July 6, 2014, Cutlerville Tornado

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Tornado damage southwest of Division and 54th St.

It is a weird feeling when a tornado strikes the neighborhood where you used to live, particularly when you weren't expecting tornadoes at all that day. That's how it was two-and-a-half weeks ago on Sunday, July 6. No one saw it coming--not anyone who lived in the stricken area, not the National Weather Service, not any Michigan-based storm chasers I know of, and certainly not me. All I thought was, "Dang, that's some crazy lightning coming out of that cell to my northwest!" even as an after-dark tornado chugged its way from Byron Center across Cutlerville and Kentwood toward its last gasp near Breton Road south of 28th Street.
Turning onto Andover St. from Eastern Ave.

Turning onto Andover St. from Eastern Ave.

I'm writing about it only now because I've had my hands full with other things. It's no longer news, but it certainly deserves some kind of writeup in this blog. After all, it was the most significant tornado to hit the Grand Rapids area in years, it caught the NWS by surprise, and it missed my old apartment by only a block. (Come to think of it, another tornado in 2006 also missed my present apartment by only a block, but I wasn't around to see it. I was heading home from my previous day's chase in Illinois. Lots of irony there, but I'll leave it alone and stay on topic.) The Storm
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Tree uprooted along Division Ave. south of 54th St.

It was evening, and I was parked by the railroad tracks out near Elmdale, practicing my saxophone--which, if you know me, you understand is a regular habit of mine. The heat and humidity of the day had built to a slow boil beneath a capped atmosphere, but it appeared that the cap was breaking. Through the haze, I could see what looked like mushy towers off to my north. Right around sunset, I saw lightning streak through a cloud bank moving in from the west and thought, Nice. Bring it on. With mid-level winds forecast to be weak, I wasn't expecting more than garden-variety storms, but given this year's largely stormless storm season here in Michigan, any kind of flash and boom would be welcome. With my practice session not feeling particularly inspired, I decided to call it and head home. The storm didn't appear to be moving fast--not surprising, given the weak steering winds--but just north of my path . . . wow, that lightning was ramping up something fierce. I contemplated intercepting the cell, which clearly was quite active, but I had neither my laptop and radar with me nor my camera, nor, frankly, much desire. Sometimes it's nice to just sit at home and let a storm rumble overhead. By the time I arrived in Caledonia, the cell was flickering like a strobe light, and for half a minute, with more lightning advancing from the west, I thought I would sit in the church parking lot on the west end of town and let myself get eaten. Then I thought, Nah. Slow-moving storm with a lot of precipitable water--I just wasn't into getting drenched during the mad dash from my car to my apartment. Besides, something in me really wanted to take a gander at the radar.
Meso Kentwoo

Mesocyclone over Kentwood, Michigan.

Once inside, I fired up GR3. Base reflectivity showed an amorphous clump of cells surrounded by lots of green: pretty much the disorganized, high-precipitation mess I expected. Then, out of pure force of habit, I switched to storm-relative velocity. Hmmm . . . what was that? Weak rotation just west of the airport radar seven miles north of me? That seemed odd. Curious, I back up a scan, which showed that the rotation had been stronger over Kentwood a few minutes earlier (see image.) Time for a look at the VAD wind profile. Well, now: mid-level winds were stronger than I had expected, around 40 knots, with southerly winds veering nearly 90 degrees through the lowest 4,000 feet. That would explain that. Going by reflectivity only, I'd never have suspected, but there it was, a definite mesocylonic signature. What did the previous scan show? Yikes. Really? There over South Division Street, sitting on top of Cutlerville--that was one potent-looking couplet.* Kind of scary, really. Surface-based CAPE was something like 2,000, and forecast low-level helicity was more than adequate, over 200 m2/s2 in the lowest kilometer. Still, reflectivity looked like crap, the storm was wrapped in rain and not even severe-warned, and besides, this was Michigan. And that was two scans ago; the rotation had weakened considerably as it approached the airport. That would be the end of things.
Supercell organizing near Ionia.

Supercell organizing near Ionia.

