Assembly Articles

CSA Road Safety: Walkers and Runners Encouraged to Take the Renovated Paths

By Loren Weiss - June 30, 2022

Trees Yellow DotSafety is one of our primary concerns at the CSA - M22 runs right through our grounds, and most roads are only wide enough for one car to drive along at a time. Those visiting the Assembly have always been encouraged to be cautious whether they’re driving or walking; but as the 2022 season rolls in, our Maintenance Department headed by Tom Mauer has worked tirelessly to make things a little safer for all of us through their renovation and reconstruction of Assembly walking paths.

The first step in their community-wide project was to make the walking path in the woods running along Alden Edwards Avenue more accessible and usable. The path starts directly next to the Meeting House and stretches all the way to the intersection between Alden Edwards Ave. and Winslow Way, creating a perfect path for runners, dog-walkers, and anyone else who previously would have stuck to the roads. Trees are marked with visible yellow markers to keep hikers from straying, and all plants and hazards (including poison ivy) have been cleared away. The trail is surrounded by recently planted native trees and luscious wonders of nature, making it a much more attractive walk alongside its practicality.

Mauer’s plan is to renovate all of the unpaved paths crisscrossing the Assembly, so walkers feel more comfortable off of the road - and away from vehicularPath through trees traffic. Among the paths slated for renovation are the Carver Crescent to South Shore trail and the stairway down the hill to Lake Michigan. His hopes are that by making these trails safer and more accessible for those on foot, we can keep Assembly patrons out of harm’s way while also giving them scenic, enjoyable trails to walk along. 

Road safety is especially important by M22 - and since construction started on June 27th, the CSA wants to encourage its members to be vigilant when crossing and otherwise navigating roads. These paths are a great way to do so, and we encourage all those who are curious or just feel like going for a walk to check out the beautiful trail by the Meeting House - and hopefully, as the project continues, even more trails that crop up across our scenic grounds.

Lions? No, Tigers? No, Bears? Yup!

By Alan Marble

Black bears are beginning to show a strong presence in our neighborhood at the CSA.  Last year a big boar (male) around 300 pounds or so began tearing up bird feeders and garbage bins in the late summer, fall, and well into winter.  He was active again in late winter after what appeared to be only a brief nap of about a month.  He hasn’t been around this spring - he is probably doing what boars do this time of year, which is look for female bears (sows) to breed. They will roam far and wide in this search for romance, or the ursine version of it.

bearscatonsandIn late March I found a generous pile of bear scat (poop) on the Crystal Lake beach. 

 

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Lately, though, there have been several bears visiting the CSA. Tracks of a sow with what may be two or three young cubs have been noted north along the Lake Michigan beach, and the tracks of what appears to be another sow with a single, year-old cub, have been appearing north from the stairs.  

 

 

bearbuttinsand These bears left interesting butt marks in the sand as they slid down the low bluff just north of the Edmonds’ cottage.

The bears are almost certainly foraging on the abundance of small, fresh, dead alewives that are washing up on the Lake Michigan beach (alewives are small anadromous fish which will be another story to be related at a later date: if you are over 45 years old, you probably remember them). 

Why the uptick in bear activity?  They are highly adaptable to man and his civilization, are omnivores (more vegetable than mineral), live a long time and have been steadily growing in number over the past 30 years or so since the hunting of black bears went from unregulated in Michigan, to hunting seasons today which are based on modern sound science with lotteries for tags.  They have been expanding their range as well, appearing more and more often in central and even southern Michigan.

 Black bears are our only bears, and they are the smallest of their clan.  That said, “small” is a relative term, as a big old boar can top 600 pounds.  They breed in late spring, spend the next six months eating the bounty of nature and agriculture. They thrive in the orchards of Benzie County and make a serious nuisance of themselves in the fruit country, tearing off branches to nosh on apples, cherries and everything else fruit.  The primary element in their diet is plant material of all kinds, followed by insects, grubs, bees and honey. They are indiscriminate diners, eating every form of garbage from diapers to food wrappers and rancid food.  An unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.

