Peninsular Road Trip

1 b harbor 4022One place I’d heard of but not yet seen since moving to Michigan, was Sleeping Bear Dunes. People told me how big, tall, steep, and impressive the dunes were, but having seen what passes for mountains around here my expectations were low. Doug and I drove up the hand-shaped Michigan lower peninsula, heading for the pinky/ring finger. Michigan is two peninsulas surrounded by a whole bunch of big lakes and, in an unusual display of common sense, has a name from the Anishinaabe that means – Big Lake. Michigami.

2 b alligator4127Another well-named place was this view of Alligator Point. Compared to other Alligator Points I’ve seen, this one looks much more like an alligator. Since alligators are not native to Michigan, I wonder who named it and what name it had originally.

f dunes steepAnd then we came to the dunes. Having lived on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts I’d seen plenty of charming, modest dunes. Well, forget that! These dunes were huge, steep, amazing, and  nothing like any dunelets I ever saw before. At the top of the Lake Michigan Overlook, on the scenic drive in the national park, we were 450 feet above the lake. It sloped down at a 33 degree angle. A large warning sign advised the public that there was no way back up but to climb, and a helicopter rescue cost $3,000. The Park Service is very good on information like that. Since I’m a writer, not a hiker, I stayed up top and took notes.

4 b bearWorking with words as I do, my next question was: what about the name Sleeping Bear Dunes? This one has a sweet, sad story, also from the Anishinaabe, about a mother bear and her two cubs. They lived on the Wisconsin shore, and due to famine in one version, or fire in another, had to flee for their lives into the lake. They swam and swam, but only the mother bear made it across. She climbed the bluff and sat there, watching for the cubs, but alas they drowned. She still sits there, watching for them. Some say the Manitou islands (see them in the blue haze) are the cubs, still in the water. The small dark knoll atop the dune in this photo was originally larger and more ursamorphic, but has been much eroded by heavy storms over the last two or three hundred years.

6 b cottonwoods4242Sand dunes erode, shift, and move (slowly) about. For some decades now, people have been planting cottonwood trees to help stabilize the dunes. Most trees give up when buried in sand, but a cottonwood will send up a whole new tree from its roots. They also turn a lovely, bright golden yellow in the fall.

7 2 b motel moonIt was a gorgeous day. I believe I took 200 pictures – it wasn’t easy picking just six to show you. We returned to our motel tired and happy, greeted by a nearly full moon rising artistically through the trees.

Here Comes Fall

b deer 2014Though deer are generally a source of torment to me as a gardener, today one pair of them was really funny: a fawn standing halfway under a doe, trying to nurse while she tried to get away. She’d take a few steps and Junior would keep up, staying tucked under; she’d put on a little burst and shake him off, and he’d catch up and glom on again. I don’t know if she was trying to wean him, or just trying to get herself a snack, but it looked like a vaudeville routine. They both seemed very determined.

b deer 3 2021I could definitely relate to mama, but on the other hand realized if she succeeded he’d move on to eating my flowers. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more clueless about what to eat than a fawn. I’ve seen fawns eating foxgloves and nicotiana, a bad idea not just for my landscaping but because those plants are poisonous. I used to wonder how deer knew to steer clear of poisonous plants, but it seems they don’t. They just eat whatever looks good to them, and the ones attracted to poisonous plants don’t survive. It’s brutal out there.

b deerThe weather’s not brutal yet, but the deer have begun grouping up for winter. This is another deer fact that has confused me. Food sources are so scant in winter, you’d think the deer would spread out to get enough to eat. All summer the deer come through by twos, threes, or fours – a doe or two at a time, with her fawns. Then the leaves start to fall and the nights start to cool, and the deer start to bunch up. For warmth together overnight? For safety from predators under those leafless trees? What predators? Their only predators in this area today are people, and we’re not very good at it. It’s certainly easier for us to spot a herd of deer than a pair of them. Guess they know that, as deer predators go, we’re pretty lame. That’s comforting, isn’t it? To know we’re not a source of terror to all nature.

b green tomsIn other mysteries, my tomatoes are petering out early this year. Who knows why, but it was a weird year for weather – some things did amazingly better, some things surprisingly worse. The tomato plants are looking ragged, but they still have fruit and it’s still ripening. This is when I start watching the weather forecast carefully, for frost warnings. I could give up and bring them all in now, but that’s not very sporting.

b butterfliesAmong the happy campers in my yard are the mountain mint, zinnias, asters, and Russian sage, plants that keep blooming as summer winds down. Trying to stay on nature’s good side, I put in more of these plants that bloom into fall, providing food for bees and butterflies. For some reason I have millions of Cabbage Whites this year – I grow none of the vegetables they prefer, but they’re good with mountain mint – and I also have a lot of Fritillaries.

b butterflyI love Robert Graves’ poem on the Cabbage White’s “honest idiocy of flight,” but Fritillary is just a wonderful word. The name, shared with a similarly checkered flower, comes from the Latin “fritillus.” According to the quick and easy dictionary in my computer, fritillus meant “dice box.” According to my big, heavy, deeper-delving OED, it meant a chess board. Dots, checks, or spots, in both cases. I wanted it to have some connection to the word “frit,” a term from glass blowing. Apparently not. I learned these butterflies were fritillaries from Marcy Breslow, one of the authors of this handy guide, which I highly recommend.