Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Children begin life as----

"Children begin life as uninhibated, unabashed explorers of the unknown. From the time we can walk and talk we want to know what things are and how the work." Those words of wisdom from Columbia University physics professor Brian Greene (Shared with me by a physican's assistant who celebrates the ways of nature when not in her ER) rings true, and I bet it does  for  most who love nature and respect the reality of science--AND keep their child-like enthusiam alive. Nature  is more than a Nat-Geo special, a donation to a green cause or classification of plants by Latin names.  When I was an often shirtless and  usually barefoot six year old without a TV scampering about a rural Connecticut landscape I knew the joy of exploring. I am thankful I never lost that sense of excitment. And in these early days of Autumn our natural world is rich with new excitement and discovery. Beaver are masterfully felling trees to create a  survival food cache for winter. Puffballs race for basketball size status.  And foggy dawns bring the melodious call of sandhill cranes in migratory flight.  It is a great time to be an uninhibated, unabashed explorer of our natural world, even if you are no longer a child. Even if you no longer go barefoot.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BULLFROGS! - A Tale of Two Pads

Definition #1 Bullfrogs on the pad: They are the largest of our North American frogs and they eat anything that fits in their mouths. These voraicous and mostly nocturnal night hunters are superb predators and for them life on their pad is often easy.  They spent the last few warm days of the season hanging out on their pads, soaking in the sun and waiting for something to ambush for dinner. (The bullfrog in the photo was at the Holly State Recreation Area)  Sometimes however their wait, leap, gulp and swallow plan fails miserably and a fat northern water snake, a raccoon, heron or human has them for dinner. And as days cool they abandon their beloved pads, slip back into the deep and before Halloween will be in a hibernation like state.
Definition #2 Bullfrogs Bar and Grill:  It's a lively and casual restaurant on M-15 just a few miles south of the Village of Ortonville on the western shore of Lake Lousie. And it was from their busy pad (the outside deck for the patrons) on warm summer days where I scribbled notes for the majority of my Earth's Almanac blogs and many of the Sunday hiking columns for the Oakland Press. But with that season ending, so will my time at the pad of Bullfrogs. And so on the last Saturday of this month I paid a visit to the Bullfrog's tasting booth in downtown Ortonville during  the Septemberfest Event. I sampled the ribs I know well and convinced waitperson Lynsey to pose for my salute to the bullfrogs. Two pads. Two clients. And another season of life on the pad  for both is about to end.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beware: A rash lurks in autum colors!

When I was six year old I would press my face and dirt smudged hands against the window of our rural Connecticut home to search for Jack Frost; after all my dad told me Jack was going to paint the leaves of autum with color! And I don't think I ever really fully understood the science behind that magical color change of the season until I was a nature-addicted, tree-hugging, bearded hippie discovering the ways of nature in my freshman year among the blazing autumn hillsides on the wooded campus of Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.  More than a few years have passed.  But on this first full day of autumn a slight tease of colors is already peeking out on country roads in northern Oakland County. Sugar maples are tinged with splashes of  rich golden orange.  Shades of deep reds are coming out of hiding in  the leaves of our swamp loving red maples. And a  few sassafras leaves are fully aflame with hues of orange and reds as shades of mustard yellow slowly paint black walnuts, oaks and aspen.  But one leafy plant - found everywhere in Michigan -  is leading our county's pack of color: Poison ivy! Poison ivy takes the best of  the colors and  heralds what Jack Frost will soon do to the hardwood trees.  Be wary of this lurking beauty and her greenish-white berries ( photo above) or her rash of multiple colors will leave you scratching and itching your way into the new season.  But grab those hiking boots or sneakers and get yourself out to an Oakland County  Park (  and celebrate the new season with a hike! Trails are everywhere.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Three Chickadees, One Fat Chimpmunk and a sneaky mouse. Busted in Brandon Township!

The sparkling glass lawn ornanament  hanging from a wooden pole next to my front yard wildflower meadow now doubles as a bird feeder. Within hours of tossing in a big double hand full of sunflower seeds a trio of chickadees discovered their slice of easy picking heaven.  That was five days ago.  I would fill the feeder each day around 6:30 a.m. And each day by sunset chickadees would have the feeder half empty. But yesterday morning a new twist: the feeder was empty less than an hour after filling. No spillage on the ground. And no morbidly obese bloated chickadees flopping on the ground moaning, "What have we done?" As I pondered the problem of  vanishing seed I spotted movement in the tall  grasses.  I grabbed my camera, refilled the feeder and waited from a lawn chair barely twenty feet away. Chickadees returned in just seconds and then in a flash of fur and motion and incredible leaping abiltity a ground-loving chipmunk curled into the hanging glass feeder and stuffed his cheek pouch to the max.  Another leap sent him flying to the ground and racing off to his underground cache. And while he unloaded his booty of snatched seeds the chickadees returned to grab seeds one by one. Chipmunk returned and loaded up again. And then the chickadees. 42 minutes later the feeder was empty. Lesson #1  learned: Nature's creature adapt to opportunity. Lesson # 2: That twenty pound sack of seed won't last long. And tonight when I went to the shed to put away tools I had Lesson #3 looking at me. White-footed mice have discovered my seed bin. That too is nature's way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Big Trees - and a meandering creek define an urban park