In early winter bears undergo a subtle metabolic change that leads them, especially the pregnant sows, to seek rudimentary shelter for “hibernation.”  The word is in quotation marks only because it is not a true hibernation, which is just shy of total shutdown of an animal’s bodily functions.  Sows go into hibernation earlier and longer than the boars, because their bodies are telling them to prepare to birth their tiny, hairless cubs.  These little fellers do not resemble the cubs you think of.  They nurse and sleep and develop a cub’s appearance before heading out with the sow into the world in late spring.  Boars are not powered by the same maternal instincts, and often resist slumber as long as there is ample forage (garbage, bird feeders, etc.). Climate change is also certainly playing a factor in black bear behavior.

What does all of this mean to those of us who have moved, unwittingly, perhaps, into black bear country?  We need to share the land, and be smart, and attentive.

The garbage bins which I helped invent are a piece of cake for a bear of any size.  We may have to rethink how we all handle our trash, because a bear that makes a steady diet of food supplied at your home will quickly become habituated to the process and will come to expect an easy meal.  Same goes for bird feeders (I will share my story on that in a future email). Anything and everything we can all do to remove a food attraction will pay off.  A bear that expects the free meal can be a real nuisance, and probably constitutes the single largest threat to our individual safety.

How does all of this affect us, our behavior, and our day-to-day existence? Other than strictly avoiding any feeding attraction for bears, very little.  Black bears will avoid human contact if given half a chance.  A sow with cubs will vacate the area you are in as soon as she smells you (crazy-good sense of smell), sees you (not so great sense), or hears you (ears like antennae).  She will either remove herself and her cubs at 30 mph (yup, 30 mph), or send the cubs up a tree while she retreats and observes.  A boar wants nothing to do with you and will almost certainly detect you long before you see him. 

Bears become quite nocturnal in their activities when pressured (like summertime at the CSA).  So, what do we do?  First, be aware of your surroundings as you walk Lover’s Lane or the CSA main drag, especially at dusk and dawn.  Put your phone away and listen and look at what is around you.  If you have company, chat while you walk; the best strategy is to give a bear (or any wildlife, for that matter) advance warning of your presence.  Listen to your surroundings…heck, you might learn something….and allow yourself to enjoy that you are a part (a small part, mind you), of a natural environment that continues to change and expand.

Ticks Make Spiders Look Positively Benevolent

By Alan Marble

Every summer you catch a story in the news about a horrific accident on US-2 or M-28 in the western UP in which a vehicle, inexplicably, veers across the center line and plows into the ditch or, worse yet, another vehicle.  Forensic examination of the people and vehicles involved reveal nothing as to the potential cause of the awful wreck.  The accident is written up as “operator error” and left to the archives.

However, I believe I know the cause of these accidents.  While this is pure speculation on my part, I have a pretty good idea as to who the culprit is.  It isn’t alcohol, or distracted driving while surfing the internet.  The culprit is the wood tick. After pulling a tick from one’s dog or one’s own neck while recreating outdoors in the woods, a person develops an instant sensitivity to any soft touch to the hairline or behind the ear.  Once you have encountered an engorged grape-like tick, full of your blood or that of your faithful furry friend, your sensitivity is then off the chart.  Nightmarish creatures, the ticks.  They live patiently awaiting a warm-blooded victim to come just close enough to clamber aboard.  They will ride for hours and even days in the cuff of your trousers or the fold of your sweater, creeping with a molasses-like pace towards contact with warm skin. Insidious is an adjective that comes to mind. 

woodtickWood tick, American dog tick, one and the same. There are actually five species of ticks which occur in Michigan, but the dog tick and the deer tick are the most common, and most likely to be encountered and to pass on infections.  They are not insects, but arachnids, more closely akin to spiders.  They have eight legs and hard shells, and live in wooded and grassy areas throughout the state.  They are becoming more common, it seems, and more widespread, perhaps in response to the changing climate.  They are active in May and on into November in our area.

Ticks lay around in the grass and woods most of the time, bingeing on Netflix while noshing on bonbons and popcorn, or some equivalent anyway.  A tick detects a potential host by sensing odor, moisture, movement and simple vibrations.  A comical scene occurs in my head, imagining a slow-moving tick trying to head a Labrador off at the pass. Once a tick selects its host, gets a head start and actually scrambles aboard, it selects a suitable location on said host, and begins to bury its mouthparts into the unsuspecting creature. 

