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

Archive for July, 2011

The stench lingers on, the Pigeon River Part III

Just so that there are no misunderstanding, most of this post is going to be my recollections and my opinions about the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch and the dam that they operate on the Pigeon River.

First of all, I have to correct an error in my previous post “Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II” concerning the history of the dam. It has been widely reported that the dam was originally built by the owners of the Lansing Club, however, further research has shown that the dam actually precedes the hunt club days and was built by the Cornwall Lumber Company to make it easier to float logs down the Pigeon during the lumber era. That’s what I get for trusting newspaper articles, but I wasn’t alive at the turn of the last century to know that.

Anyway, you can read the previous post for a history of the dam, or I’ll do a short one here. It was originally an earthen and log dam built to float logs downstream. After the Lansing Club purchased the property they maintained the dam and the pond above it. In May of 1957, a heavy rainfall washed part of the earthen dam out, releasing sediment from behind the dam and resulted in a minor fish-kill down river from the dam. The dam was reconstructed using concrete to repair the damage. In 1970, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam and set up a yoga retreat on the property. In 1984, and again in 2008, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning  erred in their operation of the dam, causing two more massive fish-kills in the Pigeon River.

Which was worse? It’s hard to say. The reason for the 1984 incident was that there had been an inspection of the dam, and it was found that work needed to be done on the floodgates to prevent a failure of the dam. The Michigan DNR issued a permit along with a schedule for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to slowly release water from behind the dam in a controlled manner as not to cause a release of the sediment trapped above the dam, so that the floodgates could be repaired. As the drawdown began, the lowered water levels in the impoundment exposed acres of the black, organic silt that is the major portion of the sediment to view, and to air. Instead of the idyllic pond that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was used to, there were acres of rotting organic silt mudflats that offended senses of the guests that had paid to stay at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch.

“Humans need as much consideration as some little goofy fish” J. Oliver Black, the founder of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning once said while overlooking the dam that has caused so much destruction. “If it weren’t for the DNR, we wouldn’t have had this trouble in the first place”. Taken from the book “Pigeon River Country: a Michigan forest”  By Dale Clarke Franz

Richard Armour, the maintenance man for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning told the real story in the court proceedings that resulted from the 1984 incident. He acted under the orders of J. Oliver Black, otherwise know as Yogacharya Black, and raised the floodgates high enough to perform the repairs, then quickly shut them as soon as he was finished, all under the cover of darkness. This was confirmed by an automated flow gauge operated by the United States Geological Survey just a few miles downstream of the dam.

Fearing a loss of income, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning opened the floodgates all the way, drained the impoundment way too quickly, and released tons of the rotting organic silt downstream that resulted in the first stage of the fish-killing process. After quickly repairing the floodgates, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning then closed them to refill the impoundment as quickly as possible to restore the pond to its normal level. That’s the second part of the fish-killing equation, because then, the sediment that is being transported downstream settles out, coating the river bottom with the sediment, and the reduced flow of water leaves most of any surviving fish stranded high and dry.

If Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning had followed the DNR’s orders, none of that would have happened. As it was, when the DNR investigated the fish-kill, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning tried to deny they were responsible. Of course that didn’t hold up, as the floodgates had been repaired, and the only way that could have taken place is if the impoundment had been drained.

Fast forward to June 22nd of 2008. The river was just getting completely healthy again, when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning chose to ignore the fact that the automated system for the dam’s operation was malfunctioning, and needed to be repaired. The floodgates were opened all the way, releasing another torrent of sediment downstream, and rather than respond to the alarms going off, the operators of the dam ignored them until morning, when once again, they shut off the flow of water almost completely. Once again, they tried to deny that they were responsible for the resulting fish-kill. Once again, the denials from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning didn’t hold up.

I was up there for the 4th of July weekend in 2008, and there was no one camping at the Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. No one could stand to camp there, it is just over a mile downstream of the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam, and the stench of rotting fish and the organic silt released from behind the dam were overwhelming. Even as far downstream as the Pigeon River State Forest Campground, several more miles downstream, the smell was more than people could stand.

Maybe I should explain what the organic silt is. Some of it comes from the normal life functions of aquatic animals, some of it is the decomposing bodies of animals that have died in the river, but the majority of it is plant matter. Either aquatic plants that die, or the leaves, trees, and grasses that fall into the river. In a normal, free-flowing river, it is transported downstream and only accumulates in a few places in slow sections of a river.

 When a river is dammed, that plant matter begins to build up behind the dam and rot slowly over time, producing methane gas as it does. The methane builds up in the silt until there is enough of it to break free and bubble up to the surface. Go to almost any lake and watch the surface, you’ll occasionally see bubbles coming up from the lake bottom, that’s methane gas rising to the surface. Methane gas smells like rotten eggs, not at all a pleasant odor.

The rotting fish were gone in a few weeks, but the silt remains in the river, and the stench lingers on. There are once again, large pockets of the silt deposited in the slower waters of the river, it will take years for the river to flush itself clean again. Every time one of those pockets is disturbed, more of the methane escapes to offend the nose.

If it were just the smell, it would be bad enough, but the smell is just a small part of the problem. The silt is clogging up the gravel that fish need to be able to spawn successfully. Trout and other fish drop their eggs in gravel, the eggs fall down in between the rocks that make up the gravel, and water flowing through the gravel transports oxygen to the eggs. With silt clogging up the flow of water through the gravel, the fish eggs die.

The silt also clogs the gills of the insects that live in the river, so there isn’t the food available that the young fish would feed on even if the eggs did manage to hatch. It will take years for the river to flush itself clean and for it to return to a healthy state once again, that is if there are no more “mistakes” by Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning before that happens.

I was still a teenager when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning bought the Lansing club, it was no big deal to me. I didn’t agree with their ideas as far as them being vegans or their religious views, but I wasn’t going to walk into their retreat and tell them how wrong they were, to each their own is my motto. Too bad it didn’t work the other way.

Over the years I have had a few run ins with some of the guests from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning , they are opposed to fishing, and don’t mind telling you what a horrible person you are if you do fish. Back in the early years, I would just let them vent and ignore them, but after the fish-kill of 1984, I would tell them to ask the management of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning how many fish they had killed, just to shut up the people accosting me. If you don’t want to fish, fine, don’t fish. Don’t lecture me about fish and fishing when you know nothing about the environment, or what the company you are a client of has done to the environment.

I guess that’s what really irks me, the air of moral superiority that these people come at me with. They don’t know me, or anything about me, other than I have a fish pole in my hands, and therefore I need to be taught the error of my ways. I’ve tried to hold a civil conversation with them, but that never works. It doesn’t take long for me to figure out that they have no clue as to how the environment actually functions, they just think its pretty and that they want to commune with nature. They don’t know a may fly from a caddis fly from a stone fly, and if I point one to them, all they want to know is if it will bite them or not. (Insert maniacal laugh here) I can appreciate that they love nature and think that it is beautiful, I do too, it’s just that I commune best with nature with a fly rod in my hand, standing in the river, learning as much as I can about the way nature works, as I catch a fish or two.

I would cut Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning some slack, if the fish-kills hadn’t been deliberate. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning claims they were accidents, BS!

When they received the permit from the Michigan DNR to draw down the impoundment and repair the floodgates, they were warned what the consequences would be if the opened the floodgates too far, too fast, but they did it anyway. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning decided to put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and they wiped out 10 years of river life. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning ignored the alarm system for the dam, they once again put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and killed another 10 years of river life. Those are not the actions of a group that promotes itself as a friend to the environment. Or a friend to people.

Each time that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has caused these fish-kills, they have also impacted the local economy in a negative way. Vanderbilt is a poor area to begin with, and many of the locals depend on the tourist industry to make a living. When the fish have been killed, the fishermen don’t come, business suffers, and the people of Vanderbilt suffer. But then there’s that moral superiority thing again. The people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t like the town folk, most of them are hunters and fishermen, and therefore the people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t want to associate with the townspeople, and don’t really care what happens to them.

That air of moral superiority comes in handy when dealing with the media as well. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does these things and is caught, they always fall back on the story that they are a non-profit group of Vegan yoga enthusiasts who just want to live in harmony with nature. That plays well with the media, who run a story or two about the events, then lets the story drop out of sight. If it was a for profit business that was ignoring DNR orders, sidestepping Federal Regulation, failing to maintain a dam, and killing thousands of fish, do you really believe the media would let the story drop?

Another thing that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does every time they are caught is to plead poverty. They can’t afford to pay the fines levied by the DNR, or afford to maintain the dam in good condition, or to remove the dam, according to them. Yogacharya Black, who founded Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning, was a multimillionaire who made his fortune in the auto industry. I don’t know what happened to those millions of dollars, but I have often wondered about a few things. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns 800 acres of land, yet the yoga retreat only occupies a few acres very close to the dam and pond, the rest is all undeveloped. I have thought to myself, why don’t they sell off some of the land they aren’t using if they can’t afford to continue to own it. Well, that’s kind of tricky subject.

You see, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning still owns the land, but control of the land is now in the hands of the Clear Light Community Management Company. That’s a for profit subsidiary of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning that is acting as a real estate developer for the undeveloped portions of the 800 acres that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns. The vision is for a stand alone community, complete with housing and business owned by members of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning. Not too long ago, they announced that they were getting close to a ground breaking ceremony to build their own fire station. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Carol Armour, the current head of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning shares many of the same notions as her mentor, Yogacharya Black. She claims any study done that calls for the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam to be removed is biased, and that the dam doesn’t harm the ecosystem of the river. OK, I guess she’s entitled to her opinion, even if it does fly in the face of science.

All I have to say is that the stench lingers on.


Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II

Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River, stretch and rejuvenate your body with yoga, and dine like royalty as the kitchen staff pampers you with wonderful, gourmet vegetarian meals. Sound like a relaxing weekend? You deserve it! Treat yourself to all of the above and try some meditation, bring a good book, or hike the nature trails in your spare time. Led by yoga instructor, outdoor lover, and Song of the Morning staff member (name hidden to protect the guilty).”

Ahhhh, yeah, right. That was taken from the website for Song of the Morning Ranch, the yoga retreat on the banks of the Pigeon River, just outside the Pigeon River Country. That’s their advertising anyway, here’s the reality.

The dam, owned by the yoga retreat off Sturgeon Valley Road, has been in the spotlight since June 2008 when a release of water and sediment from the impoundment upstream of the dam caused a massive fish kill for miles downstream. After that incident, the DNR and PRCA filed a lawsuit against Golden Lotus, with TU signing on as an intervening plaintiff.”

That’s from a newspaper article online from the Petoskey News, you can read the entire story here.

The massive fish kill in June 2008 was the third such incident involving the old Lansing Club dam. First, a little history.

Song of the Morning Dam

The Lansing Club was a sportsman club that purchased 800 acres of land just east of Vanderbilt, Michigan, when that happened, I am not exactly sure. The Lansing Club built the dam on the Pigeon River over 100 years ago as a source for electricity back before there were any power lines in the area. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning continues to use the dam to generate electricity, even though they admit it would be cheaper for them to buy electricity from a utility company. But that wouldn’t let them claim they are “off the grid”.

There was a major Fishkill before Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam, back on May 15, 1957, a 1.09 inch rainfall washed out the dam and produced a 12-foot head of water that roared down the Pigeon River. The earthworks were replaced with concrete and the dam became known as the Song of the Morning Ranch dam after Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the old Lansing Club.

