Monday, October 31, 2011


I will never forget the first time I heard this bird sing.  I was sitting on a log at the edge of a small meadow in the state land near my home.  I was transfixed by his clear melody, and it took me several minutes to track down the singer.  I was even more excited to find that song was coming from this beautiful creature.

Several years later, this past spring, I sat at the edge of another clearing, watching three male Indigo buntings make the rounds of their forested track, and photographed them as they paused in the dead tree in front of me to tilt their heads back and sing out their territorial warnings (read about it here.)  What a magical morning.

This piece is done, as usual, with colored pencil and ink on Bristol board.  12 x 8.  I'll have it up on my website soon:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sleeping Bear Revisited

 Once the mural at the Boardman River Nature Center was complete we had a bit of time to relax and enjoy northern Michigan.  Lisa was coming up, as well as some of Lori's family, for a kayak trip on the Platte River, a place we had canoed back in July with Lisa's niece (the Boardman was a bit too challenging for some in the group).  But after a week of pretty intense work, much of it sitting on the floor or in a chair or simply standing still, I needed to move my legs as well as get some alone time, so I opted for a hike in the park rather than sit in a boat for two or three hours.

 I dropped the crew off at the boat launch and drove up to Otter/Bass/Deer Lake (a group of three lakes at the end of Trail's End Road).  I walked a bit, I sat a bit, and enjoyed the beautiful late autumn day.

Deer Lake

White Oak

Beech leaf

 Later, on the way to meet the gang at the end of their paddle, I came across two turkeys next to the road. I pulled over to get some photos. After watching me for a minute they returned to their foraging.

Once at the landing I had some time to kill so I walked down to where the Platte empties into Lake Michigan.  The river cut into its bank, a sand berm pushed into the river's path by the storm we'd had earlier in the week.

And as always, the best view of all, the dunes of Sleeping Bear through a frame of oaks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Boardman River Mural is Finished!

Whew!  We did it!  Around 11 am this morning the last bit of paint went up on the wall and we called it quits.

I could not get far enough back from the mural to get it all in one shot, so I did my best to shoot it in pieces and put them together in Photoshop.  Thanks to the wide angle lens there's some distortion so some things don't line up quite right, but this is pretty good.  (There is also a version of this that John at the Nature Center did on their website:

The mural was designed to be educational and interactive.  One side shows the pressures we put on river systems through things like urban run-off and poor agriculture and grazing practices.  When we don't create a natural buffer between these areas and the river, pollutants run right into the water.

Also primarily on the left side we showed invasive species--in this area is purple loosestrife and phragmites.  The blackbird is of course native.


But it was not all doom and gloom. Here a fly-fisher lands a catch.

Overhead an Osprey hovers, watching fish.

In the center of the mural there's a stand of trees on the far shore, with a Barred owl keeping watch.  This encompasses part of the magnetic area, and there are lots of magnet critters for kids to play with.  Not yet, though, as the paint needs to cure!

Below the owl is a cut-away of the river, and swimming below the surface are salmon, a grayling, leopard frog, some water insects as well as the invasive sea lamprey.  There are more magnets for this area too.

On the right side we showed people using the river, with kayakers, campers, birdwatchers and hikers.  In the distance are a home and city with natural buffers between them and the river.

And above it all soars the majestic Bald eagle.

All of the species were requested by the nature center staff.  There are over 40 animals/insects, as well as native and invasive plant species.  It was a challenge to get everything into the mural but we did it, and the folks at the nature center are thrilled.  We hope this mural will get some good exposure and more jobs in the future!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mural Work

 I know I said my next post would be the finish to my trip up north from a few weeks back, but I didn't get to it before I had to leave town again, this time to do a job up in Traverse City.  The folks at the Boardman River Nature Center hired us to do an interactive mural there, and I wanted to post some works in progress pictures.

Lori and I started work around 9 am Monday morning.  The mural is approximately 8 feet tall by 17 feet long.  In the center area kids will be able to play with and place magnets of various critters, so the first step was to coat the wall with metallic paint, five coats of it to be exact.  Once that dried we primed the entire surface.

Around noon Lori, the mastermind behind the whole project, began laying out the mural on the wall.

Once the placement of the main elements were in, we began blocking in color.

 The goal by the end of day one was to get the wall covered in paint, and we did.

Mid-day on day two we had put some detail in, including a variety of invasive species on the left (the mural is meant in part to highlight invasive vs. native species), as well as some detail in the river bottom at the center of the mural.

End of day two saw more detail, including paddlers and kayakers on the river, the farm along the river bank, and more plants in the foreground.

Day three of course saw us working on more detail stuff.  Birds and fishes and more plants went in, as well as fleshing out the forest background.

Blogger has a great new feature where if you click on an image it opens up a photo album with all the images from this post.  Try it, and scroll through the photos to get a better look at the progress.