But it wasn't. As the storms moved east, the low-level jet spiked considerably, and even the 500 mb wind got a brief burst of 50 kt. Over by Ionia, a cell began to organize, and this time there was no mistaking the telltale look of a supercell in the reflectivity product. KGRR issued a severe thunderstorm warning with mention of the possibility of a tornado.
A scan later, storm-relative velocity shows pronounced rotation. Base reflectivity (not shown) also showed a well-defined hook.

A scan later, storm-relative velocity shows pronounced rotation. Base reflectivity (not shown) also showed a well-defined hook.

There were in fact four tornadoes according to the SPC's final tally. The last three off to the east were brief EF0s, but the first one, which had initially caught my attention, did high-end EF1 damage in Cutlerville and injured six people. Damage in My Old Neighborhood
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This used to be a warehouse on the west side of Division Street.

After doing its worst damage on the west side of Division Street, the tornado moved northeast through my old neighborhood, Leisure Acres. The second photo at the top shows the view that greeted me as I turned off of Eastern Avenue onto Andover Street. Halfway down Andover, my old apartment was untouched, but just a block east (and no doubt to the south, though I didn't look) was a trash heap: trees snapped and uprooted, big branches torn off, here and there part of a roof missing--all the signs of a weak tornado. But of course, weak is a relative word; a wind that can do that kind of damage is anything but weak, as those in its path would be quick to point out. Nevertheless, there's a significant difference between a 100 mph wind that does mostly minor structural damage and a 180 mph wind that levels homes completely.
House on Andover St. with its roof and side ripped off.

House on Andover St. with its roof and side ripped off.

Half of the photos in this post were taken in the Leisure Acres neighborhood along my old street, Andover; the rest were taken on the west side of Division south of Fifty-Fourth Street. The damage on Andover was primarily tree damage, though that was obviously significant, and as you can see, homes didn't escape unscathed. The worst appeared to have been the house shown to the right with part of its roof and side ripped out out by the wind. I was told that much worse damage occurred to the west along Clay Avenue, and while I didn't try to enter that area, a brief jaunt down Division Street revealed places where the damage was more intense. The most significant was what appeared to have been a large warehouse building that got completely destroyed--just a pile of blocks and steel beams, as you can see in the photos.
One good egg. He just showed up with his chainsaw, ready to help.

One good egg. He just showed up with his chainsaw, ready to help.

In the aftermath of severe weather events, communities tend to pull together and ordinary heroes emerge from outlying areas, bringing with them such skills as they possess and the desire to make life a little easier for those dealing with the destruction of their property. This man with the chainsaw was wandering along the street from house to house, inquiring whether anyone needed help sawing up downed trees. Giving what he had to offer. I asked his name and wrote it down, and now I've lost it. In the very slim chance that he should happen to read this article: Bravo, sir! Generously played. "We Had No Warning": The NWS's Dilemma Of course the NWS got hammered. "We had no warning," storm victims said--and while most of the time that's untrue, in this case they really had no warning. But before anyone makes the usual foolish comments about the NWS's ineptitude and how they never get anything right--which is simply not the case--it would pay to understand a few things about tornadoes in Michigan. Let's start with this fact: The typical tornado-breeding systems of the kind that produce significant (EF2 and higher) tornadoes get forecast quite effectively here in West Michigan, as elsewhere in the country. Meteorologists are on top of such setups; they watch these systems develop days in advance and are most certainly monitoring each one closely as it arrives, with varying degrees of concern depending on its characteristics.
Nothing left but a pile of cement blocks, wood, and steel.

Nothing left but a pile of cement blocks, wood, and steel.

That leaves the atypical tornado-breeders: systems whose features wouldn't automatically trigger alarm, whose storms may occasionally produce brief, weak tornadoes that spin up with little or no advance notice. Storms like these--often squall lines and sometimes, as in the case of July 6, unremarkable-looking rainy blobs--produce no persistent, telltale circulation in a storm's mid-levels that a radar can detect twenty minutes before a tornado forms. Such storms are difficult to impossible to warn. In the case of a squall line, small circulations can hop around from scan to scan on the radar, now here and now there, and most of them never produce. The rare tornado that does occur can materialize between radar scans, which until very recently have taken four-and-a-half minutes to complete in severe weather mode. A lot can happen in that time, and on July 6, it did. Without going into details that most of my readers are no doubt familiar with, the lads at KGRR deal with proportionately more of these atypical scenarios than forecasters west of the Mississippi. The difference between a Great Plains supercell and the kind of stuff we normally get in Michigan is substantial, and for forecasters here, that means fewer opportunities to look like heroes and plenty more situations in which they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. When they issue a warning and nothing happens--which is frequently the case with squall lines--the public accuses them of crying wolf; when they don't issue a warning and a tornado pops up out of nowhere, the public thinks they're idiots.
Debris festoons a tree and litters a yard on Andover St. a block from my old apartment.