Since Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has owned and operated the dam, there have been two major fish kills on the Pigeon River.

On July 3, 1984, the Song of the Morning Ranch dam operators ignored a DNR order to gradually draw down the impoundment to make critical repairs and released large quantities of water and silt from the 65 acre impoundment in their rush to get access to the bottom of the dam’s gates. The result was another silt spill into the Pigeon with the destruction of an estimated 22,000 fish! 

The second accident resulted in a four-year long court case that resulted in a Consent Order that required, among other things, “implementing an approved dam safety and management program” by the Song of the Morning Ranch so that there would never be another disaster on the Pigeon.

It was after that incident that a court ordered that if there were another such incident because of the dam in the future, the dam would have to be removed.

In April 2005 the State of Michigan petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees 99 hydroelectric dams in Michigan, to regulate the dam at Song of the Morning. FERC denied the request, as well as a request for rehearing, saying the dam did not meet the requirements for federal jurisdiction.

The fact that Song of the Morning operates off the grid was a major reason its dam escaped FERC regulation. Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Trout Unlimited in Michigan claimed the retreat, which occasionally drew electricity from the grid but now uses a diesel generator for backup power, “didn’t disconnect until they smelled that people were trying to get FERC to regulate them.”

Indeed, just four months after the state’s initial request to FERC, Golden Lotus wrote the commission, stating its intention to disconnect from the grid. “Everybody we talked to said ‘Don’t be FERC regulated,’ Song of the Morning staff  general manager Ian Wylie said. “It’s a nightmare. The cost to do that would be outrageous.”

The June 2008 fish kill was due to operator error, and resulted in thousands of dead trout lining the banks of the Pigeon River for several miles below the dam.

Dead trout on the Pigeon River, from the Detroit Free Press

Sometime during the night of June 22 or small hours of June 23, 2008, a mechanical problem caused the dam gates to open completely, or nearly so. Tons of sediment rose from the pond’s bottom, churned in the sudden torrent, and rushed through the gates into the river.

An alarm sounded, indicating a low water level in the pond, but was ignored by Song of the Morning staff, said general manager Ian Wylie. In weeks prior, the dam’s monitoring system had fallen out of calibration, causing repeated false alarms and leading the staff to switch to a backup system. When the alarm sounded in earnest, Wylie said, it got the boy- who-cried-wolf treatment.

By morning, few fish survived immediately downstream. The rush of warm pond water and organic sediment lowered the river’s oxygen levels until trout, suckers and other species suffocated, said Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources who investigated the fish kill.

After they were smothered in a warm slurry of muck, things got even worse for the fish. When Song of the Morning staff realized the pond’s level had dropped significantly, Wylie said, “a decision had to be made.” They opted to shut the dam gates completely to stop the sediment flow, and to refill the pond. For a time, the river downstream all but disappeared.

Normal flow of the Pigeon River is 60 cfs. The operators of the dam released 185 cfs (more than three times its normal flow) on June 22. Then, on the morning of June 23, they essentially shut the flow off to a water flow of 6 cfs. Even without the release of sediment, just the fluctuation in flow alone would have had a devastating effect on aquatic life. The  dissolved oxygen (DO) levels were at or close to zero. This has a fatal outcome for fish. At DO levels of 5, stress on fish is greatly heightened; and at DO level of 6 or greater fish actively thrive.

Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and others conducted a survey of the affected stretch of river using a mild electric shock to stun fish so they could be counted. For two miles downstream from the dam they saw a grim parade of belly up trout, but couldn’t find enough live fish to estimate the population.

“It will be five to 10 years before the river comes back to the condition it was in the week before this happened,” said John Walters, president of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Aside from the fish kill, organisms that serve as food were also killed by the sediments. Following the 1984 incident, fish were planted in the now depleted section of the river below the dam.

“They all died,” Walters said. “There is no food. They starved. We prefer to see the river make a natural recovery.”

The same scenario has played out after both of the fish kills they have been responsible for. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has been sued in court, fined by the Michigan DNR, and the resulting negative publicity has hurt the bottom line of Golden Lotus, which claims to be a non-profit entity. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning quickly signs off on a deal with the state and other litigants to get the story out of the news, and as soon as that happens, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning just as quickly tries to go back on the deals they have signed off on, claiming that they can’t afford to live up to the terms of the agreements they have signed.

After the last fish kill in June 2008, the DNR fined Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning $1.3 million for the environmental disaster they caused. In addition, the State of Michigan and the public entity that oversees the Pigeon River Country, the Pigeon River Country Association, sued Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning for full removal of the dam under the terms of the court order from 1984. Trout Unlimited was allowed to join the suit as an interested party.

The parties involved negotiated a settlement that reduced the fine from the original $1.5 million to $150,000 to be paid in annual payments of $15,000 per year for ten years, with the understanding that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning would use the money they no longer had to pay in fines to remove the dam once and for all. The PRCA and TU agreed to assist Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning in developing a plan to remove the dam. The judge assigned to the case and all interested parties, including Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning signed off on the negotiated settlement. That got the story out of the press, and ended the bad publicity for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning at least at the time.

Before the ink was barely dry on the settlement they signed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was back trying to renegotiate the terms of the settlement, asking the state to allow them to only remove the mechanical parts of the dam that have been the cause of the fish kills, but allowing Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to leave the impoundment itself in place.

What Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is trying to do is escape their legal responsibilities as far as the dam is concerned. They hope that in removing the floodgates and power generating equipment that they will no longer be legally responsible for any future environmental damage that the remaining part of the impoundment may cause. I think they are acting on poor legal advice and are only concerned with their bottom line. As it is right now, they are legally responsible for any environmental damage the dam causes, even if that environmental damage was triggered by an act of nature, such as a heavy rainfall that would wash silt downstream.

Whatever their motivation is, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is once again trying to weasel out of a deal they signed off on. That led the PRCA and TU to file suit again to force Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to live up to the agreement that had been worked out before. Just this week, 46th Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy ruled that removal really does mean removal, and that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning must remove the entire dam, not just the mechanical portions of it.

For the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning side of the story, here’s a link to a document they have posted on the web.

William Schlecte, attorney for Golden Lotus, said he will “vigorously appeal” Judge Murphy’s decision and continue to support the ranch’s two-phase approach.

Schlecte said the appeal could first go back to Judge Murphy, then eventually the Michigan Supreme Court, potentially taking years to resolve. He also said Golden Lotus is a nonprofit organization that does not have enough money to do an all-out removal right away. He characterized his client as being devoted to a lifestyle that is harmonious with nature.

Harmonious with nature? That may be how Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning promotes itself to the well-heeled clientelle they hope to attract to their retreat, but their actions tell a different story. Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River? Not after your client gets finished with it Mr. Schlecte, while most of the emphasis has been on the trout and other fish killed by your client, the truth is almost the entire aquatic ecosystem was wiped out for miles downstream of the dam your client controls. Not only were the fish killed, but also the insects, amphibians, and other lifeforms the fish eat, right down to the plankton that supports the entire ecosystem. Instead of the clear cool water that used to be the Pigeon, there is now the remnants of the silt lining the river bottom making it almost unrecognizable.

So your client is threatening to drag this out for years? Is that to give them more time to finish off the destruction they seem bent on inflicting on the river, Mr. Schlecte? Your client’s own document paints the dam and the associated pond as an ecological time bomb just waiting to explode for a fourth time.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning have proven they have no respect for the river or the environment. They have ignored DNR recommendations and orders in the past. They have ignored the warning systems they were ordered to install to prevent these events from happening. They have proven that they are incapable of operating the dam in a safe manner. They have compounded their mistakes in pathetic attempts to cover their tracks by closing the floodgates completely, hoping that they can refill the pond before any one notices the destruction they have wrought. It is time for the dam to go, NOW!

Court orders are all well and good, but we really can’t declare a victory for the Pigeon River until the dam is gone once and for all!

Victory for the Pigeon River!

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do, post an Email I just received from the Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited verbatim. I’ll add a few thoughts of my own at the end.

Court sides with Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association in Golden Lotus Dam case motion.

A recent opinion from the courts just validated what we at TU already knew, that an agreement for a “dam removal” means the physical removal of all of the parts of the dam. It does not mean partial dam removal, dam modification, or dam drawdown as alleged by Golden Lotus and the State of Michigan! With the judge’s ruling today, Golden Lotus is required to completely remove all of its dam on the Pigeon River – the same dam that has caused three large fish kills in the past.

Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA) filed motions in the case earlier this year when the dam owners, Golden Lotus, Inc., put forward a plan for dam drawdown that would not remove all of the dam, and would continue blocking fish passage. They stated their responsibilities stopped there, despite the Court Ordered settlement calling for “dam removal” (these documents can be found and read at ). The State of Michigan (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality) represented by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office surprisingly sided with Golden Lotus in their reinterpretation of the Court Order, and began processing a permit application for the project despite MITU and PRCA objections. Both Golden Lotus and the State argued that despite leaving the base and sides of the dam in the river and blocking fish passage, that the project should be considered “dam removal”.

In an Opinion and Order issued by the Honorable Judge Murphy of the Otsego County Circuit Court, on July 22, 2011, the Court sided in favor of Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association. Judge Murphy stated “In other words, ‘dam removal’ means dam removal.” The court also found that “the meaning of ‘dam removal’ is clear and statutorily defined”, and “the Interim Order is not ambiguous.”

“We are very pleased with the opinion and its affirmation of our understanding of the settlement agreement we signed onto and of Michigan law,” states Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director for Michigan Trout Unlimited. “This required significant resources for us compared with that of the State of Michigan and an insurance company-paid Golden Lotus defense. But we knew what was right, and what the Pigeon River deserved, and standing up for that at all costs is what we do and why we exist.”

“It’s frustrating that the dam removal was so seriously side-tracked during this dispute,” states Dave Smith, Chair of Michigan Trout Unlimited. “We’re anxious to get back into a productive planning mode to see this project is done and done right, and get the Pigeon River healing from over 100 years of this dam’s impacts to it.”

The parties will now have to work together to develop a new plan for completely removing the dam.


Dr. Bryan Burroughs
Executive Director, Michigan Trout Unlimited

The Pigeon River

I fell in love with the Pigeon River Country and the Pigeon River when I was just a kid, but my love for the area and the river hasn’t faded through the years, it has only grown stronger. I have written about that before, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself here.

In the years since Golden Lotus purchased the old Lansing Hunting Club, they have been responsible for three major fish kills on the Pigeon. They raise the flood gates, releasing too much water along with sediment trapped behind the dam. Then they realize their mistake, close the flood gates, and reduce the flow of the river to almost nothing. All that sediment fouls the water and suffocates the trout downstream by clogging the trouts’ gills.

That’s my river they’re messing with, and my trout that they are killing, I will be so glad when the dam is finally removed and the river is allowed to repair itself and revert completely wild again!

As in the past, the trout are rebounding from the last major incident a few years ago. But they shouldn’t have to rebound every few years as they have the last couple of decades. Since Golden Lotus loves conning people into believing they are all about peace, love, and harmony with the environment, I hope they stop fighting this now, and remove the dam once and for all, since they obviously care about nothing more than their bottom line.

Rainy day, dream away

I don’t know why, but I have always liked rainy days. Maybe it is because my extended family were mostly farmers, who depended on the rain to water their crops, and drought meant hard times. Maybe it’s because my parents never minded the rain, my dad thought it was the best time to be out as that’s usually when we would see the most wildlife. The rain never seemed to bother my mom, either.

I remember a time back in the 60’s, we were vacationing in the Pigeon River Country. My dad had just bought a 1966 Ford Bronco that you could remove the top from. It had been hot, so we had taken the top off and gone for a drive to cool off and look for deer. We were caught in a summer shower and soaked to the bone before we got back to Round Lake Campground.

On the way back to the campground, my siblings and I were whining about being cold and wet. My mom told us to stop whining, we’d get back to the campground, dry off, have a hot cup of tea, and we’d be fine. As usual, mom was right, in fact, it was a great feeling after getting dried off, and that tea sure tasted good.

There was another time when staying at D. H. Day State Park when about the same thing happened, and we survived that one as well. That was back before the Federal Government took over what is now the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and D. H. Day was a state park, and we still camped in state parks.

Maybe I like the rain because when I would be helping on one of the family farms, rainy days were play time. That was back in the day before tractors had enclosed cabs, and farmers didn’t work their fields in the rain. There were still chores to do, like feeding the livestock and such, but for the most part, rainy days on a farm were lazy days with not much work that could be done.

Maybe I like the rain because early on in life, I learned fish bite better in a rain.

Rainy days in the spring help melt the snow away, and give rise to the first plants of spring poking up out of the ground in search of the sun. The rain releases the scent of spring that has been buried under the snow for months, you can smell new life beginning as well as see it.

Rainy days in summer bring relief from the heat and humidity most of the time, it’s as if the rain refreshes the world. During an extended heat wave such as the one we’ve been having here, it feels like the entire world is being beaten down, everything moves at a slower pace, dragging along just hoping for the end of the misery. The rain washes away the dust that has collected on everything stationary, and it is as the weight of the dust is what has been holding everything down. There is nothing so refreshing as a long summer shower. Nature comes out of the doldrums and is once again vibrant and new.

Fall rains can be blustery and cold, but they serve to restore the aquifers and bring the salmon and some trout to the rivers to spawn, and helps to prepare nature for the snows that will follow.

It was during one of those blustery fall rains that it hit me just how much I love what most people consider to be nasty weather, I do love it so!

It seems as if all of nature likes a good summer shower, except adult humans. The birds are digging it, they’re out there getting a shower and a chance to cool off. The plants are loving it, each drop of rain seems to return more of the green to the leaves and grass that were wilting and turning brown in the heat wave. Kids love to play in the rain, it is only as adults that we develop “enough sense to come out of the rain”.

I think that the late Jimi Hendrix summed it up best in his song “Rainy day, dream away

Rainy day, dream away 
Let the sun take a holiday
Flowers bathe and I see the children play
Lay back and groove on a rainy day.
Rainy day, rain all day
Ain’t no use in gettin’ uptight
Just let it groove it’s own way
Let it drain your worries away yeah
Lay back and groove on a rainy day hey
Lay back and dream on a rainy day.

And today we are having one of those rainy, dreamy days. A steady rain for the most part, an occasional rumble of thunder every once in a while, and rejuvenation falling all around. It may not break the heat wave for good, but at least it’s a reprieve for a day from the oppressive heat we’ve been having. It’s a good day to relax and dream.

To dream of what could have been, and what we hope will be. To dream of places we’ve been, and places we’ll be someday.

Rainy days are great times to plan future trips to places we have been, and to places we would like to visit, so I am going to get back to work on my page for trips to the Lake Huron coast. As I expected, the more I research the area, the more places I am finding to visit. I may just get lost on the Internet today, clicking links to lighthouses, parks, shipwrecks, and who knows what else. I have added a lot of information to that page already, and it seems as though I am just getting started.

This is the way my research and planning goes. I had already added a lighthouse and state park to my list, along with some basic info on each. But in looking up something else, I saw a link to more information on the park that the lighthouse is in, and a bike/hiking trail that connects to the state park and the hiking trails there. So I click that link to learn about the connector trail, and find a wealth of information about the lighthouse, and a ship that wrecked within sight of the light. That led me to the story of the Joseph S. Fay, and the history of the ship and when it wrecked. Part of the ship is still there on the grounds of the park that the lighthouse stands on.

We are truly blessed in Michigan, with beautiful natural places to go, but there is also a rich history as well. I need to dream of winning the lottery so I can devote all my time to discovering both.

Pride goeth before the fall

But it isn’t fall yet, and I am somewhat torn about that. On one hand, I love the greenery that comes with Michigan summers, the heat, not so much. I know to those living in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, 97 degrees with a 75 degree dew point is considered a cool day. But not here in Michigan.

Our summers are really way too short here, the trees don’t really finish leafing out until near the end of May. By the middle of September, fall is arriving, the trees are turning color and beginning to lose their leaves. I love fall, spring even more, but we go over 6 months, from November until April, with no leaves on any of the hardwood trees. Fortunately, we have lots of evergreens, or I would go bonkers. I do love me some green trees, even if I don’t care for the summer heat.

This heat wave that’s been going on all this week, and really for the last few weeks, is wiping me out to the point that I don’t have a lot of energy left for anything, not even blogging. I have been walking every morning, and ending up wringing wet with sweat. This morning I got back to my apartment and found the sleeves of the shirt I wore had white stripes from salt stains because I had been sweating so much. It’s even worse because of my job.

In the first place, I can’t get the air conditioning in the truck repaired. It started going out last August, I told my boss about it, nothing happened. Soon after it conked out completely, the weather cooled off nicely, and we had a very pleasant fall last year. As soon as it started to warm up this spring, I told my boss about the AC again, and I have been writing it up on the daily vehicle inspections I am required to turn in every day.  The truck has been in the shop a couple of times for regular service, but the AC has never been repaired. In fact, I picked the truck up yesterday from the shop, and still no AC. If you have never driven a big truck, you have no idea how much heat one of those big diesel engines radiate back into the cab.

Being in the trailer to unload and load it is even worse. The trailer is nothing more than a long metal box sitting out in the direct sun getting hotter and hotter inside all the time, with no air flow at all inside. I tried stopping at the beginning of the dead-end street the Lansing branch is located on and opening the trailer door before I pulled into the branch and to the loading dock, but the manager there had a fit. He accused me of driving with the door open all the way from Grand Rapids, even though I told him I was pulling over to open the door almost in front of the branch, but he threatened to call the owner of the company and have me fired, so I quit doing that. Of course the manager in Lansing is always threatening to call the owner and have me fired, for things like turning one of the carts around so I can pick it up with the power lift the right way to get it on the truck, or not saying “Hi” to him before I start my unloading. My boss refers to the Lansing manager as “The Child”, and tells me to ignore the manager, but it’s no fun being threatened with being fired on a regular basis, I need a new job.

I half suspect that the company I work for is not having the AC in the truck repaired on purpose, thinking they will save a few cents a day on fuel if I am not idling the truck with the AC on when I am unloading and loading the trailer.  Oh well, enough whining for now.

Like I said, I am doing my walk every morning, but it is so hot by then that I have missed so good photos, because I don’t have the energy to chase bugs, birds, or critters around like I normally do. Like yesterday, I learned that a pair of cedar waxwings had a nest in a small maple tree, but one time around the tree looking for the nest and the young were all I wanted to do. Normally I would have circled the tree until I spotted the nest, but it was too darned hot, I broke off the search and headed for the next shady spot on my path to cool off a little.

Today I saw a couple of small, very pretty light blue butterflies flitting about, but I wasn’t about to follow them around hoping they would land where I could get a good picture, although I did manage this one.

Small blue butterfly

That picture really isn’t very good, and it doesn’t begin to show you how pretty the butterfly was, but I wasn’t going to stand there with the sun beating down on me in hopes of getting a better one. It has been the same with birds, not just the cedar waxwings yesterday, if I know they are in a bush or tree within range of my camera, I will normally wait them out, circle the bush until I see them, or go in after them to get a picture, but not this week. It’s too hot, and I am also worried about stressing the wildlife out as well. I see most of the birds have their mouths open most of the time, I don’t know if birds pant similar to dogs to try to cool themselves, but I never see birds acting that way in cooler weather.

I did also get this picture of a caterpillar.


Again, not the best shot in the world, but it wouldn’t sit still, and I wasn’t going to wait until it did. With hot weather, insects are even more lively, since they are cold-blooded, like frogs.

Frog on a rock

97 degrees with a heat index approaching 110 degrees, and frogs are still sunbathing on rocks, I would fry! The water looked good though, even though you can’t see it in the picture.

Speaking of water, I joined a kayaking group this week. It is kind of funny really, the group I joined is an offshoot of a group I started a few years ago. I started a kayaking group through a web-based company called Meetup, the premise being to use the Internet to bring people who enjoy the same activities together. At first I was very happy with Meetup, the groups I joined, and the kayaking group I organized, but then a number of things happened all at once.

I guess I need to explain how Meetup operated. It is free to members, the people who organize a group pay a fee to be an organizer. That was no big deal to me, the fee was reasonable enough considering everything. But then, the programmers at Meetup decided to make wholesale changes to the way the website operated and its appearance, to make it more like Facebook or Twitter, and to downplay events scheduled through Meetup. Hundreds of other organizers and I protested the changes, but the management at Meetup told us if we didn’t like it, too bad. If I am paying for a service, I expect the people selling me the service to listen to its customers, and not try to force me to purchase a product that I don’t want. The management at Meetup paid no heed to its customers, and rammed the changes down our throats despite our protests. I see that those changes must not have gone over too well with the non-paying members either, because Meetup has gone back to their old format and discarded the changes they were making back then.

At the same time as that was going on, there was a member of the group who was cheating on and beating on several women at the same time, and the women were also members of the group. I was getting Emails from both the women asking about the other, and other Emails from them as well. I got fed up with the entire situation and deleted all three from the group. The jerk got ticked off about being booted out of the group and threatened to sue, and Meetup took his side in the matter, to the point of threatening me by telling me that if the jerk did sue, Meetup would join his lawsuit against me.

I had wondered about the liability of organizing a group that engaged in a dangerous sport like kayaking, I didn’t expect to face a lawsuit over kicking a woman beater out of the group, so between that and Meetup’s poor customer service, I dumped the group.

The group continued on under new organizers, letting the woman beater back in, but I wasn’t involved at all. A few days ago, my friend Mike who also left the group at the same time I did, sent me an Email telling me a splinter group had formed. We’ll see how this one goes, I don’t hold out much hope for it as far as my continuing with it.

I am not to sure about the new organizer’s ability. So far, the only scheduled trips I see are on slow rivers, and on the same rivers multiple times. I don’t mind a slow river now and then, but that’s not all I want to paddle. And as much as I love the Pere Marquette, I don’t see a reason to paddle the same stretch of it twice in two months, when there are many other sections of it to run, and other rivers just as good. Variety is the spice of life. Give me a fast run down the Jordan one weekend, and a slow float on the Muskegon on another.

So we shall see how it goes, if it turns out to be what I think it will be, people who think they are hardcore paddlers doing slow rivers as quickly as they can complete them, I’ll leave the group once again. There are times when I paddle when the paddling is the thing, mostly on faster rivers, but not always. But there are other times when I want to slow down, relax, and enjoy the scenery and wildlife as I float along only paddling enough to steer. I am not going to try to keep up with a bunch of exercise freaks who use kayaking as a workout.

