A Walk On the Wild Side, Looking For Hickories


Winter was slow to come to West Michigan, but when it finally arrived in late January, it came with a vengeance.  With a few days break between storms, I hung up the snow shovel, traded in my cross-country skis for snowshoes, and headed to Sarett Nature Center.   

I’ve visited Sarett many times in the past, during all seasons; chaperoning school field trips when my daughters were younger, or attending workshops on my own, cross-country skiing by torch light at night with a friend, or wandering through the woods by myself.  Always I’ve stayed on the trails; they are clearly marked and it is prohibited to wander off of them, ensuring delicate eco-systems will not be disturbed.   

Sarett Trail

Leading our small group of snow-shoers was naturalist, Matt Hayes.  Walking like penguins or ducks (I can't decide which), Matt led us off trail for a “Walk on the Wild Side” to explore the unseen areas of Sarett.  

snowshoe group
There were times that the brush got too thick and the hills too steep, and we had to backtrack, with Matt showing us identifying features of plants and animal tracks, and sharing interesting tidbits of information the entire way.  The easily distinguishable beech with its smooth, silvery bark, has buds like tiny tightly wrapped cigars; the bare, hairy vines of poison ivy can cause a rash even in winter; wild cherry trees have bark that look like burnt potato chips.  Along a stream in a marshy area grows ninebark; the shrub is named for its exfoliating bark that has nine layers.  Unlike the nearby cattails which have seeds carried by the wind on tiny cottony tuffs, ninebark seeds float.  Dispersed in the running water, the seeds are transported downstream, which is why you usually see ninebark growing along riverbanks.  We came across a tangled thicket of autumn olive, and Matt explained the nature center’s ongoing battle to eradicate this non-native invasive species of shrub, especially from the prairie restoration area. Also non-native (but not invasive) is Scotch pine, and Sarett’s has a “forest” of it; part of the nature center was once a Christmas tree farm.  The pines provide cover for many species of birds and animals, and we were treated to seeing a white-tailed deer bounding ahead of us, through the snow.      

Matt pointed out the crooked trunks in a stand of sassafras, and I was reminded of an illustration of twisted sassafras branches accompanying an essay about the tree many people view as a weed.  “…At least honor the life force it represents,” writes author Tom Springer, “It’s a tree that holds and heals the soil of neglected places, the first act in a drama of natural succession that can culminate in a forest of oak and maple.  If we just let it be, the sassafras will do what it’s always done: demonstrate nature’s power to keep the world sweet, green, and beautiful.” 

Cindy Murphy
3/11/2013 12:15:48 PM

Thanks for reading, Dave. I always enjoy your posts too - even when I don't make it in here to read; I'm glad you send them on by e-mail. "The Resilient Gardener" sounds like a book I'd like. I have to say I'm more apt to read a book about "life as a gardener" than a straight "how-to" book about gardening. Hope this gardening season is bountiful enough that you pack your storage room to the brim with garden goodies.

2/28/2013 5:19:15 AM

Cindy, I thought about you often during the storms that have blanketed our land this winter. I could just see you peering out the window with glee in anticipation of the coming ski or snow shoe experience. I'm glad you got to experience your favorite time of the year before the business of spring nursery begins to happen. It's been a great winter for me as I have had plenty of time to work on inside projects this year. Last year which had no winter didn't allow me that luxury. As a result the cold room is finished and hold a solid 15 degree temperature difference from the rest of the house. Yea!! Now all I need is a good year of gardening to fill it up vegetables for winter dining. I'm reading "The Resilient Gardener" by Carol Deppe. It's a book not just about gardening but life as a gardener. For me it's hasn't really given any great revelation about gardening but the thoughts about life around gardening has given me some things to ponder. It's always great to read a post from you. Have a great outside winter day.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters