ESCANABA - Sort of cute, sort of creepy, turtles are a part of summer in Upper Michigan.
We like to be in the turtle's watery wonderland as soon as the weather gets warm. Fishing along the river, canoeing or kayaking on the lake, or plunging into "the old swimming hole" brings us into turtle territory.
Wetlands and woodlands are the haunts of the slow and steady turtles of Michigan. When the blue flags (wild irises) stand out among the green rushes by the riverside, and when lavender-topped wild onions bloom, the turtle is sure to be nearby.
Karen Wils photos
A painted turtle enjoys the sunshine and warmth of the marsh.
After spending the long, cold winter buried in mud, how awesome the summertime lake shore must be.
Cattail plants, like tall green soldiers, marsh marigolds and water lilies so bright, and bugs, minnows and tadpoles so tasty, summer is a turtle's paradise.
I think we all have fond memories of a summer spent at the lake or at a camp as a child. Chances are fire flies, frogs and turtles are fascinating parts of that summer long ago. Perhaps you discovered turtle eggs or rescued a turtle from a busy road, or caught a turtle when you were fishing hoping to catch a perch.
When I was a kid, a small creek ran along the edge of town, just past where the ore docks used to be. All of the kids called it Turtle Creek because in the spring of the year, the little painted turtles thrived there. My brothers enjoyed catching them, but every year, my dad said "no pet turtles. They need to be outside to eat all of the mosquitoes." So back to the creek they'd go.
In my younger days, I was fortunate enough to spend lots of hours by the bay and by the mouth of the Escanaba River. The turtles of summer were interesting reptiles, a little too much like snakes, though.
When the June sunshine finally warmed the marsh up, the happy turtles would surface on logs or rocks and rejoice in the heat.
And just as quickly and as quietly as they appeared, they disappeared, back down into the murky water.
The painted turtles were fun, but his cousins - the snapping turtles - were creepy.
Except for laying their eggs in the mud, snapping turtles were very content to stay well hidden at the bottom of the pond, swamp or river.
But when you do get a chance to see a snapper, it's like seeing some prehistoric leftover. Hatching out at a little bigger than a nickel, snapping turtles can grow bigger than a dinner plate. His head is pointed with strong jaws that can crush shore birds and fish.
Snappers have a long tail and their shell is scalloped and ridged like a dinosaur. Sometimes the algae from the water actually grows on this turtle's back.
Healthy turtles mean a healthy environment. Put on your wading shoes and visit turtle territory. Listen to the red-winged black birds. Feel the warm sunshine. Upper Michigan has much to offer in its water
Karen (Rose)?Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles