Ben Johnson — Expanding the Green Dream

It’s been almost a year since Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit, introduced me to Ben Johnson and his contributions at The Springs have been gaining momentum ever since.  From his first, fearless, dead of Winter, forays in the Buckthorn Alley wielding a decidedly underwhelming chainsaw — to his latest step building project using recycled buckthorn logs on the sand prairie — Ben has demonstrated natural creativity and indefatigable enthusiasm.  Let’s take a look at some of his recent accomplishments and find out what makes Mr. Johnson tick (his words are indented in italics below.)

Is it an obsession, a religion, a deep metaphysical connection to our primal ancestral past?  I’m not quite sure why some of us have the ability to see and feel the natural world, while others have no association whatsoever to the land. That’s a pretty judgmental assumption to make, but quite simply, some people get it and others don’t. The Aboriginal People of Australia believe in “dreamtime,” a spirit world where they can transcend space and time. Maybe there are a few of us that are fortunate enough to journey into a green dream: a mindset or inquisitive state of consciousness where we can actually speak the language of ecology. And it’s absolutely a journey. Nobody just walks into the woods and is given this gift. We have to work at it, study, inspect. We must experience the rain on our faces, see the first buds open, and the last leaves fall to the ground, the progression, the phenology of the landscape.

On September 4th, Ben bugged out of work early and headed straight for the gaging station bridge to do a little stream bank remediation.  The view downstream before he got started on that steamy afternoon.

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And after…

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Seen from the left bank.

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A few years back, after investing a good many years in college, and a solid decade trying to capture an income under a fluorescent enclosed sky, I asked myself, “does any of this make me happy? Ok, then what would?” I felt there was only one route to take, and that was in a natural setting, far away from the corporate path I had chosen. It’s not quite so easy to dump ones routine and dive into a new career. I have plenty of experience in the “green industry”, but the world of commercial landscaping is a far cry from ecological stewardship. To get to where I wanted to be, I felt that education was the key component. So I again enrolled in the university. I chose to pursue an MA in Environmental Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

One of the first things Ben noticed when he began volunteering at The Springs, a fact I lamented as well, was that there were no benches anywhere along the trail to rest one’s weary bones.  We talked about it many times and I know the satisfaction Ben must have felt when he finally got a chance to do something about it.  On Saturday, September 6th, he did some erosion control at the edge of the stone wall at the Scuppernong Spring and installed one of his custom benches using red oak pedestals foraged from a pile up the trail where the source tree had fallen across the path.

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On Sunday I joined Ben and we picked out 4 more pedestals, loaded our wheel barrows with two more benches, and headed for the Indian Spring.

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The bench design couldn’t be simpler and they are surprisingly stable when screwed into thick oak stumps.

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The views from the bench, looking right and left, of the some of the springs that comprise the Indian Springs.

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You get a great view of the prairie to the west as well.

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There is no such thing as a free lunch, so on top of the scholastic pursuit, I began volunteering at the Wildlife in Need Center as an animal rehabilitation technician and this soon evolved into showcasing wildlife at educational events. The next step, and it felt like the natural one to take, was to find a habitat or ecosystem to immerse myself in, and take the time to learn the land. The Southern Kettle Moraine DNR volunteer coordinator pointed me towards Paul Mozina and the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. I wouldn’t say that I found a blank slate to work, it was more like a Jackson Pollack painted over the top of a Thomas Cole.

We took the other bench up to the sand prairie and, amazingly, Ben picked one of my favorite spots, from which you get a classic view of the Scuppernong River winding westward, to plant the bench.

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The view from the bench.

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These conveniently located resting places cost almost nothing to build, and only a few minutes to install, yet they had gone wanting for years.

In due time, I came to understand that the work at the Springs was the practice of restoration ecology, be it in the river, the sand prairie, or knee deep in the snow removing buckthorn. Vegetation is a monster to ID, learn, and control in itself, but I felt the fauna of the area deserved attention as well. I used the skills gained through osmosis as the son of a carpenter (thanks Dad) to build fifty nesting boxes for various woodland and prairie species. I would like to think that the overall avian population at the property increased as a result of this project. That’s the restoration, let’s bring back what’s native to the Springs.

