Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wilderness Walk

After a very dark and quiet night, Wednesday dawned with some cloud cover. After a breakfast of instant oatmeal I packed my camera bag with snacks and gear and headed out for a hike.

I wasn't certain where I was headed, but decided to start at the pond across the road from the campground. Below is a map of the park. The campground is situated in Big Stone Bay, that dip in the shoreline at the top of the map.

The parks have apparently done a lot of work out here recently. There were several new trails and the old ones had been spruced up with new boardwalks.

Maple and birch glowed along the pond's edge. This is an area thick with conifers and evergreens, mostly black spruce, red pine and white cedar and balsam fir, so the color of the deciduous trees really stood out.

Red squirrels populate this area, and black spruce cones are a main food source. There were piles of nibbled cones on the trail.

From the Pondside trail I picked up the Red Pine trail, which worked its way up from the lowlands into the drier ridges to the north and east. Here grew a tree I was not familiar with, and may not have even noticed if not for it's bright color. Striped maple is a native understory tree, rarely reaching more than about ten feet tall. Leave are nearly five inches across. It is named for its bark which is green and striated.

Up along a ridge I stopped for a snack. It's good to look behind you once in a while, to see the trail from a different perspective, and to check for cougars. Or bears. Or wolves.

The trail ahead.

The woods were pretty quiet, many of the birds having flown south already. But the winter residents were busy, and I heard a number of hairy and downy woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches. I even heard a pileated laughing in the trees near the campground. This Red-breasted nuthatch was working over a black spruce along the trail, pulling seeds out of the cones.

There is no question autumn is my favorite season. Summer's nice but I don't like the heat and the bugs. Spring is pretty but February/March are dull and gray. I love the silence of winter, and would rather hike in winter's snow than through clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

But autumn has the best of them all--colorful, bug-less, alive with the activities of animals preparing for winter. I love the smell of dried leaves on a trail, the contrast of red and orange against the green of moss and needle. Summer's monochromatic green turns every shade of brown and yellow and gold. Even pond lilies turn bright red against blue waters. Temperatures are cool, the air is drier, and I feel like I can breathe again.

And how can you not love fall, when you have this?

And then you take that one leaf, add it to thousands more, hang them in a tree, and get this.

What's not to love?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Road Trip

A few weeks ago, after our last art fair of the season, and at the behest of my housemates, I took a solo camping trip to the north woods. I was in desperate need of some alone time.

Looking over the list of state campgrounds I settled on Wilderness State Park, 8,000 or so acres of land encompassing the northern-most part of the Lower Peninsula. Situated along the Straits of Mackinaw, this small spit of land juts out into the northern portion of Lake Michigan, with the Straits to the north and Sturgeon Bay to the south. While not an actual "wilderness area" (roadless), it feels pretty remote, and combines thick woods with wet meadows and miles of shoreline. While I had hiked there I had never camped there, and this seemed like a good time of year to give it a try--few bugs, fewer campers, and zero screaming children.

I gassed up the RV and hit the road, driving north on US 127, picking up I-75 around Grayling. The day was glorious and the colors amazing.

The roadside was red with oaks,

or yellow and gold with aspen, birch and maple.

This heron rookery is near Higgins lake, vacant of course at this time of the year.

At several points along the highway the trees fall back and the view opens to wide vistas.

After over four hours on the road the Mackinaw Bridge loomed into view, linking the lower and upper peninsulas across the Straits of Mackinaw, and I knew I was close to my destination.

Arriving at Wilderness State Park I filled up the on-board water tank and picked my spot. There were perhaps six or seven other campers, most parked along the water. I took up residence in the last spot along the Straits.

It was heaven.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Riverside Arts Center

Our first Bear Track Studios gallery exhibition is in progress at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The show runs through October 30. Check out their website for more info if you're interested in stopping by. Below are some images from the show as we were getting ready for our opening reception.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Becoming Monarch

Once the last of the caterpillars became chrysalises, we waited patiently. One morning a chrysalis from an earlier batch was ready to emerge. It's casing had become clear, and we could see the orange and black of the wings inside. I went into my office for 15 minutes, came back out and discovered a butterfly. Rats. So when this little fellow showed signs of emerging, I sat with my camera at the ready.

He took his sweet time....

But finally, a crack appeared.

Then legs pushed at the casing.

Finally the abdomen slipped out,

...and he did a nifty acrobatic move to flip around and cling to the casing. We knew we had a male thanks to the pincher-like protuberance at the end of its abdomen.

At this point the abdomen began pumping fluid into the wings, stretching and elongating them.

After several hours of drying out we got him to crawl up on a stick, where he sat for several more hours before taking to the air. All the way to Mexico he will go. With any luck, some of his descendants will make it to our back yard next summer, when we will certainly be ready to offer a little assistance in hatching another generation of monarchs.

Monday, October 18, 2010


In mid-August we found a bunch of Monarch caterpillars on a patch of milkweed out in the back 40 (OK, the back two). We watched one late one evening that looked like it was going to metamorphose, but darkness fell before anything happened. So I went back out the next morning to check, and it was gone--no caterpillar, no chrysalis, nothing. So we got out an old aquarium, cut some milkweed, and gathered up several large caterpillars, who then lived in our dinning room for several weeks.

Over the course of those weeks we added a few more, and several of our first batch went through their cycle, changing from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. We somehow managed to miss the drama each time, but finally one morning we caught one in the act.

It had gone into "J" the night before, having secured itself to a stick with fine silk. It hung there all night, and was still in J the next morning.

An hour or so later, it had straightened out a bit. Lori and I watched closely.

Then, a split at the back of the head! Here we go!

When it reached this point it thrashed around violently, until the dead skin, now way up by its foot, fell to the bottom of the tank.

As it settled, the wings, seen here on the left, stretched out along its sides, and it began to harden.

Eventually it looked like this, one from an earlier batch. Note the gold markings. Just a spectacular creature.

The whole process took about an hour. Fourteen days or so later, we caught one of its counterparts, who had become a chrysalis just before this one, emerge as a butterfly. Check back next time for its emergence.