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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

A Walk in the Woods

Ranger Steve Mueller. He recently passed away. Courtesy photo.

By Tom Noreen

 At the end of January, Cedar Springs’ Ranger Steve Mueller presented his Wilderness – Unique Treasure program for the Audubon Club at Aquinas College. Nancy and I watched via a Zoom link. Steve’s presentation was based on the ideals found in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, with its call for a land ethic to communicate the true connection between people and the natural world.

Ranger Steve emphasized the importance and values of protecting wilderness remnants for recreation, science and wildlife using the unique and fragile ecosystems of the American Red Rock Wilderness of Southern Utah as an illustration. Steve is intimately familiar with this region as he has spent many summers working and recreating there.

As a side note, Steve’s thoughts were echoed in Michigan author Mark Kenyon’s book, That Wild Country, that I recently read. Mark writes about his experiences in the wilderness areas of the US that he has made a point to visit. Interwoven with these “hikes into the woods” is a history of the preservation of wilderness areas and the people that made it possible including Aldo Leopold.

At the end of his presentation, a surprise tribute was given to Steve. Those attending described the impact that Steve had on their lives. Many knew Steve from his years at HCNC and some from his involvement in other organizations. The common picture painted by all told of Steve’s passion for nature, his patience, his desire to pass on his knowledge to others, and his vision.

I first met Steve and his wife Karen at our church shortly after we moved back to Cedar Springs in 2001. I didn’t know what he did until I went with our son Peter on a 5th grade field trip to HCNC later that fall. I fell in love with the area, as well as the program and came away wanting to be one of the environmental educators. On that visit, I also found that another member of our congregation worked there, Sue Vicari. I queried Sue with all kinds of questions about working there, the program, etc. The last of which was do you think Steve would consider hiring me? In short, he did and I had the chance to work for him for a few years until the Kent Intermediate School District closed HCNC because they didn’t feel environmental education was a priority. I continued to work there after the Kent County Conservation took over the mission and then volunteered when it transitioned into the non-profit it is today. It wasn’t the same without Steve’s passion and vision.

As instructors, Steve insured we got the best training to include how to prepare study skins by skinning and preserving the hides of “road kill” so that the students could look and feel the animals and birds they learned about. Other training was more academic. I attended a seminar on the Leopold Education Project that has since evolved into “an innovative, interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education curriculum based on the essays in A Sand County Almanac.” I would highly recommend this book. While written in the 1930/1940s, it is as current today as it was then. It is available both in print or audio format from the Kent District Library.

It’s been ten years since I led a group at HCNC and all of these experiences flooded back as the speakers shared their appreciation of Steve and the difference he made in their lives.

At the end of the tributes, Steve offered an open invitation to anyone that wanted to visit his own 61-acre preserve, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, nestled along Little Cedar Creek a mile south of Cedar Springs. He has made that invitation many times, but I never took him up on it. This time I did; in the afternoon of February 11, Steve and I began the loop trail that traverses many of the different habitats encompassed by the sanctuary. Déjà vu. I thought I was back at HCNC as a new instructor following Steve around and listening to him as he passionately described nature around us.

As we walked the loop trail, he pointed out such things as the rare American chestnut trees, which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized in his 1842 poem, The Village Blacksmith. It starts, “Under the spreading chestnut tree/The village smithy stands.” At the time it was written, American chestnut forests blanketed the east. Its importance, as a building material and food source, was key to pioneers as they moved out from the coast. Since then chestnut blight, which is caused by a fungus and spread from imported Japanese chestnuts, has devastated the species.

He showed me the bridges that our mutual friend, Phil Wesche, had built over the creek, in a couple of spots. One leads to a small island that provides a secluded place to commune with the nature around.

At the end of the walk, I was in awe of Steve’s zeal for life and passion for nature. I’m not sure how anyone around him would not be motivated to learn more and want to be a part of the wonders of nature.

