Mitchell Creek Nature Preserve

There exists a certain charm to exploring areas that have been infrequently traveled. It makes me light on my feet. I feel invincible and vulnerable all at once. The paths are few, but the rewards are many. This the accumulative charm that can be found at the Mitchell Creek Nature Preserve. I will be honest, I have only been here on a select few occasions. I typically head elsewhere for my outdoor fix; I crave cardio and a brisk pace. I live for long loops and forested hillsides revealing breathtaking views. This preserve offers none of this.

But you know what? That is okay. What this preserve does offer is something much more precious…solitude and insight. Solitude…of course, is hard to find when a culture shift has occurred in Northern Michigan. Not so much by choice, but by necessity. The outdoors offers citizens a safer means of recreation. And fortunately, Northern Michigan offers myriad preserves, parks and natural areas. We simply cannot live without them.

Preserves and Natural Areas have never been so important to the health and function of our modern society. I feel extremely fortunate to reside in an area that places high value on preservation and conservation.

The natural area offers clues of human occupation among the ferns and underbrush, such as this strikingly ghostly flower. (Image Copyright The Wilderness Journal 2020)

Traversing the preserve is a simple task. Boots make contact with a well-worn path leading to a tributary of Mitchell Creek. The creek snakes through an array of hardwoods and wetland vegetation. I am especially smitten with the White Cedars and there column-like trunks. They certainly let you know who is in charge here. Not a mere human. These giants command respect. And the truth is, they do. And so does the land. We are nothing without it. Politics have no place where dragonflies dart effortlessly between verdant leaves.

My respect for the land continues to grow and is nurtured by necessity. A need to find solace and belonging. I begin to wilt when not replenished by the comforting waters of a creek.

An old railroad tie serves as a bridge to cross Mitchell Creek. This is arguably one of the best views in Traverse City. (Image Copyright The Wilderness Journal 2020)

The creek, in essence, defines the known from the unknown. The comfortable from the uncomfortable. The visitor must make a decision…go forward, and trudge through spongy soil and undergrowth, or turn back. Here the known path ends. While photographing some Marsh Marigolds, a man emerged from the entrance a few meters away. The Chickadees that had been going about their business took wing.

He crossed the tie, and walked until the worn path ended. I looked up from my camera, glanced in his general direction, and observed as he looked around for the continuation of the path. Leaves gently rustled above, breaking the silence. He walked on, as if searching for something that must be just beyond his grasp. At the time, I did not realize just how important this moment was. I saw him walk purposely back across the tie, and disappear into the stand of trees beyond the creek.

This is precisely where we are as a species. We have walked the worn path. The comfortable, the known way. We expect it to continue. But a stream has created a dividing line between what we know to be true, and what we have yet to discover once we cross the bridge. The Covid-19 Virus has cut this path off in one fell swoop. Right under our noses. Where do we go from here? Must we enter the unknown? What lies beyond that mucky, spongy ground beneath? There is a clearing just up ahead. But to reach it, we need to get a bit scratched up. Our boots need to sink into the muck. Spider webs need to tangle into our hair and mouths. We need to enter the unknown; only then will we find our new path forward. A new normal.

Moments before the arrival of the gentleman, Chickadees were perched upon the branches. (Image Copyright The Wilderness Journal 2020)

Turning around means business as usual (the same ol’, same ol’…). Part of me wanted to turn around too. I saw no path forward. Why make the effort? Just as I was about to head back across the creek, I paused, and took a look at the dense undergrowth. I saw beyond it a clearing. The sun shone between the virgin leaves. The water below sparkled, letting me know that I must reconsider. I grabbed my camera and tripod, and headed for the unknown.

This view would not have been captured had I not stepped into the unknown. (Image Copyright The Wilderness Journal 2020)

The reward was great. My breath was taken away as I jumped over a couple of decaying birches underfoot. I cannot see life being justly worth living without taking such steps into the unknown. Our species crossed vast terrains, sailed the seven seas, and set foot on the moon. This his how we move forward. We take risks: we question the status quo.

To be bold, this is how we will overcome the virus that has become front and center in our day-to-day lives. We cannot afford to turn around and expect life to continue as it had. We must evolve. The virus–perhaps– is the planet’s way of warning us that we cannot continue on the way we are. We must heed her warning.

In the end, the preserve may not be the bell of the ball. But who the cluck cares? Its places such as this that will define our future as a species. This alone makes this preserve priceless.

Until next time, get outside and just breath.

Adam K.


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