Monday, March 19, 2007

Lasting Impressions

Before sunrise, with walking stick in hand, I begin to hike the trail leading to the pond's bridge. Brushing large, be-dewed spider webs from the path, I lighten my footsteps so as not to frighten the sandhill cranes into flight. The morning air smells 'peat-y': I notice a new path cutting across the trail and into the bog. Long, pale hairs stick to brush stands waterside. Somewhere, a white tail deer is splashing across the flowage.
Approaching the bridge I slow my steps knowing there are two crane 'colts' somewhere in the tall grass. As the sun vigorously comes up, it lights the young, tight headed cat-tails decorated with still sleeping dragonflies. Sleeping there, the dragonflies' emerald eyes do not close but glint with an green iridescence in the sun.

I take a seat on a large rock on the west side of the bridge, the silence is tangible. Splashing on my left in the deeper part of the pond are pickerel; they are heading to the lake; their journey is a slow one across shallow creeks which disappear into dark stands of cedar. Somewhere on a farm over a mile away, a rooster voices indignation.

The Door County peninsula is a rock outcrop of granite and limestone insulated between the shores of Lake Michigan and the bay of Green Bay. At it's very tip, it says hello to lake Superior; this is where it gets it's name: Death's Door - watery graveyard for many ships.
A decade or so ago, some enterprising group of naturalists began an experiment to determine how water is exchanged from Green Bay to Lake Michigan. Dyes were dropped into the waters of Green Bay as it enters the limestone cliffs on the west side of the peninsula. Some time later, as it washes through the porous rock of the peninsula, the dyed water exits on the Lake Michigan side. This is a special place of deer, martin, badger, bear, coyote, fox, raptor, crane ....

A child growing up on the peninsula might feel confined by it's isolation and neglected by fast paced advancement that happens elsewhere. An adult introduced to Door County will likely fall in love with it's beauty and freshness. In 1990 I married into a family which held 80 acres in the center of the peninsula. The tracts of land included field, forest, flowage, seasonal pond, bog and a wonderful sand hill - home to the namesake cranes who returned yearly to nest and raise their young.

Crane 'colts' are whimsical creatures of hill and swamp. Omnivorous, they consume anything that is not too big. Frogs, other bird eggs, salamanders, bugs... dragonflies. Hines emerald dragonflies, whose flashing green eyes capture my attention this morning.

Returning to my walk, I come to an area that is densely treed with cedar and white pine; the ground is dry and covered in pine needles, cedar rosettes and dwarf lake iris. There is a hollow sound to the path here; proof of the presence of that limestone sponge beneath. Tiny toads live here too; I am careful not to step on them as they lazily leap out of my way and into an open area where the ground is covered with tiny wild strawberry.

As I exit the pine and cedar forest, the cranes see me. In unison they begin to call - to trumpet in voices loud enough to wake those who chose to sleep in back at the farmhouse. One crane takes to the sky and is suddenly above me, scolding me for the interference. The other crane leaps into the air over and over, while moving southward towards the swamp. It wants my attention; the colts must be close by.
I see the colts everyday from the farmyard with my binoculars. I have no desire to disturb them or the nest area. I head back on the trail and towards the pond.

In the six years of walking the trails of the property, I have seen more wildlife than I ever had before in my 40 years. I have heard warblers sing and pileated woodpeckers try to dismantle cedar homes on the cliffs over looking the bay. I have watched as the cranes stage migration on farm fields they share with dairy cows as they come out of the mist on a chilly autumn morning. Now, those paths are closed to me. Instead of a private family sanctuary, they are home only to the Hines, to the cranes and the pickerel. And they will stay that way as they are now protected by TNC. The timeless quality which gave my heart such joy now belongs to the future of the creatures that live there and the trees which sweeten the air and the birds which serenade the sky.

No comments: