by Mike Christie
A metal revolving door creaks in a whiny fashion as it is pushed. As if entering a new world that branches off the suburban one behind, the other side of the door opens up to dense deciduous forest. Littered on the forest floor lies a flower whose petals wear the appearance of the white snow that sits in their place come the winter months. Their stem a yellow color that rivals the sun which sustains them. This is the tritium flower, who, although is a rare presence in Southeast Michigan, resides here, in Royal Oak, Michigan’s city block of forest known as Tenhave Woods. A patch of Oaks and Maples and other trees that reside along paths constructed by local boy scout troops and who sit gathered on the edge of dragonfly pond, the bog holding anything from stray golf balls from the field along side it, to microscopic organisms local students study.
Tenhave Woods represents a life that has left us. A reality that before us humans was common, but now no longer. It features the last of what Royal Oak and Southeastern Michigan once was, forest so thick that the earliest of explorers would have been hesitant to venture into them, wetlands so muddy come Spring that walking through them is like walking across the gum-lined cement of a little league baseball dugout.
Growing from its ground is the previously mentioned tritium flower. An elusive species that has all but been wiped out in Southeastern Michigan due to deer grazing. Royal Oak naturalist Ted Vickers, who also sits on the board of the Royal Oak Nature society, said that Tenhave Woods is “quite possibly one of the best sources of wildflowers in all of Southeast Michigan because of their trillium population.” A surprising fact for a plot of woods located amidst Detroit’s suburban sprawl.
Although the tritium, trees, and bird songs of Tenhave Woods can be dated back hundreds of years, its tie to colonial America originates in the year 1831. In that year, according to a document put together by the Royal Oak Nature Society, a man by the name of Sam Goodwin purchased the land that Tenhave Woods sits on today. He stretched his farming fields to the bog mentioned previously, which we refer to today as dragonfly pond. That bog was what stopped his expansion and is also the reason why the woods are as they are today, untouched. A welcomed glorification to a patch of water perhaps best known for its infestation of the Midwest’s most notorious little demons, mosquitos.
And now, because of the valiant effort of a bog that refused to move, or rather, a bog that was stuck in its ways, the building that now sits near where Sam Goodwin’s farmhouse once was, Royal Oak Highs School, reaps the benefit of this ecosystem untouched. Royal Oak AP Environmental science teacher David Barnett finds the woods especially useful for field studies for his students.
“Students enjoy surveying the biodiversity in the pond, studying succession in the trees, and searching for different trophic levels,” Barnett said.
But that’s not the only reason students love Tenhave Woods. A place with such thick cover and located as close to a high school as Tenhave Woods is can often play host to other… experiments. One that Royal Oak High School teachers would not be quite as fond of.
The wafting smell of marijuana is not uncommon, and the unfortunate scattering of cigarette butts distract from a place begging to be experienced rather than used as a hiding place. But the experiments aren’t the only reason students venture back into the woods. They also provide relief from the school stress that comes to students, with some forming groups to go eat their lunches in the woods together when the days allow.
A hiding place is perhaps what Tenhave Woods is more than anything else. Whether in regard to Royal Oaks high school youth, the occasional homeless person and their lean-to. But also for a variety of species. Species that most Royal Oak residents might be surprised to hear reside in the same city limits as them. Walking along the paths of Tenhave Woods is like walking through a biological hall of fame for Midwest American organisms. According to Ted Vickers, there are an estimated 300 species of plant in the woods that span one square block, and perhaps more when mosses and grasses are counted. Although the oaks and maples make their presence felt most these days in the woods, years ago chestnut trees called this place home as well. Walking through such diversity of species is a reminder that these woods, although suburban, refuse to adhere to the ethnic polarization that Detroit and its suburbs struggle with so mightily.
Trees aren’t the only species of diversity in these woods though. The fauna would surprise many who live near the protected patch of greenery. From the ever mysterious and stoic great horned owl to cautious and curious coyotes, the woods are a breeding ground for that which we thought had left as we humans arrived. Yet out of all the animals, the one who is most known to the woods, perhaps because of their infamous reputation, are the deer.
Those tritium, the same ones that Vickers said made Tenhave Woods so appealing, just so happen to be the favorite snack of the timid deer that roam the same woods. There are plenty of deer around, but there’s not all that much of the flowers whose appearance is a cross between sun and snow. Because of this, the Royal Oak Nature Society has raised the fences and driven out the deer, making this place even more of a bizarre suburban mystery.
Yet as the fences rise higher and higher and the human impression upon Tenhave Woods is felt more and more, the little world inside pushes mightily on. Dedicating itself to a cause it hasn’t had to dedicate itself to at all, because all it has done is simply be. Simply remain consistent amidst all the chaos. And as students and homeless people and dog walkers pass through, Tenhave woods and its creaking gates that open up to this other world amidst all our suburban distraction welcomes them all. As if paying no mind to the fact that it resides in a suburb, because, after all, it was there first. A suburb merely resides around it.