Category Archives: nature
This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If like me you enjoy taking photographs of flowers and/or nature, this is a wonderful place to visit.
Matthaei has several options to fit everyone’s needs or desires. There are several trails that are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, plus the conservatory, garden store, lobby and display gardens are open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Admission is free; they do have a donation box inside the conservatory, and there is a reasonable parking fee of only $1.50 per hour or a maximum of $5.00 per day. With the size of the venue I opted to pay the daily rate immediately.
I arrived at 8:30 am. It was quiet, with only a few people quietly walking out onto some of the trails. I grabbed my camera and tripod and decided to walk the Sue Reichert Discovery Trail, which circles Willow Pond. This trail is only 4/10 of a mile, which they estimate to be a ten minute walk. I meandered slowly, taking pictures and stretched it into almost an hour, taking time to sit down a couple times on benches that were available.
The difference in time is whether you walk like the average person or walk like a nature photographer, skimming the area for possible subjects to photograph. Doing so can make a fast walk take quite a while and is why I prefer to partake in such places either alone or with other photographers who understand the time frame needed to fully enjoy the area.
I decided to do the outside gardens first, and in looking over the map not only did I not go up into the Children’s Garden, but I also missed the Perenial Garden, Grower’s Garden, MiSo House and Bonsai and Penjing Garden. I started in the Gateway Garden, a relaxing spot with benches, rocking chairs and fountains. I took photographs of flowers there, in the Marie Azary Bock Garden and in the Sitting Gardens before meandering down the Commons, which are bordered by two other gardens on the east and bench seating on the west.
The commons leads you into the Alexandra Hicks Herb Knot Garden. Here you will find chipmunks scampering back and forth amongst the plants and sometimes climbing up on them as well, but trying to capture them in a photo is difficult. They are quick little guys! Once I completed my photo rounds of the herb garden I strolled between that and the perennial garden and went through a vine/plant covered tunnel which led to the opening of the children’s garden. I had the option of going up into the children’s garden or taking a nature trail around the children’s garden. What I opted to do was take a short trail not shown on the map into the Oak Openings Garden.
There was nothing to attract my photographer’s eye in the Oak Openings Garden with the exception of wild strawberry plants that had begun bearing fruit. It was the bright red of the fruit that grabbed my eye as I looked down to scan the ground for photo subjects. I followed the trail through the Upland Woodland Garden and across into the Wet Woodland Garden. Unfortunately the hot weather we had been having left nothing wet, it was, on that day, better termed a dry woodland. Nothing caught my eye for photographs, so I proceeded into the Great Lakes Garden, which led me into one end of the Prairie Gardens, then the Coastal Gardens and back up where I started in the Gateway Garden. Unfortunately a group was there partaking in the rocking chairs or I would have grabbed one for a nice relaxing break.
By now I had been wandering for a few hours and decided to take a snack break before visiting the Conservatory. One thing to keep in mind, the conservatory does not sell meals, only a limited selection of snack food, candy and beverages. If you plan to be at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for several hours you may want to consider packing a cooler with beverages and lunch or snack food. I had not planned that far in advance, so I purchased a small trail mix and flavored water. There are one or two small tables where you can sit inside to consume your snack, and there are also tables available outside on the deck. Food and beverages are not allowed inside the conservatory.
The Conservatory has three main areas, the Tropical House, the Temperate House and the Desert House. Here you will find many plants and blooms to view and/or photograph. On this day there was a water Lilly in full bloom, Cocoa trees, pineapples growing, sausage trees with their “fruit” hanging in abundance, and numerous other flowers and plants. The Desert House has the majority of their cactus growing in raised display beds, making it easy to enjoy and photograph the wide variety. I’m sure this was also done to preserve the fingers of little ones who may be touring with their parents. Some of those cactus spines are pretty long and wicked looking!
I spent about five hours touring the trail, gardens and conservatory, and I didn’t see it all. Keep in mind I was walking slow, took several rest breaks on the numerous benches that are available throughout the property, and was taking photographs. The average person might tour it at a much faster pace.
I would like to go back and walk some of the trails I chose to skip, plus with anything growing outside the gardens and trails are a constantly changing canvas with growing seasons and weather. If going they do recommend appropriate footwear for walking the natural areas and that you stay on paths due to poisonous plants such as poison sumac and poison ivy growing in natural areas. The Massauga rattlesnake also inhabits the area. I did not encounter any slithering reptiles, but did enjoy the “music” of unseen frogs as I walked around the pond.
