Secret site offers respite, affirmation
There’s a place I know that I’d prefer not to name or categorize as a specific natural feature, like a wetland or a drumlin or seashore.
To do so would in some way be to cheapen the existence of this setting, which is one of those rare places where certain parts of the day are more greatly enhanced in their exquisite and rare beauty.
The time of day here that makes all the design, light, sizes, shapes, angles and colors present themselves best in kaleidoscopic brilliance is decidedly sundown.
I’m standing here this evening looking out on a scene that is at once ravaged and serene, growing, blooming and living, while downed, dead and dying all at the same time.
While the leaves and catkins of summer have busted out and unfurled in short order — and the cherry and apple blossoms are in full shimmering displays of white, pinks and cream coloring like a Van Gogh masterpiece – the forest floor is littered with thousands of dead and dying branches and entire trees snapped, broken or bent by the recent May snowstorm — a monstrously destructive event that won’t be soon forgotten.
This place in that way mimics the day itself, as sundown’s light dies away, the glow and clarity of twilight deepens. Soon the evening star will be brightly seated in the clear gradient sky of cerulean, lapis and cobalt blues.
For now, the light is still dying away, raising the oranges, reds and blue-purples of “fires” from just over the western horizon.
In the place my boots are planted in the dirt, I recall an old and quite dilapidated bridge. Somewhere, I still have pictures of it. It was narrow and made of wood, falling apart as the years wore on.
By the time it was removed and replaced, pieces of the decking were missing and driving over the span was quite an unnerving thing.
Tonight, the waters below are still exhibiting a flow beyond the banks of the stream, due to the meltwaters of winter coursing down the arteries from the heart of the watershed.
The river appears still and silent, but there is a current beneath the surface moving decidedly more rapidly than it reveals. A spotted sandpiper emits a peeping sound as it skitters downstream and lands along the grassy, muddy riverbank.
In the air above, the whistling and creepy sound of a Wilson’ snipe winnowing on the wing wobbles on the night air. It repeats several times, but I can’t find the bird in the sky with the naked eye.
A secretive bird that is seldom seen, except in places like this, I feel we are kindred spirits, with the exception that the snipes, when they are seen, can be found perched prominently on a wooden field post near wetland areas.
That part is not for me.
About this time, I notice that I am being watched.
I’ve been here for about 20 minutes or more. It is only now that I realize that there is a hen Canada goose sitting on a nest about 60 yards away, blending in quite nicely with the dried and dead reeds and grasses of last fall.
Since the last time I have been here, a large, dead tree whose species is unidentifiable to me, has fallen across the river. The log appears to be hollow and floating at least partially above the surface of the stream.
It’s difficult to tell whether the downed tree is restricting any water flow because of the swollen nature of the rest of the river. In some places, the water has overflowed the banks, creating ponding along the sides of the watercourse.
I listen very intently to see if there are any sounds of humans that I can detect or recognize from my listening post.
The only sounds that reverberate through this place and meet my ears are the scolding of a blue jay, the tapping on wood of a hairy woodpecker and the bubbling and odd song of a red-winged blackbird.
The Queen of Shebis is here with me tonight, but she has opted to nap in the passenger side seat of the Jeep, waiting for me to finish my listening and soaking up of the sights, sounds and healing powers of nature around me.
Her simple act of sleeping demonstrates the greatness of this place. She’s at peace and comfort enough to rest, relax and release. It’s that kind of place.
In the view of the downstream landscape, the water is shallow, compared to my upstream glances. Little swirls appear at the top of the water that I presume are small fish surfacing briefly.
The snipe continues in its haunting, but beautiful sound overhead. I still don’t see it and I am comfortable with that. Just knowing it is there is incredibly cool to me.
It isn’t long and we are heading down a dirt road toward home. The woods are filled and overflowing with water from late snow melt. In some places, there are still rather significant patches of snow on the ground.
Oddly, sightings of larger animals like deer and moose do not occur tonight.
We pass a glorious lake, finding the water kicked up by a wind whipping over the open space that we hadn’t seen or sensed along the protected area near the river.
We spot a grebe offshore, too dimly lit to positively identify. Back against a distant shoreline, a trumpeter swan sticks out of the scenery quite obviously and is easy to identify, even at this getting-late hour.
I spotted a mostly white bird fly across the road and land in a tree just above the water’s edge. As we drove past, I looked in time to see it was a male belted kingfisher.
As we arrive at home, our presence there jogged my mind to recall two backyard mysteries we were confronted with over recent days.
One involves who is sleeping in the old wood duck nesting box I put up against the trunk of our white pine tree in hopes of attracting a saw-whet owl. I had been wanting to climb up to the box once the winter was over to see what might be inside.
I was surprised to find the box filled, almost up to the nest hole, with nothing but strips of white birch bark. They were of all different widths and lengths. I used a stick to stir up the contents and found nothing at the bottom of the box but more birch bark.
Safe to say this wasn’t the behavior I’ve seen or read about for saw-whet owls. I wondered if it might be a red or gray squirrel, but I haven’t found pictures of squirrel nests that match the description of what we’ve found.
I know from a nest box in the backyard that is lived in by flying squirrels that this nesting material habit does not belong to them.
So, what is using the box? I think it must be something out and about at night. I’ve seen no activity at the box during the daytime.
The second mystery we’ve uncovered in recent days involves the presence of an egg.
Immediately, my mind went back to last springtime when we found a rather large, white egg covered in the grasses, just off the lawn edge, under some bushes. I presumed the egg came from a goose, though none were nesting in our yard.
That led me to presume that an animal, like a fox, must had stolen the egg from a goose nest and brought it to our yard to conceal it.
That’s still a pretty good working theory.
This week, the Queen of Shebis found a place at the base of a pine tree where some digging had taken place by some type of animal. The size of the hole and paws involved led me to believe that a fox might again be the animal suspected.
Down inside the hole, which measured a depth of probably 3 to 4 inches, was another large egg with a white shell. However, this egg was cracked open and the yoke and whatever else was left inside.
So, it seems like an animal dug a hole, buried the egg, and then dug it up at some later point in time, only to crack the egg open and not eat the insides. Strange.
I took a picture or two of the sight.
Also strange, birds of countless variety are back from migration and busy setting up nesting territories, finding mates and building nests, but I’ve seen not a single bat so far.
Bugs, including black flies, were in the air, floating in small cloud squadrons looking for targets to strike. Plenty of bat food available.
Once the darkness fell, I went out the front door onto the stoop to see what I might be able to hear. I heard spring peepers and geese from out in the direction of the lake, as well as the back-up alarm on some kind of heavy equipment vehicle in the distance.
The air has a kind of mist to it and the darkness seems thicker than usual.
I resign myself to being more intentional about taking more time to get outside, no matter my deadlines, commitments and obligations.
The world can just wait a damned minute, or an hour or a day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: 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.