Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Great Eagle (Nest) Hunt!!

So we're up there at Barothy Lodge in northwestern Michigan. Four generations of the family ranging from early elementary school to - well - let's just say some of us have left the proverbial hill so far behind it looks like Kansas back there.

Setting aside the youngest, who basically just goes along for the ride foolishly trusting that his elders, which is pretty much everybody at that age, know what the heck they're doing, and the oldest generation who have the sense to just sit back and enjoy the setting sun. (Or maybe sense has nothing to do with it and it's just lack of energy, after all I'm only 15 to 20 years behind them and you would think if sense was going to kick in it would have at least started by now?!) Anyway - after setting aside those demographics you would still think that with a combined 100+ years of wisdom between  my nieces, nephews and their spouses; and an additional  250+ years worth of wisdom between my siblings, their spouses, and me, that collectively we'd be a pretty on-the-ball-group.

Yeah; - well - you might think so. . .

We'd just spent our first full day at the lodge, eating and fishing and hiking and eating and visiting and eating and biking and; well, you get the idea.

There it was, dinner over, cleanup finished, most of us sensibly settling down in the greatroom for some puzzle building, game playing, reading, visiting or just plain vegging out, when one of our number starts a stir way over there on the other side of the room. Within seconds it has swept across the room, through the kitchen, up the stairs and reached into the farthest reaches of the farthest bedroom.

"I'm going to go look for the eagle's nest. Who wants to come?"

Well, apparently not wanting to disturb my food-addled brain, I succumbed to my inner cow and jumped up to join the herd.

In my defense I wasn't alone (Hence the herd, otherwise it would have been - well - just me.) and within seconds most of us were on our feet and stampeding towards the front door. It made little difference that this was the first some of us had heard of any eagle's nest, the herd was on the move and we had to go.

After funneling through that tiny hinged orifice, we spurted out of the lodge's shelter like ketchup out of a stepped on bottle, and just as messy, with lots of milling and mooing; few of us with any real idea of what was going on and just looking for a leader to - well - lead the way.

As we eventually oozed our way across the asphalt and squeezed onto one of the nearby trails in a disorganized blob, or is that mob, word filtered back from the front that one of our number had picked up a rumor of an eagle's nest lurking there at the edge of the adjacent Manistee National Forest.

Further filtering started another rumor that this person had stopped by the front office and was in possession of a personalized map who's markings would lead us right to this aerie in the sky.

Seems all we had to do was follow the leader who was following a Lodge trail around the east side of one of the ponds until it intersected with the Red Trail. Following that would take us into the National Forest where we would run into the Blue Trail and then. . .

Anyone know where the trail is???

OK, the Lodge trails are one thing, well delineated, bark mulched, lined with conveniently spaced benches for taking frequent breaks, and always within sight of Lodge ponds or buildings or whatnot, but the trails into this isolated chunk of the National Forest are something else again.

Through lack of planning and/or discussion (Herds don't discuss, they just follow!) none of us were prepared or properly equipped for this expedition. There wasn't a bottle of water between us, let alone a compass, survival knife, bug juice or, as it turns out, even a proper map.

Of the seven of us on this impromptu adventure, at least three are wearing nothing but sandals and none of us have proper hiking boots on, including me. (At the time I was wearing my around-camp shoes, my Crocs, which are glorified slippers, but, as you know, herding animals just hate to be left too far behind, so a stop at the Van for a footwear change was out of the question.) A preponderance of shorts, Capri-pants and T-shirts also meant that there was lots of exposed skin, clearly not the best choice for pushing through north-woods understory and clouds of bugs.

On the Lodge trails, maybe, but I'm not so sure this bunch is very well equipped for real forest trails!!

Maybe it's just me, but sandals and bare legs for a forest hike?!!
Between us we had one pair of binoculars and one camera And that's only because I happened to have my camera in hand when that first whisper drifted through the greatroom and I jumped like one of Pavlov's dogs; or, to keep my metaphors straight, one of the O'Leary's cows. (And we all know how well that turned out!!)

It wasn't long before we all traffic-jammed up at the juncture of the Lodge trail and the Red trail.

This is the point where we find out that the only 'map' we had with us was the Lodge handout which, from exploration I had done early that same morning, I knew was wildly inaccurate when it came to the trails there in the National Forest.

And it turns out, this wasn't even the copy that the front office had marked up for us! Apparently, even though our destination from the outset was the eagle's nest, for which a map had been marked up specifically for the purpose of locating said eagle's nest, during the confusion of the stampede it had been left behind there on a random but rustic table in the Lodge in favor of this unmarked version instead.

"But that's OK. I remember where the markings were!"one of the herd said with supreme confidence. Which, being in cow-mode, we all believed.

Yep, you're right. This is the point where any reasonable person would turn around, retrace the 300 or so yards back to the Lodge and rethink this whole situation, especially since the setting sun was only three fingers above the horizon by now, and three skinny fingers at that! But apparently, when you're in cow-mode, even some 400 collective years of wisdom isn't enough to impart even the slightest bit of reason.
So - well - Mooooo,  we forged on. . .