If you are in the Ann Arbor area I highly recommend a visit to University of Michigan’s Mattaei Botanical Gardens.
You may consider my title a strange question, but I think it is worth exploring. I was recently reading a posting from my Facebook memories feed about the planning of my itinerary for a trip my husband and I were planning to go on. One of the comments on the post was that I needed to relax, it was a vacation. That got me thinking, what is a vacation?
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a vacation is a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel. That sounds simple enough, but is it? People vacation in a wide range of ways, and the trick is to find people who like to travel and relax in the same manner you do. It also may mean you need to make adjustments to the way you travel in order to accommodate everyone’s desires and interests.
My husband, Ron, and I always traveled with an itinerary. I read tourist books and mapped out our trips. I knew what we were doing each and every day, and quite frequently we were up with an alarm clock to make sure we arrived at places when they opened to get a jump on the day. That is how our kids grew up. There were many people that thought we were nuts, but then those same people would say “wow, you saw/did a lot on your trip.” Well yes, that is the result of planning and being on the go.
We would hear people talk about their vacations, traveling somewhere and then spending a good portion of their time sitting around a pool, or on the beach, sleeping in late and doing a lot of nothing. People would go camping and spend the majority of their time sitting around the campground, chatting with other campers, sitting around bonfires, etc. When Ron and I heard vacations such as those being described we would think “how boring.”
So which is the proper vacation? They both are. A vacation should be whatever you want it to be. Do what makes the days fun-filled and relaxing for you and your travel companions. People are unique and everyone has their own set of needs. What is good for you may drive me bonkers; what is right for me may leave you feeling stressed and exhausted.
Then I started wondering how my vacation plans may be affected by the fact that my husband has passed and I am now alone. Ron was always a morning person — his feet hit the floor and he was off and running. I like to get up and see and do a lot, but I frequently start my day at a slower pace than he liked. I think I will find a balance for myself that is similar to what I have always done, but maybe a bit more relaxed. Whatever I end up doing, it will be the same. It will be different. It will be me. That is what a vacation should be.
The same feeling can be triggered by different stimuli in different people. It can be a memory, likes, holidays, smells, or just a date on a calendar. What is your trigger indicator for spring?
Michigan is known for temperamental weather. It can be 70 degrees today and 40 tomorrow, so is temperature a good indication of spring? Here in Michigan you may be hunting Easter eggs under snow. Is it spring when the weather is consistently above 60 degrees? Is it spring when the tulips have bloomed but are then covered in snow? Can we rely on the weather to tell us it is spring?
Maybe your trigger that spring has arrived is when the daffodils or tulips bloom. Could it be newborn birds chirping in a nest, or a tiny bunny hopping across the front lawn? Spring is a time of rebirth. What about the smell of lilacs blooming on a tree? The smell of a fresh cut lawn? Scent is a very real trigger for memories. Has what indicated spring to you as a child changed now that you have become an adult?
What about Easter? It arrives with easter egg hunts, bunnies, spring dresses and special worship services. Does the arrival of Easter mean spring has arrived? The problem with Easter is it arrives anywhere from late March to sometime in April. Easter is a mental trigger for many that spring has arrived, but should it be? The weather doesn’t adjust itself to Easter’s arrival, so not a true indicator of spring.
Has spring arrived when a trip through the store includes displays of seed packets, seedlings, soil, mulch, rakes, shovels, and other items needed for gardening. What about the season opening of the local farmer’s market selling flowers and plants? Do these items trigger the feeling that spring has arrived?
The trigger indicators that spring has arrived are different for every person. They are brought on by things we have experienced in our lifetime that instills in us that degree of freshness, newness, that spring evokes in all of us. For me, one of the number one triggers that spring has arrived is when the shipping resumes on the St. Clair River. The vibration of ships as they go up and down the river, the sight of their lights at night as they pass by, the sound of fog horns in the morning. For me, shipping season means spring has arrived. What triggers the arrival of spring for you?
Here in Michigan we had a very mild fall and early winter. Temperatures in the mid 40’s and a very small amount of snow. It was wonderful. People did have trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. It was hard to get into the shopping mode with green grass and wearing spring jackets when under normal conditions it would have been cold and normally some light snow.
