To Boldly Go
Mt. Everest, to many, represents the ultimate challenge of human endurance and determination. Until the successful summit of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29th, 1953, many had attempted what had seemed to be impossible.* Much went into the summit: money, extensive materials research, travel and logistics (and much more I am sure…I am not a climbing expert). One thing I do know for sure though, is Kodak cameras were brought along to document the summit attempts. Kodaks! There is some debate as to which models in particular– but Kodak cameras none-the-less.
I have no ambitions of ever ascending a dangerous mountain like those gentlemen did. My sights are set in lower elevations…mainly those that reside in what I consider heaven–the mixed hardwood forests of Northern Michigan. While I have experienced many of the natural areas that the area has to offer, there are still many that I have not (hence my wanderlust). This being especially true as the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in its Campaign for Generations, has added numerous invaluable acres of preserve.** Recently, I have had the opportunity to visit another preserve. It is one that is just off a main road in Traverse City. I had often passed on my way to and from Brown Bridge Quiet Area, just a stone throw away. Why I had never visited prior is a mystery to me. Necessity brought my wife and I here: amidst the outbreak of Covid-19, the stalwart trails were packed (nope–so many people not practicing social distancing). Cars were parked everywhere. In a last ditch attempt to find an empty trail, I decided to finally head to the Howard and Mary Dunn Edwards Nature Preserve. And to my relief, not a soul in sight! We proceeded to enjoy a hike free from worry–the best kind.
Take Me to Church
A couple of weeks later, I found myself at the trail head once more–making this trip number three. I just could not get enough. The preserve is infectious. I needed to see more…to feel more…to better understand this beautiful preserve. I wished to know its every leaf and stump. Each preserve is unique, and deserves to be treated as such. After parking the Explorer, I grabbed my gear, and headed down the hill, and into another world. With me was the Kodak Z-1015, some water, a pocket knife (not that it would save me from an aggressive bear) and my trusty ultralight tripod.
When the hike begins, one is enveloped by the shear majesty of the towering hardwoods that line the trail. This is the passageway to what lies down trail: natures cathedral. Or to be more precise: nature’s cloisters. I could spend a lifetime here. Spring brings with it an annual resurrection. A keen eye to ecology will quickly notice how elevation change impacts what trees will colonize which areas. The White Pines kept their distance from the hydric soils below, while the Cedars wisely stayed downhill in more lush, nutrient rich conditions.
Continuing the walk, the sheer number of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants astounds me. Just a week before, only a couple of brave souls emerged from the frozen ground below. After identifying the plant, I learned that the cabbage emerges much sooner than other vegetation due to its ability to generate heat around its roots (thermogenesis), thus being able to rise sooner than–say ferns. This ability has been successful for millions of years. Evolution knows when to sit back and watch. Further down the trail towards the lower elevations, vernal pools and wetlands beckon. I cannot resist. I am a real sucker for wetlands.
Wetlands perform many crucial functions for the ecosystems. All species on Earth reap the benefits of these highly productive lands. Why would anyone want to drain/alter a swamp? Being selfish: wetlands do much for my spirit and peace of mind. One glimpse of them sends my heart a-flutter.
Swamps posses a deep-rooted spiritual presence that I find hard to ignore. I have never felt sorrow, remorse or anger when in the company of a wetland. I even got married in a swamp. The trail continues to lead downhill, towards a clearing of sorts, then ends. It is here that I spotted the stream flowing through the towering cedars up above. What a treat. Once at the perfect observation point, I closed my eyes, and let the energy of the stream flow through my soul. This is where I belong, among the trees.
On the way back to the Explorer, I decided to stop by the skull I found during my second visit. It seemed like the right thing to do–showing respect for those among us creatures on Earth that have lived their life to its natural end. I am not certain when I will return, but I will of course need to stop by and say hello.
The Tradition Continues
I always leave each hike eternally grateful. Grateful for the time spent out in the woods with good company. Sometimes I see crows, eagles, beetles, squirrels, deer or ducks…each hike is different. This particular location is quite special–one I had been thinking about visiting, but the time was not right. These things cannot be rushed. For me, hiking this trail is like checking Mt. Everest off my list of places to visit before my life reaches its natural end. And like the time honored tradition, I brought along a Kodak camera. And thank goodness I did; no other camera would have been right for the moment in time. Honestly, I love the way a Kodak renders a landscape. A Kodak moment.
Until next time, get outside and breath. Be safe out there.
*Some argue that Andrew Irvine was the first –in 1924
**To learn more, visit: https://www.gtrlc.org/campaign-for-generations/