JD Allinder

Posts Tagged ‘hiking in ann arbor’

Life with Elsa

In Posts on July 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Friend and neighbor, Elsa, has been staying with Jane and me the past week while her human companion, Elena, prepares to have a baby. Elena’s due date – July 4 – came and went, but still no baby. She was scheduled for labor inducement today, and I hope she and her doctor moved forward with that plan. I know how eager she is to have her baby boy – Griffin! – and start their new lives together.

In the meantime, Elsa’s been a welcome houseguest. She’s a perfect lady indoors and out. She’s sweet, thoughtful, attentive, and obedient. In many ways she’s the yin to Jane’s nutty yang. (And that’s not meant to be a criticism of Jane, even if it kind of sounds like one.) Elsa walks perfectly off-leash, instantly obeys all of my requests without complaint, and is grateful for any attention, exercise, and kitchen tidbits that come her way. She’s a great companion for Jane, too, and the three of us have been enjoying daily trail hiking and city leash walking.

Elsa’s a wonderful leader on the trail, followed by me in the middle and Jane at the rear with her nose to the ground, and, despite the heat – it was in the low 90s today – we’ve all been keeping up with daily eight to ten-mile lunch hikes. Jane is much more enthusiastic and engaged with a canine partner, and the two girls make a good team: Jane’s got the nose and Elsa’s got the speed. Today Jane demonstrated for Elsa the finer points of treeing.

Jane and Elsa have been friends since shortly after Jane came home with me in September 2008. Still very puppyish at the time, Jane groveled at Elsa’s feet when they first met, and Elsa demonstrated her alpha status with growls and nips to Jane’s upturned neck and belly. Even though they’ve both grown up and Jane’s developed tremendous confidence and (a little bit of) status, the dynamics of their public relationship remain the same. The minute Jane sees Elsa, she melts into a whimpering pup. That power dynamic completely shifts, though, in our house. At home, Jane stomps around like the boss, keeping a watchful eye over all her resources (eatables, creature comforts, affection), and evil-eyeing Elsa into total submission. Poor Elsa! Jane is really a bully – sometimes even demanding food from Elsa’s mouth – but Elsa’s being a good sport, and I’m being provided with new opportunities for teaching Jane about hospitality.

Elsa’s visit has helped me articulate some of the unique characteristics of Jane’s personality. Many of the things Elsa does are what I consider typical dog behavior. For example, she follows me around the house from room to room. When I fetch the leashes for a walk, she does a little spinning dance. When I work in the garden, she’s beside me the entire time, taking great interest in all that I do. Jane, on the other hand, doesn’t do these things. She doesn’t really care where I am in the house. When it’s time for a walk, she very calmly and pragmatically waits until the last possible second before she rises from her lie down and dispassionately moves towards the door. When I tell her I’m going to work in the garden, she gives me a look that says, “You go ahead and have fun. I’ll stay here on the sofa in the air conditioning. Wake me up when it’s time to hunt or eat.” Her behavior is often puzzling to me because it’s atypical to that of all the dogs I’ve ever known. I don’t know if her quirks are unique to her or typical of coonhounds. There’s just something very logical (for lack of a better word) about her. Elsa will endlessly chase pebbles thrown into the river. She understands that the pebbles are not alive, that she’ll never catch them, and that it’s just a silly game. Yet she loves it and throws herself into the activity with great relish. Jane, on the other hand, stares at Elsa and me like we’re insane. Her body language says to Elsa, “You’re not seriously chasing rocks are you?” Then, while we’re occupied in the game, she tries to sneak away into the woods to do her coonhound stuff – stuff that she’s intensely driven to pursue on her own.

When I first adopted Jane, I couldn’t understand why she was so different from all other dogs I’ve known. I found I didn’t always know how to motivate her, and that my ideas of fun and hers didn’t always converge. Like a parent who wants or expects his child to be something other than what he naturally is, I tried to make Jane conform to my expectations of what it meant to be a dog. But instead, thankfully, my love for her expanded my rigid definitions. She didn’t have to change to become a member of my pack, my pack principles had to evolve to accommodate her. I love Jane so much. Having Elsa here exhibiting all of her typical dog behavior has somehow made me appreciate Jane even more. If we know how to listen, animals teach us everything we need to know.