The morning passed quickly and in the afternoon I headed over to the buckthorn alley to cut the buckthorn resprouts and seedlings that flourished there with my brush cutter.  Ben had other plans.  There are two trails that descend from the sand prairie down to the Indian Springs and they converge along the edge of the outflow stream forming a little loop trail.  Both trails are pure sand and suffering from erosion, so Ben decided to build some stairs.

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Ben plans to finish the steps on this path and then tackle the more deeply eroded trail that leads directly down to the Indian Spring.

Johnson, another carpenter’s son, loves to work with his hands on wood.  We saw some of his handiwork resurrecting the deck near the Scuppernong Spring.  Thursday after work, he stopped out with his friend and coworker, Glen Rhinesmith, and replaced the missing toe boards on the boardwalk leading to the Emerald Spring.

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While Ben worked, I got to show Glen around The Springs and I learned way more from him than he did from me.  Glen has a great eye, two in fact, and deep, deep knowledge about plants, fish, birds and the natural world, not to mention photography and ham radios.  I hope to post some of his pictures of The Springs here soon.  Here are just a few of the interesting things he pointed out to me.

Blue Milk Mushrooms.

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Indian Pipe.

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Evening Primrose, which Glen explained attracts moths and smells like lemon!

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Ben and Glen.

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Though I thought the day would never come, I have reached the final course in the Master’s degree program at UIS, the capstone internship. With the help of Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the KMSF – Southern Unit, I secured my graduate internship with the WDNR at the Springs. We have outlined projects and areas of need on the property. First priority is invasive vegetation, followed by trail improvements and accessibility. The fisheries team has also given me the opportunity to learn about stream restoration. It’s an honor to have such a beautiful classroom in which to work. This is the place where I enter the green dreamworld. I carry on a conversation with the land. It’s a very Leopoldian concept. Restoration ecology is an ethical practice, deciding what is right for the landscape.

Thanks Ben!  It’s a pleasure to work with you.

I got a few licks in myself this past week cutting buckthorn resprouts and seedlings along the trail from the parking lot on Hwy ZZ all the way to the end of the Buckthorn Alley.

The spotted knapweed flower weevils we released in early August appear to be doing well and I have spotted them munching seedheads on the south end of the prairie and in the huge patch of knapweed to the east of the Indian Spring spur trail.  I am leaving these remaining mature knapweed plants for the weevils despite the fact that they are loaded with seeds.  There are lots of first year plants that do not have flowers, and that are far from where I released the root weevils (they migrate less than 100 yards a year), that I may dig out yet this season.

I love the view from the Scuppernong Spring as the late afternoon sunlight illuminates the valley.

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Sunset out on the marl pit canal looking East towards the sand prairie.

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Looking south…

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… then north

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Last Monday evening at the marl pit bridge.

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Sunset on the south end of the sand prairie.

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See you at The Springs!

p.s. I’m taking a week off to relax with Pati at a cabin up north on Lake Owen.

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.

Upland/Dry seeds:
Prairie dropseed
Sand dropseed
Rough Blazingstar
Wild rose
Boneset
Prairie smoke

Wet/Prairie mix:
Prairie blazingstar
Brown-eyed susans
Bottle gentian
Blue valarian
Swamp sunflower
Cord grass
Little bluestem
Big bluestem
Compass plant
Prairie dock
Indian plantain

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!

 

 

 

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!

Buckthorn Alley Breakthrough

It took me two years working at The Springs to get my courage up to tackle the Buckthorn Alley.  Or, maybe it was that I was focused on what I thought were the more scenic parts of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail that caused the delay. I avoided even walking this section of trail, but, as is typically the case, ignoring the problem did not make it go away.

In April 2013 I made a start at it, but the weeds of summer came early and I discovered the advantages of following their phenology to identify the best ways and times to attack them. Finally, in late November 2013, I returned to the Buckthorn Alley with Ben Johnson, Andy Buchta, Dick Jenks, Jim Davee and Zach Kastern determined to change the status quo. Now, after 3 months of consistent, team effort, we have finally, reminiscent of our efforts on the “Lost Trail” in the fall of 2012, broken through to the other side.

When I arrived yesterday, it was really great to see that Andy Buchta had piled all of the buckthorn that I cut the last time out, and the table was set for me to get right to work.

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The end of the Buckthorn Alley in sight.

