My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for February, 2011

Am I taking this solo thing too far?

It is getting toward the end of February as I write this, and already for the last couple of weeks, I have been looking forward to another great spring, summer, and fall, alone. I am beginning to wonder if I spend so much time by myself, that I am losing touch with reality.

I was out for my daily walk around the apartment complex the other day, it was gorgeous out, in the 50’s with a bluebird sky. As I turned a corner, I saw a beautiful young woman in her early 20’s, with shoulder length honey blond hair, teaching a baby to walk. I stopped dead in my tracks as if I had been whacked with a 2 by 4, “Oh my God, it’s Lynne and Jeremy!” I thought to myself, but then, just as quickly, I thought “It can’t be them, that was 35 years ago”.

That got me to searching through some of the old memories that I have, and it struck me as to how hazy they were, to the point where I began to wonder if those memories were real, or if they were figments of my imagination. One thing led to another, and soon I was wondering if I spend too much time by myself.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a truck driver these days, I started driving over the road in 2005. When you are an OTR (over the road) driver, you seldom speak to any one, except during the short time when you are making a pick up or delivery, or stopping for fuel at a truck stop. On a really long run, it is possible to go an entire day without ever talking to any one. I suppose that’s why CB radios became so popular with truck drivers, a way to talk to other drivers at least. I had a CB in my truck, but I seldom turned it on, the amount of hate speech and utter filth that has taken over the air waves was quite astonishing to me. It isn’t much better in the truck stops, I stayed to myself most of the time rather than get dragged down into the gutter.

At first, it was different on my day and a half to two days off, then Larri and I were still a couple and often we were with groups of her friends, so I wasn’t alone then. But, that changed when she and I broke up, since then, I live by myself, and even though I drive what’s considered to be a local route now, I work by myself. I go into work, drop my paperwork off with my boss, see if there is anything special about that night’s run, then I climb in the truck, by myself. 99% of the time, there is no one at either of the branches when I get to them, I do my thing and leave. During the winter, my weekends are pretty much the same, me, by myself, out walking or hiking somewhere.

After Larri and I broke up, I learned of an online social networking site called Meetup.com, and since it was recommended by a friend whom I trust, I thought I would give it a try. It isn’t a dating site per say, although some people use that way. It is built around local groups that get together based on a shared interest or activity, using the Internet to stay in touch with the group between get togethers. I joined a couple of them, and met a lot of very nice people, then I got the great idea to start a kayaking group, as there wasn’t one at the time.

The first summer was great! We had close to 200 members by the end of the summer, and we usually had between 20 and 30 members show up when we kayaked a river. We got together several times between kayaking trips just to stay in touch. Over the first winter, we had many new members sign up, and it looked like it was going to be a great year. The first trip that spring was a disaster, some of that was my fault for not communicating with the group better, but most of the problems came from the newer members, and people not paying attention to what I was saying.

To top it off, I was getting Emails from two of the female members who were both dating the same guy, each asking about the other, and making life difficult for me. It also came to light that the guy they were both dating was also beating on both of them, so I threw them all out of the group thinking that would end my troubles, wrong. He protested to Meetup that he was thrown out of the group, and Meetup took his side, to the point that they were threatening to take his side in a lawsuit if he filed one, which he was threatening to do. I didn’t need that kind of hassle, I just wanted to go kayaking with a few people. So, I left the group, and left Meetup, for good. I know, I should have caved and let them back in, but I’m not built that way. I don’t believe in rewarding people for bad behavior.

Actually, kayaking with a group as large as the Meetup group was required a major adjustment on my part. I wasn’t used to kayaking with a group anywhere near that size. In fact, I had never really kayaked before I met Larri, I had run rivers in canoes, rafts, or a rowboat, although we did have an inflatable kayak when I was a kid, but that was about worthless and didn’t last long. Until I met Larri, I had also never run a river with a group larger than four people, most of the time it was just me, or one other person, a few times it was two couples that went canoeing together. Typically it would be me and maybe one other person, and I would do a relatively short section of a river, then walk the 5 miles or so back to my vehicle, then drive back to pick up whatever boat I was using. Just this last fall, I found out I had been doing it backwards all these years. It is a lot easier to drop off your boat, drive downstream, hike to the boat, and kayak back downstream. I figured that out when I did the November DeLorme Challenge, and hiked the North Country Trail along the Flat River, then kayaked back to my car. Occasionally, I would use a livery service from one of the places that rents canoes for vehicle spotting in order to run a longer stretch of river, but they charge an arm and a leg for that these days.

When I met Larri and found that she loved kayaking and had her own boat, my first inclination was to buy a canoe, since I was used to them, but she talked me into purchasing a kayak instead. I’m glad she did, even though I have since bought a canoe as well. When she and I went kayaking, it was normally with six to eight other friends of hers, and that was an adjustment for me in a big way. I was used to going at my own pace, depending on my mood, the river, and the type of river it was.

There are two big reasons I love running rivers, one is the challenge of negotiating a fast river filled with obstructions, think whitewater rafting here. Even though Michigan doesn’t have any real whitewater as they do out west, there are still rivers here that are a challenge, like the Little Manistee or the Pine. The other reason I love running rivers is to float along at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and sounds of nature as I go along. Seeing the wildflowers and wildlife along the banks, hearing and seeing the birds in the brush on the river banks. I fish at two different speeds as well. Some days, I poke along in no great hurry, often times casting where I know there’s no chance of catching a fish, I am out there to enjoy the day and all nature has to offer, and hooking a fish is an interruption of sorts. There are other days when I go fishing to catch fish, and I move at a faster pace, only casting to spots that offer a good chance of hooking a fish, it all depends on the weather and my mood of the day.

So, when I started kayaking with Larri and her friends, it was an adjustment to say the least. We more or less had to go at “Bill speed”. You couldn’t pass Bill if he was going slow, he had to be in front. The claim was that it upset his dog, which he always took with him, if there was any one ahead of them. I think it was just an excuse for him to always be out in front. On the other hand, if you hung back too far, Bill would be complaining about that, too, on the grounds that the group had to stick together somewhat for safety. The adjustment for me is that I didn’t want to go at “Bill speed” all the time. If the section of river was fast and challenging, I would want to go through it fast, as that’s the best way in a kayak, but Bill had a canoe, and you slow down in challenging water in a canoe. On the other hand, with Bill always in the lead, he would see, and spook, any wildlife on the banks, long before it was in camera range, or even with in sight to those of us following him.

It was that way with the Meetup group as well, although I tended to stay near the rear of the group to assist if any one had problems. As the organizer of the group, I felt I had a responsibility for the safety of every one in the group. I looked at the group trips as a social event, rather than a nature outing. Something to keep me connected to the human race, which I am all too good at avoiding most of the time.

After I left the Meetup group, a few members and I stayed in touch and went kayaking together last summer. It was still more of a social event than nature outing, but it was fun. A couple of things happened of the course of the summer that reminded me of how much I love running a river with a very small group, or alone. The first was the great weekend of kayaking, Saturday the group did the upper Pine River, but then Sunday, Mike, Connie, and I did the upper Rogue River, just the three of us. It was a great day, and it was really nice to be able to take our time and take in all there was to see. Like when Connie and I paddled up a little feeder stream to get good pictures of all the Cardinal flowers growing there, or the pictures I got of the waterfowl as we approached the dam in Rockford. It was a calm, peaceful trip, we were in no hurry at all to finish up.

Another trip that got me to thinking about paddling with a group, and the size of the group, was the weekend on the Jordan River, and it was the complete opposite of the float down the Rogue. I was pumped that day, and I got out ahead of the rest of the group and paddled the Jordan the way it should be paddled. I was completely focused on the river, my kayak, and my paddling, it was if I were there by myself for the most part. I really wasn’t in a hurry, but I was going at a good clip to match the river, not just to go fast. Like most people, I take pleasure in doing something really well, and how well I paddled on that day certainly was pleasurable. But, I may have had to prove something to myself as well. It was on the trip before the Jordan that Mike and I managed to sink my canoe, the first time that I have ever done that, so I guess I was out to prove to myself that I could still paddle with the best of them.

Then came two trips that were supposed to be group outings, but no one else showed up, the North Country trail hike/kayak trip, and the ledges of Grand Ledge. Both of those trips were on larger rivers with not much current, more like lakes than rivers, but both days were a lot of fun for me, even if no one else showed. By myself, I had all the time in the world to investigate every little thing that struck my fancy, from a chipmunk swimming across the Grand River, to the eagle soaring over the Flat River Valley.

I thought I was adjusting fairly well to paddling with a group, but the events of last year, and my thoughts over the winter, make me wonder if I really have. I have the entire upcoming year scheduled for the kayaking group, but, I have also been thinking a lot about kayak trips I would like to do that I know very few, if any, of the group would want to do. One place I have wanted to explore for a long time is Muskegon Lake and the Muskegon River delta where it empties into the lake, for example. I would love to poke around in that area and check out all the waterfowl that make that area their home in the spring and summer, but I doubt if any one in the group would like it, and paddling with a group lowers the chances of getting up close and personal with the wildlife there. You could say that it is just one trip and that I could find the time to do that one by myself, but that is just one of many.

I am already planning my yearly solo expedition to the Pigeon River Country the first of May. Yes, I know it will be chilly at night, and there may be frost in the morning, maybe even a layer of ice in the coffee pot when I wake up in the morning. But, there won’t be any bugs, no mosquitos, black flies, or deer flies, and no need for insect repellent. That is also the time of the year when the thick, green, lushness of spring really takes off, and when does drop their fawns, so I love being in the woods that time of year. The trees are alive with the songs of birds, and the entire animal world is going at full tilt, taking advantage of the one time of the year when food is plentiful, and life is easy.

I also have plans for every long weekend over the summer months, like a trip to Saint Helena Island, and others, but the weather will dictate which trip I do on each weekend. I do know that Labor Day weekend will be spent in the Pigeon River Country again, hoping for some good pictures of elk and deer with antlers.

By now you may be wondering if there is a point to all this, and what it has to do with a young woman with honey blond hair, and it is this. When you begin to doubt your own memories, and your own sanity, then I think it is time for some serious self-examination. Between my job and my outdoor activities, I spend nearly all my time by myself. There are days when I don’t talk to anyone, although most days I do at least exchange pleasantries with a few people. I am not sure that it is a healthy thing to spend so much time alone, but I’m not sure how I would change my life, or if I even want to.

I know I’m an odd ball, I don’t watch TV, I’m not into stick and ball sports, and I have been to one movie in the last 20 years, and only because some one twisted my arm and made me go. At home, I am either reading, or online, trying to learn something that I didn’t know. When I talk to people, the conversation soon turns to one of those three activities, and I use the term loosely, that I am not into, so I have nothing to add to any conversation, and most people look at me as odd when they find out that I don’t watch TV in the first place. If you want a real eye-opening experience, turn your TV off for a month, then watch one of the shows you just couldn’t miss before that, and you’ll wonder why you ever watched it in the first place. At least that’s what happened to me, I found out that life was so much better with out TV that I don’t miss it at all.

Some people have told me that I am crazy, and live in my own little fantasy world, and when I start to question my own sanity, I begin to think that maybe they are right. After all, my little fantasy world consists of the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the sky, the trees, the flowers, the birds and their songs, the animals, the fish, what makes them all tick, and all the beauty they have to offer. Their world is what overpaid sports star stubbed his toe and won’t be able to play this weekend, what dress so and so is wearing to the latest awards ceremony, the sex life of a golfer, and whether a jerk who abuses women should continue working for his paltry salary of 1.8 million dollars per episode. I think I’ll stick with my little fantasy world, thank you very much.

 And it isn’t as if my entire life revolves around outdoor activities, I try to go to at least a couple of concerts by our local symphony each year, hit the art museum a couple of times a year, and make it out to Frederick Meijer Gardens at least once a year. I know, none of those are real popular either, so be it, it’s my life, and I like it just fine. It isn’t as if I shun the rest of the world, it is more that the rest of the world shuns me.

