Use of the Forest

Public use of Saginaw Forest is encouraged. Rules for the public's use include (but are not limited to):

Monday, August 31, 2015

We fly slowly.

I've generally considered myself a very adaptable person. I would claim a genuine appreciation for change--seasons, school years, jobs. In theory, I accept the fact that change is the only certainty in life, and that you might as well make transitions gracefully.

But the truth is that I have been dreading tomorrow since the first day I moved into cabin, on August 15th of 2013.

I write to you tonight beside my last bonfire. The wood was a bit wet from our recent rains, and I burned through match after match in an attempt to kindle a lasting flame. I'd like this night to last forever, but I know it will burn out, just as I always knew I would have to leave here.

Two evenings ago I laid on the dock with Leto, welcoming the dusk. I was waiting, anticipating my favorite residents of the woods. Sure enough, it wasn't long before we heard the strange, slow staccato of the herons calling to each other, sweeping over the canopy from the southwest. They made an elegant arc over the lake to land in their favorite corner, the shallows by the old "arboretum" to the west. They settled. Even from the dock, they are beautiful to watch. Their silver gray color stands in stark contrast to the dull browns and greens of the evening. Their lovely figures fit so well with the surrounding vegetation that, when still, they could be sculptures. One began stalking along the edge of the lake, lifting each leg slow and deliberate, pausing at the top before slipping toes back in the water. The mate followed ten feet behind. They came to a stop, five feet apart, and just stood quietly. Separate but together. Not touching. Not speaking. I was completely captivated by them, as I am every night they come.

After sometime watching, I began to feel uncomfortable. Like I was trying to steal a piece of something that didn't belong to me. The only thing that could make this evening ritual they share better, more precious, would be if they were truly alone. That they could share that quiet without prying, curious eyes. The feeling was persistent, so I left them quickly.

The idea of leaving the forest, of leaving this house I've come to call my "own," has been agony to come to terms with. But when I think of how much better it felt to leave the herons their privacy, I feel slightly better. Perhaps the only thing that could improve this place would be my absence. Letting it exist free of my porch lights, my fires, my whoots and hollers as I ski the paths on dead winter nights.

So I accept that tonight is my last here. And in whatever way it is possible to thank this piece of land, I do. I thank it for helping me to grow up, for helping me understand what I need to be happy and what I don't. For making me aware of subtle changes, and simple beauty. I thank Saginaw for forcing me to learn how to sharpen tools, fix a lawn mower, and use a chainsaw. I'm grateful for all of the people I brought together here for dinners, walks, and workdays. For the lovely hikers I met walking the trails. And I am indebted to this place for the hundreds of moments I shared with my best friend Leto: cold January mornings wrapped in blankets on our futon, boat rides, hikes, and evenings on the dock with my head propped on his furry rump.

Though tomorrow ends my residency here, I will still be visiting these woods, contributing to their history with my footsteps. As a parting gift, I've planted a number of wildflowers here in the hopes that they will someday take back some land as invasive plants are removed in the years to come (the cardinal flower is doing particularly well!).

To those who have kept up with my intermittent blogging, thanks for joining the ride. And for those of you I've shared the trails with, look after them for me.


Jenny & Leto

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Storms.

Last night after dinner Leto and I wandered down to the dock to enjoy the cool breeze. The ruthlessly hot day afflicted even our very early morning rounds, leaving us panting and guzzling water. That late evening breeze was the breeze of salvation. Watching the hoards of tiny mosquitos attempt hopeless flights to my exposed skin was equally satisfying.
We enjoyed an interesting mix of soft hues stirring amongst patchy clouds for nearly an hour. I noticed an ominous block of gray coming in over the northwest corner of the lake. Dog seemed content to stay out all night, but I got him up for our last visit to the outhouse/grassy patch. In the time it took to walk to the outhouse and emerge, the clouds that had hung to the northwest already completely covered the sky.

