Deer Season

Fire up the grill and get the back-straps marinating! It's deer season in Michigan, time to harvest the abundant bounty we are over-blessed with.

Lower Michigan counties have among the nations' highest rates of deer-vehicle collisions. In 2003, there were some 60,000 such accidents, 11 of which ended in people dying. I've had two head-on collisions over the years, and there have been numerous other close calls. With nearly two million of these big critters roaming the Michigan countryside, there's no shortage of deer habitating the local terra firma.

Open the hunting season earlier. Close it later. Allow for more doe tags. Thin the herd. In counties where the population exceeds the carrying capacity, collisions with cars, disease, and winter starvation results in greater deer mortalities than from hunting. A 125 grain bullet is a much quicker and humane way to die than being crippled by a car and crawling into the bushes to slowly bleed to death. And, unlike the road-kill carcasses which sit bloody for all to see on the side of the road for days stinking with their guts strewn about, a hunter-kill is made into delicious venison lasagna and jalapeno salami. Hunting is part of the circle of life our species has depended on since the dawn of time.

For years, the Ann Arbor PETA chapter would show up at the town deer pole and yell and holler and make a big scene. Fathers who stood proud when their kid bagged their first buck are called barbaric killers. Locals are antagonized and no one's mind is changed in the least. TV news crews film the staged drama and the snippet at six showed a guy with silly hand puppets talking about how Sigmund the Squirrel misses his best friend, Beauregard the Buck.

Then PETA stopped coming. It's been awhile since the PETA circus rolled into town. The Riverrant Committee on Cervid Activism is at a loss for the exact reason why, but posits one possible cause: perhaps there was a change in perspective when the chapter president ran head-on into a 200 pound buck while driving at 70 mph on I-94 at night and had to deal with a crumpled car, insurance deductibles, a righteous case of whiplash, and a most unholy mess in their drawers.

That's possible, but not the likely reason. They're probably too busy protesting the war in front of the near-empty Ann Arbor federal building or boycotting Wal-Mart or going to Buddhism class or making Kabalah bracelets. In the meantime, we'll be doing Mother Nature and the motoring public a favor and enjoying a hot pan of garlic venison mosticolli.



A recent study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association determined the best form of mental health pre-ventative medicine is a road trip to the middle of nowhere. The study found that people who intentionally took aimless wanderings to places with names like "Truth or Consequences" or "Redemption" or "Wisdom" (all real towns in the middle of BFE America), are less likely to use psychotrophic medication and need long-term psychotherapy.

Like there was such a study and like I really know jackshit about preventative mental health. If you really feel like jumping off a bridge, by all means, get some professional help. But, if you're feeling a little down about your lot in life and talking to Dr. Giggles about your most personal and private thoughts makes you a little sheepish... then Go West Young Man!

I've had a love affair with the American west since I was 21. I blew off college graduation to hit the blue highways and have returned often. The mix of scenery, history, adventure, and sense of freedom has made for one powerful and enchanting spell, an especially strong hex on those of us whose daily existence often involves combat traffic, rude people, work deadlines, and factory smokestacks on the near horizon. Nothing clears the head of the useless clutter and debris strewn about by the cyclic loading of modern life like a desert sunset.

Roadside memorials glimmer with candles that are always lit. Pictures and memorials tell of young soldiers lost in battle and of the old ones who lived long and fruitful lives. In the upper midwest, you die and are buried and forgotten. The only roadside memorials are the white crosses hammered onto the telephone poles where some poor driver creened into it. If I were to be killed in such an accident, the last place I'd want to be remembered is the pole or tree I ran into.

Everywhere you go there's something cool to look at and learn about. Old pony express stations, abandoned mining towns, preserved cliff dwellings, historical battle sites, and gravesites of famous Indian warriors dot the barren landscape. Critters appear and make known to the casual wanderer that this is their home and you are but a visitor here, tolerated as long as you give due respect.