 In my life I have met three people whom I get along with really well with in the outdoors, Spud, Diane, and Larri. Most people either don’t care that much about all things nature, or they are one of the  phony environmentalists who care about nature only because they think it is the right thing to do. I can handle the first type well enough, I understand that not every one is going to get excited about seeing a pink toadstool, or a new type of bug, that’s OK. But the fake environmentalists drive me up the wall. I have been out and about with more than a few of them, and for the most part, they know nothing about nature, other than what they have been brainwashed into believing. I’ve been called a tree hugger, and the people who called me that were right, I will hug a tree now and then, just before I fire up the chainsaw to turn it into firewood, or lumber to make furniture out of. Unless it is one of the old growth majestic trees that managed to survive until now, I will protect them with my life if need be. Before I get too far off on a rant here, I’ll just say that most of the people I’ve met who call themselves environmentalists don’t spend very much time out-of-doors, and know very little about the real world of nature.

 The reason I got on so long with Spud, Diane, and Larri is that we all had this driving curiosity about just virtually everything when it comes to nature, Spud and Larri especially. It would be normal to see either of them poking around in the leaf litter on the forest floor trying to identify an insect or a mushroom one minute, then gazing at the treetops a few minutes later. I would ask “Whatcha looking at?”, and their reply would be along the lines of “Oh, the trees, the sky, the puffy white clouds, you know”, and indeed I did, and still do. Diane wasn’t quite as curious, but close, but she understood my curiosity and was curious enough herself to be interested in whatever was drawing my interest.

If you point out a brightly colored insect to most people, their curiosity ends at whether or not it will bite them, they can’t see past the fact that it’s a bug to see the beauty in the way the bug is colored.  Or, their curiosity ends once they have seen something for the first time, after that, it is old hat and not worth spending any time on. It doesn’t matter how many eagles, deer, or any other wild thing I see, they still hold my interest, and I am always learning new things about them, and the way they live. Take the lowly muskrat for example, I’ve seen many of them in my life. But, I’ll still watch them, especially in the winter. I’ll see one that has just climbed out of the 33 degree water it has to swim in to find food, and watch it eat, as ice crystals form on the tips of its fur from the cold air, and I think to myself how well off we human beings are that we no longer have to fight for survival the way animals do. I guess I don’t take our creature comforts for granted the way most people do. Because, as I watch that poor muskrat do what it takes to survive, I’ll think about what humans had to do to survive not all that many generations ago. It puts life into perspective for me, and makes me much more appreciative of what I have. I may not be well off, or have a lot, but I don’t have to slip into a nearly frozen stream to dig up some roots from the bottom, then crawl out on the ice to eat the roots while the water freezes in my fur, as I watch for some predator that would like to make a meal out of me, either. We humans forget just how good we have it, spending a lot of time in the woods reminds me of how good I have it.

 Our human world operates at a breakneck speed compared to the natural world, and most people can’t slow down enough to fit into the natural world anymore. There is no time in nature, other than the seasons, but even the seasons don’t really change what goes on in nature, it is still an everyday struggle just to survive. You could try to break it down into night-time and day time, but that is still a human thing, not a natural thing. Most animals are active as night changes to day, and day changes to night. The only real times in nature are full stomach and empty stomach. Full stomach means it is time to relax, to sleep, maybe even play. Empty stomach means the quest for food continues, those are the only two times there are in nature, all other ways of judging time are human creations.

Since most people like to drag as much of the human world into nature as they can, I would just as soon go off by myself in nature, since I go there to escape the human world in the first place. Whether that means I am crazy or not, I don’t care anymore. The more time I spend alone in the out-of-doors, the less I can handle the trivial, meaningless human world. Case in point, as I was taking a break from writing this, I saw an online ad that read Justin Bieber’s new haircut, gay or not? Vote here now!”. And I question my sanity???


The season of the black snow

It’s here, and it’s ugly, at least I think it is. The time of the year when the snow starts to melt, revealing all the trash, crud, and everything else the snow has been hiding. It’s the time of the year when all the snowpiles that have been piled up in parking lots and along side the roads are black from dirt, oil, and little bits of pavement that were shaved from the asphalt during plowing.

It was just two weeks ago that the Groudhogs Day Blizzard hit us, with 18 inches of snow where I live. That left us with around two feet of snow on the ground, fresh snow, pristine white snow, covering everything. All the trash we dump along the sides of the roads and everywhere else, all the beer bottles, pop cans, fast food wrappers, and wads of gum were all hidden from sight under a blanket of pure white beauty. But, it is a harsh beauty, at least to the animals who have to survive through something like that. For the next week, I don’t think the high temperature got above 20 degrees but once or twice, most days gave us highs in the teens, often with a bitterly cold wind making it feel even colder.

It was the day after the blizzard that I shot a video of turkeys struggling through the snow to find places to feed. The turkeys had it bad, but if it had been too bad, they could have flown. Not so lucky were the deer I saw along the expressways in the afternoons as I was driving for work. I saw them off in farmer’s fields struggling to make it through snowdrifts, pawing at the snow trying to dig down for something, anything, to eat. I saw where they had been digging in the snow while I was walking last weekend, especially in Aman Park, where the deer had been digging to find acorns buried under all that snow.

Last Saturday was also our first day with temperatures getting above freezing, for the first time since New Years Eve, a month and a half with temperatures never getting to the thawing point. By the afternoon of that first day of thawing, walking through all that heavy snow was becoming a major chore, and it was even worse on Sunday. This entire week has been warm, and almost all the snow on the ground is gone, something that kind of surprises me. I didn’t think we could lose that much snow so quickly, but we did. It also surprises me that almost two feet of snow melted away in a week, and there is very little flooding taking place. It isn’t that I want to see people flooded out of their homes, or anything like that, but we had a very dry year last year, especially in the fall. We could use some rain, or snow melt, to get our rivers back up to where they belong.