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This long, cold, winter season has been perfect for working in this very wet, marshy area. I’m not going to cut anymore along the trail here for now and will focus, while the snow cover lasts, on piling and burning what has already been cut. So, here are the final results along the buckthorn alley for this season. In the fall, we’ll work on the north side of the trail to reveal the oak groves there.

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I was able to significantly broaden the clearing between the north side trail, aka, the Buckthorn Alley, and the cut-off trail, aka the “Lost Trail”. The downward pointing blue arrow below indicates the newly cleared area and the upward pointing arrow represents the perspective from the cut-off trail shown in the video below.

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Here are a couple of views of late winter at The Springs.

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And the fire that warmed me all day.

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See you at The Springs!

Kettle Moraine Natural History Association

Well, it’s that time of year.  No, not when you start to go crazy anticipating spring weather, it’s Tax Time.  What?  You haven’t started working on your taxes yet?  Pati and I sat down today to collect the numbers and I was reminded of how critical the support of the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association (KMNHA is on Facebook) is to the restoration work we are doing at The Springs.  Oh, and the brand new pair of steel-toed muck boots I wore yesterday working in the Buckthorn Alley were also a great reminder as well.

The Kettle Moraine Natural History Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping preserve the features of outstanding interest in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Kettle Moraine Natural History Association generates financial support through gift shop sales, donations, and membership dues. It has provided matching funds for Stewardship grants.  (Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit)

Speaking of grants, last April the KMNHA played an instrumental role in the DNR winning a $75,000 NAWCA grant to continue the restoration of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, the largest wet prairie east of the Mississippi.

Let me introduce you to the KMNHA board:

The KMNHA is a great organization and their, always entertaining and informative, annual meeting is coming up soon.  Reach out to Ron Kurowski at:
Kettle Moraine Natural History Association
S91 W39091 Hwy 59
Eagle, WI 53119
or, visit the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit headquarters to pick up an application, and join the KMNHA and you’ll receive their excellent quarterly publication The Scuppernong Journal.  Here’s a sample to wet your appetite.
The Scuppernong Journal
With all the rain we had this past Thursday, I was glad to have on my new pair of muck boots yesterday; the slush was just an inch or two below the surface of the snow.  I’ll try to contain my excitement as I describe the work on the last stretch of the Buckthorn Alley (well, the last stretch of the south side of the trail that is.)  The first thing I noticed was that Andy Buchta had piled all of the brush that Ben, Zach and I cut last tuesday.
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I really appreciate the way Andy just sees what needs to be done and does it.  That enabled me to get right to work on the trail.
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The blustery weather continued all day and blew the clouds away.
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I cut a swath through the woods to open views to the hills on the south side of the Scuppernong River.

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I couldn’t wait to drop my gear off at the truck and take a walk on the cut-off trail to see the effects of the days work from another perspective.  In the center of pictures below you can faintly make out the wetland adjoining the Buckthorn Alley trail, where I spent the day and where we have been focused for the last couple months.
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Here are a few views from my favorite spots along the loop trail.
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Another glorious sunset.
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See you at The Springs!

Buckthorn Alley Rumble

I’ve never been in a street fight, but I imagine it might leave one feeling like I did this morning. Yesterday, Ben Johnson, Zach Kastern and I picked a fight with gang of mute, motionless, defiant and ultimately, defenseless, buckthorn that had invaded “our” territory at The Springs. Their thorny branches and stout, gnarly, trunks were no match for our sharp, steel, chains and our saws whirred their death knell in three part harmony.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Fortunately, we’re not working alone at The Springs, and a team of dedicated volunteers is coalescing to undo the damage that has been inflicted on this “world class site”.  I’m energized and encouraged by the growing level of commitment — the fresh blood (no pun intended) — that all of the new volunteers bring.  It’s going to be a great year!

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The last time we were at The Springs, The Buckthorn Man got skunked and left the Buckthorn Alley with his tail between his legs.  With victory so close, it was a hard loss to bear.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Reinhold Niebuhr

 I returned to the buckthorn alley yesterday determined to “change the things which should be changed!”  There is a relatively thin curtain of buckthorn separating the trail here from a good sized wetland.

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I started one of Andy’s brush piles on fire and was soon joined by Ben Johnson and Zach Kastern.  We got our saws in tune and they began to sing.

