Outdoors North: Spring is ringing out in all its magical glory

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“Little darlin,’ it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,” – George Harrison

When I opened the door and popped the top on the day, the skies were just offering up the very first rays of sunshine. They stretched shadows long across the landscape while a mirrorlike silence enveloped the surface of the lake across the county road.

I really wished I could have explored along the shoreline and elsewhere at the lake today, taking pictures, watching wildlife and daydreaming, but it was a working day.

I would be traveling on the road today for my job, with the value-added benefit of being able to drive across several counties surveying the countryside as I went.

I expected to enjoy the trip. I love to drive and travel and see and do and get out there – wherever there happens to be.

Today, I was headed below the big bridge to Wilderness State Park for a joint event between the DNR and the Michigan Army National Guard.

I hadn’t checked the weather report to know what kind of day was expected but so far, it was a little chilly, calm and partly sunny or partly cloudy, depending on your disposition.

The first part of the trip wasn’t much to see until I made it down along the Lake Superior shoreline – a lot of concrete, blacktop, cars and trucks, people in a hurry to stop to get gas and breakfast before getting on the road.

A lot of push and shove and c’mon, let’s go and yeah, yeah, yeah. Pick a lane, slow down, speed up, stop and go nowhere. Start over. Finally – that guy is turning off.

But now at the lake, the sun was up and glorious in its ascent, burning in the sky over the gently rolling waves in the same color as a raspberry Creamsicle.

Wow. Look at that. By now, it was clear that the sunshine would seemingly be dominating the day.

A handful more of those congested miles ahead of me but then things started to unwind, including me, as the houses and businesses got scarcer and the trees, lakes, rivers and creeks multiplied in number.

In heading east, I saw several sandhill cranes along the shoulders of the state highway, bobbing their heads as they strolled, looking for something to eat.

Most were already wearing their spring and summer rust-colored paint of mud that they apply to their gray feathers once they arrive back from their Florida wintering hiatus. The rust coloring helps them blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators when nesting on the ground in marshlands.

It was when the terrain started to flatten out all around me that I made my first observation that some of the scattered pin cherry trees were now covered in their white blossoms.

It’s always such a showing thing to see, a cherry or an apple tree in full bloom. It’s one of those things that makes May and June among the finest months to experience here.

Old railroad tracks crossed even older creosote-soaked railroad-tie bridges over a series of creeks and rivers along the Seney Stretch from Hickey Creek to the Clark’s Ditch — 25 miles of one straight line on the state road map.

I think I can still name all the crossings in order, but not as easily as I once could. I don’t drive the Stretch as much as I used to.

It’s a storied countryside out there from the Bullock Ranch to the Great Cyr Swamp, the likes of author Ernest Hemmingway and the big woods tales from the Great Pine Era of Seney.

Beyond that historic village, and the places Hemmingway had fished, I noticed extensive beds of white trilliums covering the hardwood forest floor on both sides of the road.

The exquisite beaty of just one of these white flowers if transferable to monetary terms would certainly be extravagant. As the flowers fade, they turn to pink or red in additional shades every bit as gorgeous to see and admire.

The countryside itself was still waking up, even though the birds had been up singing since before the sun rose.

I kept heading east and then turned south onto another state highway.

There are several routes one can take when heading south from M-28 to U.S. Highway 2 to reach St. Ignace and the Mackinac Straits. They all have their attractions when it comes to scenery of varying types.

Today, I was on what I consider to be the most bucolic of the routes, with numerous farms situated along either side of the road, especially the closer you get to the southern end of the short 14-mile route.

At one point off to my left, I saw cows standing in black peat-like soil and a cattle egret standing among them. Still not a bird seen commonly in the U.P., this bird is aptly named.

It has fluffy plumes and is a smaller member of the heron family — an all-white bird as beautiful as a white trillium.

In two or three places, I saw barn swallows, with their dark blue coloring and deeply forked tails, glide effortlessly chasing insects to eat above the passing traffic.

Along the summery shores of Lake Michigan, it was clear the water – closer to the highway now than in the past few years – had done its best to consume large amounts of beach sand that once formed a comfortably wide place for passing motorists to stop to enjoy the water and the beach.

In some places, large boulders had been dropped between the blacktop and the beach to protect the roadway. However, there were no cars parked along the beach today.

I saw a tern glide over the highway, just west of St. Ignace, but nothing else beyond a few largely solitary gulls.

On the return trip home was when the day would burn itself into my mind as something I would remember for many years to come.

It started along the Lake Michigan shoreline with a tremendous awakening some might liken to the Biblical plagues of Egypt.

At first, I thought I saw black smoke over the trees off to the north, but quickly realized that instead, this was a midge hatch.

Midges number in the millions as they hatch and float on the winds, twisting in the sky like a bug tornado, quickly splatting in great numbers on windshields to form a dark gray-black, gooey mess.

For mile after mile, the hatches continued. It was not the first time I had witnessed this phenomenon, but it was still incredible to be sure.

Turning north off the lakeshore, away from the midge hatches, I noticed that passing backwoods ponds, open orchards, and wider places where more cherry and apple trees stood, the blooming of nature was occurring everywhere, all around, all at once.

Today was like a grand awakening for nature, springtime and life.

From just a few blooming cherry trees I saw on the way out this morning, on the route home, there were easily thousands sporting the attractive white blooms set to no doubt attract bees, wasps and other insects.

In addition to these trees, the drainage ditches along the roads were adorned with the beauty of yellow, marsh marigold flowers, more commonly called “cowslips.” They are often seen in the spring in the U.P. in moist environments.

Beyond this, new green and yellow leaves had unfurled, along with opened red peanut-skin-colored maple tree buds, brown and yellow catkins hung from some of the branches — everything open and reaching.

It’s as though nature set the alarm clock for today to time the explosion of beauty and wonder all at once.

Broad-winged hawks dipped down across the highway on about a half-dozen occasions, deer were at the road edge eating blooming dandelions. It was one of the most beautiful days I can remember experiencing in a long time.

Waters were tumbling and trickling in their courses reflecting sunlight, flowing toward their mouths. Others were still and tranquil, casting reflections of the skies and the trees all around.

The sky was blue with cottony cumulus clouds. It was like a big cotton candy day all around.

As I moved farther north and west, the air temperature continued to drop from a spectacular 65 degrees at Wilderness State Park and the Headlands International Dark Sky Park to 45 degrees by the time I got back to the Lake Superior shoreline.

That Creamsicle sun had continued to climb and move a good deal west in the sky. It had turned the color of a different flavor altogether — it was now deliciously orange.

Let the springtime ring out in all this magical glory!

Soon, the warm summer rains will be here to enjoy but save them for another day.

Today, let things just be and stay the way they are for the few hours remaining of daylight. Then, if there is to be another day just like this tomorrow, so be it.

It’s days like today that make a person realize how long the wintertime was here, even a milder, less cold, less snowy form of the season is still winter.

I love all the seasons in their time, and today is clearly for rejoicing spring.

I am going to get my rocking chair out of the garage and set it in the shade.

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.


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