few markers or signs and has a number of other roads crossing which makes it a bit challenging. Steve had to dig out the compass and get us going back in the right direction. We aren't real sure just where we went off but I'm pretty sure we added some extra steps to that "extra" loop. But we made it back onto the First Loop, back along the beautiful creek, over the bridge and to the parking lot, feeling good and happy for spending a wonderful afternoon, a little less than five hours and 10 to 11 miles, on the Pathway.
March 23, 2021 -- Town Hikes Can be Nice, too - and Finding Little Gems
Last week we walked for a couple of hours around Escanaba with hiking friends, enjoying spending time together and walking their home paths, talking about hikes past and those to come. One doesn't need to be on a woods trail to enjoy a hike, though all of us generally prefer the countryside. On our way home we added to the day by heading down Stonington Peninsula to check out the mile long Bayshore Trail along Little Bay de Noc as part of the Little Bay de Noc Recreation Area. A long name for a small area but it is very nice, including a boat launch and small campground with plenty of large trees and a series of footpaths between. The Bay was still frozen so with a breeze off the water it was rather cool and the trail was still snow/ice covered but we enjoyed an hour down there walking along the shore trail, which nicely separates the wooded camp sites from the marshy shore of the Lake, then around the loops of paths, stopping to read the many historical signs. It was fun to stop and visit this little gem which we'd passed so many times going down 513 to visit friends over the years.
Today we found ourselves in Escanaba again and while our car was getting an oil change we went for a longer hike around town. Although starting on pavement, having a need to stop by Stones deli downtown to get a scone for Steve (and they only had one left! whew, that was close...) and a cup of soup for non-scone-lover me, we soon were down by lakeside Ludington Park and off the sidewalks. For several more hours we walked mostly on ground, enjoying the pleasantly warm (for a cool March day), sunshine, and no snow. Along the park, out and back on the man-made nicely wooded Aronson Island, exploring the docks at the marina, greeting people also enjoying being out and about. We got back to pick up our trusty Prius before they closed having enjoyed a nice long town hike, making the trip a day's highlight instead of just a necessary chore.
March 21, 2021 -- Happy Cat
The snow is receding fast leaving a lot of bare ground to check out and marks to renew. LilliB is thoroughly enjoying the beautiful day and almost dry ground. I'm glad she has her own in-out door!
March 20, 2021 -- Video
A beautiful sunny March day, destined for 50 degrees, and likely strong winds. And a used electric violin that Steve was interested in at the far eastern side of the U.P. A good day for a drive to an area we hadn't been. The violin looked good, we had a very nice visit with the seller, we got to see a different part of the U.P., very different in geology from our hilly central area., and the interesting, and soon to be full of traffic, St. Mary's River.
It was so nice out, especially in the sun and out of the wind. Steve wanted to try out the "new" electric violin (a Yamaha YEV 104 NT) and I brought along my guitar so we looked for a place to play. Between the wind and the snow it was a challenge, but when we stopped on the way home to check on my sister's camp there was our spot. It was warm and less windy in the lee of the building so we decided to try a video. No microphone and lacking needed rosin but it was fun to finally play outside and Steve got to experiment with this rather different fiddle. We chose a song we enjoy, words written in 1955 though the tune is likely older (some say it's an old cajun waltz) called "Before I Met You". LINK
Though hard to distinguish from the snow, there is a pretty, though still ice covered, lake behind us.
March 19, 2021 -- Going South
Going south to avoid the snow is a normal part of life for many in the U.P. so we decided to give it a try. We like winter and wouldn't choose to live where there was no snow but this in-between time is challenging for hiking. The snow is melting (very fast this year) but the packed paths are still pretty much covered with hard to walk slush, ice, or packed snow. So we headed south (about 26 miles) to Fayette State Park on the Garden Peninsula. We were pretty sure the snow would be gone there and (for the most part) it was. What a wonderful treat to simply walk on bare ground. A bit muddy in places (the snow melt was recent) but one could quite easily walk the dryer edges. Or not. A little mud was a small price to pay for easy footing.
We'd been to Fayette numerous times but mostly for the annual Heritage Day in August. In the early years, for many years, we set up our temporary shop on the site of the old Carpenter Shop next to the Blacksmith building and demonstrated using traditional tools, making spoons and other items. The blacksmith would be working on the other side of the building. There was music and other events and demonstrations and it was a great time. But funding cuts came until only the blacksmith was left. We did play traditional music there for several years, also enjoying that. And Steve has an even longer history having visited and explored the town-site with his sister, Nancy, in the early 50's back before much renovation had been done.
Our non-working trips have always been with company, enjoying the town-site with them but nothing more. Today however, was our day to discover the entire park. They have made a very nice layout of trails throughout the Park for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and walking in the summer for a total of about 5 miles. That was our focus this trip and we enjoyed all of the various loops and sections, starting on the upper cliff trail along the harbor, from thick cedar to thin hardwoods, then thicker woods inland. The forest is naturally fairly sparse, especially near the cliff face, due to the very shallow soil atop limestone which can only support so much vegetation. It is common to see trees tipped over with their wide but shallow root system pulled out of the soil. The tree types are quite different than our own maple dominated woods with mostly oak here and some nice live beech which is always a happy occurrence. Maybe they have survived because they are a scattered species here.
With a good breeze coming across the still frozen water it was rather cool until we got inland. Then with clear sunshine coming through the leafless hardwoods we relished warmth! For lunch we found a nice large old birch log for very comfortable seating, in the sun, near a beautiful live large beech. It was hard to get moving when we were done! But there was more to explore. We walked the north trails and the south trails, all on high ground, reveling in the beauty and the hiking, until finally heading down to the campground by the water.
South of the campground is a very nice and well maintained park-within-the-Park, with a pavilion and playground equipment, picnic tables and restrooms. And one of the restrooms was open! This is a rare occurrence not only this time of year but this unusual "everything closed" year. The DNR gets extra stars for that. We sat in the sun on a picnic table and finished our picnic lunch. Then continued on south to the small picturesque old "Fisherman's Cemetery", Fayette's catholic cemetery. A lot of local names on those crosses and headstones.
Back through the campsite, along the road into the town, we walked around the familiar paths, remembering highlights of our past visits, seeing new renovation work, admiring the modern dock complex (nicely done), and to our surprise found an impressive new trash and recycling area. Having picked up a number of beer cans and pop bottles at the south park we deposited them in the appropriate bins, with appreciation, and headed back up to the car. It had been a very enjoyable and relaxing afternoon, with plenty of walking yet at a quite different pace than the usual trail hiking. An additional smile came with a sticky note on our windshield from friends who had pulled in after we had and saw us heading off and down the trail. Unfortunately we didn't meet up with them but it was a friendly greeting to get.
Not feeling like heading for home yet we drove on down to check out the small Sac Bay Park. Since Steve is thinking of taking a trip along the Peninsula in his expedition rowboat this summer he wants to know about good pull-out sites. Back home again we agreed it was a very enjoyable day.
March 15, 2021 -- Winner Apple
One last apple - the winner winter apple. We celebrated a "busy" five days* by enjoying the final apple of the season, fresh from the homestead (root cellar), a Haralson, in pretty good shape, especially considering its age, and very good eating. Won't be another until fall. Store apples just can't compare.
* 13-new moon; 14-time change; 15-ides of March; 16-our real Equinox and St. Urho's Day; 17-St Patrick's Day. Whew. Then a couple days off til Saturday, 20th-official Equinox day.
March 13, 2021 -- Around the Block, plus
It was a great forecast - sunny, high of 52 degrees. Wow! We'd walk the block, maybe take a lunch, go a little farther to find a spot to sit and bask in the sun. The roads would be clear of snow, maybe a bit muddy in spots but it should be good walking and we could leave the boots at the garage and continue on in shoes. It might be a strange pleasure but it's a real one. Well, it was indeed beautifully sunny and it made it up to 40 before we headed out (46 when we got home, according to the thermometer, the one not out in the wind). Maybe we didn't really expect 50's yet, but 40's was nice! The wind amped up a few knots to make sure we didn't expect to be out in shirt sleeves. It was strong enough that as we left the protection of the woods and headed down the road face into it we quickly amended our plan to possible just down the road and back. But we adjusted layers, covered ears and heads more thoroughly, and decided to just keep going. It was a SW wind but after 2 miles when we turned onto the west road there would be a fair amount of woods to give us a break.
The sun shone and we walked on bare ground for three hours (except for that part from house to garage -- still plenty of snow in our valley), and enjoyed the hike. We had occasional breaks from the wind thanks to trees or houses and walked on down Advent Road for an additional mile, as far as that road is plowed, then back. More traffic than usual, being Saturday and a nice day, so we waved at a number of passing cars and talked to the usual array of cattle. There had been a brief lull in the wind, much appreciated, and we found out why as we headed north. Wind change. Now that was unfair! What was supposed to be "wind at our backs" the second half was again wind in our face. Ah well, lots of woods on this road. Around the corner to the east and a bit chilly along those wind-swept pastures. In spite of it not being warm-warm, it was still warmer and we were both a full layer lighter in clothing than we had been all winter.
As we turned for the final north leg home the wind picked up to gale force, at least it felt like it. No ways about it -- it howled. It was a good thing it was in the 40's and not the 20's. Hats and hoods tightened we hunkered down and walked the last half mile into the wind, heads down, looking up occasionally to make sure we didn't run into anything (not that there was anything to run into). It was a relief to get to the garage and the protection of woods. Even more so as we headed down off the hill into our own woods, wind-tension and noise eased, warmth returned, nice to be home. It was a great walk, even counting the wind, over 8 miles and the first almost warm one of the year. We know there will be more.
March 12, 2021 -- Disappearing Paths
How the seasons of hiking change and our idea of "best weather". We've gone from looking for a warmer day to maybe a colder day would be good because the paths might be frozen and more easily walked, maybe without snowshoes. That was my thought for today since it was in the upper 20's. It was, as it has been recently, windy but we both were just going out for a short walk around our own Loops. It was afternoon and the sun had softened the snow quite a bit. Steve headed up to the mailbox on our well packed and still reasonably good path, no snowshoes needed. I headed out to LoopB, also without snowshoes, and found the paths out in the field, which hadn't gotten nearly the traffic as our main path, were in spring break-up mode -- patches of frozen, then soft, some both, not good with snowshoes, not good without, that time of year. There were starting to be some areas where it was easier to walk beside the path. With our lack of snow depth this year the snow melt will be fast.
This obviously will be the end of walking our paths until the snow is gone. We'll be finding bits and pieces of bare ground to walk on before long though -- already have around the house (to LilliB's great delight!). But I figured I'd finish, go on into the woods of LoopB then around to LoopA and back home. No extras today. The wind was cold but the sun was warm and it was good to be out. When I made it into the woods I lost the path. This section is higher ground and not a very dense woods, with a neighbor's farm field to the south. So the sun penetrates quite a bit, melting the snow around the trees, the melt spreading out from there. The snow in the woods was still frozen so I could walk anywhere. I had a nice time wandering around; it really is a pretty woods here.
I headed out into the field to find the path and head on around, back to rough footing but there is still enough snow overall to make it easier to walk on the rough path than slog through the snow since I was a'foot. Short walk was fine today because we plan a longer walk tomorrow on the inviting bare roads of our neighborhood.
March 9, 2021 - Valley Spur and the North Country Trail
The second day of our first real Spring Melt, with temps in the 40's and a stretch of sunny days. The snow was soft and melting and especially in the southern half of the U.P. snow sports season was over (unless there comes a good snowfall, which could easily happen). Even up north things were getting iffy. But on a trip to Marquette we tossed in our snowshoes in case we might be able to get a walk in somewhere. We could have just walked in town but decided to stop at Valley Spur on our way home. Even at home we had enough snow (we had snowshoed all our home trails in the soft snow yesterday to flatten them and with our wide snowshoes it was good walking) so knew the snow-belt VS would have snow.
The parking lot was icy-mushy, there was but one car but there was indeed still snow. We were happy to discover a sign that indicated two snowshoe loops -- the common short Bunny Loop and a longer 2.6 mile long snowshoes-only Snowman Loop. We slushed across the lot, put on our snowshoes and thankfully found the snowpack to be quite walkable. Though the trail was well packed it was flat and not too icy. It was warm enough out to soften the top layer which helped a lot. The trail goes through a very nice mixed, not-logged (at least not for awhile) woods with plenty of elevation changes and a beautiful creek. Whoever laid out the track must have had a good time weaving in and out and around trees of all ages. The one thing that keeps this trail from a five star rating is a very steep downhill section with trees and a sharp curve at the bottom that even in better snow conditions would not, and was not, snowshoe friendly unless one has technical shoes with sturdy crampons and rails which not all snowshoes have. Our classic wood frame laced bearpaws definitely don't! There were a few other uncomfortable steeps downhills as well but the majority of the path was enjoyable to walk with plenty of ups and downs to give one's legs a pretty good workout. Since much of the snowshoe trail is near to the road there is traffic noise but at some point one gets away from that and you can feel lost in the beauty of the woods. Then the trail heads down to wind along near the beautiful Valley Spur Creek. Steve remarked that "Next time we're going to have a creek on our property!". We wondered if we could dig one.
Though hazy/cloudy there was occasional sun and it was an amazing upper 40's. A brisk wind stayed up in the top of the trees so we were plenty warm. We got back to the parking lot after a very nice hour long walk to find the other car's occupants changing footgear after their skiing. They were from downstate and had been making the most, and maybe too much, of their days up here by skiing no matter the conditions. They said this morning was more or less OK but this afternoon was pretty sticky what with the soft snow and beech leaves on the tracks which they said act like little brakes (we could have used some of those on the snowshoe trail!). But they were obviously enjoying the trip and we had a nice chat. We mentioned the North Country Trail which runs through Valley Spur and on across the road and it turned out one of the men had volunteered on the NCT near where he lives. We shared similar experiences, told them how to get to the nearest auto parts store and hardware, wished them well then slogged on across the wet slush, across the road, to check out the NCT. We still had some leg energy left so thought we'd walk a little ways there.
Right next to the trail is a Forest Service road that is a snowmobile trail in the winter. Snow from the entrance to that road/trail had been plowed up blocking the NCT trail. But there was a clear fresh NCT marker visible beyond and we knew the trail was there, or at least had been. It had been ten or fifteen years since we'd been on that trail. We clumsily (in snowshoes) climbed up and over the bank and were disappointed to find no one had walked this beautiful trail section. We had an attachment here as we had spent many hours, many miles, and many muscles those many years ago clearing trail. We couldn't keep up with the work that was needed (it was far too long of a section for two people) but we had marked the trail from Munising to Rock River Road west of AuTrain and felt good about that. Well, we certainly knew this trail and knew how to break trail so off we went.
We immediately felt contentedly at home. We recognized places on the trail. This section of the NCT is simply beautiful through mixed hardwoods and spruce/fir/red pine forest. The snow was settled enough that it was fairly easy walking. After a short distance the trail crosses the Forest Service Road/snowmobile trail then heads down into a low area (which we remembered well). And we happily discovered snowshoe tracks. Folks had apparently been walking down the easy snowmobile trail to get on the NCT here. The tracks were slightly narrower than our bearpaw shoes but the snow was soft enough on the edge to not be a problem. And there had been enough traffic for easy traveling but not so much to make the trail icy. With the top layer of warm-softened snow it was a joy to snowshoe. We walked through the marsh and carefully crossed two small bridges with even narrower snow tops, hoping not to slip off into the water (successfully). The little bridges were nice as I'm pretty sure there were just logs across before. Then back up onto higher ground.
This trail was made by and for hikers. Up and down and around through the hilly terrain and mixed forest we snowshoed, farther than we had planned, and if we had had more time and less tired legs we would have kept going. But at the half hour mark we turned back and made our way along the now even better packed trail to the road as the sun went lower into the trees, enjoying the back track as much as the initial. This trail most definitely gets five stars and more. When the snow is gone we will be back to re-acquaint ourselves with this special trail. Meantime, there is enough snow that there may be some more good snowshoeing opportunities, depending on what the coming rain and more above freezing days does. We did our bit of trail work, too. Or rather Steve did. We had a metal shovel in the car so Steve came back and chopped and lowered that plowbank so the next snowshoers can easily get on and see the trail entrance here.
For being a town day with just a bit of walking planned to stretch our legs we ended up with a two good hikes and ready for a rainy day off tomorrow.
March 8, 2021 -- Inexpensive DIY Custom Drink and Food Container Kozies
Steve has had a neoprene kozie on his favorite insulated stainless steel coffee mug since soon after he bought it. He happened to find a real nice tall one at a thrift store that fit perfectly. It wasn’t for warmth that he wanted it, this particular travel mug does a great job of keeping his coffee hot, but mostly it was for a better fit in our car’s cup holder and to keep it from rattling.
But when we began hiking regularly in the cold weather it soon became obvious that his kozied mug was doing a much better job of keeping his drink hot on the trail than my insulated, but bare, Klean Kanteen water bottle. Up to now I hadn’t been impressed or enticed by his "hot" coffee mug, since my preference is for comfortably room temperature drinks (except for maybe a bit of "quite warm" herb tea in the morning, or after a particularly cold, windy outdoor gig). I decided I needed to up my Kanteen’s insulating factor. Happily those common, inexpensive, ubiquitous, logo’d foam kozies happen to conveniently fit easily our every-day insulated stainless steel Klean Kanteens (Steve has one and I have two). So I soon gathered a supply at the thrift store, picking through the pile for some that weren’t too obnoxious in color or logo, to cozy up the KK’s. Steve’s KK is his secondary drink container (carried inside his pack), while I used both of mine, one in and one out.. When it is colder they both travel inside our packs, being warm being more important than convenience.
The first Kozie conversion was simple -- slip one on the bottom, cut a second to size and slip over the top to settle up against the first. The fit was pretty good on the KK's. Steve wasn’t picky and didn’t much care what color or logo. I fussed a bit about it until I realized all I had to do was turn them inside out -- they were all black on the inside. A couple were much nicer smooth fabric and were made of better foam, but I never found many of those. So I used one nicer smooth one, and one cheaper textured one. All I wanted it to do was keep my drink warm in the cold and I figured that would do. The seams being on the outside did bug me a little though.
The kozied bottle that traveled inside the pack was fine. But I soon discovered a problem with the "current use" one that went into my pack’s stretchy outside pocket. When I shoved the bottle in, the top kozie slipped off, and when I pulled the bottle out, the bottom one came off. This wasn’t an issue with Steve’s tighter one piece cover on his coffee mug. Obviously I needed to unite the top and bottom, and do it with a smooth transition so there would be nothing to catch on the top of the pocket. I thought about tape but didn't think it would work that well. I decided to sew the pieces together.
It took a bit of trial and error, though not as much as most of my projects this winter. But I came up with a fairly easy conversion from cheap can kozie to Sue's-Custom-Insulated-Winter-Water-Bottle/Travel-Mug-Cover. I realize I could simply have purchased some nice neoprene material and saved a bit of work and have a more elegant finished product. But we both like being able to use what we find at the thrift stores; and support their missions at the same time. It's more fun.
So two Klean Kanteens, one travel coffee mug, and one Thermous Funtainer Food container later, I ran out. I had to shop at a different thrift store since I'd wiped out the kozie supply at two others, plus Steve's private stash in the shop (he uses the foam for this and that). But I've now restocked and ready to do our other Funtainer, and maybe the lid, too. We still have some cold weather hiking before warm weather settles in. For DIY instructions click HERE (to go to a longer article on the Hiking--Food & Drink page). It's nice to have a quick and easy project once in awhile.
March 6, 2021 -- A Request for a Baby Spoon
A friend called and said he would like a baby spoon for a coming granddaughter, possibly in time for the baby shower, a week away. There were none in stock, but Steve decided he could do that. And apple would be the choice wood, being smooth, hard (for when said baby is older and has teeth) and a beautiful color. Not having any apple wood on hand he went into the woods and found a tree that was a good candidate. Just in time for the shower he had five spoons for the grandfather to choose from. Then he went on to make a few more.
March 4, 2021 -- A Quick Walk at Days River Pathway, that was the Plan
Since we we'd had a good work-out with yesterday's hike this was a no-hike day. But it was so beautiful out, clear blue, sunny, almost warm and Days River was right on our way home from a trip to Esky. We'd just stop and see how the trails looked. And maybe a quick loop around the snowshoe path would be nice to stretch our legs.
Pulling into the parking lot we got an instant hint at the conditions -- solid ice. We walked (carefully) over to the trail-head and were sure glad we hadn't planned on skiing. The trail was packed smooth and icy. We could easily walk on the ski trails without causing any problems, if we wanted to go skating. The snowshoe trail wasn't much better but at least it was bumpy and there were those stumps here and there to give you an occasional footing. It was just too nice weather to not go for a walk. There was still that cold north wind so we put on our layers and our packs and made our way along the snowshoe trail. I often took to the edges, preferring to hole it in the snow (it wasn't nearly as deep here as up north at Bruno's Run), and I wasn't the first to go that route, but Steve skated and slipped along the trail. It did seem much longer than it used to be! But we decided to make it to the snowmobile trail and maybe that would be better walking.
We did, and it was. We crossed the bridge and headed north up the road-wide trail. Ahhhh. Well, maybe it wasn't quite that good but it was much easier. There had been just enough snowmobile and ATV traffic to leave tracks for reasonable traction. And we were in shoes today instead of firmer boots so it was even more pleasing. It sure wasn't ideal snowmobile conditions but fine for us, and we weren't the first hiker to make use of this wide trail. Just before we got to the trail we saw a fat-tire bike go by (with its rider). The temperature was near to 32 and where the sun hit the packed snow it was just slightly thawed. This made for great walking. We had to slow down for a bit more care in the shade because it was icier but over all it was great. It felt so good to just walk along with normal stride. With the clear blue sky and in and out of the sun, well, we just kept going. And there was enough of that cold north wind to keep us alert. We admitted it would be a little longer than a quick walk.
We came to the first of two small bridges over the winding creek, this one with a small pool of open water on either side as it ran under the roadbed through a large culvert, coming and going beneath the ice and snow covered creek. Stopping to admire it we admitted it was hard to take a good photo though it is such a beautiful sight, the dark water against the white snow. We had taken several photos before. But a great deal of the beauty and attraction was in the sound of the water and that just doesn't come through in a photo. So Steve did a short video, free-hand to see if we could share a bit of that with you. Click on the photo at left (and turn your volume up) to see and hear it. Use your back arrow to return here.
Walking on we crossed the second small creek (this one was completely frozen) and a ways farther it was an hour out and time to turn back. In a way we felt like continuing since the days have gotten longer and more time before dark. But this was already a lot farther than we'd planned so we turned back, enjoying the return trip. Though the sun was often in our eyes the wind was now at our back and it was much warmer. When we got to the turn-off to go back via the Days River Snowshoe path we took a quick glance at that icy trail and continued on down the snowmobile track which conveniently goes right by the parking lot. A quick rough walk to the ice-rink parking lot, carefully stepping to the sun warmed car, and we settled in for the ride home, happy and satisfied with our "little" two hour walk.
March 3, 2021 -- Checking out Bruno's Run
The forecast was for partly cloudy (which we read as Partly Sunny), low 30's and light wind. This would be after a zero degree night which meant the trails would be well frozen. Should be easy to walk. We decided this would be the day for a hike. We could go here, we could go there, it didn't matter, we just wanted to go. Well, the night was indeed cold and there was a little bit of sun now and then, but not much. Temperature pretty steady at 27 degrees and the wind was quite a bit more than "light", and from the north. Still, it was a good day for a hike. It wasn't raining or snowing and no mosquitoes. And to top it off the roads were pretty much clear. For a winter day it was really nice. We decided to head north and walk another piece of Bruno's Run, where there would be only hikers and snowshoers, and likely not many of either. We put our snowshoes in the car, just in case, but planned to hike in boots. This isn't a good trail for the larger wood snowshoes like our old Iverson modified bear paws.
