Lincoln Road Journal, One year in the yard, May, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
One of the rituals for many living in Michigan is heading "Up North" for weekend getaways or vacations. I've done it all my life. My wife has joined me for more than 30 years in heading to either the Begnoche family getaway on Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay north of Paradise, Michigan, or to this or that campground around Michigan, especially before we moved to Ludington -- a place that is "Up North" to many in southern Michigan, northern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
But even here in Ludington, many people head north. The Upper Peninsula -- the U.P. -- is a common choice. People in the U.P. sometimes head further north to into Canada.
Up North in some ways is a place of mind as much as a place. It's somewhere, usually less hectic, less crowded, seemingly more relaxed where one can watch a campfire, walk a beach, catch a fish, enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, time with family or friends, make a smore, down a beer or savor a morning cup of coffee looking at woods, a lake or a stream.
And while this project hones in on the three acres of our yard in Ludington, by necessity and choice when we head north to our little piece of Paradise -- a minuscule 70 frontage feet of Whitefish Bay -- I've chosen to try to maintain the photo a day rule.
Today's pictures are from the yard in Ludington as dandelions go to seed, as the woods continues to grow into mid-spring richness of fresh buds, leaves, flowers and warmth.
Then it was off to hit the road for the long drive north. It's a time to listen to music, to talk, to think or just shut down thinking and let the miles count off in a blur of reflective signs caught in headlights and the rhythm of tires rolling over pavement. About midnight we crossed the Big Mac -- the Mackinac Bridge spanning the five miles of the Straits of Mackinac that connect Lakes Michigan and Huron. We paid our $3.50 toll and entered the Upper Peninsula for another hour's drive north to Paradise.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
A soggy, damp day that turned comfortably warm in the evening. In nearby swamps spring cheepers are in full chorus. The air is moist, redolent with earthy aromas. It's as if the Earth is steeping like a bag of tea in a lukewarm cup of water.
Green is the predominant color. But it's a yellow green of young leaves, not the full, rich green of mature, summer leaves.
Moisture clung to leaves and twigs and grasses well into the evening long after the rain stopped.
The birds returned to the feeders -- crows, orioles, grosbeaks, cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves as well as sparrows, finches and chickadees.
I photographed the moistness as seen on drops of water on flowers, plants and twigs.
That it was very moist was made clear by the slugs six feet up the sides of oaks where they dined on the fungus on trees -- or so it looked.
We needed the moisture. It's been too dry of a spring, but recent rains are bringing the life back to the plants. And the dampness is a warm dampness, another sign the season is progressing.
From the pulpit
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Another day with limited yard time. Luncheon meeting, visitation in the evening upon the death of a friend, a quick dinner out -- all made for quick trips around the yard. Lighting was flat when I was home. Finding a good photo subject was difficult.
I've been trying to wait on the jack-in-the-pulpits to see if they are going to grow much more. So far they're about six inches tall and fairly skinny. Some years they've been much larger. The size could have been kept back by the dry April.
Still, they're enjoyable to see down in the yard adjacent to the creek. We've been pleased to find them every spring in the yard.
Jack-in-the-pulpit is also sometimes called Indian turnip, though its fruit is poisonous.
The Michigan Wildflowers book said typically jack-in-the-pulpits run from 1 to 3 feet in size, so these are small. They show the purple and green striping on the hood that covers the rod that is "Jack" in the pulpit.
If it was preaching, it might be saying slow down and hear and experience the world around you. It's rich in life, life that too many don't notice.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Spent little time in the yard today. Rain -- needed still -- arrived with the morning. I chuckled at the blue jay atop the feeder in the light rain. He looked a bit bedraggled, but intent on a meal.
At lunch, it was as cold and wet as it was in the morning and little was stirring.
Work kept me away until nearly 8 p.m. which, in the aftergloom of the rain, was almost dark.
It was a chill seemingly more appropriate for November than May. The yard seemed frozen in time. For a change nothing new caught my eye in the quick walk around the backyard.
Tomorrow's another day. What will it bring?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Deer in the upper yard to the south greeted me as I ate oatmeal this morning. Skittish, they moved off quickly at the sound of the water pump kicking on.
By noon, the normal visitors to the feeder were around. Crows were coming and going, but not stopping. I had found more jack-in-the-pulpits.
I worked at home this afternoon, writing to be with the family cat as she completed the ninth of her nine lives. As she died, a red-tail hawk showed in the yard, alighting on trees ringing the front yard of the house. A realist would say coincidence. A spiritualist might say the hawk, a master predator, was coming to pay respects to another predator or to guide the cat to the other side.
The hawk was last seen gliding to the ground near where I'd later dig the cat's grave. The red and buff sand, topped by the black soil of the forest floor were the colors of the hawk. A realist would say coincidence. A spiritualist might have another theory.
I'll leave it to you decide what you want to think about this visitor.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
For the birds
Sunday May 9, 2010
For an hour this morning I holed up in a small blind with a camera outfitted with a 500 mm telephoto lens so I could photo hunt birds up close.