Now the holidays are over and we are ready to break out the flip flops and head to the beach, but Mother Nature played a trick on us — well, actually tossed reality back at us. It is now running 18 degrees, parts of the state are under heavy snow, and we have had to haul winter jackets and gloves out of the back of our closet.
Where is Spring? It is hiding down the hill and around the corner. It may peek at us now and then, just to remind us it does still exist, but is not going to spoil us and break out for at least another month or so. April snow storms in Michigan are not unusual.
Michigan takes a beating on its weather. A popular saying in our state is “If you don’t like the weather wait ten minutes, it will change.” This is very true. Michigan weather is unpredictable and because of that putting your faith in a weather report is suicidal. However there is one thing to be said for Michigan. We rarely have true natural disasters.
While Michigan is not completely immune, it does not normally have news breaking weather like so many states do. Tornadoes, forest fires, hurricanes, mud slides, floods, earthquakes, and massive life-stopping snow storms are not the norm. What temperamental weather we get can generally be dealt with and resolved within a day or two.
So, as much as I would love the warm sunshine of a hot summer day, I know that is still in the distant future. For now I will trudge through the skiff of snow, scrap the frost off my windshield, and drive with my car set to defrost more often than heat. Yep, it all sounds good, but I do have one final question….Where is Spring?
A couple weeks ago my husband, Ron, and I attended the Seven Ponds Nature Center Photo Expo. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we had the opportunity to take classes and enjoy taking photographs at the nature center. We split up, taking separate classes to fit our own personal interests and so we could share information from as many sources as possible.
Class subjects we participated in included Travel Photography, Subject Elements and Composition in Nature, Night/Low Light Photography, and Shades of Gray (visualizing your photograph in black and white when shooting). Extended and overlapping break times allowed us to meet up and eat lunch together in the car before once again splitting up. We even walked areas of the nature center separately, which is sometimes beneficial so that our photographs are not all alike or of the exact same subjects.
There were several drawings for door prizes and Ron was the lucky winner of a $50 gift certificate to Camera Mart in Pontiac — a place that we frequent. While at the seminar we purchased a new mono-pod for Ron and a new tri-pod that converts to a mono-pod for me. I had been having trouble with my tripod and the Benro dealer informed me it could be sent in and re-worked/repaired at no charge by using his name from the seminar. Needless to say I was very pleased to hear that, and Camera Mart handled getting that sent in for me.
Nature photography is something we both enjoy. Everyone taking a walk in a wooded area or nature center should always have some form of camera available to capture the things that make those walks beautiful to you. Take the time to look and enjoy the small things. There are times I have taken walks with others who are not photographers, and they traverse the area much faster than I, because I am spotting and photographing many subjects that they never see. I’m including some pictures taken the day of the seminar at Seven Ponds Nature Center.
~~ ALL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN BY GRACE GROGAN ~~
~~COPYRIGHT 2015 GRACE GROGAN.~~
Before heading onto the boardwalk of Magee Marsh Ron and I made a pit-stop at the gift shop area. Because hours are spent walking the boardwalk, taking pictures and observing birds I made a trip to the porta-potty while Ron headed to the gift shop. The difference, this year I was prepared for the porta-potty challenge, at least I thought I was.
Last year I pulled out a sheet of toilet paper and notice a “shadow” on it, and turning it over discovered a huge black bug on the backside that scared the crap out of me (well, not literally), causing me to throw the toilet paper on the floor. This year I pulled out a strip of paper and checked it over very carefully. I was happy to find it bug-free. I then watched a small spider come down from the ceiling and land on my purse, which I had carefully hung on the sanitizer dispenser. Of course the dropping of the spider led me to look up, where I spotted a large spider on the ceiling. Does the Magee Marsh porta-potty dislike me? Can’t I use it without a bug problem coming up? Apparently not. The sacrifices of a photographer who needs to utilize the facilities before heading out to capture some bird shots.
I exit the porta-potty and enter to gift-shop where my husband, Ron, had gone. He is standing in the check-out line when he sees me come in the door and immediately says “would you like a T-Shirt?”
He is purchasing a large poster and a T-shirt. Where does he plan to put the poster? We have no available wall space left. His answer “I’ll take something down.”