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John Hrobar, who has quite a voice by the way, joined the chorus and stoked the fire with freshly cut brush while Sue corralled this wild unicorn that was roaming north of the old barn site.

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When the rumble was finally over, and slain buckthorn littered the alley, we gathered round the fire to savor and celebrate our success.

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We left enough daylight to take a walk around The Springs, enjoy the scenery and catch the sunset.

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The river bend.

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The big valley.

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Pati joined us for the sunset at the Indian Campground.

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We finished the day walking the north end of the loop trail from east to west scoping out the last stretch of the buckthorn alley and hanging out by the fire…

See you at The Springs!

I Am the Buckthorn Man

Most people don’t see the buckthorn that dominates the understory of our forests here in southeastern Wisconsin. They don’t see it spreading to fill wetlands and abandoned pastures or understand the impact it is having; it’s just another tree — it’s “natural”. But, like the protagonist John Nada (John Nothing) in the great science fiction thriller They Live, I do see the environmental damage that buckthorn is doing.

I hope Willie Dixon doesn’t turn over in his grave when I sing “I am the Buckthorn Man” to the melody of his blues classic Back Door Man. It still sends chills down my spine when I hear him sing and recall the great shows he performed at SummerFest with Sugar Blue on the harp.

This past Wednesday I was working in the Buckthorn Alley and two women, along with kids and dogs, paused as they walked by and one of them exclaimed, “you’re the buckthorn man!” Yes, “Iiiiiiii aaaammmm the Buckthorn Man!

If you are, or want to become, a SuperFriend♥ of The Springs, or you just love The Springs, or you just want to help the Buckthorn Man celebrate his birthday, then come to our open house in Milwaukee on February 16th from 2-8:00pm.  If you have not already received an invite via email and want to come, please contact mePati is going to make some crazy good food and we’ll have beer and wine and a roaring buckthorn fire outside on the patio.  We hope to see you on the 16th!

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I spent two excellent days this past week working at The Springs continuing my effort to open up views along the part of trail that I christened the Buckthorn Alley. The map below shows the progress made so far from the west (shown in black) and the east (shown in white) and the gap that remains. I roughly outlined wetland areas in blue that are filling in with brush (the Buckthorn Man will put a stop to that!)

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This was the scene when I arrived on Wednesday morning.

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I was gratified to see that Andy Buchta

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had paid a visit and made 8 or so brush piles. Needless to say, this is hard work in the current conditions and I really appreciate Andy’s contribution.

I enjoyed a relaxing day and was not perturbed by any technical difficulties with the chainsaw. I experienced a curious, and seemingly contradictory mix of emotions, including deep calm and overflowing excitement. Here is how it looked at the end of the day.

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Some classic perspectives of The Springs in the subdued early evening light.

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Yesterday, Friday February 7th, I was back at it. It was a cold, bright sunny, morning and I stopped at the Hotel Springs to get some water.

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I resumed where I left off on Wednesday and made a new fire in the same place as last time.

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The views to the interior wetlands are beginning to open up! John, Sue and Tim stopped by to offer encouragement and John said they have seen 20+ robins playing in the springs just north of the Emerald Spring boardwalk. I had a fine day swinging the saw and got farther than expected.

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Speaking of the Emerald Spring, some beautifully random organic patterns have emerged in the marl “dunes” at the river bottom.

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Sunset at the Indian Campground.

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See you at The Springs! And don’t forget the open house at our place on the 16th.

Seattle Chainsaws Rip Denver Buckthorns

In a merciless triumph the Chainsaws cut down the hapless Buckthorns, putting an exclamation point on their finest season ever.  Seattle’s offense ripped through Denver’s front line and repeatedly burned their secondary.  Interviewed after the game, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said: “We knew the Buckthorns would be ugly and gnarly so we sharpened our ground attack to strike at their roots.  At the end of the day, they just could not withstand the horsepower and high rpms of our superbly tuned offensive machine.”   Dan Quinn, Seattle’s defensive coordinator said:  “We studied a lot of film and knew that if we just kept our chaps, eye protection and helmets on, we’d have no problem keeping the Buckthorns out of our end zone.”

Jack Del Rio, Denver’s defensive coordinator lamented:  “Every time we popped their chains off, they simply put them back on!  We pinched their bars so tight that their engines smoked and squealed, but they always seemed to get out of it.”  Head coach John Fox said: “I thought they would run out of gas in the second half, but it didn’t happen.”