Off we went for an afternoon on the trail, starting at the easily accessed and plowed Moccasin Lake turnout right on Hwy 13. They had more snow up there but we hoped there would be tracks to follow and previous hikers to have packed down the snow. There was one vehicle in the turnout but with an empty snowmobile trailer it was obviously not a hiker. We had planned to head east and go to Pete's Lake where we had begun a previous section of the trail in December. But when we crossed the road and headed up the steep hill on the other side, between the two posts that designated the trail, all we found was deep snow. Someone had walked up there previously but it was soon obvious that they didn't know where the trail was, and neither did we. The Hiawatha National Forest folks aren't big on markers. Well, even if we could figure out where the trail was we weren't going to hike in knee deep snow. We turned back to the car and decided to check out the other direction around Moccasin Lake.
The trail wasn't exactly obvious as a very large bank of snow had been plowed up almost hiding the official "Bruno's Run" sign. But we'd walked this part before so knew the trail, at least the first part. We climbed up and over the bank and found a number of boot and snowshoe prints marking the track. Glad there was a least a partly packed path we followed them down along Moccasin Lake (the blue NW trail section on the above map). We soon found that though it was easier than postholing through deep snow this wasn't going to be an easy trek. There hadn't been much traffic, a few hikers and one snowshoer, so the path was not packed down evenly and it was frozen -- slippery in places, softer in others, uneven, and deep if you slipped off the path. Once again our ankles got a chance to show their stuff.
But this trail is beautiful no matter how the track is. It winds up and down and around through a hilly mostly maple forest. The first part of this section goes along the SE and bottom of Moccasin Lake then off into the woods. It had snowed some since the previous traffic and there was some drifting but the tracks were easy to follow, which was good because it wouldn't have been easy to find the trail otherwise. The Forest Service had marked a couple of spots where one could easily have gone astray which was nice but mostly the trail is unmarked. We prefer not to have too many trail markers but one now and then is helpful, especially in the woods. But we had our intrepid snowshoer to follow. Even when it didn't appear to be the correct way we decided to follow him (turned out it was a trail re-route and he was correct). This fellow didn't have it easy. He was on regular wood-framed shoes, smaller than our bearpaws but still larger than the plastic or metal small shoes one can buy nowdays. Booted hikers naturally make a fairly narrow path in the snow and they had gone on before him. So to follow the path he had to walk with one snowshoe on the traveled trail and one beside it. We saw where he had taken his snowshoes off and tried walking without, but he sunk in quite a bit and apparently decided to go back to the snowshoes. This would have been when the snow was softer. Once, where there was room, he walked alongside the trail for a ways in the deeper snow but before long he was back to the one-on-one-off track.
His wasn't the only snowshoe tracks we saw though. There were quite a few trails and tracks of the large-footed snowshoe hare.
We hadn't seen those anywhere else (except at home). We also saw the usual coyote, fox, rabbit, squirrel and grouse. They add a lot of life to a winter's hike. Because of the more challenging walking we ended up stopping more often to admire a track or a tree, or nothing in particular. As we've found on other trails there were more people tracks early on but just a few later which made the walking even harder. And then, about 45 minutes into walk, even those few turned back. Suddenly it was only the snowshoer -- he was free to shoe at his own pace and his own trail and he sure did. You could feel it in the tracks --freedom! And you could also see that he had long legs and a long natural stride. Steve could stretch out his stride and walk in these snowshoe tracks. But I suddenly found myself with an on-again-off-again uneven rhythm. Up and down, into the deeper snow, onto the snowshoe pack, a few steps one way, a few the other, sliding and slipping, and and not at all gracefully. What a workout. It wasn't all that easy for Steve either. I soon called for a time-out. Then decided to keep going since we were close to our unofficial hour turn-around which wasn't too much longer.
Then we came upon a surprising thing, there, in what seemed like the middle of the forest, was an information placard. This one had been here some time and it was quite interesting; it seemed to fit in.
We knew we had been walking along a short section of an old rail-road spur. They are fairly common in the Upper Peninsula (we have one on our property). They are narrow, fairly straight with minimal elevation changes, and you can see the cuts in hills and filled sections in valleys and lowlands. When you think about the equipment available to build these rail beds at that time, and the many miles made, it is quite impressive. This info-sign told about the rail bed we were walking on -- the Nahma & Northern Rail Line, owned by the Bay de Noquet Company, to move the timber from up here to their mill in Nahma down by Lake Michigan.
You can click on the photo to see a closer readable view (use your back arrow to return here).
We walked on just a bit farther then with a bit of a relief turned back. When walking a track in the snow the return trip is usually easier since your previous tracks will have somewhat packed down the path, especially with two people's four feet. But this was not to be. The snow, though now quite settled, had been soft to begin with and was cold. The earlier traffic had occurred on a warmer day. But today, instead of our tracks packing the snow they simply churned it up. We found ourselves now walking, and slipping, in a sifty layer, much like walking in deep soft sand. And still dealing with the previous rough tracks. But it was still a beautiful surroundings and we were enjoying ourselves. It was almost a relief to get back to the icier early section though the north wind had picked up and we felt it along the more open section by Moccasin Lake. When we got back to the car we agreed we were glad we had come but it sure had been a work-out.
March 2, 2021 -- Steve's February Spoons
It was quite a creative month in the spoon carving workshop! And lots of of chips and shavings for the woodstove.
March 1, 2021
-- Ready for a New Month
February 27, 2021 -- Hint of Spring
Not everyone can get excited about muddy roads but this was a beautiful sight to us. Clear blue sky, above freezing temperature, and roads clear of snow -- so we went for a walk around the neighborhood block. The wind was a bit brisk for the first half and it was wet and muddy and slushy (the snow wasn't completely gone on the other gravel roads) but it was a real nice 2 1/2 hour hike. We had changed into shoes at the garage so enjoyed walking without boots and on (mostly) unfrozen ground. Good wool socks were a must! But it's starting to be that time of year - frozen one day, wet the next, and often both at the same time. We appreciate having the road to walk on, though our paths are still in good shape. The sun felt warm, especially when the wind calmed down which it did for the second half of our walk.
As on our previous neighborhood walk there wasn't much human action, just one four wheeler out for a ride. But one of the horses, a beautiful older beige colored draft horse, walked calmly over to the fence for a gentle nose skritch, which Steve obliged. The mature cows we saw didn't pay us any attention but the herd of young heifers had a few hot shots who tried to rile up the group as we went by, but their companions were more interested in eating. And a small group of young bulls always show interest but we didn't have anything for them but to say Hi and remark on how great they look.
Half of our block-walk is pavement but the snow has been plowed far enough back and it has mostly melted enough at the edge to allow walking along the grass-firmed shoulder. This was wet but not so muddy on the dirt road and not so hard as the paved. We wandered back and forth finding the best path. It was just very pleasant to get out and soak up that almost March sun, even if the only skin exposed is our faces (and on Steve that's a limited amount of bare skin to do the soaking!). We're not quite ready to lie out and bask in the sun yet but considering the coming weather forecast we were real happy to have this day for a walk.
February 26, 2021 -- New Trail!
I happened upon a new trail mentioned on the Manistique Tourism Council website. They had information on several area hiking and cross country ski trails and I spied one I hadn't heard of -- Ashford Lake Pathway, a DNR nine mile, three loop cross country ski and hiking trail. And only 30 miles from home! We definitely had to check this out. I couldn't find any other information on it online, including at the DNR website. There is a boat launch on Ashford Lake and that was listed, but not the trail. But the Manistique site included a map and the Pathway looked easy to find. So when we had to go into town yesterday we decided to take along snowshoes and packs and drive up to see what this not-promoted trail looked like.
It was a good day for it - just below freezing so the snow wouldn't be too sticky, cloudy but not much wind. We found the trail head, or at least what we assumed was the trail head. It was a generously plowed out area anyway and at the right spot on the road. There were no signs, no trail markers, no outhouse. Well, we didn't really expect the latter, though that is always a nice touch. And the tower noted on the map appeared to be in the wrong place but that can happen.
We walked over the lowest plow-bank and there did appear to be a set of ski track. And it looked like a snowmobile had been through and packed down the trail earlier. Though it had snowed since they had been there we could still see the tracks. We decided this had to be the trail. We'd follow it anyway and hope it was. So we put on our snowshoes and packs and followed the light track of the skiier on down the path, hoping they had only gone on the 3 mile Loop1. We didn't want to inadvertently end up on the 6 mile Loop 2, or 9 mile Loop 3. But without any trail markers it was a possibility, especially on a trail we weren't familiar with.
We found the area to be nicely rolling with various aged mixed hardwood stands, some more recently logged than others, most quite thick with young re-growth, a few thin areas. We could hear a processor working not too far away so it appeared logging was ongoing [later in the walk we came upon logging equipment and pickups parked by a plowed road that the trail crosses]. But it was a pleasant woods to walk through and the final southwest part of Loop1 in particular went through an older, not recently logged and really nice woods. According to the map the trail does go near to Ashford Lake but we didn't see it.
The snowshoeing wasn't too difficult, though we did trade off leading and breaking trail. The ski tracks faded now and then but they were easy to follow. There were several trails or logging roads that crossed the main trail but they were snow covered and hadn't had any traffic. We really appreciated the snowmobiler and skiier having gone before to give us something to follow!
The map was good and we made use of the compass now and then to confirm we were on the right track. And the skiier (and snowmobiler) had indeed gone around Loop1 and not headed off onto Loop2. The wide trail (likely a logging or ATV road) was well cleared so someone has kept it up. And the parking area was large and well plowed. We speculated on the lack of signage or information. Was this an old trail that the DNR has abandoned? Maybe someone local is keeping it cleared for local use? Maybe this is simply a "primitive" trail, kept cleared but no extras. Whatever the reason it was a very nice trail, we appreciated it being cleared, and we enjoyed our walk. Three miles was plenty for us on snowshoes but we plan to go back when we can walk the ground and see if the other Loops are there and find-able.
When we got home we looked up the area on Google Satellite Maps and found the missing tower. The old "radio tower" noted on the map was gone but you could see the small cleared area where it had been. There obviously has been a newer and much larger tower built since then (it is quite obvious) but it is to the west instead of east of the trailhead. One can only see traces of the trail on the Satellite image and there are different logging roads but that would happen since those temporary roads come and go over the years. But M94 and Ashford Lake and the trailhead parking space is there the same as on the old map, though the small loop of road around the old tower which was labeled "tower road" is now called "Ashford Lake Road".
February 22, 2021 -- New Loop
Steve went out for a walk on our east path a few days ago and decided to make an additional loop off to the south-east, easy to do in the snow. Well, maybe not exactly "easy", breaking trail in a couple feet of snow but at least a lot of the usual growth is buried - no mowing required. Of course, that doesn't include blackberry canes - there would need to be ten feet of snow to bury them, though in a heavy snow year like last year they can get bent over. Steve just avoided those brambly patches. A lot of the new trail goes through our SE woods which is really nice. It's an area we don't usually go to often except for cutting firewood now and then. But we love our mixed hardwoods forests and enjoy being in them.
After a few trips around by both of us the path is pretty well packed and should be easy to find after a snow. We decided we now had enough to make our trail "official" and designated: LoopA (original east loop), LoopB (the new southeast addition), and LoopC (north/west perimeter road). Then there is the walk up to the mailbox/garage/road but that is everyday and not a real loop. And we have the trailhead (the house) and the beginning path (out to the garden gate). We're conveniently guessing each loop to be about a half mile.
This is a "primitive" trail, with no signs, no maps, no trail markers. Some of the trail is "seasonal", as in it will disappear when the snow does, unless we decide to mow, clip, and clear it. We have enjoyed the first LoopA path that Steve created last summer and kept mowed and clipped of brambles. We walk a lot across the rough fields and through the woods but sometimes it's nice to take a quick hike around without getting wet or dealing with brush and brambles.
But right now we're enjoying having our own snowshoe/hiking trail right out our front door.
February 20, 2021 -- Orchard Chores
There isn't much work to be done in the orchard this time of year except to gaze at the trees and imagine great things this coming growing season. But there are a few timely chores to be done in spite of, or because of, the snow. The first happens as the snow gets deeper. Mostly snow is welcome as insulation and future moisture when it melts. But when it gets higher than the hardware cage vole-deterrents that I have around tender young trees, most are 20"-24" tall, then I've found, through experience, that it's a good idea to pack that snow down around the cages so the voles can't just walk on the snow right over the top edge to nibble away at the bark. I used to go around each small tree on snowshoes packing down the snow, but this got to be not much fun as the number of trees expanded. Plus they tended to have these things called branches sticking out and getting in the way. And I would invariably stomp on a few of the cages, mashing them against the trees. When the snow was heavy it got to be quite a chore. But there was a solution, right at hand and readily available - our snow removal "squeegee". A long handled tool with a cross piece made of a piece of sturdy foam sandwiched between two boards, it is what we use to pull the snow off our solar panels and the greenhouse windows. Turned out it was just the thing to pull snow away from the tree cages and was much easier than awkwardly stomping the snow down around the little trees. So that's what I did a few days ago in this nice weather stretch.
The other job to get done about now is the fun one of cutting/collecting scions from my trees. I know it just looks like a bucket full of small sticks, which I guess it is. But each "stick" (or scion to the orchardist) is a potential new fruit tree, if all goes well in the grafting. More than half of the scions I cut are for grafting in our own orchard come spring, either to add a variety to a different tree or seedling or to expand a variety that has already been grafted to get it growing on more branches on that tree. The rest of the scions will be sent to other backyard orchardists to graft on their own trees. A lot of the varieties in my own orchard came from exchanges like this with others. It's a fun way to build an orchard. But for now the scions are stored safely in the root cellar until grafting time comes the end of May. Right now that feels, and looks, like a long way away!
February 17, 2021 -- Checking Out the Neighborhood
Upper teens, clear blue skies, light south-sw wind -- a beautiful day. After a few weeks of February-cold temperatures and colder wind chills this forecast sounded downright balmy. A walk was in order. Since we’ve been on snowshoes for a couple weeks now we decided to walk down the road so we could leave the snowshoes behind and walk on the ground, even if it is snowy ground. Though our road commission guys are wonderful and the roads well plowed.
We knew we’d be walking into the wind the first half of the trek but we’d also be out in the open in the wonderful sunshine under clear skies. Our neighborhood is predominantly farm fields and pastures with some small woods and trees. Great for sun though a bit chilly with a wind, but it would be a nice hike none-the-less. So off we went to go around the block and check out the neighborhood, the first half mile on snowshoes to get to the road, then bare-boots for the next 5 miles.
The fields were really flat with snow, with none of the usual ripples and patterns to break up the expanse. I guess it was because the last snow (20 inches in two days) was cold, soft and light. It just settled across the landscape instead of drifting into waves. With the clear sun is was definitely a sunglasses needed day.
We didn’t see any of our human neighbors but waved at the one truck and a school bus that passed by. And we greeted the many herds of cows (including our closest and most numerous neighbors), a few contented young bulls, a gaggle of turkeys, some beautiful horses, and a large flock of cheery pigeons interspersed with some smaller birds and two crows, keeping an eye on their herd of black heifers.
The sun was lowering in the sky and it was noticeably chillier when we walked into the shade of nearby trees, but sometimes those trees blocked the wind so it was a trade-off. When we turned the last corner to head north with the wind at our backs it was pleasant and slightly warmer for the last leg. Back at our garage we once again donned our snowshoes for that final enjoyable half mile back home. The sun had just dipped down into the trees so it was good timing. A little more than 6 miles and a little less than 2 1/2 hours -- it felt good to be home into a nice solar-heated house and good to have gone on an enjoyable afternoon hike in the sun.
February 16, 2021 -- Keeping the Trails Packed
Now that we're getting snow, now and then, it gives an extra incentive to walk our East Loop to keep the trail packed and findable in the event of a big snow. It is an enjoyable job! Having this easy access half mile circle path on the other end of our property has turned out to be a real nice way to take a short walk whether a'foot or on snowshoes, when you don't feel like a bigger commitment but want to get out and about for a short jaunt. Once there we both tend (depending on the weather) to go several or more times around, often adding the half mile walk up the hill to the mailbox. This past summer Steve kept the path mowed and cleared of brambles which makes it much more inviting. Those wild blackberry canes are a force to be reckoned with!
February 15, 2021 -- Hiking Cookies
Going hiking? Gather the gear, layer on the (appropriate) clothes, fill the water bottles. And above all, even for a short hike, don't forget the food. One must keep the body fueled! And the psyche happy. Good trail food is a must, and easy-to-eat healthy snacks are at the top of the list. First is the standard simple "trail mix", aka GORP - good old raisins and peanuts - usually made up of any number of, and sometimes experimental combinations of, ingredients that are easy to toss into one's mouth while on the move. Equally in first place for us is my humble, maybe not-so-simple:
Homestead Hiking Cookie
I’d been making my basic Homestead Cookies for over 40 years, the recipe that is in our "Homesteading Adventures" book, and they served us well all those years. They were sturdy, hearty, healthful (I think), and they suited. We liked them. But this past year I decided I wanted a less firm cookie, easier to eat, a cookie with a few more ingredients, one that would be good energy on the hiking trail even when cold (thus far successfully tested down to the low teens). And, of course, be good eating every day on the homestead. This is what I came up with. They appear to be quite popular based on how fast they disappear. I’d like to blame this on LilliB but to be honest, I’ve never seen her eat a cookie, though she’ll give it a try and thoroughly lick one if it’s found un-attended, or the owner’s attention temporarily averted.
This is a highly adaptable and variable recipe. What I put in depends on what I have on hand and preferences at the time. No eggs? Leave the eggs out. Have some shredded coconut? Put some in. But this is my latest basic recipe:
2-3 c whole grain flour
1/4 c chocolate chips
Then add liquid. It helps to let it set a bit unless your flour is very fine (mine isn’t).
Adjust by adding water or flour for a moderately soft & sticky but not too dry dough.
Put spoonfuls on cookie sheet. Flatten somewhat with a wet fork, more if you want a firmer cookie, less if softer. Bake till done.
Since I’m mostly using the wood cookstove I don’t have a temperature or time. It takes longer if the fire isn’t too hot, quick when it really gets going, and takes a really long time if you let the fire go out.
Sometimes I use an electric "toaster" oven in the summer, with a temperature of 350 - 400.
The "Hiking Cookie" has proven itself on the trail, holding together quite well, unless they migrate to the bottom of the pack and you’ve vigorously stuffed a jacket or something on top of them. Leaving a little air in the ziplock bag they are in helps but mostly they are on top within easy reach for a quick snack. They are easy eating when it’s cold, especially appreciated when your trail mix has turned into hard cold bullets. In the heat of summer you may want to leave out the chocolate chips or substitute mm type candies. But overall they are suited for and welcome in any weather and at any time.
(note: the spoon in the photo is for lunch, not for eating the cookies!)
February 14, 2021 -- Happy Valentine's Day
We've enjoyed playing this popular song from the late 1940's but I felt it wasn't quite complete. So I added a verse, making it an appropriate (to me) Valentine's Day song, especially for those who might be some many years away from those younger teen-aged love songs.
So here is our Valentine's Day greeting to you - "Tennessee Waltz", with addition.
February 12, 2021 -- Snow Surprise
We may not be getting many days of snow this year but when it comes it's making a big deal about it. The forecast was for 1" to 4" today, a reasonable amount, enough to smooth over the canvas so we can see the latest animal tracks. We enjoy that. So it wasn't a surprise when the snow started as the day began, but we certainly didn't expect it to be that thick or to keep going for a total of about 14"! I guess Nature misinterpreted the 1-4" forecast. Hah! I think we have enough snow now.
February 11, 2021 -- First Longer Snowshoe Hike
Though it was only an hour and a half I figure it rates as a 3 hour hike since it was plenty long on snowshoes this early in the season (I know, it's mid February, hardly early winter, but since our first real snow only came last week it is early for those snowshoeing muscles). Besides, we did take hot drink and snacks. No lunch on the trail though, being only 13 degrees and cloudy we weren't inclined to stop long enough to eat. So this was an after-lunch walk. It had been a beautiful sunny morning which helped bring the early morning -20 sub-zero degrees up into the interested-in-a-walk level. And considering this past week's low temperatures and even lower wind chills today's teens and calm wind enticed us out onto the trail even though it clouded up before we started. But with just an occasional light wind it was quite nice. We have discovered that with our getting out to hike somewhat regularly this winter not only have our muscles toughened up our bodies have acclimated better to the cold than usual, which is really nice.
This was a from-home hike, right out our front door, no car involved. We decided to go north. The snow had settled down to maybe 10" and because of the extended cold was still light, soft and sifty which made for fairly easy snowshoeing even though we were breaking trail. Because of that we traded off leading, enjoying the "new" look the fresh snow made to this very familiar trail. We had a good start to our walk when a red squirrel surprised us as she ran across right in front of my snowshoe, with what looked like an acorn in her mouth, up a nearby large spruce tree and sat on a branch looking at us intently before heading on up farther into the tree. That she would have found an acorn this time of year really surprised me until I glanced over on the other side of the path to a large pile of pine cone hulls next to a hole dug in the snow. Of course! She was simply gathering dinner from one of her previously supplied root cellars, or, in this case, nut cellars. This was likely the same squirrel that has a well trod path into the garden via a particular fence post, to a nearby large apple tree, on to a stack of cold frame boxes, then to another source of food - my compost pile. Gatherings from which are then buried in stashes here and there in the convenient nearby sod-free soil, based on the number of clumps of squash and the like that I find growing every year in my garden in places I didn't plant them.
We have a lot of options for hiking but decided to go north, through the paper company's red pine plantations and onto Forest Service mixed hardwoods. We stayed pretty much on a north line with an out-and-back at the beginning, turn-around at the north paper company gate, and a nice loop in the center. The out-and-back sections were nice since we had an already tracked trail to walk on coming back, but we also enjoy one-way loops for variety. It was such a peaceful, calm, quiet walk with everything muffled under the soft snow, with just the slight sound of the leather bindings of our snowshoes or an occasional wood-against-wood as one shoe knocked against another.
Back at the house we left the backpacks and continued on up to the mailbox for a bit of an extension to our walk. Then back to do daily chores (such as filling the woodbox) and get supper going. Then an enjoyable evening resting our legs. Yes, indeed, an hour and half snowshoe walk on new snow was long enough, and a good start to the snowshoe season. A bit more snow is forecast for the next few days so it looks like we'll be on the shoes for awhile now.
February 5, 2021 -- Mitten Time
Actually, mitten time is year 'round here. Any month of the year we can have cold winds and a pair of thin nylon mittens are standard equipment in our packs, silicone coated nylon for rain, and either for mosquitoes. But this time of year they become even more welcome, larger sized to fit over hand-knitted wool mittens, they are just what is needed to keep hands warm in the cold whether a quick trip to the car or mail box, a long hike in the woods, or outside moving snow around. We still have and use those first sturdy cotton mitten covers I made eons ago, and many pairs of various fabrics have been added to the pile since. But still more mittens were to be made and that has been one of my sewing projects this winter, with a specific goal in mind.. One was to make larger covers to go over two pairs of knitted mittens for those cold winter hiking treks. The other was to come up with a pattern that solved a couple of issues with my older pattern -- a stress point where the thumb meets the palm and a wrinkle across the palm from that point. It took awhile (I hate to admit how long!) but I finally did it - a more comfortable mitten with a better placed thumb and a smooth palm. So we're now even more happily mitted for winter, summer, spring or fall. Details on the mittens and patterns can be found HERE, should you want to make your own.
February 4, 2021 -- Winter Arrived
We did indeed get snow. Back to the snowshoes, with a respectable 12" of snow now and sub-zero temperatures and winds forecast for the coming week I think we'll be focusing on some indoor projects for a bit. No matter what, it's always a wonderful world.
February 3, 2021 -- Sun Today, Snow Tomorrow
Our third day of beautiful sunny skies, and calm. It was also the last day before the forecasted big snow storm. Well, maybe not big but at least it should be snow which there has been very little of thus far. A lot of snow lovers are pinning high hopes on this one. For us it means get out hiking before we have to don snow shoes. It was a perfect day, cold to begin with but promise of low thirties. We decided to try out the snowshoe trail at the Escanaba Pathway which we hadn't been on. The map said 4 miles and the track looked curvy enough to be interesting. And interesting it was! Though it's really only 2 miles long (4 miles out and back).