I just finished listening to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Battle of the Labyrinth, which is a young adult fantasy based on Greek mythology. In it, the young satyr Grover Underwood has spent years searching for the god Pan. Pan has been missing for hundreds of years and Grover’s life mission is to find him. They find him in a crystal cave surrounded by extinct animals and a garden of beautiful plants reclining on his death bed. Pan is dying because there are so few wild places left that he cannot survive. He charges Grover and his friends that it is now their responsibility to take action, spread the word and preserve what little is left of the wild. Ranger Steve has been doing this for years.

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WMBA 2022 Butterfly Counts

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

July 2, 2022 (Sat) 9:00 AM Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co. Leader: Ronda Spink. Meet at the Allegan State Game Area, Fennville Farm Unit, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville (butterflynetwork@naturecenter.org)

July 5, 2022 (Tues) 9:00 AM Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co. Leader: Ronda Spink. Meet at Long Lake County Park south of 17 Mile on the east side at the beach parking area. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 11, 2022 (Mon) 9:00 AM Newaygo County – Manistee National Forest Butterfly Count. Leaders: Ronda Spink. Meet at Leppink’s Grocery parking lot at the corner of M 82 & M 37 in Newaygo. butterflynetwork@naturecenter.orgor odybrook@chartermi.net)

July 14, 2022 (Thurs) 9:00 AM Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co. Leader: Dennis Dunlap. Meet on Mill Iron Road north from M-46 (Apple Ave.) east of Muskegon at second set of power lines that cross the road north of MacArthur Road. dunlapmd@charter.net.

Contact Ranger Steve to sign up at Odybrook@chartermi.net so unexpected changes can be shared. There is a $3 charge sent to the North American Butterfly Association to participate. Rain day alternates will likely be the next day. Any questions can be directed to his email or to the other leaders. Steve’s phone is 616-696-1753. 

Bring a bag lunch and plenty of water. We eat lunch in the field. Dress appropriately with long trousers to protect legs from raspberry thorns or leg grabbing plants. Light weight long sleeves protect from sun. Bring insect repellent but in most locations is it not essential but always good to have. Restrooms are limited. 

Bring close focusing binoculars and butterfly field guides if you have them. WMBA members will share and help with identifications. Ranger Steve will have the Michigan Butterfly and Skipper book for sale for those wanting one.  

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Wildflower Walk

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Spring Wildflowers at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary 

Leaders: Craig Elton with others including Andrew Lidral Saturday, May 7, 10:00 a.m. Many wildflowers should be in bloom including swamp saxifrage, which is a 10 on MNFI co-efficient of conservancy with highest rating. Large-flowered and nodding trillium will be peaking or just past peak. Narrow-leaved spring beauties and trout lilies that carpet the ground will be fading. MBC members will be able to share their knowledge of plants and adaptations on this trip. Park at V&V Landscape Nursery on the west side of the road and north of the bridge. You will be met there at 10:00 a.m. Park by the road and not by the building entrance to leave that area open for customers. Consider browsing and buying plants at the nursery. Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is located at 13010 Northland Dr., Cedar Springs, MI 49319 

Directions: From Grand Rapids drive north on US 131 to exit 101 (M-57). Exit and turn east (right), travel about one mile to the traffic signal and turn north (left) onto Northland Drive to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. It is located east of the road and back in the woods. It is the first drive south of the small bridge over Little Cedar Creek but park at V&V nursery. One can also drive north on the East Beltline from Grand Rapids to Ody Brook. The road name changes to Northland Drive but it is the same road as the East Beltline (15 miles). 