And though the lighting wasn't always as I would have liked, time flew by and I watched up as a half dozen species visited the feeders and the nearby bushes.
It's kind of fascinating to hear and see the birds so closely. One notices little chirps, the way they crunch seed. The small details of their feathers.
Patience is needed. Sitting quietly is a must. I brought a cup of coffee to ward off the chill and to sip on during quiet times. The chipmunks also entertained me, at times popping straight in the air as if on some unseen trampoline.
Other times they got too close to squirrels which tend to leap at squirrels and chipmunks that get to close.
As the hour wore on, at least one chipmunk became curious about the blind and kept running under its edges, over my feet and on out the other side. No harm done.
The grosbeaks are interesting to watch. They eat slowly and methodically. Little bits of nut and grain fall out of their waxy beaks as they feed. As many as four would be on the feeder at once. Blue jays could move them out. Everything else they ignored and chomped away.
A Mother's day morel
Later in the afternoon, while waiting to go on a mushroom foray in the Manistee National Forest, I decided to look for the tasty mushrooms in our yard.
We traditionally hunt mushrooms somewhere in the area on Mother's Day. Over the years we've usually found some, though different places have different rates of success. On one memorable year when I took out someone who paid more than $100 at a charity auction to hunt morels with me -- I had billed it as a beginner's trip where I'd teach the basics to a newbie, but the guy who bought it thought we'd be picking mushrooms by the sackful -- we found only a handful of mushrooms. I had went so far as to take him, in a roundabout way, to a place that I shared with no one; a can't miss spot. But we missed.
Upon arriving home, feeling a little bad not to have found the gentleman at least a lunch bag full, I found my wife on the deck looking smug. She had filled a paper plate with morels from the yard. We drove probably 60 miles, hunted all afternoon, and she had walked a couple hundred feet and outdid me.
That was the biggest mess we've ever had from our yard. Usually we find just one or two.
Sunday we found exactly two.
Morels are curious fungus. It takes just the right mix of moisture, heat and conditions to produce large quantities. Yet where you find them one year, you are likely to find them another year. Thus it is for our yard. Year in, year out we find a couple to a few. Only once in our 10 years here did we find a mess large enough for dinner.
The two Sunday were both whites, small whites at that. This doesn't seem to be a banner year.
But I'll look again in the coming days and the coming years.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Cold, very cold and wet. It felt like early April not the second week of May as I headed out in search of a photo on a day it would have been easy to stay inside doing chores, reading or something else warm.
The marsh marigolds at the creek bottom are starting to wane, but in the moist air they still radiated a happy, yellow glow.
But the most striking image of the day had nothing warm about it.
It was of a slug eating on the whitened jawbone of a deceased animal, maybe a raccoon.
How long the bones had been there is hard to tell. They were sun-bleached white and picked clean.
In the rain the bones glowed.
I knew many people's first reaction would be "gross," but I found it a strong image that said all things living die, and one's body left to the ways of nature, would be recycled. A story I read this afternoon talked about how living organisms "sequester" carbon that is released after our death.
In essence carbon and organics are captured and recycled lf left to their own devices.
So I didn't find it gross, I found it as life is nurtured by the remains of a life long lost.
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A dark day
Friday, May 7, 2010
The sun never really broke through today. It was one of those off and on again misty days so typical of spring in Michigan. Just not this parched spring.
So few complained of the rain. It's badly needed. A little more warmth would be appreciated. There is fear that even if the snow forecast for the weekend doesn't fall, the cold will cause the local asparagus crop -- once the world's largest source of asparagus -- to get a purple spot disease that would ruin it for market.
Many others just shudder at hearing the word "snow" in the forecast.
We surmise the cold evenings and cool days have helped the tulips stay in bloom longer than we can remember as typical.
Their color today was particularly appreciated.
My wife reported seeing something curious today. What she thought was an oddly shaped two-toned squirrel in fact turned out to be a gray squirrel running across the yard carrying the body of a dead black squirrel in its mouth. For what reason? Did it kill the other squirrel?
That's something to think about.
A curious thing
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Walking back from the making some images of wild mustard, I heard a bird in the trees at the top of the roadside hill. I looked for awhile before finding a red-breasted grosbeak bobbing among the branches of an oak fresh with small, new leaves.
I set up the camera with a 500 mm lens and made a few images. Then I notices something unusual -- the bird was pulling the young leaves from the ends of small branches and eating the leaves.
Intrigued, I watched and made photographs for 5 to 10 minutes. I'd never seen a nut-eating bird have a tree salad before.
I mucked around doing research on it and discovered that while the bird was clearing stripping the leaves off the tree, tearing them apart in a form of grosbeak chewing and swallowing them -- my definition of eating -- it turns out what it might have been after was invisible to me.
Apparently they are known for dining on the worms that eat leaves of tree. Rose breasted grosbeaks will start dining on worms on the leaves as soon as the worms are hatched. Well, I've seen a few worms and I'm sure they came down from the tree canopy above.
It would seem this is a rational explanation for something I had not witnessed before.
