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: http://23.25.1.108/Coloma/GSI_Sing_PDF/The%20Tri-City%20Record/2000-2009/2009-08-13_07.pdf#xml=http://23.25.1.108/Coloma.asp?cmd=pdfhits&DocId=33407&Index=C%3a%5cinetpub%5cwwwroot%5cIDX%5cCOLOMAALLS&HitCount=1&hits=bc0+&hc=206&req=schwarting

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.

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Sunny snowy again

Ohhh - snowww

Ohhh – snowww

Another round of lake-enhanced snowfall makes the landscape fresh but travel slow.  Intermittent bursts of full sun turn all a blinding white and do nothing to warm the hill when they accompany a driving, albeit intermittent northwesterly blizzard.  When the wind dies the snow falls as softly floating islands of icy powder.   In contrast to grey days of January the sunny snowing does help mitigate the fact that this season has outlived its welcome.  Maple treetops show bud swelling, evidence that its almost time to cut and root poplar twigs again.  But not yet –  near-record cold is predicted on a new moon night above the frozen lake.IMG_0059

Snowy trails of February

Pine Tree Loop trail, Sarrett Nature Center

Pine Tree Loop trail, Sarrett Nature Center

Fresh snow with a daily topdressing of lake-effect powder has resurrected the full spectrum of winter outdoors. The nordic trails at the Sarrett Nature Center are nicely groomed and include a few bursts of downhill excitement. Followed, of course, by the inevitable climb out of the dune ravine.
Paw Paw Lake has been largely ignored by snowmobile riders – only a few tracks stretch across the snowy ice.

Sunset approaches on Paw Paw Lake ice

Sunset approaches on Paw Paw Lake ice

Swans of the Winter Solstice

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Whether these are the longest nights or shortest days is a matter of perspective.  Waking with the sun reveals thin, rubbery ice near shore that just supports a few hungry gulls.  In a few hours shifting winds will clear it away – for now.  Within a week or two the bay will be white with ice and snow and the lakes’  quietest season will be underway.

Gulls at the icy edge

Gulls at the icy edge

It’s a time of greys and whites punctuated by the blackness of clear starry nights and brightened by glimpses of sunny skies and sunsets.   As we transitioned today from an old season to a new beginning we were visited by a trio of swans. Beyond their grace and strength these visitors are a powerful symbol in many traditions and a fitting gift to renew our spirits. http://www.druidry.org/library/animals/swan

Three swans a-sailing

Three swans a-sailing

Five-Star afternoon on Paw Paw Lake

Michigan inland lakes are glowingly described by Realtors as “all-sports lakes”.   But on July and August afternoons the choppy waves criss-crossed by racing ski boats makes them fit for little else until sundown – or even later if a Sheriff’s patrol is absent.  The intrepid kayaker risks being swamped, fishing is folly, and swimmers are banished to shallow coves.  Only the broad platforms of pontoon boaters can cruise with some comfort unless they too are equipped to pull guests on wake boards or tubes.  Perhaps our lakes should be called “motorsports unlimited lakes”.

Jet skies at sunset on Paw Paw Lake

Jet skies at sunset on Paw Paw Lake

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Sailing Stars

To be fair, the year is more than two months long.  A more balanced use of Paw Paw Lake begins in September, and the Paw Paw Lake Yacht Club recently sailed its fleet of five Star class sailboats. There is more fishing from small boats.  Even the remaining ski boats have slowed – perhaps to enjoy the changing season.

Flies you see and stings you flee

Late summer – the nightly serenade of the cicadas and the daytime buzzing of cicada-killer wasps. A vocal cricket has taken up residence in the studio, and a new colony of yellow jacket warriors has an underground bunker beneath a struggling grape vine.  I found these nasty defenders – or rather they found me – armed only with a string trimmer with shorts and a T for “body armor”.  As I scurried away from multiple stingers I left a hat, sunglasses, then the trimmer in my wake.  Must have looked like (a large clumsy) Peter Rabbit leaving the McGregar garden.   The tall weeds in this row will have to stand undisturbed till cold weather comes.