As I took my daily walks this week around the apartment complex where I live, I could see the trash emerging as the snow slowly disappeared. I find it both astonishing, and disgusting, and I know I will see the same things this weekend when I go hiking, unfortunately. It is astonishing in that there is so much of it around here, this isn’t a dumpy complex. It is disgusting both in how much and what people have just dumped around here. It is a good thing nature cleans up after us, the half eaten food items will become food for the crows or the rodents, the paper will rot away soon enough, as long as we don’t keep adding to it. But the wads of gum are what get me, they’re everywhere! I guess it is OK to spit your gum out anywhere these days, after all, there are so many people who make like water fountains in the way they spit all the time anyway. It used to be that the only people who spit were low-class or sports figures, now, it seems like the national pastime, and even young women spit all over the place. Just the other day when I was walking, there was an attractive young woman walking towards me, and I was wishing I were young again. That is, until she hacked up a big one and spit it out on the sidewalk not twenty feet from me. Yeah, real lady like, maybe I don’t want to be young again after all.

I think it is time to bring back that ad from the 60’s with the Native American standing along the road with a tear on his cheek as people drive by dumping litter out of their car windows.

I don’t want to hear that it is the fast food place’s fault for the way they package food, it’s not. It’s not the bottled water industry’s fault, it’s not the beer or the soda bottler’s fault, the people who throw that stuff out their car windows are the only ones to blame, no one else.

I don’t know what to say about the piles of the black snow that are left. There’s no way to put an end to them, and as they melt, many become like sculptures in the way they melt unevenly, but they are still ugly, in my opinion anyway. As I am walking I see shapes left in the snow piles and think that they would make an interesting picture, but, I can never snap the shutter as I find the discolored snow too ugly.

But then, there are other things the snow as covered as well, it isn’t just the trash and litter, it is also the smells from the earth. I noticed them again for the first time this year on Thursday, and it was good, for the most part. During the winter when snow blankets the ground, there is usually a crisp, clean scent in the air, much different from the earthy aromas of spring and summer, and the scent of dusty decay in the fall. The first smell that hit my nose was that of pines, I love that smell! It reminds me of all the time I have spent in the great north woods, especially the Pigeon River Country. My favorite campground up there is the one on Round Lake. Round Lake itself isn’t all that much, just a pretty little lake, but it is surrounded by a stand of mature red pines, and I love waking up at the crack of dawn, smelling the pine scent as the world comes to life.

A little farther on my walk, I smelled the scent of earth, if you’ve ever dug a hole or done any gardening, you know what I mean. It may be because all my mom’s side of the family were farmers, but that’s another smell I love. No so pleasant though, was the smell of a decaying animal that I didn’t go looking for, but you have to take the bad with the good I suppose. And even though the odor of death is offensive to the nose, it is still a signal that the seasons are about to change.

 That’s what the season of the black snow is, the change from winter to spring. We’ll get more snow, more frigid temperatures, more winter over the next few weeks, but spring is on its way. The black snow will stick around until the change is complete, covered now and then by new snow, but the new snow won’t last for weeks or months, just days from here on in.  It won’t be too much longer when after one of the next snowfalls begins to melt, that I’ll notice the first green shoots of plants beginning to push up for the new year. I am already seeing that some of the tree buds are starting to expand, and those who harvest the sap from maples for maple syrup will be tapping the trees soon to collect another spring harvest.

I like winter, but spring is my favorite season of them all, the rebirth if you will. I am ready to go fishing, my arm is starting to twitch involuntarily in the casting motion. I am ready to go kayaking again. I didn’t go at all this winter, as it has been too cold for too long, and most of our rivers have been frozen over to the point where kayaking would have been impossible. I am already planning my vacation in early May, as much as I can plan it, the weather makes my plans for me most of the time during my vacations, but I am looking forward to it more than usual this year.

 This thaw has been a short one, but it couldn’t have come at a better time for our wildlife, even if it has left the black snow in its wake. Not soon enough, it will be gone, and the lush green of spring will return.


The first spring thaw

It was a great weekend in a way, we finally had some warmer weather around here. We’ve been having one of the coldest winters since the mid 70’s, and we haven’t been above freezing since New Years Eve. Since the Ground Hog’s Day blizzard, our high temps have only been in the teens, and usually with an even colder wind blowing, so it was nice to get out on a couple warm, sunny days, with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s.

I walked in Aman Park on Saturday, and it was absolutely beautiful out there. There was hardly a cloud in the sky when I began walking, and I was able to get some good pictures that show just how much snow we’ve gotten.

Sand Creek, Aman Park

Sand Creek, Aman Park

 

The walking wasn’t bad, the trails were packed down fairly firmly, although I was surprised that after just a few hours of above freezing temps, the packed snow would give way now and then as I walked. I was on the first loop yet, when I saw a small flock of bluebirds feeding in the brush along Sand Creek. I was trying like crazy to get pictures, but they were actively feeding, and wouldn’t sit still very long. If they did perch long enough, either they were too far away, blocked by brush, or in the shadows. I followed them for a couple hundred yards along the bank of the creek, and finally one perched long enough for me to get a pretty good picture.

Eastern Bluebird

I had just snapped this picture, when a couple of cross-country skiers came along and the entire flock of bluebirds flew off to the other side of the creek, talk about timing!

I continued on, found a few more good photo ops…

Ice on Sand Creek, Aman Park

 

Ice on Sand Creek, Aman Park

 

Sand Creek, Aman Park

 

Sand Creek, Aman Park

 

As I continued on, the clouds started rolling in, so any pictures I would have taken would have seemed rather bland. It was also very crowded in the park, so other than a few birds, there wasn’t any wildlife around to photograph anyway. I really like walking Aman Park, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming, but the park does get a lot of use, since it is close to Grand Rapids, and Grand Valley University in Allendale. If you are into wildflowers, you really should try Aman Park the end of April, first of May. There are acres of trilliums, and many other flowers as well. I seldom go there in the summer months, just too crowded for my taste, it is a fall, winter, and early spring place for me.

