Showcasing the DNR: Rejuvenating November hike

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Showcasing the DNR

An autumn scene with yellow tamarack trees shown standing alongside a dirt road.

Taking a rejuvenating November hike

“But right now, I’ll just sit here so contentedly and watch the river flow,” – Bob Dylan

Deputy public information officer
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

There is a place I remember visiting at this time of year, on a cold November day when the skies above looked as tumultuous as the crashing and dark grayish-blue-purple, rolling waves on the big water.

The air was clean and chilled. I took deep breaths and felt a surge of energy flow throughout my everything. I love the colder air of the autumn and winter months. It makes me feel more alive to breathe it.

I also recall it as something from my earliest kid days when we would be outside on cold days, playing until dark. By now, that feeling of exhilaration in taking in the clear, fresh air of this blessed Upper Peninsula is forever in my bloodstream.

This place I was at was gorgeous and wonderful, but not unlike thousands of others found in near- and far-flung places across this peninsula.

It was special to me, because I felt honored to be there along the river, which oozed black like oil in a serpentine fashion on a general decline toward its mouth.

These places are a pleasure for the senses. For me, they command reverence.

The sounds, smells, sights and other sensations we are not used to experiencing in our living rooms, offices, retail stores, cars or other places almost jump out of the landscape at you out here in these various environs.

This place I’m talking about had tremendous grandaddy white pine trees and, along the wet dirt of the road, dozens of golden tamarack trees.

The dropping of their pine-like needles typically lags behind the timing of the falling leaves of maples and other deciduous trees, producing kind of a “wait, there’s more” event in the later autumn.

During the summertime, the needles of tamaracks are green, but they turn a beautiful shade of golden yellow, like poplar tree leaves, in the fall.

While the needles remain on the trees, tamaracks present a frilly or feathering type of appearance. They retain this textural component while the needles have turned gold and then drop off to the ground.

One of the best things about my outing on this memorable and cold November day was that the tamarack needles were concentrated in extensive piles that ebbed and flowed out from the edge of the dirt road I was walking down.

On the west side of the road, the piles were the thickest, as a significant stand of the trees reached back far into the moist-dirt land. In some places, bare rocks stuck out of the landscape, water-worn and ancient.

The gold tamarack needles gave the appearance of some type of substance that must somehow be worth a tremendous amount of money – like Rumpelstiltskin’s spun gold or something.

I reached with both hands into the piles of needles and held them up to look closer at them. They were just beautiful. I took a few pictures of the trees and the gathered needles along the roadside.

I continued my walk down the road. A ruffed grouse sputtered up from the undergrowth not far off the east side of the road. It’s always a treat to experience a grouse taking flight.

Earlier this fall, one came gliding right across the hood of my Jeep – like a duck coming in for a landing on its behind.

The bird couldn’t have been more than an inch over the hood. It happened like it was in slow motion. I could see the beautiful black-and-gray tail banding and all kinds of details on the bird.

Back along the road, the quiet was soft and welcoming.

When the woods are quiet, it makes me want to be extra quiet to not disturb my surroundings, as well as increase the odds that I might be able to experience an animal sighting.

The day was shrouded in a gray cloak of maybe it will rain, maybe it will snow, maybe the sun will peek through, which can characterize a lot of November days here.

The road scooted up over a rise, and another grouse flew up on the opposite side of the road. Then, the road flattened back out and wound around the trees toward a very old country bridge over the river.

The rails along the sides of the bridge were rusted and long-ago ready to be replaced.

Some of the concrete was cracked, and the decking on the span was aged.

On the upstream side, the water pooled and deepened, while the downstream flow was shallow and noisy as the water tumbled over tremendous slabs of sandstone.

Like the cold air around me, I soaked in the sounds of the river.

If you have an occasion to listen closely, you can discover the symphony of the water includes a lot of variation – from sparkle sounds and bubbling to glugs and glucks and swirls and flows.

Since my youngest days being in the woods, I have always sought to see and hear and otherwise experience rivers and creeks. This is perhaps one of the reasons I love roads that follow rivers so much.

Places like this offer numerous chances to see and hear the variability of the character of the river’s flow.

Often, my palms will start to get sweaty in seeing holes that no doubt contain trout or salmon. In the autumn like this, many of these waterways are no longer open to fishing, but just seeing the potential is very exciting.

From hikes I’ve made upstream from a boating access site that sits ahead of me down this road, I know that when I keep heading north and then west again, the river makes a big bend.

At that turn, up off the water on a rise, I previously found a place where I discovered what almost certainly was a wolf’s den.

It appeared there had been very recent activity, but I decided not to stick my arm down inside to see if anyone was at home.

The river there picked up speed as it continued flowing down gradient, twisting, deepening and then becoming shallow again.

The water flowed under the high branches of a couple tall birch trees, one that was serving as a great lookout perch for an adult bald eagle. The bird saw me, made a crying sound and hopped from the branch and spread its wings into a downstream glide over the river and me.

From the place where anglers and boaters put in to reach the waters of the river and the big lake beyond, the walking becomes almost impossible.

The land for what I guess would be about a half-mile to the lake is covered in bog, with many places where a person could easily slip down into the water or holes created in previous years by high water flows.

I take my cue here to stop and look around before I turn around and walk back up the road. I can hear the waves crashing loudly on the shoreline of the big water.

I kayaked out there from here with a buddy many years ago. It was on a day when the sun was shining, and the lake was still. The water was easily 20 to 30 feet deep below us and we could see right to the boulder-covered bottom.

I watched what was probably the same eagle fly across the widened flow of the river downstream from me to land in another tall birch situated a good distance away.

In the skies, little flocks of fast-flying ducks moved quickly from left to right out over the water. The walk back up the road, which was about a mile or so to my Jeep, was pleasant, and though it was uphill, I felt lighter than I had on the trip down.

That is often the case on trips into nature, whether they last a half-hour or a couple of days. For me, it’s like a cleansing or dropping of my knapsack of grief, stress and anxieties once I get out in the something bigger of everything – the peace and order – the nature of things.

It’s a space and time of uninterrupted contemplation, relaxation and inspiration. It’s a wellspring of repair and renewal, and I can’t drink in enough.

The only thing making more noise than I’d like sometimes are the thoughts in my own head that keep nagging me to turn this way or that, like a bridle bit in a horse’s mouth.

I take some time to stop and lean lightly on the old bridge rail, watching the river flow.

In no time, I would be back within the hustle and bustle of society.

But I went back refreshed.

That’s so important. Because if I couldn’t go back feeling better, some days, I don’t think I’d be able to go back at all.

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Editor's note: This piece was previously published as an Outdoors North column.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to