Kosch-Headwaters Preserve

In Posts on May 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Yesterday was rather warm – somewhere in the low 80s – and one of our first glimpses of the summer weather that’ll be here any day now. The parks were packed with people playing soccer, baseball, and basketball. Young lovers walked hand in hand along the river bank while overweight 40-somethings in stretchy outfits powerwalked ’round Frog Island. The line at Dairy Queen completely obscured the sidewalk and dangerously spilled onto Michigan Avenue. Jane and I, used to having the world to ourselves, were in shock.

We went to LeFurge for a post-lunch hike, but Jane was a sourpuss for the two-hour duration of the outing. She panted and sulked and refused to keep up with me. I know she was hot – I was, too – but she’s got to relearn how to exercise in the heat. We both must daily earn our calories. So I pushed her, she complained with hound dog stubbornness, and neither of us had a very nice time. Interestingly, though, she was completely engaged and excited during our evening walk around town. True, it was a bit cooler and the sun wasn’t boring a hole through our heads, but it was far from what I consider comfortable. It’s something I’ve noticed about her before – her interest in our evening routine. No matter what her day’s been like, she always marches on our night time walks, tail erect, ears pricked. We usually cover the same three or four miles of city streets and parks, and she’s perfectly content (which is antithetical to her daytime need for variety and novelty). I suspect she thinks our walks around town are part of our job, battening down the hatches, as it were, before we retire for our feeding and slumber.

Today was cloudy, drizzly, and 15 degrees cooler. We took advantage of the weather by visiting Kosch-Headwaters Preserve, 160 acres of woods, wetlands, and crop fields near the corners of Prospect and Ford Roads. This was just our second trip to the preserve. I stopped at the entrance a couple of years ago but was dissuaded (and dismayed) by the inclusion of dogs on the list of prohibiteds posted on the bulletin board in the parking lot. (There is a large, vocal, and perplexing pro-nature/anti-dog population in the Ann Arbor area.) A guy I see regularly on the trails behind St. Joe’s, though, told me a couple of weeks ago that the man who manages the preserve runs his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks there regularly. Empowered by this unconfirmed bit of guerilla hiking gossip, Jane and I took our first visit last week and our second today.

It’s a relatively small property, but diverse enough to be challenging, interesting, and fun to both man and dog. Jane loves it there. She’s fascinated by the hunting hawks – she seems to intuit that she might happen on a free meal if she zeroes in on their circling pattern – and the geese, ducks, blue heron, and numerous song birds. The woods are small, but easy to maneuver, and the crop fields are currently open for traversing, though very wet and muddy. There are patches that are a couple of inches deep in standing water, and some of the muddier trails completely swallowed my feet like quicksand. Jane especially enjoyed the fields of tall grasses. She ran through them like a puppy. It really made my heart glad.

Kosch-Headwaters Preserve abuts Springhill Nature Preserve to the north. Springhill is just 30 acres, and it’s virtually impossible to tell where the boundaries are. Jane and I ended up walking a good distance onto private property before a man emerged from an enormous farmhouse asking if he could help us. (When it comes to walking on private property, I follow English law. So far I’ve not ended up arrested or shot.) Springhill is bordered on the north by Berry Road. Berry is a dirt road, and, as we both love dirt roads – me for the views of country estates I’ll never be able to afford and Jane for the chance to flush a pheasant from the brush – we followed it east for about a half mile where it dead ends at Cherry Hill Road. There were lots of old farm houses on Berry, some situated on enormous properties with ponds and woods. Every house, every gate, and many trees, though, were papered with no trespassingkeep out, and attack dog signs. Almost every house advertised its home security system, too. Is there really that much rural crime or is it just paranoia? Here were all these lovely old country homes, but the people were locked up and barricaded inside. The vibe was distinctly out-of-sync with the setting. It was a little sad.

