A woman once told me; “Don’t wish your life away!” I used to work in an office and was always wishing for Friday. She told me a story of how her son lost a good friend to a motorcycle accident on a Friday, and that I should appreciate the moment I am in. I miss being out in the “swamp” and riding my motorcycle in the dirt, but I appreciate the relative warmth this twenty degree day brings along with the morning spent with my son- even though he is playing video games in his bedroom.
This time a few years ago we were already out breaking ice into the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, this year the ice is still measured in Feet! My boats are buried under snow, and my bike is buried in the garage, still blown up from last fall. I have had plenty of time to reorganize and get ready for the upcoming season of boat tours, but still feel behind the curve. As I sift through my office I’m easily distracted by all of the images accumulated over the last forty years. To think I have over five years of digital images alone. I am trying to post a new image daily on Johnny Panther Quests FaceBook page. Not all of my images are of ecotours, but most are of an adventure of one sort or another.
This year is our twentieth season of running tours by boat and I am extending an invitation to all of my past guests and their referrals, offering a twenty dollar discount per trip. It is cool to come across old notes I’ve made and thank you letters from the past guests who jog my memory- then I have to go into the archives and find images from that particular trip. It is no wonder I can’t stay on task! We have come a long way from the first year guiding in a little fourteen foot flat bottom boat to where we are today.
I am hopeful that the water will be back up this year at least for a little while, and am looking forward to the high water adventures this spring will certainly offer. If you are reading this and like pushing your comfort zone or know someone who does, I encourage you to line up a trip for when the ice breaks up. I guarantee it will be a memorable and exciting experience. As always, the best time to go is when you are breathing, and the second best time is when the water is high! If you are on FaceBook, please like Johnny Panther Quests and check out the images dredged up from the archives. Each picture is worth a thousand words and there are probably some smiles, a story, and aadrenaline rush behind them!
I was announcing the 2014 Ice Race Grand Championships in Cadillac, Michigan last weekend. I love riding motorcycles but age is rearing its ugly head as I am trying to back it down from racing. As I sat in my truck on the ice calling the races, bald eagles were occasionally soaring overhead. I have spent the last twenty years guiding guests on ecotours through my playground by boat and seeing eagles never gets old.
I was hoping the audience would appreciate me pointing it out when one of the birds came into view; after all, I was supposed to be watching the races. Did somebody say “squirrel”? One of the photographers captured some images of the birds flying above, so I know he appreciated it!
It is easy to sometimes take things for granted- family, friends, work, and recreation. Losing appreciation for the most fundamental and important things of our lives is easy when confronted with the barrage of extracurricular responsibilities. Here I was surrounded by friends, racing, and eagles, all I needed was family and my world would have been complete!
I have probably mentioned a hundred times in this blog about how lucky I am to be alive. I try to give thanks every day for my blessings and to give me the wisdom and strength to make the right choices and make someone smile. Life is too precious to waste, and I live to share it with others and help them see the beauty we are surrounded by. I have been heading out into the “Everglades of Michigan” and other beautiful places for over forty years now. I cannot remember one time I didn’t want to be there or not saying “thank you” for the opportunity. The trick is to treat everything that touches our lives every day with the same appreciation!
During 2014 Johnny Panther Quests will celebrate 20 years off showing of the good sides of Saginaw, Flint, and other parts of Michigan by boat. I am proud to share my playground with guests from all over the world, hearing their praise and encouragement is what keeps me going. It is still my desire to actually earn a living doing what I love, although the stresses with paying the bills constantly pressure me into a more stable line of work. There lies the problem, I love “Johnny Panthering”, and my guests pay me to do what I love! I have attached a link to a video “digest” of my 2013 season and as always the images don’t do the scenery justice.
The video includes breaking ice in the spring through the last trips in November. You can always see what we are currently doing on our Johnny Panther Quests Page on Facebook, although in the winter it is usually more about a different kind of adrenaline rush. The weather didn’t always cooperate in 2013 and we had more poptart thunderstorms than usual. I had the highest number of young people (younger than me anyways) bringing their families out for a little adventure, and several that experienced more than one of our tour locations.
You can view some of the videos compiled from last year on YouTube under the user name Mrlaidbacklenny. Pick a season, and you can probably find some images from some sort of adventure. We did pretty good spotting eagles this year and I had some guests that were really into birding and just nature in general. I am amazed at some of their travels and flattered that they would choose an adventure into the “Everglades of Michigan” with me. The icing on the cake is when they tell me how impressed they were by it! The memories I have come away with are priceless, and I often get lost in the images captured over the years.
My face has hurt from smiling and stomach from laughing. I have run trips all day and still gone back out in the evening just to watch the sunset or the moon come up. Sometimes I have hours in between trips and just take a siesta in the middle of nowhere and watch the world go by. I learn something new on every trip. High water changes the bottom, and during low water, sometimes I can actually see the bottom and all the stuff I’ve been running over for 35 years. It’s never easy, but always worth the elbow grease and logistics of making it happen. As always the worst part of the trip for me is returning to port.
I often tease my guests and tell them they must be living right when we are lucky enough to see a beaver or hear the wind through eagle’s wings. Driving past deer or herons as they gaze at us with disapproval for invading their sanctuary is what it is all about for me. I like to go fast, turn the fan on, and blow my hair back- but watching the moon rise as the sun sets is pretty incredible, sharing it with someone is what I live for!
I did a boat tour in November into the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge
with a couple that was dressed for bear so to speak. The weather was less
than ideal. Rain threatened and did as the wind blew the water out into
Saginaw Bay. The sky was overcast making for less than ideal photographic
opportunities, which was their primary focus. But, they were comfortable and
appreciative of our little adventure into the Flats. The water was
relatively clear in some spots and we were able to see the bottom
occasionally, revealing some of the many deadheads I've been running over my
whole life. We stopped in a couple of spots to stretch our legs and savor
the beauty that makes up the "Everglades of Michigan".
I feel blessed every time I am fortunate enough to get out there, and
recall many adventures into the swamp on days like this. Sometimes with
friends and sometimes solo, each brings its own style of drama. Sheltered in
a small tributary the water flowed imperceptibly by black with tannin. The
wind roared through the trees above our heads like a giant generator as
swans and cranes could be heard in the distance.
I remember coming in here as a kid, stalking the deer and eventually
finding my way to the water's edge. Much older now I feel myself being
absorbed by my surroundings as I try to hone my senses, disappearing into
the landscape. Silently swaying with the wind and trees as I watch countless
birds fly over as the water rushes to the Bay- this is what it is all about
for me. I heard a stomp and a snort as a healthy 4 point buck catches a
glimpse of me and alerts all within his range. The wind is in my favor, yet
he still spotted me at least 100 yards away. As he retreated a monster
non-typical raised his head from the tall weeds and ran the smaller buck
I watched in awe and tried my best to capture his image so far away. He
warily made his way along the water's edge; occasionally raising his head to
make sure none got close enough to have a chance at his hide. He was old,
smart, and a pleasure to observe. Yup, as Don used to say; "It doesn't get
any better than this!" on a cold, windy day- getting back in touch with my
roots in the Shiawassee Flats!
Last week I took a couple out on a dramatic afternoon. The wind blew a lot of the water out into the Bay, and as the sun set, a few clouds blew in to give the sky a little texture. The air was sweet with the smell of Fall, and the migrations were starting to pick up. Here is a link to a little piece of a beautiful afternoon shared in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.