Recognizing that under every crevice is a tarantula, along every trail edge is a rattlesnake, and under the high bluffs live the mountain lions, a sense of situational awareness develops. Life's petty worries fade and heightened senses bring about fresh perspective on real troubles, such as waking up and finding Boris the Spider here crawling in the warm folds of your sleeping bag. The lover who dumped you five years ago or your stagnant career frustrations become minor problems, never again to consume your thoughts.


Three swims on the Middle Fork

Please accept our most sincere apologies from all of us at Riverrant. Our mission statement proclaims this blog will center on rivers and all things collateral, but instead we've been warbling on about toothaches and politics. We hope you aren't too disappointed with the digressions.

But hopefully this posting will bring us back to our raison d'etre, although summer is rapidly disappearing and it may be months before another river expedition is chronicled.

Once a year, there has to be a serious river trip. We're not talking two inner tubes and a cooler. It must involve cooking over open firex, big oar rafts, and pooping in a bucket. Other basic requirements include it's somewhere out west or in Canada and lasts (at least) a week.

Even when the weather is bad, even when you get covered in poison ivy, even when the toilet paper gets wet on the first day, these trips rule. They are the perfect mix of high adventure, incredible scenery, interesting geology, friendship, beer, and killer meals. As long as I am ambulatory, I'll be running these rivers.

So the big trip of 2005 was the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho. The Owyhee, the Main Fork of the Salmon, the John Day, the Petawawa, and the Snake are among the other favorites, but this year we ran one of the most spectacular, most revered, and most challenging long runs in North America.

Originating from the high peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows some 100 miles before joining the Main Fork. After the launch at Boundary Creek, no roads access until the take-out. The river bisects the two million acre Frank Church Wilderness of No Return, the largest roadless area in the lower 48. Bald eagles soar high over batholith-era granite cliffs. Shoshone Indian petroglyphs and their traditional summer campsites dot the river corridor. Hot springs bubble up from pre-historic volcanic vents. Over 100 rapids provide ample challenge for journeyman boaters. Other than a handful of old mining cabins or century-old hard scrabble ranches, there is minimal sign of modern man.

The journey to the launch had signs of bad luck, which is never a good thing. First of all, my bags were lost by Northwest Airlines (but do show up the next day). Then, on the drive up from Boise, we pass a serious motorcycle accident on a tight mountain curve. Two Harleys, riding parallel, bumped into each other, sending one rider into the rock wall and the other into the guardrail. Idaho State Troopers hover over crumpled bikes and blood stains on the asphalt. Leather jackets and cracked helmets lie in the road. I'm not a strong believer in bad karma, but witnessing a gruesome scene does create reason for pause.

Then, when we pulled into Stanley, Idaho, we met a group of rafters who launched at Marsh Creek, a small tributary used when the access road to Boundary Creek is snowed in. Their gear was strewn across the motel parking lot. Their story was most unfortunate: Marsh Creek showed no love. Rafts broached on logs and punctured. People were injured and gear and group dynamics deteriorated into a classic "Lord of the Flies" battle of personalities. Ironically, their bad luck is to our advantage: they paid to have a snowcat plow the way into Boundary Creek so they could be extracated. Which allowed us to be the first party of the year to launch from the traditional Middle Fork starting point.

With flows at 3.5 feet (moderately high) on the staff gage, we launched. I had my old 11' foot Achilles tub boat (a dinosaur from a bygone era that pre-dates modern day self-bailers and catarafts) that I bought ten years ago from an outfitter in Bend, Oregon who was getting rid of his old boats. As I stood there looking at the fast churning water, I knew things were going to get interesting. This river is no place for dumbshits using out-dated and undersized gear.

The stretch to Scout Camp was technical, but lines were easy to find. My small boat handled the maneuvers around Velvet Falls and through Powerhouse Rapids quite well. Then it began to rain. And the rain brought down the remaining snow melt from the high peaks,

We hunkered down for a day, waiting for better weather. The river rose to 6.5 feet on the gage, which may mean nothing to you, but at this level the U.S. Forest Service and many commercial outfitters suspend their operations as this traditional pool and drop river becomes one continous Class IV torrent of water.

