Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Great Beech Tree Turtle God

This image is not altered. It's a natural creation on the side of a beech tree deep within the Lakeville Swamp Nature Sanctuary, a preserve of the Michigan Nature Association about eight miles north of Rochester.  To me it is clearly a swimming Loggerhead turtle, a carnivorous  marine species  that can easily weigh over 300 pounds. That's a lot of turtle.  I am very fond of Loggerheads.  I  have seen them lumbering ashore to lay eggs at night at Edisto Island, South Carolina just a few hundred yards from my tent.  The moment after I  saw my beech tree Loggerhead with a halo of sunlight illuminating the form - as I looked up to the sound of a nuthatch song - I thought of all the old news clips and newspaper photos I have seen of  strangely placed images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Those oddities are divine images for some people with deep religious beliefs. And they have seen these images in places that I would consider a bit weird, OK not a bit weird. In very, very weird places: a rusting water tower, a burnt piece of toast, freshly poured concrete, old concrete, a cooked fish stick, a cheeseburger, dried up pancake batter and even on a kit kat candy bar.  Who am I to say that those peculiar twirls and shapes (smudges to me) with dark spots that can be interpreted as eyes by the searching human minds of  believers who seek comfort and reassurance with "a sign" from God are not oddly placed divine signs.  Humans see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe. That is our nature even when it contradicts reason and science.  I am happy I clearly see my sea turtle on tree bark but do not look at is as any sort of sign: or maybe it's simply a nudge for me to head for the ocean.  Nature is unscripted and humans see things they long for and wish for.  Be it a loggerhead on tree bark, or the Virgin Mary on toast.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Toads and Bucks

11 acres. That's how much land I live on. The nearest paved road is almost two miles away. Nearest store 4 miles. I am on a well.  It's a sheriff's department town. Traffic lights are few and far between.  Except for the Village of Ortonville street lights are non-existent.  Brandon Township has 36 square miles of hills, ponds, woods, swamps, creeks and homes. Some neighbors have horses. One has cows: lots of them. "How can you live way up there, in a place like that?  You must be bored to death!"  That question was actually posed to me by a friend down in that I call the flatlands: Madison Heights. A world of concrete, cars, confusion and endless stores and shops.  I posed the same question in return.  I dont think he understands the rich reward of the country. But Brandon Township is far from wilderness. When I chose to sleep on my screened porch on sultry nights I am aware of a car or two going by during the night hours.  But I am also well aware of the call of the owls, the snort of deer and  the early deep boomings of bullfrogs while spring peepers still peep. I await the flash of the firefly. That is my touch on sanity - - treats of nature. And yesterday while working on my rustic arbor I noted a fat old toad snuggled under a broken flower pot. I re-arranged my wildflower planting plan so he can stay. And I have stopped mowing one section of my meadow where a young buck naps in the dawn hours. And next time I see my friend I will ask him how he can live in a land without bug-slurping toads and bucks in early velvet.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The 8,000 acre wildfire still smolders not far from Roscommon. (See previous blog  post for fire photos and details)  Here is what you need to know if you are heading north this weekend:  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has announced that M-18 and the area east of M-18 will reopen today, Friday at 1 pm. Motorists are urged to drive with lights on and do not stop in blackened areas.  Hazards exist from pockets of heat and smoke, burned and smoldering snags and heavy equipment.

EAST OF M-18:    The previous evacuated area east of M-18 is now reopened to PROPERTY OWNERS ONLY for an opportunity to asses their property and secure their belongs.   Blockades will continue at M-18 and Old 144. Landowners MUST show ID with proof of residence or a tax bill showing they own property.  Citizens who stayed in the area are asked to stay on their own property and leave their outside lights on so firefighters and law enforcement officers are aware they are remaining in the area.

