Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October 18

Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 6 miles west of Alma to hike on friends’ property east of the village of Riverdale. The early morning weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 72 degrees and a stiff wind out of the southwest. We left the car and followed a path north where I noticed some signs of the season as Wild Raspberry leaves were changing color and a gaggle of Canada Geese were foraging leftovers in a recently harvested soybean field. Meanwhile, the morning sun made a brief appearance before being shrouded by clouds. Next, I veered west and hiked into a mature forest where a stand of Sassafras trees stood out with their bright yellow leaves. Also, I came upon a Red Oak tree whose leaves had turned rusty brown. After turning around, I began following a path east along the edge of a wooded pond where I spotted lots of dying Cottonwood leaves floating near the shore. Scanning the surrounding wetlands, I enjoyed listening to a chorus of Redwing Blackbirds that most likely stopped here on their migration south. Following the trail north, I spotted a Milkweed Bug resting on a Milkweed seedpod and could barely make out a grasshopper sitting on a Queen Anne’s lace blossom. Nearby, I noticed lush patches of young Wild Carrot plants (another name for Queen Anne’s Lace). So I picked a few leaves to smell the fresh “carrot” aroma. Glancing again at the wetlands, I noticed the cattails in front of me were swaying with the gusty wind. Continuing around the wetlands, the bright red stems and seeds of Pokeweed as well as the cup-shaped seedpods of Velvet Weed caught my eye. Finally, I turned around, retraced my steps back to the car and headed home.

Summer leaves
Captured the sun
Green and lush
Each and everyone
Bright yellow and reds
Dingy beige and grays
Cover dying foliage
In these autumn days
No matter the hue
No matter the shade
Nature has no favorites
For her colors displayed

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 11

Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 23 miles southeast of Alma to hike the Wintergreen Trail, located east of Ithaca at the end of Filmore Rd in the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area. The early morning weather was partly cloudy with a temperature of 54 degrees and a light breeze from the south. We left the car and headed south on a sandy, 2-track where I noticed signs of the season as some green foliage was beginning to redden, including Red Maple and White Oak. Further ahead was another sign, as brown needles shed by a mature White Pine tree blanketed the trail in front of me. Although these trees are evergreen, many of their needles die and fall off during this time of the year. Continuing south, I came to a fork in the trail and veered left into a recently logged open area where on the ground, I saw a colorful Orange Peel fungus as well as a young rosette of Common Mullien with its velvety leaves, Next, I came upon a patch of American Wintergreen which this trail is named after. So, I picked a leaf and crushed it to smell the distinctive fragrance, although subtle now compared to spring. Those who enjoy the wintergreen flavor often make tea from the leaves and/or berries. An essential oil obtained from the leaves contains methyl salicylate, which is closely related to aspirin and is an effective anti-inflammatory medicine. Years ago, this chemical was obtained from Wintergreen plants for use in medicines and fragrances; however, now days it is produced synthetically. Nearby, I spotted a type of club moss, called Running Ground Pine, growing among the Wintergreen. After turning around, I began retracing my steps where I noticed a dense stand of mature Red Pine with its straight rows indicating someone had planted it many years ago. Continuing north, I paused to watch as a gentle breeze blew through some Big-tooth Aspen leaves that were turning yellow. Finally, we made it back to the car and headed home.

October’s well awake
Nature can’t defer
Green lost its hold
Others begin to stir
First, subtle orange
Tempts the maple leaf
Yellow starts its journey
Joins the aspen motif
Red’s wait is over
Responding to its cue
Many trees to cover
Early autumn debut

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October 4

Tuesday, Remi stayed home while I drove 13 miles west to the village of Vestaburg to hike at the 200-acre, Alma College Ecological Station along with fellow nature guide and friend, Ivan Palmer. The early morning weather was mostly cloudy, foggy with a temperature of 55 degrees and a slight easterly breeze. We left the car and followed a 2-track south where I spotted my first of many fungi, Common Stinkhorn. In all my years of exploring nature, I have never seen such a large variety and number of fungi throughout Mid-Michigan as I have so far this year. Turning east, the path took us into a dense forest where I noticed Sassafras trees were starting to change color. On the ground, I saw several clumps of Honey Mushrooms as well as Cobweb Mold on a cap of another mushroom. Next, we turned south, descended a steep bank and followed a boardwalk into an ecosystem unique to this area, called a Bog. Bogs are types of wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material mostly from Sphagnum Moss. They occur where the surface water is acidic, low in nutrients and brown colored due to dissolved tannins in the peat. Reaching the dock, I paused to scan the circular, 5-acre lake surrounded by typical boardleaf trees that were changing color as well as Tamarack and Black Spruce, conifers associated with bogs. Beside the dock, some bright red hips of Swamp Rose caught my eye. Next, we gingerly walked out onto the spongy Sphagnum Moss mat covering the edge of the lake where I noticed a patch of Pitcher Plants, one of several insectivorous plants associated with bogs. Leaving the bog, we continued east where I continued to be amazed by the fungi including: Artist Bracket, Bay Brown Polypore and tiny, delicate Pinwheel mushrooms. Also, we spotted what appeared to be a Death Cap Mushroom with its characteristic veil on the stalk and part of a cup-like volva at the base. Finally, we turned around, retraced our steps back to the car and headed home.