I was meeting Mike and Connie for Dinner at the Kopper Top that evening, so I actually had to keep track of time for a change. It was slow going in the park, the farther I went, the harder the walking became. The hardpacked snow would give way under my feet in some places, in other places, it was so hard pack that it was almost like ice.

That’s one of the downsides to how much use the park gets, the trails can become hard-packed ice so slippery that people have a hard time staying on their feet. I bought a set of Yaxtrax after one such day a few years ago. Yaxtrax fit on the bottom of your boots to bit into the ice to help you maintain traction. On that day it was extremely slippery, there was a crowd of people trying to climb the hill up from the creek to the parking lot, I thought I was going to have to break out my rope for people to use to pull themselves up the hill. Every one must have made it as I haven’t found any skeletons at the bottom of the hill where people have died.

Anyway, the going was so slow that I had to cut out one of the loops I normally do in order to be on time to meet Mike and Connie, so I only walked a little over 2 miles Saturday, then it was off to the Kopper Top. If you’ve never eaten there, you should give it a try. It is a small little bar at the corner of Stocking and 4th Street in Grand Rapids, but don’t let that fool you. The menu is not that of the typical small bar, and the food is great! Not only that, but they go way over the top in decorating the place for every holiday, you have to see it to believe it. I also am mentioning it because Mike and I were covered in cocktail sauce there Saturday, very good cocktail sauce in fact. The waitress dropped a dish of it, and it splattered all over the two of us, but the food and conversation were so good that it was no big deal.

On Sunday, I tried to walk Palmer Park, but it was even tougher going than Aman Park was the day before. It didn’t matter if I was on one of the groomed cross-country ski trails, one of the hiking trails, or trying to avoid the trails altogether, the amount of snow on the ground and the fact that it was thick, heavy snow from thawing made walking very hard. My old abused ankles were hurting really bad when I was done, and I only walked a little over two miles on Sunday as well. Too many years of riding dirt bikes and playing basketball have taken a toll on my ankles. I can’t recall how many times I have sprained them while playing basketball, and riding dirt bikes wasn’t easy on them either. I walked up the west side of the main road to the boardwalk, but the boardwalk was such a mess that I didn’t even want to try on Sunday. I cut over to the golf course part of the park, and that wasn’t any easier. Normally when I get to where the golf course and the park meet at the bridge over Buck Creek, I go back up the east side of the park, but not Sunday. There were a lot of people trying to ski, and a lot of people falling because it was either very slippery, or they broke through the crust on top of the snow, so I wasn’t the only one having problems. As I walked out of the park on the road, I met several other people who had been going to walk the trails, but gave it up due to the snow. I never even got my camera out of my pocket on Sunday, and it was a sunny day out. I saw a lot of birds, but never could get close enough for any pictures, and I was too busy trying to stay on my feet to do much looking around.

I’ll be glad when the snow is gone, not that I don’t like snow or mind the cold, but from here until the snow is gone, I’ll be dealing with ice, slush, mud, and maybe even floods in some of the parks. Besides, I am looking forward to seeing green trees again, it has been winter long enough, time for spring.


Kid free parks?

It is a growing trend, first some restaurants began to refuse to allow children into their establishments, now the airlines are proposing a child-free business class on airplanes.

Most of us have a horror story or two to tell about kids misbehaving in a restaurant, I know I have. There was one time when a kid who had been crawling around on the floor on his hands and knees decided he was going to make a grab for my french fries, and I deftly blocked his reach with my arm, and told him softly, yet firmly, “Go away”. Of course he started bawling like I had belted him, and his mother finally stopped shoving food in her mouth long enough to check on him. She read me the riot act, but after she dragged the little monster back to her table with her, the guy sitting in the booth across from me gave me the thumbs up.

Just a couple of months ago, Mike, Connie, and I were eating dinner at the Kopper Top here in GR and there were two or three kids left to run wild in the place while their parents ignored what they were up to. The kids really weren’t too bad, although they did mess up some tables that were already set and had to be redone, which didn’t make the owner very happy at all. But, I thought poor Mike was going to have a heart attack when one of the kids was going to put a plugged in Christmas light in his mouth.

So I understand fully why some restaurants are banning children, especially later in the evening. This has set off a major controversy among some people, who don’t think that it is fair to ban kids. Of course their children are precious little angels. Then there are those of us who don’t want some snot nosed brat sticking his grubby little hands in our food.

Now the airlines are setting off another huge debate along the same lines, by proposing a kid free business class on airplanes. Sounds good to me! I haven’t flown for business since the 80’s, but I would have liked a kid free business section, even if all I did was sleep on the flight, and I can see how business travelers would welcome such a plan. That got me thinking, which as always is a dangerous thing, what about child-free parks for those of us who have chosen not to procreate?

If you read my previous post about the Huron-Manistee National Forest debate going on, you would know that a lawyer from Novi, Michigan, Kurt Meister, filed suit to try to force the government into setting more of the forest aside as quiet areas, areas where hunting and snowmobiles would be banned. One of his stated reasons was that he was out walking with his young daughters, and the sound of gunfire frightened them. Rather than restrict the use of the forest by those who paid their way, as in snowmobilers, or people who bought land near the forest lands with the intentions of hunting on the public land, I have another solution, kid free areas!

When I am out in the woods hiking, or fishing or kayaking on a river, I am much more likely to have my serenity disturbed by an unruly group of kids than by hunters or snowmobilers. Now days, I even pick and choose where I am going to go for the day based on how likely it is that I’ll run into families there. If you’re like me, you know the type of family I’m talking about. The kind that you can hear a mile away as the kids never stop screaming. The ones where the kids wreak havoc on environmentally sensitive areas by ignoring the signs, or crossing the barriers that have been erected to try to keep people out. There’s been many a time when I have had a photo ruined by kids running into the scene or something. If it is a scenery shot, it isn’t so bad, I just wait until the kids are out of the frame and then shoot the picture again, as long as the light hasn’t change while I have waited. But, there have been several times when I have made a stealthy approach on some critter to get a picture, only to have some kid(s) run past me and scare the critter off.

