Monday, July 25, 2011

Musings from Up North 2011

Up North
It’s early Friday morning, just a little after 6 am.  I’m sitting on the dock with a cup of coffee, looking out over the small lake where we vacation for a week every summer.  The loons we haven’t seen all week are now in front of me, silently diving beneath the glassy smooth surface of the lake.  The sounds of the Chickadees up at the cabin float down to me and I smile.  I’m thinking how pristine this environment in northern Michigan seems.  As we’ve driven around the area this week, I couldn’t help but notice how much native Milkweed is growing everywhere.  Earlier in the week, I found myself wondering what invasive plants they deal with here, just 250 miles north of our home in northwest Ohio.  It’s interesting to me how my awareness has changed and grown since I’ve started writing this blog.  Yesterday while visiting the Grand Traverse County Natural Education Reserve sitting adjacent to the Boardman River, I noticed a posting calling for volunteers to help remove one of their invasive plants, Swamp Thistle, from a natural area.  Then my wife later pointed out to me she had seen another invitation for volunteers to pull Garlic Mustard from the Brown Bridge Quiet Area.  This is an absolutely beautiful area we frequently hike through each year while we're up north.  This time hiking through a small part of the quiet area, I find myself looking at all the plants and wondering what is native here and what is not.  I marvel at the numerous small pine saplings growing everywhere in this natural pine forest.  These are apparently native trees here whereas at home in northwest Ohio, we have only one native evergreen, the Eastern Red Cedar.   

Still sitting on the dock, watching a small kayak quietly slip across the water, I think back to dinner the other night with the former owners of the small 3 cabin resort where we stay every year.  They are humble advocates of nature and the conservation of our natural resources.  I remember being startled when Jim asked me what the solution to the Colorado Blue Spruce was.  He pointed out that this gorgeous evergreen tree is not native to Northern Michigan, yet is a very popular ornamental tree frequently planted throughout the area.  Should we cut them all down?   I quickly responded with “it’s not going to happen”.  And we talked about what harm is done with our rearrangement of the natural world.  

So as I watch a small turtle raise its nose above the water, I reflect more this morning about the state of things.   Is there hope that we can fix what we’ve done?   Is it too late?   On the one hand it seems totally overwhelming.  How to increase the awareness and understanding of these things?  At this point in my new found passion, I realize I don’t know what I don’t know.  And maybe that’s where most of us are in regards to the natural world.   Fortunately,  we can and do learn.  At one time we thought that DDT was an important chemical to use in pest control.  Then we found it was dangerous and killing things we didn’t want killed, like the Bald Eagle.  Thank God Rachael Carson brought this to our attention in her book, Silent Spring.   Now we don’t use DDT anymore. 

My family of four loons has disappeared from sight.  But shortly, I hear an unfamiliar sound above me.  The wing beats of the loon are not usual sounds I hear.  The three other members of his group join up and wing off to better hunting.  As they disappear behind the nearby small island, their distinctive warbling cry reaches to my gut and warms my spirit.

I look up and the eagle that I’ve only seen from afar several days ago, gracefully glides toward the water in front of me.  As he tilts slightly, the early morning rays of the sun strike his white head and tail.  He quickly extends his talons into the water.  Immediately rising without the prey he was after, a few powerful flaps of the large wings takes him to another part of the lake to search for another fish.   This majestic bird is here today in spite of the mistakes we made.   We realized our error and took action.  We learned. 

Common Loon
Perhaps we have gone too far and the damage we’ve done is too great.  But the eagle gives me hope.  The small patch of Tall Bellflower in our yard back home is alive with creatures, adding to our environment rather than taking away.  We can learn and we can take action, even if only one yard at a time. 

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