From Muskegon drive east on Apple Ave (M-46) to Cedar Springs. Cross US-131 and continue a mile to the traffic light in Cedar Springs. Turn south (right) and drive 1.25 miles to V&V Nursery to park. From the north come south on US-131 and use exit 104 and turn left (east) and drive one mile into Cedar Springs and turn right at the light. From Greenville: Travel west on M-57 (14 Mile Rd) to Northland Drive and turn north (right). Ody Brook is about 1.75 miles north on the east side (right). Park at V&V Landscape Nursery on the west side (left) north of the creek and guardrail.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Wilderness Advocates

This moth species, “Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth,” or Grammia brillians, was discovered in Southern Utah by Ranger Steve Mueller. Courtesy photo.

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Wilderness advocates met with Rep. Meijer’s aid on 7 April in a Zoom meeting to discuss the need and merits for protecting wilderness remnants and House Bill 3780. I participated and the group felt my letter that I read was perhaps the most significant contribution to the meeting and the request for Rep. Meijer’s support. The letter follows and significant support from people in his district is important/ Significant support might be as small as 50 people contacting him because few take the time to let their desires be known. This has been a primary mission of mine. Please contact him at: (616) 451-8383 or write him. E-mails will likely be overlooked.

Rep. Peter Meijer

110 Michigan St.  NW – Suite 460

Grand Rapids, MI  49503

RE:  America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act – HR 3780

Rep. Meijer:

As my lifelong career as a Michigan naturalist and southern Utah ecology field researcher comes to a close, I am writing to ask and encourage you to step up and become a co-sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (HR 3780). This worthy legislation needs bi-partisan support, as it once had, and I believe you are the person who can provide it. It will take a leader.

I have spent meaningful hours, days, weeks, and years in and around the landscape this legislation would protect. I exchanged wedding vows there. I discovered a previously unknown moth species in its plateaus (see attached photo). These lands hold deep meaning for me and others. It has deep connections many for ancestral stewards among Native Americans who live amidst them today. They are uniquely American wild public lands, of vital importance for our nation.

As an ecologist, I know this is a beautiful and essential treasure serving as home to wildlife and plants. The varied terrain provides refuge for many unique species beyond the moth I discovered. There are five wildlife corridors which tie it to the surrounding multi-state area.  These natural undisturbed places hold vast quantities of carbon in the plants and soils with carbon that needs to remain there. The high wooded plateaus are crucial to the Grand Staircase watershed in a region being impacted by long term climate change.  

Like Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores, the spectacular beauty of the red rock canyonlands make them a national treasure – worthy of protection HR 3780 would provide. Your co-sponsorship of this legislation will be of significant assistance to the long-term protection effort.

I have worked as ranger in Michigan’s State Parks, as a high school and college instructor, National Park Service ranger, ecological researcher, and am a longtime columnist with the Cedar Springs Post and several other publications. As a volunteer, I’ve served the Grand Rapids Audubon Club, the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, the Michigan Botanical Club, West Michigan Butterfly Association, the Grand Rapids Camera Club and I’ve been awarded the highest awards by several including National Association of Interpretation, Kent Conservation District for lifetime achievement, the North American Butterfly Association and the Utah Lepidopterists’ Society. Gaining permanent protection for the red rock canyonlands has been a life-long dream. I ask that you step up to help make that happen.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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No Nature Niche this week

Ranger Steve

How about sending Ranger Steve a card?

Readers have become accustomed to Ranger Steve Mueller’s Nature Niche each week. We received an email from him this week, and he is struggling with his health. In last week’s column, he told you it had been a challenging month for him. If you enjoy his column, how about showing him that appreciation by sending him and his family a card? They are a local family, who has given a lot to this community—Steve through his years at Howard Christensen Nature Center, bird and butterfly counts, leading classes, writing columns, teaching us about nature, and much more; his wife Karen was a teacher at Cedar Springs Public Schools for many years. A note of encouragement is always a good thing. Send your card or letter to: Ranger Steve Mueller, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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Observe Woodcocks dancing

Go to a nearby park or nature center at dusk and watch it do its dance. Public domain photo.

