Friends Old and New, Human and Bear

Having been a docent for six years at the well-run Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, I’m always a little leery of what I perceive to be “low rent” zoos that are not accredited. Always a little worried that I’ll encounter animals that may not have the best living conditions or diet. And I was a little afraid of this being the case when I put a bear ranch on our itinerary. On first glance when we arrived at Oswald’s Bear Ranch just outside of Newberry, I was not put at ease. The odd collection of buildings and the dirt parking lot and the pit toilets didn’t scream “professional” to me.

Then we walked into the gift shop, which you go through to get to the area where the cubs are, and I heard a vaguely familiar male voice say, “Hello, Erin.” I looked around and saw a pair of very blue eyes I recognized but was having trouble placing. Then it suddenly hit me.

The kid on the left with the sprayed-on gray hair and the prop wheelchair was the person talking to me in the gift shop of Oswald’s Bear Ranch. And he wasn’t just there, he was working there. Of course he was. Oswald is his last name. (BTW, yes, that’s me in the black leather miniskirt, red shoes, and long black wig. This was Witness for the Prosecution, the fall play my senior year of high school, where I was the double-crossing leading lady. If you’ve seen the movie version, my part was played by Marlene Dietrich. I was also in Arsenic and Old Lace, The Bald Soprano, Mr. Winkler’s Birthday Party, and Hello, Dolly! with this young man.)

But back to the bears…

The ranch was started by his grandfather, Dean Oswald, in 1997, a couple years before my friend and fellow actor Dustin graduated from high school. Apparently he moved up to the UP almost immediately and has been working in the family business for nearly twenty years. Oswald’s Bear Ranch, it turns out, is accredited by the Zoological Association of America and the bears there seem happy, well fed, and well adjusted. They have huge enclosures in natural surroundings. They are beloved by the staff. And they are there because they have been injured, abandoned, or abused. Apparently the Department of Natural Resources calls on Dean fairly regularly to take in young bears who were purchased (by idiots) as cubs but have (obviously) grown into animals that are difficult to handle and very definitely not pets.

The website states their mission is to “strive to advance the care of abused or abandoned bears through rescue efforts” adding that the bears at Oswald’s Bear Ranch are cared for through private funds and donations. With nearly 30 bears living there, including cubs, they can always use help. You can find a donation button on this page of their website.

Each enclosure is double fenced to keep bears and visitors at a safe distance from one another, which makes good photos hard to get. (There are lots on the ranch’s website.) But for an extra fee (we dropped more money here than most other UP attractions we visited) you can get photos taken with one of the cubs and even pet them while you’re at it. Which, of course, we had to do.

We also bought a bag of quartered apples from the cafe to toss over the fences and feed the adolescents and adults.

I would have liked to have a formal tour where we were told the personal stories behind some of the bears living there, but it was all basically self-serve. After chatting a bit more with my old school chum in the gift shop, my son and I had more UP delights to see and a ticking clock to catch a boat. We drove toward Grand Marais (Pro Tip: the road between Newberry and Grand Marais is “seasonal” — read: dirt — and very winding for about 12 long miles, so if you’re in a hurry, take another route) so Calvin could get a glimpse of the Grand Sable Dunes from Log Slide.

And then it was on to Munising to take our long-anticipated Pictured Rocks cruise…

 

Tahquamenon Falls: Take 4 (for me, anyway…)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been to Tahquamenon Falls a few times. As a child, as a new mom, as a backpacker. And now as part of our grand UP road trip.

The boy had been here with me eight years ago…

But memories are fleeting when we are very young as everything is a new experience. So this was effectively his first time.

We discovered that he LOVES waterfalls. Tahquamenon Falls are really a series of falls. Several smaller falls make up the Lower Falls, and then there’s the big drop at the Upper Falls.

The trail to the Lower Falls was unfortunately being repaired, so we couldn’t go right up (which disappointed me quite a bit, as I like them more than the more “impressive” Upper Falls). But we spent quite a long time admiring the Upper Falls, which were running high with recent rains.

The brown “root beer” color is caused by tannins leeched from the cedar swamps that surround the area (if you recall, my hiking trip through this area a few years back was very sloppy).

It was extremely sunny most days of the trip, which makes for a nice vacation, but it also makes it hard to take photos of waterfalls because the bright white of rapids and foam and spray can blow out in a photo. This close-up shows the churning water a bit better.

I think the boy would have stayed there all day, but we had a lot more excitement planned for that day.

After a quick perusal of the gift shop, it was off to a place I actually had never been. Little did I know, a little slice of my past was waiting for me there…

More on that next time. ūüėČ

Returning to Pt. Iroquois

Our first stop on Saturday was to Pt. Iroquois, the site of lighthouse, modest museum, and gift shop today, but significant long before to the Native Americans who lived there.

The following comes from the Pure Michigan pages for Sault Ste Marie area attractions.