I’ve given up trying to talk to the parents of these little monsters, either the parents are offended and an argument ensues, or the parents are just as oblivious and clueless as their kids, which makes sense. Clueless adults probably do raise clueless kids. And, it isn’t just my tranquility, or my photos, or the environmentally sensitive areas that matter, I read news reports on a regular bsis, where some kid was injured, or even killed, doing something they shouldn’t have been doing somewhere that they didn’t belong. The parent’s response is to sue of course, and you’ll see them on TV in tears over the loss of their child. I feel sorry for them, but where were they when their kid was injured or killed?

It’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often than it does. There have been many times when I have hung out in an area for longer than I planned while some kid was engaged in some dangerous activity as the parents paid no attention to the kids. Just last weekend I saw some  8 to 10-year-old boy hanging out over the ice on Lake Michigan while his father said nothing. If that kid would have slipped, or the ice crumbled out from under him, it was a 10 to 12 foot fall into the 34 degree water of Lake Michigan, and no way to get him out except for a rope, which the father didn’t appear to have. That kid would have been dead in less than 10 minutes if he had fallen in.

 So my solution is to set aside a few parks for families to take their kids, parks that are kid safe, and there are no environmentally sensitive areas for the kids to destroy. That will leave the rest of the parks to those of us who appreciate the peace and quiet to be found in nature, and we won’t have to listen to or worry about the little heathens anymore. Think of it! Peace and quiet, no rowdy kids messing with your wilderness adventure!

 If you haven’t already scrolled to the bottom of this to send me a nastygram in the form of a comment, I am only kidding, and I hope, but doubt, that I have made a point or two here.

I think it is a great thing for parents to introduce their kids to the great outdoors, I am certainly thankful my parents did that with me. I tried to do that with my stepchildren, but other than David going fishing with me, that didn’t work, they just weren’t into the great outdoors. I would hope that the parents would also teach their children to respect nature, and others who do. I find it amusing to hear parents use the term “indoor voice”, because as far as I am concerned, and the way I was raised, you should be more quiet outdoors in nature than you are indoors.

I also hope to persuade others who want to ban outdoor activities they don’t like that to think a little more on that subject. The shoe could be on the other foot someday, and they could find other people want to ban their activities someday down the line. There’s room enough for us all here in Michigan, there’s no need to try to ban people from doing what they enjoy.


Time to update

I have had this blog up and running for a few months now, and while I struggle with it at times, I am already finding that going back and reading my earlier posts does help refresh the great memories I make while I am out and about.

I am in the process of adding more pages with information, like places to hike, kayaking trips, and my future trips in the planning stages. When I went back to the “About ” page and read it,  I saw that what I wrote on the that page when I began this blog is woefully lacking, so this post will become the about page.

First, a short bio about me. When I was five years old, my parents bought a house out in the country where there were few neighbors, and even fewer kids for my siblings and I to play with. I grew up in a family where my dad’s side were hunters, fishermen, and outdoorsmen, and my mother’s side were all farmers. When we were old enough, my younger brother and I would wander around the woods surrounding our house, to play army, or cowboys and indians, or to sneak off to the “frog ponds” as my mother called them. There were a number of small, spring fed ponds around our house, and he and I would go there to catch the frogs, turtles, snakes, and salamanders that lived in or near the ponds, just like a lot of country boys. Of course we always got in trouble for going to the ponds, coming back all muddy, and my mother was always afraid we were going to drown.

Before I was even old enough to tote a gun, my dad would sometimes take me along on his hunting trips for small game or varmints, crows and woodchucks. Not only was my dad a hunter, but he was also a shooter, and hunting varmints was a way to target practice during the summer. When I was old enough to start shooting, my dad bought me a gun, and I would join he and his friends as they hunted. I no longer hunt, I gave it up back in my mid-twenties, it isn’t that I am opposed to hunting, I still do in a way, but with a camera instead of a gun. If I lived out in the sticks and needed the food, I would have no problem taking up hunting again.

Along with hunting went fishing and camping trips. Our family went camping many times each summer, weekend trips were for my parents to relax, our vacations were most likely to be a big trip, like around Lake Superior, to the Wisconsin Dells, or out west somewhere. So I guess you could say I grew up outdoors, and that’s how my love of the outdoors and nature were formed.

Some of the other things my parents instilled in me were curiosity, and love of reading, and a love of learning. Sometimes the love of the outdoors and the love of learning were combined, like when we did the trip around Lake Superior, we spent the better part of a day in Duluth, Minnesota learning about the iron ore mining in the region, and especially the steam locomotives used to transport the ore to the docks there. Or when we went on a tour of an old mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan while we were camping nearby. Or when we watched a presentation on the history of the Trans-Canadian Railroad that was put on in the campground we stayed at while in the Canadian Rockies. Sometimes we took trips just to learn, like to the museums and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, or the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

But, that’s enough about me, you’ll find out the rest as you read my posts. So, why did I name this blog Quiet Solo Pursuits?

First the quiet, I guess the basis for that goes back to my hunting days. You have to be quiet while you’re hunting so you don’t spook the game before you get a chance to shoot. Since I still want to see the wildlife, to get pictures of them, or just to see them, and being quiet is essential to that. But there’s more. I used to own a dirt bike, I used to love going 4 wheeling, and I owned one of those fancy high-powered bass boats in my time. But as I have gotten older, those things aren’t as much fun anymore, and I appreciate the quiet of the woods and rivers more than ever. I have always loved the peace, quiet, and serenity of the great outdoors, and I don’t know if it is an age thing, something having to do with society today, or what, but the quiet of the out-of-doors has become more important to me than ever. Even back in the days when I made as much noise outdoors as any one, I would often be out with the very first light of morning, usually paddling a row-boat on a lake still shrouded in the mist of morning, but sometimes walking, listening to nature as the day began. I want to be able to hear the rustle of leaves as a deer gets up from its bed so I can get a look at it before it disappears into the brush. I want to hear the birds singing, the coyotes howling, the owls hooting, the squirrels chattering. I guess I don’t want quiet, because nature isn’t quiet, what I want is to be able to hear nature, and to listen to what it has to say to me.

