Category Archives: Wit’s End

Wit’s End, continued

I took possession of Wit’s End in October of 2001 and so my first full season there was in winter. The children were busy in their move towards independence, the world was on edge, and Sophie was a tiny kitten who rode willingly along each weekend to Wit’s End. In February I bought Priscilla, Queen of the Lake, on eBay- at 2am, 3 minutes after she was listed, for the ridiculously low price of 4500.00. (The next morning I read the fine print and realized I had a week to show up in Estes Park, CO., money in hand with a truck to tow her away. Thank goodness for fireman friends who are up for any adventure involving trucks and trailers.) Never had a thought about vintage travel trailers crossed my mind, so who knows what was at work there? That I was awake, on that page, finger poised and poking on impulse… And who knew that three short months later I would meet, after 12 years of studiously NOT looking, a man to share my life with?

Here are some pictures to illustrate the previous posts about Wit’s End. Because I can’t figure out- still, after nearly a year- how to get type correctly juxtaposed with images, they are, in no particular order: The cottage with Prisiclla, the dock in late winter, the dam that marks the beginning of the Red Cedar River, our cozy bedroom with a small bed that insists on cuddling, my winter view out the window to the "feeder tree" and beyond. All of these were takenin the past few days; the ice is breaking and the river is flowing. And yes, that’s Minkie, our taxidermied pet in the fishing creel in the bedroom. Don’t ask. (click to enlarge)PriscillaDockDam1Cottage_bedView_3

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The Watershed- Wit’s End, Part II

Here are a couple of maps to help you get oriented. The whole state map reminds you that, yes, we look just like a mitten- with some sort of mutant life form perched on top. That part of the state has been trying to secede (and succeed) for many years. It is mineral and lake and wildlife rich; other than that the folks up there just have a few pasties and roads to plow. And of course, the Bud and Jan show, which is at the absolute northern most tip on that little peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. Looking at this map you may understand some of my whining about how I can’t get from here to there easily; NYC is closer.

We are surrounded by the biggest and most beautiful inland lakes in the world, each very distinctive. Superior is cold, bleak and wild, Michigan is big and glamorous, Erie is always working to be clean, Huron is the Lake of watersports, we share shipping lanes with Canada on Lake Ontario and St. Claire is some miserable suburb of Detroit.

MaphuronOn this map, Wit’s End is located right precisely where three watershed corners come together down in the southeastern quadrant. The bluer green watershed districts that cover the thumb go to Lake Huron while the grass green districts to the south drain to Lake Erie. Right there, at the three corners, the light green area that covers the western half of the state flows to the Big Lake (aka, Michigan) and Wit’s End is in that very first watershed, the Grand River watershed, right where three colors come together.

Technically, we are labeled by the DEQ (Dept. of Env. Quality- both our Friend and our nemesis) as the Red Cedar/ Lower Grand River Watershed. (Here’s where little bells and whistle begin to go off for at least one of my distant readers…)

Wikipedia (surprisingly!) has this entry: A watershed is a region of land where water drains downhill into a specified body of water, such as a river, lake, sea, ocean or wetland. A watershed includes both the waterway and the land that drains to it. Each watershed is separated topographically by a ridge, hill or mountain. A watershed is like a funnel – collecting all the water within the drainage area and channeling it into a waterway. Back in Ann Arbor, The Huron River provides our greenspace parks, metroparks, and ties us to the eastern part of the state. Watershed management falls first under the jurisdiction the DEQ and then the EPA and they are constantly vigilant to see that the draining waters don’t pick up too much of the flotsam and jetsam that human beings launch moment by moment. A major threat to the Huron River Watershed has been the construction boom of drywall palaces and MacMansions; all of that building causes erosion, runoff,and topographical mayhem even before the people move in and start polluting the place up. Old Horsetail commented, "all rivers have stoneflies, silly." All CLEAN rivers have stoneflies (probably most of the ones in Oregon) because stoneflies, a good indicator of healthy aquatic life, can only hatch in unpolluted waters. And our river here in town isn’t nicknamed the Urine River for no good reason.