A large pillow wave at Pistol Creek rapid tossed me from the boat and I flushed into a large hole. Not my first swim ever, but with water temps in the thirties, my chest tightened as my heart pumped blood to my extremities. I recovered quickly, albeit chilled and with renewed respect for the situation I'm in.

Water levels continued to peak and the heavy run-off from side canyons added muddy water and tree trunks. Eddies disappeared and huge wave trains led from one rapid into the next. Amazingly, I completed another sixty miles without incident, sneaking around big rapids and avoiding bellowing holes. Until Weber Rapids.

I hit a massive diagonal wave and flipped like a western omelet. The bow of my raft lurched into the air and landed on top of me. Dark icy water enveloped me as I spun and tumbled through violent hydrolics. I was trapped under my raft for a brief moment that seemed like eternity before I managed to push away and re-surface. The river propelled me and my over-turned raft downstream several hundred yards before another raft collected us in an eddy.

The long cold swim left my muscles fatigued and my mind fogged. Back at the helm of my raft, I could feel the power ebbing from my oar strokes. Within minutes, I hit a huge wave train below Ship Island Camp and flipped again. I swam to the shore, and watched helplessly as the rafts and kayaks in my group got swept downstream in the fast current. One of the rafts found an eddy 200 yards downstream, and Tony yelled at me to jump in and swim towards them. I jumped, only to get spun backwards into an upstream eddy and face-plant into the backside of a boulder. A gnarly circulating whirpool pressed me hard against the rock as water flowed over my head. I thought to myself, "This is how you drown." My lizard brain kicked in and I somehow I push off and swam to shore. A moment of pause occurs to process the magnitude of the situation.

I forced myself to run and jump from a small cliff ledge into the main flow of the current- not an easy step after just breaking free from a partially submerged rockpin. I swam hard towards the raft and yelled for a rescue rope. Tony and Big Jim tossed it and pulled me in. Whew. I'm safe, but cold. Real cold. We mase it another couple of miles to Cradle Creek camp to where my boat and gear are recovered. A very hospitable and generous party we launched with had warm tea and beef stroganoff on the stove. Angels sent by the Big Rafter in the sky! My clothes got stripped off and I slowly began to warm in front of the fire, fully aware my next trip could have been down the River Hades.

On the last day, the skies broke indigo blue and we came out one big happy party. My boat was deflated and packed up for the last ten miles- better not push my luck. The little Achilles made it ninety miles on a swollen mountain river during high flow. That's worth celebrating with a Deschutes Porter. It was a great trip. Good company, spectacular scenery, great hot springs, and more adventure than I could ask for. All limbs intact and no gear lost. But next time, I'll be in a 14' self-bailing Maravia.

Mike, Tony, Jim, Emily, Iayana, Cat, Rick, and the two doctors: Thanks for a great trip and saving my bacon. SYOTR.

Editors note: in the years since this trip, both Tony and Rick have passed away. After decades of boating, this was their last trip.


Up North

I usually avoid joining the mass exodus from southeastern Michigan that heads "Up North" on holiday weekends, but an invitation to stay at a friend's summer getaway was too good to pass up. Get out the cut-off shorts and tacky shirts- it's time to become a fudge-buying, poor-tipping, highway-clogging Tourist!

After living in five states and traversing through another thirty over the years, I can confidently say northern Michigan is as beautiful as any place in North America. Opal blue waters gently tickle the pebbled beaches. Virgin beech forests cover wooded knolls. Panoramic views fill the wide-open expanse on every horizon.

It's a world where people are friendly by choice and missing from the local headlines are stories of murder, freeway wrecks, and urban decline. Over breakfast at the nearby mom and pop kettle, the locals talk about cutting firewood before the weather turns and recent sign of buck rubs on the maple saplings. Seasonal tourons like myself are loved and hated in the same breath for our economic benefits and lack of manners and decorum.

