A couple weeks ago I returned to the plains of the Yellow Dog River for my last trip of the winter season. I wanted to photograph the area in winter and I was concerned that my opportunity was slipping away. It was the tail end of winter and in my home area in the northern Lower Peninsula we'd already lost our snow pack.

I left home at about 2am and by mid-morning I was in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula where there was about 10 inches of snow on the ground. About 30 miles further north I met Jan Zender who graciously took me on the last leg of the journey. After traveling by snowmobile for an hour Jan dropped me and my gear off by the river where I camped in a tent for several days. I shouldn't have worried so much about missing the snow. In Marquette there had been only 10 inches of snow, but only 30 miles away there was up to five feet of snow on the river.

The second morning I left camp about an hour before dawn to snow shoe to a waterfall that I wanted to photograph. With a head lamp on my forehead, my camera gear on my back, my snow shoes in my left hand and my tripod in my right hand I waded across the river in my hip boots. When I got to the other side of the river I found that the snow on the bank was so deep that the only way that I could get out of the river was to stab the tripod legs into the snow bank and then pull myself up from the water until I was high enough to get on top of the bank and pull my snow shoes on.

After two hours of snow shoeing I reached the waterfall. Sort of. I could hear the falls, but not see them. They were buried under a couple of feet of snow. The river and the land around it were basically locked in snow. I would guess that two thirds of the river was under snow. Runs of the river that I had photographed in the fall were now long stretches of snow bridge. Occasionally the flowing water of the river could be seen as it freed itself momentarily from winter's grasp, only to disappear a few yards later under fingers of snow.

On the third morning I made this image of the river and winter. I waded into the river and shot from as close to the river's perspective as I dared. Along the banks icicles hung down to the water's edge, almost as if the frozen water was reaching down and yearning for the moment that it would return to the river's flow. In the river the water parted around an unseen boulder. The accumulated snow rose up 6 feet above the river and spread out 10 to 12 feet. It was like an altar made of snow. Here is another view from above...

For five, maybe six months of the year the Yellow Dog Plains are locked in snow. Eventually all of the frozen water flows. It flows into the watershed where it tumbles down hill and returns to the river's flow.

Last fall I mentioned the proposed sulfide mining in the Yellow Dog Plains and how once the dust and ore reach water they form sulfuric acid. Think about this; snow is an inevitable fact of life in the Yellow Dog Plains. If sulfide mining goes forward then every pound of dust and every rock that falls off each of the 40 truck loads of ore removed a day will be locked in the snow... each day, for six months. And when spring thaw comes 6 months of accumulated sulfuric acid will all flow into the watershed in a matter of days.

On the last morning I was breaking camp when Jan returned on his snowmobile. On our way out, a little more than a mile from where I'd been camping, a wolf appeared in front of us. For a while everything stopped as we all contemplated each other. Then the spell was broken and we went our separate ways. There are precious, few places where experiences like that can still be had. Precious, few places.

"This we know. The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."
- Chief Sealth (Seattle)

[Note: Those of you who've heard me speak know that I emphasize hope and how we can make things better with small, conscious steps. This is no different. Sulfide mining has not begun and while there is still time we need to let our opinion be known that we don't want it in Michigan. If you'd like to learn more about how to let your opinion be known contact Rita Jack, the Sierra Club's Water Sentinels Project Director for Michigan at ritajack@sierraclub.org .]

[Special thanks to Jan Zender and RiverWalker for helping me with the logistics of this trip.]

Charles St. Charles III

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