You don’t have to go far to enjoy some of the beautiful elements of nature. Often they can be found at your local parks a few miles away. I have found beautiful creeks, sweeping vistas, discovered wildflowers and some of the best fall foliage. The winter season is no exception. You certainly get a different perspective on the landscape. The one major element that stands out with visiting these parks during the winter is how desolate it can be. Often you are the only one out there and all you hear is the sounds of animals scurrying, birds chirping and the howling of the winds.
I spent some time in the local county parks of Kent County to explore and to see how I could capture the winter landscape with my camera. The snow had just fallen and the trees were decorated with white fluffy snow on the branches. It was quite cold and the snow was fairly deep when hiking in certain areas. When out in the winter elements it is essential to wear the proper attire. I found that out the hard way once and cut short a winter excursion. The first park that I stopped at was Aman Park off of M-45. There was hardly anyone out on the trails. I took the trail downward to a bridge that crossed a small creek. It was amazing being in the middle of a snowy oasis. The snow on the trees beyond the bridge looked like I was about to step into another world. While I was hiking through this park, I was alone in nature. It was desolate out in the middle of the forest, but at the same time extremely peaceful.
I also went to Townsend Park on the other side of Kent County on a cold morning. Snow was foretasted once again, but I caught a gimps of sun as it rose amid some cloud cover. The section of the park I went to was closed off and had to hike it in. It is also one of the more beautiful places within this park so it was well worth the hike. A few bridges span over Bear Creek as it winds through the valley proportion of the park. The sun pushing through the clouds made a nice reflection off the water. Once again, I was the only one in the park at that time. There was plenty of fresh snow and the only tracks around were mine or those of animals that had passed through earlier. I am not the biggest winter person, but this time out in the park was really special. I was experiencing the still of the morning. For that moment of tranquility alone, I would recommend a winter hike to anyone.
Baseball has come back to Detroit. Opening day for the Detroit Tigers is in a few days, and there is a level of excitement in spite of a lackluster spring training. I guess one could reason that a new season may bring new possibilities. In a few hours people will be heading into Comerica Park bumping shoulders with each other as they make their way to their seats. Some have said that they can close their eyes and imagine they hear the late Ernie Harwell call the game out back in the glory days. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs and hamburgers fill the air as people pass the concession stands. There is nothing like being a part of opening day. In many ways it is more about the experience than anything else.
I can remember long ago going to the old Tiger Stadium with my family when I was a kid. Back then I was never really interested in the game of baseball. I never forgot those games that we went to though. I was in fourth grade when I first went to a game with my family. Coincidentally, my first game came the year that the Tigers won the World Series in 1984. I remember the excitement of the crowd when Kirk Gibson hit a home run. I remember the excitement of watching Jack Morris strike out the opposing team and everyone cheering all around me. I remember everyone signing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on the 7th inning stretch. We did not have the greatest seats in the stadium, but we had fun that day. The experience of the game became more valuable than the game itself. The next time I went to a Tiger’s game was with my cousins and uncle several years later. The Tigers were not having the best game, but the elements of being at the game still remained. It was about the experience.
The Tigers are set to open up another season. This could be another average season, or there may be some surprises with efforts breaking all expectations based on what was noticed during the spring training games. One thing is for sure. No matter what happens to the Tigers this year, it will be magical on opening day. It will be magical for a kid experiencing his first ball game ever. The score of a game may be etched in on record for years to come, but often the memory of who won or lost is fleeting to the average person. The memory created by experiencing the game will be a lasting one.
The magic of a baseball game is not limited to just the Tigers. There are several great minor league teams in Michigan that offer the same excitement and the same experience. Grand Rapids, Lansing, Midland and Traverse City all have great minor league teams. It is a great way to spend quality time with the family. There are always plenty of entertaining breaks in between innings and some of these minor league teams are really good. Opening day is upon us. Come for the game, but leave with the great memories of the experience.
Going to the zoo has always been a fun place to visit. I loved going to the zoo as a kid and seeing many of the different animals from around the world. As an adult, I still love the zoo. Michigan has several zoos throughout the state and has a variety of animals in each of the zoos. Some zoo’s are larger than others, but nonetheless you always walk away with a better appreciation of wildlife. The John Ball zoo in Grand Rapids is a place that should be on any itinerary when coming to visit the city. I have been to this zoo serveal times and each time, I leave satisfied with my visit.