Debris festoons a tree and litters a yard on Andover St. a block from my old apartment.

They are far from idiots. They are experts who deal with factors in the warning process that most people know nothing of. Their job is not an easy one, and anyone who believes he or she could do better is woefully ignorant of the complexities of severe weather and warnings. Think otherwise? Fine. Go ahead and spend a few weeks at the peak of severe storm season, trying to nail that volatile blob of Jell-O called the atmosphere to the wall. It'll be an eye-opening experience as, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, you discover the difference between forecasting and fortune-telling. Ironically, the Cutlerville tornado occurred shortly before KGRR was slated to implement the new SAILS update to their radar software. It's amazing to see how drastically this software reduces scan times in severe mode--I now get level 3 downloads in as little as a minute and always substantially less than the nearly five minutes of pre-SAILS days. Had SAILS been operative on July 6, the tornado might well have been detected in enough time to issue a warning. Or not. Microscale conditions can change so rapidly that some tornadoes will still slip through the cracks. But the odds of detection have just improved significantly. ------------------ * The image shows the meso over Kentwood. I have tried unsuccessfully to render the more vigorous Cutlerville scan on both level 2 and level 3 data from NCDC archives on GR2AE and GR3. After several hours of fiddling with the data files and consulting with chasers who are more technically gifted than I, I've concluded that I need to get some hands-on help figuring out how to use NCDC's archived data. Sorry--I've done my best.

Henryville Tornado: Some Video Captures from the Storm’s Early Stages

This year, 2013, has once again been lousy for me from a storm chasing perspective. My two forays out to Oklahoma and Kansas yielded nothing in terms of tornadoes. Some cool gustnadoes, but that's it, unless you count a glimpse of a decaying tube so fleeting that it's barely worth mentioning. My best chase of the year was right here in Michigan. And my worst was unquestionably on November 17 down in Indiana, when a road accident claimed my beloved Toyota Camry. So since I have nothing to show for this season, I thought I would grab a few stills from my video of the March 2, 2012, Henryville, Indiana, tornado, just to remind myself that I've actually had some decent chases. The shots, arranged sequentially, show the tornado from where Bill and I first glimpsed it shortly after touchdown as we were approaching Palmyra from the south, to its intensifying and mature stages north of town, where it tore across SR 135, ripping up a 12' x 12' chunk of asphalt in the process, and then raged northeastward toward New Pekin and then its deadly visitation on Henryville. These are just video grabs, and our vehicle was moving at a good clip as I shot the footage, so the images are by no means tack-sharp. But they still give a pretty good feel of a memorable chase. They're arranged in proper sequence, so you can see the variations the tornado went through on its way to becoming a raging EF-4 monster. I intend to add a few more images, but the eleven I've included here are most of the show and plenty enough to tell the story. (I don't know why the one showing the power flash turned out so small; I plan to replace it with a larger image.)

September Gilds the Fenlands

Upton Road Fen in northern Barry County, Michigan.

Upton Road Fen in northern Barry County, Michigan.

Three miles south of Middleville, Michigan, lies Upton Road Fen. That is the name I have given the place for convenience to provide some sense of location. In reality, the fen is nameless. Rarely do wetlands in Michigan have an actual place name, and in the case of this wetland, that is just as well, because the name "Upton Road" hardly does justice to either the magnificent sweep and diversity of the fen or the loveliness of the sandy forest trail that winds through archways of hardwood past the fen's northern border.
A feather tamarack stands sentinel at the fen's northern border.

A feather tamarack stands sentinel at the fen's northern border.

