Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Spoiler alert: for those seeking an adrenaline-charged nature experience, skip this post. There are some encounters with nature that are quiet, reflective wonders. This was one.

We have been looking forward to this visit for at least five years, ever since hearing that the National Forest Service was restoring 28 square miles of land 60 mi south of Chicago to the tall grass prairie that predominated before the 1840’s. They are perhaps 25% into a full restoration of the acreage and grazing by wild buffalo, but there is still a lot to see here.

Our own little foray into prairie restoration back home consists of 6 acres of savannah prairie restored to wildflowers and little bluestem grasses. It is an attractive habitat to butterflies, bees, birds and wild turkeys, and we love walking it. In the coming years we hope to restore a wet meadow to similar grandeur.

Midewin (pronounced Mi-day-win, with the second syllable accented) was established in 1996 and named in honor of the Potawatomi tribe for their “Grand Medicine Society.” It has 34 miles of trails, and we encountered three groups on horseback enjoying the trails, as well as a handful of walkers and bikers, even in this shoulder season.

The bison are magnificent. Osage orange trees are prevalent. But the real stars of the show are the 9-foot-tall Big Bluestem grasses, the Side Oats Gramma, Indian Grasses and the thousands of prairie wildflowers. Thousands of acres of them. They hold the dirt, enrich it every year with organic decaying matter, house millions of field and woodland creatures, and host a profusion of winged animals.

It is gratifying to see a place that contains a many-layered ecosystem in the process of healing the earth. All this from a site that formerly housed ammunition plants for WWII and VietNam. The smells on the howling wind are great, and the eye delights in the rolling hills of waving grain that needed no Roundup, fertilizer or harvesting equipment to do what nature intends. We hope that the bison are successful in thriving here, so that they can be rotationally grazing on the prairie. As nature intends. Congrats, NFS, so far, so good.

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For those curious for a peek at the goats…

Just received new pix of the goat ladies on the milk stand, and we’re sharing them with you as most are familiar with the milkers but not the new milking help!

Meet Arielle and Adelle, two of the family Talsma, who took over the herd in mid-August! Click on the pix for more detail.

All nine of the Talsma children are blond, gregarious, energetic and ready to be involved with the animals’ care. We just heard from them today that our rehired barn cats are also happily re-ensconced in herd life down south in Zeeland, MI. So this story really does have a happy ending for all! If we get any further details about their goings-on and shenanigans, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Meanwhile preparation continues apace for our upcoming trip to the Mid-Atlantic via Minnesota. Updates to follow from such attractions as the Midewin Tall Grass Prairie in Illinois, the highlights of Indianapolis, The Great Smokies, Shenandoah, the Outer Banks, hollers of West Virginia, Jules’ (our Norwegian Elkhound) new home in NE Kentucky, and the Rookwood Ceramic Workshop in Cincinnati!

Be well, and stay tuned!

Best, Jill and George Goatrekkers

 

 

Back home, and already itching for the road!

We’re back home today with a few additional pix, and observations about how we fared while gone/upon our return. At the same time, we can’t wait to get going again. Guess this will be a frequent feeling.

Our first three-week trip was exhilarating, exhausting and full of learnings. It mostly reinforced our decision on the make and model of motor home (a good feeling), and stoked the fires to get out on longer trips with more hiking. All in, a very positive shakedown trip which resulted in lots of small tweaks to be made before the next outing.

As you may guess, we fell in love with the Upper Peninsula on the way to and from MN, and look forward to returning on most every trip to MN (where the grandkids are). We now have a list of great fisheries/fish markets to frequent for restocking of the good stuff, and lots of waterfalls, museums and hikes to go back for. The Porkies and UP’s Northern Lights are calling! And there are always the most lovely surprises to be encountered in camps and waysides.

One disappointing realization is that our beloved Jules is not cut out for travel. She loves laying in the grass on the farm and being a sentry on well-known property too much to pull up stakes every few days for parts unknown. And she HATES riding in the MoHo. We had to medicate her, poor thing, almost every day to keep the panting, pacing, sour stomach and stress drools to a minimum – not the recipe for a high-quality dog’s life. So we are now going through Norwegian Elkhound Rescue societies and associations to rehome her to a loving couple with a small amount of acreage who needs a yard guard. Another painful separation lies ahead.

Upon returning home, we saw that the wildlife had already reclaimed Birchbark Farm as its sovereign territory. Coyote close to the house, deer having their way with our bushes, roses, perennials and berries, turkeys in the orchards. Oh well….they’re in charge here now.

Twenty pounds of fresh Michigan and Canadian whitefish, walleye, perch and lake trout is now in the farm freezer, and we’re happily looking forward to dining on it during the at-home months. Meantime prep is already underway on the farm for the cold season, as well as laying in supplies and reconfiguring MoHogany for the October trip. We’ll post you once we’re underway on that trip!

UP part 2, and MN is for kids

Just finished our 10-day visit to the kids and grandkids in metro Minneapolis. It’s a blur of action, owing to the MN State Fair, our grandson’s first birthday, visits to the Water Park and grand daughter’s first day of full-day pre-school. Of course the wee ones had to get introduced to the concept of camping via campfires, s’mores, sleepovers and lunch at our tiny dinette…they are now sufficiently longing to go along that we should have no trouble getting them comfortable with a week-long trip next summer.

A few last comments about our Lake Superior southern shore drive on the way to MN:

The drive to Copper Harbor was lovely, and worth it for the views.

We had to prioritize our few short hours in the Western UP, so drove 90 min up the Keweenaw from Hancock/Houghton….we promise to return to take you in as well, Seaman Mineral Museum, Quincy Mine Tour and Porcupine Mountains!

Copper Harbor was reminiscent of Ely, MN: an outpost peopled by backpackers and outdoors folk, artists and hardy souls. Views were stunning, everything was clean, undeveloped, rustic and still a habitat for wildlife. While motoring back, we came upon the Monks of the Society of St. Joseph nestled in the forest. Their dome gleams like a honeyed onion in the midst of the spruce woods, and there was a line out the door of their little but oh-so-neat, spartan confectionary shop by the side of the road.

If you go, be prepared for their Thimbleberry Jam, a local specialty, as well as their chocolate and caramel truffles, gigantic pumpkin muffins, abbey cakes and cashew brittle. Luscious treats worthy of the finest sweets makers in Paris! All wrapped up by Brother Basil, quite the understated character with a wry smile and twinkling eyes. And don’t forget a tour of the chapel if you come before Vespers at 5pm.

Last stop before MN was the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin — we’d done Bayfield once before, and it was as charming as before. This time we bypassed art shops and restaurants, going straight for the fish market just on the edge of town. Luscious Lake Trout and Whitefish! To be laid into the deep freeze for winter when we get home. We stayed at Legendary Waters RV park across from Madeleine Island, and it was just perfect. Wonderful waterfront walks, the best bathroom/shower setup we’ve seen, and the sunset was intense across the Lake.

In a nutshell then, to Minnesota: we did our usual “arrive at 8am, leave by 2pm” early tour of the fairgrounds — the livestock barns, most of the fave food booths, the dairy exhibit and the slippy-slide. All good, one of the great fairs of the US.

The rest of the trip is a blur. Sweet corn every night with the family. Swimming when weather permitted. Barbecues and a few communal naps, and it was all kids, all the time. Giggly baths, babysitting, sneaking snacks, chowing on birthday cakes, ice cream and s’mores, riding the Lake Harriet Trolley, shopping for school, on and on. What a delight for g-parents and g-children. And the parents were in there someplace, too!

We’ll be home in a day and a half, with about 20 days to prep for the Next Big Adventure. Be well, folks!

Yoop! We love the U.P.!

Gorgeous country, legendary trees and clean air, wide expanses of nature, and only an occasional horde of sand flies. It’s spectacular up here!

True confession: we’re not really “doing” the UP, the way we intend to do the National Parks. We have only one night at each stop while motoring across the UP and Wisconsin on the way to the grandkids. That, we’ve learned, is wholly insufficient time to actually see much of the area. Making camp, walking the dog, making meals, cleaning up and planning for the next day takes four(!) hours out of each day, and we drive another four hours. So from now on, when there is no strict deadline, we’ll only do a one-nighter as a rare exception. And have time for hikes.

