Biggest leaves, smallest pun’kin

The days of falling leaves are almost over.  A few stragglers remain in the poplar tops and some oaks will keep their rusty decorations till March.  The treetops often hold larger leaves than lower branches and a young Burr oak provided some trophy specimens this year.

Burr oak leaves


The Bluecircle leaf “grand champion” was a 5-year Sycamore that blanketed its lawn on North Watervliet Road with fallen giants.   Many had a span over 12 inches, and some were larger.   It was good that this naturalized area needs no raking – by Spring these enormous remnants of a good tree year will be gone.

Sycamore leaf measures 18 x 16 inches!

One pumpkin vine survived the groundhog chomping in the corn patch and bore a single tiny fruit. Maybe a fairy carriage?

Tiny pumpkin


Growth and amputation in the pine grove


Oaks and pines

Midsummer in Michigan, cooler than many years and mostly rainy enough to keep established trees healthy.  The Bluecircle’s older pines now close the rows between them and briars thrive in their shade.  It will be a few years before you could lose yourself here, but even now you could stay out of sight in the Scotch pines.

The mixed planting of spruce, fir and pines is susceptible to the white pine weevil.  Especially in the sunniest areas this pest has infected some topmost branches leaving then brown, dead and soon broken by the wind.  New branches form below this crude amputation but the crooked trunk of affected trees marks the damage.




Both oaks and conifers continue to develop new leaves or needles, often with transient immature colors that contrast with established growth.

Spruce tip on a July afternoon



Beauties and the Beasties

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First, the beauties of mowing in midsummer include the scents of flowers and cut grass. The Queen Anne’s Lace is beginning to fade with goldenrod soon to come. The garden beds are overgrown with tomatoes ripening faster than they are needed and a few summer squash are still filling in the ground level. We’re impatient with sweet corn that isn’t quite ripe enough to pull.

And then there are the risks of the field when the weeds have grown tall. A hidden groundhog den neatly trapped the rear wheel of the Snapper mower, bottoming the deck and adding a
“tow out” break to the afternoon chores. Another good assignment for the Gator.

A hornet's nest on a maple seedling lurks in the weeds

A hornet’s nest on a maple seedling lurks in the weeds

The pink tree flag in this picture marks a second-year maple seedling in the weeds. Just below it, and with its bottom nearly touching the ground, is a very active 10-inch hornet’s nest. The photograph fails to capture the path the lucky author used to speed away from the beasties, leaving these weeds (and the nest) to the frosts of October.

Time for a change in the weather

On windy days the shore of the “big lake” gently erodes into the dunes.  The water is still warm enough for wading but a series of crisp, clear nights will soon encourage boots on the feet.   The calendar shows the Equinox has passed and the hours of darkness are again in the majority.  For a while longer the grass will still need mown.  A few red raspberries are scattered on their canes although the “berry patch” has grown wildly and today is a briar thicket.  Pruning, thinning, and restoring order there will wait until frost clears away the weeds and yellow jackets.

Days of indecisive grey

IMG_1493Hand-biting cold and starlit skies that came with the new year have yielded to a time of overhead grey, a foggy lake, and bland half-frozen snow. The howling northerlies that bent every limb have passed leaving a windless sky. Likewise, the days drift by with one much like the next. Grey light creeps up in the morning, brightens a little, and fades into evening without warming the day. These are not weeks to lay out plans, choose among options or eliminate alternatives because they share a timeless quality that invites leisure, even drowsiness. While it’s impossible to lay adrift on frozen waters, walking on the snowy landscape can be as aimless. IMG_1492

Green and gold in the Bluecircle garden

Potato flowers on a summer afternoon

Potato flowers on a summer afternoon

This year the garden moved up the hill in hope of more sandy loam and less clay.  The early vegetables spinach and broccoli were mediocre but snap peas and bush beans grew well, as did onions, green peppers and tomatoes.