CedralakeBack at Wit’s End and Cedar Lake and the Red Cedar River. Here, 45 minutes northwest of Ann Arbor, begins the Grand River Watershed, Here, everything begins to flow west to Lake Michigan. And I mean literally here. In the first little map you can see Wit’s End marked by the red star. Cedar Lake is sort of kidney shaped and our little place comes out on a point that intersects the lake. Right at the edge of our place, smack by the mailbox, is the dam which begins the Red Cedar River and the watershed. Hence, Cedar Lake is what is called a headwater lake; the watershed begins with us. In the drawn map you can see the Red Cedar River as she begins her path north and then west.

The DEQ cares a lot about the quality of a headwater lake. I guess if you at least start with clean water you start with a chance. Cedar Lake is very clean, in a deceptive sort of way. There aren’t many houses on it and only 4 or 5 of the large fancy year round types. That’s coming but in a fairly slow and restricted way since much of the shoreline is protected wetlands. The big fancy house owners get themselves on the township board and railroad endlessly for weed control and dredging- after all, it’s tough to race about on jet skis with the lake full of grasses, swans, loons and SandHill Cranes. Which is what Cedar Lake is full of. And muskrats. And many many fish, They just can’t believe that the DEQ isn’t going to let them drag out all the grass and lilies and dredge a deep level bottom rather than the rolling terrain from shallow to deep spring water holes that are down there now. They also cannot get this through their thick skulls: most inland lakes have arsenic in the silt bottom. It remains harmless and inert on the bottom of the lake; it doesn’t impact most wells nor fish nor fowl. But if you drag it out of the bottom of a lake and dump it on dry land it becomes dangerous and leaches into the soil as deadly arsenic. These few yahoos had this idea that they could put their dollars together and buy, in perpetuity, a plot of land, a mausoleum of sorts, to hold this arsenic laced soil they want dredged off the bottom. To hell with the fish and fowl, lizards, bugs and small mammals, native plants- at least they could jet ski. Fortunately they are in a very small minority and the rant part of this post is over.

If you look at this fuzzy aerial map you can figure out where Wit’s End is- on that light line stretch. And then you can see what we call the hundred acre wood (it’s 137 acres) behind us. Right in the middle of that woods is a small pond that exists only in springtime but this is the "wetland" that prevents any future development of the hundred acre wood. In that pond, right after the 2nd heavy warm rain, a million spotted salamanders and a trillion spring peepers explode into life. I don’t know how many really but you get the idea. The song of the night makes you giggle for hours. Beyond the wooded acreage you see tan patches of farmland. This combination: water, marsh, trees, tilled farm land is like paradise for Sandhill Cranes. I have seen as many as 120 in that field on the corner of our road in early fall.

Sophie goes out to Wit’s End sometimes and once in a rare while she escapes the cottage and races into the woods. She was barely a kitten that first spring and she came back to the door snorting and coughing and batting at her nose. When she lifted her face I saw she had a spotted salamander as a gift for me. Although she didn’t want to let him go, he had to taste vile by her reaction. Hours later she was still sticking out her tongue and gagging.

You can also see the shallows and marshy areas that line the lake. This is what makes the lake attractive to an amazing assortment of life. Tomorrow I’ll share some photos of the dam I took two days ago, the beginning of the river and more of Wit’s End.Cedar_lake_2_1

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Wit’s End, part 1

Sign_2Five years ago this month I found myself there. At my wit’s end. I had just returned from a week long dive trip to Honduras with the Snarl. Our adventure trip together was the high point of each year for me; never has there been a better travel companion. She is full of energy and curiosity, comfortable with 4 languages, sleeps anywhere and eats anything. We had traveled to Alaska, Belize, Mexico and tiny islands in the Caribbean- always to places off the beaten track, always roughing it, always on a dime.  But after this voyage, rather than reveling in the memories, I crashed- with the realization that she would soon leave home to explore the world on her own. So while she bounced out for a happy reunion with friends I was laid out on the sofa, immobilized with an impending sense of doom, watching Canadian Women’s Curling. Okay, that’s a little dramatic but I had, indeed, reached an impasse of sorts. I’d been single and focused on raising the children for more than a dozen years. I was happy in my career and with my friends, all of whom were married. I had managed to save a middling amount towards retirement but the market was slumping miserably and my financial security was draining away.

So it was right around then that I decided to invest in real estate. I thought that lakefront property, no matter how modest, would surely do better than Dow-Jones and I would have the pleasure of a weekend getaway at the same time. I began a dedicated search for a small cottage.