Perhaps it's the trees. Or maybe it's just the creek. But the fact of the matter is clear. With big trees all around and Paint Creek meandering through Rochester Municipal Park on her babbling journey to the rushing waters of the Clinton River, this city park takes on a life of its own even when people are not walking her paved paths.  Kudos to the City of Rochester, for when a job is well done nature does the rest. By no means is this park a wildland. It is however beautiful and peaceful and a great place to explore and feel a bit more connected to the land. And when a festival is held - such as last weekend's Arts and Apples  Festival - the shade of the trees and the flow of the water add to the experience. The photos hint at how trees and a creek (with much of the creekside vegetation intact) can enhance and sooth the human spirit in an urban park even when thousands walk at one time. Imagine if the festival was just in an open field.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Addiction of Bent Neck Syndrome

There is a self inflicted highly addictive syndrome out there. A new scourge on the land.   I will call it (BNS) Bent Neck Syndrome. You won't find it reported in medical journals or on CNN, MSNBC or Fox "NEWS".  There are no vaccines. This syndrome that denies afflicted humans the subtle pleasures of nature is rampant in the cities of Oakland County. Sadly its insidious ways are now also infecting  and addicting youngsters and seniors. Walking the sidewalks of Birmigham, Rochester or Royal Oak on a sunny day leads one to believe it is contagious. Sadly the CDC has not said a word about BNS. Today, while hiking the isolated trails of Ortonville State Recreation Area a bit before sunset area I saw a pair of young hikers--they two were inflicted with BNS. Their bent neck hiking posture showed their affliction. They walked past my trailside boulder perch never noting my presence.  The syndrome is caused by walking and staring at your electronic hand held device as you pound the keys on your BlackBerry, Droid (or whatever you use) making you oblivious to everything  around you. Sales literature says those texting devices keeps you connected with your world. Verizon boast, "It's what lets you share your life!"  As far as I am concerned it disconnects you from your life: A world in the waning days of summer filled with  beauty, excitment and the subtle wonders of nature.  Fields of golden rod and purple aster. Blue skys. Pumpkins. Sparkling creeks. Storm clouds. Migrating monarchs. Zippy hummingbirds.  High flying geese and soaring turkey vultures. Maples and sassafras tinged with orange. Crickets on sidewalks. Frogs in ponds. Turtles sunning on trailside logs. Deer munching on apples. The call of sandhill cranes and the frantic alarm of a red squirrel. A dragonfly landing on a lawn ornament at sunset. Verizon (my carrier) says these devices are "The Stuff of Life."  Not in my book. Go for a walk and try it without your electronic device turned on. Can you? Might be as tough to do as it is for an alcoholic to smash the bottle or the heroin addict to break the needle. They too say they can stop any time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Reflections and the Seduction of the Cedar Swamp

A cedar swamp. For some it is a fearful place to shun, a devil's hole of thick muck, quivering soils, strange and nasty plants, hidden creatures and a degree of partial darkness that seems to linger well past dawn . In northern Oakland County the few cedar swamps that remain entact are vibrant living footprints of the last glacial retreat. Some humans no nothing of them. Others look at them as wet wastelands. But for me these swamps of wild things and cedars and tamaracks are a siren song of  wilderness, a seductive and beautiful temptress that draws me in and holds my fascination. And so, early on this 9/11 morning  of remembrance and reflection I paid a solitary visit to one of our county's swamps. Just as I prepared to leave Terra firma - and spooked  a flock of wild turkeys in the process  - I came upon  fresh evidence of wildlife preparing for seasonal changes in the hours just before dawn.  A beaver had dropped another aspen to gather small limbs for an underwater winter pantry. And just a few feet away a buck had created a 'rub' on a tree to establish his  territorial claim of land ownership and dominance. I continued silently along on a well worn deer trail through a grove of cedars rich with scent on this overcast morning and  came to a stop at a ring of tamaracks. I smiled as I stood  at the edge of the wetland;  a place that is part bog, part lake, part river headwaters with the knowledge that in a bustling county of over 1,200,000 people such wild places exist.  And for a few minutes as I watched the reflection of cedars shimmering in the dark water beneath a cloudy sky I forgot about 9/11 and those moments of  horror 9 years ago.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On The Side of the Appalachian Trail: Wanderlust Fever

