Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Van Buren County Roller Coaster

Looking north on 60th Street from 48th Avenue in Van Buren County.
     My mom used to shudder when the Midwest was mentioned. "I can't stand it there. I need mountains, it's so flat!" I grew up with mountains myself, and when we were contemplating moving to Michigan, I thought about what she said, a little uneasy. What if I needed mountains, too?
     Well, luckily for me, the perfectly flat topography I was imagining turned out to be nonexistent in real life.  Actually, Van Buren County turned out to be quite rolling in spots. While they aren't mountains, the Webster Hills are tall enough generate quite a thrill for low level risk takers such as myself. Periodically, I drive to the top, roll down the windows, 'push off', and let the wheels turn as they will until I get to the bottom. Sometimes, I might go as fast as fifty or sixty miles per hour!  And sometimes, I just coast down with my foot on the brake so I can enjoy the view.

48th Avenue at 60th Street in Van Buren County, looking west

I am not sure why I took this picture.  I love the rusted old gate that goes nowhere, the fact that there are three padlocks of various ages, but the only one that is locked is the one on the end of the chain, not accomplishing much.  What does it make you think of?


Until next time.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

Although I try very hard not to take the beauty of the world around me for granted, sometimes things just get away from me.  Life happens, the volume of the noise in my head turns up to MAX, and I miss what I call 'special moments.'  These are moments of such intense beauty that time slows down, and I get an ache in my chest as I realize that I can hear the heart beat of the earth and of the life around me and it is my heartbeat, as well. We are all one.

A special moment was delivered my way this morning in the incarnation of this mullein plant covered in morning dew.

May your life be filled with special moments!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Our area of Van Buren County has been particularly hard hit by the drought.  Storms go north of us, storms go south of us, but we just haven't been able to catch a break.  On a personal level, I have been doing everything I can to help out.  I watered bushes and trees that I have never needed to water before. I have negotiated with every deity that I think might have an interest.  Today I even went so far as to hose off my car.  That must have been what did it, because when I came home from Kalamazoo on I94, I could see gathering clouds in the distance.  By the time I got to Paw Paw, I could see rain falling off in the distance.  Instead of going to the library as was my plan, I turned off by Maple Lake toward the north, then west, then north again, trying to intercept the storm.


Some thirsty soybeans get a drink

    I drove through roadside puddles that momentarily floated my car, and I drove with the window down and my arm hanging out so I could refresh my memory of the sounds, the feel, the smell of the rain. When I completed my interrupted trip to the library,  two little boys were dancing around in the library parking lot with their tongues out.  Their mom put the skids on their plans to take off their clothes so they could take a shower with the soap suds appearing on the asphalt. A family of crows didn't need to take off their clothes to shower.  They flew up into the high top of a bare tree and started preening and shaking their feathers as the rain washed the dust from their plumage. All around, people were going about their business with relieved smiles on their faces, commenting on the rain. I don't know if this is the end of the drought, but it certainly feels as though Mother Nature at least threw us a life preserver today.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can you find the Great Blue Heron?

Great Blue Heron, Maple Lake, Paw Paw
Well, maybe he isn't that hard to find, but I love the way his legs look like branches and the curve of his neck follows those of the branches in front of him.

This Cedar Waxwing was playing flycatcher using the same perch that hosted a Belted Kingfisher the other day.


This spot is getting drier and drier. What was good shorebird habitat is turning into grassland.  Farmers in Van Buren County are starting to plow under some crops that have died in the drought, both corn and soy beans, and even some young blueberry patches. These are the kinds of times that remind us that we do not exist independently from the natural world.

Endangered barns

I took this picture today, to remind myself why I have decided to focus on taking pictures of the old barns of Van Buren County.  This pile of rubble is all that remains of one of my favorite barns.  It was a white Gambrel style barn with clerestory windows. It sat near the intersection of CR 374 and 45th Street.  I frequently travel this way, and I would almost always say or think to myself, "I love that barn, I should take a picture." Well, last year it fell down from the weight of its years, and I never did take those pictures.

Cr 374 and 45th Street, Van Buren County

So today, I kept my promise to another old barn. This one is at CR374 and 41st Street in Van Buren County.

CR 374 and 41st Street, Van Buren County

     Barn Swallows fly in and out through the gaps in the siding, and zip back and forth across the fields that surround it.  This spring, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbirds, Field Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlark kept it company with their songs.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Travels and ponderings

For a long time now, I have been fascinated by old barns, and saddened as I watch them fall, one by one.  Now that I am a woman of (ahem) leisure, I have decided one of my side projects is to try to make a photo record of some of them before they are gone.  As I do this, I plan to share some of the better ones in this space from time to time.  So far, I don't have any better ones, so I'll share the "not so better" ones. : )

This barn is at 46th Street and 44th Avenue in Van Buren County
view of the sky through the roof of the old barn
 My car doesn't know how to drive past 44th Avenue, so we turned down the road. Some years, throughout the summer, I can meander down 44th Avenue on foot or with the car idling its way at 10 or 15 miles per hour, all the windows down and the swamp chorus filling the car. Today the only thing filling the car was deer fly.  They pace the car in flocks, flinging themselves against the car windows in a chorus of tiny thumps.

I leaped out of the car briefly to take this photo of what I call the Swamp Road.

After the bridge crosses the Paw Paw River, the forest becomes drier, although this year, who can tell? But there is a channel a little farther on that is one of my regular stops when I come here. 

Just moments after I took this picture a Belted Kingfisher dived into the water in this very spot.