Of course, one had to find that elusive north trail head, nicely marked on the map with no roads or directions to it. The only directions we found was 19th Ave N behind the Great Lakes Sports, which didn't ring a bell. Turns out we'd been by it many times. The Great Lakes Sports was the gun/shooting club before you get to the Delta County Landfill where we take our recyclables. So, US2 to Danforth Rd, turn onto 19th Ave N by the big sign for the Landfill and a faded Great Lakes Sports sign. Across on 19th and sure enough the road to the trailhead was right beside the gun club building. Take a left at the Y to a large parking lot which is also the trailhead for an ATV trail. There was a large map-sign for the Recreational Pathway. And they nicely had a clean Porta-John as well as multiple benches. One appreciates such amenities. There were several pickups and well packed snow all around with a number of trails to choose from. The big question was, which might be the yellow-dashed snowshoe trail?
The map was upside down to and not aimed in the direction of the trails so was a little hard to decipher. But while we were looking at the various options, all packed hard with vehicle and foot tracks, we heard an ATV heading toward the parking lot. Someone to ask! Not just a random someone, but a friendly volunteer on a nice tracked ATV he uses to groom and maintain the trails. We got complete directions which was good because the "snowshoe" trail was not obvious heading up over a bare mound between close spaced trees. But it did have a blue diamond, there and along the trail, which with his directions we were able to follow. There were a set of recent tracks (the only other tracks). Real recent, it turned out, as it was a fellow who was doing a GPS route of the Pathway that day. Plus there was heavy equipment noise coming from the trails area as they were working on making a new route to avoid some wet spots. This was why all the trucks in the parking lot. The volunteer directed us around those, closed, sections. We were the only recreationist which certainly didn't bother us.
On to the "snowshoe" trail. It started off nicely though narrowly down between trees, curving along the edge of the ridge -- down into the wetlands. This seems to be the fate of snowshoe trails. But the first part of the trail was rather fun to walk as it wriggled through a dense cedar swamp, up and over roots, hummocks and brush, between and under leaning close spaced cedars. It was really quite pretty with the sun coming through here and there and this was the best time to be in there, when it was well frozen but with enough snow for traction. One most definitely wouldn't want to try this on showshoes! But you would find that out pretty quickly. Not only would they catch on the debris they wouldn't fit between the trees unless they were quite small.
Soon the cedars gave way to an expanse of wetland shrubs (unfortunately mostly dead and dying) and vegetation, much like we'd encountered on our December walk from the south entrance, though this track wasn't quite as ankle turning. The trail-makers had done their best to make a long trail out of a small amount of land and it snaked tightly through the vegetation, finally getting into an area with some cedars and a scattering of other trees. This was certainly not a fast hike! But then we weren't in a hurry. Back through more shrubs and marsh grasses, finally ending up near busy North 30th Street on a bit of higher ground and a very welcome small red pine plantation with dry ground covered in soft pine needles. We enjoyed a small break here for drinks, snacks, and to adjust layers (it was getting warmer, probably 32 degrees and sunny).
Not being inclined to reverse our walk back through the wetlands we headed across along North 30th Street to the original east trailhead where we knew we could get on the ski trail for the hike back. Here we found a wide, straight, nicely flattened track straight through the wetlands to some woods up ahead where the trail started curving and the traffic noise was blocked by the trees. The trail was well trod with footprints here. Not surprising, this was where folks walked. But we were happy we'd checked out the mostly ignored no-snowshoes trail. And now we were happy for better walking on the ski (once there is more snow) track. After a half mile of flat lowland we came to the section we had walked before, and knew where it headed -- up onto high ground.
This is a real nice trail, from EZ Loop to Loop 1 as it winds up and through a pretty hemlock and fir woods. It was getting time to stop for lunch but we decided to wait until we got to the top of the ridge which went up in several stages. A little bit of wind now then and the shade from the trees kept us from over-heating and we appreciated the sun that made it through to us. And it was a nice sunny spot that we came up upon that enticed us to stop before we got to the highest spot. It was just too nice to pass by and we soon settled into that spot of sun, sitting on the low trail-side bank, eating our macaroni and cheese lunch, enjoying the view.
Up higher on the ridge and around Loop 1, then north back to the parking lot. Only one truck was left and our car. It seemed early to quit, the sun was still shining.
So we decided to stop by the Days River Pathway on our way home. We figured we'd head out on the snowmobile trail but when we got in the Pathway parking lot and looked down the first loop of the "cross-country ski" trail we realized we could walk there. Not having enough snow for skiing the trail was well packed with foot and snow-bike tracks. The trail had been groomed earlier and it is nice and flat, very easy and pleasing for a quick hike. The paths are wide enough for walking side by side, or for stepping aside for a bike or other hikers, yet not so wide you felt you were walking on a road. There was time to get around Loop 1 (a little less than 2 miles) before sundown so off we went.
With snow on the ground and the sun shining low through the red pines the feel of the Pathway was quite different than when it was bare ground. It felt more like you were walking through the woods than on a thoroughly managed (and admittedly well appreciated) groomed and maintained path through a tree plantation. Either way we certainly aren't the only ones who appreciate this trail. Though we were the only car in the parking lot when we arrived we met another couple heading out when we came back and a bicyclist's pickup was in the far corner where we'd seen it before. And if it really does snow tomorrow I'm sure the trails will soon be full of ski tracks.
For us this short hike was beautiful frosting on a very good day of hiking. Of course, we always end with the best of the best after we pull into our garage at the end of our road, with the half mile walk down our own beautiful trail to home.
February 2, 2021 -- Winter Fun
Most of the spoons coming out of the wood-carver's shop are beautiful and practical, but some of them just want to have fun ...
Here is a Link to our main Spoons page to see other spoon.
February 1, 2021 -- Starting February with the Indian Lake Ski Trail
Only 8 miles from home is a nice little hiking/biking/skiing DNR trail - the Indian Lake Pathway. Since it was a beautiful, upper 20's, calm wind, partly cloudy day (also known as a hiking day), and we had need to go into Manistique, we decided to look into this trail on our way home. If it didn't look like it was worth walking we would walk on down the road to the local snowmobile trail. We knew there was a parking area at the Pathway and, thankfully, it was nicely and completely plowed. Not surprisingly, given the low amount of snow, there were more boot tracks on the trail than ski tracks so we didn't mind adding our own shoe tracks, there not being enough snow to require boots, and we prefer walking in shoes (with wool socks).
There was sun-time for a couple hours walk and the map showed three consecutive loops, the longest being 4.5 miles. Just right for our walk. The trail at the trail-head end was well packed with tracks so walking was pretty easy, if a bit lumpy. And especially through the first loop there were plenty of blue trail markers and easy to read maps at the intersections so one was unlikely to get lost. But the trial crosses several snowmobile-roads and there were many well traveled animal trails criss-crossing the main trail so if you weren't paying attention, or if there had been a fresh new snowfall with no tracks, the markers would be much appreciated. As the trail went on there weren't so many, but there were enough.
The overcast sky gave way to sun as we walked and there was just occasional light winds, mostly blocked by the woods, so it was enjoyably mild. The first loop went through a sparse woods which had been logged, mostly (my guess) due to the dead and dying beech. The area was thick with young growing beech trees, decked out in their pretty sienna colored winter leaves that shiver with any hint of breeze, and dance lively in a wind, making a soothing rustling sound. Hopefully these young ones will survive to re-create a beautiful beech forest one day. Meantime, it was a pleasant woods and it let the sporadic sun shine through. There were several ski tracks on the trail though it must have been a challenging trek with the lack of snow, the abundance of boot and animal tracks, and periodic areas of young brush in the trail. Walking had to be easier.
As we walked on through the second loop the woods were a little thicker with some red pine plantation, and the people tracks fewer. Around the third, outer, loop we lost all but one dedicated skiier and one hiker. The terrain became hilly, interesting, and the mixed hardwoods more dense, though still with a fair number of large dead beech and young growth. It was a nice forest and the sun shining through made it even better. The deer and coyote tracks and animal trails became even more numerous.
At the far end of the third loop where it curves around to go back there were two ZZ signs on the map -- most difficult. So it was no surprise when we came to a higher ridge and a nice climb upward with the herring-bone tracks of the skiier in the snow. We decided to stop and eat our lunch at the top in the area between the signs. We found a spot near a large dead beech that had fallen across the trail and settled down on a nicely placed mound beside the trail. With the sun warming us through the trees we rested and ate our warm salsa and rice lunch. What a beautiful world.
We dug in our heels as we made our way down the other side of the high ridge and paused to step over a tree toppled across the path. That had to be a disappointment to the skiier, to have a nice, though steep, down-hill interrupted by a tree. But they obviously got over it and continued on as did we, walking beside the ski tracks when we could, making a trail for whoever might come after, often walking in the well traveled animal tracks. We had lost the lone hiker at the shortcut across loop 3 before one got to the big hill. Walking in the loose snow was a lot like walking in dry sand on the beach. It was an enjoyable walk back, a reverse of the woods types we'd encountered earlier, the sun warming us up enough to remove some layers. And then it was only a short trip home in the car which was nice..
We'll likely walk this trail again, snow allowing, and there is always the option of getting off the trail and walking the groomed Snowmobile Trail #7 which crosses the Pathway in several spots. But that will be for another day.
1-30-2021 -- Steve's Other Life
In case it appears that all we are doing this winter is hiking I thought I'd show what Steve had been doing when not out on the trails, or on the computer (he still takes care of a few non-profit websites, as well as our own). The cherry spoons at right are basking in the light, darkening and getting richer in color as cherry loves to do.
1-29-2021 -- Clear Blue Sky and Beautiful Sunshine -- Revisiting SnoMo2
True 100% sun this time, right from the get-go. What a boost. Of course, we had to go hiking. It was a bit cool at 15 degrees when we left home but it was heading up and was in the low 20's for the hike, with hardly any wind. What a beautiful day! We'd planned to check out the west Gladstone snowmobile trail from the Brampton cut-across road, hoping there might be a small trailhead to park, then we'd walk south toward and over the (yellow) section we'd hiked before. But we had a last minute need to go to Escanaba and it was getting late to get on the trail so decided to just go to the Days River Pathway parking lot, get right on the SnoMo2 trail there and walk north again, which we did.
Though still very little snow the snowmobile groomers had made a pass and nicely packed the trail, though it appeared only one snowmobile had tried it out (there really isn't enough snow yet for snowmobiling here). But there were quite a few ORV tracks, a fat tire bike and a couple of hikers. It was great walking, considering the snow and tracks, but this is a flat road with few if any ruts so pretty easy going. Though more evergreens than deciduous trees quite a bit of it is thinned plantations and regrowth so the sun was able to shine through enough to keep us warm and happy. Since we didn't walk the Pathway's rough snowshoe trail first to get to the snowmobile trail, and we hiked along at a pretty good pace, we were able to walk farther north than we'd been before (the purple section on the map). We made it not only to where the Days River crosses but also to and over the Brampton cut-across road where we could see that there was no place to park unless one had a 4wd pickup and could park off in the snow, which wasn't for our venerable Prius, at least not until the snow is gone. So we'll leave the rest of that north (red) section for then.
We had a comfortable break and lunch sitting on the snow along side the trail, then headed back, without seeing anyone or any ORVs. What a wonderful day for a walk. A little more than 3 hours later, as the sun was dropping behind the trees and it was cooling off, we were back at the car. There were more cars in the Pathway parking lot so others were likewise enjoying the day outside.
1-23-2021 -- Sunshine and a New Trail
With the promise of sunshine and calm winds we decided to head out for a hike this afternoon. Very little new snow in the south-central U.P. which meant the snowmobile trails would still be OK to walk. It was a bit cool in the low 20's but we had plenty of layers and I had my recently finished cold-weather hiking pants to try out. So with a hot lunch in our small Thermoses and hot drink in our double insulated travel mugs, dressed appropriately, we packed up and headed out. Having looked at the snowmobile trails map, and having had such nice walks on the trail that went beside the Days River Pathway (the yellow and blue sections), we decided on a different part of that same #2 trail (the green section) starting at a convenient parking spot near Rapid River. Though a promise of a beautiful day we didn't think there would be any snowmobile traffic - they would all be up north where there was more snow.
