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.

View My Profile