Now that I have all of this off my chest, I’ll get back to the photo and kayaking series I am working on.

And the heat goes on

Another very hot, very humid day here in West Michigan, and I am holed up in my apartment enjoying the comforts of central air. I don’t know why, but even though it is comfortable inside, I don’t have much energy. It may be because of work, I get wiped out by the heat every night when I’m working, but normally I recover by Sunday, and I am set to go. I don’t even feel much like blogging today, that’s bad.

I did start a series for beginning kayakers, I have two and a half pages done, two are posted, one on buying a kayak, the second is on the other gear for kayaking. I have a third page started for places for a new kayaker to go, but I have run out of steam right now, and hope to finish it over the next few days. I was prompted to get started because my buddy Mike has been bugging me for some time to do something along these lines, and because I received a very nice comment from some one requesting information on places for beginners to kayak. I hope I was able to help them.

I have also started a page for future trips up to the Lake Huron shores, which I am sad to say have never spent much time exploring. I am just starting to pull some info together for that area, and I am working on coming up with a format for my future exploration pages that I can actually use to help me plan my trips. For this page, I am going to put all the info together on one main page. As it is, I spend too much time looking through favorites I have bookmarked time and time again, plus internet searches I have already done, so I am going to put links to everything on the main page. Once I have all the information assembled on the main page for the area, I’ll break it down into weekend trips, long weekend trips, and week-long trips.

The information I will be assembling will be State Parks with trails I would like to hike including links to the trail maps, lighthouses along the shoreline, possible kayak excursions to some of the lights that are offshore, but only a short distance, historic sites, some of the State Forest campgrounds in the area, nature preserves and natural areas, and as always, anything that strikes my fancy.

After I have done the trips, I hope to use the page I did to help me plan the trip as the starter for my post on the trip, which will save me even more time. I try to include many links in my posts for readers to follow if they are at all interested in learning more about the places I travel to. If I start with the links already there, then all I need to add is my experiences on the trip. As it is now, when I get home to write-up one of my trips, I end up looking up all the Internet pages I used to plan the trips a second, third or fourth time. I know Dick, I am too results oriented, I can’t help it.

The Fortune Bay Expeditionary Team is going to do a combination hike and kayak trip on the Manistee River Loop Trail, and Manistee River. I wish I would be able to make it. The Cost:  $40 includes camping fees, transportation of gear and any needed support. Not too bad. But they meet on a Friday night when I am working, and I am probably way too slow of a hiker for any one else going on this trip. The ten miles of hiking doesn’t bother me, but it would take me all day. I go slow, very slow, because I am always looking for photo ops, plus, I am an old fat guy who needs a breather from time to time on the hills. Especially if this heat wave continues into August.

I am a little spoiled. The summer of 2009 was cool, so cool other people were complaining all summer long about how cool it was. Not me, I liked it just fine. It was almost like having 6 months of spring, my favorite season. Last summer, 2010, was warmer, but we never got the humidity we’re getting this year, which made the heat tolerable to me. This year, we went from a cool wet spring to a hot, humid summer with no transition, and now we’re in a drought, making i even worse. I haven’t been up to the Rogue to fish, but I’ll bet that there is some trout mortality taking place because of the heat. It’s been a rotten year for trout fishing, but there’s that spoiled thing again. The last few years have been great, so an off-year seems worse than it really is.

I do hope the heat wave breaks soon. I like Michigan summers, I miss the greenery during the fall and winter, but I don’t do heat well. It’s a bit of a conundrum, I’m not ready for fall, summers always seem too short in Michigan, but I don’t like the heat we get some summers. This year has me almost looking for fall to get here with some cooler temperatures.

In fact, the last few days I have been thinking fall is coming too fast as it is. I am already beginning to see some signs of fall’s approach. Even while some of the birds around here are just hatching out new broods, I see other species starting to join up into small flocks, which will grow larger and larger until the head south for the winter. I am seeing a few leaves beginning to turn colors, but some of that is due to the drought we’re in, I am sure. The trees are looking stressed, the grass is turning brown, I want the green back!

I didn’t walk yesterday, but I did shoot this through my slider to the deck here.

Squirrel staying cool

Yes, that’s how hot it’s been, even the squirrels are prostrate from the heat.

It is 8 PM, I am going to brave the heat and try to get in a walk this evening. I hope every one stays cool this coming week, it’s going to be a scorcher!



So much for that idea

I just got back from the shortened version of my daily walk around the apartment complex here, it hasn’t been a stellar day so far. I wouldn’t call it bad day, but things are not going to plan so far.

It started this morning when I went to the kayaking group’s blog to look for the posts on future trips for the group, and they are gone, all of them. Either WordPress deletes things automatically after a certain amount of time, or I just plain screwed up, I don’t know which happened. With them was gone all the work I had put into planning them, so now I have to start over from scratch. I think I have some of the info I need stored in the GPS software from the day(s) I went scouting, but I am afraid to look with the way this day has been going.

As I was lamenting the loss of all that information, a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through the area. Severe weather isn’t common for Michigan, and it is even less common at 9 AM. After the storms rolled through, I had the great idea of heading out for my walk before the heat and humidity had a chance to build back in. That plan seemed to be working, it was quite pleasant outside, and the sun even made a very brief appearance.

I didn’t bring my Nikon along this morning, I was planning to continue the head to head battle between it and my new Canon, but when I picked it up this morning and once again felt how heavy it is, I set it back down, stuffed the Canon in my pocket, and went out for the walk. Here’s why…


I have taken at least a dozen shots or more of these with the Nikon in the last two weeks and not one has come out well. With the lens I have, the Nikon can’t focus on the entire flower the way the Canon does, and/or the colors were off.

So, the Nikon is sitting back in its case, but I don’t want to give up on it again like I did before, since I think I am close to getting good pictures out of it on a regular basis. It doesn’t do close-ups well, and that’s what there is to shoot most of the time around my apartment complex, so I’m not lugging that thing around when I probably won’t use it. This is the type of shot I get around here…


I got to the pond at the south end of the complex, and didn’t like what I saw..

The approaching storm

Luckily, there are many carports to take shelter under, or the entry ways to the individual apartment buildings, so I kept on going, I didn’t think the storm would arrive before I finished my walk anyway, it did…

The storm hits

Two lines of strong storms in the morning? That’s almost unheard of around here. I waited this one out under a car port, but I wondered how safe that was with all the lightning bolts filling the sky. I was thinking of making a dash across the parking lot to the building on the other side, when one lightning bolt hit very close, and I could see the lights go off. I thought to myself, I think I’ll stay right here for now. This wasn’t the first time I have taken shelter in one of the carports, but today was the first time I had trouble staying dry. The wind-driven rain was blowing through the car port more than I thought it would. Then I was glad to have left the Nikon home, I would have had a hard time keeping it dry.

When the wind, rain, and lightning did let up, I set off to finish my walk. I had just gotten started when I noticed yet another cloud formation approaching and thought to myself that there couldn’t be a third line, could there? About that time I saw a stroke of lightning from the third line, so I made a bee line, back to my apartment.

I made it before the rain began for the third time, and by the time I got inside, the power had been restored.

I still haven’t checked my GPS software to see about information for kayaking trips, I’ll do the tonight after work or tomorrow. I am really bummed that I somehow lost the posts for at least a half a dozen trips though, It would have been quick and easy to copy the info from that blog, and paste it into posts in this one. But, that’s the way things go sometimes, just like getting caught in thunderstorms, things don’t always go as planned.

Today would be a great day to get lost

The weather today is hot and humid, which I hate with a passion. I’m a fall to spring kind of guy. When the temperature is close to 90 degrees and the dew-point is in the mid to upper 70’s, I die. I have spent the entire morning trying to think of something to do outdoors and where to do it, but the only thing I can think of would be to hop in my vehicle, crank on the AC, and get lost someplace while scouting out places to hike, or kayak. The problem with that idea is that gas is still close to $4 a gallon, and my Ford Explorer is a thirsty gas-guzzling hog, and I can’t afford it right now.

I did replace my Canon Powershot yesterday, by staying home over the 4th of July weekend and some other things, I was able to replace it sooner than I thought I would be able to. But now, I don’t have the money to take it anywhere very far from home. I did take it and my Nikon D50 out for a hike around Palmer Park last evening, to test the two cameras side by side. The first thing I found out is that dusk is probably not the best time to be doing camera tests, or maybe it is. I do know that using them both side by side and trying as best as I could to take exactly the same shots with each of them only confirms my opinion that the Nikon has the superior optics, but that the Canon’s software is much better.

Maybe it is because of all the bad-mouthing I have been doing about the auto focus on the Nikon or that I have finally found the settings that make it work correctly, but last night the auto focus worked and worked well almost every time. I only had to manually focus for a couple of shots. Given how bad the lighting was, it wasn’t bad at all, in fact, I was kind of impressed at how well it worked. But it has very tough competition from the Canon, who’s auto focus seldom fails to focus correctly.

Palmer Park doesn’t really have any great scenery, but I did take a foliage shot with both cameras, first, from the Nikon.

Nikon foliage shot

Then, the Canon.

Canon foliage shot

Neither is a great shot, but it does point out the differences in how each camera handles foliage. The picture from the Nikon is over-exposed, washed out, and the greens of the foliage are too yellow. I would say that the picture from the Canon is just slightly under-exposed, and a touch too blue, but it is far and away closer to what I saw when I took these pictures.

But, when the Nikon get’s it right, it produces some awesome images.

Whitetail deer, a button buck

That’s a yearling button buck, and he better get a lot smarter by the time those buttons start growing antlers next year. I was able to sneak up fairly close to him as he was feeding, then he took off when he figured out that I was there. As he was running away, I whistled, and he stopped dead in his tracks, and even started walking back towards me as I continued to whistle and shoot pictures at the same time.

I did get some deer shots with the Canon as well, but I couldn’t stop myself from zooming in all the way that the camera can, so the quality isn’t as good as it could be.

Whitetail doe sticking her tongue out at me

That reminds me of another reason I don’t like summer as much as the other seasons, bugs! All the deer that I saw were being eaten alive by the deer flies and mosquitoes, and were constantly shaking and scratching because of the bugs. I felt sorry for them, they can never escape the bugs, and we think we have it rough. I had insect repellent on, and while I didn’t get bitten, the bugs sure were annoying.

I didn’t get bitten by the bugs, but I must have stepped in a plant that caused a burning rash on my right ankle that’s still tender today. Oh well, those things happen, even though I try to avoid plants like burning nettles and poison ivy. I don’t think the rash is from either of those, I have no idea what caused it.

I do know that I have tiger-striped feet. I have been wearing my hiking sandals so much that I have tan lines across the tops of my feet, which I am finding to be quite amusing for some strange reason.

Back to the cameras, I have found a couple of tricks to use with the Nikon to improve its performance, I hope. One is a feature they call “flexible programming”, when the camera sets the exposure, I can dial across the possible exposure settings either towards faster shutter speeds, or towards a smaller aperture setting.

