Autumn can be described simply as an annual cycle, in which the Earth and the Sun in our solar system are positioned just so. The season can also be described as the prequel to winter, where the long, lazy sunny days of summer are but a distant memory. To some, Autumn represents a time to reflect, to slow down, and appreciate the blessing that change can bring to an already extraordinary existence. As for myself? Autumn represents the time of year that my soul feels most at peace with the cosmos– the time of the year when I am most at home in the wilderness, out amidst the fresh air ripe with the aroma of change.
Simply put, I love the Autumn season. I love the colors that emerge from a green summer cloak, the aroma of cinnamon, fresh apples and cider, the cool winds, the rainy days, the dramatic clouds and the crunch of leaves underfoot. And of course, what could be better than layering up in a soft, comfortable hoodie whilst sipping a hot mug of coffee while listening to the birds gather nuts outside the kitchen window? Not much.
But when I am not reveling in the warmth and comfort of a mug of joe (decaff, as I have discovered, is just as satisfying), my favorite place to visit is Brown Bridge Quiet Area (BBQA), located just minutes away from the heart of Traverse City. In my humble opinion, visiting BBQA during the Autumn season is a quintessential activity. The drive out is especially beautiful.
After arriving, I always say hello to the trees (even the one I accidentally backed into last year). After grabbing my camera gear, I head down to the overlook platform–of which once was used as a fishing platform. After the dam was removed a few years back, the story of the pond still has a story to tell. From this platform, one can see the many tree trunks covered with the ghostly remains of countless zebra mussel colonies. And not too far away, an old PBR beer can is occasionally spotted. Not too surprising, as many a summer day was spent by the locals enjoying a cold one whilst floating blissfully down the Boardman River, and across what was then Brown Bridge Pond.
One year, as a youth, I attempted my first Eskimo Roll in my old-skool Old Town kayak in this very pond. And of course, things did not go as planned. After flipping upside down, the skirt of the kayak ripped off, and the contents I was stowing between my legs quickly found their way to the bottom of the pond. To this day, I often wonder who found my mask, sunglasses and water bottle. Moreover, what else was found once the pond bottom was exposed? It must have been quite interesting to say the least. Every time I visit this platform, I fondly recall my failed attempt at being a skilled kayaker (is this a real word?).
A Second Chance
Once the pond was drained, I visited shortly afterwards to see what was once covered by water. To say the least, I was both shocked and full of hope. I was shocked that the pond, a quite established ecosystem, was completely gone. Being built in 1921, the pond had nearly a century to develop what was a very popular hiking and wildlife viewing destination. So with the pond gone, the bottom lands were in essence, a blank canvas. Since the dams removal in the fall of 2012, the bottom lands have begun to reclaim their rightful birthright. Pioneer species were planted soon after the draining was completed, to ensure that invasive species were not able to exploit the bare soil (invasive species thrive in such circumstances).
I wish I had taken some pictures during my first visit to BBQA after the dam was removed. So much has changed. Grasses and shrubs have matured, and trees that had been planted have grown to a heights of around 10-15 feet in some areas. And, not to forget, wetland habitat (the cover image is such as wetland) has increased in size too, offering myriad species crucial habitat in which to thrive, as they once did nearly a century ago. In sum, the transformation has been stunning. The hope I felt that day is still present in my soul six years later. Every time I visit, I see the story of BBQA being told. And what a great story it is…one of second chances.
This Autumn season marks the six year anniversary of the dam removal. I recently visited BBQA with my daughter (the 29th of October to be exact), and could not help but be filled with the same sense of hope I felt back in the fall of 2012. But at the time, I was not aware of the paradox that was thick in the cool air. Typically, the Autumn season is a time of winding down, of hibernation–of waving goodbye to the productivity of the summer season and its magnetic vitality. The dam removal, in a symbolic sense, was much like the Autumn season–waving goodbye to a once productive and thriving ecosystem. But on the other hand, the removal of the dam is symbolic of rebirth–of the Spring season.
In the end, on the sixth anniversary of the dam removal, visiting BBQA has, and always will, have a special place in my heart. My daughter and I sat quietly together on a bench, and watched the beautiful story of BBQA tell itself. Clouds traversed the sky, golden leaves rustled, flocks of birds went about their days, and Ona and I were there to hear the story of eternal hope. Of second chances.
Until next time, get outside and breathe.