When we drove into the rough and rutted parking lot it was indeed empty, but with a fair amount of ATV and truck tracks. It was still overcast but there were hints of blue sky. So on with our packs and off up the trail. The ORV's don't make nearly as nice of a track to walk on as a groomed snowmobile trail or one packed down by snowmachines, but we appreciated the packed trail none-the less.
The beginning wasn't the most aesthetic as it started out through old jack pine plantation, then some red pine, more jack pine. It was obvious this would be an ankle-exercise walk over the frozen tracks and ruts but there was enough snow and it was a nice day. And soon the track rose into hillier terrain, curving through a young mixed hardwood area. The day became partly, then mostly, sunny and we relished walking through sun where it filtered easily through the leafless trees. We were heading north-east so the sun was often behind us but it felt good and though in the low 20's it was a comfortable temperature with just an occasional breeze. A beautiful day to be out walking.
The woods changed from hardwoods to evergreens to a very young poplar regrowth area, back to hemlock/pine, occasional cedar, a scattering of oak. The track was plenty wide as it's a Forest Service two-track road. Though we often enjoy single track hiking trails through the woods, today we appreciated more space for the sun to reach us, and walking side by side. It would have been well worthwhile with no other highlights. But there was...
We had started out seeing five deer cross the path and, not surprising, there were deer tracks off and on the whole way. Along with fox tracks, and periodic mouse crossings. Someone had walked, up and back, this section of the trail a few days ago. It was nice to have (distant) company. But the highlight was recent tracks of a pair of wolves, off and on trail, likely appreciating the easy traveling as much as we did. They kept us company until we left the road track.
After about an hour the trail turned east along a pipeline, more open, higher terrain, but still through high and low growth and some wet (when not frozen) areas. We lost the wolves as well as the person tracks, but soon picked up a fox that we followed the whole way. Not too many curves here but enough light roller coaster, and a bit of icy tracks, to keep us occupied. The sky had cleared and the sun , though low in the sky, was shining and we soaked up as much as we could. The woods to the south did block it some but thankfully there was often deciduous trees with patches of lower growth. After a half hour along the pipeline we came to a marsh with cattails and rushes and small bushes - beautiful in the snow, and wonderfully clear for sun seekers. Perfect timing and perfect place for our "turn-around" lunch.
But no nicely positioned nice sized downed trees to sit on here. That was OK, there was plenty of soft snow. Since Steve had a larger sit pad he just tossed it on the snow and sat down (which was maybe easier said than done since the sit pad had nicely waterproof but very slippery sil-nylon material on the underside). But he soon arrived, comfortable for lunch. I apologized to a little clump of rushes and low bush nearby and set my small (but nicely insulating) foam pad against/on the little island. Soon I too was comfortably eating a surprisingly hot lunch, having this time preheated the Thermos containers with hot water.
After that beautiful break in the sun we gathered ourselves and our gear and headed back along the trail, following our own tracks, picking up the wolves as we turned south. We were now facing the sun, soaking up as much vitamin D and rosy cheeks as we could, always stopping for a drink in a patch of sun. We arrived home before cat dinner time and just in time to get the fire rekindled as the sun dropped behind the trees, having warmed the house and filled our batteries all afternoon. We felt good after a very nice three hours on the trail. Next time maybe we'll check out the snowmobile trail near home. It doesn't look like much new snow in the forecast. And in-between the longer walks we make good use of our own home trails for shorter forays.
January 17, 2021 -- Off to California!
Well, not literally. We quite like it here in the U.P., cloudy weather and all. But we have friends who are soon heading to California to live so we thought we'd do this lively Irish hornpipe for them, and for you, too! It always cheers me up and I like the dancing chords.
January 13, 2021 -- Sunshine! Clear Skies!
We awoke this morning to a rare day -- stars in the sky turning into clear dawn and the sun coming up into a beautiful cloudless blue. We've had a few partly sunny days these past weeks, usually later in the day and usually not too much of the sun part. Mostly it's been a real long stretch of mild gray. Particularly noted in the many times we've had to run the generator to charge up the batteries in lieu of the sun. Neither of us could remember when we last had a full day of clear sunshine but we knew it had been awhile. So this was a day to celebrate. While the sun quietly and efficiently charged the batteries and warmed the greenhouse, cheering the plants along, we would go outside and soak up as much of that sun as we could. The forecast was for mild and calm, as it has been. They also forecast 37 degrees but from experience we didn't put much store in that. Around 32 degrees would be fine (and indeed that was what we had). So we chose our destination and after an early lunch headed north to Bruno's Run to hike the south-west part of that trail, starting at Widewaters.
There had been enough snowmobile traffic into Widewaters campground (which isn't plowed in winter) to pack the snow so we were able to drive in to catch the trail there, heading south. They had a little more snow than we had but not much. This is a popular, and beautiful, spot in the Hiawatha Forest with snowmobile trails, cross country ski trails, hiking/biking, and in the summer camping, fishing, and boating. Widewaters is a lake-like wide section of the Indian River which runs into/through/out of it. Bruno's Run trail goes by the campground and along the Widewaters then along the "wild and scenic" Indian River.
It was hard to keep ones eyes on the trail with that beautiful river flowing so near. Shallow and criss-crossed with blow-downs it was a peaceful companion. It was easy to imagine stepping into the water to cool your feet on a summer's hike. It was well worth the hours drive to get there. At Hwy 13 we climbed out of the river valley and crossed over at the scenic old bridge over the river, built in 1943 according to a plaque on the bridge.
Calm, sunny, 30 degrees - hiking heaven. The first 50 minutes to Hwy 13 was well trod and packed so, except for icy patches, was pretty easy walking. We crossed the highway and the river, leaving it behind as the trail headed off into the woods on the other side.
We also left behind almost all of the tracks. Thankfully there were two people who had continued on this section and there hadn't been any new snow to cover their tracks. Without snow the well used trail would be obvious. But with snow the unmarked trail meandering through the woods would be at best a challenging guessing game without tracks to follow. We trusted that they knew where they were going, or even if not we were going to follow them (turned out they did). The trail curves and dips and dives through fairly thick woods. Our pace slowed walking in the soft, sifty snow but we enjoyed the peaceful surroundings with the sun slanting through the trees and across the path, warming us as we stepped into and out of the rays. We stopped to drink and snack in sunny spots to soak up all we could.
We had enough time, with slightly longer days now and clear skies, but we decided 3 hours hiking would be long enough. Especially so since we'd gone for a fairly long walk at home yesterday. So as we neared the 1 1/2 hour mark we looked ahead for a suitable spot to stop for lunch then head back on the trail. We remarked that it would be nice to find a memorable landmark for the turn-around. A few more turns and ups and downs and we suddenly came upon a small opening in the woods with a view of a small lake -- the north tip, or handle, of Dipper Lake, according to the map. Not only that, but there was a nice wooden bench there, too! What a great surprise treat for hikers and bikers. We certainly found our memorable landmark.
We gladly set down our backpacks and made full use of the bench, admiring the Lake, resting our legs, and enjoying our lunch. For Christmas we had bought ourselves small Thermous food containers - the 10 oz "Funtainer" (though we passed on the many fancy graphics versions and went for plain silver/black and teal). Last month we had taken warm food in a regular tupperware type container which was nice to have but it didn't stay warm very long, even buried in our packs. We thought we'd try the insulated container. This was our first trial and they worked well with our simple meal of rice and tuna. Though certainly heavier than a sandwich it was real nice to have warm food on a (mildly) cold day, and 10 oz was a good size - half now, half later.
Based on our experience with our water bottles I plan to make neoprene cozies for them which should keep the food even warmer, especially in colder weather. I had put mine in a simple wool blanket pouch and my food was a bit warmer than Steve's at lunch.
But it was too cold to sit long so we soon gathered our stuff, thanked and bid farewell to the Lake and the bench and headed back down the trail for a nice walk back to the car (the yellow section on the map). What a great way to spend a beautiful sunny January day.
January 10, 2021 -- Back to Days River
This time we knew where we were headed -- the short hike/snowshoe trail to the ORV/snowmobile trail where we turned south instead of north over the bridge as we'd done last week. Another mild cloudy day, no new snow, calm, about 32 degrees - like a film strip stuck in rewind/replay, same weather we'd been having for quite some time now. But we're fine with that, we'll let the PNW taking care of all the wild weather! We just keep hiking. And a nice one it was. The trail going south heads through some real nice woods, young growth but with a decent scattering of bearing age oak trees, left when the area was last logged. Though the trees in general blend in with the other growth one could see them easily by the churned up leaves spread all around underneath each tree as the deer dug through the snow and leaves for acorns. I don't know how the acorn harvest was but it appears there are plenty of deer and by the looks of things I doubt there are any acorns left. I'm sure the squirrels and chipmunks took care of their share, too.
There were snowmobile and ATV tracks, though there wasn't enough snow for the former and too much for the latter, but they flattened the trail nicely. Quite a bit of foot traffic and a few bicycles, along with the many deer and usual coyote/fox/dog. As usual it was quiet on most of the trail. The farther south we went there were more houses and we were walking near back yards. Not as "off-in-the-woods" feel as other trails, and the track was pretty rough with ruts and not very flat at this end. But we had a bicyclist come along who stopped to chat which was nice. He had a beautiful fat tired bike with studs and an electric assist to help him up the hills. It wasn't the best conditions for biking but he lives somewhere near the trail and said he goes out nearly every day for exercise. Just as we were parting along came another regular fat tired bike going at a pretty good speed considering the conditions, but he wasn't having any trouble. We quickly stepped off the trail and he nodded as he sped by. Two different styles but both enjoying the trail their own way, as were we. We didn't see anyone else on the trail.
We soon arrived at a "rough" area with piles of dirt, some dumped furniture -- the beginning of the industrial park. Quite a contrast to the beautiful woods we'd been walking through. Though we'd planned to walk longer we decided to turn around there, and had a very nice walk back. When we got to the cut off to go back to the snowshoe trail we decided we weren't ready for the hike to end so instead headed on north for a ways. So it was about 3 hours when we got back to the parking lot, sun heading down and starting to cool off, to find a fairly large group gathered and chatting, with fat tired bikes sticking out of pick-ups and SUV's. I don't know if they were heading out or had already been but it was good to see folks enjoying the day and each other's company. There is a separate bike trail at the Pathway which is apparently quite popular.
January 9, 2021 -- Is it a Hike or a Walk
The new year begins, and the hiking continues. No new snow so we're still in boots, the snowshoes left hanging on the wall, waiting. But it will come. Maybe. It's quite a change from the last two Januarys with 3-4 feet of snow! We enjoy it all, and this year are enjoying still walking on almost bare ground. We go out daily, together or separate, do a few chores, go to the mailbox, go for at least a short walk, sometimes longer. So I got to thinking - when is a walk a hike? Sometimes we'll head out for a short walk down the road but keep on going and end up coming home 2 hours later. But that's still a walk. It's from home, it's casual. We may or not have taken backpacks, or water. Certainly not snacks or sandwiches. But if we're going to the "big city" (Gladstone or Escanaba or Marquette) we usually plan to include a hike on one of the trails, so we head out with appropriate gear and clothing, water, snacks, sandwiches, for a 2 or 3 hour hike. Manistique is just "going to town", it doesn't get such planning though we often walk the boardwalk along the Lake. It's funny how we categorize things, and how we think of them. But hike or walk, we're enjoying this can-do-just-about-anywhere activity.
Though we haven't much snow there is just enough in this area for the skiiers, and the groomers, to get out on the ski trails so the cross-country ski trails are now off limits for hiking. But both Days River and Rapid River have short snowshoe trails so on a trip over that direction earlier in the week we decided to check out the Days River Pathway Snowshoe Track. It was a mild, barely freezing (so not slushy), calm day - beautiful weather for a hike. The ski trails did indeed have snow so no walking there. So we took to the designated 1.8 mile "snowshoe" trail which was definitely not appropriate for snowshoes! But they did make an effort to provide a track in an effort to keep walkers off the ski trails. It was lumpy, bumpy, stump and brush strewn and well beat down. But it was there and so were we so off we went, figuring we'd stop at Rapid River on the way home and check out their snowshoe trail. Between them getting in a little hike.
But to our surprise, halfway around the hiking/snowshoe trail, it crossed an ORV/snowmobile trail at the bridge.