One of my favorite places to visit at the zoo is the Otter Exhibit. There is a glass wall where you can see the otters swim around under water. To the left there is a platform where you can view the Otters on the land. If you just want to sit down and relax there are benches that overlook the exhibit. it is not uncommon to see several Otters out and playing with each other. In all the times I have visited the zoo, I cannot recall one time where they were inside and away from the public. They love interacting with other Otters and will often go where the other Otters are. Occasionally you will see one of them swimming around on his own while the others are out sunbathing, but typically they are like pack animals where they stay together and do things together. When they are at play with each other seems to be when they are the most entertaining to watch.
I do like those moments where one Otter will break from the pack and do its own thing. I have seen Otters enjoying themselves swimming or just finding a quiet place to enjoy the sunshine. When they are still and quiet, they are still entertaining to watch. Otters usually don’t stay in one place for long. I have found this to be different from some of the other animals where you could circle the zoo and come back to an animal and find them laying in the same spot as when you left them. Otters keep moving and will do something different over a period of time. That is where the entertainment value comes in with them. As a photographer, you can get quite a few different types of photographs with the Otters and actually get a sense of their personality.
John Ball Zoo has benches to watch the animals in various places. If you have the time, I would recommend just sitting down and relaxing. There are food outlets throughout the zoo. You could even grab some food, eat lunch and enjoy watching the animals play. The Otters and Monkeys tend to be the most entertaining of all the animals there. You never know what you will see from one minute to the next. When visiting the zoo, be sure to take some time to visit the Otters. You will not be disappointed.
It is that time of year again where a trip to Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids becomes synonymous with several butterflies floating around. The Butterflies are Blooming exhibit at Meijer Gardens is an annual exhibit that draws several visitors anxious to get a little taste of spring. It is the perfect time to see this exhibit because it embodies the promise of spring after what seems to be a long extended winter. The butterflies are held in the gardens greenhouse and the environment is very tropical. It is the one exhibit that Meijer Gardens has where I see nothing but smiles on everyone’s faces.
At the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit you will be treated with over 7,000 butterflies within the greenhouse. There are 50 variety of butterfly species. One of the most sought out species is the Blue Morpho. When it is closed it is a dull brownish color, but when it spreads its wings you are treated to a brilliant blue color across its wings. Getting the Blue Morpho to spread its wings is the hard part. I have sat nearby one for quite some time hoping that it would spread its wings, only to be disappointed. In other occasions I was just lucky enough to see this one spread out its wings. That seems to be the key to it all. You have to be in the right place at the right time. These butterflies are pretty common throughout the greenhouse, but more often you will spot them with their wings closed up.
One of the most common species that you will see at this exhibit is the Maylay Lacewing (not to be confused with the one pictured below). They look like the smaller version of a Monarch Butterfly. There are plenty of them floating around and they like to sit on some of the leaves of the tropical plants and trees throughout the greenhouse. They are not jittery so to speak and are easy to photograph. With several butterflies, the minute you get to one, they will fly off. This species of butterfly seems to be very calm and content just to be laying on the plants and leaves. In many cases, I have seen these butterflies land on people. When this happens, it is such a great photo opportunity.
When you go to the exhibit, plan to spend an hour or two at the greenhouse. Once you finish with the butterflies, there is still plenty of things to do at the Meijer Gardens. If the weather is nice, there is the main sculpture garden, the children’s gardens, the new Japanese gardens, and the Lena Meijer Farmhouse. All of these sections within the gardens is worth visiting and spending time at. One could spend several hours into the afternoon taking in the whole Meijer Gardens area. The butterflies are blooming, and spring is just around the corner. Now I know why so many people are smiling.
I planned a trip out to Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids on my calendar a couple months in advance. I had thought that the Japanese Gardens would be an interesting place to visit during the winter months. I have been so accustomed to seeing the part of the gardens during the summer months, and thought it would be interesting to see how the landscape changes during the winter time. The day came for my visit to the gardens and it was a very sunny day. It was also 60 degrees outside with snow melting rapidly. That week we experienced a January thaw. This warmer weather brought out a lot of people. What I thought might be a wasted trip turned out to be pretty good after all.
