It's hard to believe we left Virginia a little over two months ago. Since leaving, we have completed our research in Finger Lakes National Forest (NF) in New York, Allegheny NF in Pennsylvania, Monongahela NF in West Virginia, and Wayne NF in Ohio. We have also completed Manistee, Huron, Hiawatha, and Ottawa national forests in Michigan. In Wisconsin we have
finished the Nicolet and started the Chequamegon. Lots of miles traveled, people talked with, and campgrounds surveyed. One thing we have come to realize each Forest has its own character and each District within that forest has an individual personality. We have been to Districts that are like an old Grandpa underneath a rugged whisker-stubbled face, there is such knowledge and wonders. Other Districts are like well
attended churches everything is neat and trim but with worldliness about them.
The amount and variety of wildlife we have seen is exciting: tons of deer (more a problem then we realized), beavers, muskrats, chipmunks (the bane of Tory's leashed life-style), birds of every hue and size, squirrels, porcupines and a couple of bears. One story Twin Lakes campground in the Allegheny has one wise, old, naughty beaver. Early in the morning, this forest creature waits for the fishermen to come by and cast their lines into his pond. As they, the fishermen, wait patiently for the fish to bite, the
beaver swims over to their line and starts playing with the bobber (that brightly colored ball that shows you where the line is) dribbling it to the far-side of the lake! Its true! Tory and I saw him playing his game on a morning walks. We thought it was the funniest thing but the fisherman didn't even a little.
One thing that isn't fun - the rain. Everyone is lamenting this as the "wettest summer" they can remember. Plus it has been on the cool side. Every place we go, summer is a week away or occurred last week. One particularly bad bout of storms occurred while we were in West Virginia. With the condition of the West Virginia's road system, a heavy cloud burst is a scary thing. If you have never experienced the West Virginia's road system let me explain, if you aren't going up hill, you are going down and the curves are much worse on the downhill side of the mountains were the drop-offs is vertical and always on Suzi's side. Once off the mountainside and on the flats. But, the flats are beside a river which has flooded twice in less than 12 months. So many roads are washed out or in bad need of repair.
We were taking a "major" US route from one campground to another when it started raining. Soon the streams and creeks were very full. In one "holler" the road began to flood. We went up and over into the next "holler" just in time to watch a man dash from his mobile home with two suitcases up a hillside. Officials had a blocked the road while they tried to redirect the water's flow. So while we sat there, waiting for the road to open, we watched the poor man's car fall into the creek and his home literally float off its foundation and follow his car.
Don't remember who warned us about the music. They said there would be "both types of music - country and western" played in most areas. That is about it, at least when we can receive something. All one can say is thank goodness for NPR (were we can find it). Not just for a change in the music but for the news and discussions.
One of our favorite radio stations was in West Virginia. It plays country music but at 10:00 AM this station reports each of the traffic accidents that occurred in the area, at noon it is the lost and found pets, 2:00 PM a somber sounding man reports all the people who "past-on," and at 6:00 PM upcoming events such as bake sales, barn risings, VFW dances, and such are
Michigan has provided the most interesting contrasts in the National Forests' physical appearance and character. Manistee, located in the eastern part of the Michigan, is dominated by what is referred to as "tree plantations." Most were planted in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). According to one old-timer we met, after the lumber boon (late 1800's),
homesteaders moved in and dynamited what was left of the trees and remaining stumps out of the fields. So, by the 1930's, many farmers defaulted on their loans and the land in a bad way. In stepped the government and the CCC planted row after row of Red, Jack, and Norway pines perfect, military precision. Manistee just never really felt like a "real" or natural forest.
Huron, on the west side of Michigan's mitten, does have some of the cluttered, tangled natural woods. One interesting discovery is the efforts to expand nesting habitats of the Kirkland Warbler. The birds nest only in young pine trees, so the Forest Service will harvest fifty years and plant sapling giving the warblers new nesting areas. So you have patches of very young
pine, will matured pine groves, plus a scattering of privately owned farms and hundreds of lakes with private summer cottages in the Huron NF. It all gives the Forest an appearance of a patchworked quilt made of many colors and textures.
The Hiawatha NF, located in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, is a little of Manistee and Huron but different. The Hiawatha has the appearance of a much loved and often worn wool sweater. Part of the problem, in our opinion, is so many tourist attractions near it. The biggest attractions are the Casinos (owned by local Indian tribes). In one campground the local
Casino actually had a bus cruise through to pickup passengers!