WEST OF M-18:  The evacuated area west of M-18 remains closed until  DNRE can ensure firelines hold throught an expected wind event this afternoon. Residents will be allowed access into the blockaded area with identification and an escort from 6 pm until 9 pm to secure property and will be asked to leave for the evening.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wildfire rages near Roscommon - State of Emergency Declared

I'm writing these words at noon on Wendsday, May  19 as four tractor- plows, nine off road fire engines, three fireline skidders and a U.S. Forest Service Task Force (one bulldozer with three fire engines) and a growing number of wildland and local firefighters sweat it out on firelines this sunny Michigan day. A wildfire - now named  the Meridian Boundary Fire - is raging in Michigan's Crawford County in South Branch Township near the intersection of M-18 and M-72. The fast moving flame front is being fought by crews from the U.S. Forest Service, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and local fire departments.  At  this moment the blaze has swept over 7,520 acres and evacuations continue.  Residences have been confirmed lost as the fire burns mostly through jack pines. (Building in woods without a defensible open space has extreme risk when fires rage)  The blaze was first spotted at 1:30 pm yesterday. The cause: Burning of debris.  The point of this blog post: Caution and fire weather awarness is a must when you burn--even if you have a permit.  A State of Emergency has now been declared in Crawford County and M-18 is closed from M-72 to the Roscommon line. With winds shifting today to the northwest there is fear the fire may jump over and escape the southern containment lines. If that happens the north side of the Village of Roscommon is threatened.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Nature of Addison Oaks


Addison Oaks County Park is a not so hidden jewel, a glacially created wonderland of nature's way, yet rich with human created ammenities that include cozy cabins for rent (I'm going to have to rent one!), boats to paddle, fish to catch and trails to explore. These pictures help share the tale of a park with 174 campsites, great trails for hikers, bikers and horsemen and surprisingly abundent wildlife if you explore just after dawn or a bit before dusk. But no matter what time of the day you put your boots to the ground you will find wildlife.  I took pleasure in observing  the goofy gluttony of a  rotund muskrat as he packed in the greens and a pair of nearby Canada geese that kept a watchful eye on their brood as they paddled a few yards from shore.  Late May is a perfect time to take in some of the woodland wildflowers (no picking!) including wild geranium, a delicate bloomer with pinkish purple blooms.   For more information on Addison - and the rest of the 13 parks managed by Oakland County Parks explore our county park's website at  And keep in mind that it's our Oakland County park millage that keeps these wildlands and parklands open and safe for our enjoyment. Parks and trails are not just good for the wildlife and environmental stewardship:they are good for you too.  Don't forget to mark your calander now to vote on August 3rd to renew the 10 year millage that keeps the 6,700 acres of  our13 Oakland County Parks and their 68 miles of trails and facilities in operation and great shape. It's the right thing to do for you and your children. No more land is being made in the land factory.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Severe Weather Warning: What Does it Matter?

"What does it matter?"  That's the response I received yesterday when I mentioned to a friend that nasty weather was looming on the horizon. "Be careful"  is what I said to her after hearing the NOAA forecast. There is a church in Santa Fe I  think about during severe weather season when I watch news interviews with folks who had near misses on our restless planet  full of of tsunamis of  floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, landslides and lightning strikes. And when I  heard her comment I thought about that church again but my feelings were not of prayer.  More than a few people tell interviewers they prayed they would be safe - and in the end they were. All well and good.  But there is a  powerful message on that church, and it's not in the form of a sermon or a placard. It's a lightning rod. A lightning rod that protects a recognizable religious icon perched high on that historic church. Kind of makes one pause and think as I did when I first saw it last May in during a New  Mexico wilderness medical conference.  And I read that 'better put a lightning rod on our church' message very very clearly. The message? Prayer is not enough. Nor is ignorance of nature and her unstable atmospheric moods the wisest thing to do. Lightning is one of nature's most deadly phenomenon. We average 58 lightning deaths a year with hundreds more injured. And 100% of those killed last year in the USA were killed out of doors. A powerful thunderstorm is on the horizon.That's what it matters.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Me, A Neanderthal? Yes I Am!

