Outdoors North

Nature paints a stunning landscape

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Journal columnist

“Dan can you see that big green tree, where the water’s running free and it’s waiting there for me and you,” – Bob Nolan

With the day already heating up, swallowtail and mourning cloak butterflies congregated at places along the road where wet mud remained, at least for now.

This was to be a sweltering day, one right around the solstice, where summertime gives her all — like opening an oven door to step outside.

I was rattling along a road in the deep woods, looking over the countryside with my fishing pole and camera in the back. At this time of year, the sun jumps high into the sky quite early.

It’s often surprising to me how quickly springtime can change to the height of summertime’s thick, lush growth of greenery in seemingly just a few days. Nature paints a stunning landscape with just a little bit of rain and a little warm weather.

I was thrilled to see the colorful blooming wildflowers all over the place.

Ox-eye daisies and buttercups were dazzling along the sides of this dusty road, as they had been along the busy highway too. But here, there was also purple clover and tall thick patches of red hawkweed.

I saw yellow daisies too, tall stalks of blooming Queen Anne’s lace, along with white blooms nodding in the breezes on the raspberry, blackberry and thimbleberry bushes. In another few weeks, there will be berries to taste.

There were other beautiful wildflowers blooming too, whose names I have not yet become acquainted with, adding yellows, blues and pinks to the picture.

I turned off onto a short two-track road I think may have been constructed at one time for a clear-cutting timber operation that took place here a few years back. I drove up over a deep drop in the road base and up along this sandy route.

Young jack pine trees were growing up in the grassy middle of the road. Their bristly needles scraped and slid along the undercarriage of my vehicle. It won’t be long before this road won’t be passable by vehicles anymore.

It made me wonder how many locations I go to readily today will disappear, claimed by the forests and the fields? I thought about how there must be countless roads that I’ve never traveled, and never will, that my ancestors knew quite well.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

At the end of this little road there grows a massive white pine. I park underneath its boughs which give me shade I will appreciate greatly when I crawl back up the hill from the streambanks along the meandering creek below.

I follow fresh deer tracks down through the trees into a meadow overgrown with grasses, alder saplings and purple thistles. In some places, the growth of vegetation is almost up to my face, which along with the high humidity and heat, makes it harder than usual to breathe as I walk.

If I didn’t know where the course of the stream was, I might step through the grass and right into it, accidentally. When I see the water, it is slow and deep and cool. It glugs along slowly, twisting on the surface only slightly.

I imagine a big trout will smack my bait as soon as the line hits the water. Instead, the lure slips back and forth under the water, sinking to the bottom. I feel one slight tap as I retrieve the line with the hand crank on my reel.

This would prove to be the way the day would go from a fishing perspective – fish slow to move and react, even slower to bite. I wouldn’t catch any fish to take home with me today, but I did see a couple of nice, speckled beauties briefly as they rolled behind my lure.

I felt today as though I was caught way behind time. The season had gotten past me somehow. After Fourth of July, the summer will start its downhill slide to September, with the fall of the year just around the corner.

The realization was jarring. There never seems to be enough time to spend in the outdoors. I remember long, almost endless, fun-filled summers without school when I was a kid.

Now, it seems I need to dash full-time just to keep up with summer’s short run.

I plop a cast into the stream again. My attention is drawn upward as I hear the flapping wings of a broad-winged hawk. I don’t think it saw me until it was right up over me. It was so cool to see one so close, the black bars across the tail marked this one well.

After noticing the work beavers had done to build a dam across the creek, I make my way back to the shady scene inside my vehicle parked underneath the white pine.

I pull a cold drink out of the cooler and open a bag of peanuts I had left on the front seat. The combination was refreshing.

Continuing down the road, at a corner, I notice some old forest signs put up in the 1960s directing traffic and pointing out a forest plantation have been knocked down into the underbrush by somebody.

It’s doubtful they will ever be put back up again. I often wonder what gives someone the idea to do something like that.

Along the edge of the dirt road I see a flash of reddish color, like that of maybe a fox, disappear quickly behind a low sugarplum bush. I stop the car, watch and wait. Instead of a fox, it’s a sandhill crane that was surprised by my presence.

The bird extended its rust-stained wings awkwardly and hunkered down low to the ground walking away from me. A second crane, with a striking red skin patch on its face, followed.

A moment or two later, I was able to spot the tawny brown coloration of the head of a young crane bobbing up and down from amid the green bracken ferns. One of the adult birds kept squawking out a guard call.

I slowly drove on.

I had decided to visit a few good old fishing holes I haven’t been to in a while. Standing on a wooden bridge, looking upstream, I was shocked at the number of trees that were bent over covering the entire length of the stream that I could see.

There would be no way to get a line close to the water here.

I’ve seen this same circumstance, the result of a November storm that brought heavy, wet snow to bend over and hold countless trees, this spring and summer at numerous places I like to fish.

These places, where big trout haunt the deep holes will likely remain inaccessible for years to come. In some cases, I may have fished my last at these holes. It’s strange to think that one single storm can have such far-reaching effects.

By late afternoon, the temperature had shot up to near 90 degrees – a condition my kid self would have referred to as “burning hot.”

I took a few pictures at an old homestead where you can still see the track in the grass from where wagons used to go, and low walls built with boulders cleared from planting fields.

On this day, in the hot sun, the wildflowers had formed a cool and soft blanket to sit down on. The air was filled with the songs of indigo buntings that traded calls between a homestead lot and the old apple orchard.

The tall trees swaying in the warm wind made for an inviting, shady place to rest. I imagine some of the folks who used to live here are buried here. I don’t think they would have imagined their whole little community here would one day go to seed.

Deer flies bite the backs of my hands, drawing blood. I swat one and it crumples to the ground. This place feels dry and deserted today. Wolf scat and deer tracks on the road.

Like the west, the beauty is rugged here. In my mind, I see boarded up windows and doors, paint peeling and wagon wheels rusted.

I imagine I’m like a preacher in the old church bell tower, praying for rain.

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.


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