A wide, snowcovered, groomed, trail! A delightful place to walk and we could go as far and long as we wanted (ORV/snowmobile trails by nature cover a lot of ground). We weren't the first hikers to discover this windfall - the boot tracks were more numerous than the snowmobile tracks, though they petered out as we went on. We walked for an hour, sticking to the main route, no traffic, snaking through the vast pine plantation of this area. Then we turned around and backtracked to finish the rest of the official snowshoe trail back to the parking lot. A very nice walk. And it reminded us that the U.P. is covered with ORV and snowmobile trails, many of which are good for hiking, especially right now with the lack of snow. We have no lack of options that's for sure, near, far, or in-between. What a great abundance for fun.
We just had to do it! It's a wonderful song that should get more play, but maybe we appreciate it even more since we only get to do it once a year. Link -->
And it has been quite the year. We truly hope you have some good memories, and have more fun plans for 2021. See you then!
12-28-2020 -- The Year of Videos for ManyTracks
Overall our year was not that much different than usual but I doubt we would have embarked on the video adventure if it hadn't been for the lockdown. Since we're into the onset of winter now (slowly up here but it is happening) we decided to finish the year with a favorite song written by a singer/songwriter friend, David Tamulevich (of Mustard's Retreat), called "The Minstrel and the Bear". The feeling and words of the song has always intrigued me and comes to mind every winter. Those special winter storms - cold, calm, then strong winds bringing in significant snow - don't happen every year but we've experienced enough of them to personally feel the song whenever we play it. Hope you enjoy it. Here are the words to the song:
“The Minstrel and the Bear” by David Tamulevich
12-22-2020 -- Longer Days!
The first of the longer days made a good reason to celebrate - with a hike! And the Days River Pathway seemed an appropriate destination (convenient since we we had to be in Gladstone today). I know we'll continue to have beautiful days but today was likely the last of this warm dry stretch and, depending on whether or not there is any real snow accumulation with the forecasted storm, may be the end of walking on the ski trails.
The day was calm, cloudy, and warmer (34 degrees) with a few inches of new snow on the trail, which made for good traction, nice for the steeper ski hills and fun tracking. We came across fox, coyote, rabbit, squirrel, mouse, deer and grouse tracks, in addition to a large variety of human, dog, and bicycle as the trail wound its way through the mostly young woods. The recent snow in the conifers added a special touch, and thankfully it didn't warm up enough to get them to the drop-wet-snow-on-the-humans state. In spite of all the traffic (which got lighter the farther away from the trailhead we got) we only came across people and dogs back at the parking lot.
Today we added the Fourth Loop to our last Three Loop trek (the trail loops are consecutive starting at the bottom at the south trailhead). With an added short diversion at the top we went about 7.2 miles, a bit more than 3 hrs, with lunch on the trail and necessary stops to admire the creeks, leaving the Fifth Loop for another time. A very good way to start Winter, with or without snow.
12-20-2020 -- Celebrating the Solstice!!
With great date numbers, + or - 32 deg outside, light snow cover, light wind, the promise of longer days to come -- we simply had to start our Solstice celebration with a hike.
When we were buying our shoes yesterday we talked with co-owner Keith about Bruno's Run which is about 35 mi north of us. We'd been on that trail now and then over the years for short walks but it had been awhile. When we read the weather forecast for the day we decided it was a perfect day to check it out. Mostly sunny and already heading for 32 deg so we gathered our gear, made some AB&J sandwiches, added a few logs to the woodstove, and with a last scritch and a "we won't be late" to LilliB (who knows enough not to hold us to the latter) we were in the car by 11:00 heading for Hwy 13. An hour later we were at Pete's Lake and on the trail.
Bruno's Run is a long-time very popular, easily accessible, 11 mile mountain biking-hiking-running single-loop trail through the Hiawatha National Forest. With beautiful hilly terrain, lakes, creeks, woods, very well maintained, it's easy to understand its popularity though it's not near any population center. Today, when most trails we'd been on would be empty of people, we followed fresh tracks of 2 bicycles, 2 dogs, and 4 people. We ended up meeting and had a nice chat with 2 of the people. Later added tracks of 1 or 2 more humans and a dog (there are a number of access points on the trail). Then a runner with an energetic young dog came by, adding their prints. It was a great day to be on the trail. We also had the company of chickadees, a downy woodpecker and at least one squirrel. And several sections were peppered with the amazing snow flea.
We started out with the sun shining through the hardwoods, though clouds took over the sky as we went along, but the temperature stayed plus or minus 32, with little wind down in the woods. This is a wonderful single track, traversing the hills but with no steep ups and downs, just a gentle roller-coaster looping along the edges. We appreciated that with the slippery footing in the light but trail-packed snow. With no straight or flat sections (except the small bridges over creeks) it was continually interesting. It took me awhile to realize the difference from the ski trails we'd been hiking. This trail was built for bicycles and hiking, avoiding straight ups and downs that would wear and wash out readily with bike traffic. Skiiers, on the other hand, go for significant ups and downs (well, the downs anyway!). The first half of this section, starting at Pete's Lake, was through mixed hardwoods, unfortunately heavy with dead and fallen beech but with enough young regrowth and maples and others to keep it a nice woods. Later were areas of mostly hemlock woods.
The trail goes down along the lakes - first Grass Lake then along McKeever Lake - but we didn't run into any swamps or wetlands, just low woods. It's an amazing area, hilly woods full of lakes.
Two hours into our hike we turned around at the bridge over Deer Creek which runs rather swiftly out of McKeever.
Having stopped earlier to sit on a downed tree (no lack of those) to eat our first sandwich, we did the same on the return trip. Two hours later we were back at the car having gone 8 or 9 miles (it's hard to guess mileage on a trail like this). But even though we still felt strong 4 hours was long enough. We got home in the daylight, ready for dinner, and happily satisfied with the wonderful hike.
We'll certainly go back to hike this trail again, hiking the rest of the main loop and maybe the McKeever Hills trail.
December 18, 2020 -- A Day Off
Today was a "day off" from hiking. Instead we headed up to Marquette to go shoe shopping, something becoming increasingly needed since both of us had hiking shoes with "issues". As neither of us are much fond of shopping we chose one store to go to, a good running/hiking/foot-oriented shoe store, and hoped it had what we both wanted. They had expanded since we'd been in there last and thankfully had a wide selection and nice, knowledgeable owners - Queen City Shoes. It took a bit of trial but we both found shoes, Steve fairly quickly, me not so. They haven't yet come up with my version of a "just right" shoe, but it was close enough. They have a great store return policy - go hiking, go walking, go do what you do, if they don't work out return them. So we did. We got lunch, went out to our favorite and usual spot at Presque Isle Park to eat, watching the choppy waves on the Lake as the wind picked up. There are many trails up, over, and around Presque Isle and it's a very popular and well used park. It was nice to see so many people out walking, enjoying the day even if it was a bit chilly out in the wind. We simply went around to the other side, added a few layers, and walked along the black rock area and up into the woods. No matter where you are it's a beautiful and interesting place. It's always a nice trek and today we were also testing out our new shoes (not hiking mind you, this being our day off). With a decent hill climb and descent it was a good shoe trial. Steve's were good, mine were a bit too sloppy. So back to the store to check out some other shoes (and ending up with the same just a half size smaller). Which gave Steve time to visit the Marquette Bakery across the street, and next to that the Dead River Coffee Roaster to get a good mocha. All and all a fun day in Marquette, with lots of nice people, including our always stop at the Marquette Food Coop. We got home before dark, there were still coals in the warm wood stove, and it wasn't too far past LilliB's dinner time though she was waiting for us on the porch.
December 17, 2020 -- Still No Snow
It's like anything - the more you give your attention to it (no matter what it is) the more it comes into your life. For us right now it's happening with hiking. Need to go to Escanaba to get some boards at Menards? Sure, there's some kind of trail right nearby. We'd have time for a short hike. We'd passed the small trail-head turn-out many times and knew it headed off into a big tag-elder (or something similar) lowlands which didn't look too inviting but one never knows. So we decided to check out the Escanaba Recreational Non-motorized Pathway in person, starting at the south end off the back of the Comfort Suites parking lot. Now they say it is for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter; and hiking, biking, running in the summer. With a couple feet of snow I'm sure it will be a nice cross country ski trail. But the hiking, biking, running is a bit overstated, at least at the south section..
The trail IS generously wide, well marked, with some nice conifer woods and a nice ridge. But one has to first get through about 20 minutes worth of wetlands, really wet lands, which are thankfully well frozen right now. It is also full of frozen swamp grass hummocks and stumps sticking up through the ice and a generous covering of recently mowed thick dried (but very pretty) grass/sedge/reeds, with occasional stubble, all of which we traversed like drunken sailors, sliding a bit, walking and bouncing on and off the hummocks. We now know we both have very good ankles! This was the "EZ Loop". But one does get through that to Loop #1 and up onto the ridge and woods. It really was quite a nice trail at that point, especially being somewhat warmer (than recent outings) at about 30 deg and only a mild breeze. Loop#1 heads down and back out of the wetlands now and then but not hummocky like the beginning (and ending) trek. But considering what they had to work with the folks who built, and maintain, this trail through difficult terrain have done an admirable job and I think it might be a popular local ski trail. There are a couple of northwest loops that look more promising for hiking, however, with a north trail head which we'll check out next trip to Esky.
December 15, 2020 -- A New Day, A New Trail
It just keeps happening - another good day to go for a hike. A little colder than the last one but not too much, 23 to begin with and calm, partly sunny (hurray!) and it warmed up a few degrees later on. No new snow. Might as well check out another ski trail. This time the Rapid River National Cross Country Ski Trail. We don't know what makes it national but we know it's very popular with skiing friends. And we found it to be yet another great hiking destination, about 40 miles from home.
The Loop B we took (the gold one) is almost entirely in conifer forest - Red Pine, Balsam Fir, Hemlock, some Spruce, occasional Cedar. Designated "moderate difficulty" for skiing it makes its way, with appropriate ups and downs, along an surprisingly high, then very high, ridge. One certainly wouldn't want to accidentally ski off the trail down the sides (which isn't likely considering the generous number of trees). The trail does head on down to the low bogs/swamps now and then, but mostly it's high above on a beautifully maintained (by those ever busy volunteers) pine needle strewn trail, looking down on (now frozen) wetlands. There are sections along old and current two-tracks but that just makes for a nice change for side-by-side walking.
Most trail walking is single file so we change off about every half hour, with a quick (or longer) stop for drinks and snacks, and midway usually a longer one for more substantial food. We finished the loop and were back in the parking lot sooner than we thought. So still with energy left and daylight (we got on the trail earlier this time) we took in a second smaller "snowshoe" loop. Flatter and calmer (most of it is also the "Tot Loop" and follows partly straight along a pipeline clearing) this was a good way to end the hike. Seven miles and less than 3 hours we were back in the car finishing up our lunch (we find it hard to take very much time to eat on the trail when it's cold, no matter how scenic it is). This will be another good trail to return to in the future, with more loops to explore as well, as long as the snow holds off. But when it does arrive (making very happy skiers!) it will be there waiting for us hikers next year.
The one issue we're still challenged by is keeping our hands warm. We're still working on a good layering system. One that will keep those important fingers happy yet allow some dexterity. In cold temperatures one isn't very inclined to pull hands out of cozy cocoons for even quick chores. But with each trip we come back with ideas -- gives us something to work on during the non-hiking days! Fine-tuning the gear seems to be a big part of the fun.
December 13, 2020 -- Pine Marten Run
About 20 miles north of us is a Forest Service recreation area called Pine Marten Run. It's mostly a horse trail system with multiple loops through pine and hardwood forests. With several camping areas it's very popular and well used in the no-snow season by the equestrian crowd. You can hike then, too, but it's really best to leave it to the horses. They're happier and a trail well trod by horse hooves is not that great for hiking. However, horse season ends Nov. 30 and with this year's extended hiking season we decided to check out these trails. So last week we went up and hiked not quite half way around Triangle Loop, which goes around and sometimes beside Triangle Lake, which isn't triangle shaped but is a pretty lake. It was a real nice couple hour walk through some beautiful pine and hardwood forest.
