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Out on Whitefish Point

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I was in Michigan to speak at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory's annual Spring Fling at the end of April. These are hardy people, with a different way of defining "spring" than we have down here in subtropical Ohio. They go by the calendar, not by the weather, and if the calendar says it's spring, well then it is. They go out.
I love nautical disaster art. I find myself wondering what it might be like to look at a beautiful work of art, having lived through a disaster. Hey, it wasn't teal blue out there. It was PITCH BLACK and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. But that's a really nice painting.

Whitefish Point is famous as the place where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down, taking 29 souls with it. This billboard is for my friend Grady, who loves shipwrecks most of all. Well, at least he did when I saw him last. He may have moved on to trainwrecks by now.


Among birders, Whitefish Point is famous for being a fabulous migrant trap, welcoming tired birds who've winged across Superior in the fall, and stacking up apprehensive birds (especially raptors) who don't much feel like facing the crossing in spring. Either way, it works real well for birdwatchers. I spent a fun afternoon watching hawks on the WPBO platform. A goshawk made my day!


Sandhill cranes breed sparingly here. I was lucky to spot a couple of pairs, prospecting for nest sites.

But it's the pines along the shore that hold the big treasure for birders.


I had to keep reminding myself that I was not on a beach in Cape Cod, so similar was the vegetation.

There's something disorienting about not having the tang of salt and fish in your nostrils when you're walking on dune vegetation.

Looking out at Superior, I got a graphic demonstration of how shifting lake ice can plow up gravel and make landforms. It was like seeing a glacier in miniature. Here, a tiny moraine.
When glaciers plowed along the land, they picked up ridges of gravel and sand. At their terminus, they piled up these deposits as they melted. The same thing's happening here, on a miniature scale, and seasonally.


The beach rocks were so beautiful that I dared not start to look for a favorite. Even so, my
pockets were heavy when I left. The more closely I looked, the more beautiful the stones became. I couldn't get over the mix of blue, pink, flecked granite, and terra cotta. Phoo. Imagine having that in your landscaping, or your aquarium! Pebble lust.


My friend, festival organizer Bob Pettit, told me of seeing people staggering out with bagsful of the lovely water-worn stones, even though they're not supposed to.


You get the feeling that people have been here for a very long time, and in the cool temperatures and acid conditions, their traces linger. Here's a Model A fender, the same kind I used to sit on as a child, clinging to the headlight strut, as my friend Billy Jones drove us around the neighborhood in the evening. I wondered if there might be an entire Model A in that hummock under the birches.

I was soon to find out that the dune forest hid even greater riches.


I've never been to the UP but I've spent a bit of time on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The power of that beautiful lake is astounding in all seasons. I've spent hours on similar rock beaches, sifting through those smooth rocks, loving the feel of them. I have more than a few of them in and around my home.

Rocks and cranes -- what a high. I would be a sinner on that beach - the temptation to collect stones would be too great. Looking forward to the rest of the adventure.

Oh yes, pebble lust indeed. Wha--people actually take things they aren't supposed to? Who would do such a thing?

Love the candy-colored beach stones. I see my favorite! Oh, no, maybe it's that one. Or, the one to the left. The bigger one, no, wait - the small one next to it. Oh, just give me a big bagful!

~Kathi, playing the scofflaw again

Pebble lust :o) You find beauty in everything and I'm so happy you share it. That Sandhill Crane photo makes me jealous. Can't wait for the rest of the story.

Julie, I share your pebble lust. I love those round rocks and pebbles, made so smooth by the moving water. I love to photograph them, and to hold them in my hands. We vacation at a family cottage in the upper half of the Lower Peninsula each year - it sits on a lovely lake, full of such beautiful stones. We "borrowed" some last year to add to our garden, and will undoubtedly borrow some more this year.

Pebble lust becomes boulder lust when you spend your beach time in Newfoundland. Curiously, our suitcases are always a little bit heavier on the trip back to Toronto. Unfortunately some folks back their trucks up to the beach and haul them away by the tonne.

I love those cranes with their little red caps.

Pebble lust. Ha.

You lead such an incredible life...thanks for sharing...

Well I'm still interested in shipwrecks, but I didn't know about the Edmund Fitzgerald. Thanks for telling me.

Dear Grady,

Two things: First, download the song by Gordon Lightfoot called "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." It's a great song. You can't go anywhere in the Upper Peninsula without hearing it on the radio. It's like their anthem.

Second: Sometime, try to get to the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI. It's the collection of white buildings with red roofs in the picture on my blog. It was closed when I was there or I would have taken a bunch of pictures for you. It could be a combination birdwatching and shipwreck trip!

I find it interesting to see the shores of other Great Lakes since I live on Lake Erie. There is a new documentary out called the 'Making of the Great Lakes'. It should be interesting and I am looking forward to seeing it.

That person with the face mask made me laugh--doesn't look like spring to me!
I've heard great things about the UP and hope to get up there someday for birding sightseeing.

To learn more about Whitefish Point and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerad, see

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