Visit the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) at dawn or dusk. Enter the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center. Sit at the base of one of the ball-like white pine trees in the field and remain almost motionless. American Woodcocks will enter the field and one might land close to you. If you move much, it will fly to another part of the field. 

On the ground it will make a nasal buzzy peent, stomp its feet, and spin in circles. After many peents, it will fly up in a large spiral and likely disappear from sight. Soon you will hear a twitter as it dives toward the ground and levels before crashing. It will repeat the dance until it gets too dark. 

Go to Luton County Park in Rockford and enter the field from the south side off Keyes Road. Walk to the pavilion and sit on the ground, the deck, or bench. Remain as motionless as possible and wait for dusk to darken the evening enough for woodcocks to dance in several field locations. 

Come to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary and walk to the middle of Big Field Succession behind our home. Sit on the Ody Brook wood bench in the middle of the field before dusk and wait for the show to begin.

You should be able find them dancing in fields near your home. Explore and enjoy.

It has been a challenging month and I have been unable to get outside to observe. It is your turn to observe for me. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Prediction Success

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve will speak at Cedar Springs United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 20, at 10:30 a.m.

Having good physical evidence helps people make more accurate predictions about events that are about to occur. Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Each year I know approximately when to predict the first arrival of Red-wing Blackbirds in my neighborhood. I do not predict the first will arrive on 1 September or 1 June. Years of experience has taught me it will be closer to 1 March. 

By mid-February, we make our predictions and hope for the best. This year I hit it correct and it is not the only year I have selected the exact arrival date. Unfortunately, most years, I do not. 

Friends were looking for them and some were seen nearby but outside our specified zone. On 25 February, one in our group heard them in Grand Rapids about ten miles south of our area. Though he kept looking daily, none were seen or heard north of M-57 and south of 22 Mile Road in Kent County. No one else in our group was able to locate any in the area either. 

On 3 March I made a concerted effort to search the selected area for two hours with a friend. We almost failed to find any. About three miles west of US 131 along 17 Mile Road, we finally saw two in a cattail marsh. We stopped to look and listen. We heard two singing. With gay hearts we rejoiced after almost accepting defeat. 

I expect other people might have seen them slightly earlier and more that did not get to see or hear them until later. This is not a life-or-death prediction event for us.

At 10:30 a.m. on 20 March 2022, at the Cedar Springs United Methodist Church, I will be making a life-or-death prediction based on the best scientific evidence, religious instruction, and sound reasoning about environmental health. Like selecting blackbird arrival dates, there are many variables that will determine accuracy. 

I invite everyone to listen to my environmental life and death prediction and evaluate if I will be reasonably accurate. 

Sound physical evidence supports excessive use of fossil fuel will cause an early demise of our economic, social, and environmental health. There are nay sayers that want to continue activities as usual. An argument used is that changing environmental practices to avert human accelerated climate change will be too economically expensive. Not considered are the direct financial impact of climate change causing increased community flooding, more severe weather, fires, or the need to relocate to new locations. The list is longer, but we can manage the future for a healthier society and nature niches if we choose. It will require immediate and appropriate action. For some changes, it is already too late to prevent negative impacts.

I would appreciate seeing community members come to listen and even challenge my evidence. It is not necessary to be a Christian or even religious. I will address issues we face ethically, economically, socially, religiously, and environmentally. I have been invited to share at various churches, community events, and social venues. Please come at 10:30 a.m. to the church located at Main and Church Street in downtown Cedar Springs.   

Predicting the arrival of Red-winged Blackbirds is more fun but not as vital to our health and wellbeing. On 20 March I will present ways we can address challenging environmental issues. Hopefully, the evidence will help people understand the importance for appropriate action. 

Society’s response will determine prediction accuracy for the future and what we create for coming generations. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Red-wingedBlackbird Arrival

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Each year as spring approaches, friends and I try to predict the arrival date of Red-winged Blackbirds to see who comes the closest. Our arrival location is limited because the arrival date varies among small areas. They arrive in the Grand Rapids area earlier than locally. Even areas like Rockford and Cedar Springs have different arrival dates. 