Ann Arbor is in the Huron River watershed and this river feeds dozens of small lakes within an hour of town. All of these lakes are packed, cheek to jowl, with summer cottages. Many of them are aging, tumble down, moldy, grossly overpriced and built on postage stamp lots. Between the early spring and late summer I looked at over 140 cottages. I was on a mission. Every Friday afternoon and all day Saturday I cracked the whip over my harried realtor; I’m certain we put 4,000 miles on her car, all in 50 miles sprints. Over that time I found three that I liked but there was no land! None.These cottages were on such small lots that if either the well or the septic field failed there wasn’t enough space, under new DEQ guidelines, to replace them.

One day in late August the realtor called and said she had gotten wind of a small out of the way place on a tiny private lake off in a new direction. We drove out northwest of town and looked around the outside. I was in love. She said I should have my bid on the table, at full price, prior to the listing and I did. It was a non-contingent offer and I was confident- until another person bid well over the asking price that same morning. Two weeks would pass when I had resigned myself to giving up for the year before the other offer failed and they came back to me.

On Sept. 10th, 2001 I had my life savings drawn into a cashier’s check and closed on Wit’s End. I didn’t take possession until the weekend of my birthday in October and by then the world had changed.All of the women from BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) came out that weekend and, as only true friends would, they scrubbed appliances, toilet, floors and windows. And then we had a giant bonfire and the best potluck ever and Wit’s End became my home away from home.

(Tomorrow I’m going to post my "watershed meme." Wit’s End is actually a hop, skip and jump into, not the Huron River watershed, but the Grand River watershed- which flows to the west and that most wonderful of Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. And my little speck of the world holds a unique and important distinction in that watershed. Can you guess what it is?)Wits_end_2

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A Preface

When Rich and I need some peace and quiet to remember what we’re all about we try to get out to Wit’s End. This is the little cottage on Cedar Lake, about 45 minutes from home. It takes us away from the demands and stress of work and traffic and kids, answering machines and stacks of mail. Wit’s End was mine before it was ours and I still have a few mixed feelings about sharing the place- like a child with a favorite toy, torn between keeping it for herself and sharing with her best friend.

We came out last night and here’s something disturbing that happened. The sun was brilliant, especially on the remaining snow and broken ice of the lake. You know from previous posts that the mute swans who live on the lake are favorites of mine. Each year there are two pair- one at the north end in the marsh grass and one at the south. But the lake is small and the males are aggressive about their space so sometimes there’s some jostling that goes on before things settle into the the lascivious rituals of Spring.

This year I have been watching the original pair plus one of their youngsters, throughout the winter. When we arrived yesterday, it was clear the youngster had found a mate. Throughout the afternoon there was low flying back and forth- maybe within a couple feet of the surface. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to capture a picture for you because they are quite majestic and large, but the glare and movement were too much for my skills. At some point we actually heard loud flapping and just as we looked there was a midair collision. The father and son crashed together, wrestled briefly and then the youngster fell to the ice as the father flew off. Here are two out of focus pictures of the unhappy result.

Swan2Swan1The young swan limped slowly across the ice, dragging one leg and one wing. It was almost too painful and sad to see but I got out the scope and watched. He hobbled along until he hit the edge of the ice and then he slipped into the water and moved nearer his mate. As the sun went down he was still and quiet in the water and I was worried he wouldn’t make it through the night. Because the lake is half frozen and half thawed and the boats remain covered it was pointless to think about a rescue of sorts. And pretty much against the course of nature, for that matter.

I have a confession. I’ve been wandering. Beyond the ‘hood. Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been by your place but not always stopped to say hello- and I’m sorry. But it started with Florida Cracker– I had good reason, given the St. Pete.bungalow, to be curious about Florida stuff. And then it spread- to Pablo and Wayne and Rurality…and discussions about trees and rocks and scat and now, watersheds. I love a good watershed post. Watersheds are the source of nearly everything. People don’t always know a lot about the watershed they live in. Do you have stoneflies in yours? Stay tuned…

(postscript: this morning when we woke up the lake had mostly closed back up with ice. The young pair of swans was sitting, side-by-side, tucked into balls of white on the ice. They looked very cold but definitely alive. We shall see.)

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