Monday, October 31, 2011

Witch of the Woods--- and her name is Hazel

Witch hazel is starting to bloom in the woods of southern Michigan, but the spider-like yellow flowers
 are easy to  miss when leaves remain.
photo by Jonathan Schechter October/2011

Frost laced the woods of Oakland County and set the stage for the season of  witch hazel.
Halloween and witches have nothing to do with this fascinating small tree that is just now
flowering, but the  name witch hazel name has mystery and myth in its history. And without
taking fun away from candy hungry gremlins and goblins that will work so hard tonight to
 lay  ground work  for dental visits and stomach pains here are the facts.

Native Americans knew this tree before the invaders with guns and axes in tall sailing ships
landed on the eastern shore and carved the land to suit their wants and needs. 
In colonial America even as the British exchanged shots with the rebellious colonists, the
shrub's flexible forked branches was being used as "witching stick" by the dousers: folks who
 held the  forked branches in hand waiting for the tip to point to hidden waters.   Bad news for Halloween fans:
The word witch in witch hazel originates from the old English word for pliable branches "wych" 
 and has nothing to do with a lady in black straddling an airborne broom.

Your grandmother and probably your mom (and maybe you)  used this plant for a wide array
of medical ailments. It is found in a liquid form in almost all drug stores today and sold as an astringent, and for treaments of irritations, pain and itching, skin conditions and another 20 or
 30 uses!  .

Walk in an hardwood forest between now and Thanksgiving and look about: This understory
tree is rather common on our glacially sculpted landscape and in a few weeks afer all the leaves
 fall  the branches will be lined with spidery yellow blossoms.  Bring a seed rich branch inside
and you are in for a surprise. The heat of a room will make the pod 'explode' and kick the seeds
out like a mini-cannon tossing them up to ten feet away. 

The flowering of the witch hazel reminds me snow will soon lace the ground.
And that makes me smile.

photo by Jonathan Schechter  Nov 2010


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bizzare poaching incident of a Michigan moose. DNR needs your help.

It does not get much stranger than this.  I am optomistic the forensic skills of the conservation officers and crime lab and perhaps a bit of help from the public will lead to an arrest or arrests in this twisted case of a wildlife killer with more than a touch of venom towards wolves as well. And what I wonder is why this  poacher thinks he is more worthy than a wolf to take down a moose. Wolves eat moose, for that is their way, and the very presence of wolves keeps the 'wild' in wildlife. This criminal took just the antlers and left the head on a rock with a warning sign of sorts.

Information Sought in Moose Poaching Incident in
  Marquette County
Conservation officers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are seeking information about a moose poaching incident that occurred sometime between the evening of Oct. 26 and the morning of Oct. 27 in southern Humboldt Township in Marquette County.
The DNR received a call from a township resident about a severed moose head placed on top of a rock with a sign leaning against it reading, “Wolf’s (sic) won’t get this one!!” Officers investigating the scene noted the blood had not yet coagulated and the antlers had been removed, placing the poaching of the animal within hours of discovery. The head was discovered in an area by the corner of County Road CF and East Road near Helen Lake.
Officers were able to collect fingerprints from the cardboard sign and other evidence in the vicinity. The resident who alerted the DNR to the scene said the head was not there when she came home from work the evening of Oct. 26, but was there by 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 27.
Persons with information about this or any natural resources violation can call the DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) Line 24 hours a day toll-free at 800-292-7800 or can contact Lt. Tim Robson at the DNR’s Marquette Operations Service Center between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 906-228-6561. Information can be left anonymously, and often monetary rewards are offered for information that leads to the arrest of violators.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information about the department, go to

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wisdom from Aldo Leopold on man, wildlife and land.

photos by Jonathan Schechter
Buck in my meadow, summer of 2011

Leopold has been an inspirational writer/conservationist/scientist for me ever since I discovered his writings and explored his thoughts when living in Vermont and atttending  Goddard College with the Green Mountain National Forest my back yard. Today his Sand County Almanac leans on my bookshelf next to the works of Muir and Thoreau and has the added punch of timeless words that  salute things and places natural, wild and free.  Yesterday a gray fox trotting in my nearly leafless woods at dawn and the hooting of an owl near the house brought his words to mind. I finally found the quote I was searching for. Today a flock of turkeys trotting the meadow and a doe on the run told me it's time to post a blog for "my" wild things that are well acquainted with their woods that I share.

"The wild things that live on my farm are reluctant to tell me, in so many words, how much of my
township is included within their daily or nightly beat. I am curious about this, for it gives
me the ratio between the size of their universe and the size of mine, and it conveniently begs
the much more important question, who is more thoroughly acquainted with the world in
which he lives?"        
Aldo Leopold - A Sand County Almanac

                                   Twin fawns in early summer at the edge zone between my lawn and wild meadow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Season of the bald-faced hornet: It's over!

photo by Jonathan Schechter

Their season in the sun is over.
 But before you take down an 'empty' nest for a den decoration know this: Once in awhile a few hornets 'forgot to die' and  hang on into November in the papery cells. Warmth in a heated den 
will send  them boiling out with an attitude and taser like powers of pain, a lesson I learned years ago.  If you want to take a nest inside for a natural gift of the wilds before winter winds and chickadees blow and peck the nest apart wait until  heavy frosts  and then cut the limb and place
the nest in a plastic bag  for a day inside to make  sure you
don't hear buzzing and crawling.

And where is the queen hornet?  She is snuggled up under a decaying log or wood chips in
your garden. She is fertile and ready to start a new season of bald-faced hornets next spring.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dreaming Like A Wet-Nosed Dog on an October Day

photo by Jonathan Schechter

The days of autumn splendor are fading fast. As much as I love cross-country skiing and deep winter explorations, I want more time in the woods of October before snow and ice makes planning essential before trekking into silent winter woods.

 But if I was a wide-eyed, wet-nosed, tail-wagging dog, wild with unleashed freedom to run the terrain without worries of private property and sensible acceptable behavior I could crash and splash over creeks, vault over downed logs, hurl myself from valley to colorful hilltops and howl in primeval excitement at dawn and dusk to meet my never ending need to be outdoors. 
And if my pads became sore I could hop into a car like this floppy eared guy working with the
DNR and ride without worry and just hang my head out the window, let crisp air fill my lungs  and  delicious scents of the season flood my brain.

But I am human.
Rules of society make me plan.

Today I look at maps and commitments and  I dream of my next multi day trek into the wilds. It has been too many months since I felt the comforting pressure of a backpack on my shoulders. And I miss the first smell of coffee after night winds rustled tent flaps and a crow speaks to dawn.
The sacred earth and nature's wilder side is calling me--again.
It would be so much easier to just run free with the canids, domestic and wild.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


all photos by Jonathan Schechter  (October 15, 2011)
  These photos  accompany the Oakland Outdoors hiking column exploring the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) appearing in the October 23 edition of The Oakland Press   The event was a celebration of a new trail connecting  Lake Erie Metropark  with the DRIWR .  A job well done, for wildlife, trail users and all outdoor recreationists with help from the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

TRAGEDY IN OHIO: Lesson learned (again) from the escaped "wildlife" shootings.

Adult male baboon in the wild, on the move in Tanzania.
photo by Jonathan Schechter Oct, 2009

Fact one: The science of animal behavior and ecology is complex, but one fact remains clear: 
Alpha nocturnal predators  -  the great cats (tigers, lions, ) - are skilled hunters and
deserve their reputation as man-eaters in the jungles of history and our minds.   Grizzly bears
 take a human being out in a single bite and baboons with an attitude think
nothing of attacking. Wolves and cheetahs are not house pets.
Fact two: An ex-con with an attitude should not be housing 48 of these great animals.
 In their native habitats they were wildlife. In Ohio where the shootings occured they were
exotics, and by all accounts exotics on the move and dispersing quickly into the
surrounding countryside of Ohio.
The first 911 call to reach Zanesville Ohio told of a bear and lions chasing a horse in a pasture.
When law enforcement rolled up to the 73 acre property of Terry Thompson they found all
gates open and the great predators and baboons and monkeys on the loose. 
His perverted version of Noah's ark had hit a rock, sank and came to tragic end. Decisions had to
be made quickly. Thomson lay dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A corners's
 report later confirmed a big cat  - most likely a Bengal tiger - bit his head after his death.