I had a feeling the Chainsaws would dominate the Buckthorns when I arrived at The Springs on that cold winter morning.

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Although the Buckthorns defense looked formidable on paper, the Chainsaws had a plan.

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For the first time in super bowl history, a coyote ran across the field, stopping to make this deposit before escaping via a tunnel under the stadium.

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The once proud Buckthorns suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chainsaws and most of them swore they would never play again; their love of the game was posioned.

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After the cheers died down and the crowds had all gone home, I wandered the stadium alone recalling highlights of past super bowls and contemplating the endlessly flowing Scuppernong River.

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Sunset at the Indian Spring.

The views from the grandstands on the Indian Campground.

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Early evening on the river.

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Save the date! Pati and I are having an open house on February 16th from 2:00pm – 8:00pm at our home in Milwaukee. We want to thank all the Super Friends♥ of the Scuppernong Springs. If you want to come, and haven’t received an invite already, it means I don’t have your email so please contact me. We’ll have a nice fire going in the back yard!

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See you at The Springs!

Wood Working

Wood is one of our most precious resources and one that we become intimate with in so many ways that it’s literally in-grained in us. I do my wood working with a chainsaw but I really admire the artists and carpenters that make beautiful and useful things with wood.

Ben Johnson recently introduced me to The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill.

“Knowledge is one thing; understanding is another. Wood responds to the hands of man in somewhat predictable ways. And the response of wood to the steel blade forms patterns in human behavior. We are creators and teachers. The confidence of humankind is based not on superior strength or speed but on our abilities to shape the materials of our environment and to communicate our experiences. With each swing of the axe, each joining of the wood, you build and preserve within you the living memory of this timeless trade. The satisfaction you gain is well deserved.” —Roy Underhill

Check out this marvelous show: The Spirit of Woodcraft “Join in Thoreau’s search for moral lessons deep in the grain of the wood.”, for an example of Roy at his finest.

Back home at The Springs, on a recent walk with Jim Davee and Zach Kastern, we were discussing the boardwalks and bridges that need creating or repairing and Jim suggested that we recycle the wood from the black locust trees that we girdled and use it for building these structures.  He followed up on this with the DNR and got their approval.  This idea really sparked Ben Johnson’s imagination and he is collecting scrap wood from his job (below) and acquiring the tools we’ll need.  His excitement is infectious and I’m glad things did not work out with the last carpenter we tried to enlist for the job.  It will be a lot more fun to build things ourselves with wood from The SpringsSuper Friend♥ Rich Csavoy built his own house just a mile or so north of The Springs and he is always ready give his time and talents.  Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, has a lead on a skilled carpenter that wants to help us too.

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Long-time followers of this blog may remember way back in November 2012, when Randy Shilling came out to The Springs to salvage some red oak, hickory and cherry that I had cut from an area near the Indian Spring to open the views out west to the Scuppernong River Habitat Area.  The wood is finally seasoned enough for Randy to work with it.  Check out this beautiful hickory mortar.

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Despite my relentless attack against buckthorn, in the hands of a skilled wood turner like Randy, it can take on very attractive forms as seen below in these wine bottle stoppers.

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Here are some rhythm sticks that my friend Danny Aukofer turned for me from some buckthorn firewood he picked up from our stash at the Hartland Marsh.

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I’m looking forward to doing some creative wood working with my Super Friends♥ at The Springs this year!

In the meantime, I’m still working in the Buckthorn Alley and I cut many a nasty tree there yesterday.  Here is how it looked after I got a fire started and before I began cutting.

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The winds blew and the snow and buckthorn fell.  The shots below are in the same perspective order as those above.

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I’m going to focus on the south side of the trail to open the views into the interior wetlands while the ground is still frozen. Hopefully, I’ll finish the north side of the trail as well.

Here is a broader view of the area I worked on yesterday.

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The view from the old barn site.

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Save the date! Pati and I are having an open house on February 16th from 2:00pm – 8:00pm at our home in Milwaukee. We want to thank all the Super Friends♥ of the Scuppernong Springs.  I’ll be sending out invitations via email soon.  If you want to come and I don’t have your email, please contact me.  We’ll have a nice fire going in the back yard!

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See you at The Springs!