Monday, August 29, 2011

Oswald's Bears

As I mentioned in my last post, the whole point of going to the U.P. a few weeks back was to visit Oswald's Bear Ranch and hopefully get inspired. While we would have loved to spend another day lounging by the lake we dutifully packed our gear and left Pretty Lake.

We got to Oswald's later than I would have liked as it took us longer to pack up than I expected, so it was already on the warm side when we arrived. But the bears weren't hiding in the shade--probably lured by folks tossing apple slices over the fence.

Ah yes, the fence. A necessary evil when you need to contain 26 bears. It does, however, make it pretty darned difficult to get decent photos. Well, I shot away anyhow, looking mostly for poses and composition. This bear nibbled on some weeds as we passed.

Lisa and Lori forged ahead while I straggled, taking pics. Lori left her camera in the back seat of her daughter's car the week before so had to resort to sketching.

I did my best to get some close ups for detail. Such expressive eyes!

We worked our way around the park. As we neared the gift shop Lori, who had moved on ahead, yelled to us that they had one of the cages open. Wha...? I scurried over.


Nothing but a few strands of electric fence between us and these pre-pubescent males. I don't know off-hand how many bears were in there but it was at least five.

They did all sorts of cute stuff, which isn't hard for bears. They're pretty darned cute doing nothing at all.

This made me a bit uneasy, kind of a "Planet of the Bears" moment. They look so natural standing like this. We should be thankful they don't have thumbs....

What did I say about cute?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Camping at Pretty Lake

August began with me feeling over-worked and stung out. After seven shows in eight weeks I needed a vacation. I was also in need of some new subject matter--I had in mind to do a black bear, but I didn't have many black bear images to work from. So we decided to take a quick trip up to the U.P. and visit Oswald's Bear Ranch.

Oswald's opened when the dumps shut down. Back in the day, folks who wanted to see bears would drive up to the U.P. and park at a town dump. There would invariably be bears, often sows with cubs, digging up the trash. This was not good for the bears, and ultimately not good for folks who lived up there who had to deal with bears that had become used to an easy meal out of a trash can.

So I got online and found a State Forest Campground about 15 minutes north of Oswald's called Pretty Lake. What sold me was mention of portages to other surrounding lakes. We would have an extra day to relax so I wanted a place with good paddling. I assumed since it was a rustic campground and we were going up midweek that we would have our pick of spots. Boy was I wrong! We were lucky to find one with direct access to the water where we could leave our kayaks! However, the area and scenery didn't disappoint.

We got camp set up and had a quick dinner, with just enough time for some exploring before dark. The girls took out their 'yaks while I walked the perimeter. The sun was setting and the moon was rising as a pair of loons, with two good sized chicks, yodeled across the lake. It was a perfect up north moment.

The following morning we packed lunches, fishing and camera gear and headed across Pretty Lake for the first portage.

Map of the four lake portage

The first portage took us to Brush Lake, a small, deep body of water. The portage was short, only 100 feet or so. We paddled to the next portage, also short, which took us to Camp 8 Lake. Around a good portion of Camp 8 Lake were rustic campsites, accessible only by foot or boat. What is nice about these is they are rustic, not back country--there are vault toilets, hand pumps for water, picnic tables and fire rings. We could see another trip in our future!

Brush Lake



White pond lily

We paddled around Camp 8 Lake for a while, then decided to portage over to Beaver House Lake. This was a longer portage so we left the kayaks on the shore of Camp 8 while we explored the area. There were more campsites out here, which really felt like the middle of nowhere. The trail that cut through the area was wide and well-kept, and then I saw a blaze for the North Country Pathway. That explained it! This is a 4,600 mile trail that passes through seven states, from North Dakota to New York.

I fell in love with this spot instantly. There was not a soul, not a sound, nothing but the wind and the twittering birds. We collapsed on a picnic table and ate lunch in paradise.

