Red winter berries in snow

Red winter berries in snow


Let’s discuss “Danger in the Woods” right in the beginning.  Specifically, the chances of meeting some of our wilder friends, such as mountain lions, wolves and black bear.  How often would you be likely to encounter a snarling pair of slashing claws and hungry (or angry, or disturbed) appetite for humans while sauntering leisurely through the north woods of Upper Michigan?

Any guesses?  Well, my bet is one is much more likely to meet danger in human clothing in any city of the USA than wandering in the woods around here.  Don’t get me wrong; it does happen.  Animals can be unpredictable.  But in thirty years of exploring the backcountry around here, I’ve only encountered two somewhat-scary encounters.

In the first, a snarling pine marten or fisher (please google for pics) scolded  from atop a tall hemlock for at least five minutes before I had the grace and common sense to walk on.  My heart thumped wildly trying to imagine what kind of creature growled so ferociously. 

In the second instance, I almost walked into a black bear poking around in autumn foliage.  Fortunately for awareness, the sound of the snuffling and pawing alerted me.  Although they advise not running away abruptly, I turned tail and sailed out of there faster than fast.  The bear probably never looked up.

And that’s been the dangerous encounters.  If you add road-encounters it gets more interesting.  A moose galloped across the road halfway to Marquette about fifteen years ago.  I thought, “What kind of strange horse is that?” and then watched through the rear view mirror as even stranger photographers leaped from their cars with cameras in hand, chasing the moose for the photo opportunity.  (If I had been writing this blog, I might have been one of those crazy folks….)

Another time, maybe twenty years ago, a panther (also known as a black mountain lion) bounded across the Silver River Hill.  It left the woods, hit the middle of the road with its paws, and dove back into the woods on the other side of the road.  All I saw was a black blur and a long tail.  The tail measured the same size as the panther.  Once again the Mind was slower than the eyes.  “What was that?  Some humongous cat?” 

People have been meeting up with wolves more frequently in recent years, although I’ve only seen one in a field on the way to work.  It stared coolly at the slowing cars.  Some hunters have complained of competing with wolf packs for venison.  People don’t usually allow young children to roam too far in the woods without supervision.  One of my friend’s seven year old sons almost bumped into a coyote while playing down by the river earlier this fall.  He insisted it wasn’t a wolf.  Both he and the coyote took off in opposite directions, fast.

Today I wandered through unfamiliar woods out by where I work.  Now I have to admit something does scare me out there.  Makes me cautious, anyway.  The old-time settlers built shallow wells on their homesteads.  A hundred years later a deer will sometimes stumble into one of these unfilled wells.  There’s rumors of hunters almost falling in.  I walk very astutely in these areas, keeping aware of possible old wells.

Now that we’ve established a relative perimiter of safety in the woods, what do you think of those red berries?  I was SO excited to spot some color in the woods today.  Beautiful red!  It seemed like another Christmas present.  Anyone know what they are?