Prairie fens are a rare and unusual kind of alkaline wetland, rich in plant life, and Barry County is a bastion for these beautiful and fascinating ecosystems. Upton Road Fen may well be the largest of its kind in this part of the state. If not, it is certainly one of the larger ones, stretching three-quarters of a mile from corner to corner and encompassing a wide palette of fen habitats, from drier cinquefoil fields, to sedge meadows, to a wet, reedy seep, to a floating mat on the lowest, southeast end.  Pitcher plants grow here, and wild orchids, and blazing star, and deep blue fringed and bottle gentians. Tamaracks rub shoulders with red cedars, and here at the end of September, poison sumac shrubs dot the periphery of the fen, glowing incandescently like fiery rubies strung across a vast necklace where the wetland meets the woods.
Unidentified seed pod. Any guesses?

Unidentified seed pod. Any guesses?

I have come here on this bright, late afternoon in search of gentians, and I am not disappointed. They are here, fully open, batting their fetching blue lashes at the slanting September sun. Little coquettes! Gentle, sweet wildflowers, flirty yet shy, like teenage girls just discovering their charms. I have intended to get photographs, but my camera's battery is lower than I realized, and it dies on me after just a few landscape shots plus some odds-and-ends closeups. The latter include this old seed pod with one tufted seed still clinging gallantly to it. I don't know what the plant is--it's actually a shrub of some kind, and far be it from me to venture a guess as to its identity. I'm just not much of a shrub man. I walk cautiously, keeping an eye out for massasaugas. In the many times I have visited this fen, I have never seen one, but I am told they are here and actually plentiful. I would love to see one, but not today--I left my heavy boots at home, and I wouldn't care to have my first encounter with Michigan's only rattlesnake result from my stepping on one with these old, threadbare athletic shoes I'm wearing.
Looking south across the long reaches of the fen.

Looking south across the long reaches of the fen.

Fortunately, my snakeless record remains pristine as I head back to the car. It has been an all-too-short visit on this radiant afternoon, but I have things to do and it is time to go. I am grateful, though, for these few minutes here, beyond the grasp of the frenzied world, where time slows down and invites me to do likewise long enough to see the smile of my Father. He is a loving Creator who has much reason to look upon these works of his hands--these golden fields, this sun-gilded fen stretching luminously beneath the September sky--and call all of it good. Yes, very good indeed.