Neighbors Bob and George invested their sweat and coin in several rows of potatoes.  They have flourished, with an abundance of blossoms and only one attach of the dread Colorado potato beetle.  The bright “alarm” orange of the beetle’s larvae made them easy to spot and fortunately no one had an opportunity to see any of the full-grown beetles – at least not this year.  The speck of white insecticide on the bug’s back was very effective.

Attack mode,  potato beetle larva

Attack mode, potato beetle larva

A surprise came from the “Summer jackpot hybrid zucchini ” seeds  from Gurney’s Seed and Nursery.  Besides the dark green, pale green and deep gold varieties of zucchini that grew on well-behaved bushy plants, an unusual vining squash threatened to take over a corner of the garden.  It produced dozens of 4-6″ pale yellow fruits striped in gold.  The inside was  pale green and buttery-sweet when steamed.   It will take until next year to find if we can regularly grow these attractive squash, but it would be hard to pass them off as zucchini!

The vining "Bluecircle hybrid" squash

The vining “Bluecircle hybrid” squash



Melting ice on Paw Paw Lake


Gulls are gathering on Paw Paw Lake to witness the passing of Winter. By afternoon there is open water on the north shore of Paw Paw Lake. The shade of the hills on the south shore shelters ice now too thin for walking. Each cold, clear March night with little wind allows refreezing, but darker cracks that reach to the south will soon free the lake for another year.
I suppose the gulls have fishing in mind and wait impatiently for more open water. They do not remain here in large numbers, possibly because seawalls bind the shoreline almost everywhere. The small areas of remaining beach soon will be scoured by ski boat wakes and there are calmer, friendlier waters nearby.

For 100 years most lakefront visitors and many property owners on the lake have hailed from Chicago.  Like the gulls they are shorebirds that nest elsewhere.  The change of seasons and Spring Break brings the first of these visitors who are essential to the lakeside economy.  Soon they will fly across the waters on skis, tubes and pontoons.  Until then the cold waters of Paw Paw will bask in the sun and slowly warm to the task of entertaining company.IMG_0940

A short history of Smith’s Landing

Sebastian Smith was an early resident of Watervliet who moved from Maine in 1854.  He eventually owned approximately 100 acres of orchards and even shipped apples to England.  Engravings depicting his farm and the outlet bay of Paw Paw Lake accompany a 1890 biographical sketch of him in History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
 With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
 D. W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia 1880.   In these images his orchard extends over the hill that would be platted as Fair View in 1922 and the adjacent Bluecircle farm land.  His cows graze along the road that rounds the bay and lies at the foot of the hill known in 1900 as Hetherington Hill.  Until 1960 this road, identified as M11, would remain a main route connecting Chicago visitors with northern destinations in Michigan.  In the 1880s he built a pier here that would identify the adjacent lakeshore as Smith’s Landing.    What has been described as the first cottage on Paw Paw lake would be built there in 1887, another would be located “in Sebastian Smith’s cowpasture”, and within a few years lakeside development had blossomed at several locations around the lake.  This period of Paw Paw Lake history is reviewed by R.L. Rasmussen in Paw Paw Lake – A 100 Year Resort History (1890’s-1990’s) Southwestern Michigan Publications, Coloma MI.

Smith’s pier was only a hundred feet from the short stream that connects Paw Paw Lake to the Paw Paw River.   Watervliet’s shops, lodgings, and a rail depot were two miles downstream and for some years steam launches navigated the shallow waters.  Even larger steamboats ferried passengers around the lake itself as tourism and resorts proliferated in the early 20th Century.   Today the site of Smith’s pier endures as a Watervliet Township swimming pier and small park, the last remnant of the public beaches of Fair View.  When Abraham Botto purchased Smith’s Landing from Sebastian Smith the boundaries of the property must have been poorly defined.  Botto’s estate remained in and out of probate court from 1920 until 1949 before a conventional description of Fair View was entered by his daughters and Smith’s Landing was finally laid to rest.

Gaff-rigged sailboat at Smith’s Landing