For any given lighting condition, there are several combinations of shutter speeds and lens aperture settings that will give you the correct exposure. For example, the camera could come up with a setting of a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second with a F/5 aperture, but an exposure of 1/200th of a second at F/7.1 will work also. Or, you could go the other way and use a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at F/4. The amount of light hitting the sensor will be the same with all three settings. By going with a slower shutter speed, and stopping the lens down to a smaller aperture, I hope to gain some depth of field, make focusing less critical, and get closer to the lens’ sweet spot. Every lens has a sweet spot somewhere in the range of its aperture settings, normally very close to the smallest aperture it will stop down to. That’s due to the physics of light and lenses, there is a sweet spot in all lenses where they produce the clearest, sharpest images, and apertures on either side are not quite as good as far as image quality.

That’s why I can’t figure out why the Nikon engineers stress shutter speed over smaller apertures, maybe they think their lenses are so good that they don’t have to stop their lenses down?

The only problem is that the camera doesn’t retain the offset when it is turned off, I have to manually set it each time I use the camera. I’ll give that a try when I’m shooting landscape pictures and see how it works. I was going to last night, but it was a low light situation, and there wasn’t any room to play with the exposure settings all that much. Besides, I was too busy watching the deer fend off droves of biting insects to be fooling around with exposure settings last night.

The other thing is that the Nikon has a landscape setting, but the manual doesn’t say very much about it, so I will have to experiment with it to see what it does.

Now, back to the heat, humidity, and trying to think of a good place to go and what to do on a day like today.

I thought about going kayaking, which sounds like a good idea, cool water and all that, but the reality is that it is darn hot sitting in a kayak on a hot sunny day. You have the sun beating down on you, plus reflecting up at you from the water. Besides, I would be going solo, so I would have to do a paddle up and float back trip, and the idea of paddling up a river when it’s 90 degrees out isn’t all that appealing to me. I think the kayaking group has about disintegrated to the point where it isn’t a group anymore. That’s partially my fault, but no one could agree on when and where to paddle no matter what I suggested, so I’m not taking all the blame on this one.

I thought about going fishing, but that isn’t as cool as you think it would be, plus, I have never had a good day fishing in oppressive heat. I never even see any fish activity, I think the fish feel the heat as much as we do. I will admit that when I first step into a river on a hot day that it feels great, but that feeling is short-lived. Think about it, you’re wearing rubber pants that don’t breathe on a hot day. That cool feeling is soon replaced by profuse sweating from every pore on your body. There is no air circulation in a pair of waders, or if there is, they aren’t really waders anymore. Back in the day, I was known to wade wet, that is not wear waders, but a few run ins with leeches and cut up feet from glass, bottle caps, fish hooks, and the other garbage people throw in rivers has persuaded me that it isn’t such a great idea. Especially since that as I said, I think the heat bothers the fish even more than it bothers me. Emerging from the river to find my legs covered in leeches just doesn’t sound like my idea of fun on a hot summer’s day. Besides, then I would have to act all macho, as if the leeches didn’t bother me, when I would really want to start screaming like a girl and yelling “Get them off me!!!!” I sure am a spoiled pansy, aren’t I?

Hiking? In 90 degree heat? Get serious! That’s OK out west when the dew point is 10 degrees and you can hike on a glacier, where if you do manage to start working up a sweat, sitting down for a second or two will cure that. The farthest I’m hiking in Michigan under these conditions would be to the pool here at the apartment complex, but that’s so full that people are parking by my building to walk to the pool from here.

Oh, and that really makes sense, doesn’t it? People get in their very hot cars to drive a few hundred feet to the office where the pool is located, but that parking lot is full, so they park near me, and walk a few hundred feet to the pool in order cool off, from having gotten in their very hot cars no doubt. They could have just walked from their apartment, and saved some gas, and stayed cooler. And we wonder why gas is so expensive?

That’s why I’m not in my vehicle with the AC cranked up, doing some scouting, as much as I would like to be.

And, most of them won’t go in the water anyway, for there are tons of kids in the water, and we all know that kids go in the water. They are there to bake like potatoes, which I don’t understand at all.

Sorry, the heat is getting to me, just thinking about it is enough, since I’m sitting here enjoying the comforts of central air.

That’s it! If I can’t do anything outdoors because of the heat, I’ll sit here in the AC and blog about being outdoors in the heat.

And speaking of blogs, I have found another good one to follow, Seasons Flow. Actually, the author of that blog found me first, and then I checked out their blog. I like it a lot, who ever writes it does a very good job in terms of both writing and explaining what they write about. I suggest you read a couple of the posts there, if you like mine, I’m sure that you’ll like that one too.

There will be a point to all of this eventually, but first I have to say a few things about blogging. August 3rd will be the one year anniversary of when I started this blog, after coming home from a day of fly fishing on the Pere Marquette River. The first post was about a guy who sits in a lawn chair along side of the road who I talk to from time to time.

Since then I have added 70 more posts, this will be the 71st since that first one. Some have been just a few words long, but, most of them have been longer posts that included some useful information I hope. This blog is taking on a life of its own, I really like doing it, even though coming up with the right words is like pulling teeth at times. By the time this blog is a year old, it will have had over 2,500 views. That’s not big by blogging standards, and I don’t have a ton of people who have subscribed and are waiting with bated breath for my next post. That’s OK, I am doing this for me first, as a way of recording my thoughts and my excursions in the great outdoors. It’s the journal that I started dozens of times before, but never kept up with, mostly due to time constraints.

Since the beginning of summer I have noticed the number of views per day has gone down a little, but, I am getting more hits than ever from the search engines and direct hits, and fewer from through WordPress. I think that it is mostly due to people being too busy in the summer to be surfing blogs, time will tell on that one. But I can tell from the search engine terms people are using that they are looking for information on the web, and not finding it, which is how they end up here. Sometimes, not often enough, they do find at least some things useful, I can tell that by the links here they click, such as to the few maps I have posted as well as other links.

The search engine terms people use most to end up here usually have to do with kayaking, hiking, and fishing, in that order. Maybe that’s because I write about kayaking, hiking, and fishing, but, I can tell from the number of times people have clicked the maps I’ve posted that they are looking for places to go, and how to get there. I think it is because people have bookmarked my blog that the proportion of direct hits is up, that I can’t say for sure.

I do wish I could get more feedback from readers in terms of comments, even in the form of questions. That’s human nature for you.

I know how the people looking for information feel, for often I am frustrated when I am searching the web for information about places I would like to go. My problem is one of time, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to blog away as much as I would like, plus have the time to do the things I like to blog about.

 It would be nice to be able to do a data dump, that is plug my brain into the computer and let all the memories I have of places I have been and things I have done transfer to the computer, where I could organize them all in such a way that people would find them useful, that’s what this blog really is, but it is slow, sorry about that. My fingers don’t have a very high bandwidth.

My friend Mike has suggested that I do a blog devoted to kayaking, with info on rivers, put in, take out sites, and other information people need. That was sort of the idea when I started this, but it has branched out as I have gone along. Thinking about this has given me an idea though, I do have some saved trips from the kayaking group I can tweak and post here. Good idea Jer, why didn’t you think of that earlier?

OK, so I will do that, and continue to pound away on hiking places and my series on photography, a little at a time.

But what really got me started today was thinking of a place to go today in the heat, just like thinking of something to do over the 4th of July weekend. I have not put much effort into my places I am planning on going page. After the 4th, I have started doing some trip planning for a trip to the northern Lake Huron shoreline. Like I need more to do.

I do, I need to get my act together and come up with a real list of places, with plans, such as where to stay, and where to go ahead of time, so I have something to go to on days like today. I know I am going to the Pigeon River Country for Labor Day weekend, I want pictures of Michigan bull elk with antlers! But that’s just one weekend in the rest of my life, not that I have to plan for every weekend, or every type of weather. Some trips would be weather dependent, such as a color tour to the Jordan Valley area, and kayaking the Jordan River. I don’t really want to drive all the way up there if it is going to be cloudy all weekend, that isn’t good for photography purposes, one of the reasons for going in the first place.

And by the way, the entire area from East Jordan to Cross Village in northwest Michigan near the Lake Michigan shore maybe the best area in the State of Michigan for a color tour. I think it is M 119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village that is considered to be the best drive for a color tour in the state.

I wouldn’t want to take a fly fishing trip if the area I was planning on going to had gotten three inches of rain in the last week. So that’s why I need a large list of plans done in advance, so if the weather ruins one, or my job ruins it, I have another to choose from and I won’t have to scramble to come up with something else.

I find that working on this blog is taking up time I would normally use to plan trips, so I am going to use this blog to plan my trips. If I do the planning pages well, they can be the basis for the posts on my trips to where the pages are about. That will save time in the long run.

And the point to all of this, kill some time sitting in the AC while not feeling guilty about not getting off my dead rear end while I was writing it.

More hating on my Nikon

I have been using my Nikon D50 for a couple of weeks now, ever since I killed my Canon Powershot while kayaking. In these last two weeks, I have taken around 1,000 pictures, and I’m finally beginning to figure the Nikon out, not that it is helping all that much.

Let me start by saying that Nikon has always had the reputation of producing superior optics, and I agree with that 100%, the Nikkor lenses are some of the best made. When everything comes together perfectly, the Nikon produces some stunningly clear photos, such as this one.

Mute swan

The problem is that getting a photo with this kind of quality is a rarity, and it shouldn’t be that way. But you can see that optically, the Nikon is a great camera.

When I say optics, I mean the glass in the lenses and camera, and Nikon’s are superior. There is no distortion of any type, not that the eye can see anyway. I am sure that using lab equipment, some one could measure the amount of distortion in this picture, but lab results are nothing, the finished photos are what count.

My Canon would take photos that at first glance seemed to be almost as good, but I could tell that it was because of the way the Canon is programmed to record the information reaching the sensor. The Canon engineers sharpen the images, much like you can do with software once you load your pictures on a computer, in the way the images are recorded digitally.

The Canon’s optics can’t match the Nikon’s, I wouldn’t expect it to. The Canon is a mid-priced compact all in one point and shoot camera, the Nikon is a high-end amateur SLR. But, I could go out with the Canon, shoot 100 pictures, and at least 90 of them would be good enough for me to use in my blog. I take the Nikon out, shoot 100 pictures, and I am lucky if 40 of them are good enough for here. So why the difference? I’m beginning to figure it out.

First of all, the Nikon’s auto-focus system sucks, I’ve said it before, and I’m not going to mince words about it. When I went for my 4th of July hike near Muskegon, the auto-focus would fail to lock on a focus probably 25% of the time when shooting landscape pictures. That was on a day when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for photography. And by failing to lock on a focus, I don’t mean that it was simply out of focus, but that the lens would cycle through its two attempts to find a focus, fail, and not let me shoot a picture unless I switched to manual focus. Then there were all the times it locked on a focus that was wrong, the shot was way out of focus, but the camera locked on, and told me it was OK to shoot. A camera such as the D50 should not have trouble focusing on a shot like this.

Coast Guard Station at Muskegon

To me, that is unacceptable performance. There are a few leaves in the shot fairly close, but almost everything else in the frame should have been focused at the infinity setting. At first I thought the camera just had trouble focusing on close-ups. Then I thought it had trouble focusing out to infinity, because it wouldn’t focus on a cloud, or in this case, a building in the distance. What I have figured out is that it has trouble focusing on close-ups, has trouble focusing on distant objects, and has trouble focusing on anything in between. The more I use it, the more I am using it as a manual focus camera. maybe it’s just my camera, or just my lens, I don’t know, and it’s too late to send it in under warranty, so I’m stuck with it the way it is. I know that I have to switch to manual focus so often that my left thumb now “knows” exactly where the switch for the focusing mode is.

