Passage of time leaves mark on forest

Passage of time leaves mark on forest

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“God didn’t make little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.” — Bobby Russell

Along the dusty woods road, the sun was shining bright across a vast opening created by a recent timber cut. From a tall dead snag, left intentionally by the loggers, a sparrow hawk perched, watching over the early afternoon scene.

I had seen him the day before on my way past in the opposite direction. He had the look of a young bird to me, maybe staying close to the nest cavity in the tree where he had been hatched.

With the trees all but gone, I could really get a look at the lay of the landscape never possible before, at least not in my lifetime. There were high sloping hills, with a sharp ridgeline. These things were always there, but I could never see them.

The trees were cut up near the edge of a shallow pond and wetland area that had always seemed like a place to see a moose, though I never have.

The only thing out there today was a pretty, blue belted kingfisher sitting on the end of a white birch log, which hung out over the green water.

I was happy to see so much more of the pond now. Again, it had always been there, but I’ve never seen it this well before.

The sight made me wonder how many other things are like that — things close enough to see that I’ve never been aware of my whole lifetime.

I’ve also noticed the opposite effect at play.

Places where there once was a beautiful clear view to a lake, down the hill to the meadow below or across the plains to the gray bluffs standing tall behind, are now blocked from view by a thick green wall of trees.

These images still clear in my memory have disappeared.

The idea reminds me of a similar notion that often plays on my mind.

Throughout history, generations look to the past – even the recent past as our world advances technologically faster and faster – with disbelief, and sometimes laughter, at some of the ideas thought to be proven facts or truths, cures or inventions.

So then, what things are we so sure about today that are dead wrong?

I really wonder.

In another place, not too far away, the road snaked around a corner and up over a little hill. Here, the milkweed plants were being visited by a couple dozen butterflies — monarchs and fritillary. Delicate orange and black creatures moving from one of the light lavender blooms to another.

There was also a thick, green patch of raspberry brambles congregated here, their bright red fruit ripe and hanging over the roadside.

The berries were lightly dusted with sand blown up from the road, but I didn’t care. This was my first chance of the season to sample this sweet, red, juicy harvest. I tapped the ends of the bushes to knock off the dirt.

I only wanted a few berries in the bottom of my cupped hand to take back to the car with me. I tossed them back into my mouth as I drove away. It had been too long since I had fresh raspberry seeds stuck in my teeth.

Today marked only the beginning of what looked like a short, but bountiful, berry-picking season to come.

A couple of days earlier, halfway across the peninsula, I found myself reaching over my head to pull down a ripe purple Saskatoon. So sweet.

In a wide opening, in a place where sharp-tailed grouse had once strutted when I was a kid, a parked pick-up truck looked conspicuously out of place by itself against this sweeping plains-style vista.

Outside the vehicle, not far from the driver’s side door, a man and a child knelt in the low bushes, picking blueberries. It was a snapshot I took in my mind, another photo for my Norman Rockwell collection.

It seems to me the time of year berries ripen in this part of the world gets sooner and sooner each summer. In addition to the ripening raspberries, blueberries and sugar plums, blackberries will be a while yet, like the apples, which are now small and green, bunched along the branches.

With any luck, it will soon be time for pie.

This was always one of my favorite times of the year as a child.

In our house, when I was growing up, my dad might have been wearing the pants, but my mom was rolling out the dough. She made glorious blueberry, raspberry and apple pies, jams and jellies.

Homemade or otherwise, my favorite was always blueberry turnovers. Even the ones you put in the toaster and then put the frosting on from a small packet after the pastry warms.

Back in those old days, I had never heard of “fruits of the forest” pie. I would find out about that later, like strawberry rhubarb pie, which is absolutely, out of this world, though it doesn’t necessarily sound like it would be for some reason.

Kind of like a tuna melt, a mud pie or a fish taco. Si, es Bueno.

A met a neighbor for the first time the other day who is a grower of various berries, cherries and apples. A retired teacher, she particularly prefers the hardy varieties able to endure the harsh winters and cold springtime of this northern latitude.

She talked about how she’d even imported some starts from upstate portions of New York state. She also talked about the waxwings and the robins, who would partake of what was left of the fruit during the inclement weather of the wintertime.

She grows roses, and a variety of other pretty flowers too. She told me the leaves of one pink flower can be used like spinach in cooking a quiche. “Hmmm, I like quiche,” I said.

She also keeps bees and knows the sounds and the comings and goings of the animals. It’s comforting that someone living so close to the earth is very nearby.

As I write this, I’m reminded of an old Roger Miller tune from 1968.

“And if that’s not loving you, then all I’ve got to say, is God didn’t make the little green apples and it don’t snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes.”

I remember heading north out of Los Angeles with my dad in the passenger seat. I passed a car and Roger Miller was in the vehicle next to us. He waved back at my dad.

Turning to look again across the timber cut, the slash was down, dying and rusted. The green bracken ferns were drooping forward, like they were really hoping for rain. A flicker flashed the yellow under its wings, heading for one of the snags in the distance.

Fifty years from now, I bet there will be some guy standing right here on this road saying to himself, or anyone who’ll listen, “I remember when I was a kid, this was as wide open as it could be.

“Right here, you could see all the way back to the hillside. It sloped down and there was a pronounced ridgeline. Now, it’s all trees. You can’t see anything.”

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.