The house was still uncomfortably warm. I opened the window, turned on the fan, and tucked in for the night. I barely made out the sound of the wind rustling leaves over the whir of the fan. I drifted off. I typically find storms in Saginaw to be calming. Like a tranquilizer. But at 1:30am I was cracked awake by thunder so immediate it sounded less like a rumble and more like two trucks crunching together head first. My tiny window was alive with light. The noise from the fan, right next to my bed, was so imperceptible that the only reason I knew it was still on was the soft, rhythmic brush of air against my face. My phone lit up with a tornado warning. Nestled as I am right at the base of a hill in the lake valley, the house isn't likely to see tornado damage. Nonetheless, the warning made me hyper aware of the wind, and I started running through the condition of the trees on the hillside just beyond the walls from me. I stayed awake, watching the lights.

It felt like an eternity, but eventually the sound of the fan started coming in to sharper focus. The thunder was becoming a distant rumble, the rain a soft patter. I fell back asleep.

The forest I woke up to was something entirely different. Sun blazed through the trees. The lake was brown from the flush of sediment. The flashy creek is down to a very gentle trickle, but I imagine at 2am the water ripped violently through it. A pine had come down across the trail to the southwest, jutting out jagged into the trail at waist height. Despite its size and proximity to other tree trunks, it was actually quite easy to simply lift and move. Another laid across the trail by the cabin. This one proved too difficult to shove aside, wedged as it was between tree trunks. I wasn't disappointed. It had been a while since I last broke out the ax. The last deadfall was back when we were still under snow and ice. It felt good to grip it in my hands again, and to get covered in rich smelling earth while lifting and throwing the cut tree.

Around the other side of the lake I picked up trash left by visitors who had likely hurried out. I grumbled a bit, but at least it was more time to enjoy the beautiful day before returning to my desk job.

The large old ash tree that fell last week is still down. It is low priority on my work list, being that it is easily skirted. I plan to get to it this weekend, chainsaw willing. I also plan to start hacking back growth crowding the trails.

Enjoy the day, all.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Whoa! Too long.


It has been a long while since I last posted. Many apologies to any regular followers. Other work here always felt more pressing, and then eventually I just kind of forgot about the blog altogether.

It has been a very flowery spring.

Hikers have had the pleasure of passing bloodroot, spring beauty, wild geranium, solomon's seal, starry solomon's seal, wild columbine, galium, jack-in-the-pulpit, mayapple, dogwood, and cherries. Some less desirables are also putting out their blooms--the honeysuckle, dame's rocket, and garlic mustard. I pulled a fair bit of the mustard, but am well behind on the dame's rocket after a weekend up north. I'm hoping to make some progress on that over the next several days.

On a less happy note, someone stole the trash can yesterday.

I'll use that as a transition for reminding all of our visitors to engage in stewardship for this special place. Help us keep Saginaw Forest a pleasant place for all users.

  • To protect other animals, people, and vegetation, ALWAYS keep your dog on a leash. Your dog is no more special than mine.
  • Follow the posted signs--don't bicycle on the trails, fish, or hunt.
  • Do not park at the gate.
  • Do not use university equipment without explicit permission.
  • Stay on trail.
  • Do not pick wildflowers (unless they are invasive, pull that *&^% up.
If you would like to help out with invasive species removal on the property, you are absolutely welcome to take that next step and join in.

See you on the trails this weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Water Sampling and Campfire

Last Friday's Campfire was a blast. I was able to get everything accomplished on time, and although it rained, all of the events were over by the time rain drove the horde away. I believe the cross-cut saw contest ended with two teams tied in victory with a time of 23 seconds.

This week has been water sampling centered. Tuesday were the wells and the tap, and today was the lake. The process of sampling the lake was roughly outlined to me--they take a boat out, divid the lake into three sections, and then test the water at 3 different depths. Generally, the levels of dioxane have been reported as decreasing. I should be getting the report from last years samples shortly.

