Getting away from everyday stress is key
“As we live and breathe, somehow we must believe,” — Steve Forbert
Like a grand gateway to a universe of discovery, the white, curved curbing at the edge of the blacktopped road welcomed me off the pavement into a natural world I’ve been endlessly fascinated with since I was a young kid.
This trip was particularly special because it would be the first time since the tremendous storms and blows of winter, I would be getting out to some of my favorite backroad haunts.
It wasn’t the fully enhanced opportunity I was hoping for, but it would have to do. I had commitments and deadlines to meet, which would shorten my time in the woods on this sunny afternoon — the last before dark clouds and pouring rain would blacken the skies for two full days.
Those obligations made it seem like I had a woodpecker with a stopwatch on my shoulder tapping away the whole time. Despite this distraction, I did my best to open myself up to the sensational world around me, decompress the tightness in my heart and the shake the gloom and mold from my mind.
I hit the gravel road with a hope of some time to myself among the birds and the animals, the wild rivers, silent rocks and boulders, whispering trees and nodding flowers.
I had my fishing pole tucked away in the back of my Jeep, along with my fishing bag. If I saw someplace that looked like the water was right, I’d take a cast or three.
Getting off the pavement, I felt like I was at the edge of a topographic map, just crossing off the white border, into the green ink — moving across the grid toward the blue ink waters, to the places where the cinnamon brown lines sit close to each other, where the hills and valleys run high and deep.
As I rounded the corners and hit the straights, there were signs everywhere the vicious ice, snow and windstorms of winter had taken a heavy toll on the trees of the forest.
Along the side of the road, a big maple lay in pieces. This magnificent giant — who was probably born before the Revolutionary War — had crashed to the ground across the russet, wet gravel, blocking passage to all but those on foot or wing.
Someone with a sharp chainsaw carved in through the bark, down to the heartwood, and rolled the pieces to the edge of the road.
Farther back into the trees, there were plenty of toppled warriors, broken and ripped ragged by the teeth of Ol’ Man Winter.
At a place where a cheery little stream gurgled through a culvert under the road, I stopped and looked upstream and then down — slow, high, strong and silent on the upstream side, rolling fast, tumbling waters white on the downstream view.
The water here was too high to cast. I kept driving. I saw one car approaching from the opposite direction. I returned a raise of the driver’s index finger from the steering wheel.
A mile or so more and I stopped on another bridge. The water was running high here too, but I decided to leave the Jeep running and take a cast from the bridge.
I tossed a silver-bladed spinner a good distance up the creek, the lure splashed into the clear waters, followed by the line that fell limp atop the water. I watched the retrieve while I slowly turned the crank on the reel.
As the lure passed over a deep hole, a trout came up and hit the lure. In what would turn out to be a preview of scenes yet to unfold that day, the trout hadn’t struck with any real intention. A couple of seconds after the strike, the fish disappeared back into the depths of the pool.
I figured the high water was still cold, along with washing countless worms into the creeks and streams, keeping the fish full. The chippering sound of an osprey on the wing above me made me think this fish hawk was having the same luck I was.
The biggest thing I noticed when I got to some of the most familiar streamside scenes was the shocking earth moving the waters had done over the wintertime and spring melt runoff.
Even in the small creeks, there were places dug and scoured into the bottom of the waterway that made the depth easily over my head. Last fall, the water here was only about a foot or two depth.
In a similar riveting fashion, some of the best hides for trout and favorite fishing holes of mine had been destroyed, with trees felled into the water – the spruce boughs working to trap large amounts of sand rushed through the swollen waters busting downstream.
The afternoon was oddly absent of animal sightings. The air was filled with the sounds of birds and a group of American toads that were vocalizing from the edge of a shallow chub-filled pond.
Seeing the open places, hearing the splashing and trickling water and smelling the buds and blooms, all in the clean spring air on a warm day was doing me good. The spring wound tight inside me was loosening, it was being forced backwards.
I continued driving, enthralled with the massive works of beavers that had been thrown up over the winter, with dams, lodges and bank excavations backing up waters, clogging culverts and inundating formerly high ground all over the place.
In some places, the road had clearly been submerged in the previous weeks and months. Gravels and sand had been eroded in wide channels, dry now, that fanned off the edges of the road.
There was deep mud in places too, with tire tracks of other searchers leading me through the morass, over high and solid spots in the mess. At the top of a hill, I looked out into a wide expanse, stretching as far as I could see.
This place had once been a home for sharp-tailed grouse when I was a kid. I’ve seen sandhill cranes here more recently. A timber cut over the past couple of years opened-up more of this country to wide-type viewing.
Places like this, especially when the sun is shining, make me feel free inside. I feel like a bird that could fly and glide out over this ground, the sun on my shoulders and the wind beneath me — soaring.
Before I hit the blacktop, looping back out into “civilization” miles from where I started, I passed more washed out road shoulders, topped-off lakes and hundreds of thousands of trees, most waiting for rain and then more sun to make their leaves pop open.
A stand of white-barked aspen, blotched with black, caught my eye as a divine place to be. However, they stood tall and beautiful, behind strands of steel wire and rectangular, metal signs indicating the property was private.
Those signs made me wonder whether I should even be looking at the aspen. The trees suddenly seemed like captives, standing tall, but not going anywhere anytime soon. I wanted to walk out there among them.
On the other side of the road, there was another stand where the aspen trees were standing too, but there wasn’t any fencing or signs. They were free to be explored, walked among and listened to.
I wanted to get out to join them there in the sun, to lie beneath their branches and collapse into the soft grasses, but the woodpecker’s pounding on my shoulder moved to the side of my head and became more insistent.
I headed out of the pretty green map ink, back toward the pink places where the roads are red and gray, the pressures of society are seething, and the old mining towns continue to crumble.
Time remains a daring and unrepentant thief.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.