 

The area around Sault Saint Marie (‚ÄúThe Soo‚ÄĚ), including Whitefish Bay, has been called the ‚ÄúHeartland‚ÄĚ of the Chippewa Indians. This tribe is also called Ojibwa, and sometimes refer to themselves as ‚ÄúAnishinabeg,‚ÄĚ which is their word for ‚Äúoriginal people.‚ÄĚ The Iroquois lived about 400 miles away, mostly in what is now western New York. In the 1600s these nations were at war, at least in part because of European influence and fur trade competition. The Iroquois often sent expeditions far from their homeland and attempted to control the trade routes leading east from the Great Lakes.
Accounts of an important battle at Point Iroquois in 1662 have been passed down for over 300 years. They tell how an Iroquois war party camped near the point where the lighthouse now stands, and how the Chippewa secretly watched their movements and mounted a surprise attack near dawn. The Iroquois were defeated decisively, and apparently never again ventured this far west.

Click here for more about the light itself.

As you can see, though it is certainly summer weather-wise in the southern Lower Peninsula where I live, it is still spring up in the UP. Many trees are still flowering or just pushing out their leaves and the weather was cool and breezy and marvelously sunny most of the time.

The boy and I climbed the 72 steps up to the top of the lighthouse.

But we spent most of our time on the beach looking at, collecting, and throwing stones.

One of the things I love about Lake Superior are the stony beaches that offer up a kaleidoscope of rocks to admire through the crisp, clear water.

My son and I had been here before, eight years ago…

…but of course he didn’t remember it. The beach was a bit stonier then. And it’s likely that the water is a bit higher now as Superior’s levels are close to the record high at the moment, courtesy of some extremely cold and snowy winters that helped reverse the effects of a few dry years over the Great Lakes Basin.

Lakes — and boys — can change a lot in eight years.

Let the Adventure Begin…

I have long wanted to see more of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than the eastern end I have been fairly familiar with through a childhood trip, a mission trip with our church’s youth group, and three hiking trips with my sister (you can find out more about the hiking trips by poking around in the earlier years of this blog). And I have been keen on getting my son up there while he is still young so that he can fall in love with it as much as I have. So when it was decided that my husband would be going to Israel for ten days I thought that was the perfect time to plan a road trip. I didn’t want us to be stuck at home for ten days without Daddy, bored and lonesome. Much better to distract ourselves with some of God’s natural wonders — and with some of man’s innovations to navigate and utilize those natural resources.

On his last half-day of school on Friday, we headed north over the Mighty Mac to go exploring…

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of the Upper Peninsula (hereafter referred to as the UP — that’s U-P, not “up”) was Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) to visit the Soo Locks, which allow commercial shipping between Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes, and, by extension through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the rest of the world. Here’s where you’ll find them:

Sault Ste. Marie is a rather industrial little town, not “pretty” by most standards, but it has a charm all its own. Growing up in the Bay City area as I did, I tend to like anything to do with boats and shipping. The Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River (which you will find between the Thumb and the rest of the Mitten in the map above) have been important shipping channels for generations. Though downtown Bay City is getting a face lift — the mountains of gravel and big cranes are giving way to new loft housing and a revamped riverfront — the sailboats and freighters and drawbridges are all still there. And now that I’m rather landlocked in the middle of the state, I get a bit of a thrill to see something like this:

That is the Lee A. Tregurtha coming in from the Huron side to pick up iron ore pellets from a Minnesota port on Superior. Huron is the lower of the two lakes, so once this beast gets into the lock, the water level will be raised (powered only by gravity and strategically opened and closed valves) to the Superior level, which takes 22 million gallons of water. Then the doors on the Superior side will be opened and the ship will go on its way.

This spot used to be solely rapids and had to be bypassed on land, which limited what you could ship. Native Americans and French voyageurs and fur traders had to lift their canoes and boats out of the water and carry them to the next lake. Now 7,000 boats and ships pass through the locks each year carrying an average of 80 million tons of cargo.

The long elevated bridge you can see in the next photo is the bridge to Canada, and there are also locks on the Canadian side.

Being so close to Canada, you may see signs like this on local businesses:

Growing up on the east side of the state, we regularly used Canadian coins interchangeably with American coins when they showed up in our pockets. No one ever questioned it. Then when I moved to the west side of the state in college and tried to use a Canadian quarter, the clerk treated me like I was a criminal trying to pull one over on her. She didn’t even know what she was looking at. I was quite taken aback.

But then, Michigan is a very large state, as my son and I found out! More about our adventures in the coming weeks, but in the meantime click here for more interesting facts about the Soo Locks, along with a good aerial shot.

One Small Taste of Coming U.P. Delights

My son and I have just gotten back from an epic trip around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I have more than 500 photos to wade through and edit, and I’ll be sharing them in this space over the coming days (maybe weeks!) so stick around!

On My Way to Parts North…

UpperFalls10 copyWe’ve hiked Pictured Rocks and Grand Sable Dunes. This year my sister Alison and I are headed up to Tahquamenon Falls, the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

“Lay¬†aside¬†your¬†cloak,¬†O¬†Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And¬†you¬†need¬†no¬†white-skin¬†wrapper!”
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gayly,
In the Moon of Leaves were singing,
And the sun, from sleep awaking,
Started¬†up¬†and¬†said,¬†“Behold¬†me!
Gheezis,¬†the¬†great¬†Sun,¬†behold¬†me!”
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
“Take¬†my¬†cloak,¬†O¬†Hiawatha!”

I was beyond thrilled to see many maple trees already turning red and orange on my drive to Grand Rapids this morning, and I am hoping for at least a touch of color way up near the fabled shores of Gitche Gumee (that’s Lake Superior, in case you were unaware).

I can’t wait to get there and I can’t wait to share pictures with all of you.