This morning was stunning. Saginaw has a way of being particularly spectacular when I'm going through a rough time. Whatever mood I wake up with, it dissipates at least temporarily when I head out for morning rounds. The light filtered through the trees in that special way that gives you pause, and the fog over the lake slowly swirled away before my eyes. The witch hazel is looking magnificent, yellow flowers on yellow leaves.

Sometimes I can't believe I live here.

Out in the boat sampling. Chilly morning activity.

Hi, I love you.

You are magnificent.


Thursday, October 9, 2014


Campfire is coming.

The to-do list is long, and every day I seem to be getting an email requesting information for this or that. Earlier this week, I cut the perfect log for the cross-cut saw competition. Today I kind of ruined that log dragging it to the barn. Idiotically, I did not notice that it was being chipped away by the road. So now the back third of it is a smaller diameter. Alas, it will have to do. What is done is done. And my calves hurt. Many thanks to Bill, Oliver, and Lauren for the help!

Today was a full-on Saginaw day. In addition to the log dragging, I did rounds, attended a Properties Committee meeting, cleaned up the bonfire pit, and mowed down the zen meadow. I'm whipped.

Class use this fall has been extensive. Several ecology classes have been out in the woods, and a few others may be seen floating about the lake. My first year landscape architecture students have made several field trips out here (and will be out again tomorrow). As they research the site for their projects, a lot of interesting photographs and information have become available. One student in particular found some excellent old images at the Bentley Library. So much flannel!

Last weekend I cleared some deadfall from the driveway, and also attended the Native Plant Sale at the botanical gardens. I picked up a hefty load of my favorite perennials to plant around the cabin. My hope is that they will ultimately disperse their seeds throughout the wood. Saginaw, my gift to you.

The big witch hazel by the cabin is already blooming! It is lovely, but much earlier than anticipated.

Spider flowers.
Oh, you pretty.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fall, y'all

I love this time of year.

Turtlehead looking fly.
It's like this nebulous days are somewhat chilly, the nights quite a bit chillier. The trees are just barely starting to turn over in color--I've watched the subtle and slow bronzing of canopy across the lake--and yet the fall blooming flowers are out in full. Aster. Goldenrods. Turtlehead. I noticed the buds of the witch hazel starting to form (and am already looking forward to its lovely November exhibition). I could walk around this place in circles for hours and hours and never care about anything else. Sometimes I do just that. Some of you might have noticed this by now.

Fall, yo.
Tomorrow I am giving some students a tour of the forest. They will be doing some research on improving the educational value/experience of the SNRE properties, but particularly this one. Saginaw Forest is the most well-used of SNRE's research plots, being so near to downtown. I don't think that much will happen in the remainder of my time here in terms of big projects, but it's exciting to discuss them nonetheless. I do still continue my desperate "battle for the barn" and volunteer tools. One hinges upon the other. I am persistent but not hopeful.

Give us a wave if you are around the woods. This is a happy time.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Activity, activity.

Things amped up around here the last month or so.

"Amped up" by 80-acre forest standards,  I mean.

Between students coming out to do research and classes starting up, bodies have been busy here around the moss house. Some of you may have noticed this weird contraption out on Third Sister.

I refer to it simply as the "robot boat." But really it's an interesting project being tested by a group of engineering students. Their goal is to design a new and improved method of measuring evaporation on the Great Lakes (current measuring tools are land-based, not real-time). Different versions of Robot Boat have come and gone from our waters as they tweak the design (leaking seemed to be a problem).

A more permanent installation has been put in place to monitor the flash floods of Honey Creek, just behind the outhouse.

Classes are going to start using the site soon as well. Soil Ecology, Woody Plants, and even the class I'm the GSI for--the first year landscape architecture studio. I'm really excited to be working with a class taking on a design project out here. Talk about a perfect opportunity for all involved. I've been gearing up for the influx of activity with meetings, clearing honeysuckle/buckthorn, mowing, and collecting tools. This is an exciting fall.

The weather wreaked havoc on tree branches here last night, as I'm sure those of you in Ann Arbor can believe! But I do love this place post storm. It takes my breath away every time.

Enjoy the goldenrod.