We are pooped, and sore, but hopefully we will be done today.  I will post some close up photos once we're finished.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Last Leg of the Shingle Mill Pathway

 (Pigeon River Country posts continued)

Shortly after my rest stop at Ford Lake the trail met back up with the main loop and turned south, headed back to the trail head.  I was tired, which I knew in part because every soft dry spot looked like a good place to take a nap.  I wasn't carrying a lot of gear but I did have my camera backpack on, with all manner of things in it, just in case, such as rain ponchos, a knife, an emergency whistle and tush towelettes.  My water bottle, which was clipped to the back with a carabiner, added to the weight.  When I stopped to take pictures I had to wait for it to stop swinging back and forth before I could shoot.  The backpack has a hip belt, but because the bag is so short it doesn't reach my hips, so much of the weight was on my shoulders, and I was starting to get a stiff neck and accompanying headache.  I was glad at this point that I had opted for the shorter loop.

The last leg of a hike can be a slog to the finish.  Something changes, psychologically, when you're near the end, especially when you're tired, and you just want to be done.  I did my best to stay alert and keep looking around and be wowed by things, but it wasn't easy.

There hadn't been a lot of evidence of logging in this area although it had, like all of northern Michigan, been completely cut over in the 1880's.  A few large, chest-high stumps remained here and there, testament to the slaughter of the white pines, but most of what I saw from the trail were more recently cut red pine, much smaller and closer to the ground.

I think it is interesting how we tend to believe that what we see is exactly how something has always been.  People who hike this trail who don't know Michigan's logging history probably think they're looking at healthy, undisturbed habitat.  But the reality is that this looks nothing like it did 150 years ago (or 15,000 years ago for that matter, during our last ice age). Not only did we vastly change this region with our hunger for lumber but it is still being logged today, evidenced by the enormous lumber trucks that sped past the campground every now and then, loaded with red pine trunks.  I tried not to think about that, because part of me really wanted to feel like I was in un-managed and un-trammeled wilderness.

Shortly after passing under some power lines (which totally destroyed my wilderness fantasy) I noticed a change in the light, the color of the trees, the air temperature.  I stopped and looked around, and realized I had just entered a part of the forest dominated by balsam fir.  What a joy!  Nothing that I can think of makes me feel like I'm in the north woods more than the scent of balsam fir--there's just nothing like it.  I was so happy for the change of scenery so close to the end of the hike, when I really needed a distraction from my aching shoulders and something new to be excited about.

 The dampness of these woods and the deep greens of the trees filled my senses.

And if that weren't enough, past the fir forest the trail entered a cedar swamp!  I had seen it on the map but had forgotten about it.  Darker and damper still, the cedars felt close and welcoming, almost protective.

By now the rain that had threatened all day had begun to fall, and the already damp and slippery boardwalk became even more so.  I was loathe to break out a rain poncho so close to camp so I tucked my camera under my fleece and kept going.

I stopped for a few more photos as the trail moved out of the cedar swamp and into more open woodlands.  This slime mold caught my eye, a blaze of orange on a rotting log.

High bush cranberry also lent a splash of color.

Rain now began to fall harder, and I put my head down and pushed through a meadow, soaking my pants.  Not 100 feet from the road I scared off another deer.  All this land and I saw the most wildlife within 1/4 mile of the campground.

Once on the road I had to cross back over the Pigeon River to reach the campground.  I was hot and sweaty for the first time that day, trying to hustle back to miss the rain.  As I crossed the bridge I saw this katydid on top of the reflector on the guard rail.  A passing car slowed down to see what I was taking pictures of--I doubt they could even see the insect, all of two inches long.  Probably thought I was nuts.

Back at the RV I got out of my wet clothes and into dry ones, ate some leftover spaghetti and took a nap.  The rain had stopped so to keep my muscles loose I walked along the river, then sat for a bit and read.  The heavier rain waited until after dark to really come down and I was glad I hadn't bothered with a campfire.  It rained all night and into the next morning.  I decided, with heavy heart, to leave the Pigeon River Country and head east to Lake Huron.  I didn't know how long it was going to rain but the clouds were low and did not look like they were going to break up any time soon.  Rather than sit in the RV and wait for the rain to end I decided to spend that time on the road.  I cannot wait to go back, though, and explore more of this beautiful country.

Next:  Negwegon and Tawas State Parks

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shingle Mill Pt. 2

 Continuation of the Pigeon River posts.

By the time I reached the Forest Area Headquarters (see map, arrow at bottom right) the fog had lifted.  The building was closed but I stopped and had a snack and looked at my map.  I needed to pee but decided I could wait until I got to the Pigeon River campground.

Just past the headquarters the trail meets back up with the river.  Much of this stretch is up on a high bluff, with nice views of the water below.

The I came upon this curiosity, a marker for someone named P. S. Lovejoy.  I looked him up when I got home.   

