The Mighty Oaks of Ottawa Lake

“I got to liberate an oak tree!  It felt great.”  I was struck when Cameron Barker, a volunteer from the UW-Whitewater environmental group S.A.G.E., said that when introducing himself at the State Natural Areas workday at Little Kestol Prairie.

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He was referring to the work he did at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening back in February and it made me feel as John Nada, the protagonist from the science fiction classic They Live, might have when he encountered another person that could see.

I’ve had that liberating feeling as well these past two weeks cutting buckthorn on the steep hillsides between Ottawa Lake and the campground.  Dick Jenks and I started in the area just below the handicap accessible cabin and worked our way south past site #388 to where the bluff gives way to the beach.

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We continued this past Wednesday and Friday, working both south and north of the cabin.  On the map below, the upper red line represents the area we cleared last year, and the lower line shows where we have cleared this year.

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Alfred Korzybski said: “The map is not the territory”, but the bird’s eye view below will help bring it closer to life.  Zoom in and note the contrast in water color near the shore.  I thought the map was fuzzy there, but it is the surprising emerald color of the water that threw me off.

The views of the lake from the bluff, sans buckthorn, are simply beautiful.  I wish I could show you the pictures I took on Wednesday, but I unconsciously deleted them somehow.  Below are before and after videos and they do capture some of it.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day with a steady west wind pushing waves across the deep blue center of the lake into the emerald eastern shore.

There are some mighty oaks indeed along the shore and bluff below site #388 and I couldn’t wait to get back there yesterday to finish liberating this regal specimen, which, until Wednesday, had been completely encircled on the north side as well.

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The buckthorn look puny compared to the massive oak, but they were huge for their kind.

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It’s hard to capture a big tree in a single photo.  I’m going to have to learn how to stitch multiple shots together into a panoramic view to do justice.

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I then moved to the hillside below campsite #382 to continue the clearing we began in front of the cabin.

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There were some massive buckthorns at the base of the hill.

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Yes, “I got to liberate an oak tree.  It felt great!”

The view from the deck in front of the cabin is glorious; and what a great place to watch birds from!  I accidentally deleted the incredibly classic “sun setting over Ottawa Lake” pics I took on Wednesday, so I’ll leave you with the return of garlic mustard instead.

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I’m not spraying any poison on the garlic mustard, so I’m hoping you will come out and help pull it.

See you at The Springs!

 

 

 

The Ruby Spring

Melanie’s brow furrowed focusing energy from her third eye as she studied the weather beaten old sign she found in a closet at the DNR maintenance shop.  It was done in the style of the signs at the Scuppernong Springs that she replaced last year with her volunteer trail crew and it read: The Ruby Spring.  “Hmmmm…” she thought, “I’ll bet The Buckthorn Man knows where The Ruby Spring is.”

There are stories behind each of the springs you’ll find along the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and I invite you to share yours on our new Facebook Page.   You may have grown up with The Springs like Pete Nielsen or Steve Brasch, or you’ve been coming for a long time, like John and Sue, or Dick and Shirley, or Terry and Lisa.  Share your favorite memories and pictures of The Springs on our Facebook timeline.

“Ruby Spring”, “Ruby Spring”, I thought “…is this in the Land of OZ?”  Melanie and I made a date to meet with Ron Kurowski, at the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association‘s annual meeting, to learn the story of this spring.  The amphitheater at Forest Headquarters was alive with many excited faces and voices when I arrived.

Ben Johnson and Zach Kastern.

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Ron Kurowski, retired DNR naturalist, and Chris Mann, owner of Kettle Moraine Land Stewards LLC.

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My spiritual father, Mike Fort.

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Don Reed, Chief Biologist with the SEWRPC, making opening remarks.

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Ron Kurowski and Paul Sandgren, Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit drawing lucky numbers.

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Matt Zine, a conservation biologist and longtime leader of the State Natural Areas crew in southern Wisconsin, took us for a walk down memory lane, or rather, through an oak savannah landscape, as he explained what God and Man have wrought to put us in the state we are today, and why it is important to understand and take action.   Thanks for the great presentation Matt!

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It was a pleasure to meet Dan Carter, a member of SEWRC’s environmental planning staff after Matt’s presentation.  Ben Johnson joined us and that led to the parking lot, where Dan identified the seed/spore heads of a fern that Ben and Karen found in the wet prairie just west of the Indian Spring.  Just then, DNR trail boss, Don Dane, arrived to take me into the inner sanctum of the maintenance facilities to pick up two huge seed bags: one with a dry mesic prairie mix, and the other with a wet prairie mix.  Thanks again to Don Dane and Amanda Prange for organizing and leading the seed gathering volunteer workdays!