We hadn't planned to go hiking today since yesterday we had walked a couple of hours going north off our own property, keeping to the woods since there was a brisk north wind and it was only 25 degrees out. But when I checked the forecast this morning I saw 31 degrees (which would likely mean upper 20's in reality), calm wind, cloudy and no precipitation. With colder temperatures forecast after that with lots of wind, maybe snow (though not likely), it seemed today might be a good day to go. Of course, it was only 22 degrees and we'd gotten a half inch of snow but compared to what might be coming 'round the bend, this was great conditions. And we could still go in walking shoes (with warm socks!). We decided to put away the lists of all the things we were going to do at home today and headed back out.
Of course, it wasn't an instant walk-out-the-door. We had to decide where to go - there are so many options. Then there is gathering food & snacks, warm drink, deciding what to wear, organizing our packs. But that's a good part of the fun of hiking. We decided to go back to Pine Marten and hike the entire Triangle Lake Loop, going the opposite way around this time. It's a 6.8 mile trail but we figured we had enough time. Days are so much shorter now (maybe you've noticed!) it's something to consider if one wants to get back to the car while still plenty of light to see the trail in a forest setting. We could simply get on the trail earlier but there's always the hope that the day will warm up and the sun appear later. Well, it did get up to 27 degrees and not only was it calm there was absolutely no wind. Quite a change from yesterday's blustery north wind. The sun didn't make an appearance but it was cheery enough. We both were warm and comfortable with our chosen layers of clothing. And with plenty of food and snacks, and enough warm drink, it was a real nice 3 hr walk.
These trails go through some beautiful mixed woods. There's been some logging but not overly where we were. This worst part was seeing the extensive blow-downs that happened in some very strong storms several years ago. This along with the die-off and subsequent toppling of large dead beeches made for some rough looking woods in areas. It was some real heroes who cleared the trails, not only here but across the U.P. The Triangle Loop still has numerous step-overs which just made for interest when walking but I doubt would be so nice for horses. I doubt anyone would want to ski this section but it should be interesting snowshoeing when the snows come. The terrain is very up-and-down, rolling ridges and valleys, a diversity of woods. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a flat spot large enough for even a small tent! A pleasant surprise on the trail was coming to a small bridge over a small creek, very peaceful and gentle as it disappeared into the woods (and under numerous fallen trees) in either direction. Creeks are a big draw for both of us. When I got home and looked at Google Earth you could just barely make out its very winding route from Triangle Lake north to the Indian River.
So all-in-all, another enjoyable hike.
December 10, 2020 -- Still No Snow -- But a few more outdoor projects completed!
What a difference a year makes...
December 4, 2020 -- Enjoying Bare Ground
We continue to have dry and relatively mild weather. No snow on the ground and outdoor chores done (at least those that don't require warmer temperatures) so we've often been putting walking/hiking into our days. It's been great. Now that regular deer hunting season is over we're back to walking in the woods, especially nice when it's windy. We feel so fortunate to be able to just walk out our door and into the woods for as long as we want. But during deer season we simply took to the road, a'foot (and in requisite neon orange). We're enjoying doing what we talk so often of all summer but seldom take the time to do.
Trips to town gives us reason to hike different paths and makes the drive worthwhile. Without snow the cross-country ski trails make wonderful walking trails. Tuesday we stopped by Valley Spur near Munising. With a vast network of trails through wooded terrain it's interesting with a lot of options. However, you definitely want to print off and take maps with you! Their signage is marginal at best and geared strictly for the skiers who simply follow the groomed trails in one direction. In a 2 1/2 hr walk we mostly only really knew where we were when in the parking lot! And we're somewhat familiar with the place. Next time we'll take the maps. But we did make it back before dark and it was a nice side trip on the way home from Marquette.
We found the opposite, signage wise, two days later when we checked out the smaller DNR Days River Pathway, north of Gladstone-Rapid River. A very nice park it was easily navigatable whether skiing, biking, or walking, and they welcome all three. With seven well laid out loops it is accessible to most everyone no matter skill or time. Their signs at crossroads/trails were exceptional and easily understood. Just enough signage without overdoing it. Though the first loops were through recently logged and thoroughly trimmed Red Pine plantation, farther out was some very nice woods, appropriately hilly.
Often a squiggly winding narrow creek comes in and out of view as it followed its own unique path, often quite far below in cuts and valleys. Farther along the Pathway goes near the Days River, too.
It was easy to see why this is a very popular local destination, with or without snow. It was fun to see a number of people on the trail, with or without dogs, on a bike or afoot, together or single, each going their own speed, every one with smiles as we passed. We enjoyed our two hours there and look forward to returning.
November 26, 2020 -- Happy Thanksgiving! From our House to Yours
The words of this song by Rodney Dillard and Mitch Jayne (The Dillards/Darlings), 1964, seemed to me particularly fitting, in many different ways, this calm 2020 November day. I changed a few words and the order from the original. I hope you enjoy this song as much as we do. LINK to the video.
"There is a Time"
There is a time for love and laughter, These
days will pass like summer storms;
There is a time for us to wander, When time is
young and so are we.
There is a time when leaves are falling, The
woods are gray the paths are old,
So do your roaming in the springtime, You'll
find love in the summer sun.
Time is like a river flowing, With no regrets as
it moves on;
There is a time for love and laughter, These
days will pass like summer storms;
Yes, there is love, and love is warm.
There have been plenty of gales and wind this month but we've also had an incredible number of nice days in the 40's, maybe even 50, with no snow, an unexpected bonus for working (playing) outside. Many projects that we didn't think would be done until Spring are done and off the list. What a fun time it has been. Many times we talked about doing a video, thinking to get yet one more outside before the weather really changes but the days went by so fast it didn't happen. Yesterday we realized that that might really be our last chance, looking ahead at the forecast of daytime temps heading down into the 30's. It was partly sunny, a bit breezy but not too bad, mid 40's. It seemed like a very nice day, and it was, compared to the really blustery colder ones we'd had. It's all relative though. We had rather forgotten that mid-40's is a bit cold to be playing outside, especially when the wind picks up and the sun disappears. But we still enjoyed it, maybe the last time outside. Though when we were done our fingers indicated quite firmly that the next video will be inside by that nice warm fire. We hope you enjoy our offering of a warm and cheery song and tune for those colder and cloudier days - Oh Susanna and Emma's Pride - Here.
November 1, 2020 -- And Now, November Begins
An exciting changeover from October to November with high end gales across the U.P. and both Lakes. South winds yesterday, north winds and snow today. The photo doesn't show the snow blowing horizontally! Actually, we're pretty well protected here, and the snow will melt, we hope quite soon since the 1-2 inches forecast turned into 6-8 inches, and the car is down here by the house, not up in its nice cozy end-of-the-road garage. But sunshine and temps in the 40's promised this coming week.
We love the waves of a good storm (well, from shore) and these were high end gales so yesterday evening we headed into Manistique to check out the Lake. Yep, pretty breezy (as I get knocked back a step or two). We stopped at Rogers Park and the waves were quite impressive. But the wind was knocking the tops off the white-caps so the photos looked much more benign than it was. Of course, a lot of the experience of the high wind was in the noise, which wouldn't show in a photo. But we knew the Manistique Harbor would be active so we went on to the new pavilion by the campground, a spot we'd just discovered recently. Sure enough - full scale exposure, high waves breaking against the breakwater, hard to capture but trust me, it was truly a gale. And well worth driving in for. We both took in our fill of the wind and waves and a number of photos. And just as I decided to take a few more shots, trying to catch a particularly high wave, the Lake decided to give me a little closer taste of the water. Fair enough! So we headed off to the restaurant to dry out and check out our favorite waitresses' Halloween costumes. There weren't many Trick-or-Treaters out last night but I think Nature did enough of that on Her own (today included)
Though they say the winds are stronger today, we decided yesterday's was good enough so today we enjoyed the storm, including the blizzard, at home. A very fitting welcome to November. And we will equally enjoy the coming week of calm and sunshine.
October 31, 2020 -- Happy Full Moon Halloween!
... from Lillibulero from her favorite safe perch. It wasn't easy to get to this spot but once she managed it, it has been her favorite since. A perfect spot for a dark cat to hang out on a wild windy Halloween night.
October 30, 2020 -- The Tale of Two Apples (well, actually, quite a few apples but that didn't sound as poetic)
It's crispy fall, a full moon and Halloween tomorrow, and winding down of peak apple season. Apple crisp, apple bread, applesauce, apple cookies - I've had apples on my mind, and in my life, a lot lately! I mentioned the new (to me) Norkent apple earlier, when it first bloomed. It ended up with a great crop of beautiful apples. I harvested them Sept. 7 and found them to be crisp, juicy and delicious. We both really liked this apple. Now each apple variety has its peak time period for the best fresh eating and Norkent was great for a good month. I was hoping for longer (and it may be longer as the tree matures and in a not-so-hot year). But in early October I realized it was losing its special flavor zing, though still firm and juicy. And by the 25th it was tasting a bit blah though still sweet and firm and juicy. But it was time to make sauce of the last of the crop which, mixed with some damaged Haralsons, it did quite well.
The Beacons were gone, having been made into sauce mid October, being then past their peak fresh eating (but making great sauce). I had a lot of Haralsons but they were still on the tart side, though they made great apple crisp! It would be another month before they were ready for good fresh eating (they sweeten and mellow in storage). Of course, if that's all one has then they are quite good enough!
But I had one more variety - Splitter. A nice wilding, it got named at a time that Steve was doing a lot of wood splitting right next to it. A very nice smallish tree it usually puts out a light crop of medium size, what I call "Duchess type" of apple - late summer, more tart than sweet, a decent enough apple that usually got incorporated with other varieties in sauce or cider. I appreciated its crop as I do all my apples but never thought of it as special in any way, other than really enjoying the tree as it is right beside where we now park the car and I greet it often. But this year it got its rightful due - as a very good fruit - by being at the right place at the right time - in the cellar when no other apple was prime for eating. October 8 -I cut one up and, Hey! It was very good! I'd hit it at its prime, with a nicely balanced tart-sweet (enough sweet) and very good flavor. They had been dropping so I picked the rest Sept. 21. There were only 12 apples but we enjoyed every one after that. So now I know, they want 2 or 3 weeks of storage then they're ready to eat. From previous years I know they don't keep long but now they have a special place as fresh eaters after Norkent and Beacon are past, and before Haralson is ready. Yay Splitter!
Oh yes, one more apple - and it was only one. For its second year, Goodland (which is grafted onto one branch of the north Beacon tree) produced one beautiful large 8 oz apple, picked and eaten the end of September. Very juicy with a sprightly sweet flavor with a touch of ?grape? to it. Not real crisp but quite a very good apple. We grafted more onto other branches this year and I look forward to having enough of a crop to try it out for cider. I think it could be very good.
And yet one more, but this is indeed the last and the last to be harvested. Again just one apple, what I've named Hoholik after the original farm family who planted (or allowed to grow) the mother tree maybe 100 yrs ago. The farm, now owned by friends, we'd gotten scions and grafted onto a rootstock in the orchard, which is growing well and healthy but hasn't fruited yet. We guess the original might be an old Golden Delicious. At the time we also put a graft on a branch of the above mentioned wild Splitter tree and this graft produced one apple this year (and three last year). A very nice 6 oz healthy pretty apple. It was Oct. 20 and due to the many freezes we were having I decided to pick it even though it wasn't real excited about coming off. It was mature though as the seeds were ripe brown when I cut into it a week later. Quite interesting, the apple didn't look much like the original (which was a green/yellow with just an occasional blush patch), nor like last year's apples (which were closer to the original). This year's had a lot of red. It was moderately crisp, moderately juicy, moderately flavor. No Wow but a decent eater. It's possible it needs more time in storage but I won't know until I have more apples to trial. Maybe next year! The original tree unfortunately fell over (it was well past its prime) and they had to cut it down. So I'm particularly anxious for our main tree in the orchard to fruit to compare to the Splitter's graft and to what I remember of the original tree's apples.
And that really is the last of my apple wanderings! We now have only Haralsons left in the root cellar but thankfully a very good harvest which will keep us in fresh eating apples as well as fresh sauce well into next year. It is our only real winter storage apple thus far and I'm so thankful it decided to crop heavy this year.