So we headed back to the preserves with the fussing geese and the sopping wet grass that kept Jane cool and hydrated. We had a really lovely time, and the Kosch-Headwaters Preserve is just stunning, but we probably won’t visit again until the fall. Today was perfect with the slight chill and intermittent showers. Soon, though, it’ll be too hot for my sensitive lady. She needs lots of shade and proper bodies of cold water for frequent bathing. Here comes summer…

Dolph Nature Area

In Posts on May 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm

What a beautiful weekend! It felt more like fall than spring (which is, obviously, fine by me). It was blustery and cold – not just chilly – with intense wind gusts (50mph?) and sub-freezing night time temps. Just lovely enough to put a spring in Jane’s step and keep me in a perpetual good humor.

If only the whole spring and summer could be so desolate and dramatic. The aforementioned winds blew all day Saturday and took down many trees in the wild as well as a sizable branch of an ailing crabapple tree in my back garden. (Which actually saved me the trouble of pruning. Thanks, Mother Nature.)

After cleaning up the yard debris, Jane and I went to Dolph Nature Area in Ann Arbor near the corners of Jackson and Wagner Roads. It’s a 57-acre plot with two lakes – First Sister Lake and Second Sister Lake – and a large pond. There are several wetland areas bordering the lakes and a mile or so of wooded trails featuring both hardwoods and evergreens. It was our first visit. (We tried visiting once in the winter, but there was suspicious activity going on in the parking lot, so we didn’t stay.) Jane loves novelty, so she enthusiastically checked out every nook and cranny. I even perched myself in a pine hoping Jane would tree me, but she just gave me that puzzled look that dogs give their human companions when they’re acting out of character.

I’ve been told by a friend that the water and land at Dolph are heavily polluted by industrial waste, but I can’t find any documentation to support that. It certainly looks fine, but I kept Jane out of the lakes just in case.

Unfortunately, Dolph is too small to warrant another visit any time soon. Jane and I combed the entire property – twice – in about an hour. The trails are unchallenging, and I couldn’t get the thought of toxic waste out of my mind the entire time we were exploring. I’m glad we checked it out, but it’s definitely the kind of place to check in with once per season.

We finished our afternoon at the lush and pristine Saginaw Forest across the street. We had the entire place to ourselves, and Jane ran freely and beautifully minded my commands. The sky spit rain on us from time to time, but the showers were always followed by blinding bouts of sunshine and cold breezes. I would have sworn it was late October had it not been for the foot-tall dandelions, the at-their-peak trillium, the almost-there-but-not-quite-yet lilies of the valley, and the absolutely exploding honeysuckle. Large swaths of trail were practically engulfed by honeysuckle, and I was almost overwhelmed by their fragrance. (I can’t imagine what they smelled like to Jane whose olfactory system is 1,000 times greater than mine.) I broke off a small branch of the flower (after asking the shrub for permission and subsequently thanking it) and carried it with me for a mile or so, smothering my face in it, becoming nearly intoxicated. I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jane smelled like honeysuckle?” I asked her if she’d like that, and she responded by laughing at me and immediately rolling in the fetid and rotting carcass of some less fortunate quadruped.

Fun with Duke and Jane

In Posts on March 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Although it’s technically still winter, spring-like weather has invaded southeast Michigan. Temperatures have been about 20 degrees above normal for the past week or so, and the melting snow mixed with last week’s heavy rains have turned most of our favorite trails into mudslides. We still walk them, though. It doesn’t seem to bother Jane much, and it’s actually easier on my calves than the deep snow. It’s just so…muddy. (Another reason why I always lament the end of winter, the only time of year when I feel truly content.)

Jane and I took our post-lunch walk this afternoon with neighbor Annika and her 18-month-old chocolate Lab Duke. We’ve just recently become acquainted with Annika and Duke, and they’ve joined Jane and me a few times on our outings. Duke is a very sweet dog – still a puppy, really – and has enormous amounts of energy. He’s faster and stronger than Jane – and they both know it – but she pulls rank with him over the really important stuff, like sticks, and he yelps like a pup receiving maternal correction. Duke is excellent on the trail. He keeps a tireless eye on Annika, Jane, and me, running back and forth. He probably runs two miles for every one we walk. Jane, on the other hand, has her own coonhound agenda. Sweet, sweet Jane.