One thing I noticed when the camera does focus correctly is that as I was getting ready to shoot, I could hear and see the servo for focusing making small adjustments as I was pressing the shutter. I figured out that the depth of field is so small, that any breeze that caused the subject to move, or movement on my part, was enough to cause my pictures to be out of focus. There are two reasons for this.

One is the lens, it has a very narrow depth of field, and there isn’t much I can do about that except to learn to live with it. The only thing I can compare the Nikon camera and lens to is my old Pentax Spotmatic II, which is a film SLR. I don’t recall the depth of field being so narrow with any of the lenses I have for the Pentax, but they’re all fixed length lenses, not a zoom lens like I have for the Nikon. I don’t know if the very narrow depth of field is because of the type of lens I have, or if it is in the way that Nikon designs their Nikkor lenses, but it makes getting the correct focus critical, which isn’t easy when the auto focus doesn’t work very well.

Also making the narrow depth of field problem worse is the way Nikon programmed the exposure control for the D50. It is heavily weighted towards fast shutter speeds, with the lens aperture quite wide open. I have been taking note of the exposure settings the camera has chosen when I shoot in the program mode in order to help me solve the problems I have been having. For example, for some of the landscape shots I took on the 4th of July hike, I was seeing exposure settings like 1/2,500 of a second at F/8. Or, 1/1,600 of a second at F/5.6


The fastest shutter speed my old Pentax is capable of shooting at is 1/1,000 of a second for a comparison, and the Nikon was selecting shutter speeds faster than that, while keeping the lens aperture fairly open, no wonder the depth of field is so narrow! That also explains why focus is so critical on the Nikon, as well as other problems I’ll get to in a minute here.

To me, that’s an epic fail on the part of the Nikon engineers when they wrote the software for the exposure control for the D50. Every one who knows anything about photography knows that stopping the lenses down produces better pictures as far as overall quality. Haven’t they ever heard of Ansel Adams and the Group F/64? I think the Nikon engineers should have struck a better balance in the exposure control between shutter speed and lens aperture, going with slightly slower shutter speeds and stopping the lens down a little more. Instead of F/8 at 1/2,500 of a second, the exposure should have been F/16 at 1/1,000 of a second or so.

I know I could switch to the aperture mode and set the F-stop to what I would like it to be, and I may very well end up doing that, but I’ll have to explore some other options first. I like shooting in the program mode for the speed it gives me when I am trying to photograph animals and the like, when taking time to set the camera manually may take too long before the animal runs off.

The other problem I have always had with the Nikon is that it doesn’t do well as far as color rendition and saturation when shooting landscape photos. I think part of that is due to the wide aperture settings the exposure control chooses, but I think there is more to the problem than that. In the landscape photos I have taken, the colors look washed out or faded most of the time, especially the greens from the foliage. The camera does well with other colors, especially reds, oranges, and yellows.

I started playing with the exposure compensation, since my landscape photos looked washed out, I thought that they were over-exposed. By adjusting the exposure down manually, I was able to get better color rendition and saturation of the green of foliage, but then the other colors were out of whack, making the pictures look fake. I also got some really bizarre effects as well, completely unexpected, which I won’t go into here. Anyway, the exposure compensation wasn’t the answer.

Then came my hike at Muskegon on the 4th of July. A nearly perfect day for photography, bright blue skies with out a cloud in sight, low humidity and no haze, I should have gotten excellent photos, but I didn’t. I filled my memory card that day, 375 photos to sort through. One of the reasons I took so many photos is because I have to take two or three of the same thing hoping to get one good one out of the bunch.

There were quite a few of the fireworks, but over 200 of them were landscape photos, and less than half a dozen were really good. I was ticked, and disappointed. Then I did something I have always sworn I would never do, I adjusted many of the landscape pictures digitally on my computer. I felt I had no choice. The greens of the trees and grasses were washed out, as always, and I wanted to post some pictures of the day on my blog of it. I knew the Nikon software had the ability to edit photos, but I had never used it before.

I was looking at one of the photos, wishing the color had come out right, when I decided to see what the color booster included with the Nikon software would do. I clicked it to start it, and found it had a built-in automatic color correction feature for nature photos. Hmmm. I clicked that, and lo and behold, the photo then looked just the way I saw it when I snapped the shutter! The greens of the foliage , the blue sky, and the blue of the lake were now just right! They no longer looked faded and washed out.

So, I tried another, then another, and found that the automatic color correction for nature photos made all the pictures I had been disappointed in look like I wanted them to look. They didn’t look fake or phony, the auto correct did a great job of making the photos look just right.

Okay, so that begs the question of why I have to use the automatic color correction for nature photos in the first place? Apparently, the Nikon engineers know that the camera doesn’t record nature photographs well, and have programmed the auto correct feature to make up for that fact. So, my next question is, why didn’t they just program that into the camera in the first place?

Nikon has to know the weakness of their camera in reproducing landscape photos, or they wouldn’t have gone to the expense of writing an auto-correct feature in their computer software, and if they know there is a weakness, why not re-write the camera software to eliminate it?

I don’t get it.

So what I have is a camera and lens with superb optics, and poor software to go with it. A note to the Nikon engineers, in digital photography, the best optics in the world will produce poor results if your software sucks, and yours does!

The 70-360mm lens that I have has a narrow depth of field that makes focusing correctly more critical than ever, but that wouldn’t be that big of a problem if it weren’t for the way the camera is programmed. The auto focus doesn’t work, it is close to being useless. Then there is the exposure control that compounds the narrow depth of field by prioritizing shutter speed over aperture as far as photo quality is concerned, and to top it all off the camera software washes out the colors found in nature.

I guess I made a very poor choice in cameras and lenses seeing as how 99% of my photos are nature photos.

I am going to go out today and pick up another Canon Powershot, the optics may not be nearly as good as Nikon’s, but at least the engineers at Canon know how to make an auto focus system that actually works, and know how to write software IN the camera to accurately record colors found in nature. And I’ll just note in passing that the Canon is much easier to carry and use while on the go than the Nikon, but that’s due to the type of camera it is.

I am not going to give up on the Nikon though, not this time. I did when I bought my first Powershot, it took such good pictures without any hassles that the Nikon was relegated to back up duties. The superior optics and larger sensor in the Nikon means the potential is there for some truly fantastic photos, but I have to find my way around the software roadblocks the Nikon engineers programmed into the camera. Now that I am getting a handle on those roadblocks, I think I will be able to make the Nikon live up to its potential. Time to read the manual again, right after I get back with my new Canon.

They’re Back! Hiking Muskegon State Park

I couldn’t go the entire long 4th of July weekend without at least one day trip someplace farther from home than Bysterveld Park, so I headed over to Muskegon for an afternoon of hiking, and an evening of watching fireworks.

I decided on Muskegon for a couple of reasons. The first one was that the previous two evenings, we had absolutely spectacular sunsets, and I was hoping for a three-peat so that I could get a good picture with something other than a retail development in the foreground.


The same sunset over Lake Michigan would have made a fantastic picture, this one is OK, but hardly what I would have liked to have captured. My back up plan for the Muskegon area was the evening fireworks over Muskegon Lake that they shoot off for the Summer Celebration that is held there. If I couldn’t get pictures of nature’s fireworks, I would get pictures of manmade fireworks. The other reason for choosing Muskegon is that I hadn’t been there in a couple of months to see the eaglets or to continue exploring the trail system in Muskegon State Park.

I arrived at the Snug Harbor boat launch/picnic area around 5 PM, and it was just beginning to cool off a little from the heat of the day. In fact, it felt very pleasant there with a nice cool breeze coming in off from Lake Michigan, as is usually the case during the summer months. I fired up my GPS unit, strapped on my daypack, and put the boat anchor known as my Nikon camera around my neck, and started off down the trail that goes west from the parking lot.

My plan was to hike the Dune Ridge Trail, which I had intended to do earlier this year. But, on the day I was there to hike it, snow conditions made the hiking very difficult to say the least. After struggling along the Devil’s Kitchen Trail to get to the Channel Campground and the south trailhead for the Dune Ridge Trail, I decided to walk back to Snug Harbor on the road instead of any of the trails. It turned out to be a good thing, because the trail is a lot more difficult going the direction I intended to go on that day. The trail guide from the DNR describes the Dune Ridge Trail this way…

“Park either at south end of Snug Harbor of at the Channel Walkway. This trail is for the heartiest of hikers and not recommended for those with heart or respiratory problems. The trail leads you through open and wooded dunes with views of Muskegon Lake, Lake Michigan, inter-dunal ponds, and the Channel with its lighthouses.”

I wouldn’t say it is a particularly difficult trail, but it is through dunes, which means sand, and it is a lot more work than a paved trail or one that is on hard packed ground. On the day I was going to do it before, there was 18 inches of snow on the ground that had been hardpacked, but was then melting, making walking through it extremely difficult. As it is, I would recommend starting out at the Snug Harbor end, rather than the Channel Campground end, unless you want a real workout climbing a couple of large sand dunes to get to the top of the ridge. The trail up from Snug Harbor is through the forest, so the sand is a lot firmer for walking.

First I had to make a slight detour from the Dune Ridge Trail to check out the eagle’s nest. I had only gone a short way when I met the only other people I saw on the trails all day, a couple coming back from the eagle’s nest. We talked for a few minutes, and they told me the young eagles were there by the nest, waiting for the adults to deliver more food. A good sign! I got to the nest, and sure enough, the young eagles were there.

Eaglet near the nest

If you look very closely, you can see the second eaglet just to the left and behind the one you can see well. It was hard to get good shots, since the forest is so dense there, and I didn’t want to disturb the eagles in any way by wandering around below the nest. I didn’t really want the parents attacking me if they came back either.

Second eaglet near the nest

I had an even smaller opening to shoot through to get this picture, I couldn’t see this one’s sibling at all from where I took this picture at.

I’ve written about it before, but it is so great to see the comeback the eagles have made here in Michigan, and throughout their range. I was a teenager before I ever saw a wild eagle, and then it was in a very remote part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We were never close enough to it to see it very well, not even using binoculars. It made headlines around the state when a nesting pair was found in the lower peninsula for the first time in decades. Now, they’re all over the state, and the parents of the two I took pictures off here have chosen to build their nest near the intersection of two of the busiest trails in a busy state park. When I was talking to the Michigan Conservation Officer earlier this spring while kayaking Muskegon Lake, we watched a couple of eagles fishing while we talked.

I waited for a while, hoping that one of the parents would return with supper for the not so little eaglets, but they didn’t. It was already late afternoon, and I didn’t want to be stuck out on the trail somewhere when darkness came, so I set off for the main event, the Dune Ridge Trail.

It surprised me how dark it was beneath the tree canopy above me as I began the long climb up the side of a dune to get to the ridge. That was a good thing though, the shade was welcome as warm as it was for the climb. I saw a number of birds and animals along this portion of the trail, but it was too dark for photography. This was my first time hiking Muskegon State Park in the summer, it is a completely different place than in the winter when the trees are without their leaves. The trees were so thick that my GPS unit lost its fix a number of times, and I had to stop and wait for it to regain a fix. I needed the breaks anyway. Getting to the top and exiting the forest was like stepping out of a tunnel.