Great! I wonder what item gets demoted for the promotion of poster showing the various types of Warblers. Time will tell, because he’ll have to get it framed first. Now the T-shirt, whenever I see a new one of those come into the house or in his hands to purchase I just laugh. Why? Because the man could probably wear a different T-shirt for the next 90-120 days before having to do laundry. Granted a few of them may be showing their wear, have paint on them or a few holes, but for the most part they are good, nothing wrong with them T-shirts from various places and festivities. However, we would not want him to feel deprived of a Bird Week shirt from Magee Marsh, so the purchase was made.
Magee Marsh is located in Ohio and is a great place for photographers and bird watchers. It is where Warblers gather each spring before flying over Lake Erie on their migration north in the spring. Unfortunately we were a bit early and there weren’t many birds at the location yet. It was a nice, warm day on the boardwalk, and if you look around you can usually find things to photograph, such as moss growing on a log, or a turtle sunning himself in the sun.
There are two kinds of people you find at the Marsh this time of year. The photographers, like Ron and I, with our camera’s and large lenses to capture photographs or the true bird watchers who are carrying bird books, check lists, and binoculars. Both are friendly groups, so a nice mixture to share space with.
About half way around the marsh my bad ankle started causing me problems, with pain shooting from the ankle up to the knee. We were almost at the end when my wonderful husband did his best to take my mind off the sore, swollen and throbbing ankle. As I was standing with my back to him, sore foot off the ground and one hand holding the boardwalk rail for balance, Ron swung his camera around to take a photograph of a bird up in a tree. Sounds simple and uneventful, doesn’t it? Only one glitch, in the process he clobbers me in the back of the head with his 150-500mm lens, I hear an “oops” and he is off and shooting. Luckily the head only hurt for a few minutes after I hobbled my way to the end of the boardwalk and sat down on a bench to wait for him to finish.
We get in the car, and as we start to roll down the long exit road from the Marsh I look at him and say “For future reference, hitting me in the back of the head with your camera lens did not draw my attention away from my sore ankle.”
Ron has it duly noted, but makes no guarantees it won’t happen again. Such is life with a photographer, the shot must come first, but as I am also a photographer I understand the process.
Photographs by Grace Grogan are available for sale on Fine Art America.
I was sitting at my desk this morning when I looked up to see a young squirrel hopping across my front yard and up onto a raised bed surrounding our tree. He then perched on the wall for a moment, turning his head looking around before he scampered up the tree and onto a bottom limb, Mr. Squirrel then sat on the limb, facing the road, watching traffic go by.
What was his reason for going to the tree and stopping first on the wall and then sitting on the branch? What was the purpose of this observation? Was he looking for someone, meaning another squirrel? Was he contemplating the safety of venturing out and crossing the road? Was he just enjoying the morning view, something to do for a moment?
After a few minutes he scampered back down the tree and without hesitation hopped off the raised flower bed, onto the lawn and ran back from the direction in which he had originally come. What was his next destination? Why was he going there?
We will never know what was going on in that squirrel’s mind. What his purpose or goals were at the moment. In our hectic, fast-paced world it is relaxing to contemplate for a moment what is going on in the mind of an animal that appears to take action that in some form or another had a purpose, we just don’t know what that purpose was.
As I sat down this morning and looked out my window I had the contrast of a tree in my front yard that is still full of leaves, and they haven’t even changed color, but the trees across the street are bare of any leaves at all. Then I have shrubs with snow on them, and a neighbor across the street running his large snow blower in his drive.
The contrast of these items shouldn’t come as a surprise — I live in Michigan. We have a saying here, if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes, it will change. However where I live, in the thumb just south of Port Huron, I am not used to snow on the ground until January or February. We still wear spring jackets in November, people ride their motorcycles, we haven’t found our ice scrapers yet. I am not a winter person, I took these photos standing inside my house, through the screen.
An arctic blast has moved across the country, dumping cold and snow everywhere. Buffalo, New York has taken a major hit. Given what is going on elsewhere, I really can’t complain about what I am dealing with here in the thumb….well, yes I can. I’m still not happy, just recognize it isn’t as bad as it could be. There is snow coming down as I write this.
In April I wrote Wild Weather Past and Present because we were also having strange weather this past spring. If you didn’t get a chance to read it then, check it out. It shows that bizzare weather has been going on for hundreds of years. The advantage is we now have homes with furnaces, cars with heaters, snow blowers, plow trucks, and tons of modern conveniences that our forefathers did not have when dealing with wild and bizzare weather.
Stay Warm. I am trying to look on the positive side: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go.