A relatively unusual fly found its way to our deck yesterday.  According to Buggide.net (http://bugguide.net/bgimage/recent/28001) this is a Peacock fly, Callopistromyia annulipes,  about 10 mm in length.  It comes from a family of flies known as the “Picture-winged flies” .  Besides displaying its wings in the peacock mode it can rotate and fold them on its back, looking more like a regular fly but far less interesting.

 

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Peacock fly on the deck rail

Peacock fly on the deck rail

Winter shadows

Four o’clock sun across the lake remains cold to the skin, but warms and  softens the glint of still more lake effect powder.   When airy flakes fall without wind they drape the landscape and blur the fox’s footprints.   They hide the broken remains of successful hunts – feathers scattered from a daylight hawk’s raid and a pair of naked rabbit shins from  the red fox’s feast.   The ghostly evidence will soon emerge from a cemetery of melting drifts and blend quickly into the browns and fresh greens of promised Spring.IMG_1079

Seeing when not looking

IMG_1069Wandering eyes, not looking down the road to the Monday morning workplace – a new way to begin the week after many years.  This morning the snowbanks basked in the crisp sunshine while the tallest treetops glittered with frozen fog that had not reached the ground.  Starkly white against the windless winter sky they awaited inevitable warming that would spoil the moment.  Today there were no Jays in the sumac, but in the Conservancy a woodpecker was already drumming for its breakfast.

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Life in the snow lane

Sophie bursts from a drift

Sophie bursts from a drift

Blowing snow

Another afternoon of Blowing, drifting lake effect show as the next outbreak of arctic air approaches.  Many of the fledgling pines of the Bluecircle are safely hidden beneath the surface.  Sophie clamors and bounds over this strange new land, moving too quickly for the camera but getting a good workout all the same.  The wind sweeps the length of the lake and seems to burst over the hill, collecting and drifting snow behind trees, buildings, anything stationary.  This is snowshoe weather- even these grumpy tracks are promptly erased by the Alberta clipper.DSC00725

Better to stay off the highways on such afternoons and nights.  Soon it will be too cold for the assurance of dry pavement, and even the brown, wet slush produced here by a mixture of dune sand and salt will begin to turn to ice.  The plow operators have done an admirable job of clearing most snow drifts, but as night falls Winter will have her way again.

Interstate drivers in the “Lake Effect” zone downwind of Lake Michigan know this is the season of a relatively bare right-hand lane and to its left,  the snow lane.   Trucks, timid drivers and those with poorly equipped vehicles mostly eschew the snow lane lest they visit the median or worse.   At times only a dusting of white covers the dry pavement to their left, which disappears in the path of SUVs that choose to pass them for less obstructed road ahead.   Heavier show,  drifts, lighter traffic, or falling temperatures can make transition into the passing mode more problematic.  Risk is never far away in the depths of this season, especially in the snow lane.

New tracks, new snow, new year

Paw Paw Lake in Fall

Paw Paw Lake in Fall

There’s been no shortage of snow, drifting and cold on the Bluecircle this winter, meaning the cross country skis regularly have a fresh path ahead.   The daily route goes east along one boundary, then downhill to the marsh and back west to the Conservancy.   Last week an unseen hawk left wingprints on takeoff from the dry lake-effect snow, and a red fox skirted the perimeter as he made his way towards the marsh.  There are few footprints on the coldest days; even the deer have taken cover.

The season’s quiet is broken at times by Sophie, an adolescent German Shepard who is the farm’s newest resident.  When she happily bounds through drifts her chest and shoulders leave oval craters in the snow that nearly hide the fact that legs and paws carried her forward.  Sophie would like more rabbits to come dance with her in the snow.  Based on the speed at which she removes stuffing and squeakers from her stuffed toys , this would not end well for the bunnies.IMG_1059

Icy clouds over Coloma

Icy clouds over Coloma

This Bluecircle chronicle lagged behind events in 2013 and left the end of Summer and passage of Autumn behind.  A renovation adding writing space to the not-so-big house overlooking the lake was designed and begun, and the work of forsaking city life for retirement was advanced.   Boxes of books, antiques, clothes and the remaining   garden tools made their way to the garage where some were destined to be discarded, but more made their way to the truck.   Things, images and words forgotten in the past were rediscovered, and sorted anew.   After Autumn’s seasonal changes that demand preparations and rituals of passage for the new year the relative quiet and peace of  long winter nights and ski trails is  welcome.