Fallen leaves, needles and temperatures at season’s end

img_1995Bright October afternoons of oak and maple leaves swirling in the wind are gone for another year.  The last red raspberries and tomatoes have frosted away so only b’sprouts, tiny broccoli and milkweed pods persist in the garden beds.
A few yellowed needles drop from the Bluecircle pines but it will be many years before they make a layer of mulch under a mature canopy.  On a recent hike near Gun Lake fallen needles from the tall pines decorated the still-green maples.

But now the first gusts of lake-effect snow have brought shivers to the hilltop. Bronzed leaves that evaded the mulch pile blow randomly between the trees, finding company in the piles that grow by fences and shrubs. And the sun sets low in the almost-winter sky. img_0164

Pomona Point Neighbors

My neighbor shared this crisp late-summer view of the Bluecircle Farm from recent aerial photography of the Pomona Point area on Paw Paw Lake.  Pines, spruce, poplars and oak march like ragged battle lines across the grass.treefarm

As Pomona Point approaches its 150th anniversary Bluecircle Arts recently tried its hand at publishing and crafted a brief history of the Point and its neighborhoods.  This is now an e-book: “Pomona Point Neighbors at Paw Paw Lake”   http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/586338-pomona-point-neighbors-at-paw-paw-lake .  The book expanded a March, 2015 post on this blog about the history of the Bluecircle land to tell the resort history of the peninsula.

Snow on the roses

Snowy Bluebird Sophie the snow-loving dog was a lot happier with today’s April snow than the bluebirds in the woods. A stiff north wind and freezing temperatures for a second day brought 4-5 frosty inches to the Bluecircle. The Spring greens of lilac buds and the daffodil patch are already re-emerging in the noon sun but it’s too soon to put the snow shovel away in Watervliet.Greens in the snow

Shadowed snow invades inland

IMG_1833Downwind of Lake Michigan Winter brings many kinds of snow … tiny grains like white millet, wet flakes that hurry down, or light, dry rafts of giant flakes that swirl around the trees.   When the air is cold,  dry and gusty and the blue sky is cloudless the sun can burst from behind a lake-effect snow band bringing sudden blinding whiteness.  Just as quickly it can be enveloped by the snow cloud and dimmed – temporarily.   Yesterday a brilliant morning sun encountered the lake effect and painted gray shadows on the shaded side of falling flakes, making them silent grey invaders headed for the pristine drifts below.

When the cold checks out early

A rainy afternoon made the lake ice into a splash pond resembling mid-March instead of midwinter.  This month the cold was like a guest  you prepared the house and cooked for who then departed prematurely – days earlier than expected.   The snowshoes, long underwear and mittens are collecting dust but at least the refrigerator isn’t full of leftover food.  IMG_1807

Squirrels recovering buried treasure where there was a foot of snow last week look delighted while all cross-country ski tracks around the BlueCircle are either icy or washed away.   The greenhouse lettuce succumbed to persistent clouds and freezing temperatures so gardening season is finally over.

I prefer a snow-covered dog to a wet and muddy one and she would rather delve into snow piles then almost anything else so maybe the next puff of Winter will bring at least enough for that.  Meanwhile there’s time to catch up on indoor projects and plan for Spring.

A still Winter lake

IMG_1719 Even in an unseasonably warm year the dimmed December sun sits low above the horizon. The garden still yields carrots and surprisingly good leaf lettuce, this time the “volunteer” variety that reseeded itself when we tilled that part of the garden in August. The mower deck is off the garden tractor to be cleaned and greased; at least the grass knows this is a season of short days and rest. The year-end accounting of tree seedlings that survived and those that will need replaced is underway and encouraging. Most of next year’s planting will be in a recently cleared area replacing brambles, dead black locust and weeds.

An arborist’s nightmare

IMG_1671 In the tail-end of a hurricane wind the saw-wielding climber was roped high in one of the “old trees” of Smith’s Landing a.k.a. the Fairview Beach neighborhood. At first view the towering Maple looked sound, and despite the obvious skill (and courage) of the suspended man it seemed cruel that this tree had been selected for removal.IMG_1668 Of the dozens of Ash trees lost here in the last 3 years many still stand as leafless skeletons. Last year extensive removal of mature shade trees and old pines that had the misfortune to grow within “a threatening distance” of power lines further depleted our green space.
Sadly, this tall old Maple had now begun to split between its two main trunks and become unsafe.IMG_1673

Watching the winds and counting the raindrops (updated with weather cam link)

Weather Underground PWS KMIWATER21Cedar and spruce seedlings are thirsty their first few months, so keeping track of local rainfall is a requirement this time of year.  When Nature doesn’t provide the only alternative is the “water wagon”, a 30 gal. tank and dispensing hose strapped to the bed of our Gator. The Gator is the Bluecircle’s all-purpose “go-fer cart” (my wive wanted a golf cart & I misunderstood ), tool carrier and coffee holder.
Perhaps carrying this weather-watching to extreme, the Bluecircle now has its own weather station “East Paw Paw Lake” posting to the Wunderground family of web sites.   Since just graphing the rainfall and wind speed wasn’t quite enough we added a webcam view of Paw Paw Lake.   An updated link to the cam brings up a 24-hr recording of its images. The camera location looks west above Fairview Beach and shows parts of Bowe’s Landing and the south shore of the main body of the lake.  The changing wind conditions from day to day are reflected by the waves, or lack thereof when there’s no wind to watch.