In groups like this my natural spot is at the back. I like to think I haven't been a particularly bad person through my life, but still, when you're at the back it's that much harder for someone to sneak up from behind and clobber you over the head for some past injustice. . . But at this point, somehow, without me getting a vote, (I was told the voter registration deadline had passed when I wasn't looking.) I got elected to run point for this little expedition. From the anonymity of the herd someone said something about me being the most experienced hiker, but personally I figure as the oldest one there I was the logical sacrificial choice. If anyone was going to do it, they wanted me to be the one to fall off the cliff or stumble into the poison ivy. (Ah yes. Poor guy. What a shame. But he had a good life!)

So that's how I went from safely following along to desperately trying to stay out in front and not get trampled.

OK, I'm going to go on record here. I don't care how many cases of those old fashioned plastic hotel room key-fobs you have laying around, they make terrible trail blazes.

True, they already have a handy hole through which to pound a nail.

True, they come in bright red, blue, green, aqua-marine and yellow which conveniently match the names of the trails around the Lodge. (OK, I'll give you a moment to think about that.)

But also true, they are surprisingly delicate and brittle, and before you even have time to put your hammer back in the tool-box, the things are breaking off, dropping down and burrowing under the leaf-litter, never to be seen again. (Maybe the squirrels are doing it to protect their territory??)

It might seem like a good idea at first, but the reality is, those plastic hotel room key-fobs make lousy trail blazes. This was one of the few that was actually where it was supposed to be.
The head of the Red trail was marked by several of these key-fobs nailed up side-by-side, (Clearly someone already knew they don't stay up on the tree very well.) but after that we were on our own, with the exception of the occasional naked rusty nail. And I'm here to tell you, naked rusty nails hammered into the side of a tree trunk are incredibly hard to spot even though they're right there at eye level!

No blazes in sight and barely a hint of a trail.
The trail is clearly not heavily used this time of year and I found myself following a faint track, not much more than a game trail. But eventually, after climbing over a fallen log or two, dropping down into a ravine and making the steep climb up the other side, we came to a junction.

No blazes in sight but this had to be the Red trail, Blue trail intersection we were looking for!

We formed up another huddle there in the deepening gloom as we all tried to climb each others backs to get a look at the one 'map' we had with us. Our instigator, the original eagle-nest hunter, pointed to a blank area just to the Northeast of the trail junction and declared that's where the nest is, and it should be visible from the trail. Which trail was something that eluded memory. (Probably sluggish from too much dinner in the belly.)

This triggered a bunch of disjointed, uncoordinated, cricked necked, brush stumbling, tree bumping, aimless wanderings as we all tried to find the eagle's nest up there above us.

Do you see it?

Not yet.

Not over here.

Look for the tallest tree.

Ouch! You OK? Yeah, this stuff is just scratching the heck out of my legs. Am I bleeding?

Is that it?! Is that the nest. . . No, it's just a bunch of leaves.

Hey! Where are you? (Loud and booming.) I'm over here. (Faint and far.) Where? Over here. Well dang-it, how am I supposed to know where 'here' is?

There goes the eagle!! I see the eagle flying up there! Right there! See it?! Follow it to the nest! Follow it! Oh wait, it's just a bluejay. . .

Does anyone else think it's getting kind of dark??

Oh crap!! What?? There's a porcupine on the ground right in front of me!! Where?! Oh man I don't want a porcupine sticking me in the legs!! Where are you? I want to see!! They can't really throw those whatchamacallits, quills, of theirs can they?

Hey guys, maybe we should be heading back to the lodge now before it gets any darker.

But we haven't found the nest yet!

It'll be there tomorrow.

I suppose. (I'm not sure if the reluctance was real or face-saving.)

Um, does anyone remember the way back??

Upon our not-quite-so-triumphant return to the Lodge (Although, considering the circumstances, the fact that just as many of us returned as left was a bit of a victory. After all, it would be a real waste to have to leave an extra car behind when we all left to go home again.) the marked map was located, sitting right there in plain view, right where it had been left as we all herded on out earlier.

Once more we formed one of those back-climbing huddles and with head-smacking realization, we all looked dumbly at the little inked X. Not where it was remembered but rather over there to the Southwest, about half way between two trail junctions, which was the other way from where we had been looking. . .

Panic over, the cow-mode instinct fading, the herd broke up and individuals slunk off to the privacy of their rooms to try and forget our little debacle.

But before the others were up the next morning, (That way there was no one around but me to witness a second failed attempt, and I wasn't talking.) armed with my own version of the marked map and properly equipped for a solo hike, I retraced our ill-advised steps of the night before back to the junction, turned the other way, the right way, and soon located the nest.

The sun hadn't quite come over the horizon yet when I took this initial photo of the nest

The only vantage points were almost directly below the nest so I couldn't see into it, and though I hung around as long as was prudent (After sampling previous meals I certainly wasn't going to risk missing out on whatever was for breakfast today!!) I never saw any actual eagle activity, but at least the nest had been located! (And we all survived. . .)

But the rising sun was soon turning the top of the tree golden as I hunted for other vantage points

It's difficult to get a sense of scale, even when you're there, but that is one big tree!

And I'm glad I'm not the one that had to carry those branches up there, wings or not!

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