Monday, March 14, 2011

Misery Bay: by Sunwiggy

Back by popular demand is my guest blogger Sunwiggy, describing more of her adventures in the frozen north. I think "Misery Bay" sounds very evocative. If there's one thing the U.P. has going for it, it's cool place names!

On Friday, March the 11th, my husband and I decided to bird a little farther afield, at Misery Bay, in Ontonagon County. I was hoping that Misery Bay would have a nice area of open water, caused by the Misery River flowing into it. This is a really beautiful and remote area of the UP. I've heard the Misery name came from either the miserable living conditions of the first white settlers in the area, or a fierce battle between two Native American tribes that turned the river red with their blood. I was in misery, too, when I saw that both the river and the bay were frozen solid! I mean, really! It's the middle of March! Areas of the bay that had open water just 2 weeks ago are now frozen over. My husband's guess is that the water in the bay just got cold enough, finally, to freeze.

So there I was, fuming over my crushed hopes for some nice duck sightings. A certain daughter in central Illinois has been seeing rafts, flotillas, whole navvies of ducks, but a duck would need ice skates to maneuver itself around a bay up here. We did spot a teeny black speck, waa-aay out there on the ice. After much adjusting of our new scope, we were able to bring into view a lone ice fisherman. I had an idea. It's hard to walk through the deep snow, but here we were, standing next to a river covered in ice. "Let's walk on the river, and see if we can see birds in the trees along the shore." My husband, ever the good sport, agreed, so off we went. Then, we heard an odd sound. It was loud, and deep, rather like Big Foot would sound if he had a bad bellyache, or so I imagined. My husband announced, "I don't like the sound of this! Let's get off the ice!" No arguments from me (for once). I'd forgotten that ice "talks", and this ice was telling us to get off! Back in the parking lot, we were treated to the taps and calls of a pair of downy woodpeckers. They seemed to feel Spring was near.

Driving back, we saw one of the weirdest sights I've yet seen in the UP. It was a tree, a large tree, decorated from the crown to the lowest branches with pairs of shoes and boots. They looked shiny and new, too. One bright purple flowered pair of little girls' boots stands out in memory, but there were dozens. I asked my husband, "Why would anyone do that?" His first theory was that it was the work of druids. "Druids! That's silly! Druids don't hang pairs of shoes and boots all over trees." He said that maybe UP druids did. His second theory was that it was an offering to Heikki Lunta, the Finnish snow god, a snow god totally made up by Yoopers, but, hey, when they sang a song to him, asking for snow for a snowmobile race 30 years or so ago, he obliged with so much snow, they wrote and sang another song to him, asking him to stop. I'm not sure what message the shoe-and-boot tree would send to Heikki Lunta, Take a hike? Let's give Winter the boot?

I goggled "trees decorated by shoes" when I got home, and actually got a hit: there's a famous one in Idaho. That one even has shoes nailed to its trunk.

Saturday the weather was just awful. It SNOWED again. Today was sunny and almost 30 degrees, and we enjoyed a lovely hike at Churning Rapids, staying on the road which has been groomed for Xcountry skiers. I try to stay on the side and not mess it up for the skiers, but a lot of them bring their dogs for a romp in the snow, so they probably don't mind. We saw lots of deer, bird, rabbit, squirrel, and dog tracks, lots and lots of chickadees, and one ruffed grouse. I always feel bad when we scare one up, they sound completely hysterical. On the way home we stopped at a little township park to view the open, but duckless, water of Lake Superior. I console myself with the thought that all of those lovely ducks a certain daughter is seeing now, in Illinois, are just resting up for their long flight to the UP!

Once again, thanks to Sunwiggy and my dad for contributing...and if anyone reading this has any theories about that Shoe Tree, I'd love to hear them!


  1. You know, I've lived in Minnesota for 4 years now and have still never been to the UP! Not sure this post convinced me to try it though;) Be GONE snow!!!

  2. I have to agree, actually. Although I had a fabulous time visiting Minnesota and Upper Michigan last month, it was great to get back to Illinois where March actually feels like springtime! There is a certain beauty to the frozen North, though....