The truth is out on one of the most debated questions in anthroplogy:  Did humans mate with their prehistoric cousin, the Neanderthal? According to a new report from the acclaimed journal Science the answer is a resounding YES! Neanderthals never truly went extinct, they live on within us, for part of us is them.  According to lead researcher Svante Paabo of  the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, "It's certainly an indication of what went on socially when Neanderthal and modern humans met."  Bottom line: We have met the Neandertahal and he, or she, is us.  The irrefutable evidence is in DNA recovered from ancient human bones. That's a summary of the science part of the story. Here is the personal part. My story: At long last I understand the ancestry of the copious volumes of body hair I still sprout. Now I know why I feel a need to sleep with the window open even in winter, why I awake at the very crack of dawn, why I get restless when I can not trek  in the woods, why I like to shelter in desert caves, why I chose to sleep under stars when I camp in the mountains and why I feel kindship with the wolf and owl and all things wild. And now I know why I have failed mastering technical computer skills, text messaging and most modern electronic high-speed devices. Neanderthals did not need to. We hunted. We gathered, and on occasion we mated with our trim and sexier cousins; modern humans. The study went on to state that there is some cave man biology in most of us: Between 1% and 4 % of genes in people from European and Asian background trace back to Neanderthal.  One day soon when commercial gene testing firms figure out how to measure the exact percentage of Neanderthal DNA locked in my genes I'm betting I''ll be at least 4%. And then at  long last I will have my final explanation for functioning at times like an old scratchy long playing 33 record in an iPod world. As for the picture, yes that's really me,  in my hippy days in the woods of Goddard College in the hills of Vermont - at the time when my nearly prehistoric never ending love affair with nature's way blossomed and hair still grew on top of my head.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Antlers + Jugular Veins = Darwin Award

The Darwin Awards "commemorate individuals who have improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it." To qualify the candidate must have exhibited an astounding lack of sound judgement yet have been capable of sound judgement.  Translation: Doing something really stupid. With the stage set for my photographed nominee I proceed. The scene is Bay City, Michigan. I was driving towards M-25 when I came up behind a slow moving car.  At a traffic signal I ended up bumper to bumper and reached for the camera when I realized what I was seeing on his rear window deck:  4 sets of deer antlers. Deer antlers are sharp. They have pointy ends. Human  necks are soft. They are vulnerable to pointy things. I can only dread the messy situation EMS and deputies would have should this gentleman be involved in a solid impact crash. But the questions remains: Why? Why would someone drive around town with four sets of antlers on the rear window deck.  Was he looking for a doe? Obviously they are there to be seen. But why? Perhaps some mysteries in life and the ways of nature and man and perhaps boasts of manhood are best left to our imaginations.  But I was tempted to pull up along side and ask him that question. I did not.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vomiting Crude: British Petroleum, You and I

As a sense of doom casts an oily shadow over a large section of the American coastline from Lousiana to Florida and beyond, the bottom line is all the fault does not start and finish with the failed equipment of British Petroleum.  The uncontrolled gusher spews close to 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the sea every day. Disaster looms.  Forgetting for a moment the 11 rig workers that were killed in the initial explosion,  we now have an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions looming with enormous threats to the fishing and shrimp industry, marine mammals, fragile ecosytems, beaches, marshes and summer tourism. The situation has eclipsed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.  We are entering the worst case scenerio phase--- and a time of veiled hypocrisy. Yes, it was a failed BP well that punched the coast in the gut and continues to vomit crude. But it is you and I and our hungry cars and fishing industry boats and our insatiable appetite for what was once called Black Gold that fuels the need for BP and other companies to drill and drill.  This is not the time to Drill Baby Drill. It is time to get our act together and curb our oil desires. The same thing the nation said back in 1989. Easier said than done.