Variables include habitat, weather, wind direction, individual wintering areas, movements of other birds, genetic programming, age, and food availability. Even the sex is important. Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrive almost two weeks before females. The first males to arrive claim nesting territories they defend from others of their species. First arrivals tend to be more successful than later arrivals at keeping a territory. 

That can become hazardous for first arrival survival. If a male does not travel as far south, it gets a head start for getting back sooner than others. The unknown challenge is weather in wintering grounds or in seasonal nesting territory. A hard winter can cause death at wintering sites or severe weather at nesting locations can result in death to early arrivals. The risk/benefit is that early arrivals can select the best habitat for food, water, shelter, nesting plants, and where food will be most abundant. 

On 24 Feb 2022 redwings were seen in the Grand Rapids area. That did not affect our local arrival location dates. I predicted a week later with the date being this week’s paper publication (3 March). My specified area is in north Kent County and includes the Cedar Spring marsh along 17 Mile Road near the high school, US 131- and 17-Mile Road, wetlands along the drive to Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, and most importantly the Spring Creek marsh by Spring Lake along 20 Mile Road just east of HCNC.

I am traveling less since retiring. I do not go to HCNC daily. This limits my sightings of early arrivals. I keep looking at home hoping for the arrival on my predicted date. Perhaps you have seen them before 3 March this year if your viewing area is within the specified search area. They arrive near the Rockford Dam earlier than here even though there is little mileage difference. 

Each migratory species has its own unique arrival schedule and dates for actual nest building and egg laying. Northern Cardinals remain in the area all winter and are among the earliest songbird nesters along with American Robins. Some robins remain in the region all winter and others move farther south. It is a good survival strategy for the species to have two different wintering locations. Another migratory species that nest about the same time is the Chipping Sparrow.  

One of my friends predicted a local arrival of 25 Feb. He will look intently. I will have submitted this article for publication already so I will not know if his date will be closer than mine. He has a good chance of having selected an arrival date more accurately than mine because the redwings arrived about 15 miles to the south a day earlier. 

My date might be good because I do not leave home often. The wonderful snow that arrived during the early morning hours on 25 Feb could slow advances northward, but the day became a beautiful sunny day that could encourage movement. A southerly wind did not occur where such a wind would be welcomed by migrators.

Each year has different weather conditions that influence arrival dates. Stay alert to what is happening in your local area and enjoy wild neighbors to the fullest. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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The Greats among us

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

It is wonderful to know many people are doing great things every day. It would be easy to fill this article with the names of local people with no room to write about their contributions. I will leave it to you to think about the people you know and how they impact the community in positive ways. 

As I transcribe my handwritten journals to digital Word Docx, I encounter entries about people being recognized. In May 2002, I noted in my journal people that have given of themselves and were recognized for volunteering by the local Audubon Club. 

At the Grand Rapids Audubon annual meeting Jim Ponshair was recognized for 50 years of service for contributing bird sighting records. Such work is time consuming and provided a “permanent” record of bird species occurrences in the region. Such efforts predated the current e-bird sighting entries. Jim’s work was a precursor to what came into existence this century as e-bird.

Today anyone and everyone can easily enter bird sightings to the worldwide e-bird platform. It is simple and provides information quickly for anyone wanting to know what birds are being seen. It allows people to know in real time where they can see birds of interest. Thanks to people like Jim who prepared the way for the coming of age for information sharing. The Grand Rapids Audubon used to have a “phone chain” and when an unusual species was sighted, people would call those on the list so they could go find the bird. 

Technology can be bothersome, but it has great advantages that aid people of common interests. 

Mary Jane Dockeray, who founded Blandford Nature Center as her PhD. project, was also recognized that evening with an Honorary Audubon membership for her continued service and volunteering over decades. Mary Jane continued to serve the community throughout her life. She recently died, but her legacy continues. 

