Screech Owls: Your Secret Neighbor

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I had not thought much about Screech Owls until recently, when two things happened this month. A few weeks ago I began to hear their annual high-pitched whinnies and magical sounding soft trills coming from the edge of my woods. It’s a sound I know well and hear every February, especially if the bedroom window is open a crack, as it usually is, even on cold winter nights. It’s a sound that makes me smile.

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Hiking the Boonies

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Hiking with Boy Scouts is never a quiet event. It just does not work out that way. And if the hike is an off trail adventure in “the boonies” of a snow-covered hardwood swamp, with each footstep crunching in snow or crackling over partially frozen puddles, you can be assured every deer and coyote will flee at the not so stealthy approach. Extremely fresh tracks in the snow confirmed my assumptions that our intrusion was quickly detected. But before I share this tale of an adventure like none other I have been on in my three decades in our county, I will mention Sammy, the six year old that hiked with us. He was quiet most of the time and very proudly crossed tiny creeks with a bit of parental help and was attentive to the surrounding landscape. His moment of pure joy was climbing up onto the seat of a rusted bulldozer that held half century old secrets about a peat harvesting operation in Oakland County.

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A Winter Walk at Hawk Woods

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I almost did not attend. A gloomy overcast sky had painted the world in dreary shades of gray. The weather forecast suggested a cold drizzle of rain, not my favorite conditions for hiking or photography. I had all but decided it would be a miserable day for the hike being offered by the Hawk Woods Nature Center to explore “seasonal changes” and look for signs of wildlife. However I had promised my old friend Mike Mansour, the long-term naturalist at Hawk Woods that I would be there. And so I went.

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West Bloomfield Parks’ New Nature Room!

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.” ― Luther Burbank

That powerful quote from Burbank came to mind last Friday afternoon while I waited in the hall outside of the newly renovated Nature Room at the West Bloomfield Parks Recreation Activities Center for its grand reopening ribbon cutting ceremony. The unbridled enthusiasm of the children in attendance was contagious and increased as the clock counted down to the cutting of the ribbon by Parks Director Jennifer Tucker, with park commissioners and park staff in attendance. While waiting for that moment, some of the excited children, and adults too, posed in the hallway’s monarch butterfly face cutout board for photos while others explored the exhibits in the hall. Continue reading

Solitude, Simplicity, and Situational Awareness

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau

Simplicity, solitude and slowness of motion, spiced with a healthy dose of situational awareness are the core ingredients of some of my very best and most rewarding winter adventures. Every now and then I hike with a group, but my strong preference in both faraway mountainous wilderness areas or within Oakland County is to hike alone in silent solitude, or with a companion that appreciates the simplicity of solo hiking as the automatic “reset” button we often need in a busy world of work and distractions.
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