This is a Blog Bonus – a posting that is not on my normal schedule, a little something extra. In my last post They’re Back I talked about the return of the spiders to my front porch, something I am not thrilled with. My 3-year old grandson, Corbin and 8-year old grandson, Austin, seem to view the event differently. Corbin thought they were spiderman, and Austin thought I had a “cute little spider” and they both stood on the porch the other night when the spiders were out and said goodbye to the spiders before leaving. Guess it is all in perspective. I would love to say goodbye to the spiders, but on a permanent basis and it would be them leaving, not me.
It keeps you on your toes when things are constantly changing. A couple weeks ago I noticed they started appearing again, just a few, but the number has grown and their size has grown, and unfortunately they have returned, but I don’t really understand why that would happen now.
Back in June I wrote a post Where Have All the Spiders Gone? about the spiders that have taken up residency on my front porch every spring since our move here in 2004. This year for some reason they never arrived. They weren’t putting forth an appearance every evening on the sides and ceiling of my front porch, and we didn’t have to worry about walking through a web if we arrived home after dark and the front light wasn’t on. Over the course of the summer I enjoyed not having them here. I could sit out on the porch reading in the evening and not have to worry about them stringing webs above my head if I read past dusk. It was wonderful, until now.
They are back! Why would they come back in mid September? Don’t they know fall is here, that the temperatures are going to get colder? Do they have to cover my porch with their webs now, after all this time? Don’t they know I have grown accustomed to their absence? Could I be so lucky as to have a frost this fall kill them all off once and for all?
I really shouldn’t complain, after all they stay outside. In all these years I have never had a problem with them invading the inside of the house. I don’t have a problem with mosquitoes, most likely thanks to spider consumption. Maybe they have done me a favor. I used to be the type of person that would freak at the sight of a microscopic sized spider, now I can walk in with them all over the porch and not go into a state of panic. That isn’t to say I don’t try to come in as quickly as possible to prevent the possibility of one landing on me, but I am able to walk calmly into the house without looking like I’m trying to escape a mass murder. In fact I have grown to enjoy the comical, panicky entrance of those who are freaked out by them. That still does nothing to satisfy the questions that now perplex me.
My mind is even more curious than it was a few months ago. Why were they here for nine years beginning in the spring and staying through fall, then this spring never arrived? Where have they been all summer? Why are they suddenly making their appearance now? Will they be back next spring? The great spider mystery, it just adds to the craziness. I think it may become a cold case, never to be resolved.
After an 11-day vacation my husband and I arrived back home the evening of August 17th and I am still working on getting back into the swing of things. Our trip was within our own state, but to an area that was very different from where we live.
We began with a two-night stay in Boyne Falls, Michigan for a memorial service. We have a motor home and had booked into a campground there that is located on a country road. What we found, luckily after we had left the motor home at the camp and were driving only our car, is that the GPS does not distinguish between good country roads and seasonal, 2-track roads. We also discovered that it is possible for a GPS to get confused because after taking us down an assortment of roads it took us back down the same roads we had just come from. So much for a GPS being able to navigate from Boyne Falls to Boyne City — it couldn’t even find our campground!
Our next destination was Iron Mountain, located in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Our drive from Boyne Falls to Iron Mountain was uneventful, unless you count orange barrels on the Mackinac Bridge an event. Of course all Michiganders know that summer is “orange barrel season” and why should a bridge be any different? What we found during our stay in the UP is that although we were in the same state, the environment and way of life is very different.
Iron Mountain is on the south side of the UP very close to Wisconsin and about midway across. It is home to one of the world’s largest ski jumps, and if you drive to the war memorial there it will take you up to where the jump is located for a beautiful view of the area. We enjoyed a tour of the Iron Mine in Vulcan, where they take you approximately 425 feet below the earth’s surface into the mine. Mining has not been conducted there for years but it is interesting to learn the conditions under which they worked and the tools used to drill in the mine.
Our main objective of the trip was to photograph waterfalls, lighthouses and nature. We were disappointed that although we passed several Moose Crossing signs the moose were not being cooperative and we never saw one. We did see several deer, wild turkeys, and what we believe were a couple coyotes. We found that while some waterfalls are well known and have a lot of visitors, others are secluded, hard to find, and require driving down narrow county dirt roads that are only slightly wider than a car width and you will only find the waterfall if you are lucky because they are not well marked.