Turns out he was a conservationist, born in Illinois, who studied at U of M in Ann Arbor as one of its first forestry program students.  He worked for the Forest Service at Medicine Bow and Olympic National Forests before returning to U of M as an associate professor in the forestry department.  He was also the head of Michigan's Conservation Department and was instrumental in establishing our refuge system.  Aldo Leopold wrote his obituary, published in The Journal of Wildlife Management in 1942.  Lovejoy was apparently very fond of the Pigeon River area, a place he called "the Big Wild."

When I finally reached the campground I was pleased to find new toilet facilities with not one but four air fresheners perched along the handicap railing.  The campground was much more secluded than the Pigeon Bridge campground, where I was camping, and the sites themselves were bigger and much more private.  There were only two campers there and not a soul in site.

The campground road crossed over the river here and deposited me on its western bank.  I sat for a while and wrote in my journal, ate some lunch, and kept a close eye on the sky and its lowering clouds.

Past the campground the trail stays with the river for a little while, then starts climbing upwards again.  It was here I came to the fork in the road, and I paused to consider one last time which trail to take.  I felt good, having hiked not quite three miles, but knew that another seven would do me in.  It takes me a long time to get anywhere as I stop frequently to look at stuff, so a three mile hike often takes me 2 1/2 to three hours.  While I don't cover a lot of ground I am on my feet pretty much the whole time, so I get more tired walking three miles than folks who just push through it do.  I turned left and headed for number 12. (See arrow at left on map above.)

I had seen very few signs of animals on this trail, even though there's probably more wildlife here than just about anywhere else in the state.  I had seen four deer early in the hike, not a 1/4 mile from the trail head.  Some coyote tracks, deer tracks, and various birds were the only other things that I had seen.

But as I made my way to marker 12, I came across some scrapings on the trail.  I tried to distinguish foot prints in them but could not. 

I looked around and found this rotted log torn apart.

That's when I noticed the blueberries.  I had not seen any along the trail up to now.  Blueberries are, of course, one of the black bear's favorite foods. There were no berries this late in the year, but this told me I was certainly in bear country.  The scrapings and shredded logs could have been done by a skunk or coon, but I liked the idea that it was a bear.

Thanks to the fact that I spent a lot of time scanning the woods around me, looking for critters who might like to make lunch out of me, I noticed water off the trail a few hundred feet on my right.  I detoured to it and came to Ford Lake.  I found a comfy place to sit and got out my gorp and journal.

While I sat munching and writing, a flock of 20 to 30 Yellow-rumped warblers appeared on my right, seemingly from out of nowhere.  I watched, rapt, as the flock moved around and above me, peeping and gleaning insects from the trees.  I slowly brought my binoculars up and watched an adult male nab an inch-long caterpillar and proceed to devour it.  I one point I was literally surrounded by birds--above, behind and in front, to my right and left, even below me as I was sitting on the side of hill.  At one point a bird sat perched on a branch not five feet away, at eye level.  I have no way of knowing if they were aware of me, but the moment, which lasted maybe five minutes, left me breathless.  As they moved off down the shoreline the forest returned to silence, and I sat, grinning like a fool.

My view of Ford Lake from my resting spot

Next:  The final leg of the Shingle Mill Pathway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shingle Mill Pathway

 (Pigeon River Country continued)

The main reason I decided to visit the Pigeon River area was to hike the Shingle Mill Pathway.  A loop trail, it has 5 loops from 3/4 of a mile to 11 miles.  I had heard great things about the area and so had chosen to camp here for a day or two.

The trail head is at the back of the Pigeon Bridge campground, where I was parked.  In my previous post, I talked about the 1 1/2 mile loop I had hiked that evening.  This day I was planning on the six mile loop (see highlighted area in map below).  My heart longed for the 10 mile loop, but my head told me that I had been sitting at art fairs most of the summer and that I was in no condition to be walking that far, especially by myself.  So I decided I would do the inner loop next time and settled on the 6 mile jaunt.

When I woke up that morning I could see stars winking between the leaves.  By the time I left the RV, at around 8:30 am, thick fog had rolled in.

It was utterly delightful.  The fog gave a depth to the forest that you just don't see on a bright, sunny day.

Everywhere I looked was a breath-taking scene.  Fog had begun to condense on the leaves and needles and drip gently to the forest floor. It was just about the only sound save for the occasional peep of a near-by bird.  Not a breath of wind stirred needle or leaf.

This was the scene at the meadow where the day before I seen the little bluestem.  This morning found it draped in a grey cloak.

But the color was there, some of it hard to miss.  The leaves of this red maple were glazed and glowing.

 From thick forests to meadows to glades edged with poplar, the scene seemed to change with every step.

As I came up a short rise I saw red pines towering over me.  I stopped and looked up into the canopy, and found if I squinted my eyes just right I could imagine I was in a redwood forest somewhere on the Pacific Coast.

But I was happy to be in this most beautiful state of Michigan.

Next:  2nd leg of the hike