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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Moon, Dune, Swoon
First, before the day came the night and the welcome sight, after many overcast nights, of the moon over our old farm.
My friends and I wanted to meet in the morning for an autumn nature walk, and one of them urged me to bring Sarah along. My dog and I were the first to arrive at the rendez-vous spot.
Most of the time I don’t know what-all Sarah is smelling on our walks, but "Eau de Monday Morning Skunk" was too high for even my crude nose to miss. Exploring the edges of the parking lot while waiting for our friends, we discovered that the strongest odor came from near an old apple tree. That made sense. What skunk wouldn’t enjoy fresh apples? I held tight to Sarah’s leash.
Also on the edges of the parking lot were enough miniature moss landscapes to entertain me before the others arrived.
Once the four of us (counting dog) set off on the trail, one of the first unusual and fascinating sights we discovered was an almost full circle of primitive plants, some of them flowering. Kathie told Ellen and me what they were, and then all three of us promptly forgot. Can anyone else name these plants? Are they club mosses? (Late-breaking bulletin: a botanist friend tells me, yes, they are. The common name is ground pine, and there are several species of the genus Lycopodium.)
Here’s what they look like close up. It was the pattern they made, growing in a "fairy circle" in the woods (as do certain fungi), that caught our fancy.
We were charmed by this very young tamarack.
Toasty brown beech leaves against white bark of paper birches were beautiful, too, as of course were the giant birch trees that are the hallmark of the Houdek Dunes Natural Area.
The dunes themselves are interesting in November, when nature’s palette is more limited. This 330-acre preserve, the literature informs me, contains “dunes of all types, including active dunes (they are moving over time), stabilized dunes, pitted and perched dunes,” as well as “’blowout’ dunes, where all the sand is blown out around a large clump of vegetation.”
Besides noticing dunes and trees, Kathie and Ellen and I are always stopping along the path to appreciate what Ellen calls “Lilliputian” landscapes. Mosses, lichens and fungi captured our attention all along the way.
And we can’t walk Houdek Dunes without stopping by this tree (our Council Tree) to memorialize the event, agreeing that Michigan dunes are wonderful to explore in every season of the year. By the way, the best overview of their natural history, in my opinion, is Borne of the Winds: Michigan Sand Dunes, by Dennis A. Albert. It’s well illustrated with color photographs and drawings and has good lists, too, of things to look for on your explorations.
I’d decided it would be all right if I opened the bookstore by noon (since it was, after all, a Monday in November), and this gave us time for coffee and treats at Kamp Grounds Creamery, the new cafe in the remodeled Willowbrook in Northport. After that it was good to be cozy in the bookstore until five o’clock, when the moon again appeared in all its glory.