In a perfect world a team of 50 skilled veterinarians with 50 rifles with  tranquilizer darts and nightscope capability might have been deployed to capture the animals.  (A few were captured)  
But even that attempt would have been utter foolishness and pose extreme risks to humans. 
 If a human encountered one of the exotics in their tainted taste of freedom they would most
likely have ran, and running from a predator kicks in a predatory reponse of chase and kill.

I am saddened that lack laws  and misguided actions by a few allowed such a collection of
  beautiful and endangered creatures to be in private hands, but I am angry that more than few
 are faulting the sheriffs deputies and the State police for their quick and effective lethal response.
That act of issuing the Shoot To Kill order  took courage, but it would have been cowardly to
do  anything else other than that. 
Ohio politicians are now reviewing their laws.
Just where does one shop for a Bengal tiger?
The aftermath  (photo from Internet - authenticated)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Silence and beauty of fallen leaves under attack.

photo by Jonathan Schechter

  There is no sound I dislike more in these golden days of autum than incessant screams of 
leaf blowers. I am not 'that old', but I remember when leaves were raked to corners of yards and wood lots and left alone, or added to a super big leaf pile rich with color and scent.

Leaf pile were places for kids like me to play.  
Leaf piles were part of the wonder of autumn.

And if they needed to be moved to meet our  peculiar whims of adjusting the natural acts of  nature hand rakes did the task well, and quietly. 

October has reached the midpoint. Days are filled with soothing natural sounds of late season crickets, cranes and geese in flight, and the magical crackle of falling leaves dancing in gentle winds, wind flavored with the sweet scent of autumn. And just when the afternoon is perfect and all is peaceful an army of "leaf-thugs" arrives in trucks and assault the scene. They strap on smoke belching leaf blowers and destroy the peace, beauty and silence of the countryside. It's almost an act of war on leaves; leaves that have yet to complete their natural cycle of soil nourishment, shelter of tiny creatures, and winter slumber that is part of their way.

Dead leaves are life giving for the ways of nature.
If I had my way leaf blowers would be banned.
But I hate them.

NOTE: As I put the finishing touches on these words I read a blog on leaves from my writer /naturalist friend Ulanawa Foote--a post with earthy prose and beautiful pictures that  celebrates fallen leaves. Her perspective is perfect. I doubt she owns a leaf blower.
It's an excellent read, a peaceful contrast from noisty assaults on fallen leaves.
A link for her words of True Colors is below in her Turtle Saw blog.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pokeweed! A plant of folklore, beauty and danger

Pokeweed  (Phytolacca americana)
photos by Jonathan Schechter

Don't be fooled by the deep purple berries and munch a sample. All parts of this plant are
 poisonous to mammals with the highest concentration of  toxins in the roots.  A quick literature
search may leave you scratching your head with the mix of folklore, fact and myth on Pokeweed,
an herb that grows six feet tall and has deep purple stems and berries.  One source states that 
 Cherokee would harvest the young tender shoots in early spring, peel them to remove toxins and
cook them. Herbalists tend to agree that when properly prepared the very small tender spring
shoots can be consumed--but if you make an error your reward can be as simple as cramping,
vomiting and diarrhea or can be dangerous heart rhythms, coma and death. 
Others have suffered allergic reactions from contact with the sap.

  Pokeweed inspired the 1969 song Polk Salad Annie, a lively southern tale of  woe, poverty,
    poke shoots on salads and a swamp-lurking gator consuming granny while she worked in a
     Louisiana chain gang. Poke salad continues to find its way into southern diets in 'the hills' 
             and historical records seem to confirm that during the Civil War soliders use an a simple
 ink made from the  juices of the plant to send letters home from the battlefield. 

Pokeweed is at its deepest colors now adding a richness  of nature to moist area in woods and
fields of Michigan. Medical research continues on of this plant that was (and still is) used as a folk
 remedy in Appalachia for many ailments ,but for you and me, putting pokeweed in the belly in
the days of Autumn should be considered dumb, dangerous and perhaps even deadly.


Monday, October 10, 2011

A Great Leap of Faith! A tale of trails, frogs and a woman's eyes.

