“Sherpa Mike” Meets a Snowy Owl

Beautiful but Deadly: A Snowy Owl at Old Mission Point
Beautiful but Deadly: A Snowy Owl at Old Mission Point

By MIKE NORTON

OK, the muscles are a little sore this morning. And I’m not sure if that’s from snowshoeing the Empire Bluff Trail on Friday afternoon with a five-year-old on my shoulders, or from skiing the big loop above Old Mission Point on Saturday. All I can say is that winter is definitely fun this year!

The five-year-old wasn’t mine, by the way. She’s the daughter of Wisconsin travel writer Julie Furst Henning, who writes for Road Trips for Families, and who was in Traverse City this weekend with her mom and two of her three youngsters, Owen and Marie. Eager to show them the wonders of the Sleeping Bear Dunes in winter, I took the four of them on a showshoe hike to the Empire Bluffs, forgetting how quickly a kid can get tired trying to navigate deep snow.

My goal was to get Julie out to the lookout at the end of the trail where you can see the big dune to the north and the huge mass of South Manitou Island floating several miles offshore. She may be a Wisconsinite now, but Julie grew up in Michigan, and is descended from the Fursts who were lighthouse keepers on the Manitou Islands several generations ago. Mission accomplished…

Giving Marie a ride on my shoulders was a great blast from the past. My own daughter Elizabeth (now 22) probably spent several hours a day on my shoulders when she was that age, and it was fun being the Henning family’s unofficial “sherpa” for the afternoon. But I think the Hennings didn’t really start having fun until they were free to explore on their own.

They sure did a lot, anyway. Snow-tubing at TimberLee Hills, visiting the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, and checking out the wide menu of outdoor activities on tap at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. In case you didn’t know, The Resort has a pretty good variety of things to do on weekends; they’re turned their golf Clubhouse into a Winter Activities Center   featuring cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating. You can either bring your own gear or rent stuff from them.

Snowmobiling at Grand Traverse Resort
Snowmobiling at Grand Traverse Resort

They’re also doing snowmobile rides, thanks to the good folks at Blue Sky Rentals, dogsled rides through Wiggi’s Mountainside Huskies, bonfires with s’mores and a pretty decent selection of kids activities, from a snowman-building contest and snow-castle construction project to s’mores and campfire games with their winter mascot, Bogey Bear. A pretty good introduction to winter for folks who aren’t really sure how their kids are going to react to all that snow!

I did take one more ski trip on my own over the weekend, around the big loop above Old Mission Point, and I’m glad I did. Apart from the usual great views, the snow conditions were wonderful, and I got my first sighting of a snowy owl in several years. These huge birds, big as small dogs, are winter visitors to the area from the Arctic, and I used to see them all the time when the winters were colder. (Perhaps their return is a sign of more normal winters to come.)

Unlike other owls, they hunt quite comfortably in daylight, perching in high trees at the edge of fields and roadways and watching for mice, rabbits and other prey. In spite of their cute appearance, they are pitiless hunters who can swoop down silently from the winter sky to deliver death with beak and talons to any creature foolish enough to poke its head above the snow. This one didn’t consider me worth his attention. All things considered, I’m cool with that….

Monday’s weather is rainy and messy. I’m pretty confident it’ll get cold again soon, thanks to my owl friend, but I hope it gets back to straight-up winter weather before tomorrow!

Cross-country Skiing at Grand Traverse Resort
Cross-country Skiing at Grand Traverse Resort
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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
This entry was posted in nature, Outdoor Sports, skiing, Sleeping Bear, winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Sherpa Mike” Meets a Snowy Owl

  1. Heide says:

    Great article and wonderful pictures thanks for sharing with us “wanta be’s”…….someday

  2. Julie says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to see not just one, but two Snowy Owls here in town! Fabulous creatures!

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