Spruce flowers above, garden labyrinth below

Norway Spruce flowers, early May

Norway Spruce flowers, early May

Last week construction of a small garden labyrinth topped the active list of Bluecircle projects. The old Norway spruce over the site was in full bloom and every breeze carried a smoke-like puff of pine pollen to bless the work.
First a compass was used to place the labyrinth entry due east of the center point. A tape measure and spray marking paint were used to lay out 6 concentric circles (radius = 50, 74, 98, 122, 146, 170 in.) and then a 24-inch string attached to the spray can was used to mark the turns connecting the circles. The sod along both sides of the marked circles and turns was cut with a gas-powered edging tool. The grass strip this created was discarded and replaced with half-round 4-inch plastic drainage tile. Landscape staples were used to anchor the tile and keep it in place. Finally about a ton of 2-inch river rock was placed in the tile to complete the project. The total cost for tool rental, two 100 ft. rolls of drain tile (cut with a saber saw at 12:00 and 6:00 to make the half-round tile) and the stone was approximately $130.

30-foot garden labyrinth laid with river rock

30-foot garden labyrinth laid with river rock

From the Duchesses of Smith’s Orchards to the Pines of the BlueCircle Farm

Smith's orchard on Heathering Hill, Watervliet Twp. ca. 1880

Smith’s orchard on Hetherington Hill, Watervliet Twp. ca. 1880

In the late 1800s Sebastian Smith and family developed one of the largest and most successful apple orchards on the southeastern shores of Paw Paw Lake.  Their apples included the Duchess of Oldenberg variety, originally developed in Russia and recognized at the time as a superior variety in New York and Michigan.   In a portion of an 1880 illustration of his Heatherington Heights orchard reproduced above (from “A 20th Century History of Berrien County, Michigan” O.W. Collidge, 1906) a single-story white “cottage” is visible above the road on the right.  A winter photograph from about the same location shows the house that remains at that site, possibly on part of the original foundation, albeit nearly hidden by new homes on the east side of North Watervliet road.

Heatherington Hill from the east, 2015

Heatherington Hill from the east, 2015

Detail of Smith's "cottage" from edge of panorama

Detail of Smith’s “cottage” from edge of panorama

Mr. Smith sold the 19 acres of this orchard that now hold the BlueCircle Farm to his son John in 1902, then retired to Florida.  The land changed hands and became Wilmer M. Pratt’s “Apple Orchard Farms” in 1918.   The farm passed from Mr. Pratt’s estate to Chicago Oak Park residents Gerhard and Lulu Schwarting in 1928.  They maintained the orchards, harvesting 6000 bushels of Duchess apples in 1930, but continued to be regular summer visitors.  They developed their Paw Paw Lake waterfront on Woodland Ave. into summer cottages and the area north of Hetherington Hill and Fairview Beach and east of Chicago Terrace became known as  “Schwartings Orchards”.  The Schwarting’s left the orchard business in 1944 when they sold to HJ Peters of Benton Harbor.   Mr. Peters and later his son Forrest owned and operated the orchard until 1952.

The orchards in the 1960s
It was then bought by Marion S. Atwill who owned adjacent orchards she had inherited from her father.  In the aerial photograph above from the 1960s six acres that will become the Woodland Conservancy appear cleared of trees except for a small area to the north. A peach orchard and tomato rows took the place of Schwarting’s apple orchard during these years. The land was bought by a developer in 1976 and after almost 100 years the orchards disappeared entirely. In late 1997 Delavan Sipes and the owners of several adjacent lakefront properties that once had been owned by the Schwartings founded the Woodlawn Nature Conservancy on the south side of Woodlawn Ave.  He described the Conservancy in a column he wrote for the Tri-City Record in 1999:

This split the orchard land into two roughly equal parcels – the Conservancy on the west, and to the east a mostly open field that eventually would become Bluecircle Farm.  Plans to develop additional condominiums or a horse farm on this site were eventually scrapped.  For the next 13 years weeds and spreads of black locust, maple, mulberry, wild grape and raspberry spread from the former fencerows – were repeatedly mowed, cleared and burnt – and persistently rose again from battered stumps.

The first pines of the BlueCircle Farm were placed in late 2010, beginning a fresh cycle on this hill above Paw Paw Lake.