The Indian Spring Garden

Ben Johnson and I shared one of those special days yesterday at The Springs, that make it all worthwhile.  We ignored the intermittent rain and incessant mosquito attacks to plant a garden at the Indian Springs.  Watercress and quack grass are out: native sedges, grasses, ferns and flowers are in.  When these plants take hold this will be an even more magical place than it already is.

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We started the day with empty wheel barrows, just down the trail from the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ, in the buckthorn alley.  The emergence, or should I say, explosion, of a wide variety of native plants along this trail makes referring to it as an “alley” a misnomer.  I’ll have to come up with a new name.  So we arrived at the Indian Springs with our diverse loads of plants…

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… and surveyed the void left by the recent removal of watercress and quack grass.

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The profile of stream bed has changed significantly since I removed the mud dam in the narrows of the picture above, and we furthered that process along by cleaning the debris from the literally dozens of springs that emerge here.  I don’t have scientific data to back this claim up, but it appeared that the volume of water flowing from each spring increased significantly as the obstructions were removed.

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Although I try to live in the present moment, I can’t help but look forward to next spring, when the transplants have settled in and we should have the deck repaired.  We spent the later part of the afternoon cutting and poisoning sumac and pulling spotted knapweed amongst the lupine patches on the west side of the sand prairie.  Thanks for your help Ben!

Pati and I are going on a short vacation (back around July 15th), so I got some licks in at The Springs this past Tuesday, cleaning up the areas around the hillside springs.  I mowed the spur trails that lead to the hillside and hidden springs, as well as the trail that leads to the emerald springs and the unnamed springs just to the north.

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In what will become a semi-annual event, I pulled loads of watercress from the headwaters at the Scuppernong Spring down to the first bridge downstream.  When my fingers encountered the planking they installed way back in the days when this stretch of the river was a trout factory, I couldn’t help but pull this garbage out.  I found huge 6×8″ beams spanning the river bed from bank to bank onto which the planks had been nailed.  These unnatural impediments to the stream flow must be removed.

Before…

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… and after.

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After removing the planks shown below, the height of the river noticeably declined.  The channel is now much deeper and more distinct.  When I showed the area to Ben on Wednesday there were two ducks, normally very skittish when humans are near, who refused to leave.  I think they liked the change.

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Along with the aforementioned beams embedded in the river bottom, there are still more planks and pipes left over from the old days that we plan to remove in the coming weeks.  This will go a long way toward facilitating the river’s return to a natural steam bed in this area.

Again, the late afternoon was spent digging and pulling spotted knapweed along the main trail on the sand prairie.

I thought it was going to be a classic Scuppernong Sunset as I bathed in the river, but this bank of clouds came up fast from the northwest.  I can’t remember a spring and summer where we have gotten so much rain so consistently.

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See you at The Springs!

Watercress Bio-Logs

It’s been a week of dodging rain and catching rays at The Springs; mostly the former.  It’s really wet out there and it’s going to be like a steam bath when the summer heat finally arrives.

On Wednesday, June 18, I waited in my truck for the rain to stop and got in some uninhibited practice on my recorder.  I still sound really bad, but I’m learning my way around the instrument and it’s fun to make sounds.  When the rain finally stopped I mowed the DNR 2-track access road on the south end of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve with my brush cutter; not the most efficient tool, but dragging a mower out there is a lot of work too.

I followed up on my efforts last week at the Indian Springs by transplanting a few of the sedges that are growing downstream into the area where I pulled quack grass and watercress, just to see what it would take.  If you have not visited the Indian Springs in a while, you will be surprised by the new look.  There was a shelf of peat/mud/clay around 20 yards downstream from the deck at the main springs that created a little waterfall about a foot high, and I removed this material.  So now the outflow stream has found it’s natural bed in stone and sand and the water table has fallen to this new level in the upper area where the main springs emerge.  Now we can proceed with the transplants, and hopefully, sometime this summer, replace the deck.

