What I Found When I Went Looking for a Moose

My neighbor’s have been hearing a strange bellowing noise by Mud Lake, and they think it might be a moose.

It’s not entirely impossible. There’s a population of about 400 or so moose in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, although these are found quite a ways south and east of here in Baraga, Iron, and Marquette counties. During one of the years that I lived in the town of Alberta, the lake was drained to do some repair work on the dam and there were a lot of moose tracks in the muck that had been the bottom of the lake. That’s only about 20 miles away from here as the crow flies (and perhaps as the moose walks?). A moose was even seen another 15 miles to the northwest of here (i.e., even farther away from their normal location) a few summers ago.

It’s not entirely impossible, so I decided to go looking for a moose in our neighborhood.

It was a really nice morning to get out. It was colder, about 11 degrees F, so I bundled up and grabbed my snowshoes. If there were a moose, it would probably be on the north or west side of the lake away from my neighbors’ houses. Also, if there were a moose, it seems like it would be more likely to be hanging out among the conifer trees that ring the edge of the lake since most of the other forest is primarily maple and other hardwoods.

Approaching the lake
Approaching the lake

I took our dog, Bailey, with me.

Bailey and me walking the lake edge
Bailey and me walking the lake edge

We flushed a few grouse, and I heard crows and chickadees. Other than that, it was pretty quiet. We didn’t even see any squirrels.

Something lives here
Something lives here: probably a squirrel.

I didn’t think that I’d actually see a live moose, and was just looking for tracks. There were few tracks overall: no deer tracks, just a few squirrel tracks and a two trails of what was likely a coyote (the snow was fluffy and didn’t retain much detail).

A beaver took away this whole tree.

There were no moose tracks. There were no patterns that looked like moose tracks that had been covered by snow. Nor were there any noticeable amounts of herbivory, from moose or deer.

Check out this cool fungus.
Check out this cool fungus.

So, I didn’t find a moose or solve the mystery of the weird noise. But I did have a nice winter walk, and that was good enough.

Ax and Saw: A Project for Fall and Winter

There are two quirks of my personality that have a habit of sabotaging me this time of year. One is my natural tendency to want to hibernate as the days get colder and darker, and I’ve written in the past about how I struggle in the fall to keep up my positive attitude and maintain healthy habits. The second is that I always want to be doing something productive. It’s hard for me to convince myself to go outside to take a leisurely walk on cloudy cool days because it doesn’t feel productive; I might, it feels like, as well stay inside and get something done around the house. For these reasons, I don’t go outside as much as I would like to in the fall, which also means that I don’t get much exercise either.

So this year, I conspired against myself. There is a row of box elder at the property, running along a tall bank on the edge of the old river channel. The trees are short and mangy, which is pretty much the standard with box elder. As we think about the work we want to do on the land, we see opportunity to plant different trees in this place.

Row of box elder along the old river channel.
Row of box elder along the old river channel.

I decided that my project for this fall and winter would be to take down this row of trees so that we can plant something else (probably oaks) there in the spring. Also, I decided that I would do as much of the work as possible using hand tools. Hopefully, I thought, having something productive to do during the cold months would be a convincing way to sidestep my tendency to cocoon this time of year. A few weeks ago I bought a small double-bit ax (which turned out to be more like a large hatchet) and small bow saw with an extra blade made for green wood. Then this weekend was the time to test it all out.

Overall, it was a good start to the project. I cut down a half dozen or so box elder trees. Some were only a few inches in diameter and it only took a few seconds to saw them down. It was interesting to see that box elder trees have pink wood at the boundary between the heartwood and the sapwood. This is a known trait of the species, but I just learned it while watching the saw kick out pink shavings as it cut through fresh wood.

Small box elder stump.

I knocked down several smaller box elders and dragged the tops into the woods, piling it up to make homes for little critters and decomposing organisms (aka rabbitat). I also cut down some tag alders along the shore that seemed likely to compete with the future seedlings for light. Some of the tag alder I dropped directly into the old river channell, presuming that beavers will appreciate them once the water is fully iced over. Others I temporarily placed in a pile along the shore—in a week I’ll come back and see if beavers have taken advantage of the easy food source (and saved me some work of dragging the brush elsewhere).

The last tree that I decided to knock down that day was also the largest. It was about 8-10 inches around, and it took me a half hour of work to get it down. I alternated between using the ax to make a notch in the direction I wanted the tree to fall, and sawing on the opposite side. Much of the time I would saw while kneeling on the ground, making in easy to take small breaks, look around, and enjoy the day. After it dropped, I sawed off the smaller branches of the crown and carried them into the woods, leaving the large bole on the ground to deal with later. While picking up the last of the sticks, I heard a funny sound across the old channel and stopped to look and figure out what it was.

It was an otter. I quickly grabbed my tools and hurried the dogs to the cottage, and then came back with binoculars. Hiding behind the newly-fallen tree, I watched the otter feed in the old river, which was skimmed in a thin layer of soft ice. The otter would swim in the breaks between the ice, dive down, and resurface in another opening.

Watching an otter from behind a felled tree.
Watching an otter from behind a felled tree.

When I decided that I was going to cut down the trees by hand, some of my friends laughed at me a little and asked why I wouldn’t use a chainsaw. While I was dragging tree limbs into the woods, I could imagine my husband pointing out that we have a tractor that could make the job easier. I knew it would be hard, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it. But in just a few hours, I removed about a quarter of the trees without too  much difficulty. It was exactly what I wanted: an excuse to go outside and work, so that I could really play.

What’s a camp?

My two most recent posts have alluded to a big change in our household: we bought a camp.

Until I moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, (aka the U.P. and aka the Yoop), I’d never heard of a camp. Eventually, I learned what one was, and eventually after that, Sexy and I talked about potentially having one ourselves one day. We had no idea it would happen so soon.

What’s a camp?

Basically, it’s a rustic cabin located somewhere in the woods, potentially far into the woods. I think most people would call them a cabin. Growing up in a semi-touristy part of south central Wisconsin, they were often called cottages and located somewhere near the water.


But the idea is the same: a rustic getaway. They are generally smaller and have fewer amenities that your average house, although some are certainly very, very nice—a lot nicer than our actual home, I’m sure. But the ones that I’ve been to are small, unpolished, and pretty well worn. Most have running water, although it may be gravity-fed from a cistern. Some, but not all, have electricity, which is often powered by solar panels or a generator that is run when needed. All—at least all of them that I’ve ever been to—have an outhouse. Continue reading “What’s a camp?”