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After Don left, Ben and I wondered if we needed to wet the seed or mix it with anything prior to sowing.  I couldn’t reach Don, who was already engaged on a project with the Ice Age Trail Alliance, so we headed back to the amphitheater to get some expert advice.  I invited Melanie to join us and we found Ron busy in a back office.  He explained that we could just sow the seed as is, and we talked about lightly raking afterwards, and then Ron shared the secret of The Ruby Spring.

After THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG were drained in the early nineties, the DNR began the slow process of rehabilitating the Scuppernong River stream bed, which had been submerged under 3-5 feet of water for over 100 years and was thus thoroughly silted in with marl.  It was quickly apparent that they needed to name the springs to facilitate planning, meeting and, bringing them to life in the mind’s eye.

In the middle of the valley left when the upper pond was drained, they found the largest complex of springs on the property.  A red algae made its home there giving the waters a distinct ruby color, hence the name: The Ruby Spring.  As the restoration work progressed and the environment changed, the red algae disappeared and the bubbling spring pools located at the end of the observation deck took on an emerald hue, and were rechristened The Emerald Springs.  The names evoke ruby slippers and emerald cities for me.

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Ben and I headed straight for the sand prairie, aka, the Indian Campground, and began sowing the dry mesic prairie seed at the intersection of the main trail with the spur trail that leads down to the Indian Spring.  This is an area where we dug out a lot of spotted knapweed last year and the soil is bare.

The plant below has heretofore escaped my identification skills.  I suspected it was an invasive plant, but which one?  Ben suggested we send a picture to Dan Carter.

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Dan responded quickly that it was motherwort and advised us not to worry too much about it because it will give way to native plants as we introduce them or they re-emerge.  It’s not fair to characterize this plant as a weed, which, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, is: “A plant whose virtues have never been discovered”, given its long history of use as an herb.

We had enough seed to cover a huge area of the sand prairie and it will be exciting to watch the results develop (I will publish the seed lists here when I get them.)

After our labors were done, we went for a walk intending to explore the trail south along the marl pit.  Along the way we met Jill Bedford, who works with the Tall Pines Conservancy, and switched gears to give her the grand tour of The Springs.  Jill is involved in writing grants to conserve and restore land and it was exciting to hear of all the developments in her world.  We got up to the sand prairie just in time to watch the sunset.

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My weekend at The Springs was only half over and I returned on Sunday to sow the wet prairie seeds in the many, many burn rings left from our work in the Buckthorn Alley and the Cut-off Trail.

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After the last seeds were sown, I returned to the cabin at Ottawa Lake, where Dick Jenks and I cut buckthorn last week, to “mop up” with my brush cutter.

I tried using a little sponge to daub poison on the little buckthorn stubs and it worked pretty well; a lot less waste than if I would have used a sprayer.  The view from the deck is really nice.

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See you at The Springs!

 

 

 

Adventure in South Africa

When The Buckthorn Man retired early from the Quiet Company back in February 2012, he made a deal with his mate that he would help her with her business.  Pati always dreamed about taking her work as a Guild Certified Feldenkrais® and Anat Baniel Method™ for Children practitioner on the road, and she recently accepted an invitation to work with special needs children in South Africa. I’m going to put my chainsaw down for the month of May and help Pati on her big adventure.  We’ll be staying at the beautiful Umtamvuna River Lodge, just upstream from the Indian Ocean on the eastern side of South Africa.  We plan on doing a week of touring after 3 weeks of Pati’s intensive work with the children.   I can’t wait!

Is it just a coincidence that I was listening to Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs when Pati first heard about the opportunity in South Africa and decided to pursue it?  And was it just a coincidence that I listened to Mark Twain’s classic time travel novel, A Connecticut Yankee In King Aurthur’s Court, just prior to embarking on my own trip through time?   Think twice before you pick out your next book!

Well, I’m going to get my licks in on the buckthorn that is crowding the hillside on the east shore of Ottawa Lake before I go.  Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit, asked us to focus on the area below the handicap accessible cabin at the Ottawa Lake campground.