Early October forest
Brushed with green
Is ready for nature
To change the scene
Her canvas is ready
Her easel unfolds
Orange and brown
Release their holds
Red and yellow
Begin their turns
To visit the maples
Fronds of ferns

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 27

Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 26 miles northeast of Alma to hike in Midland County’s 154-acre, Manitou Park. The early morning weather was partly cloudy with a temperature of 48 degrees and a moderate westerly wind. From the car, we took off south on a paved path where I noticed both Blue stem Goldenrod and Panicled Aster blossoms along the edge as well as some browning Bracken Ferns. Next, I came to the crest of a steep, 50-foot bank and paused to observe the Chippewa River below as it flowed west to east and where, after a 17-mile journey from here, will empty into the Tittabawassee River in Midland. Swinging around to the east, I followed the trail along the high bank where I came across clumps of green Pincushion Moss under a large oak tree while other green foliage, responding to seasonal change, were starting to turn red, including: Yarrow, Sassafras and even Poison Ivy. Further ahead, a few blossoms of Thin-leaved Sunflowers caught my eye. Turning around, I began retracing my steps west where I spotted three types of fungi: Turkey Tail covering the end of a cut log and tiny Orange Peel resting on the soil. The third type was the edible Spiny Puffball. So I broke off a piece and savored the fresh mushroom flavor along with a few grains of sand. Continuing west, I came upon some mysterious red, olive-size fruit scattered on the ground that, after looking around, turned out to be haws from a nearby Hawthorne tree. Even though they can be eaten raw, haws are commonly made into jam, syrup or wine. Near the end of the hike, I spotted a few clumps of 5-ft. tall Nodding Bulrush. Finally, we returned to the car and headed for Alma.

Late in September
Summer falls asleep
Lady Autumn awakes
In the forest deep
Quaking Aspen leaves
Litter the shady ground
Most are pale yellow
A few, spotted with brown
Beside a peaceful glade
Ferns give up their green
On the meandering river
Water has lost its sheen

D. DeGraaf

Friday, September 23, 2016

September 22

Thursday, while Remi stayed home, I traveled 22 miles north to hike in Mt. Pleasant’s newest park, an 80-acre woodland on the corner of Summerton and Valley, called Indian Pines. The mid-morning weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 66 degrees and no wind. From the car, I followed a newly made trail south though a dense woodland into a clearing where patches of Asters were in full bloom. Turning west back into the woodland, I spotted a large Sycamore tree with its characteristic exfoliating bark on the trunk and large maple-like leaves. Soon the trail turned south again and led into a grove of mature White pine trees where I paused to look at their lower trunks, projecting lots of dead branches. Nearby, I noticed the trunk of an Aspen tree had been recently visited by a Pileated Woodpecker while on the ground, the edible but tasteless fruit of Partridgeberry mixed in with some Haircap moss. At 10:21 am, as if on cue, the clouds broke up so I could face the morning sun as it shown through the trees and acknowledge it’s crossing of the celestial equator to begin the fall season. Continuing south, I arrived at the edge of the Chippewa River and paused to observe the scenic riparian landscape. Next, I began to make my way back to the car when I spotted a few more signs of autumn: red leaves of a Maple tree, a Virginia creeper vine, red drupes of Staghorn sumac and dead brown fronds of Bracken fern. On the ground, I came upon an edible Berkeley’s Polypore Mushroom and some non-edible fruit of White Baneberry. Finally, I returned to the car and headed back to Alma.

From heights of summer
When you rule the day
To depths of winter
You’re now halfway
Your annual journey
In the earthly sky
Predictable path
On which we rely
Sun of the heavens
Celestial fireball
Glad you arrived
Welcome to fall

D. DeGraaf