Nearing the top

Then came my first views of Lake Michigan from the top of the dune.

Lake Michigan

It was gorgeous up there!

Lake Michigan

And to think there are people who want to spoil this wonderful view by building a bunch of ugly wind turbines out there in the lake.

There was a bench there at the top, and I sat down for a couple of minutes, taking in the views and resting from the climb up there.

The entrance to the Muskegon Lake channel

After cooling off a little, I set off up the trail again, for the trail continued to climb, but through more open country, not the thick forest that I had been hiking through. I say climb, because overall, the trail does continue to gain elevation, but there is a lot of up and down to the trail as you walk along the tops of the dunes. One thing you’ll see is the exposed roots of trees where the sand has been blown away.

The roots of an oak tree exposed in a "blow out"

This is the result of what is known as a “blow out”. A blowout forms when a patch of protective vegetation is lost on a dune, allowing strong winds to “blow out” sand and form a depression in the face of the dune. That’s why it is important to stick to the marked trails when walking through the dunes. I know it is hard to believe, but it only takes a few people trampling the dune grass down to allow the wind to take over and form one of these blow outs. If the grass isn’t allowed to regrow, then eventually the trees will die, the dune will become completely unstable, and the sand will blow around completely uncontrolled, changing the shapes of the dunes.

Actually, the dunes are always moving, a few grains of sand at a time. Wind and rain move the sand around enough as it is, they don’t need our help in getting the sand moving. It’s one of the really interesting things about sand dunes, watching how much the topography can change in just a few short years of wind, wave, and rain action. Dune grasses, bushes and trees take root and anchor the sand in place for a while, then the vegetation dies, and the sands reshapes itself into new patterns and the cycle repeats itself, over and over again.

Sand dunes covered in vegetation.

Here’s a couple of more pictures of the low dunes between where I was and Lake Michigan.

The low dunes along Lake Michigan

And another.

The low dunes along Lake Michigan near Muskegon

I was started down by the time I took these last two pictures, by down, I mean dropping in elevation overall. The Dune Ridge Trail is all up and down, through the sand. It wasn’t particularly hard, but I was working up a good sweat, so when I came to another bench, I took a good long break to cool off and empty the sand out of my sandals, at least temporarily. That turned out well, for I had just dropped my pack and sat down when the alarm sounded on my GPS unit, telling me the battery was about dead. I was in the middle of changing the battery when a family of swans went flying by in the distance.

Swans in the distance

I have several other shots of just the swans without the aging factory in the background, but I chose to use this one because it sums up the Muskegon area so well.

When the first white men came to the Muskegon area, they found a wilderness paradise along the shores of Lake Michigan, Muskegon Lake, the Muskegon River flowing into the lakes, surrounded by large tracts of forests. Lumber was the first industry to rise up in the Muskegon area, it was the perfect place for the early lumber industry. The area was heavily forested to begin with, and the Muskegon River flows through the heart of what used to be Michigan’s forest lands. The river gave the lumbermen a great way to transport logs to sawmills along the shores of Muskegon Lake. In turn, Muskegon Lake is the best deep water port on the west side of Michigan, making it easy to transport the finished lumber by ships to the big cities spring up all around the Great Lakes, such as Chicago and Detroit. In fact, most of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire came from the 16 sawmills that used to be in the Muskegon area.

Other industries soon followed, along with the destruction of the wilderness paradise and a legacy of harmful pollution, much of which remains to be cleaned up. It took us 200 years, but we finally figured out that we were destroying the environment. During those 200 years, nature held on by a fingernail, waiting for us to come to our senses, I hope we have.

While much of the pollution from the past remains to be cleaned up, we have made great strides in the last few decades in reversing the destruction of the environment, and restoring some of what we took from nature. It hasn’t taken much, just a few parks and natural areas for nature to do its thing, and the results are amazing. Give nature an inch and it will take a mile. That’s one of the great beauties of nature, how resilient it is.

So now we find ourselves at a crossroads, and we have to choose which path to take. You’ll notice I said “a” crossroads, not THE crossroads, for I hope we never get to THE crossroads, where the survival of the planet and/or the human species is at stake.

I have a draft of a post started on that subject, so I’ll leave off here for now, besides, I’ve got a hike to finish before dark, and it’s getting late. Where was I? Oh yeah, taking a break and changing the batteries in my GPS unit. After watching the swans fly off over the horizon, and getting my GPS unit up and running again, I set off once more to finish my hike. Not far from where I took my break, the map shows where there is supposed to be an inter-dunal pond, but it seems to have dried up. I found that surprising, as wet as this spring was, but that’s the way it goes in the dunes, everything is always changing.

Inter-dunal pond?

As you can see, the water is gone, and the trees and grasses are taking over. I don’t know if sand filled in the pond, or if the trees around the pond absorbed all the water the pond used to hold.

Looking off to the east, I could see Muskegon Lake, and the Milwaukee Clipper tied up at what I think is its new home.

The Milwaukee Clipper

First named the Juniata when it was built back in 1904, she was known as “The Queen of the Great Lakes” because of the luxurious accommodations available for the first class passengers. Since it was built, it was remodelled several times, mothballed, remodelled again and put back in service, then mothballed again, moving from city to city and place to place while people looked for a place to moor it permanently, and finish converting it into a floating museum. You can read more about it here at the website for the group restoring the ship.

 By the time I made it down out of the dunes, and to the south trailhead at the Muskegon State Park Channel Campground, I was whipped, despite my two short breaks earlier. I’ll tell you, walking the dunes is a lot easier in the winter when the sand is frozen in place than it is on a hot summer afternoon when the sand slides out from under your feet every time you try to step forward. As I walked along through the campground, I couldn’t believe how close together the campsites were, not for me, that’s for sure. I found an open site and picnic table, and took another break, including a bite to eat since all that walking had made me hungry. I sat there long enough to dry out as well, it hadn’t rained, that doesn’t happen when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, but I was soaked with sweat. I don’t like the heat, and what had seemed like pleasant temperatures in the shade at the Snug Harbor trailhead were a lot hotter on top of the dunes in direct sunlight most of the time.

Afternoon was giving way to evening, and I still had to take the Devil’s Kitchen trail back to Snug Harbor and my vehicle, hopefully before dark. I know the Devil’s Kitchen trail fairly well, I have walked it several times, but never in the summer. It’s an easy trail to hike, much easier than the Dune Ridge Trail. It was too bad I was in a bit of a hurry though, it is a completely different trail in the summer than in the winter and early spring, as are most places.

Shelf fungi on a fallen tree

 I was finding a few things to shoot pictures of along the way, but between it being late in the day, and the heavy shade, I could only capture a few of them when I was able to use the flash.

Unidentified Fungi

 I sure wish that I hadn’t killed my Canon a couple of weeks ago, I would have gotten some even better photos with it.

I made it back to Snug Harbor not too long before sunset. As I was putting my pack away, and finishing off the last of my water, a couple of park employees drove by while patrolling the park. The stated closing time for the park is 10 PM, and I asked if that applied that evening as well, due to the fireworks. They said that they did make an exception for the fireworks, and that every one was welcome to stay until the fireworks were over. Great news, I didn’t have to find another place to view the fireworks from! Since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there wasn’t any spectacular sunset like I was hoping for, but there were some great man-made fireworks to be seen.

Fireworks from the Summer Celebration at Muskegon, July 4, 2011

 It was cool watching them from the other side of the lake and seeing their reflections on the water while they were going off.

So there you have it, my 4th of July hike in Muskegon State Park. Starting out watching young eagles near their nest, hiking through both dense forests and semi-open dune grasslands, seeing historic places and ships, topped off by an evening of fireworks, all on a beautiful summer’s day. Is it any wonder I keep going back to the Muskegon area despite the  industrial ugliness that lies on the other side of Muskegon Lake?

One thing I forgot.

USS Silversides

 One of the other attractions in the Muskegon area is the USS Silversides, a World War II era submarine that is now moored permanently in Muskegon. You can see it from very near the south trailhead for the Dune Ridge Trail and the Channel Campground in Muskegon State Park.

The 4th of July, when we celebrate the birth of this nation, when some imperfect men sought to form the perfect country. We should never forget the past, those who fought and died for our freedoms, those who continue to guard us and our freedom, and the sacrifices they have made.

And that brings up yet one more thing we should never forget either, and that is how we have the power to destroy the environment if we don’t learn from our past mistakes. The Muskegon area should serve as the poster child for that, for we turned a wilderness paradise into an industrial waste nightmare. I am not opposed to industry, I for one don’t want to live like our stone age ancestors did. But, that doesn’t mean that we should destroy the environment for the sake of industrial development as we did in the past. My day started out watching eagles that have returned to the area and thinking to myself how great it was that they’re back. I hope that there is never a future generation that witnesses the return of the eagles. Yes, they’re back, let’s hope they get to stay this time!


Bysterveld Park, in praise of the smaller parks

Bysterveld Park is a small, 70 acre park in the northeast corner of Allegan County, Michigan. It isn’t the type of park or place I normally look for to go hiking or exploring, but this one is personal. My uncle and aunt, John and Josie Bysterveld, donated the land for the park to Allegan County, to be used specifically for a park.

Entrance to Bysterveld Park

I didn’t know my aunt and uncle well, but I can still remember visiting them when I was young, and John B, as we called him, showing us around the property that has become Bysterveld Park. I can still remember how he knew every inch of the land, the plants and animals that lived there, and how much he cared for them.

 My aunt and uncle never had any children, but what they did have was that seemingly unique Dutch trait of being generous tightwads. By that, I mean they lived a frugal life and never spent a penny they didn’t have to, but, they donated generously to the church, other charities they believed in, as well as friends and family. So my uncle donating his property to the County for every one to enjoy is right in character.

My aunt Josie passed away first, and John B lived alone for the rest of his life. When he was making out his will, he included a provision donating part of his land to Allegan County, with the stipulation that the land be used as a park. The County fought him on that stipulation, they would accept the land alright, but they wanted the ability to turn around and sell it.

It is kind of funny reading about the park on the County’s website now about what a great piece of property it is, when they didn’t want it as a park when my uncle first proposed it. This is from the County’s website…

“It encompasses a beautiful 70-acre parcel of natural area generously donated to the County by the late John and Josie Bysterveld. …. There are many splendid natural features that can be found on the park property, including rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas”

There are no spectacular scenic overviews, no bright blue lakes with sandy beaches, and no clear, fast flowing rivers, it is a quiet, unassuming place, much like John B and Josie were in life. Most people would drive by and pay it no notice, if it hadn’t become a park. But, it is exactly one of the types of lands we should be preserving. As the County website says, it is rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas. It is home to dozens of species of wildflowers, birds, and animals. It is the type of wetland area that holds and controls rain run-off, and protects our clear, fast flowing rivers from sediment and flash flooding.

Open meadow wetland

There are small streams connecting the small wetlands, and those streams eventually flow into our rivers and lakes. The wetlands trap and hold rainfall, releasing it slowly into the streams and rivers, and that provides moisture to plant and animal life during times of drought, as well as helping to control flooding when the rain does fall. The water from the wetlands in Bysterveld Park flow into first the Little Rabbit River, then Rabbit River, a fair trout stream, then the Kalamazoo River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.

Not every area is a Yellowstone or Yosemite, but they are worth preserving never the less. In some ways, these small places are more important to preserve for the effect they have on our local environment, and our quality of life.