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I’m trying to learn how to use my Canon G15 camera and accidentally left it on a weird setting, so all of my “before” shots are hopelessly blurry.  But, Dick Jenks can back me up when I say there was a lot of nasty buckthorn there.

It was a gorgeous day; perfect for cutting buckthorn!  Ben Johnson and I are planning on returning this Saturday with a brush cutter to clear the little stuff and do some piling.  The “after” pictures below are of the area around and below the cabin panning from north to south.

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I was glad to have Dick Jenks and his dog Zeus there to help!

I had scheduled a week camping at My Shangri-La in April and May, but with the trip to South Africa, I’ll have to wait until August for my next reservation.  I’m looking forward to seeing the stars, skies, sunrises and sunsets from the perspective of the southern hemisphere; I’ve never been south of the equator.

From Ottawa Lake I headed over to The Springs to rake out ash rings from all the brush piles we burned.  DNR trail boss, Don Dane, is going to give us some seed to sow on the barren soil.  He also has seed for the sand prairie that we will be sowing.  Is there anything more fun than sowing seed?

I took a nice, meditative, walk after my labors were done.

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See you at The Springs!

 

 

The Buckthorn Barrow

Don’t miss the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association’s annual meeting at 10:30am on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit Headquarters, located 3 miles west of Eagle on Hwy 59.  We couldn’t do the work we do at The Springs without the support of the KMNHA!  Come and see what this great organization is all about.

Conservation Biologist Matthew Zine, Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation (formerly the Bureau of Endangered Resources), will present a program on “State Natural Areas in the Kettle Moraine”.  The program will cover the 12 State Natural Areas found throughout the area of the Southern Kettle Moraine and describe their special qualities and their management concerns.

This program is open to all members and their guests (If anyone asks, tell them The Buckthorn Man sent you.)  Membership applications are available at the State Forest Headquarters.

A short business meeting will follow the program.

Refreshments will be served and door prizes awarded.

The brush pile burning season at The Springs is finally over and, unfortunately, Matt Wilhelm, a volunteer with the North Prairie Fire Department, who also works for the DNR in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit, had to put out the last fire.  I was wandering around the sand prairie watching the sun go down, and Marty driving his skid steer loader north, home bound on Hwy 67, when I saw the lights of his 4-wheeler heading to the site where Dick Jenks, Rich Csavoy and l burned piles earlier in the day.

It was a calm night and there was no chance of any of the fires spreading, but the glowing embers from a few of the fires were visible from Hwy 67 and someone called it in.  That prompted a call from Paul Sandgren, the Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit, and he explained that the DNR was reviewing their prescribed burning procedures and that no more burning should be done until that review is complete.  That’s OK with me, the conditions this past Sunday were a little dicey and we stopped lighting piles early because of our safety concerns.  Thanks to Matt for completing the mop up!

We are looking for a wheelbarrow donation!  If you have one, new or used, we’d like to leave it at The Springs near the buckthorn firewood piles that Dick Jenks is preparing.

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I want to paint The Buckthorn Barrow on the sides and hopefully campers from Ottawa Lake will utilize it to haul the buckthorn firewood to their vehicles.  Thanks Dick!

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Sunday was a busy day at The Springs and I met many new and old friends.  I was on my way to clear a large red oak that had fallen across the trail near the Emerald Springs (thanks to John Hrobar for notifying me!) when I met Lester Crisman.  Check out his photos, including this beautiful shot of the river just upstream from the gaging station bridge.

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I was soon joined by Dick and Rich and we commenced to prepping, lighting and tending brush piles along the north east rim of the loop trail between the old barn site and signpost #13.

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Ben Johnson, and his wife Karen, stopped to visit on their tour of all the birdhouses to collect fresh GPS points.  Ben was not satisfied with the accuracy of the data he got the first time around.  Let us know if you spot any birds moving in!

As we broke for lunch, I happened to look up and see a line of flames spreading east into the woods from one of the brush piles.  We put the creeping fires out quickly and focused on tending the burning piles from that point on.

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As I was mopping up, I was greeted by the friendly faces of Mark Duerwachter and his daughter Karri.  Mark is the son of Robert Duerwachter, the author of THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG and Karri helped Robert format and edit the book.  Mark agreed to help me persuade Robert to meet me at The Springs for a video interview!

As I was taking my equipment back to my truck along the trail near the old barn site, I saw someone standing in the river.  Who was that?  I loaded my gear and drove over to the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ just in time to meet Scott C., the trout fisherman.  That was the first time I saw anyone fishing in the river!