Waterspouts on Lake Michigan

Saturday, September 22, was the first day of autumn 2012. It was also my first-ever time seeing waterspouts. I've chased them a few times (if chased is the right word) previously within the past two years, but not successfully. This time made up in spades for those occasions. I don't know how many waterspouts I saw, but "lots" ought to cover them, including one that made landfall about a hundred yards north of me at Tunnel Park. I managed to capture that one on video. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I woke up at 5:15 a.m., showered up, and headed for the lakeshore. The ICWR waterspout forecast indicated a high probability of waterspouts all along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, and the main concern seemed to be simply finding adequate near-shore convection. That didn't seem to be a problem, since a line of thunderstorms was moving across the lake from Wisconsin and heading east almost straight at me. Based on the line's slightly southern component, I decided to head for Holland Beach. A nice cumulus field had overspread West Michigan as I pulled into the state park. At the entrance, a ranger informed me of restricted parking due to a marathon that was being routed through the park by the beach. The racers hadn't yet arrived; in fact, very few people were present, and having the parking lot mostly to myself, I chose an optimal spot where I had an unimpeded view of Lake Michigan. The stiff lake breeze concerned me. Westerly surface winds--and strong ones at that--didn't seem to me to bode well for waterspouts. How would the convergence necessary for spout formation occur over the water with unidirectional winds? Still, the waterspout index was maxed out, and here I was, so I guessed I would find out. After a while, the western sky began to darken. The storms were moving in, but they would take a while to arrive. Meanwhile, a green blob of convection on GR3 corresponded with a cloud bank stretching perpendicularly from the waters to the shore about ten miles to my south. It seemed worth checking out, so I grabbed my camera and headed across the beach toward the pier near the lighthouse. From that vantage point, I finally got a good, complete view of the convective band. A slim, well-defined gray tube hung from the distant cloud base. Bingo! My first waterspout! I began snapping pictures. The salmon run was on, and all along the channel, fishermen were having a heyday. Focused on fish, they seemed oblivious to the elegant spectacle unfolding over the water. How could they not see it? I pointed it out to one fisherman. "Wow! A waterspout!" he said. Then he went back to his fishing. To each his own, though I suppose he could fish and watch the spout at the same time. I don't know how much time passed--fifteen minutes, maybe twenty. By and by, the spout dissipated, and I returned to my car. I didn't need to look at my radar to know that the storm was closing in. I could see the lowering clouds and rain shafts over the water. What the radar did tell me, however, was that heavier convection was heading toward the Saugatuck/South Haven area. So, as the first of the marathoners began to trickle into the park, I decided to drop south toward where chasers Skip Talbot, Jennifer Ubyl, and Jonathan Williamston were located. I got as far as US 31 before realizing that I had made a tactical error. Heavier convection was beginning to fire in a line that promised to train in directly over Holland Beach. Nuts. I had just compromised myself by fifteen minutes, and in the meantime, a marathon had gotten underway. I turned around and headed back toward my old location, but now the road was filled with runners and closed to traffic. I decided to head for Tunnel Park just a few mile north of Holland Beach. But Lakeshore Drive was also clogged with marathoners. Thus began a frustrating quarter-hour of driving down sideroads and through neighborhoods, trying to gain access to the lakeshore. Ultimately, I wound up pulling over kitty-corner across the road from the park entrance, watching morosely as runners ran by. But there was a cop standing next to his car, shepherding the crowd, and ... what the heck. I walked up to him and asked him if I could cross into the park. Sure, he said. The race ended officially right at this point. Just look for an opening, the cop told me, and then I could nudge my car across the road. Free! The storm was arriving as I pulled into the park, and rain had begun to fall. I grabbed my cameras and raced toward the tunnel. The other end opened out onto the beach, affording a sheltered location where I could watch for spouts without getting wet. It was a perfect setup. The only other people there at the park were a young ethnic couple with a baby and a small child. I greeted them and talked with them about waterspouts as we watched a shelf cloud advance over the storm-driven surf. After a few minutes, the guy pointed toward the lake and said, "Is that one?" I looked, figuring it was a false alarm, some turbulent scrap of scud ascending along the shelf cloud. But no, he was pointing at the water, where a rotating patch of spray was clearly visible. It was only a couple hundred yards away, small but unmistakable. Waterspout! And now another, larger one was organizing to my northwest. I could see no funnel, but then, the shelf cloud was now almost directly overhead, and features that might have been obvious at a distance were lost in the jumble of clouds. Regardless, the rotating cascade looked intense. I grabbed my camcorder. There was no time to set up the tripod; I would have to manage the best I could with hand-held. I hit "record" and began shooting the waterspout as it progressed toward the shoreline. At first, it appeared to be heading toward us, which didn't concern me. The waterspout was non-tornadic, and while it obviously packed some strong winds, I felt that the greatest threat it posed was a nasty sand-blasting. We could retreat into the tunnel if necessary. But the spout made landfall about one hundred yards to my north. I ran out onto the beach to try to capture more of it as it progressed up over the foredune, but I was too late, and that section of my footage turned out pretty wobbly. Still, I had about forty-five seconds of shaky but ultra-cool footage of a Lake Michigan waterspout hitting the shore at close range. The first thirty seconds is the best, but I've chosen to show the whole shebang because I think there are some points of interest in the latter part, flawed though it is. Back at my car, the radar indicated more intense convection headed toward Grand Haven. After sending a report to Spotter Network, I got onto Lakeshore Drive and began heading north. The stream of runners had thinned out, and the road was open, though still patrolled by the police. A little ways north of the park entrance, I noticed a "damage path" of tree trash--clusters of leaves and large twigs--scattered across the pavement. The road was only a quarter-mile from the shore, and I have no idea how far inland the waterspout made it before dissipating, but I suspected that a few runners had gotten quite a surprise. Up at Grand Haven, a cloud bank to my northwest put down a series of spouts. These were much farther offshore and not particularly impressive at the time I viewed them, though I've seen some stunning photos by another spout chaser from the same location. After a while, the waterspout activity dwindled off, but I'd gotten my fill and was glad to head back east. Back in Grand Rapids, I processed my video of the spout at Tunnel Park and attempted to send it to WOOD TV8. But the ftp upload failed, so rather than waste more time, I stopped by the station and let their tech handle things. The footage got aired on the evening news. After that, I somehow wound up in Lowell. It was a lovely, moody day, perfect for the first day of fall, and I guess I just felt like a drive. Anyway, I found myself on the waterfront, watching ragged cumulus clouds drift over the broad, windblown face of the Flat River. To the north, a small, low-top storm billowed up above its less successful convective comrades and spread its cirrus anvil eastward. It was a beautiful sight, as was the entire sky, and I couldn't resist taking a few more pictures. The last view on this page looks to the south, where the Lowell Showboat rests at its dock just upstream from the Flat River Grill and the dam beneath the startlingly blue September sky. And that is that. Two days later, the same intensely azure sky prevails and this chill wind testifies that autumn is indeed at hand. The trees are still mostly green, but change is in the air. My hunch is, we won't be getting a "second season" for storm chasing. If not, Saturday was wonderful compensation and will see me through to next spring.

