The 753 Mile Journey into Fire

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”

A dear friend gifted me a frame with this quote on it as I was leaving Michigan and beginning my 753 mile journey  back to Minnesota. While I did not look back, I will never forget the memories and accomplishments I had while being in Michigan and the friends I made along the way.  From the exciting adventures with my landowners (you know who you are!), all the crazy phone calls and the many laughs among colleagues and friends Michigan will be in my heart.

While letting landowners, colleagues, and friends know that I would be leaving they question did arise if I would continue to blog.  Well my friends, the definite answer now is YES! This post is just a basic update and then we will get back to the “good stuff”… TREES!

It has been over two months now at my new position and so far so good- a bit crazy at first.  I arrived and by the end of my first week I was out on a fire! A WILDLAND FIRE!!! Fire season should have been over by the time I started mid-May but things were so dry with the lack of rain it extended on and on and on!  That first weekend I was here, I was given fire gear, a radio, and reminded that I was on call to have phone near me.  Saturday afternoon, I see my co-workers name come up on my phone and my heart starts racing, it was time to face my first wildland fire.  Racing down the highway, looked at my co-worker in the truck next to me and said “Fun Fact: Fire is one of my biggest fears, but let’s do this”! Shaking in my boots as we pull up, I see the smoke, the fire creeping along the field, firefighters on the ground and a helicopter in the air I thought to myself what did I get myself into? I used to just hug trees and now I am going to fight fire, WHAT?!  We went to asses the situation, where it started, how it started and rate of spread. Once we had that information, I was handed a bladder bag (backpack with a spray nozzle full of water) and proceeded to march through a cattail slough.  Hip deep in muddy water surrounded by cattails and other tall grasses I struggled to get myself to higher ground!

When I got back to my place that evening, my body and clothes were black from the ash, my legs tired from the weight of the pack and hiking, and was blowing black snot (yes gross but so true) and I thought to myself, why?  Why am I fighting fire?  After much thought, I compiled my best answer for this, Mother nature- trees.  I do it to protect our natural resources.  Fire is a good tool for management- but that is when it controlled and not threatening anything (people, structures, critical habitats).  Fire can help fight invasive species, promotes regeneration of native plants and shrubs.

Anyways, all ended well- I managed to make it through first fire and was sent to the fire academy the following week and am officially certified to fight fire.

More updates to come…and good information of course!!

“Always look forward- Condensed advice from trees –> Be Strong, Be Solid




Side view of fire- from outside the hardwood forested area into field



Every-time I use the acronym MAEAP…I think of the roadrunner cartoon “MAEAP MAEAP”!

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has had a Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program- MAEAP program in place for many years to honor farmers who are environmentally friendly; recently in the past year they have added a forestry component.  Forest, Wetland & Habitat- geared towards farmers and private landowners who have one, two, or all three of these components on their property.  Many farmers have woodlots and can add it to their list of verified components.  Farmers and landowners go through risk assessments at their own pace and when they meet all the high risk (erosion, chemicals, ect.) they can become verified.  It is a voluntary program, and is confidential. I was given permission by my landowner to talk about it.  Being a forester under the MDARD umbrella, we took on the forestry part, while the MAEAP technicians focused on the agriculture parts.

When first learning of this new program, I immediately knew who fit the bill for it.  To be apart of it, you really have to be “one” with your land and active on it, and willing to keep up with it.

Norm, young at heart, has been following the words and wisdom of Aldo Leopold.  When he was younger he read Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac and was inspired and it has never left him. He spent two weeks in Baraboo, Wisconsin at the family shack, learning the ways and Aldo’s legacy. When I first met Norm, back shortly after I started here, he was just looking for direction to update his management plan.  I figured it would be another typical walk through the woods, chatting about deer management, and a quick referral.  To my surprise, I was wrong! We sat down that first day and he showed me the plans he had written for the last 20 years, his records of his control for invasive species (Autumn olive) and other activities he had done.  He has records for putting his property into a conservation easement and the real kicker is his mission statement.  While reading his mission statement, again inspired by Leopold, I was brought to tears. It is not often I meet someone with the same values as I. I was humbled and overwhelmed by what he had written YEARS ago. A holistic approach for sustainability of all parts of the land. I collected myself and we took a tour of the property….

As we toured the property, Norm pointed out the some 60,000 trees he planted- most by hand and some by machinery. He took an old abandoned farm and turned it into a nature paradise. He put up signs with species and dates, not only for him to remember the date but for his grand kids when they inherit the property. He has his hardwoods stands marked by color for easier tree ID for them as well.  Norm is an organic farmer with fruit trees and bees and provides ample habitat with 10 wood duck houses, buffer zones along his wetlands and has even restored his section of the Cedar River back to a blue ribbon stream for great trout fishing! That first tour, I left feeling a sense of calm and happiness.

Now, trying to get a hold of Norm is not always the easiest- because he spends 7 days a week out at the property managing it, so either I have to drop by or wait for a call- but the wait is always worth it! Because, I was so inspired by Norm, I knew I had to take everyone and anyone out there whenever I could. He was always ready to share his story with anyone who would listen.  I took a group out there to verify his property with MAEAP, and just recently took a group of landowners out there for a field tour on managing your woodlot. EVERY SINGLE PERSON, left there thanking him and thanking me for allowing them to experience such beauty.

He has even been Conservationist of the Year and Tree Farmer of the year! Norms.jpg

The Big Debate

Don’t judge a tree by it’s bark.

Winter months can be difficult when trying to identify trees, many of us rely on leaves to figure out the species.  When you get really good you can tell by the bark, buds and branching.  I will be the first to admit, and I have been doing this for some time, I am not always 100% confident.  Relying on bark alone in the dormant periods of deciduous trees can be deceiving; depending on their site conditions they can sometimes have varying bark.  Aspen on a nutrient rich site can be a bit different than an aspen on a wet or poor site.

I was out on a site visit hoping not to freeze or get stuck in the snow!! I know this landowner well so it was an enjoyable game of who can stump who the most! We would find trees that didn’t look like their typical format and quiz each other.  Seeing how it was his property and he was very knowledgeable of trees he did most the quizzing.

A couple hours into our stroll we came across this grey, smooth, hard bark of a tree…I said hey what’s this (thinking I know exactly what it is) he hadn’t a clue so I said ironwood.  Immediately, he disagreed and began to correct me! We then came across his idea of and ironwood tree  in had to laugh not actually knowing get the species he was pointing out! Mine being smooth tight grey bark and his light brown shaggy bark, one of us was terribly wrong!  We analyzed both put trees up and down, taking photos, noting the catkins on the one, the branching…all bets are on!!! We finished out stroll, hugging trees of beauty and made it back to truck.  This was not over, after carefully looking our trees up in the several books in my car we discovered we were both correct!! What?!  Both trees part of the birch family are considered ironwood- American Hornbeam with smooth bark and Easter Hophornbeam with the shaggy bark!


Path of Least Resistance

What if we did not always take the “easiest” path??

As I was driving back to the office after a site visit I stopped a couple times to over look some beautiful sites.  One was a bog like site, then a lake, and then I stopped and looked at a small stream flowing.  Well actually I stopped at the small stream site because I am on a steering committee for a watershed and was checking out the culvert and erosion of the site.  But regardless it was an inspiring stop.  Sometimes I can not explain why certain things pop into my head at any given moment but as I was looking down the stream, I started to think about water and how it always takes the path of least resistance.  Which is part is why water ways do not flow a straight line.  Instead, it all starts with the water taking the easiest path.  Then I continued on driving “Waldo” (that’s what I named my vehicle) down the wet, muddy, gravel road.  Again, as my car is swaying back and forth following the tracks of the previous vehicle I was thinking again, even my car without having a mind is taking the path of least resistance.  My wheels are automatically following the already made tracks; meanwhile I look like a crazy driver all over this small gravel road trying to stay away from the huge pot holes and trees the run along side it.

Subconsciously, everything takes the path that was already paved for us, water, wildlife, my car, and we as humans can admit to taking the already paved paths.  But why do we? What would happen if we didn’t? If we challenged ourselves to at least once a day to take the path of most resistance or the more difficult path, would we accomplish more? If we challenged ourselves to this…at the end of the day would we feel more accomplished and satisfied, would it make us “more happy”?  I know we cannot challenge wildlife, water, or our cars to this task but we can challenge ourselves.  We can challenge ourselves to not be afraid of what we do not know- but rather face it head on and find that less beaten path to make ourselves more knowledgeable and hopefully more successful.

Now, I know this is a forestry blog–so here I will relate it back in a couple ways.  After I had this mind shaking thought, I was thinking about the daily things I do…and how when I am out on a site visit with a landowner we are usually following a trail through their forest, but often in order to see more and get more of an idea of what they have I take off into the forest, off the trail.  After I get a few feet in I look behind me and they are usually with me (haven’t met a scared landowner yet)! In order to get the full effect of the land and see more you have to dive in, get smacked in the face by branches and trip over sticks to really experience it!

Another way to relate this revelation back is…through my position I provide a lot of education to my communities, landowners, children and other professionals and sometimes the topics I choose are controversial.  Now, if I took the easy way out, would that be fair to myself, would I really be succeeding at what I am trying to fulfill?  If I did not bring up topics like climate change, the newly endangered Northern Long-Eared bat, or fighting against subjects like hinge cutting or letting invasive species grow because one persons view is different than mine- is that cutting myself short?  I say yes I am cutting myself short.  So, I continually keep taking the path of resistance and not putting my views onto someone else but rather get the education out there, so hopefully one day folks will have that knowledge to not be “scared of the unknown” but rather face it head on!  I continue to pave my own path in forestry and life.

I challenge you to not take the path today–but rather pave your own path. If it fails today-take it tomorrow and you may succeed in ways you never imagined!

Stream "inspiration"
Stream “inspiration”
Cruising through the white pines
Cruising through the white pines
Hello- White Pine!
Hello- White Pine!