The last National Forest in Michigan we visited was the Ottawa NF. The dominate feature of this forest is water - 1,200 lakes and probably three times that many rivers, streams, and creeks! One thing we noticed is a greater variety of trees than seen in the other forests but they seem to be about the same age. One great surprise in the Ottawa was the Sylvania Wilderness. A virgin forest, the land was purchased to be harvest in the late 1800's but when the owner saw what he had, he decided to make it
a retreat. As friends and family came for visits, they too fell in love with the beauty of the place and purchased acreage for their own retreats. The land eventually come to the Forest Service which has preserved the tract in its pristine condition. In the middle of this beauty is a "developed" campground where we spent three days. We found a campsite tucked into the ancient woods. The poetry and prose of this place was delightful.
But all work and no play make Fred and Suzi very crabby, so we take the weekends "off." Here are some of our favorites weekend adventures:
-- About a hundred years ago Dolly Sods was a thickly carpeted Spruce forest atop several mountains. The land was "settled" by a German family named Dahle. The railroad and made Mr. Dahle an offer he couldn't refuse for his timber. The railroad started harvesting the spruce, which exposed the thick humus carpet. The humus dried out and was a tinderbox for fires caused by the railroad. After the fires burnt the dried humus, the rain and wind washed the ashes away. Eventually, the bare rock mountaintops were exposed. Because of the elevation and the natural lay of the land, when the mountaintops began to recover the environment was very tundra-like. One can find alpine flowers and tundra mosses growing close together on the wind swept slopes and between the exposed rocks. The view from the top Doll Sods was wonderful - you can almost see Washington D.C.!!!
-- The Grand Island, in the Hiawatha National Forest, was another delightful adventure. It is very primitive island, heavily wooded, and has some interesting places to see. (However, bring industrial strength mosquitos repellent and a head net!) It is said Grand Island is made from a giant the Great Spirit never gave life, that is according to a Ojibwa Indian legend. (If you
look at a map of northern Michigan, the island appears to be a figure laying on it's side with legs, one on top of the other, bent at the knees and only the hands showing just a little ways from the "head.") Two industries have been attempted on the island. One tourism at the beginning of the century and later sugar maple tapping. Neither industry was very profitable and in the 1980's the island went on the market. A national
conservation association raised the funds, purchased it, and resold it to the National Forest Service in 1990. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has received no money to develop the Island in any way.
Access to Grand Island is via a ferry operated by a retired fisherman. Once on the Island one is one their own. The green of the pine, the blue of the water, the white of the sand linked by the browns of the tree trunks, fallen pine needles, and rich earth - I wished I could paint because a photograph could never capture it all. Yep, Grand Island it a place I would go back to
in a heartbeat.
All in all, Fred and I are having a good time, even with all the work. The only major calamity was Fred's first haircut on the road. We were in a small town in Pennsylvania and Fred had to either get a trim or let me start braiding his hair. Anyway, we saw a little green shed with a barber's shingle. It turned out the barber was a retired electric company worker who cut hair for the social interaction it gave him. He didn't particularly like "city folk 'cause they had moved in and messed up the area." Fred is convinced the guy took out all his frustrations on his hair the guy never put the shears down giving Fred a rather short - boot camp style.
One thing that keeps us going is the pleasure of seeing what is over the next hill. Sometimes it's a view, or it might be a sight, but very often it's the people. Such as in one small town in central Ohio (I don't remember the name right now) we stopped for gas. There was only the one gas station in town and had a small grocery store attached. The station had two pumps lined up in a row and we had no problem pulling in with the trailer. As is our routine - I go to the bathroom as Fred fills the tank, when I return to the truck, it's Fred's turn. Well, as I was returning the bathroom key, an Amish woman with a pre-teen girl and a young (possibly 7 or 8 year old) girl walked in with two trays of homemade goodies for sale. It turned out the woman had made everything but the egg noodles - the girl made them, she informed me with a somewhat bashful smile. Of course, I bought some. Just between us, hers were much better then mine but she
has probably made them more times than I.
After we had gotten our gas, and everything, it was time to leave. The problem that we did not notice when pulling in there was a rather steep decline to the roadway from the gas station. So I was dispatched to guide Fred as he backed out of the station - something of a challenge because of the cars parked hither-thither. So here I am directing Fred as a crowd start gathers. (I guess in small towns you find your entertainment where you can.) As I sprinted to the truck, a local called, "It would of
took me four acres to turn that thing!"
Such great fun all this work has been. Hope your summer is going well and full of wonderful adventures.
Suzi and Fred