Memorial Day 2012: A West Michigan Lightning Extravaganza

I have yet to take some truly razor-sharp images of lightning, but each time I go out, I learn a little more about how to improve my lightning photography. Last night afforded me a great opportunity. Storms forming ahead of a cold front moved across Lake Michigan and began to increase in coverage as the night progressed, and I roamed with them across West Michigan from the shoreline at Whitehall and Muskegon State Park to inland northeast of Lake Odessa. My expedition was marred by the fact that I left the adapter plate for my tripod at home. I compensated by setting my camera on top of my dashboard and shooting through the windshield, an arrangement that works okay but which considerably limited what I was able to do at the lakeshore. Using the hood of my car to steady myself, I managed to capture a few shots of a beautiful, moody sunset, with the red semicircle of the the sun gazing sullenly through rain curtains of the advancing storms. However, parking by the side of a busy road where everybody had the same idea--to pull over and watch the storms roll in over the waters--just didn't work very well. After too many time-lapse images marred by tail lights (see photo in gallery below) I decided to hightail it and try my luck inland. It was a good choice. The storms multiplied as I headed back toward Caledonia, and with lightning detonating to my north and closing in from the west, I decided to continue eastward till I found an ideal location--a place far from city lights and with a good view in all directions. I never expected to drive as far as northeast of Lake Odessa, but I'm glad I did. Note to self: STOP USING THE ULTRA-WIDE-ANGLE SETTING WHEN SHOOTING LIGHTNING. Zooming out all the way to 18 mm is just too far, and cropping the shots doesn't work well. The crispness goes downhill. For all that, the images below aren't all that bad, and a few turned out really well. After Sunday's busted chase in Nebraska, it was nice to enjoy a few mugfulls of convective homebrew right here in West Michigan. I finally arrived home at the scandalous hour of 4:15 a.m., far later than I ever anticipated. I was tired but pleased. This Memorial Day lightning display did not disappoint.

Photos from the April 14, 2012, Kansas Tornado Outbreak

May has been an astonishingly idle month for chasing storms, at least from the standpoint of a Michigan-based chaser who can't afford to travel a thousand miles to tornado alley on every whim and wish of a slight-risk day. So tonight I finally got around to capturing a few still images from my video of the April 14, 2012, tornadoes in Kansas. Please excuse the graininess. These are, after all, video grabs, and the original footage was shot right around and after sunset. So ... not high quality, but great memories of an exciting and rewarding chase day. You can read my written account of it here.