The case of leaves-eating-red-breasted grosbeak may have been solved by the unseen bug topping on the leaves I watched it eat. It's a reasonable deduction for a most curious behavior.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The first hanging worms of the year today were followed by the first flowers on the maple leaf viburnum. None was present Tuesday when I looked. Today many of the viburnum had the flower heads.
I've seen a few spider webs, but today the first good specimens were seen. It only makes sense that once the bugs awaken, the spiders that prey upon them do, too.
The yard is growing in color, richness and life. After the late winter when it seemed like nothing would change for many days on end, change is now constant. Everything is different every time you look at it. Leaves are changing shape, changing color, growing quickly. Flowers are everywhere. So are the bugs.
This evening, the clear crisp air smelled and felt like a quintessential northern Michigan spring evening. There was a bit of a nip in it. The air was dry. The sky was free of haze. A few clouds tumbled by adding depth and contrast to the blueness above. There was a clean feel to everything, despite the brisk breeze that kicked up some dust and old leaves.
It was a day that noted the passing of a Michigan icon, Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell. A gentleman who possessed one of the great voices of radio and who called the game in a manner that reflected its pace, its rhythm, it's underlying patience, he was as much The Tigers to many who listened to him over the more than 40 years he called games, as were the players. Somewhere I have a scorecard he used to score a game. He autographed it during a visit to Ludington in 2004. So his passing should be noted. He was the voice of summer to many of us who grew up here. He was the voice that my father-in-law used to scare raccoons from Mick's patch of "Illini Super Sweet" corn, year after year. He'd leave a radio tuned to the Tiger game playing in the rows of ripening sweet corn. It's not likely Ernie's measured and resonant voice made the corn any better, but who knows?
Maybe the plants enjoyed listening to the game and produced sweeter ears.
Would that be a first? I don't know.
But I like the sound of it.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Yellow mustard covering the roadside hill not only caught evening sunshine, but the attention of bees, flies and other bugs this evening.
I walked through it to see what might be there suspecting something else would find it as hard to ignore as I did.
A variety of small flying insects flitted about. Bees or yellow jackets settled on several of the plants I looked at. They intently worked on the flower ignoring my getting close for a better look. Again today the vastness of new life, the speed with which leaves are coming on, ferns and flowers are growing, the increase in bugs all point to spring being in high gear.
I smiled at the red of new leaves of a red maple. The redness of the new leaves and their red leaf stems are identifying factors. They contrast with the yellow greens of other new leaves.
With the good comes the bad. I encountered several worms hanging from trees. Leaves on trees already show tell-tale signs of worm damage -- holes in the new leaves.
This could be a bad year for the damaging worms.
Like everything else, they seem this spring to be taking off.
Lots of life
Monday, May 3, 2010
Rose-breasted grosbeaks returned Sunday, right on schedule according to my wife who has logged bird arrivals for much of the time we have lived here.
It's uncanny how many birds return within days of their first sightings each year.
As I talked to her on cell phone while westbound on I-96 after having passed through a soaker of a rain-wrapped thunderstorm north of Ann Arbor, she got real excited when she saw the first pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks as we talked.
They're a handsome bird, mostly black with a white belly. The males have a red breast. The "grosbeak" designation comes from their large beaks used to break open seeds. They came to the feeder and dined on black oil sunflower seeds.
Later in the evening their song filled the woods to the south. It was quite melodic, easy to listen to and made for a nice way to watch the day fade away as the sun disappeared behind the tree line and the clouds took on rose tints close to that of the rose-breasted grosbeak.
The evening light was particularly fine tonight. It had what I call a painterly aura to it. It was quite striking to watch.
Meanwhile, the roadside is ablaze in yellow of what I believe to be a wild mustard that is taking over some fields in the county. The new soil brought in as top soil once road construction was completed last year must have came from a borrow pit in such a location. Or, the disturbance and reshaping of the roadsides allowed seed that was dormant to take off because never before has that been a common plant on the roadside edge of the yard.
Everywhere you look in the yard -- dormant for so long -- new life is
Saturday, May 1, 2010
A thunderstorm overnight brought much-needed rain to the yard. The morning broke wet, and with colors showing clearer and deeper with the moisture. There was a fresh feel; the yard had finally gotten a shower.
As the sun rose, first the birds, then the chipmunks made noise.
Around 9:30 a.m., I saw a butterfly wing by.
When I went to check on the mail a while later, I noticed several other butterflies, all the same type, in the myrtle. They'd fly about, land on a flower or sometimes a branch, open their wings to capture the heat of the sun, and rest for a while. Some where definitely seeking nectar.
But they were skittish and didn't let me get close.
I went back to the house, retrieved a 200 mm telephoto lens and tried again. The lens gave me enough distance the red admirals ignored my presence. They're of the family Brush foots (Nymphalidae) and are distinguished by their reddish orange forewing band, according to the Butterflies of Michigan field guide.
They are a striking mix of orange and black. May might be known for its flowers -- and plenty are in bloom now that rain fell -- but it was ushered in notably by a butterfly.
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