Solo…well, for one thing, a lot of my friends have just moved out of my life over the years. Like Spud, who gets mentioned a lot in my posts. He was originally from the Detroit area, and he and his girlfriend moved here so she could attend Kendal Art School as it was known then. After she graduated, she found a job in Lansing, Michigan, so the two of them moved there, and that way Spud could finish his degree at MSU. My friend Dave joined the marines, then moved back to his hometown outside of Chicago when his hitch was up, so he could attend school there. My friend Randy moved back to Florida, where he was from originally. A couple of guys I used to consider friends turned out to be wife beaters, so I cut off all contact with them. That’s something I can’t abide, the strong should look out for those who are weaker, not take advantage of their strength to hurt others. And, there was all the time Shirl and I were together, her friends and family became my friends and family, but that all ended when she and I split. My ex-girlfriend, Larri, and I used to still go on fishing, hiking, and camping trips together after we split as a couple, but since she has found a new boyfriend, that doesn’t work so well, current boyfriends don’t like old boyfriends around as the third wheel…LOL.

Another reason for the solo part of the name is that I have strong opinions on a lot of things, especially the outdoors. When I am off camping somewhere, I don’t want to hear a bunch of drunks whooping it up, if that’s what I wanted to hear, I’d go to a bar. I don’t want to hear music, if I did, I would stay home and listen to music at home. I sure don’t want to hang around people who go off in the woods not to enjoy nature, but to party until they pass out. That all goes with the quiet part of the name, but there’s more as well. I go at my own pace, which tends to be slower than a lot of other people’s pace it seems. They get in the woods or on a river and seem intent on finishing as soon as possible to get back home and veg in front of the boob tube. Me, I love it outdoors, I want it to last as long as possible, I may be in a hurry to see what’s over the next hill or around the next bend, but that’s as far as it goes. I poke along at my own pace, with my eyes always moving, my ears always open, and my nose exploring the scents nature sends my way. I am out there to take in all that nature has to offer, not for exercise or whatever other reason some people have for being outdoors. And, by all nature has to offer, I mean just that, all. From the tiniest insects and plants to bears and elk, even interesting rocks, rock formations, and odd trees, I stop for all of them, and maybe snap a picture or two. I stop for history as well, whether it is an old building, a foundation where a building used to be, or some other clue into the past.

So then there are my pursuits, what are they? It is hard to rank them, but one is to learn more about nature, one is fly fishing for trout, one is learning more about the history of the State of Michigan, and history in general, and one is just to be outdoors and get away from it all. I should tell you that I am not a backpacker, my hikes are day hikes, either from home or from a base camp some place. I am not sure why, I just never got into backpacking, maybe because it limits how much time I can spend exploring. When you’re backpacking, the hike itself is the goal, not so much nature. I will go up to the Pigeon River Country, for example, and set up my tent, then drive to where a trail intersects a road, then walk in from there to see what there is to see. When I am on a trip, I play it totally by ear, with weather as the biggest factor in my decisions as far as what to do and where to go. I may wake up in the morning and find a stiff wind already blowing, so rather than go fly fishing, I’ll go explore a lake, or another access site on the river. On the other hand, if the weather is light rain and little breeze, I’ll go fishing rather than checking out something I found on a map or online that I want to explore. That’s something about me that bugs the crap out of many people, they seem to want a set itinerary, with set times for everything. Me, I go with the flow. If I am fishing and come on something to explore, like a shady hemlock grove, I’ll set my rod down where I can find it again later, and go exploring, and come back to the fishing later. I like the freedom that being by myself affords me. If I am kayaking and see something on shore that interests me, I beach the kayak and go check it out. You never know what you will find, I may be on my way to someplace I had noted that I wanted to see, and find something I didn’t know a thing about on the way to the place I had planned to go, and will spend the day there, rather than the place I was originally headed to.

And my most important pursuit is to commune with God. I consider myself to be a Christian, although I hold some very unconventional ideas about God and Christianity. I often tell people half jokingly that I worship at the Church of the Clear Flowing Water, but I am only half-joking. I have attended many churches, mostly when I was younger, and I have never felt as close to God in any church as I do when I am outdoors talking to God one on one. If you tried to pin me down, I would tell you that I am Quaker Reformed. I believe as the Quakers do, in a personal relationship with God. The reformed part comes from their stance on violence. While I am a non-violent person, and I agree in principal with their beliefs that when you do harm to others you are really harming your own soul, but, I do believe that there is evil in this world that has to be defeated, sometimes with violence if it comes to that. I can’t quote chapter and verse, but the Bible tells us that there is evil in this world, and it is our duty as Christians to defeat that evil.

Don’t worry though, this isn’t a religious blog, it is an outdoor blog, but I thought you should know where I am coming from as I spend my time in the great outdoors, it is my church, even if there isn’t any clear flowing water in sight on some days.


The Groudhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011

Well, I survived the blizzard, as did every one else as far as I know. There are plenty of news reports out there, so I won’t go into many of the details about the records it broke and what not, but just share my observations. It isn’t so much a post about the outdoors until the aftermath, but I’d like to get my thoughts down now while fresh in my mind for future reference.

It was a well forecast storm, I had talked to my boss the day before, since he affords me almost complete control of how I run my route. I am a truck driver, in case you didn’t know, I now run a set route each night, starting in Grand Rapids, and I have to hit the company’s branches in Lansing, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana, every night. Since the storm was predicted to hit the Michigan-Indiana border around 7 PM, I had talked to my boss and told him I was going to go to South Bend first no matter what. He agreed that even if I didn’t have room for all the returns coming back from South Bend, it would still be better than ending up stuck in the snow someplace and not being able to finish the run. In fact, he called me Tuesday around noon to tell me he was going to see that the trailer was loaded by 3 PM so I could start early if I wanted to, instead of my normal 4 PM start time. He didn’t have to twist my arm.