Today we went to Marshall Nature Area, 87 acres of hilly woods at the corner of Dixboro and Plymouth Roads in Ann Arbor. (Here’s a satellite view.) Jane and I just discovered Marshall this winter, and we’ve been there about ten times now. It was Annika and Duke’s first visit, and they proved to be spirited companions. There are about four miles of established trails in the woods plus a few miles of secondary deer paths. There are also quite a few steep hills that provide a decent workout for both dogs and humans. Duke ran the entire time. Jane ran in fits and spurts, mostly with her nose to the ground searching for dead things with which to anoint herself (she was successful) and occasionally wandering completely out of sight. (Duke kept close tabs on her, though.) The walk was punctuated by the occasional wrestling match and game of tug. (Duke always won the former, Jane usually the latter.)

Beyond the nature area are an additional 100 acres or so of woods and wetlands belonging to Fr. Gabriel Richard High School. We traversed these trails, and the dogs enjoyed splashing about, harassing geese, and scrutinizing the occasional dead thing. Annika found a beautiful, intact deer antler. I discovered its companion but stuck it in a tree because Jane wanted to make a meal out of it. We wondered how the antlers came to be on the ground. The rotting carcass was nearby in the woods, but why would his antlers have been in a different location? Was he hit by a car and straggled into the woods to die, shedding his antlers on the way?

On the way home, Duke passed out while Jane rested her chin on the open window taking the full breeze in her face. They’re a pretty good match, Duke and Jane. It’s funny to me that Jane seems like such a mature dog next to Duke. I still think of her as my little puppy, but she somehow graduated into adulthood without my noticing. Their sweet little lives are so accelerated by human standards. A year for us is like a decade for them. Jane’s passed out on the sofa right now. While I’m writing this, I find myself missing her. I think I’ll go and join her.

Indian Summer

In Posts on October 22, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Treein' a 'coon

Southeast Michigan got hit with a wave of Indian Summer early this week that sent everyone into an outdoor tizzy. The parks and streets were crammed with shorts and t-shirted people running, biking, and walking. Summer is my least favorite season, so I certainly don’t enjoy summer-like weather in autumn, but I don’t want to be a grump, so I keep my displeasure to myself.

Jane and I have been enjoying daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but this week we hit 70 degrees. It’s nice opening the doors and windows and airing out the house, but other than that it’s just a pain. When the weather’s cool, we’re able to walk at night in sketchy neighborhoods, through our favorite alleys, and into the parks along the river. (All the hoodlums vanish the instant the mercury dips below 50.) This week, though, saw the return of shady characters, especially in the parks. Jane and I made a quick detour out of Riverside Park two nights ago when we ran into a gang of teenagers who were obviously up to no good. Argh. Fortunately, things are cooling down again today. It’s a bit drizzly, and it looks like this weekend we’ll see the peak of fall colors.

Yesterday was the warmest of our Indian Summer days, and, despite my aforementioned feelings on the subject, Jane and I enjoyed a wonderful adventure. Jane loves adventure – novelty – and I do, too, but I can’t produce it every day. Some days (most actually) are just the daily grind – not a lot of surprises. Just like kids have to accept that not every day can be a holiday, dogs have to accept that sometimes exercise is just routine, maybe even dull. Jane’s cool with boring, routine exercise days; it’s me that they kill. I feel guilty if every outing isn’t punctuated by excitement, mystery, and intrigue (with a happy, exhausted ending, of course). Anyway, we got one of those rare days that can’t be planned – they just happen on their own – yesterday.

We started out at St. Joe’s Hospital walking north along the Huron River. We crossed over the river, walked along the railroad tracks, and made our way through Parker Mill Park. We took the walk ramp under Geddes Road to the north side of the park where there’s a hideous new picnic structure that looks like something from “The Flinstones.” (It’s obviously trying very hard to blend in with the wooded setting, but it misses its mark by a long shot. It just looks ridiculous.) At any rate, just to the west of the entrance to Bedrock is an almost imperceptible, narrow path running down the side of the hill and into the woods. (Marty the guerilla hiker told me about it.) Jane and I entered the path and walked along for a mile or so, expecting to run into civilization, but it just kept going. It snaked along a beautiful tributary, up across steep hills, even across an old, rotted bridge.