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After chatting with Scott, I headed down the trail for my evening stroll.

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When I got into the the upper river valley, I could hear the sound of Marty’s skid steer loader and I hastened to the south end of the trail hoping to talk with him about his plans to repair the damage done by his heavy machine.  Marty, with lots of help from Carl Baumann, has been harvesting dead black locust trees for firewood.

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I missed him and was surprised to see him from the sand prairie driving his machine slowly north on Hwy 67 to his home some 3 miles away.  Marty called me last night and assured me that as soon as the frost is out of the ground and things dry up a bit, he will return to clean up the slash and repair the skid steer scars.

As I was watching the sun go down, I heard the call of a sand hill crane behind me to the east and turned to watch in amazement as two birds glided overhead not more than 20 feet above me.  I watched hundreds of cranes lazily floating north in wave after wave all afternoon.  It is remarkable to contrast the apparent effort exerted by cranes versus that of geese.

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See you at The Springs!

Order Out Of Chaos

When I returned to work at The Springs almost 3 years ago, I found it in a state of utter chaos.  Buckthorn crowded every trail and cloistered every view.  The Indian Springs were hard to find amidst an impenetrable tangle of brush.  The Sand Prairie was spiked with half burned, dead and dying, red and black oak and black locust trees.  The Scuppernong River was choked with water cress and the Hillside and Hidden Springs were lonely places no longer visible or visited.  The river valley was dominated by phragmites, cattails and brush, and aspen encroached from every side.  Weeds like garlic mustard and spotted knapweed forced the native grasses and flowers to cower and hide.

Slowly but surely, the Super Friends♥ of the Scuppernong Springs are working diligently to bring order out of the chaos.  Yesterday, Rich Csavoy and I finished burning the brush piles in the Buckthorn Alley; it looks like a war zone, and I can’t wait until it greens up (skunk cabbage is already emerging.)  The south end of the trail, where Carl and Marty are harvesting black locust trees with chain saws and a skid steer loader, looks like a war zone too.  The transition from chaos to order is a little like making sausage, and what, exactly, do I mean by “order”?  Tom, one of the birders (he’s a snow bird himself) who keeps his peepers peeled, warned me a couple years ago, “now don’t go turning this place into a park!”

Do we equate “order” with a return to a natural state?  That’s not possible; human hands have worked the land for thousands of years.  For me, and, if I dare speak for my Super Friends♥, our goal at The Springs is to return the landscape, and its flora and fauna, to the pre-settlement condition that the first inhabitants of the land defined as “order”.  I think they were on to something.

Getting rid of the buckthorn is an obvious first step to bringing order out of the chaos and I returned to the buckthorn alley again yesterday to put a torch to piles that Andy Buchta made.  I can’t thank Andy enough for the work he did this past winter.  He closely monitored when we cut, and when the next snow was forecast, and consistently worked in nasty conditions to pile the brush, thus setting the table for us to complete the cleanup effort.

Here is what we faced at the east end of the buckthorn alley.

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Rich Csavoy arrived just as I finished documenting the “before” scene and he had his own “Order Out Of Chaos” story to tell.  Rich, along with others from the Jerusalem Presbyterian and Rock Prairie Presbyterian churches joined HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) on a mission to help the people of Peking and Washington, Illinois, rebuild from the devastating tornadoes that ripped through their homes last November.  Rich’s crew was assigned the task of “car siding” the interior of a cabin.

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That’s Rich in the bibs front row center.

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I knew it was going to be a good day with Rich at my side!  We burned a lot of piles and made it all the way to end of the buckthorn alley.

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While we were working Andy Buchta came by looking for the last couple spots that needed piling.  I directed him to the area under a beautiful oak on the east side of the wetland by signpost #13 and he got after it.

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Thanks again Andy!

This past Sunday, I ran into Super Friend♥ Jim Davee armed with tools and a replacement sign for the spur trail that leads to the Emerald Spring.  I was thrilled to see his handiwork!

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Thanks for bringing order to the chaos Jim!

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At the south end of the trail I ran into Carl and Marty harvesting black locust trees for firewood.  This is a win-win situation; they get great firewood and remove the eyesores that these dead hulks are.  The land will heal quickly from the scars of the skid steer loader.

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Finally, I made my way to the south point of the Scupernong Springs Nature Preserve property to take a look at the progress that DNR trial boss, Don Dane, has made with the forestry mower (see the end of this post to see the results of his first day mowing.)