Thanks to the good folks of MARTHA AND SACHIE'S GOOD EATS - a  three table cafe and bank of local knowledge about 100 feet from the edge of the Appalachian Trail in the mountain town of Hot Springs N.C. - my  reporting back saga continues.  They have WI-FI and kindly let me recharge the lap top.  And excellent food  I might add. Live bait and groceries too.  Now on with this post Labor Day traveler's Earth's Almanac wander:

"Please use caution when camping, hiking and swimming as there are holes, rocks and critters of all types and the river can be dangerous!"  If that statement was not enough to entice me to pitch my tent in the Hot Springs Campground on the banks of the French Broad River in the Pisgah National Forest, the rumble of the slow moving freight trains and the fact that the Appalachian Trail actually runs smack down the old sidewalk of this mountain town was.  The river, wind and smell of pine smoke seduced me to quick sleep only to be awakened by a big splash. Was it a bear? Of course my trusty never used bear spray that always  accompanies me into bear country treks - and this place is a kingdom for bears - was secured locked in my car. Dumb me. Most likely a big fish I thought, and  I slipped back to sleep in my 5-star tent accommodations that have once again stirred wanderlust fever. Dawn sent me scrambling up a local peak - Lover's Leap - and treated me with vistas of the river, the bridge over the river (Backpackers on the Appalachian Trail as well as cars cross the river on this bridge) and the Pisgah National Forest.  And now it is time to explore the town of Hot Springs a bit more, a place that draws me and holds my interest, a  down to earth town rich with natural (eons of geological events including magma heated hot springs) and unnatural (the site of a WWI German prisoner internment camp) history. But before the sun sinks today I must start heading north, doing my best to avoid the expressways.  For I-75 and other ribbons of highway speed travel deprive one of seeing our country as it is, and the people in the towns for who they are.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Congaree National Park - A Mystical Place Not for the Arachnophobic!

Hurricane Earl never got close. And so early in the morning with mist still shrouding parts of  this  federally protected forested landscape that defines the wonders of Congaree National Park - a place where the average height of a tree is over 130 feet - I headed out to the accompaniment of the music of pileated woodpeckers on to the boardwalk trail to discover her secrets while the river was low.Within seconds I knew this day was not for the arachnophobic! I was the first visitor on the elevated trail and orb weavers had been busy all night. Spiders against my face. Spiders on the arms. Spiders all around: the most beautiful being the spotted forest orb weaver.  After my three hour stroll, barely enough time to have even a taste of this bottomland floodplain forest- although the mosquitos had plenty of time for a good taste of my flesh - I headed for the visitor center to chat. Interpretive Park Rangers Corinne and Kathleen upon hearing of my spider adventures smiled and they knew I was the first  human on the trail this magical morning: the point man.  We talked of the park's 16 story tall loblolly pine (the second tallest in the nation), giant sweetgum and tupelo and of the bald cypress knees emerging from flood waters and mud flats and other towering giants downed by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. And we chatted about the invasive wild boars (I encountered one along Sims Trail) and of bear reports and snakes and river otters, bobcats and mysterious creatures that move like ghosts. And they told me of canoe trails on Cedar Creek and barred owls calling into the night and the establishment of Congaree National Park. And when the rangers shared tales about  primitive backcountry camping and the miles and miles of backwoods trails I knew at that moment I would return to explore and become closer to the Congaree, for it is the river and her seasonal floods that are the creator and caretaker of this wilderness in the midlands of South Carolina. For more information on Congaree National Park go to  and  you just may discover a new meaning for the timeless words of John Muir, "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."  Congaree is such a place. A 24,000 acre publicly owned place of mystical quality--with spiders and more.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurricanes, Bullfrogs and Nature's Way

I am a proud partisan of the Appalachian Mountains, that epic spine of ancient convoluted rock,  smoothed and tamed by eons of erosion. And so on this second day of September I am southward bound for the mountains of North Carolina  and midlands of South Carolina while Hurricane Earl heads for its powerful Cat-4 brush with the outerbanks of North Carolina and then our eastern seaboard cities.By tomorrow morning I expect to be as wet as a late summer bullfrog - - and as content, for nature's way is always an adventure.  Weather, be it a calm hot sunny day, or a gray-green sky churning with active disturbance from the inland wind fields of Earl is always a pleasure for me. And with this week off from at home tasks - that includes the writing of my hiking column - what will I find myself doing?  Hiking again. Along with family visits, I'll be exploring  the hills and hollars of the southern Appalachians and hiking the trails of Congaree National Park, a magnificant and primeval bottomland forest where the  meadering Congaree River runs wide and dark and the cottonmouths and canebrake rattlesnakes grow big.  Wishing all a safe and happy Labor Day.