Rock Climbing Jane

At one point we even came upon this enormous, apparently disused field. (There’s a rusted gate at one end. Did it once contain grazing cows?)

We're not in Kansas anymore.

It was here that we met an older, somewhat eccentric (though obviously well-to-do) dog lady who was tromping across the field with her two middle-aged golden retrievers, Becky and Jody, and their giant labradoodle buddy Truman. I had no idea where I was and was pretty disoriented, so the woman (whose name I never got) filled me in with all the scoop and even took me off in the woods to show me her secret trail that runs on the opposite side of the tributary that Jane and I had previously explored. We ended up walking with and talking to this woman for about 20 minutes or so, and it was great fun. Becky was an especially sweet dog, and her instant crush on me made Jane insanely jealous.

We eventually said goodbye to the woman of the woods and made our way back the five miles or so to St. Joe’s. We were both exhausted – that special, satisfied kind of exhausted. We drove home in silence, all of our needs met.

I’ve looked up the area where we were walking online and it’s maybe a mile square of land north of Geddes and east of Dixboro Roads. Here’s a satellite view. It eventually runs into Radrick Farms Golf Course (which is rumored to be dog friendly in the off season), but looks like there’s a sliver of woods to the west of Radrick through which Jane and I could cross, undisturbed, and hike a couple of miles north to Matthai Botanical Gardens. But that’s another adventure for another day.

Saginaw Forest

In Posts on September 16, 2009 at 6:46 pm


Jane and I took our lunch break today at Saginaw Forest, one of Ann Arbor’s best-kept secrets. Located on Liberty Road about half a mile south of Wagner, Saginaw is 80 acres of woods, wetlands, and prairies, and it’s adjacent to another 20-30 acres of private property (where we hike as well). Though the forest is a private research and teaching facility owned by the University of Michigan and managed by the School of Natural Resources, it’s open to the public and features several miles of established trails, deer paths, and deep-woods walking for the adventurous. It is a gorgeous, pristine property, and very few people seem to know about it or use it.

The property was given as a gift to the UofM in 1903 by Regent Arthur Hill and his wife, Louise, both of Saginaw. The gift of the property coincided with the inaugural year of the School of Natural Resources, and the faculty and students began long-term forest planting that continued until 1937. The result is 55 acres of native and exotic species and home to a vast array of wildlife including, believe it or not, wild boar, some of whom carry the pseudorabies virus which, while not deadly to humans, has been known to kill dogs and cats. (Thankfully Jane and I weren’t attacked by wild rabid boars today. Wouldn’t that have been an adventure?)

Today was an absolutely perfect day for a visit to the forest. While still summer, there was definitely a hint of fall in the air. It was crisp and breezy and just enough of summer’s oppressive edge was taken off so as to put quite a zing in Jane’s step.

She’s not the only one. When we came upon a field of wild flowers blowing in the wind, I couldn’t contain myself: I took off running. The sun was high overhead, but the shadows were long and full of promise. Jane ran along beside me, thrilling in the now, and I know she understood. I know this might sound dramatic, but I almost started crying – truly. My heart was so filled with the joy of fall. It’s my season of rebirth.

Saginaw Forest Pond

Despite the nip in the air, it was still warm and sunny enough to work up quite a sweat. We walked long and hard, and I ended up running a couple of miles, too. About halfway through our romp we stopped at Third Sister Lake where Jane refreshed herself.

Third Sister Lake

We were both exhausted after a two-hour plus outing. The weather and the overwhelming feeling of optimism that it engendered turned Jane into a wild banshee (really) and made me push myself just a little bit harder.

If you decide to visit Saginaw Forest (and if you live in the area, you definitely should), there are several points of entry. Though the easiest is the gated entry on Liberty, there’s no parking at the gate or on Liberty. There are also no sidewalks on Liberty, and the traffic moves pretty swiftly, so, in other words, if you want to access the woods, you have to work for it. (Which is probably one of the reasons why no one’s ever there. It’s not a park, and it’s not convenient, but that makes it more special. Going there always feels like an adventure.) I drive about 500 meters south of  the entrance to Westview Way and turn left. It’s an upper middle class subdivision, and it feels kind of awkward parking there, but I do it anyway. Streets are public. From the car I walk in the grassy ditch along Liberty until I reach the entrance to the woods and then run across the street. (Cars really fly through there. Easy does it!)

Jane on the trail

Dog Day Afternoon

In Posts on August 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Huron Jane

It’s miserably hot today. I’m not complaining, though, because it’s been such a mild summer. It’s really been perfect: warm, sunny mornings, afternoon showers, cool nights – it’s felt more like spring than summer. Today is a different story, though. The dog days have finally arrived. This is typically the warmest week of the year – summer’s unforgiving climax – but I’ll be rewarded next week as we begin our downhill slide toward fall. I am not a summer person. Never have been, never will be. This may be one of the reasons I get along so well with dogs: they’re as invigorated by cold weather as I am.

Despite my abhorrence of heat, I refuse to let it lick me. (I try never to allow the weather to interfere with my objectives.) So I slather on the SPF 70, keep myself hydrated, and brave it (relatively) uncomplainingly. Jane’s not a fan of heat, but she’ll still hike five to eight miles if she’s got continual access to a body of water where she can swim. The Unnamed Trail is perfect for days like today, because it runs parallel to the Huron River and much of it is shaded by mature trees. So that’s where we headed for this afternoon’s lunchtime outing.

After arriving at our starting point at St. Joe’s, Jane and I made our way through the woods and down to the river as usual. Rather than heading north like we always do, Jane tugged me south. So I followed. Sometimes it’s good to let the dog lead. Like children, dogs can be empowered by making choices. Jane took me off on a short sub-trail that we rarely travel and out to the railroad tracks. We don’t often walk by the railroad tracks this time of year, because there’s no shade. But this is what Jane wanted to do, for whatever reason, so I went along. We walked north along the tracks for about a half mile and then had to walk on a trestle where the tracks cross the river. We made our way across despite this warning.

No Trespassing

The sign both confused and irritated me. First of all, whose private property were we on? (They’re railroad tracks!) And what’s the harm in our walking there? We were being respectful, minding our own business, and having an adventure.

Outlaw Jane

Once safely across (and avoiding prosecution) I walked on, still following Jane’s lead, for about another quarter mile. We came to another overpass, much smaller and narrower, and made of stone. Jane led me off the tracks and down the east side of a brush-covered embankment (whereupon my feet got tangled in the remnants of an ancient, rusted fence and I fell flat on my face). Once down the hill, we were greeted with the sound of a swiftly running brook (I was instantly transported to childhood – North Carolina – mountain springs) and the sight of this beautiful stone bridge and boardwalk.

Secret bridge

I felt as if we’d entered a secret, magical place. It was silent, save the sound of running water, and a little bit mysterious, too. We followed the boardwalk over swamp and peat for about half a mile out to the Huron.  At the river we happened upon this shelter.

The Love Shack

Despite being covered with knife-carved devotions of undying love and requisite Kilroy scribblings, this weather-beaten, graffitied shack had a good energy about it. The plywood remains were surely saturated with memories of secret rendezvous. If those boards could talk!

After following the winding boardwalk for another mile or so, Jane and I took a deer path through a small copse that dumped us out on a paved trail in Parker Mill Park (which eventually converges with Gallup Park). We jumped back in woods, though, and followed a hobo path that led us back out to the railroad tracks. We crossed over finding ourselves at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant. From here we walked west, parallel to Dixboro Road, and then back into the woods again along the Huron, walking two or so miles south to our starting point at St. Joe’s. It was one of the best adventures Jane and I have had yet (she gets full credit for it), and it’s especially interesting to me that it took place on the most miserable day of the year…

When we got back home, I checked the map to discover that our secret find is known as Forest Park. I’d seen it on the map before and had been curious. You can park your car on Geddes at the entrance to Parker Mill and walk or bike your way through to Forest Park, but I prefer Jane’s back door discovery. We will be visiting again soon.

(And now I have to give a shout out to Ann Arbor. Though complaining about the gentrification and dominant bourgeois culture of A2 is one of my favorite pastimes, the city must be commended for dedicating so much land to nature. Ann Arbor’s commitment to green makes it a truly livable city.)