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What a day!  As I headed back to my truck, I had a wonderful feeling thinking of the many people contributing to transform The Springs from chaos to order.  Thank you all!

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See you at The Springs!

p.s.  I just got the notice for the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association’s Annual Friends meeting at 10:30am on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit Headquarters, located 3 miles west of Eagle on Hwy 59.  This is a lot of fun, hope to see you there.  Click image below to read the details.

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Open House

Thanks to Ben Johnson there has been a bird-housing boom at the Scuppernong Springs.  On March 13, Ben put up 26 woodland bird houses and this past Sunday, Pati, Mark Miner and I helped him put up 4 more woodland bird houses and 20 bluebird houses.  He made all of the houses with scrap wood salvaged from work.  Ben captured the GPS locations of all the houses and he is planning to convert the data to GIS so he can accurately display the locations on maps of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve.   By the way, check out the new topo maps of The Springs.  We hope to overlay the trail map from the brochure over one of the topo maps.  That would be cool.

Sunday morning was cold, but that was a good thing because we were able to walk over ice to get to some of the bluebird house sites.  Ben and Pati putting up the first house near signpost #1.

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A new house erected between the gaging station and marl pit bridges.

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The views of channel restoration work the DNR Fisheries team did last year.

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Ben mounts a woodland birdhouse near the Indian Spring.

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Mark Miner was interested in monitoring bluebirds and heard about our efforts at The Springs at a DNR volunteer information meeting.  We are very happy to have Mark join us, and he provided invaluable assistance yesterday as I continued burning brush piles in the Buckthorn Alley.

The morning started off cold — what’s new — but I warmed up fast.

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The wind blustered occasionally and was steady enough all day to make it relatively easy to start fires.  I was able to light piles all the way around the corner.

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Two huge, dead, black oaks caught fire and Mark and I agreed; they had to come down.

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Mark worked with the Forestry Service for 8 years and he is very experienced!  He fetched the red buckets shown above that enabled us to put the fires out that were raging in the fallen black oak.  Thanks Mark!

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I was too pooped to count the piles, but I’m guessing we lit around 35.  Here are a few parting shots from my evening stroll.

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See you at The Springs!

 

Time Is An Illusion

Einstein was right; there is no time, there is only a series of present moments and our mission, ‘if we choose to accept it’, is to be fully conscious as we experience them.

I’ve been challenged to intimately share present moments with a dear friend who suffered a stroke and his worst nightmare come true i.e., falling under the control of medical doctors, who rushed to put tubes down his nose, into his arm and up his penis, while infusing him with Seroquel.  Yes, he did suffer brain damage, but being infantilized and drugged is what is killing him now.  I tried to help — too hard — and only succeeded in aggravating him into a livid rage.  I wish I could have been more aware in the present moments that lead to that debacle.

That reminds me of the Moody Blues tune: Don’t You Feel Small.

We measure the illusion of time (hows that for an oxymoron?) via the movement of celestial bodies, and I took note on the vernal equinox of the sun’s position on the horizon when it set.

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I’m getting a better feel for the earth’s tilt as I watch the sunsets night after night at The Springs and I’m humbled to consider the inductive ingenuity of Copernicus and his fellow astronomers.  On the first day of Spring I ran into Melanie Kapinos leading a group of sun worshipers as they observed the season changing ever-so-slowly at The Springs.

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The persistent Winter is my opportunity to burn as many brush piles as I can along the Buckthorn Alley, and I got after it this past Monday and Thursday burning 22 and 25 piles respectively.  Here is how it looked when I arrived on Monday.

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It was a fine day and I tried to leave my worries behind and focus on igniting recalcitrant brush piles.

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I was cheered by the songs of hundreds of red-winged blackbirds as I toured The Springs at the end of the day.

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Sundown Monday.

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Thursday was a carbon copy of Monday, but it bears repeating!  Dick Jenks helped out in the morning by prepping and tending piles.

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I was burdened all day with regret about upsetting my bedridden buddy.  Hopefully, I’ll be wiser for it.

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I always call the Waukesha Sheriff’s Dispatch and DNR trail boss, Don Dane, before and after burning brush piles and yesterday afternoon, Don informed me that he had been working at the south end of The Springs all day mowing the Scuppernong River Habitat area on the west side of Hwy 67 down to Mckeawn Springs.

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Vernal equinox on the sand prairie.

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See you at The Springs!