It started when they were toddlers. We’d take them to experience local nature programs or to stroll along the paths that wound through the woods at nearby nature centers. Even a walk in our subdivision, which connects to a park, would bring our sons little joys from the natural world. Cool sticks, a perfectly shaped pinecone, pretty stones, a spent dandelion — they’d all end up in the Nature Box, which is still in our garage today.
As our sons grew, my husband and I made the ultimate decision to purchase a cottage where we knew the little Nature Box would overflow. Located in northern Michigan on an inland lake and just seconds away from a Great Lake, our new respite was surrounded by everything from elusive eagles to stalking herons, delicate lady slippers, and bright-white trillium. There was plenty to put in the Nature Box: acorns, colorful leaves, sea glass.
You could call the place point-central, because it was there — or on the way to there — that we’d play a game we called Points for Nature. Who would spot a red-tailed hawk? Who could be the first to find a Petoskey stone? Who heard the call of the eagle? See that great blue heron? Shhhhh, be still! You’d get 10 points if you spotted an eagle; 4 points for a hawk; and a couple of points for a bullfrog or a turtle. The great blue heron was rewarded with 5.
We played that point game on road trips or excursions into nature for years — and, in fact, we still do. As I’m writing this letter, I’m looking out our cottage’s picture window, and my husband is saying Shhhh. A great blue is there along the shoreline. See it? I stop typing and sneak to a spot where I can get a better look. “Five points!” I tell him.
We’ve tracked our finds and animal sightings over the years in our Gwen Frostic journal (Frostic was a renowned Michigan artist and poet who’s featured in this issue). It’s fun to look back through the pages and recall the day we spotted, say, a green heron, which is pretty difficult to find.
My husband, sons, and I recently drove across parts of the Upper Peninsula together. Rather than sitting in the front, directing and tracking the point searches as I did so long ago, I was in the back seat as we zipped through black bear and moose country. My head was at a constant 45-degree angle as I stared out the window, completely focused and alert to dark shapes and movement.
“Mom, are you looking? Mom, are you looking?” our 25-year-old kept repeating. Wow, the tables have turned, I thought, my heart swelling because it seems we’ve inspired our sons to regard nature as a constant provider of simple joy.
I admit that I felt like a kid, not only because I was riding happily in the back seat, but because it’s downright exhilarating to see even something simple, like a group of monarchs flitting atop milkweed or a quaking aspen whose leaves are charmingly heart-shaped. We don’t need to see a bear or a moose, although that would be such a thrill (15 points for those types of sightings!).
My family and I have explored much of Michigan on foot, by bike, and in kayaks and canoes, and what we all collected on our recent trip through the U.P. could be found either in our pockets (cool stones and sea glass) or as experiences that we’ll keep stored in a special drawer in the back of our minds.
This issue is full of ideas on where you can play the points game, from along the shores of Lake Michigan near Ludington and Traverse City to a car ride on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, or cruising by boat through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Love fall color? Autumn is the best time to hike along the majestic Au Sable River. Or take this issue’s Postcard writer/photographer’s advice and hit a few waterfalls. You’re bound to feel like a kid again.