Stayed in Tahquamenon River Mouth Campground last night, Munising City RV park tonight, Hancock City Park tomorrow night. Stopped at Whitefish Point in between, and Brown’s Fisheries in Paradise for midday dinner. Arrived 15 min after it opened for the day, and the place was JAMMED.

Did you ever notice how spruce trees grow differently up here? Take a look…it’s one of many ways you know you’re in the true North! They are r-e-a-c-h-i-n-g for the sun. I love it.

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Munising is a charming town, larger than I remember some 40 years ago(!) and quite the tourist-pleasing place, as is Newberry. Tahquamenon Falls are just as tannic and bubbly as always (we’re told Tahquamenon means “shortcut”, probably in the Ojibwa or Menominee language, but that is disputed). The fresh whitefish on offer up here is splendid, and we picked up wild blueberries to nosh on in the morning.  Heading into the hill country of the UP from here on, and it will be big fun to actually see what the tectonic activity of eons ago worked in the landscape.

We’ll be back. Loads to see here.

Whitefish Point, looking like the top of the world!
Whitefish Point, looking like the top of the world!
Beach heather dominates here. Takes the place of beach grass in holding the sand.
Woolly beach heather dominates here. Takes the place of beach grass in holding the sand.
At least 10 Coast Guard Buildings at Whitefish Point. In spotless condition.
At least 10 Coast Guard Buildings at Whitefish Point. In spotless condition.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls. How well we remember you from childhood!
Lower Tahquamenon Falls. How well we remember you from childhood!
Another view of the Lower Falls. No wonder the Indians loved them.
Another view of the Lower Falls. No wonder the Indians loved them.
Our view of the Pictured Rocks, high above Munising perched on a glacial moraine.
Our view of the Pictured Rocks, high above Munising perched on a glacial moraine.

First “Journey” – a mini-trip

Hi folks!

We’re just back from a three-day jaunt down to Elkhart to pick up our trekking buggy (sorry, I’m stuck in Amish mode after having driven around LaGrange County to update my knowledge of the area’s Amish culture. I grew up on the Indiana-Michigan line, my Grandma was a Hoosier, and we made frequent trips to Shipshewana, Middlebury, Bristol and the like).

We LOVE Mohogany, our 24′ motor home. She’s just right, not too big, not too small. Four days at home and then we are off to the UP of Michigan for some awesome nature before heading to Minnesota for heavy-duty grandchildren time. Everything seems to work in the unit, but WiFi on the road may be an infrequent experience, as campgrounds don’t seem to be bristling with bandwidth. No biggie, we’re ok with being offline on a regular basis.

Shout outs to friends for the recommends on where to get fresh fish in the UP! Julia and Steve, we’re headed toward the WallEye and Salmon! We’ll try to post pix of the beautiful waterfalls and the amazing geology to come next week. Hope you are enjoying the last weeks of summer.

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Goats and shepherds on Birchbark Farm

Off the Cliff

Seven days left. Then the goats, ducks and barn cats are gone. The milking and cheesemaking cease. And we have two days to get our sh*t together and go pick up the MoHo (motor home). Her name will be Mohogany (see what we did there?) and she will be our every-other-six-weeks home for the next XX years.

So as to not lose our minds over losing our goats (actually, migrating them to another farm), we are giving our hearts to two new passions: our grandchildren. As farmers everywhere know, when you have livestock, you don’t travel at will. We’ve been here on the farm every summer for nine years, tending our goats. Now we have two splendid grandchildren and a HUGE hankering to see them regularly, so we’re going on the road.

That also means trekking. Lots of trekking. To all of North America’s road-accessible National and Provincial Parks. Some we’ll visit with the grands, many without. And for as long as she is able, our trusty 11-year-old Norwegian Elkhound Jules will be along.

So this is the maiden post. And the maiden voyage starts in ten days. Come along for the ride!

Cheers, Jill and George (and Jules)