I pulled and dug a ton of spotted knapweed, hoary alyssum and hawksbeard from the sand prairie in the afternoon.  Lindsay Knudsvig and John Hrobar both informed me that there are weevils that attack spotted knapweed and I do need to follow up on introducing them on the sand prairie.

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On Thursday, June 19, we had a date with the DNR Fisheries team to observe them performing an elevation study at the hotel springs bridge, but the weather was dicey and they decided to reschedule.  I’m hoping they will also study the elevation at the two little foot bridges that are upstream of the emerald spring, as they seem to have the same profile, i.e. a place were an embankment formerly dammed the river and where marl and sand have collected in the riverbed upstream (symptoms of the river not making a natural headcut.)  These are locations where humans intervened with the natural lay of the land that we need to put right.

Pati is back from her adventure in South Africa and we had another mission that day to do our monthly river monitoring on the Scuppernong River, where it crosses Hwy Z, just west of forest headquarters.  Pati spent 9 years as a research assistant at the Medical College of Wisconsin and she really enjoyed doing a little science in the river!

On the way home, the sun was shining and we stopped at The Springs to take a walk and there we ran into a team from the USGS recalibrating the measuring devices at the gaging station.  I forgot to get their names but they were very friendly and thoroughly explained what they were doing.

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The consistency of the measurements are vulnerable to any changes in the river’s profile; moving rocks around, or even a bloom of underwater foliage a few feet downstream, can throw off the calibration.

Friday, June 20, I was back at The Springs with watercress on my mind.  It was three years ago that Lindsay and I attempted to clear out the watercress that was damming the river and it has come back vigorously since then forming new dams.  We started naively thinking we could actually get rid of the watercress, so we pulled out as much as we could, from bank to bank, and heaved it up and out of the river forming huge piles.  This released the river’s flow to the pull of gravity and significantly lowered the water table in the whole upper valley (from the Scuppernong Springs down to the old barn site.)

This time around, I decided to try something new.  After learning more about how the DNR Fisheries team used bio-logs to shape the river’s course, I thought of using the watercress to form natural bio-logs.  When I put my hands down in the riverbed and began to pull up the thick carpet of watercress roots, I realized I could just roll it over and pin it behind the stakes that were still in place from the effort the DNR made years ago to install bio-logs and stick bundles.

This approach addresses the fact that brook trout need bugs and cover.  Leaving the watercress on the perimeter of the river, creates a natural shelf the fish can hide under, and, in a few weeks, new growth from the watercress will again cover the river providing shade and a source of bugs.  The difference is that now the watercress root system will not be clogging the main channel of the river.  Of course, it will grow back into the channel and again have to be rolled out, but each time a layer of marl and mud will come with it deepening the main channel.  Well, enough talk, here is what it looks like now.  As far as the long-term results, we’ll have to see.

Looking downstream from the first footbridge below the Scuppernong Spring.

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Just as we saw back in 2012, the water level fell by 2-3 inches after the watercress dams were removed

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I think keeping an open channel will also compliment the DNR’s efforts to adjust the elevation of the river and produce a headcut.  My good friend John Hrobar, who spent his career working with water and studying it’s movement and behavior in complex ecosystems, totally disagrees with this approach and we have had many intense discussions about it.  I invite John to explain his position and rational either in a comment to this post or in a separate post.

In fact, later that afternoon, I ran into John and Sue Hrobar on the sand prairie as I was pulling spotted knapweed.  They pointed out a few new plants they had not seen before:

Clasping Milkweed.

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Last year, John pointed out that I was cutting all the purple prairie clover in my zeal to cut flowering spotted knapweed.  I was happy to show that I learned my lesson, and now we are poised for an explosion of purple.

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Flowering Spurge.

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The sun came out in its solstice fullness and it turned into a hot summer day for a couple hours.

