• Susan Poirier

Leelanau— connection and restoration

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

I feel a pull to Leelanau. Spring migration could have taken me to well-known destinations like Magee Marsh or Tawas Point where warblers congregate. The chance to see many of these brief and beloved travellers up-close is tempting. But my non-conformist nature will sometimes choose heart over logic, and my heart said let’s visit Leelanau.

Chippewa Indian legend tells of the mother bear, the ‘sleeping bear,’ overcome by grief from the loss of her two cubs, symbolized by North and South Manitou Islands.

A snowstorm left three feet of snow recently, and lonely patches of white still persisted in a few spots. Certainly a testimony to how unexpectedly the weather, as life, can change. Hoping to see some early migrants I hiked first near the northerly tip of the peninsula at Leelanau State Park and later at Pyramid Point, one of the most scenic trails with elevation overlooking Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands. I heard the resonating presence of pileated woodpeckers in the woods on the Pyramid Point trail.

Hiking through the flooded-out paths at Mud Lake was a prerequisite for common loons to arrive at dusk, drifting with their haunting calls. Time becomes irrelevant—it might be hundreds of years earlier, no cars or cell phones, no internet, and no industrialism that has changed the planet forever.

I don’t dwell on a ‘life list.’ In fact, I don’t even think about it. It’s not that I’m not interested in seeing rare birds (I am). It’s just that I’m more comfortable taking a relaxed approach, taking the road less traveled. When I do cross paths with the rare bird it becomes a zen moment. Often there’s no photo, because in rushing for the camera I may lose that moment.

Stopping at a village coffeehouse in Leland, the waitress and I discovered a common bond when I asked about hiking trails and birds. She studied ornithology, working half the year in the states and travelling around the world doing conservation projects the other half. What were the chances of meeting an ornithologist here? She told me about her upcoming trip to Thailand to work on the plastic pollution crisis. We nodded that the current political climate is beyond discouraging—and what choice do we have but to continue working and advocating for change, in whatever way we can.

The connection between like-minded souls is a magnet that transcends age and life circumstances.

The next morning I drove to Omena to visit Saving Birds Thru Habitat, a 47-acre sanctuary for birds that’s been restored to native pants—the key to birds’ nesting success and survival. Meeting the founder of the sanctuary, Kay Charter was a definite recharger for my low battery. Charter is a strong voice and advocate for the evolutionary partnership between native plants, insects, and birds. As we walked around the restored prairie and wetlands, she spotted an endangered eastern meadowlark. She explained how years ago she knew the loss of native plants was directly correlated to the loss of native birds and of her connection with entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy, the well-known author of Bringing Nature Home is an honorary board member of Charter’s Saving Birds Thru Habitat sanctuary.

Connections between people, as in nature, are the foundation for education, growth, and change. Much can happen in a three-day weekend when minds are open and receptive.

The preservation of Leelanau’s coastal dune habitat is the legacy for those who stood up for its protection nearly fifty years ago when Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was founded. The area was given wilderness designation in 2014.

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