A couple years ago, I did a series of blog posts called Wildflower Wednesdays identifying Michigan wildflowers. In mid-July when I was up at camp, I found that the area moths loved to spend the day snoozing on the outside of our cabin and I was able to get some nice photos of a number of them. It briefly crossed my mind to offer a series of posts called Moth Mondays, but let’s face it, the number of people excited to get information on a moth in their inbox each week is probably fairly limited. Instead, I’ve scoured my guidebooks to offer you one super-moth-filled post. Enjoy.
Not far from downtown Bay City, Michigan, is the body of water from which it derives its name: the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron.
A low, marshy area, it has a strip of sandy beach that in many places is only reachable by boardwalk.
On the horizon lies the power plant that supplies the area with electricity.
There’s something about this sight that feels quintessentially Bay City, but I’m not sure I can articulate why.
Perhaps it’s because so much of the natural environment was so fundamentally changed when white people finally settled here. When the area was first surveyed it was determined unfit for human habitation. Nothing but swamps and unbearable swarms of mosquitoes.
The story goes that much of lower Michigan was settled only after East Coasters were essentially tricked by unscrupulous land agents into buying land they hadn’t seen in person when what they were actually buying was swamp.
You can’t build or farm on a swamp, of course. So you drain it. And you start a mosquito control program.
And the land becomes something it was never meant to be. It becomes farms and shipyards and sawmills and factories.
But it still wants to be a swamp.
It wants to be a place where water is slowly filtered through a network of soils and plants and microscopic creatures.
It wants to feels the wriggling tadpoles in the warm shallows and the sliding fish in the deep places.
It wants to feed the roots of poplars and birches and the cottonwoods that were sending their confetti down all around me as I strolled along the margins of the marsh.
It wants frogs and toads, red-eared sliders and snapping turtles.
It wants to sustain little forests of lily pads that, as the mother of an eight-year-old son, I can’t help but see as a colony of green Pac-Mans.
Even during this incredibly hot day, the breeze from the bay tickled the leaves on the trees and bid them send their shade upon Earth’s weary creatures.
Between horizons on either side, I could believe that I was in a very wild place.
But a glance to the left revealed dozens of waterfront houses. And a glance to the right…
That power plant that I never knew I’d depended on when I lived in the Essexville/Bay City area as a child.
Still, if I looked in the right place…
I could see something beautiful and quiet and wild.
And that’s what I’m always looking for.
The other day I thought I heard seagulls in my neighborhood. There are a lot of seagulls in Michigan. They were a fixture of my childhood growing up as I did just a few miles from the Saginaw Bay, which you’ll find nestled between the thumb and pointer finger of The Mitten. But I don’t see them all that much in Lansing, which is just about as far away from the Great Lakes as you can get (*sigh*). So I did think it was a bit odd to hear them while out in my yard.
During the glorious experience that was Saturday, my neighbor pointed out the true source of the sound: a pair of red-tailed hawks setting up housekeeping across the street. Besides that classic long scream sound, these hawks also make shorter calls that can sound a bit seagullish. So we can look forward to watching these beautiful birds soaring around the neighborhood all summer.
But in case you don’t have any raptors nesting in your neighborhood, or if you want to get a more intimate look at raptor behavior, or even if you just want a nice soundscape in the background while you’re working, you should check out the Eagle Cam set up in Benzie County on the shores of the Platte River where as I type this a bald eagle is sitting on her eggs 100 feet off the ground. It’s a live feed and promises to be an interesting one once the eaglets are hatched and mom and dad get busy raising them.
Yesterday afternoon I took a solo walk at Fenner Nature Center. There had been a lot of puns and Christopher Walken impressions and general noisiness in the morning, so after lunch I geared up for the colder weather, grabbed my camera, and headed south. As I stood by my car getting my camera over my neck, made extra puffy with scarf and goose down, a man started shouting in another language at his kids. I looked up to see seven or eight whitetail deer bounding by in a line, the sound of a far-off dog an indication of what may have disturbed them. I turned back to the man and shared one of those smiles you only get to share with a stranger when you’ve both witnessed something wonderful. He gathered his kids and piled them into the car. I set off into the grassland.
I saw a very occasional person, heard a dog bark once or twice. But the principal sound I heard was the wind whistling through the bare treetops and the shuff, shuff sound of my own walking.
I never use a trail map when I’m there, which may explain why I made two new discoveries yesterday. I took a couple smaller side trails I’d not noticed or simply not taken in the past. One led me to an observation blind built of plywood. The other led me past this…
I have no idea what the story is behind this totem pole, but it has lots of wonderful carvings of people and animals, including these guys…
A look at the map later shows that both of my discoveries are clearly marked. I guess that’s one reason to use a map.
The woods were quiet and filled with the subtle colors of winter — white, grays, and browns — but without the leaves to distract and cast shadows on the tree trunks, their underlying yellows, reds, oranges, and greens were easier to discern.
All in all a lovely, cold, windy day. It snowed overnight as well and now the trees are blanketed in white and the grass is finally buried and the windchill is near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has finally come. And I couldn’t be happier.
It’s been hot and humid in the Great Lakes State.
We’re canning peaches, plums, and apricots and seeing the first apples harvested.
Birds, bees, and butterflies are at their busiest, storing away food and fat reserves for the coming cold.
It’s the time of yellow flowers.
It’s the time of frogs.
And this year it also happens to be the time of floods.
The pond at Fenner Nature Center looks to be a foot higher than the last time I was there, and on our trip there Friday, the boy and I spied little schools of minnows swimming across the deck.
Frogs have taken to floating lazily at the surface rather than sitting on their customary rocks, which are now submerged.
In a few months the teasel will be brown and far less forgiving to the touch. Leaves that are currently melting will be crispy and skipping along the ground.
Already the international students are moving in at Michigan State University (and disregarding stop signs in the Meijer parking lot while I walk across with my seven-year-old). The rest of the college students will be back by next week. You know how people in the South blitz their grocery stores when the forecast is predicting an inch of snow? I kind of feel like I should be prepping before the U-Hauls start arriving in town.
As always, by this time I’m largely done with summer. But we have a couple very busy months coming up, so I’m trying to relish what’s left of it.
Sunday afternoon I took in the last bits of June at Fenner Nature Center’s restored native grassland area. I strolled among innumerable flowers, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and a few mosquitoes (They’re finally here. Hooray.) and listened to birds trilling and wings buzzing. It was the perfect summer day — the one we remember from childhood — with blue skies and time stretched out in all directions.
About halfway through the afternoon I was joined by a friend who seemed content with my company for a while.
We eventually went our separate ways, I to the pond to look for frogs and turtles, she to another patch of grass.
It was a lovely time away from people and the Internet, though I was disappointed that I could still hear traffic and some kids screaming in a nearby backyard. It has me looking forward to quiet July mornings on Lake Louise before the campers drag themselves out of bed and hiking through Pigeon River Country State Forest in October with my sister.
I asked my husband if he ever feels the pull to be completely away from people and all people-related things. He never has that he can recall. If I don’t get that kind of alone time in the natural world, I start getting anxious. We are both reluctant suburbanites. He would prefer to live in a high rise in New York or Chicago or Boston. I’d prefer to live in a log cabin on a remote island off the shore of Lake Superior. The day after I shot these pictures, he and our son spent an impromptu day in downtown Detroit, riding the People Mover and checking out the skyscrapers.
When I think about it, this is practically the only difference between us anymore. We’ll have been together 20 years this October (since I was fifteen), and in that time we’ve grown up and into one another so that we really are one, as we should be. Our culture so prizes individuality that I think this notion is rather quaint these days. But when it works, there’s nothing better.