Outdoors North

Morning venture to lakeshore stirs emotion

John Pepin, columnist, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“Then she turned away and said, ‘Once I loved, but love is dead.’ And I whispered, ‘Sometimes love is only sleeping.'” — Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil

I woke up earlier than usual for a weekday work day, running an errand of love, delivering three young ladies to their waiting chariot to the Emerald City.

Along the way, through the lightening shadows, we could see the waters of the lake were peaceful and still, like a mirror that reflected the trees and rocks of the small islands situated just offshore.

Within a few minutes, with my errand completed, I returned to the lake.

I drove along the deserted blacktopped road, the beams from my headlamps lighting my way. For the most part, the skies were still ashy and dark.

I pulled off the road, stopped and got out of the vehicle, anticipating a climb to a granite rock ledge where the mist-covered lake would be rolled out in front of me, like a giant, magnificent painting.

Instead, as I got to the base of the ledge, I could barely make out a narrow, rocky trail heading down through the bright green bracken ferns, under the birches, the maples and a few cedars.

I felt the ground through my shoes, hoping to find the trail smooth and accommodating. This little route secluded in the trees wasn’t long, but it brought me out directly to the shores of the lake.

There, I was able to stand prominently on a small rock, which gave me a grand view of the soon-to-be rising sun, the clouds and the water.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should watch the sun rise at least once a year. That thought crossed my mind as I realized I was about to do just that. It wasn’t planned, but here I was — maybe that’s part of what made it feel perfect.

It started with the painting on the sky. On a canvas colored robin’s egg blue and gray, dusky shades of charcoal and white were drawn across the sky, sketching clouds in long rounded and straight wispy shapes.

The horizon and surrounding lakeshore was comprised of tall trees, mostly pines, whose needled branches could be made out softly from where I stood. The surface of the lake remained flat and still. Reflecting the sky, it was cloud-covered, blue and in some places now, yellow and orange.

To my left, the horizon was similar, though the trees were farther apart and easier to distinguish as they stood along the shoreline of one of the islands. The air was beginning to fill with the sounds of frogs and birds, and some little animals rustling through the bushes behind me, up the trail.

This dawn chorus was a musical mixture of songs, but there were clearly some voices louder than others. They included the song sparrows — loud and clear, repetitive and plentiful — two or three crows who seemed to be distressed and signaling an alarm of some kind, and white-throated sparrows, whose song was also clear as it resonated over the water and back into the hills.

Frogs were represented by the loose banjo string thung pluck of a green frog here and there, while northern leopard frogs called from somewhere I couldn’t see. Their songs, which sounds like someone snoring or chuckling.

My morning music was interrupted by the sound of a fish jumping for a fly about 30 feet offshore, its body slapping the water as it broke the surface of the water a second time.

Big circles formed around the spot, pushing ripples toward the shoreline. The chorus, though interrupted for me, didn’t cease for a second, didn’t miss a beat — it continued, with new soloists briefly making appearances.

Among these were the haunting whinny-type sound made by the wings of a Wilson’s snipe, the scolding of blue jays off in the distance and the sporadic quacking of ducks, a small family group of which would soon become visible just off the island’s shore.

The surface of the water was covered with bugs we always called “whirligigs,” around and around they spun, leaving trailing tracks on the water. They aren’t water striders, which have a completely different motion altogether.

Real whirligigs are those ingenious creations of the mechanically minded, that spin or twirl with the wind. Some are intricate, and some are simple, and they come in all types of forms and styles ranging from lobsters and planes with animal pilots to flying pigs, frogs and sports players of every stripe.

I guess the most traditional style is the old woodchopper. When the wind moves the device’s propeller, the bearded wooden woodchopper chops wood. I love whirligigs, wind spinners and wind chimes. They are some beautiful creations based on the simple idea of catching the blowing wind.

As the moments passed, the sky above me got deeper blue, while the horizon was now blushed with peach and pink, the rosy smoke reflected in the water across widening bands of color.

With those first real rays of light stretching across the lake, the mosquitos awoke and began to form an itchy, buzzing blanket around me as I crouched with my camera.

Another minute or two and the scuff-mark-type clouds that had been dark before were now lit up in gorgeous reds, purples and pinks. These clouds were made that much prettier cast against the backdrop of deepening shades of blue.

Below, along the horizon line, the colors remained yellow and orange.

These moments were clearly the high point of the performance, with the color wheel crescendo building to fire and ice all at once, with the blackened horizon situated in between.

The clouds widened and rippled as they moved closer overhead — still ablaze in crimson and coral.

In a matter of a few more, short minutes, it was all over.

Not far away, a pair of common loons were waking up. Tucked into a secluded bay, they sat close to shore — on the pink and blue-tinted waters — with their heads snuggled into their feathers. Preening and peering into the water, they lazily began their day.

Along the road, a few cars and trucks had now begun to rumble and rattle past the lake, winding the road around the water’s edge, with their lights off.

I needed to get headed home. It was now about the time I usually get up for work.

I was so contented that I had wound up down along the lakeshore to witness nature stretching her arm out over the darkness, paintbrush in hand, coloring my little world.

Whoever said that thing about everyone seeing a sunrise once a year was right.

Before I turned and left my spot along the lakeside trail, I made a promise to myself there would be more sunrise watching in my future.

As I walked my way up to the blacktopped road, I had the feeling I had just been a privileged guest to a fantastic event. How I wound up there exactly, I’ll never know. But I am grateful and humbled that I did.

Another turn and I was home. I put my key in the door and went inside to wake myself up from this beautiful dream.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.