To my surprise that evening, I received the Charlotte Runnell’s Environmental Conservation Award. I know readers contribute to local organizations as volunteers in ways that enrich the lives of those around us. You might not think much about it. Thank you for your efforts of being one of the “Greats.”

Weekly we read in the paper about students and adults making our community more wonderful. It is not easy. Our local newspapers make a world of difference, and they recognize people that would not be highlighted without the effort and commitment of the paper’s staff. Volunteers add articles like the nature niche column. They could not be shared without the work of newspaper staff. It is becoming increasingly difficult for small town papers to continue. Lois Allen shared the Cedar Springs Post challenges that their small staff faces to keep a paper coming your way and offered the question, “Is This Our Last Issue?” in a recent article.

I encourage community members to take the initiative to send financial support to the local paper you read. Advertisers have many avenues for reaching customers. With today’s internet, paid advertising has declined in the paper. Thankfully, many businesses continue to reach out to readers through the paper. It is important that readers support the paper by by donating. You can pick up the paper for “free” at local businesses. Realize it is not “free” and your support is critical to maintaining quality local news reporting. I implore you to be one of the “Greats Among Us” by volunteering to financially support the local paper. Sending a support check is a great thing. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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I’ll Remember This

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

I had a dream of something that happened or may have happened. Karen and I were star gazing on a warm dark night. Scattered clouds cleared from in front of the constellation Sagittarius and a mellow male voice was singing a melody “I’ll Remember This.” Joyful tears filled my eyes. Such memories of the past and present overwhelm me with happiness and contentment. My thoughts drifted to nights at Bryce Canyon’s Yovimpa Point, viewing over Lake Huron from a cedar dock in the Upper Peninsula, and nights camping in remote northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. My life is a wonderful dream. Nights camping in quiet wilderness filled with nature’s singing sounds penetrating the solitude is a measure of my rich life. “I’ll Remember This.”

What nature niche dream will you remember and who are the people you shared it with?

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Zoom Despair

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The best for you is what is desired. This is not how things progress in life. Hopefully, we each do for others what we hope for ourselves. By trying to live by the Golden Rule – “We do to others as we would have them do to us.” This rule of conduct from Mathew 7:12 is an ethical summary of the Christian’s duty to neighbors. The rule reappears throughout written and verbal history. It is my hope that I am worthy of its spirit. 

I am not the most religious or spiritual among us. Nor am I an authority on life or religion. My goal is to share the wonders of creation’s nature niches to help people live in better harmony with our natural surroundings. It is essential that we understand our place in nature. This allows us to make better decisions for living and for maintaining a sustainable future for people and all creatures that equally share the world with us.

My presentation “Wilderness – Unique Treasure” is based on the nature writings of conservationist Aldo Leopold from his book, A Sand County Almanac. He was honored with Rachael Carson as being one of the world’s two most respected conservationists from the twentieth century. 

On 31 January 2022 my presentation at Aquinas College was well attended and one attendee told me it was the finest presentation he has experienced in his almost 60 years. Following the presentation, Professor Ray Gates, from Cornerstone University, organized a sharing to express how my efforts have served others. The unexpected honor was beyond my ability to express appreciation. My contributions have been good, but minor compared with greats. 

Being great for the masses is not as significant as being great for those with whom you interact personally and locally. During the unexpected sharing session, environmental educator, Greg P., stated that I am his number one mentor. Others shared detailed comments of appreciation. One could not hope for better accolades. My life has been blessed beyond measure. 

I expect each reader is a number one mentor for someone. It might be your child, grandchild, neighbor, community member, or co-worker. Do not underestimate your role in people’s lives or your significance. I will never achieve the great influence provided by Leopold, Carson or perhaps you. I might have greater success than the world’s greats among community members with whom I live. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” By following this rule, you will be the great in their lives and that is real success in life.

