This was my second time to participate in the virtual Run for the Trees 5K event, which was sponsored by the Bob Ross Inc. Foundation and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The premise was simple: participants chose any time between April 22nd (Earth Day) and April 29th (Arbor Day) to run, walk or hike 3.2 miles/5 kilometers at the woodsy venue of their choice. All proceeds from registration fees support the “Happy Little Trees” planting and preservation efforts, like invasive plant species and pest management, in Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas. In recent years, our state has had widespread devastation from tree pests and diseases like the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle now in its 20th year of destroying our Ash trees and Oak Wilt, a fungal disease which decimates Oak trees.
Though the threat of wildfires and resulting widespread devastation is not as prevalent here in the Mitten State as in other states, this invaluable reforestation program is responsible for sustaining our natural forests. Department of Corrections inmates raise native saplings that are later planted by volunteers at the aforementioned state parks and recreation areas. In its first two years, 2020 and 2021, this 5K event, coined “Happy Little Trees” for painter Bob Ross’ love of painting nature, has raised more than $600,000.00 for reforestation efforts. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources vows to plant 50 million trees by 2030!
Whew – it was a hot one!
There is nothing like that first balmy Spring day when the bare trees finally leaf out and form a canopy across the forest, or in your neighborhood if you’re lucky. Shortly thereafter the blossoming trees, wearing their pretty pastel hues, erupt everywhere. But, Spring 2022 here in Southeast Michigan, as well as many cities and states across the U.S., was NOT business as usual.
So, on the 23rd of April, for the most part, there were leafless trees, buds were still wrapped tightly, yet the oppressive heat and humidity made it feel like an August day. Before sunset we had climbed to nearly 80F (26C), yet unbelievably, a mere four days before we had a two-inch snowfall. Sigh.
I originally intended to finally venture to Sterling State Park in Monroe to complete this 5K event. That venue, one of Michigan’s 101 state parks, has seven miles (11 kilometers) of hiking trails within the park, but, thanks to Mother Nature’s snow and some rain in the preceding days, I was stopped in my tracks. Since I’ve not been to this venue since visiting with my parents as a pre-teen, I wondered about the trails … were they rustic or paved and would I be slogging through water and/or mud? So, I made alternate plans and decided to venture to two other woodsy parks instead.
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I purposely chose this quote as there are an abundance of oak trees at Elizabeth Park. Every Autumn, after oohing and aahing over the beautiful foliage, a week or so later, you’ll find a carpet of oak leaves throughout the entire park.
So, although Elizabeth Park has its own flooding issues when the canal spills over its banks, there is a long and scenic boardwalk and paved perimeter road, so this was my first stop on my trek for the trees.
Here are some photos with captions of what I saw that morning:
I returned to the car, a little weary from the heat. Who could have predicted this much heat in April? As luck would have it, I had not yet scheduled my car for the A/C repair so, even with the windows down, I felt like a wilted flower on that five-minute drive to the 300-year-old forest at Humbug Marsh at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
Well, I never made it to the ancient forest and here is why …
Long-time followers of this blog may recall I took an interpretive walk called “Walk, Talk & Sketch” at Oakwoods Metropark back in the Summer of 2019. Our small group walked and occasionally paused to sketch items along the trail. I’d sure not win any prizes with those simple pencil sketches. I’d taken some sketching classes as a teenager and enjoyed them. Also, on a trek at Heritage Park I encountered a couple of women painting a historical home and a garden respectively. I wrote about them and took their photos and in the comments section of that post, the subject of plein air painting came up. Plein air painting is simply painting outdoors. That topic piqued my interest, not for now, as I struggle to maintain a work-life balance with walking and blogging, but down the road when I’m retired.
In Googling around to learn more about plein air painting, I discovered John Vassallo, a local artist, who also leads a plein air painting group on different excursions to park venues where I frequent. So I followed John on Facebook and noted he and his group would kick off their 2022 get-togethers on April 2nd at Heritage Park. I wanted to meet John and the group members, so I headed to Heritage Park for a meet and greet on that day. I took some photos, shared them with John and received the schedule of venues the group would visit in 2022 and I said I’d be occasionally stopping by to say “hi” and otherwise lurking, but not participating – not just yet.
So, with that backstory in mind, once at Humbug Marsh, it was not difficult for me to find John and a few members of his group, at that chosen venue of the day.
I located John near the entrance to Humbug Marsh. We chitchatted a bit and, while I knew why John and the others were at this venue, I said I was here as part of a 5K event to help Michigan’s trees. I asked John if I could use his photos of his painting for this post. He was happy to let me do so and those are the images you see below and a smiling photo of the artist as well.
Here is a close-up of plein art painting in progress.
Here is the actual landscape scene.
Group members Chris and Diana had ventured off on their own to paint their respective oil-painting views of nearby Humbug Island …
… while Jim worked on a watercolor of trees at another location.
I never made it to the ancient forest and that was okay too. Visiting with the plein air painting group was fun – Humbug Marsh and its 300-year-old trees will always be there and by then it was really hot, so I headed to the car (where it was even hotter).
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few photos of my race swag. As mentioned above, Bob Ross is our mascot of sorts, so his image is emblazoned on the tee-shirt and finishing medal for the event, along with a few quotes about painting and life.