WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
“We need the tonic of wildness.” That timeless 1876 quote of Henry David Thoreau is increasingly important today for those of us that seek peaceful places to hike and embrace the ways of nature. Nature-embracing is an endless need of mine that will never go away. Now that crisp days and frosty nights are accelerating the artistry of Mother Nature and creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, that need grows stronger.
Although there is no true wilderness to be found in Oakland County, our region is fortunate to have had the foresight to create trails and protect natural areas that are rich with wildness. By doing so, a feeling of being in a wilderness area was also created. I thought I knew the locations of all our “wilder side” parks, preserves, and wildland. Was I ever wrong!
Last week, while driving back from Addison Oaks County Park after an enjoyable autumn trek with my nature-embracing companion, we drove past a new roadside sign on Predmore Road in Oakland Township. The brightly colored sign caught our attention. It read “Fox Nature Preserve.” We pulled into the small parking lot and I took a quick look at their posted map and gazed out at a field of brilliant goldenrod. I decided I would return soon.
“Soon” turned out to be early the next morning. However, before heading to any area I am unfamiliar with, I usually do a website search of the organization, which in this case was Oakland Township Parks and Recreation. Here’s the basics of what their website stated about Fox Nature Preserve:
“This beautiful 234-acre park includes a variety of natural habitats to discover as you walk, bike, or ride horseback along the mowed trails. Our initial small parking lot is located at 1627 West Predmore Road. Please enjoy this jewel of a park between dawn and dusk. By ordinance, dogs must be leashed and animal waste must be removed by its owner. While our equine friends are welcome, please note that the parking lot is not trailer-friendly at this point, so it is recommended to ride into the park.”
I packed my camera, notepad, that critical morning mug of coffee, and headed back to the preserve. My greeting party was an Eastern Bluebird perched on the preserve’s entrance sign and high overhead a flock of Canada Geese honking loudly.
The next two hours was spent on an amazing, nature-embracing journey into the fields, forests, and marshlands that brought to mind a favorite quote from John Eastman in his book, “The Book of Field and Roadside:”
“The natural world, to be seen truly, must be seen whole, even as a mosaic can be perceived only when its multiple fragments are joined.”
That quote is just perfect for the Fox Nature Preserve, and many of the plants mentioned in his book are found at the preserve. I urge you to see the whole. You might even want to read his book first to enhance your experience.
Today I’ll share just a few “fragments” from my trek, starting with my bluebird greeting party. Eastern Bluebirds are found throughout Oakland County, but I was amazed by their abundance at the preserve. As I followed the trails and meandered near the woodland edge, I encountered dozens, which should not have surprised me, since the habitat is ideal.
Goldenrod provides an early autumn all-you-can-eat buffet of nectar and pollen for bumblebees and honey bees. I paused to watch bees amidst the blossoms that also hosted other insect species I could not identify. While kneeling down to capture a good photo angle, I was momentarily startled by a very large Eastern garter snake that was sunning on the trail just a few yards from me, but slithered off before I could get a photo that showed just the tip of its tail. However, a motionless Eastern gray tree frog near a small pond was far more cooperative for my camera’s lens. It won’t be long before that frog will snuggle down under a log for a long winter’s sleep.
If an opossum, skunk, or raccoon was looking for the perfect woodland shelter, the preserve provided plenty of opportunity. One tree in particular caught my attention and all but needed a sign saying, “inquire within for luxury living.” However, my closer inspection at the large cavity near the ground told me a “no vacancy” sign would be more appropriate. Raccoon scat was near the entrance, indicating that five-star raccoon den that was already occupied.
A large, eye-catching, cinnamon-colored specimen that was more than three feet tall grabbed my attention. I had trouble making an identification, however after sharing a photo on Facebook, I discovered from those in the know that aptly enough it’s common name is Cinnamon Fern. It’s a native fern to Michigan and thrives in moist, shaded areas and was a new species to me. There was a bonus find there too in the soft moist soil, tracks of an Eastern coyote.
Perhaps my most intriguing discovery was a clucking sound coming from above me in a forested area. That rhythmic music of nature’s way started when I left the meadow and entered the woods. After getting home, I researched bird songs and none even came close. Facebook to the rescue! After I posted the video below with audio, I was informed it was a chipmunk sounding its alarm call.
At the time of the recording, I was meandering off trail and perhaps this chipmunk took me for what I was: an unusual intruder and possible threat in its habitat.
While reviewing my almost 100 photos and creating today’s blog, a quote from Aldo Leopold came to mind that was perfect for this seasonal adventure. “…phenology is a very personal sort of science. Once he learns the sequence of events, the phenologist…may even fall in love with the plants and animals which so regularly fulfill his predictions.”
By the time you read these words, which I wrote last week, the color changes will be far more dramatic in the fields and woodlands of the Fox Nature Preserve. If you visit on a sunny day like I did, dappled sunlight filters through the canopy of trees, creating extraordinary beauty. I just may have to return soon for a second look and another dose of the tonic of wildness on the Wilder Side of Oakland County. You may wish to explore as well. No permit is needed.
Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.