We dragged our kayaks over to Beaver House Lake and the girls went fishing while I stayed behind and wrote and relaxed, and took pictures of red skimmers cavorting in the sweet gale.

Oh, pardon me!

When they got back we went blueberry picking. Never have I seen so many wild blueberries in one place. We barely made a dent.

By 4:30 we were getting hungry again, and a bit tired. Knowing we had several lakes and portages to tackle to get back to camp we reluctantly left. When we got back to Pretty Lake, the loon family was right there by the portage, having their own supper.

It was an absolutely perfect up north day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Say Hello to Oscar

This past Monday, August 15, we were sitting down to a late dinner when I heard a plaintive mew through the dining room window. I paused, my fork hovering. The girls stopped to listen, too. I wasn't sure what I'd heard until it was repeated.

"Mew?" came the high-pitched cry of a kitten. Lori leaned toward the window and watched as a small grey and white kitten scuttled across the back deck. I got up and went to investigate.

The kitten sat on the far corner of the deck, clearly in need but also clearly afraid. I went back in and got some of Louie's food and put it in a dish. I set the dish on the deck then went back inside to watch. Within moments he emerged and ate hungrily. To our surprise, when he finished, he climbed up on the table that's under the window were we keep potted herbs in summer, and proceeded to try to leap in the window.

Cutting my dinner short, I got more food and a pair of leather gloves and was able to get him to come close enough to snatch him up. I took him out to my studio, to keep him away from our other cat, and Lisa brought out a litter box and water bowl. We fed him a few more times, small amounts, and contemplated whether or not we would keep him. Having just had a cat euthanized a month or so ago, we had a vacancy--we have a two-cat limit at our house. We decided that if he came around we would keep him.

The following morning I went out with my camera to get some pictures.

He was clearly a bit on the feral side. I worked for years at an animal shelter and we got our fair share of feral cats, and they just have a look about them. They watch with their eyes rather than turning their heads, and their faces seem pinched up, wary, pupils dilated.

But now, just 48 hours after his first photos, he is a different cat.

Once before I took in a rather untamed kitten. I kept him quarantined from the others in a room in the basement. It was not too terribly long before boredom and loneliness got the best of him, and his attitude towards me did a 180. So, learning from that lesson, we fed this kitten only when we went to see him, rather than leaving food out, so he had to come out when we were in the room. We put the bowl close to us so that we could pet him while he ate. We visited often, and tried not to spook him, let him come to us.

It seems to be working.

Now that he has a full belly and is more comfortable around us, he is much more openly active, doesn't hide behind the bookshelf as much. Here he's standing on my drawing table, watching the birds outside the studio.

So then we had to come up with a name. We considered Basil, since he had been climbing around in the potted herbs. But Basil seemed too...soft. So we threw around some others, but nothing seemed to be sticking. Then we decided it needed to be an "O" name because he has a circle on the top of his head, right between his ears.

Finally, Lori came up with Oscar. Oscar Wild, since he came to us a bit of a wildcat.

So far he does all the things kittens should do. He plays,

and he plays some more (getting ready to pounce on a toy).

But mostly he's just really damn cute.

We are glad that Oscar picked us.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Platte River Paddle (part two)

Taking photographs from a canoe or kayak is a challenge. The wind or the current is constantly working against you, pulling you away or pushing you too close to your subject. Even with a companion to assist, they don't always know what you're looking at, so as soon as you put down your paddle to grab your camera, away you go. But who can resist a "flock" of darning needles, brilliant in their blue and black against the green of water plants just below the surface?

We were braced against a downed tree to get these two.

This root ball, probably of a white cedar, looks like skeletal, cloaked Death reaching out towards the river for every paddler who floats by.

As we left Death behind we entered a marshier area, and Blue Herons started turning up.

Easily spooked, they don't allow one to get too close. This one flew off down river,

only to be spotted again in the shallows.

I was so busy watching the heron fly away for the second time that I nearly missed the cardinal flowers, blooming on a tiny island. I made Lisa help me turn us around so I could go back and get a closer look.