So I was there a little before 3, helped finish loading the truck, and off I went. I got just a little south of Saugatuck when I saw the first flakes fly past the truck, and thought “Oh, no, this isn’t a good sign” and it wasn’t. The snow continued to pick up strength the farther south I went, and I could tell from the way the trailer was moving around that the wind was picking up as well. The surprising thing was that none of the snow was sticking to the road, at least on the expressway, which is the big story of the blizzard as far as I am concerned. By the time I got to the Benton Harbor area, it was snowing very hard, visibility was around a quarter of a mile or so, and the wind was driving snow across the road and everywhere else, but still, none was sticking to the road itself. There was very little traffic on the expressway, something I think helped to keep the snow from getting packed down on the roads, the wind was blowing it off the roadway keeping it clean. I made it to South Bend in not much longer time than it normally takes me. The city streets were much worse than the expressway, but there were only a few inches except for some small drifts starting to build up.

That’s pretty much the story for my run Tuesday night, I finished in South Bend, made it to the truck stop in Mattawan, Michigan, where I take my lunch break, then to the branch in Lansing. It snowed extremely hard the entire time, and the wind never let up, but all the blowing snow stayed down low to the ground for some reason, I never did hit any real white-outs. The run from Lansing back to Grand Rapids was a little worse, by then there was some snow on the expressway, mostly in drifts here and there, and more traffic for some reason. I took it a bit slower from Grand Rapids to Lansing, I had been running 50 to 60 MPH most of the time before that stretch, but my eyes were getting tired of staring into the snow trying to pick out tail lights if there were any, or a vehicle stuck in one of the drifts. The couple of miles from I 96 to the shop takes me down 28th Street, and it was a pain, there was one lane open and way more traffic than there should have been, going extremely slow, even though the one lane open was completely clear of snow. I spent a lot of time busting through the drifts in the lane that wasn’t open, just so I could get done, I was only doing 35 MPH or less, but still passing people in the open lane as if they were standing still. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad, but they were all tailgating one another, and as soon as one of the cars at the head of the line applied his brakes, it was panic time for the rest of the idiots that were following way too close behind the car in front of them. Over all though, I have never seen it snow and blow so much for so long without it causing more problems than what it did.

I made it to the shop, the hardest part of the night was getting the truck down the ramp into the dock, as the dock is on a steep incline down, and the snow plow driver blocks the room I need to get the truck lined up to the dock. Since the roads hadn’t been that bad all night long, I was surprised on the drive home to see how bad the streets were once I was off the expressway. The ramp from 28th Street to 131 south was almost impassable, even with my all wheel drive Explorer, but I made it home with out too much trouble. But I had noticed over the last hour or so that the storm seemed to be getting even stronger. I had just gotten out of the Explorer when there was a brilliant flash of lighting, but I wasn’t sure if it had really been lightning or a transformer blowing up somewhere. I waited to hear the thunder, but the wind was roaring so loudly by then, I never did hear it. As I was eating my dinner and checking out the news reports, I saw more flashes of lightning, and did hear the thunder once or twice. As I looked out the windows, I could see the snow was coming down harder than ever, and the wind seemed stronger than ever as well. I saw the snow plow drivers show up around 2 AM, just before I turned in for the night.

When I got up a little after 8 AM, I could see the snow had let up considerably, and I thought the storm had been a bust. Then I looked down ( I live on the 3rd floor) and saw how much snow there was on the ground, and knew the storm was no bust. The plow drivers were still at it, but they only had one pass down the parking lot in front of my building open. As I was standing there drinking my coffee and trying to figure out just how much snow we had on the ground, one of the plows started trying to clear in front of the building I live in. He wasn’t doing very well, he would drop the plow and make it 20 to 30 feet before the truck would be stopped dead, and he would sit there spinning the tires. He would have to back up, move a little to one side or the other, and try again, and again. They do have a Bobcat with tracks that was faring better, but that seemed to be used more for pushing out the trucks when they became stuck than pushing snow. The news reports say we got 18 inches, and that looks good to me, it is hard to tell for sure because of all the drifting. By noon, the sun was starting to come out, and they were finally making some progress in getting the parking lots and drives cleared out enough for people to get in and out.

My boss called me several times that day, changing my start time around as they didn’t have many people at the shop, and didn’t know how the branches were doing. As it turned out, I started at 5 PM, and it would have been a rather easy night, except at the branches themselves. It took me almost 45 minutes to get the truck up the ramp here in Grand Rapids, and I had to fight my way to the docks at both branches, but, the expressways were fine. There was almost no traffic at all, anywhere, which made the job easy. I made it to the expressway around 5:45 PM, and there wasn’t a car in sight, now that’s just weird, but I was glad. I set the cruise to 60 and made my run, it was about the easiest 350 miles I have ever run since there was almost no traffic.

So far, I have only walked around the apartment complex here, I haven’t made it out into the woods yet.  There are some huge snowpiles from where they managed to get the snow pushed off to the side, but they still only have 3/4 of the main entrance cleared here. I have seen the turkeys that live around here struggling to make it through the deep snow, and the flock of ducks that live in the creek have taken up residence in some one’s yard under a bird feeder since the creek has frozen over. It will be interesting to see what it looks like out in the woods tomorrow, when I am going to go to Saugatuck and walk the trails there.

The storm hadn’t even finished before people were comparing it to the blizzard of 1978, one that I lived through as well. This last storm didn’t have as big of an impact as 78, that storm stuck around a lot longer, and had much stronger winds with it that made the drifts even bigger than during this last storm. The impressive thing to me about this last storm is how much snow it dumped in a relatively short time. The ironic thing was that most of my friends and neighbors didn’t go in to work for two days, where I, as a truck driver, didn’t have to take any time off from work due to the storm, when you think it would be just the opposite. The storm was one for the record books, even though I breezed through it as if it had never happened.