Driving down county roads can be interesting. We came across lumbering areas where we stopped to take photographs, and discovered that semi-trucks coming at you on those narrow dirt roads drive at a pretty good rate of speed. Don’t forget to roll up your window because you will be engulfed in a smog of dirt after they pass. Much of the UP is National Forest, so you are driving those narrow dirt roads with huge trees on both sides. We commented on how beautiful they must be during the fall color season.
Part of the UP is Eastern Time and the other portion is Central Time, and as we drove to our various locations we were constantly bouncing from one time zone to the other. The solution, leave your wrist watch on Eastern, set the microwave on Central, and your cell phone will automatically change for whatever time zone you are in. Although this did not have a massive impact on our vacation plans, you do have to keep that in mind when considering the hours a place is open or when you make reservations.
Two of the lighthouses we visited are private and can only be seen by tour. We luckily stumbled upon them at the correct time to take part in the tours and learn about life at those locations. The job of lighthouse keeper was a lonely existence for both the keeper and his family, as they were often in places that were located out and away from other civilization. Climbing a lighthouse that is part of a home is an easier, shorter climb for a great view. By the time you begin your climb up the spiral staircase to the lantern room you are already on the second floor of the home and only have a bit farther to go.
I have given you a few details on our trip, but the question you may have is why did I say it is “Same But Different?” Because it is. I live in Michigan’s lower peninsula in the thumb just south of Port Huron. When you cross from the “mitten” into the UP in some ways you take a step back in time and into a small town existence. A “big city” has a Walmart and a KMart, and some fast food establishments, there aren’t many big cities in the UP, Iron Mountain, Marquette, Munising and St. Ignace are those that come to mind immediately. The rest of the UP has small towns, no fast food, and the towns have long stretches of roadway between them. Of course you can always find a restaurant serving pasties wherever you travel, something you will not find in lower Michigan. A pastie is meat and potato with maybe a couple other veggies in a crust. They were carried by miners down into the mines to eat for their lunches.
We traveled Highway 2 several times and it is a long road of forest and very few cars. You spend a lot of time driving in the Ottawa National Forest or the Hiawatha National Forest. The UP does not have “rest stops” like we are familiar with where you have a nice modern building, vending machines and bathrooms. When you travel in the upper peninsula there are Roadside Parks with picnic tables and the bathroom facilities are actually outhouse toilets. Did you want to wash your hands? If fussy about that you better carry some hand sanitizer. We noted that most vehicles on the road are clean without any with damage from accidents or rust. When living in an area where you have to drive for miles between cities without any other cars, homes or businesses between having a well maintained vehicle is a must. While there are miles and miles of desolate area there is no litter. Here in the lower peninsula you find litter everywhere, but not in the UP. We never once saw so much as a gum wrapper on the ground – clean and natural as it should be. Uppers take pride in their environment and it shows.
We will definitely go back to the UP for another vacation. It was relaxing, has great photo ops, nature, and requires a lot more time to explore than we allowed. If you want to go somewhere that is the “Same But Different” take a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
This past weekend I had the fun of staying on an uninhabited island with my sister and two female cousins. It is a unique experience, something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.
There is something about being away from everything and unconnected from the world — no TV, no radio, no telephone (cell phones only worked down by the water, not in the lodge), no electricity, no indoor plumbing except for non-consumable water at the kitchen sink, no air conditioning, no street lights, no cars, no other humans on a 263 acre island. There is an operating lighthouse and you may see ships and other boats passing in the distance on Lake Huron. It is a peaceful existence.
Our journey began at a boat dock in Alpena, Michigan. It is there that Captain Mike met us. He loaded our luggage and coolers packed with food for the weekend onto a boat and transported us 2-1/2 miles out to Middle Island. The Middle Island Keepers’ Lodge where we stayed is a former U.S. Coast Guard foghorn building that has been transformed into a beautiful and comfortable lodge. The lodge is a 2/3 mile walk from the boat dock down a trail through the woods. Captain Mike loads up and transports all luggage to the lodge for you. If you are unable to make the walk you can hitch a ride in the small 4-wheel vehicle he keeps there for providing luggage transport.