A trailside photo by Ulanawa Foote, October 2011
  Lake Erie Metropark

I discovered this photo today on the Twitter feed of nature photographer Ulanawa Foote. Afer reading her lighthearted words of wisdom and encouragement  blended with the frog image I knew it was time to share her creative capture of these sun-soaking frogs of October. What a great picture.
Wish I knew what the frogs were thinking!
For more of Ulanawa's creative eye and blog posts:

 Look for her native wisdom, prose and pictures on Twitter @Ulanawa   
You will find my nature and science Twitter tweets: @OaklandNature

To discover the wonders of Lake Erie Metropark, a wetland rich park just north of where the Huron River feeds into Lake Erie (in SE Michigan) go to
And if you follow my columns in the  Sunday edition's of The Oakland Press ( look for a special hiking column later this month on Lake Erie Metropark.
Better yet, find a trail, any trail and tie those hiking boots tight and take your own leap of faith into the world of nature. Trails are perfect in autumn to connect you with nature, be it in a far off exotic location or where a  local trail meets a city or town.
Hike on my friends!

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Blast of Winter's Beautiful Fury!

Drummond Island, Michigan
photo by Jonathan Schechter

The temperature is set to soar to eighty degrees this second weekend of October creating a perfect opportunity to prepare for winter's beautiful fury of blankets of white powder.
And that season shall come.

Today is a pefect day to harvest and husk my black walnuts.
A pefect day to cut downed wood for the wood stove.
A perfect day to sit in my woods and watch chipmunks scurry.
A perfect day to listen to crickets.
A perfect day for witnessing leopard frogs in moist meadows.
And a perfect day for being just a bit lazy in the great outdoors bearing witness to the reminders
that late sunrises and early sunsets tell of a a season that has changed.
This moment of gloroius warmth will be as fleeting as a tossed stone skipping across a quiet bay----
and then sinking.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trail Weapons: Myths and Illusions of Reality

all photos by Jonathan Schechter

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."
One of my favorite quotes of Henry David Thoreau.

By the time you read these words I will about 230 miles away in a land of wildness.
And just a bit before the sun sinks into the waters of Lake Michigan I will set out
on  "my back country trail" for a night hike not many miles from the small Village of Empire. The trail is frequented by porcupines, coyotes and black bears, and more likely than
not a cougar or two  silently treks the night shadows between the crashing waves of a great
 restless lake and  the silent leeward side of the furthest sand dune.

I pose a question: What is the best weapon for my journey to insure I have safe flirtations
 with nature at her wildest in the blustery days and chilly nights of autumn? 

If you picked the knife - you are wrong.
If you picked the bear spray  - you are wrong.

 However I bring both with me on most treks in lands that are wildlands.
 But the best "weapon" on any trail is situational awareness, an understanding of
the creatures and hazards and weather along any trail.
 (I also carry  a small "just in case"day pack with compass, fire starters, survival blanket, dried
foods and other items for an unexpected night in the woods.)

  I  have great respect for creatures with sharp teeth, claws and fangs but I am far more
concerned about Idiot Two-legged Beasts that persist in drunk or texting driving and may be 
drifting over the center line of  M-22, my winding gateway road to northern adventures on
our magnificant and oftern stormy northwest shore.

Situational awareness means I understand how bear spray works chemically, how it would affect
me in an accident, and how and when to aim and pull the trigger. 
Situational awareness meansI know bear spray is a last ditch emergency deterrent,  meaning it must be instantly accessible and not stuffed away in my pack. 
Situational awareness means I am aware of the controversy on bear bells dangling from a pack: Perhaps the ringing tells a bear habituted to people---"Here comes another fool carrying goodies"
Situational awareness means that  I know running from a predator is the worst thing I can do--for that may elicit a predatory response. Act like prey. You become prey. 
If I stumbled into a black bear, I know not to play dead. That message clearing screams,
"Come on over and eat me! Take a bite! You might like me!"

Does even the slightest potential for sharing a landscape with a cougar, black bear, coyote or other great predator, add to my experience of wildness?
Does a storm churning over the lake after add to my coveted desire for wildness.
I think you know my answer to both questions.
Walk quietly and at peace with our creatures and your journey is full of goodness.
And that my friends is not an illusion of reality.

Photos by Jonathan Schechter
Trailhead signs at Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat'l Lakeshore
Situational awarness also means reading  and comprehending advisory signs.