I love Yellowstone, I would love to live near there and spend as much time exploring it as I do the Pigeon River Country here in Michigan, but that isn’t going to happen, not soon anyway. But, these small parks like Bysterveld are only a few minutes from where I live, I can visit them often, not just once or twice a year, or once or twice in a lifetime.

The wetlands and streams in Bysterveld Park play a huge role in maintaining the water quality in a trout stream I fish once in a while, the Rabbit River. That in turn helps a river that needs all the help it can get, the Kalamazoo River, probably the most polluted river in southwest Michigan. And when millions of people go to the fabulous beaches of Lake Michigan, they aren’t thinking of little places like the wetlands in Bysterveld Park, but they should be. For it is because of areas like Bysterveld Park that the water quality of Lake Michigan is as good as it is.

It isn’t as if these small parks are without beauty, it’s there but on a small-scale, and you have to look for it. It doesn’t overwhelm you like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone do, but it’s there. In the wildflowers blooming.

Wildflowers in bloom

The birds that call the area home.

Rose breasted grosbeak feeding on berries

The insects.

Dragon fly

The small mammals.

Fox squirrel watching me

Did I mention the wildflowers?

Wild rose

Yes, the beauty is there, if you take the time to look for it. But the beauty doesn’t end there, it is just the beginning, for as I have pointed out, what starts in these small wetlands eventually ends up here.

Lake Michigan

The beauty doesn’t really end at Lake Michigan either, for there is an intangible beauty to these small parks as well. Many of our larger, better known parks are over crowded, some get so full there’s no place park. The smaller parks relieve some of the pressure on the crowded parks, and give people a place to go where they can away from it all.

I was at Bysterveld Park on July 3rd, the middle of the long 4th of July weekend, and there were only a couple of families there in the park, enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer day. They didn’t have to fight for a parking spot, or a picnic table, their kids didn’t have to wait in line to use the playground equipment, and it was quiet and peaceful in the park, which is why some of us avoid the crowded parks in the first place.

I’ll admit I would have preferred to have been up north this weekend, but on the other hand, it was nice not having to fight the crush of holiday traffic all the way there, and all the way back home again.

Some would argue that since some of these smaller parks don’t get many visitors that we have enough parks as it is and shouldn’t be adding more. I would say just the opposite. We need more of these small parks, not only for the environmental good they accomplish, but also to relieve the pressure on our larger parks, and to cut down on holiday traffic. What we really need is an attitude change in the users of this State’s parks, myself included.

I have already begun to spend more time in the local parks nearest to me. Part of that is because of my job. As a truck driver, I drive about 350 miles a day, every day, and that’s down from the 400 to 500 miles a day I drove when I worked as an over the road driver. By the time the weekend comes around, I don’t feel like driving any more than I have to. I also feel it is the responsible thing to do environmentally, cutting down on driving when ever I can. I know that with gas close to $4 a gallon, my wallet likes that idea as well.

Driving less and buying less gas is my way of thumbing my nose at the big oil companies, who jerk us around like puppy dogs on the end of a leash. I was planning on going up north this weekend, until gas jumped 35 cents a gallon for no other reason than it’s the long holiday weekend, and many people will be travelling. Not me, I’ll stay close to home until the price of gas falls back down, then I’ll go up north for a weekend, I’m not going to let Big Oil gouge me if I can help it. I know I am only one person, but if more people would do the same thing, then maybe we could cut the leash that Big Oil jerks us around on, and I’m all for that.

It goes right along with the buy local movement, shopping at locally owned businesses, and buying products that are locally manufactured or grown. I’ve always done that, but now, I recreate locally, whenever I can. Maybe I should start a new movement based on that idea.

I do know that I have discovered many local small parks that are very pleasant places to spend an afternoon at, and I am finding more all the time. Since I hike not just for photography, but for exercise as well, I was worried about the short hiking paths at many of the smaller parks. No problem, I do them twice. When I finish going around them once, I turn right back around and do them in the other direction. You’d be surprised at how much you miss the first time around, and going the other way around changes your view most of the time. That way, when I hike a park such as Bysterveld that only has two miles of trails, I hike four miles by doing the same paths twice.

I’ll continue to visit the larger, more wilderness areas like the Pigeon River Country, but not as often, for I am finding that many of these smaller parks are pretty cool as well. They aren’t like being in a wilderness area, but they do have a charm all their own, and are worth checking out. You may be surprised at what you find, I know I am. For nature is nature, where ever you find it, and that’s what I am really looking for in the first place. For as my uncle John B wold say….

Foundation brick from Bysterveld Park

Thank you uncle John…..

And aunt Josie too…

Another photo page done, pity party optional

I have completed another page of the Taking good nature photos series, the Rule of Thirds. I may as well be blogging, as I have nothing better to do this weekend.

Lake Michigan beach

So I’m throwing a pity party for myself, and even bringing the whine. You can join me if you wish.

I was going to go up north this weekend, since it is the long 4th of July weekend, but, for various reasons, I decided to stay home instead. For one thing, the weekend sort of crept up on me before I knew it was here.

I’ve been so caught up in trying to get my Nikon camera to take halfway good pictures that I lost track of what day it was. I know it is heresy, but the Nikon sucks, bigtime! About half the pictures I get out of it are either out of focus, or blurry because of camera movement, I’m not sure which. I know the auto focus is poor to say the least, I am beginning to suspect that part of the problem may be due to camera movement as well. Even when I focus manually, many of the pictures turn out blurry. I’ll have to get out my monopod and see for sure about that. I used to shoot with a 300mm lens on my Pentax all the time with no problems, not every picture was sharp, but most were. With my Canon, about half the pictures I took zoomed in to 48X came out well, and that’s a lot more of a telephoto lens than the 360mm that the Nikon’s lens will zoom to. So I don’t understand why I can’t get sharp pictures from the Nikon?

I have also figured out that I’m going to have to start playing with many of the other settings on the Nikon as well. It has never rendered what I would consider to be great pictures of foliage, so I took a series of test shots today and found out that by using the exposure compensation and adjusting it down three to four steps, foliage pictures started coming out better, but not great. And that was in direct sunlight, nothing difficult for the camera at all. You shouldn’t have to make adjustments to get a good picture of a tree from a camera and lens as expensive as the Nikon was, well, I guess I do. The Nikon over-exposes foliage pictures, it doesn’t like the color green I guess. It does well with other colors, on second thought, maybe not. Maybe that’s why the color saturation has never been great with the Nikon, maybe it over-exposes everything. Something else to check out.

I miss my Canon, I never had to play with any of them. They were truly point and shoot. As I was going through some of my pics looking for ones to use in my newly published page, I was struck by how good the pictures all three of the Canon Powershots that I have killed have been. Color saturation and reproduction is excellent!

I may be on to something. Thinking about this as I’ve been writing led me to step out and take a few more pics with the Nikon, and there may be hope for it.

Small orb spider at work on its web

Not only has the exposure compensation helped the color saturation and rendition, the photos are sharper as well, that one I can’t figure out.

Blue sky, green leaves

This is without a doubt the best picture the Nikon has ever taken of blue sky and green leaves in the same shot. If it cools off a little later on, I’ll go for a walk and do some more testing.

That’s another reason I didn’t head north the weather. Close to 90 degrees with a dew point in the upper 70’s, hot and humid, not my kind of weather. One of the times I stepped out to take test pictures, the lens of the camera fogged over from the humidity, and my air is set for 75 degrees, that’s humid! Plus, they had a chance of storms in the forecast for all three days, now they are saying it will be nice on Sunday and Monday.

Then there are the crowds, the 4th is a busy weekend up north, and I dislike crowds. There was an article in the local press yesterday about the U. S. Forest Service and Michigan DNR stepping up enforcement on some of the rivers due to the number of drunken slobs making life miserable for those of us who choose not to drink and act like an ass. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you’re going to drink yourself stupid and act like an ass, stay home, there’s no reason to spoil it for every one else, and since you’re drinking yourself into a stupor, what difference does it make where you are?  Stay home, you can afford more beer that way since you don’t have to buy gas!

As I said, the weekend kind of snuck up on me. I was trying to decide where to go and what to do, but never formed a solid plan in time to get ready. Towards the end of the week, I had an idea, visit Ocqueoc Falls, the only recognized waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula, and do some exploring along the Lake Huron shoreline. The Ocqueoc River and Falls are not far from the Pigeon River Country, but I’ve never seen them in person. They’re not real impressive falls, but still, I’d like to see them. At one time I was close to having seen every waterfall in the Upper Peninsula, or UP as it is known as. I’ve lost track of which ones I had left to visit, so I guess I’m going to have to start over again.

And as much time as I have spent along the Lake Michigan shore, I have spent no time on Lake Huron’s shore, hard to believe. I’ve seen pictures, and read about places along the shore, but never made it there yet. The two lakes have completely different types of shorelines, mostly due to the prevailing winds. Lake Michigan beaches are sandy, with towering dunes, some well-known like the Sleeping Bear dunes and Empire Bluffs, some not so well-known. The winds and waves pile sand up along Lake Michigan, but not Lake Huron, which has a rockier coast. Since I won’t make up there this weekend, I’ll have to add it to my list of places to explore. I need to do some more research first, which is what held me back this weekend. I didn’t get the idea to explore there until it was too late.

That, and money. Here’s where the whining really gets going folks, so read at your own risk. For the first time in my life I actually have to live with in a budget, and I don’t like it one bit. I am a truck driver, an underpaid truck driver. I had been a real estate agent until the housing market began to crash here, and I needed steady work to pay the bills. Looking in the paper, I saw the most sought after workers were truck drivers, so I thought what the heck, I can do that. And I did.

For the first 4 years I worked for a local short-haul, regional carrier, they were supposed to give me two days off per week, but it seldom happened that way. Most of my “weekends” were a day and a half, sometimes just one day. But, I was making good money, working 70 hours per week, and running just over 2,400 miles per week, getting paid by the mile. I didn’t like it because there were no holidays, no long weekends, and time off was impossible. I was only able to go camping once or twice a year, and it seriously cut into my kayaking and fishing time as well. Living in a truck was no fun either, even though in some respects it is much like camping. I like camping in a tent several times a year, but I wouldn’t want to live that way, and living in a truck is about the same.

Then my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. I am going to skip all the gory details of everything I had to do for my mother as far as immense stacks of paperwork required by the government, and everything else there was for me to do. I am also going to skip over a couple of the jobs I took trying to find one that worked for me as far as all I had to do for my mother. The job I have now worked well for me with all I had to do. I work five days a week on second shift, so I was able to schedule appointments and actually get to them.  The only problem is that this job doesn’t pay squat, in fact, it pays less than squat. I was making squat when I started there, but soon after, the union I am forced to belong to, negotiated a new contract that included a pay cut and a cut in benefits.

I have been losing money since I started there, and things don’t look like they’re going to get any better soon, if ever. I can foresee the company going under in the next few years, not that I plan to be there that long. With my mom safely in a good nursing home, and her finances in order, it’s time for me to find a job that pays again.

I don’t really want to go back to over the road, but if I have to, I will. I wouldn’t get long weekends if I went OTR, but what good are long weekends if you’re broke and can’t afford to go anywhere anyway? Since I didn’t hit the lottery again this week, it’s time to start job hunting again.