Ready to begin our adventure in true fashion, we all elected to make the walk. On the journey we walked past a more rustic cabin that is also available for rent on the island, and another trail that leads down to where there is a sinkhole in Lake Huron. The trail to the lodge is peaceful and quiet, the perfect beginning to our weekend. Once everyone has arrived at the lodge and the luggage is unloaded Captain Mike gives a tour of the lodge and shows everyone how to operate the propane lighting inside the lodge and the propane heated shower out on the deck. While we get settled in Captain Mike goes out to cut and deliver firewood to the campfire area down on the beach. Captain Mike then leaves us on the island and will return on Sunday to provide us with the opportunity to tour and climb the lighthouse before transporting us back to the mainland.
The lodge is roomy and comfortable with a large modern kitchen. The range and refrigerator/freezer are powered by propane. There is running water in the sink that can be used for washing dishes, bottled water is provided for human consumption. The sink and shower water is pumped in from Lake Huron. A comfortable dining area, a couch and two chairs, plus a bar area with four stools provides plenty of seating.
In the main area there are propane wall-mounted lights. A small free-standing fireplace is there for use in cooler months, but there was no need to use it during our stay. Large windows, a front door, back door and sliding door provide plenty of cross ventilation to keep the cabin comfortable. For families there is a loft accessible by ladder that holds another table and chairs, a single bed and bunk beds, making this an ideal family retreat. For eating and socializing there is a picnic table on the grass out the “back” door, a table and four chairs on the back deck, and a bench and washline on the main entrance deck where the shower is located. Even the porta-potty just off the main deck area is clean and contains a battery operated light for nighttime use.
As the golden hour approached we ventured down to the beach and fire pit area to light a fire and watch the sunset. The beaches here are not sand, they are covered in limestone/shale rock. As we watch the sunset over Lake Huron we notice that a huge flock of seagulls nest on a strip of land that juts out into the lake, and they periodically take off in large groups for a moment before once again landing on their nesting area.
As night falls we are able to watch the lighthouse come to life, with its beacon reflecting into the water. Without the distortion of city lights the sky is pitch black and the stars are crystal clear. A beautiful sight. Our flashlights came in handy making the walk back up from the fire pit to our lodge. When you are used to always having some form of unnatural lighting around it is amazing how absolutely pitch black nighttime is.
You may think you sleep soundly, but when there is absolutely no sound except the distant sound of waves on the beach you learn how soundly you really can sleep. I live on a state highway and am used to sleeping with the sounds of cars going by off and on all night, plus the vibration of ships going up and down the river and the occasional sound of their fog horns. On Middle Island when you go to bed and there is no sound. Quietness envelopes you into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Our first night on the island we stayed up late socializing, but Saturday night we made sure we went to bed at the reasonable hour of midnight and set an alarm to watch the sunrise Sunday morning over Lake Huron. I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but that was a beautiful and peaceful sight as well. The sun rose at approximately 6:08 am and there was only one lone sailboat out on the water at that time of morning. A sight definitely worth rousting yourself out of bed early for.
What do you do on an uninhabited island? Spend time talking to people, really talking without the interference of tv, computers and text messaging. Read a book or the newspaper articles that Captain Mike keeps on hand that tell about the island and special events that have happened there. A small selection of games, puzzle books, and cards are on hand. Read the journal books that people have written notes in talking about their stay on the island. Everyone loves the time they have spent on the island and there are repeat visitors who have made journal entries over the years during each visit. One thing is certain, everyone enjoys their time spent on Middle Island. That was one of our Sunday activities, each of us wrote our own short paragraph about our stay on the island, and it was fun to read each entry. Although the majority of our time was spent together as a group, our thoughts and experience the things that inspired us about the island, varied slightly.
If you are physically able to do so do not miss out on walking the trail on the island. Allow about four hours and take a water bottle with you. If you have any physical challenges a walking stick or in my case, a cane are also important…and don’t forget to take your camera. This is mostly a walk through the woods, but there are areas were Lake Huron is visible, and you will encounter nature in various aspects. I personally could have done without walking my face into a few spider webs, or the large daddy-long-legged spider that I noticed crawling on my chest, but those things are minor compared to the beauty of nature experienced throughout the walk. Huge butterflies, live snails, and spiders spinning webs were some of the things viewed. The sound of birds singing up in the trees provided beautiful background music. We were told that there are several deer on the island and did see their tracks but were not lucky enough to encounter any. Nature has its own way of creating unique beauty, from gnarled upturned tree roots to wild daisies trying to take over the pathway. There was always something to capture our attention.