With the help of a MegaMillions jackpot, I'll be giving up my evil tourist ways and joining the choir at the Church of Our Lady of the Lakefront Rich and Wealthy. I'm not a materialistic guy, but if ever get a few nickels in my pocket, I'll add this sunset-view hacienda to my other homes in Sedona and Jackson Hole. The guy who occasionally stays at this little "cottage" owns a chain of tire stores. Every time you buy a new set of treads for your hooptee, you help pay his winter heating bill.

But until the day my lucky numbers hit, I'll have to be satis-fied with million dollar views from the nearby public access instead. The wait will be worth it. And when I hit the big one, y'all will be on the invite list for the biggest party ever held on the Lake Michigan shore.


Down Comes the Ash Tree

Thanks to a nasty little bug spreading like the Bubonic plague, ash trees in the upper midwest are dying in droves, including the one in my backyard. The tree was healthy when I bought the house, but in the last year it became one of the many local victims of the insidious Emerald Ash borer. These invader species are spreading faster than pubic crabs at a skanky Panama City motel during spring break.

It's biological pollution. Asian carp, sea lampreys, purple loosestrife, zebra mussels, the list goes on and on. Our natural heritage, which took millenia upon millenia to develop into a balanced eco-system, is being rapidly decimated by the influx of these non-native, aggressive, malevolent species. They're quietly invading our country by way of ship bilges and cargo containers from across the globe.

It was time to get the tree guys out to do some cutting before the next windstorm blew it onto the house. This has to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, up there with commercial fishing in Alaska and owning a party store in Detroit.

This guy roped up and like a squirrel, up the tree he scrambled. High places, rope systems, and chainsaws are dangerous enough individually. Combine all three and now there's no room for mistakes. Definitely not a job where you can show up after a long night of tequila shots and jager bombs.

This is one of those projects where you think, "Ya know, maybe I can do it myself. Call a couple of buddies, get a case of Budwieser, and we'll figure it out. Hell, I've used a chainsaw before." But when you watch the pros do it, you realize how seriously misguided your initial logic was. I would have taken out the garage and loped off an arm before it was all over.

I considered leaving the tree trunk and carving it into a totem pole, but a check with local township ordinances determined such display was prohibited. Since I'm not a member of the ACLU, I chose not to fight this euro-centric regulation. So it's been completely removed, and the stump and roots will be ground up in a day or two.

We'll, since we got the chainsaws a runnin', might as well trim up the white pine a bit. This 100 year old tree is the giant of the neighborhood; the bull elephant on the African savannah. I'm glad it wasn't cut it down twenty years ago to make picnic tables or a boat dock.

Sorry there hasn't been a river trip report lately, but I've been occupied with less important but necessary endeavors. Not to worry though, my blogdogs. A ride down the mighty Huron is on the planner short list.


Peach Mountain

Outside of Dexter, Michigan is a mysterious place called Peach Mountain. It's not on any maps, and no signs are posted saying who owns it. Just a gate and a road. A secret training camp? An underground medical facility where they conduct cyrogenic experiments? We'll just have to find out.

Why it's even called Peach Mountain is God's own private mystery. It's really just a big wooded hill (although at 1,040 feet above sea level, it's the closest thing we have to a mountain in southeast Michigan), and there isn't a peach tree within 500 miles.

A shaded dirt road climbs through a mixed forest of hardwoods and conifers. Various species of oaks and maples share the terra firma with pines and evergreens. Black walnuts and white pines over one hundred years old co-exist peacefully in this 'hood.

At the peak are several buildings. Missile silos? Nope. It's the University of Michigan observatory. This overgrown telescope probably dates back to the time of Nostradamus.

Nearby is a bigger telescope, the pride of the star fleet. So you'd think they would make the new initiates at the U of M Astronomy Club get up there with a can of paint and a roller brush. Show some pride and sling some paint, space nerds!