If undetected by the host, the tick begins the awful process of engorging itself with its victim’s blood, in preparation of breeding and starting all over again.  There is something particularly odious about parasites; those freeloaders which are looking for much more than spare change are actually out for blood.  If the tick plays its cards right, it fills up and drops off and starts laying eggs.  Yuck.

At any stage in this frightful process a human can intervene.  If the tick is attached to a beloved human being (including oneself), there is a strong urge to yank it off without thought or ceremony.  If attached to one’s pet, the urgency is a bit tempered.  In either case, the secret is to use tweezers or one of the many tools specifically designed for the process to grasp or trap the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly . . . and I mean slowly . . . pull backwards with steady pressure to back the little SOB out, mouth parts and all. 

The next step is crucial.  If you have a propane torch, ignite the flame and roast the tick.  Lacking a torch, use a sledge hammer to crush its tough carapace (unless the tick is engorged with blood, in which case a serious gory mess results). Seriously, though, you want to ensure that this particular creature does not survive to haunt you, your pets or your house. 

Along with the prickly revulsion that accompanies a tick bite, there can be serious health consequences.  Ticks removed within 12 hours of attachment are highly unlikely to pass on diseases like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  In any instance of a tick attachment, the affected area needs to be cleaned, disinfected and watched for any sign of major inflammation or characteristic “bullseye”- like circles surrounding the site.  If in doubt, consult a physician. 

There is a vaccine available for dogs for Lyme disease, and I am told that a major pharmaceutical company is working on a vaccine for humans.  There are many topical drug applications for pets which work well in that the drug repels ticks and, if one stays on long enough to attach, the serum kills the attached tick. 

There is a world of good information available on ticks and tick-borne illness on the web.  Choose your sites for information carefully to ensure you are reading sound scientific and medical information. Click here to see our own Assembly Ecology Committee web page that has more information and resources.

Common sense prevails.  During tick season it pays to be vigilant with your loved ones and your furry friends.  A quick inspection of outer clothing at days’ end can pay off.  There are effective tick repellents available, but the ones which actually work are for application only to outer garments, and not directly to skin.  One trick that may actually work is to apply duct tape, sticky-side out, on trousers below the knee. Ticks seem to like to crawl uphill, and will be snared by the tape.  If nothing else, the tick(er) tape can indicate if you are indeed in an area with ticks. 

If there is an unsung natural hero through all of this, it is the unlovely opossum.  Our only native marsupial, these rat-tailed creatures mosey through life at an ungainly gait during twilight and darkness, eating pretty much everything organic which they encounter.  This includes ticks and tick eggs. One University of Illinois study indicated that an adult opossum may consume 5,000 ticks per season.  Makes me want to pick up one of those guys and plant a big smooch in thanks on its chin, except they always want to play dead when you approach, and that is a little off-putting to me. 

The Mystery of the CSA Horses

By Loren Weiss

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When you hear the word “bus”, a picture instantly appears in most people’s minds: a long vehicle filled with seats, not exactly fun to drive behind. Back in the very beginnings of the Congregational Summer Assembly, though, the bus was a horse-drawn cart that brought CSA members to and from Frankfort.

Horses had the utmost importance when it came to transportation in the early 1900’s since there were no automobiles yet. They played many roles at the CSA, the bus included; and although not much is known about them, an anecdote passed from person to person gives us a clue of how - and where - these horses lived.


Jane Way Baker first heard about the Lake Michigan stables from Carter Davidson years ago, but thought little of it; it was only this year that she remembered and retold the story as she’d heard it. Once upon a time, the space that is now the Lake Michigan tennis courts used to be the stables that housed some of CSA’s horses. These horses were said to be used to transport building materials up the hill for the construction of the Davidson cottage nearby.

Another clue about where more horses could have stayed is Equarry Rd, a street close to the woods tennis courts. The definition of an “equerry” is an officer who has charge over the stables, which points to the conclusion that there were more stables in that area at some point. The existence of these past stables is proof enough that horses played an essential role in Assembly transportation back before automobiles started arriving in the 1910’s.

Unfortunately, the Archives don’t have much more information about the stables, so any further knowledge would be greatly appreciated - any readers who know more can drop in at Pilgrim Place from 10-12 on Wednesdays or email Jane Cooper at