Today, when I stopped here, a Wood Duck hen with about 5 well grown ducklings swam hurriedly down the channel before I could get out my camera. In the past I have seen both Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers with their downy young here.  An enormous Snapping Turtle was hauled out on the road another time at this spot, and when the water level is high, Great Blue Herons and Common Egrets fish in the middle of the road. The icing on the cake is that there is also usually a singing Cerulean Warbler here in the spring and early summer. 

After you leave the Swamp Road, you get back into the agricultural lands, and the barns. Mourning Doves and Barn Swallows are everywhere, as are these wildflowers. While they are certainly not rare, they are some of my favorites.  They have come to mean summer to me, like the voice of the yellow-billed cuckoo that was calling behind me when I took these pictures. 


Queen Anne's Lace

Until next time, enjoy the summer in your own amazing place.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meet Princess Sophie!  She is a 4 year old tuxedo domestic shorthair.

 Her Highness cannot stoop to using the same watering hole as the common herd, and must always drink clean, fresh, cold water coming from the faucet in the bathroom.  She lays in wait until an unsuspecting servant comes into the bathroom, then won't let them use the facilities until she has had her drink.  She does this by making handwashing impossible until she is done!  : 

After drinking, we must freshen up a bit!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Rare Sight

I found these golden brown hay bails in a field alongside M43 in Van Buren County.  While round bales are a common sight, usually they are green, not this toasted white bread shade. Round bales always make me think they are just about to roll off, like a dignified herd of mammoths moving to better grazing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

False Alarm

I visit the marshy area of Maple Lake in Paw Paw these days almost on a daily basis.  I don't stay long, but there is almost always something of interest to see.  This is a favorite loafing spot for the goose and swan families as they wait for their primaries to grow in so they can get back on the wing. Today, I caught these photos of the Mute Swan family responding to a possible emergency.

The mute swan family rests quietly.

All the killdeer flush calling loudly. The swans slick their feathers down in alarm.

They prepare to hustle into the water to make their getaway.

Back at rest again - it was only a Great Blue Heron flying slowly overhead!

I love this place!  Also, this duck caught my eye.  I think it was a young wood duck as it was kind of in the same vicinity as a female wood duck.  It is fun to see all the plumage changes they go through.

 That is the latest report from Maple Lake in Paw Paw. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

If only I could bottle this

We have a few cats.  People tend to bring their unwanted mothers and kittens and dump them in our yard. By the time we have nursed them through whatever health issues they bring with them, they are inextricably integrated into our pride.  Each cat has a unique perspective and relationship with the human members of the pride.  Some don't care if they are ever touched by human hands.  At the other end of the spectrum is the character below - Frodo, yes Baggins, who came to us with his brother, Harry Potter, when they were 8 weeks old, from a extremely bad situation. They are now eight years old, and, unlike most cats, Frodo definitely has practical uses. He sometimes acts as a fashion accessory, draped over my shoulder. He acts as a head rest on the back of my recliner if I happen to be in it.  Should he feel I am in need of a nap, he bonelessly slithers slowly off the back of the chair, over my shoulder, down my chest, and into some version of this position.  Bob swears that I am usually asleep within about 30 seconds of him assuming this position.  I vehemently deny it! After all, I did manage to get this pic...........  zzzzzzzzzzz.

Frodo works his magic

Putting things in perspective

One of the things that was hardest for me to get used to when I moved here from California was how lush and green everything was in the summer time. At home in California the main challenge when gardening was to ensure that the garden received sufficient water, along with combating the red clay soil.  Weeds were easily dealt with.  In Michigan it is a constant battle to keep the weed trees from taking over my garden space.  I have planted in the ground with plastic or paper mulch, in bags of garden soil on top of black mulch fabric, in raised beds with black mulch fabric underneath -  I think the weeds have power tools.  My gardening now is pretty much limited to container gardening.  If the weeds get out of hand I can rip them out of the pot, soil and all and easily start over.  This year, though, I am experiencing deja vu - the life sucking heat,  the crisp brown lawns and stunted growth definitely remind me of California. I keep watching for the fire spotter plane to circle overhead.  This was a regular feature of summer life in the California foothills where we lived before we came here. I dragged out this winter picture from a couple of years ago to remind myself that in four or five months cold weather will be back and we will once again be able to lose the remote to the air conditioner!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Drive-by Purple Martins

The Purple Martin colony at Three Mile Lake


Kingfisher Moment

I am not much of a photographer but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  In other words, if you spend enough time with your camera in your hand and clicking the shutter, once in a while you will get a a photo that makes you sit up and say, "I took that?!"  Such was the case this am when I stopped to check out the mudflats at Maple Lake in Paw Paw.  I have been keeping an eye on this spot for some time now - it is interesting in so many ways.

I expect a better than usual shorebird viewing season here, since because of the drought, the numerous scattered mudflats and small ponds in Van Buren County have mostly dried up.  I stop by most days to see if there are any NK's here. (Not Killdeer.)  Today there were the usual many noisy Killdeer, but also some fairly young Mallard babies resting with their Mom.

Out on the end of this same log, was a gorgeous Belted Kingfisher. A couple of peeps are visible over his head.

Once I got the scope out, I was able to see 4 or 5 Least Sandpipers and a Spotted Sandpiper that were blending in with the grass.  I tried to get a photo and this happened!  Couldn't have done it on purpose in a million years!

Until next time, take care, all, and I hope to see you back soon to share more adventures in this amazing place, Van Buren County.