Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November 21

Last Sunday, I drove west to Bliss Rd to access the Heartland Trail and continue my hike toward Alma. The late morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 30 degrees, light snow flurries and a stiff north wind. I left the car, put on my blaze orange hat and headed east where I noticed a hint of the season to come, a fresh dusting of snow along the trail. Farther ahead, I could see the path was covered with decaying leaves from a nearby apple tree. Looking to my left, I spotted the tree and was surprised to see the ground underneath it covered with fresh apples. Since this fruit is a favorite food of a thriving deer population and would have been quickly consumed, it must be they have other ample sources nearby. Continuing east, flashes of dark birds with white tail feathers caught my eye as they fluttered through the dense shrubbery just ahead. Despite their rapid retreat, I was able to observe one of the flock resting briefly on the asphalt path and was not surprised to see it was a Dark-eyed Junco, one of many that migrate here for the winter from the far north. Still further, I came upon a patch of dead Mulberry leaves covering the path that had fallen from a nearby tree. Unlike most deciduous trees in autumn, the Mulberry waits until late in the season when there is a hard freeze and drops all its leaves at once. After a mile, I turned around at Pingree Rd. in the village of Elwell and retraced my steps west where I spotted a young Beech tree still clinging to its decaying leaves. Some of nature’s remaining green color that caught my eye included an evergreen Juniper tree and immature Wild Carrot foliage scattered among the leaf litter. Some of her remaining red color included a few Raspberry leaves. While passing a stand of Ash trees, I couldn’t help but see that some of their dying trunks displayed the ravages of the Emerald Ash Borer. Approaching the end of my hike, I was excited to see a Red Fox quickly scoot south across the trail in front of me. Finally, I made it back to the car, turned the heat on high and headed home.

Hunting days have barely begun
Run, whitetail run
Far away from the hunter’s gun
Run, whitetail run
Some humans kill for fun
Run, whitetail run
By light of the moon and the sun
Run, whitetail run
Stay alive till season is done
Run, whitetail run

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November 14

Tuesday, I drove 5 miles west to Warner Rd. and parked next to the Meijer Heartland Trail to resume my hike toward Alma. The early morning weather was overcast, hazy with a temperature of 30 degrees and no wind. Heading east, I noticed that most of the leaves scattered on this section of the path were from nearby Quaking Aspen trees that were now bare and won’t “quake” again until next spring when their leaves grow back. On the edge of the asphalt path, I spotted patches of moss and thought about how this amazing plant can drive its root-like rhizoids into the rock hard substrate to anchor itself and extract water as well as minerals so it can not only grow but also thrive. Continuing east, I observed that while most of the deciduous vegetation along the path was leafless, some still displayed lush, green foliage including: Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive and Goldenrod. Moving on, I paused to look and listen as water flowed south from a farmer’s drain tile under the trail and continued in an open drainage ditch. In my opinion, this scene is symbolic of the highly questionable history of government officials allocating huge amounts of public money to drain ecologically important wetlands and dredge natural streams in order to provide influential farmers with well-drained fields and clean ditches. In addition, this method ignores earth’s natural filtration while facilitating the concentration and funneling of pollutants into the Pine River. Nearby, I spotted a Ground Cherry plant with its lantern-like husks while a few yards away another one of these plants displayed its cherry tomato-like edible fruit. After hiking a mile, I reached Bliss Rd., turned around and headed west where the woody red branches of Red-Osier Dogwood caught my eye as well as the thin red berry stems of Gray Dogwood. Continuing west, I noticed several fresh buck rubs that reminded me that hunting season opens tomorrow. Finally, I came to the car and headed home.

Journey’s over
Seasonal sight
Fluttering wings
Flashing white
Eyes of coal
Feathers of slate
Winter wonder
Food locate
Leafless brush
To and fro
Welcome Junco
Bird of the snow