Simply astonishing color!

Past the marshes we entered a stretch of a few hundred yards of sandy dune environment. We knew the Big Lake was very near now.

And sure enough, around a few more bends and we emerged on the shore of Lake Michigan, just as the sun was beginning to set.

And the best part of all? The Sleeping Bear, hazy in the distance, ever watching for her lost cubs.

Don't know the legend of the Sleeping Bear? It is a Native American story, probably Anishinabee, and it goes like this:

"This legend relates that there was once a terrible forest fire on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, which drove all the animals into the water. Among them were a mother bear and her two cubs who, to escape the flames, struck out for the Michigan shore. They swam for several days, but the cubs became confused in the smoke and before reaching the land their strength gave out. The mother bear, on landing, paced the shore for days, calling in vain for her children, until at length she too became exhausted and fell asleep. Sand swept over her and there she still lies, looking out upon the lake, and to reward her devotion the Great Spirit created North and South Manitou Islands where the cubs sank from sight. Here they remain to this day."


And here is an areal photo of the dune, with the Manitou Islands in the distance. I believe the mother bear is the dark lump on the top edge of the dune, but I have always seen the whole dune as the mother bear.

Photographer unknown.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Platte River Paddle (part one)

This past week found me up in Northern Michigan, having booked two shows four days apart in the northwest part of the state. This was a first for me, doing at show then not returning home before the next. I had no idea how much stuff I would need so I really busted my tail getting stock ready for the trip.

The first show, on a Wednesday, was in Frankfort. Situated where the Betsie River meets Lake Michigan and just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat'l Lakeshore, it is a busy little town during the tourist season. The second show wasn't until Saturday, an art fair in Traverse City that all three of us were doing. Set up for T.C. was Friday afternoon, so that left us all day Thursday to have a little fun. And what do three nature/wildlife artists do for fun? They go canoeing, of course!

The Platte River is a popular canoeing river. The Upper Platte is twisty, swift and a bit narrow, suited for paddlers with some river experience. The Lower Platte is wider and slower, and requires little more than steering to get through it. Since we had Lisa's niece along for the trip we picked the Lower Platte.

I am glad for the choice, because it allowed us to look around and enjoy the scenery. We didn't have to pay too much attention to the river so we could pay attention to what was going on along its banks.

Our first sighting was this Green Heron. Unfortunately it was strongly back lit and I did not adjust the exposure. However, it is my first photo of this bird so I am happy just to record it.

Belted Kingfishers abounded along the Platte. Where the river broadens out into a lake, Lisa and I had a kingfisher dive and catch a fish 30 feet in front of us. We drifted as we watched her subdue the fish, slamming it repeatedly on the branch upon which she perched. She gulped it down before we could get within good shooting range. I was happy though that she sat for a spell on the branch as we floated ever closer.

We were thrilled to get so close. They are typically nervous and shy.

A female Belted Kingfisher is more colorful than the male, who lacks the rusty band on the chest and sides. I marvel at the white spots in front of her eyes. What are their purpose? Such a striking lady she is.

We had to hustle to catch up to Alaina and Lori but got held up by a passing muskrat.

They had stopped upriver to watch some immature Wood Ducks that Alaina had spotted along the riverbank.

There were other sights along the river that didn't involve fur or feathers. The tangled branches of a long dead tree reflected off the smooth surface of this gentle river.

And along the shore, Joe Pye weed, of the milkweed family, bloomed vibrantly. (Thank you, Joni James, for correcting me--this is not Joe Pye, nor is Joe Pye in the milkweed family. My bad, I never looked it up. This is actually swamp milkweed, which is why it looks like a milkweed! Joe Pye is apparently in the sunflower family. I stand corrected.)

To all of my "alternative" readers.... Happy Lammas. Let us celebrate the first harvests and the midway point between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox.

Next: Platte River part 2