Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Salute to John Muir on Thanksgiving.

Beaver-felled black cherry tree in Oakland County, Michigan  Nov 23, 2013
photo by Jonathan S. Schechter

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” - John Muir

John Muir was an keen-eyed early advocate of the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His words are timeless. His enthusiasm for nature's way and his understanding of the relationship of man to nature is evident to anyone that reads his words. There is a spiritual quality in his writings that inspired readers and fueled the energy of early day and present day naturalists.  No one can deny his writings helped create an awareness of wildness in America and was paramount in the early protection of wild tracks of land. On Thanksgiving Day why not take a walk in the woods and appreciate the wonders of our natural world, for as Muir so thoughtfully penned, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world."

Friday, November 22, 2013

ROSE OAKS COUNTY PARK: A trail tale of bluebirds and a beaver lodge.

Rose Oaks County Park  photos by Jonathan Schechter November/2013

Rose Oaks County Park is a wildland gem of the Oakland County Park System, 640 acres of woodland and wetlands nestled away in the glacially sculpted landscape of northwestern Oakland County.  Today's blog post supplements with photos my featured hiking column that appears in the Sunday, November 24 edition of The Oakland Press. The column can be found in the print edition and online at the Oakland Press website:  (Type my name in the search box and the most recent column appears) The Rose Oaks column explores the newly expanded equestrian-friendly trail system with special attention to a surprise encounter with eastern bluebirds.
A casual glance may only reveal a beaver lodge with freshly gnawed sticks on top.  But look up high on the left above the lodge and there perches a bluebird.  One of the most pervasive misconceptions about bluebirds is that they all migrate south for winter. That facts confirmed by keen-eyed observers tell the true story;  many bluebirds over winter right here in Oakland County in protected habitat  that provide berries that persist well into winter.  Rose Oaks County Park is such a place, a natural wonder of nature rich with  berry producing shrubs, wetland swales and the meadows and forest edge that bluebirds love.
The bluebird now zoomed in on with a telephoto lens. The sky blue  colors had been noted by Henry David Thoreau  long ago when he penned  his simple and accurate words,  "The bluebird carries the sky on his back". And on the gray November day I hiked the 4.5 miles or Rose Oak trails the sighting of bluebirds added happiness to my solo trek. When you hike with bluebirds you are not hiking alone.
 Moments after spotting the first bluebird  a downy woodpecker appeared behind the bluebird and set to work in the seasonal search for bugs and grubs behind the bark of the trees next to the beaver lodge

LESSON LEARNED:  An apparent desolate scene is just an illusion of  human reality.  Hike a trail with an eye for seeing and the world of nature comes alive even in the fading days of autumn. For  details on exploring all 13  Oakland County Parks visit:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Swamp-Loving Tree of Smoky Gold

Tamarack trees shimmer in smoky gold in an Oakland County wetland (photos by J. Schechter)

To the Chippewa the tree that turns smoky gold in later autumn was known as 'muckigwati' a word that translated as swamp tree. And that name is just perfect for the tamarack  is most commonly found in wetlands, swamps and  sphagnum bogs of glacial origin. The tree is unique in the fact that although it  resembles other evergreens during spring,  summer and early autumn it is a deciduous conifer and sheds all its needles every year in late autumn.  In Oakland County (Michigan) the tamaracks have just reached  their transformation peek from pale green to smoky gold and are about to shed their needles!  
The tamarack holds the Latin name Larix laricina and is also known as the both the eastern larch  and the American larch.

Tamarack needles are in brush-like tufts and their cones are less than one inch long

According to Aboriginal Plant Use in Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest the inner bark  of tamarack is used as a poultice in treating wounds, frost bite, boils and hemorrhoids an the outer bark is used as a treatment for arthritis and colds. A tea from the bark has  been used as a tonic and laxative and skin ailments  Old literature and notes mention that the inner bark when crushed has been used with success on sores and burns. My friend, Sakoieta Widrick, a native American and instructor of Aboriginal Studies and Mohawk Language in Ontario  emphasized "The Indigenous nations use of trees, plants and other grasses and bushes was only part of a healing formula. There was a ceremony that had to be done, asking the tree for permission to use it for healing purposes  as  well as taking those ingredients at the proper time during a yearly cycle which would insure the medicinal use was  at its strongest. In this way medicines were used by the Native people of North America."

photos by Jonathan Schechter at Independence Oaks & Highland Oaks County Parks

There are few trees as beautiful as a tamarack suddenly laced in gold against a brilliant blue sky. 
 Sadly many humans are unaware of the natural seasonal transformation of the tamarack and wonder
 if perhaps a blight has yellowed their beloved evergreen when they note the rapid color change.
 Others have gone a step further and cut down their trees; only to discover later their horrific error.
And that is why I wrote this blog, to share the wonders of our swamp tree that turns smoky gold.