Had someone told me I could survive and enjoy life without tv, radio, internet/computer, telephone, motorized transportation, electricity and indoor plumbing I would have questioned the intelligence of their statement. What I found is that when eliminated from my life for the weekend I did not miss them. A stay on Middle Island is the perfect getaway. We are used to being connected at all times, we operate on a schedule and are always checking our watches, crowding activities into our busy lives. A weekend on Middle Island eliminates those things from your life. From Friday afternoon to the time Captain Mike picks you up on Sunday you are free to relax, not pay attention to time or schedules and enjoy the beauty of nature as it was created. We all left certain that we will return again some day.
It isn’t that I miss them, and I really don’t care if they never return, but I am curious. We moved into our home ten years ago, and for the past nine summers as soon as it got warm the spiders took over the front porch. At dusk they would suddenly appear, building webs, sitting on the siding of the house, lurking on the ceiling of the porch. Then come morning they would be gone, leaving only their webs to show of their prior nights invasion until they reappeared again that evening.
I am not favorable to spiders so it took some adjusting to the fact that if you arrived home after dusk you were walking up onto a porch with lots of spiders on it. If we forgot to turn on the porch light and came home after dark it was worse because then you couldn’t see where they were. One night that happened and I was first to the front door. When I opened the screen door I felt a web go across my head. I hurried into the house, flipped on the lights, was doing the wild karate hair shuffle with my hands while saying to my husband, Ron, “Is there a spider in my hair?”.
Being a typical man, he remains on the front porch, looking around and says “There are a lot of spiders out here.”
“I don’t care what is on the porch, is there one in my hair!”
Ron enters the house calmly, looks at my hair and replies “no.”
Whew! That moment of panic when I didn’t know if I was wearing one of the darn things ended with one simple word.
This summer is strange. There are no spiders on our front porch. They should certainly be there by now, and after all these years I assumed they were permanent residents. So here we are in our tenth summer in the house and I am wondering what happened to the spiders. Did the bitter cold winter freeze them out? Will they suddenly realize summer has arrived and do a late invasion? Will we be given a summer of reprieve and then be invaded again next year? Only time will tell, but for now I am happy that I can walk across my front porch in the dark, or sit on it reading until dusk, without having to worry about whether a spider is happily building its web above my head or across my front door. I must admit, as adverse as I am to spiders, I continue to look at my front porch every day and wonder “Where have all the spiders gone?”
This past weekend my husband and I decided to drive to Magee Marsh in Ohio to take photographs of birds. Located on the southern side of Lake Erie, this is where North American Warblers gather during their spring migration, making it a prime spot for both bird enthusiasts and photographers. People travel from all over the United States and other parts of the world to visit during the prime migration time, which is the last weekend of April thru Mid May. A birding festival is held during the highest point of migration. We visited after the festival had ended, but there were still a large number of bird watchers and photographers visiting and we were able to enjoy both the sound of the birds “singing” and the ability to capture them on camera from various points along the boardwalk.
Although the boardwalk is only about a mile long, Ron and I spent approximately six hours making the walk. In addition to the birds there are also other items of photographic interest, as this is a nature preserve and nature holds its own beauty. There are two distinct differences between the photographers and the bird watchers. Photographers are obviously carrying cameras, often with huge lenses and on tripods. Their primary focus is to capture hundreds of shots of the birds which they will later sort through, choosing the best and identifying them as they do their photo processing. The bird enthusiast are usually carrying binoculars, bird books and note pads in which they meticulously record the birds as they see them. While you will see some bird watchers with cameras, I don’t recall seeing any photographers with binoculars, as your camera and lens serve the same purpose. Because bird enthusiasts are used to spotting these small creatures they were a handy resource, a groups of bird watchers with their binoculars all pointed in the same direction
generally meant a good place to direct your camera lens as well.
The Magee Marsh boardwalk is well maintained, with periodic benches where you can rest if needed. There is also a raised viewing platform and other side trails you can take for additional viewing. The birds are frequently quite close to the boardwalk, so even with a small camera lens or point-and-shoot camera you have a good chance of capturing a nice photograph. Camera’s click in rapid succession, people scribble notes on their pads of paper, and everyone enjoys the view. Photographers and Birders are friendly, enthusiastic groups of people.
If you haven’t been to Magee Marsh and love nature, birds, or photography, this should definitely be on your list of places to visit.