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Better days will be coming, rest assured

“Way up on Bear Creek, watching the sun go down. Well, it makes me feel like I’m on my last go ’round,” – A.P. Carter

— — —

MARQUETTE — As the afternoon light dwindled, a drab gloom that had fallen over the scene the night before continued to hang around, as it had all day.

I was determined to get out for a look around though misting rain was falling in curtains, blown side to side by billowing winds. I rode along the pavement at an even pace, watching the ice still on the lake for signs of life.

Rainwater from the night before had pooled in various locations, especially near the shoreline and at the base of massive and jagged rocks whose crowns had pierced through the ice.

These pools of water presented a delightful pallet of colors, ranging from menthol blues and greens to butterscotch yellows and rusty wagon reds.

At a couple of places, where the water was open, where small brooks bubbled into the wider waters, pairs of Canada geese floated and honked.

I had heard geese a couple of days back and wondered if they had found any open water, given that the lake remained covered largely by ice.

I stopped by a bridge over a small creek. I was surprised to see hundreds and hundreds of small alder, dogwood and other varieties of trees still pulled over down to the ground from the snows of last November.

These treetops were stuck in the snow, bent over like croquet wickets. This allowed me to see clearly the serpentine, meandering course of the black waters through the snow-covered woods.

Despite hundreds of trips past this creek over the years, I had never seen its path delineated so finely before. I immediately noted two or three new places to try to reach once the snow melts and trout fishing begins.

As I drove, there were countless fresh-looking breaks and shredding tears in tree branches where unforgiving, stiff winds had ripped and slashed even the trunks of trees, snapping them in two like they were matchsticks.

In some areas, there were big piles of sawdust in the snow where utility crews had stopped back then to cut sagging boughs off the electric lines, no doubt fouling or knocking out power to many folks living here in this sparsely populated locale.

As I left the blacktop and hit the dirt road, I immediately encountered thick, red mud, soft and gooey, covered with remaining patches of ice and snow. This made the driving a little tougher.

I clicked on the four-wheel-drive just in I case I abruptly hit a deep hole or soft spot.

It wasn’t long until I slowed again to a stop. This time, to look at another creek, swollen and babbling, rising like a pale ghost from the dead of winter.

The waters of the creek stretched out long and still, like a black mirror reflecting the spruce trees along the water’s edge. I stepped out of the vehicle and made it over to the side of the road through the mud.

Beavers had tried to block the upstream side of the culvert with thin, chewed branches. It hadn’t worked so far. The water roared through the corrugated metal tube under the dirt road, gushing out through the other end downstream, roiling and tumbling.

Farther downstream, where the stream stretched out into a wide, slow pool, ice continued to cover much everything, but in the places where the black water was visible, a current was evidenced by short swirls and twists.

The winds kept blowing that cold, misting rain into my face. I got back in the vehicle and kept driving. A short distance up the road, there was a group of eight wild turkeys that heard me coming and moved up an embankment to the safe cover of some trees at the edge of the road.

They stopped when I stopped. When I rolled the window down on the passenger side, they began to bob and twitch nervously before heading farther up into the woods.

The air was quiet, except for the wind. The almost continuous cawing of crows that I’d been noticing the past few days had stopped completely. The woods were gray and sad, with a mist hanging across the backdrop to these early spring scenes.

With nothing blooming or really sprouting green yet, the woods seemed dead or dying, even worse than that icy concrete period just before the snows of autumn arrive to pull a white shawl over everything.

The road was almost deserted as well. Though the mud showed car tracks from earlier in the day, I passed only one driver on my way and he was heading in the opposite direction.

We exchanged dashboard finger waves as we passed each other, keeping our hands on the steering wheels to help navigate through the mud. I kept moving forward though I thought it might be best to turn around.

I knew at some point the road would narrow to impassable snow, mud and water, and I would be forced to reverse course. Still, I wanted to see if I could make it to the River of the Dead. I felt drawn there today.

In just a little while, past Bear Creek and Gander Lake, almost to Lake 8, I rounded a corner to a bridge over the Riviere des Morts.

The waters here were open and rolling, gliding over boulders and rocks without any snow or ice to slow down the waters from reaching plunge pools and swift turns on their way south toward the big basin.

I looked over both sides of the bridge. Too early to see suckers spawning. More rain and more fog draped over the skeletons of tamarack trees and the like.

Old man’s beard moss hung from the scraggly clawed arms of a jack pine tree at the edge of the road where I turned around.

I rolled down the window and looked out at the water one more time on my way back over the bridge. In a shallow overflow pond, I had to look twice but saw two black ducks dabbling among browned and drooping plants poking up through the water.

Black ducks are very understated in their coloration but are beautiful to see.

The ride back seemed to be quicker than the ride out, with the shadows growing longer the farther I drove toward home.

I noticed a big steel gate hung in a crossways fashion across a side road. Real estate signs were advertising property for sale. The retreating snows revealed empty beer bottles at the edge of the road, discarded and dirty.

I saw the turkeys again on my way back. They had moved about a mile down the road. At another creek, the beavers had indeed been successful in damming up a culvert. Consequently, the snows along the stream were inundated with at least a couple feet of water, sagging and sloping.

This was the last time I stopped before reaching the driveway at home.

Though I hadn’t seen anything of great significance on this silvery late afternoon, it felt freeing to be able to just leave the house for a little bit of fresh air and a gaze at the countryside I love and have missed over these quiet winter months.

I took a couple of deep breaths and felt my chest fill with clean, fresh air. I told myself that the hanging glum that was oozed over the scenes of this day would pass eventually, floating out over the big lake like a summer thundershower.

Better days would be coming, rest assured.

— — —

John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

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