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