D. DeGraaf

Monday, November 6, 2017

November 6

Last Saturday, I resumed my hike on the Meijer Heartland Trail, east toward Alma. The early morning weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 37 degrees and a light gusty wind out of the northeast. Leaving the car parking off Osborn Rd., I headed east on the paved trail where the first scattering of leaf litter revealed mostly Big Tooth Aspen. Just ahead, I noticed the striking orange fruit of a Bittersweet vine and the red drupes on a panicle of Staghorn Sumac. The seed inside each drupe can be dried and ground into a red powder that looks like paprika. This spice has been used for thousands of years in the Middle East and North Africa. Continuing eastward, I noticed the litter on the trail had changed to decayed leaves of maple and oak. Further ahead, I came upon an Aster plant whose once-white blossoms had seeded out as well as some fresh “shelves” of an edible mushroom called Chicken-of-the woods. Still further, I was surprised to spot a half dozen Giant Puffball mushrooms sticking out of the leaf litter, including this one that was as large as my shoe. Since it was white and fleshy, I broke off and ate a piece to enjoy its “mushroom” flavor. Just before the halfway point, a large patch of low-lying green vegetation caught my eye. Leaving the path, I walked over to see that most of it was Common Cocklebur mixed with some Beggar ticks. Turning around at Warner Rd., I began retracing my steps west when I paused to listen to a Blue Jay’s call. Continuing west, I spotted a mature Apple Gall hanging from a Red Oak leaf. This gall formed earlier in the year when a tiny female Cynipid wasp injected an egg into the vein of a growing leaf. As the egg enlarged and hatched, the leaf cells mutated and grew around the larva forming a marble size green sphere. As the larva grew so did the gall that later dried out, turned brown when the larva tunneled out and changed into an adult wasp to begin the cycle again. Finally, I made it back to the car and headed home.

Forest in fall
Far from the din
Maples stand naked
November blows in
At my feet
A golden crust
Canopy oaks
From red to rust
Signs of the season
Some of the best
Nature the host
Myself the guest

D. DeGraaf

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 31

Last Saturday, I returned to Lumberjack Park to check out a nature trail that I’ve had the privilege of helping to create over the past year or so. Although still not complete, the trail should be open to the public by next summer. The early morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 37 degrees and a steady wind from the southwest. Leaving the car in a grassy parking area off the east side of Lumberjack Rd. just north of the Pine River, I proceeded east on an old 2-track into a wooded area of mixed hardwoods and conifers. Just ahead as the trail forked, I took the right prong and made my way along the high bank of the Pine River where I paused to notice the rapid current and swollen channel due to last week’s heavy rain. I continued to follow the trail east and then around to the north through a corridor of mature Red Pine Trees, up an incline before it turned south again where I noticed the pile of old tires that we plan to remove during our cleanup next spring. Continuing south, I reached Mud Creek where I crossed the new footbridge, constructed through the efforts of many dedicated volunteers. Turning west, the trail moved along side the creek past a large pink granite boulder before turning south over the newly constructed 100-foot boardwalk and steps. Next, I turned east and followed the trail as it looped south through dense woods dominated by Sugar Maples to the south trailhead and parking area off Madison Rd. From there, I headed due north on a 2-track along the Pine River back to the boardwalk and retraced my steps over the bridge where I paused to observe Mud Creek as it flowed west to the river. Continuing through the Red Pine plantation, I turned south down the slope and instead of continuing to the river, I turned due west and followed an alternate trail through a large White Pine forest back to the north trailhead. Finally, I got to the car and headed home.

Autumn breathes a sigh
October breathes its last
Green goes in hiding
Others fading fast
Redwings left the marsh
Most muskrats stayed
Gone the flowered fields
Gone the forest shade
Nature dials down
Calls of creatures wild
No more longer days
No more breezes mild

D. DeGraaf

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October 24

Last Sunday, I continued my eastward journey, hiking another section of the Meijer Heartland Trail. The early morning weather was partly cloudy with a temperature of 55 degrees and a slight but gusty wind out of the south. Exiting the car, I glanced to the north and noticed the sign for the Stearns Preserve, 14 acres of Chippewa Watershed Conservancy property adjacent to the trail. Heading east, I spotted a dense patch of Rough Horsetail stems. Also called Scouring Rush, theses evergreen stems were used to scour pots, pans, and floors during pioneer days. Horsetails are closely related to ferns and both were common during the Carboniferous period (280-345 million years ago), when tree-sized horsetails and ferns occurred. Much of our present-day coal deposits originated in large part from these plants. Further ahead, I came to the bridge over the Pine River where I paused to watch the water flow gently to the south under a large Basswood Tree that had recently fallen over the channel. Continuing east, I noticed that, while the once-colorful Goldenrod blossoms were seeding out, the now colorful Witch Hazel blossoms were on display. Next, I passed through a corridor of red Sumac before reaching my turn-around point at Osborn Rd. Proceeding west, I followed my shadow before pausing to observe the light breeze gently move through some Milkweed seeds. As the wind picked up, the quaking leaves of nearby Aspen trees caught my attention. While a variety of leaf colors were evident among the deciduous trees, I especially noticed the crimson red of the Red Maple and the pale gold of the Sugar Maple. However, nearing the end of the hike, I approached a maple tree whose leaves showed no sign of color change. Upon closer inspection, I determined that it was a rarely seen Big leaf Maple that is known for not turning colors in the fall. Finally, I got back to the car and headed home.

Milkweed pods
Bursting white
Flossy seeds
Take to flight
Dying brown
Fading grass
Bowing down
Mother Nature
Shows her hand
Autumn spreads
In meadow land

D. DeGraaf