There's a place for students to crash after a late night of looking for Trans-Neptunian objects and Oort clouds. Is it like other college housing where they have kegger parties? Or does a fun time mean watching Star Trek movies and having a spirited discussion about whether hydrogen converts into helium during a supernova? We suspect the latter.

Down the hill a bit is a huge satelite dish. Last week this thing rotated and tilted right towards us and for a terrifying moment, we thought we were about to be vaporized by a laser beam. It was probably just the National Public Radio feed switching from Car Talk to the BBC world news hour, but we're taking no unnecessary chances. From now on, we're wearing our aluminum foil body armor and taking our Ion Intercept Deflectors, just in case....

A network of trails criss-crosses the property. Spotted fawns scamper away and squirrels drop walnuts on your head. On one hike, there was a noisy murder of crows making a huge ruckus above. All of a sudden, a red tailed hawk dropped a headless crow from it's talons right in front of us as the crows squawked and flailed about. Apparently, they weren't too pleased one their homies had become raptor lunch.

Blackberry bushes on the trail edge provide a delicious mid-hike snack. Other than the occasional hiker or grad student, rarely do you run into many people at this gem of a place. The only exception are weekend groups of weird geo-cachers running all over the place with GPS units, taking part in a bizarre competition to dig up shit and then rebury it.

A 1,000 foot radio tower sits on the east side of the mountain, broadcasting the Thistle and Shamrock Show and A Prairie Home Companion to 5 million people. Don't get us wrong, we like NPR, but listening to their news can get tedious. Every story has to have a liberal victimization angle to it. It's always something like: the sun is going to implode in 10 days, and the indigenous people of Borneo and the homeless in New York City will be among those most impacted...."


Dexter Daze

So after 7 years out west, 4 years in North Carolina, I end up in Ann Arbor, MI.

Well, actually I work in Ann Arbor, but live near Dexter. Dexter is one of those farming towns that twenty years ago everyone would have called the boonies, but now is full of quaint little shops and friendly pubs. Pricey mcmansions have sprouted up in the fields where corn once grew.

So every August the yocals hold Dexter Daze, a homegrown festival with high school bands, low end local artisans, and of course, the Kiwanis beer tent. It's the closest thing we have in the midwest to a western hootenanny, albeit minus the fiddles and cowboy boots.

Dexter's not a bad town. In fact, it's a great town. At the local pubs they have your ale poured before you sit down. The people are engaging, but no one really cares who you are or what your business is. After years of living in nosy small towns elsewhere, frankly it is a breath of fresh air.

Maybe because it sits on the far western fringe of 5 million people. Maybe because it's growing so rapidly there are too many new faces to keep track of. Whatever the reason, I hope Dexter can keep the small town feel without the small town intrusiveness.

Sitting on the edge of Ann Arbor, one of the last bastions of liberalism (along with Berkely, Boston, and Eugene), Dexter balances the political landscape with a small but ardent republican party. Not that I'm a member, but when the uber liberal Ann Arbor City Council made the police department change their mission to "Courage, Compassion, and Sensitivity", I had to reconsider all previous positions. In all due respect, the last thing we need are the cops treating some thug that just whacked an old lady over the head with a pipe for her purse with is sensitivity.

But without a doubt, the best part of living near Dexter is the Portage Chain of Lakes. 10,000 years ago, Mother Nature knew someday there would be people who would have motorboats and liked to putt from lake to lake. So she connected seven lakes by way of the Huron River. Is it Jackson Lake or Tahoe? Not even close. But it's still pretty cool.

We'll, we're moving onward and upward here at Riverrant. Stay tuned...upcoming posts include trips down the Owyhee and Huron rivers, and with the spiffy new digital camera I just bought, I hope to add photos of ghetto Detroit, the Potowatomi Trail, and up north Michigan to the pithy drivel and insipid dialogue.

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