Not all things work as hoped and so comes Zoom despair. My presentation was videotaped and broadcast on YouTube. Most photographic slides were washed out to the point that many images are not recognizable or showed with poor quality. Audio breaks occurred throughout the program and my comments are not clearly understandable. The in-person presentation brought positive comments about my photographic images. 

Others who watched the Zoom, offered kind statements. It was the first time one person from Texas saw a presentation of mine and said he understands why my presentations are well received. That is an almost incomprehensible review based on the poor recording quality. An Illinois observer was pleased with the content. 

If you were one of the Zoom viewers, all is not lost. I will be giving the presentation again on 19 February at the Calvin University’s Bunker Ecosystem Preserve, 1750 East Beltline Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546-5649 at 2 p.m. I do not think it will be Zoomed but you are invited to attend in person. Masks are required for everyone’s personal safety at Aquinas and Calvin. “Do unto others…”

Please consider coming to have your mind, heart, and soul moved. Maybe I can offer something great for you. In turn, I hope you will offer greatness in some manner for those to whom you are a number one mentor. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Directions to Bunker Interpretive Center: From the north (I 196/I 96): Head south on M-44 W/E Beltline Ave NE, turn right toward Knollcrest Circle Southeast and then turn left onto Knollcrest Circle Southeast, go under the E. Beltline and turn left onto East Campus Drive. Bunker Interpretive Center will be on the right. From “the south: Head north on M-37 N/M-44 E/E Beltline Ave SE, make a slight right toward East Campus Dr, turn left onto East Campus Dr. Bunker Interpretive Center will be on the right with a large parking area.

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Light and shadows

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When light and shadow dominate the forest, magic abounds. Some gray shadows effervesce and tinge the landscape with a hint of blue. Sunlight on crisp winter days lights snow crystals like glimmering diamonds across broad expanses. Lying on brilliant white snow, grays cast by tree shadows provide a depth of forest beauty not witnessed on cloudy days. 

Sun rays reaching trees lights bark differently for each species. Red oaks have smooth bark with a light gray between rough ridges of darker wood. White oaks have an even gray reflecting from shingle-like sections of bark that peals outward from a multitude of layered shingles. These shingles are minor compared with the exaggerated shagbark hickory bark that gives it a fitting name. The shagbark gray is nearly identical to that of white oak, but the trees are easily separated by the surface texture. 

Trees of all sizes offer interesting shadows with unique bends and twists of branches that silhouette magnificence on snow all around you. Trees like the Black cherry contrast with the majority of trees by having small “burnt potato chip” curls of black bark. Trees of different ages express appearance variations much we do. Young trees tend to have smooth fresh-looking bark, but older trees frequently are furrowed and wrinkled like me. Nuthatches and other birds hide morsels of food in bark crevices. I do not allow them to hide food among my wrinkles. 

Aspens, also known as poplars, have bark that shines white in the sun giving the impression of a paper birch. As it ages, the smooth youthful bark becomes rougher with dark gray ridges. 

In late afternoon, a young 25-foot-tall sugar maple emits an amber color not evident in midday. On late day walks, I pause at well placed benches or elevated logs set at the right height for resting. As my body rests, my mind continues to actively notice shadows of light in the forest brightness that will soon fade in the evening. 

In the dead of winter, signs of spring remain frozen They are ready for a flush of warmth to arrive in less than two months. Speckled alder catkins are hanging maroon with flowers ready to burst forth when conditions allow. Most of life remains hidden in winter nature niche seclusion underground or held from sight in buds. They cannot completely hide from the hungry birds and mammals trying to survive harsh cold months.

Evidence of acorns dug from the ground, branches snipped raggedly by deer or cut cleanly by rabbit incisors are telltale signs that squirrels and other mammals remain active. 

White and gray shadows dominate with an abundance of shades and untold stories to share when you take a fresh winter day walk.  

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Light and shadows



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