The trail going around a series of several ponds in this garden was extremely wet and at some points muddy from the melting snow. In spite of the warmer temperatures, the ponds still had a thin coat of ice over them. There were a few snow piles left along the trail. One of the highlights along this garden are the three man made waterfalls pouring out into the ponds below. The point of the Japanese Gardens is to promote a relaxing atmosphere. These waterfalls do exactly that. There are even a few benches nearby where one can sit and just take it all in. I myself could have spent more time there had the benches not been wet from the melting snow. As you continue around the ponds you come across a couple island areas where there are gazebos to sit in. Again, the way this garden promotes the idea of relaxation in nature is really great.
There were several areas that were blocked off and not open during the winter months. That is more to ensure the safety of the guests who may get too close to the ponds. On this particular day, it was a good idea. The ponds were obviously melting and there were areas where open water stood surrounded by ice. It was clear that the ice that was there was very thin and fragile. It did make for some interesting photos throughout the garden. As you walked around the ponds there were several Japanese themed sculptures that seemed to stand out a little more in the winter. A good part of this is due to the trees surrounding the area. Often during the summer the trees shade the sculpture or they are a little bit hidden with full leaves on the trees. The highlight of the gardens was the viewing hill which overlooked the whole area. Again, the lack of leaves on trees made for better viewing of the area as a whole. That seemed to be the big takeaway of the value of visiting this garden during the winter season.
The walk around the garden took about an hour in total time. There were several people there getting out on the nice day. It was not the original way I wanted to view the gardens, but often when it comes to photography, you have to adjust for the weather conditions. This case was no exception. I am still curious to see the gardens covered with snow and to see how the landscape changed even from what I saw on this trip. It looks like more snow is going to fall during the month of February. I just might be able to get that chance.
I was riding home from an event the other night, and was amazed at some of the Christmas lights and decorations on the houses and bushiness that I passed. I love this time of year as the Christmas lights and decorations make everything a little bit more brighter and cheerful. If you like Christmas trees and decorations like I do, a stop at Fredrick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids is a must see. Every year Fredrick Meijer Gardens showcases the “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World”. Inside you will walk through the main building of the gardens and can view Christmas trees lit up and decorated representing various countries. It is not only a great way to enjoy the holidays, but you will also walk away learning something new.
My wife and I were greeted by Christmas decorations and lights the minute we walked into the entryway from the outside. The staff if very friendly and helpful when it comes to pointing you in the right direction. From there we were able to see quite a few Christmas trees decorated with ornaments that represented the country of the tree. There is a informational sign in front of each tree giving a description of a particular countries holiday traditions. There was a lot of information that I did not know and it was great to get a better understanding of how different people celebrate Christmas and the holidays. For instance, Australia celebrates Christmas during the summer. Traditionally, they would gather up wildflowers and decorate the tree with the flowers. It was a fact that I never knew before and had never really thought about how Christmas was celebrated in Australia. The countries that really don’t celebrate Christmas are represented with items in a glass casing showcasing the culture of that nation.
The Christmas trees are not the only attraction while visiting the gardens this time. The greenhouse areas are attached to the main building. Inside the greenhouse area you will encounter the Railway Garden. This garden brings together miniature displays of buildings throughout Grand Rapids or near the metro area such as Holland and Lowell. These buildings are made up of natural materials and has many varieties of plants and flowers. My personal favorite aspect about this garden is that a model train runs through the whole garden near the buildings and past small waterfalls and garden areas. It is definitely worth taking a detour from the main part of the building to see this attraction. You can also venture inside the tropical greenhouse and see palm trees lit up with Christmas trees.
Outside the main building are several trees lit up with Christmas lights. Trees are decorated with large ornaments and the area along the Children’s Garden is perfect for a winter stroll to see multi colored Christmas lights. The gardens also offers a holiday carriage ride through the park to create more of a festive environment. Grand Rapids has many things to see and do during the holiday season. Meijer Gardens is one of my favorite places visit during the holiday season. It creates a festive and cheerful environment and embodies everything that you would expect from the holiday season.