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.

On the Road to Oklahoma

The southerly breeze blowing from across the field behind me into this shady little park is just enough to render an otherwise hot and somewhat humid noon hour pleasant to perfection. If bathwater could be turned into air and made to blow around me, this is how it would feel, the quintessence of balmy. I'm sitting at a picnic table surrounded by stately maples robed in the fresh green of May. From every direction comes the chatter and song of birds. A stone's throw to my right, three fat robins on worm patrol navigate the grass with great singleness of purpose, and somewhere not far away I can hear the whirring call of a woodpecker. I couldn't ask for a better setting to while away a couple of hours while my buddy Bill lunches with clients at a nearby plant. Ah, spring! Ah, Iowa! Here in this tiny park in this small town nestled in America's gently rolling heartland, for a little while I find myself retreating from how life is to how it can be. Quietude is not necessarily quiet, for the air is filled with sounds. But they are subtle sounds, background sounds, sounds of wind and birds that unwind the mainspring of my all-too-preoccupied soul. Tomorrow I will wake up in Enid, Oklahoma, which looks like a prime base of operations for chasing storms that bump off the dryline. I've had my eye on Enid for a couple of days, now, and this morning the SPC issued a moderate risk for tomorrow with Enid smack in its midsection. That bodes well. It's time at last for a chase in the Southern Plains. I still have some concerns with this system. But they're outweighed by the fact that the right stuff is coming together for tomorrow. Even more importantly, it's May in Oklahoma. An ant can fart and spin up a tornado. And I'll be there to watch it and experience the drama, beauty, and adrenaline of the atmosphere with my good friend and chaser partner of 15 years, Bill. Speaking of whom, here he is. Looks like his business meeting is over. Time to pack up, hop in the car, and head west. Adieu, Victor, Iowa. Thanks for providing unknowing hospitality to a stranger in this jewel-like little park beneath the unfolding leaves of spring.

Finding Jazz in the World Around Us

My sweet lady, Lisa, and I took a trip to Meijer Gardens earlier this week. Today, sifting through the photos I took as our tram ride wound along the curvy path through the world-class outdoor sculpture garden, and afterward as we strolled through the remarkable plantings in the children's garden, I'm struck--as I often am--at how the elements of music are woven into the very fabric of our world. Jazz is all around us. Form, space, unity, diversity, rhythm, dynamics, improvisation, color, texture, contrast, creativity--whether in music, nature, speech, literature, art, human relationships, or above all, our relationship with God, you'll find the same qualities working together to create beauty and interest. Consider the qualities of space and contrast. In a jazz solo, the notes you don't play are as important as the ones you do. Too much clutter, too many notes in endless procession, ceases to communicate. As in writing and conversation, well-placed punctuation--held notes, brief pauses, and longer rests--helps to shape musical ideas and gives them breathing room. Yet the furious density of artfully placed double-time passages creates another form of color. Both space and density can be overdone; it's the contrast between the two that helps raise a solo from the doldrums to vitality. The massive red iron piece titled "Aria" is a great visual representation of the interrelationship between music and art. The piece has a rhythm to it, shape, space, contrast--all the aspects of a well-crafted jazz improvisation.
Aria: like a jazz solo cast in metal.

Aria: like a jazz solo cast in metal.

Here are a few more images from the sculpture garden and children's garden that remind me of music and jazz.

What musical elements can you detect? Space? Sequence? Color? Dynamics?

What musical elements can you detect? Space? Sequence? Color? Dynamics?

This landscape sculpture creates unity out of contrast and serenity out of movement.

This landscape sculpture creates unity out of contrast and serenity out of movement.

If only I could play a solo as creative, spontaneous, and cohesive as this!

If only I could play a solo as creative, spontaneous, and cohesive as this!

Lisa: the beautiful song God has brought to my life!

Lisa: the beautiful song God has brought to my life!

Of Camp and Cacti: Photos from 4th of July Week

Among the many interests that my sweetheart, Lisa, and I share is a love for photography. This last week we've poked around together in the outdoors with our Canon cameras and harvested a variety of images. So rather than write a lot of words, I thought I'd share a few photos with you. They're about neither jazz nor storm chasing; they're just odds and ends from nature and life at large. Last weekend Lis and I headed up to Camp Henry, a Christian camp located on Kimball Lake north of Newaygo, to spend the Fourth of July with our close friend and dear sister in Christ, Kimberly Dunn. Kimber lives in Redding, California, but has been doing a summer internship here in Michigan at the camp. It was great to see her, and during our visit, Lisa and I naturally took a lot of photos. Then yesterday, we went out on a photo expedition to capture prickly pear cacti in bloom. There is at least one species that is native to Michigan, the eastern prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa, also known as devil's tongue. The blooming season for it is winding down, but there are still plenty of bright, butter-yellow blossoms available to fill a camera viewfinder. With many photos to choose from, I've opted for images from nature and the outdoors, subjects that Lisa and I both gravitate toward more than anything else. I hope you enjoy the selection.
Sunset at Camp Henry

Sunset at Camp Henry

Swimming Buoy at Sunset, Camp Henry

Swimming Buoy at Sunset, Camp Henry

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on Milkweed

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on Milkweed

Loosestrife Flowers. These are a native species, not the highly destructive exotic, purple loosestrife, which takes over wetlands.

Loosestrife Flowers. These are a native species, not the highly destructive exotic, purple loosestrife, which takes over wetlands.

Eastern Prickly Pear

Eastern Prickly Pear

Also Known as Devil's Tongue

Also Known as Devil's Tongue

Opuntia Humifusa in Flower

Opuntia Humifusa in Flower