Trees like brothers
PI man named caretaker of new wildlife sanctuary
PRESQUE ISLE — “See that one over there, the one that’s splintered off?” the caretaker said. “A storm took that one down last week.”
On a windy, early-January morning, Floyd Selves was leading a tour through land off of a dead-end road on the east shore of Lake Esau, south of Presque Isle.
The property, where Selves has tromped merrily for 40 years, was recently donated to the Michigan Nature Association, with an open invitation to the public to come and enjoy it. The association maintains about 175 other properties throughout the state.
Dubbed Spitler Shore Nature Sanctuary, after its donor, the property has been one of Northeast Michigan’s little-known treasures since December 2017.
MADE A STEWARD
A regular in the woods since he and his wife, Shari, bought property on the adjoining road in the mid-1970s, Selves has spent years watching the changes in the woods.
He’s noticed the dying of the ash trees, killed off by the ever-hungry emerald ash borer beetle, and the end of the growth cycle of the white birch that once filled the area, first-growth trees following the great Metz fire of 1908.
As he walked the grown-over, two-track road that makes up one of the sanctuary’s paths on a recent Friday morning, Selves talked about the trees around him like they were old friends.
That one, he said, pointing through shade to the fallen carcass of a large pine, has been there since it was blown down in the 1980s.
And that one there, he said, was uprooted only the other day, during a big wind storm.
He pointed with affectionate pride to a massive tree, so tall you have to crane your neck to see the top. Fifteen years ago, he said, it started to fall, but was caught by a brother tree and now leans at a 45-degree angle.
“He’s still alive,” Selves said, pausing to admire the tree. “He got tipped in one of our November winds. The nor’easters really beat up this place.”
Selves contacted the Michigan Nature Association after it took over the property to ask if he could help care for the land he loves.
Appointed a steward of the new sanctuary, Selves, who lives in Presque Isle part-time when not at his home in Toronto, was entrusted with establishing several new trails while leaving much of the woods untouched, nature allowed to decide how to make herself most lovely.
A WALK IN THE WOODS
In the northeast corner of the sanctuary, moss-skirted cedar trees stand on tiptoe, sturdy roots reaching around fallen nurse logs that have long ago decayed and vanished.
One path leads through a lowland sodden with underground water, where a stream recently appeared, wending through the trees for adventurers to hop across.
A charred, hollowed log still bearing the scars of the 1908 fire rests near the base of a dead tree, where a mound of oval pellets gives evidence of the two quilled residents in the branches above.
“It was so cute — we looked up there and saw two porcupine butts peeking out,” said Ann Ratteree, a neighbor who walks the woods with Shari Selves daily.
Interesting wildlife lurks on the property, fox and coyote making regular cameo appearances on trail cams. A bobcat appearing silently in a branch above Selves’ head years ago is the namesake of one of the trails.
Beguiling paths through peaceful woods end abruptly at the edge of Lake Huron, in the bowl of a deeply-curved bay. Purple and teal and gray water slides toward the shore, its deep voice urgent but amicable.
Last year, an island, complete with a stand of evergreens, stood a ways out from shore, before high waters and ice did away with it, Selves said.
Nearer the shore, a dome-shaped rock breaks the water’s flow. Elephant Egg Rock, Selves said, has been a part of many a joyous group photo, had many a name written on it over the decades.
On the beach, masses of ice thrown into heaps by spirited waves make slippery stepping stones. The other direction, spidery beach plants reach across saturated sand, hardy pitcher plants providing pops of red.
With a slurping sound, a foot disappeared shin-high into the wet sand, causing squeals of surprise and revealing a previously undiscovered hole in the accompanying boot.
“You might have a new appreciation of quicksand,” Selves said casually, half his attention on the interesting and ever-changing landscape at his feet. “To our knowledge, we haven’t lost anyone in it, yet.”
He peered into the water, pointing out pieces of an ancient pier and other debris that have made their way to shore. The Albany, a steamer that sunk in 1853 some 1,500 feet from shore, is a favorite of kayakers and jet-skiers who peer at it through 10 feet of water on warm summer afternoons.
On shore, the wanderers poked through the offerings rolled in by the previous day’s waves. Ratteree called out, excited by a find. She and Selves studied a curious offering from the lake, finally deciding it might be a bone from the mouth of a lamprey.Green and brown and seductive dimness at last lured the party back into the woods, once again to trod familiar but ever-changing paths, check on old friends, and see what havoc the winds had wrought.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.
If you go
∫ WHAT: Spitler Shore Nature Sanctuary
∫ WHEN: Open during daylight hours
∫ WHERE: 7085 Kauffman Road, Presque Isle, adjacent to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
∫ HOW MUCH: Free
∫ INFO: Parking is available on the side of the road near the sanctuary’s marked entrance. A brochure containing a trail map is available in a canister just past the entrance.