Along the Long Lake Trail

This has been the quietest May I can recall weatherwise. The peak month that I and hundreds of other storm chasers have spent the better part of a year anticipating has turned out to be a dud. Maybe around the latter part of the month things will improve, but there's nothing to look forward to for at least the next week. If the weather isn't going to offer anything chaseworthy, then the way it has been is exactly the way I want it to be: blue, crisp, and beautiful, warm but not hot, with the sun smiling down on a landscape that's getting on with the business of spring. A couple days ago, I took a walk down the Long Lake Trail just north of Gun Lake State Park in northern Barry County's Yankee Springs Recreational Area. It had been a while since I had hiked the trail, and this time of year is perfect for the venture, so off I went. The first mile or so of the trail winds through hardwood forest, skirting a small bog and a tract of red pine, then sets you on a quarter-mile stretch of boardwalk through part of the swamp that surrounds Long Lake. It's a lovely hike that offers plenty to see if you know your native plants and their habitats. Here are a few of the highlights. The odd little plant to your right, which somewhat resembles miniature corncobs, is called squawroot (Orobanche americana). It is a common woodland plant, parasitic on oak trees. Click on the image to enlarge it. The trail winds through some particularly pretty territory. The photo below gives you an idea. There are a number of other images at the bottom of this page to keep it company. Ferns were in the process of unrolling their fronds. They never look more dramatic or more artistic than this time of year, when they're in their "fiddlehead" stage. Farther down the trail, where the boardwalk commences, marsh marigolds scattered Pointillistic fragments of butter-yellow across the swamp floor. Picking up on the golden theme, the first few flowers of small yellow ladyslipper orchids (Cypripedium calceolus var. parviflorum) peeked out shyly from among lush skunk cabbage leaves. The swamp is full of poison sumac, a small tree with which I've had considerable experience recognizing and avoiding. It is related to the cashew and also, of course, to poison ivy. Eating poison ivy at age six was not one of my intellectual zeniths, and it's not an experiment one should undertake casually. Long after the initial bitter burst of flavor has faded, the experience lingers in a way a body is not apt to forget. Word has it that poison sumac is even more virulent than poison ivy. That's not something I care to put to the test. Interestingly, the sap of its equally toxic cousin, the Japanese lacquer tree, is used as a varnish which produces some beautiful objets d'art, though how a body works with a medium like that is beyond me. But enough of the swamp and its sumac. Stepping off the far end of the boardwalk and farther into the woods, I encountered an elegant young beech tree standing sentinel on a mossy bank. I walked a bit farther, then turned back. The slanting sun rays were filtering long through the leaves, the temperature was cooling, and it was time for me to go practice my horn--which, by the way, I've been doing pretty consistently. But that's material for another post. Right now, check out the rest of my photos in the gallery below.

Francesca and Friends: Tricking the Pony and Seasoning the Grille

My friend Francesca Amari-Sajtar has been in Grand Rapids the past few days, and naturally we wound up playing some music. Thursday night at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids, and Friday evening at Seasonal Grille in Hastings, the band was in great form and Francesca was her usual sparkling self. Two different places and two fun nights. Here are a few photos of the band at the Grille.

Autumn in Grand Ledge

I don't normally post twice in the same day, but I thought I'd share this photo. I took it this last Saturday, October 8, on the island in Grand Ledge, Michigan. Autumn was at its peak, and this shot captures well the flamboyance of this past, spectacularly beautiful week. Click on the image to enlarge it, then lose yourself in the almost overwhelming collage of color.

A Stormy Evening in Stanton

Last weekend my best male friend, Dewey (aka Duane, aka The Scurvy Rascal), and I headed up to a hunting camp in the backwoods of Kalkaska, Michigan, for a weekend retreat. It was a time of refreshing for both of us: a time of reconnecting and confirming our friendship after a season, for each of us, of being hammered on by life; a time of drinking good craft beer and Scotch whiskey, and eating steaks cooked over an open fire; a time of hunting, and shooting clays, and blasting away with assorted pistols, including my favorite, a model 1911 .45; and a time of prayer, and reading the Bible, and talking about our passion for God, our beloved women, and life in general. A good, good time. I drove up to Dewey's home in Stanton Thursday evening. My laptop came with me, but I had suspended my data account with Verizon, and for some reason I was unable to access Duane's router. With storms in the forecast, naturally I wanted to know what the radar had to show. So Dewey pulled up KGRR on his laptop, and Bingo! A nice line was moving toward Stanton and looked to arrive within a half-hour. What the heck. I hopped in my car and took off, intent on finding a picturesque sweep of open landscape where I could watch the storm move in. As you can tell from the images on this page, I found one. The storm was not nearly as formidable as it looks. It provided a nice bit of wind and a brief downpour; mostly, though, it was beautiful and offered a treat for the eyes. The setting sun filtered in low behind the cloud base, shining its rose-colored light through a curtain of rain and illuminating the backsides of gray, steamy towers. But why am I talking like this? Here, see for yourself. The photos are in sequence; click on them to enlarge them, and enjoy the view.