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On Saturday, June 21, I joined Jared Urban and the State Natural Areas volunteers at the Bluff Creek SNA to girdle aspen.  We worked on the area marked in red below on an aspen clone that they started working on last month.  We focused on the little aspen that were spreading out into the prairie.

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Zach Kastern showing Jack and Brandon where to go…

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… and how to do it.

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Jack, Zach, Brandon, Jerry, Jared and Ginny.

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I left shortly after noon to girdle aspen back at The Springs but Zach, Jared and Ginny stayed to finish the job and pull some sweet clover and parsnip while they were at it.  It was an excellent learning experience for me and I realized that I needed to follow up on the aspen girdling I did last year to make sure the clonal colonies were completely killed.

See you at The Springs!

Group Trout Stream Therapy

When DNR Fisheries Biologist, Ben Heussner, contacted me last week about a workday on the Scuppernong River, I didn’t dare to imagine the fantastic outcome we would realize yesterday.  “Fix the water“, that’s what Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association,  preaches and we put that mantra into action with a Group Trout Stream Therapy session.

Ben set the table last December with 2 workdays on the river where the DNR fisheries team, along with help from Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, installed dozens of coconut hull biologs to re-establish the river’s natural meander.  Then Mike, a trout unlimited volunteer from Wilmette, IL, and Ben coordinated to bring a group of volunteers from Trinity United Methodist Church up to help us fill in the wet areas behind the biologs.  I can say unequivocally that this was the hardest working team of volunteers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. They were filled with the spirit for sure!

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Above that is Ben Heussner, Pastor Brian Smith, Donna McCluskey, Bob Meyers, Sarah Jacobs, Ella and Elliot Torres, Carol Meynen, Tom Board, Ward Reeves and Mike Jacobs seated in front.

Ben Heussner met Ben Johnson, Dick Jenks and myself to scope out the situation and plan the day’s work.

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He is a very busy dude, and shortly after he introduced us to the group from Trinity United Methodist, we were on our own.  It didn’t take long to establish a system to deliver the aspen I had cut to the locations on the river where it was needed.

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Our first site was the major westbound bend in the river, where we constructed a V-shaped wedge to define a single stream channel.

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We were literally on a roll and the team from Trinity was not shy about getting wet and dirty, which ironically, I found very refreshing.

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Rolling, Rolling, Rolling On A River!

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Thank you, thank you!  Look what you accomplished.  The views below begin at the first site we worked and proceed downstream.

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We hope to work with volunteers from Trinity United Methodist again.  What a great group!

On our way to take a walk up the river and inspect our work, Ben Johnson and I ran into this sand hill crane and chick, who were also checking it out.

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This is the point downstream of the recent activity where sand and marl is collecting after being flushed down the river.

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We continued to walk upstream and review the day’s work.

The meadow on the south side (right side in the video above) is especially lush with native plants and flowers.

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Ben and I agreed that the velocity of the river had definitely increased as a result of the work.  Confirmation bias?

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We’re not done yet!  Ben Heussner will be back in the next couple weeks to do an elevation survey of the area around the hotel springs bridge.  He is confident that, with a little excavation of the river bottom here, we can get a headcut traveling.  This will flush out the marl and sand that collected in the riverbed upstream, while it was under it was under THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG.  The result will be significantly improved trout habitat and restoration of the headwaters to its natural condition.  I can’t wait!

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See you at The Springs!

Scuppernong River Fish Count 2014

The Scuppernong Springs are “a world class site” according to Ron Kurowski, the godfather of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area restoration project.  I’m humbled to be a servant of Mother Nature helping take care of this beautiful place that attracts me so; it gives me the opportunity to manifest my vision for the world:

“The aggregate of all of our free will choices, bounded by the Laws of Nature, will determine the reality that manifests in this world.”  The Buckthorn Man

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The attractive force of The Springs has been drawing a lot of attention lately.

I hope to post the work of landscape photographers Byron S. Becker and Kristen WestLake, who draw inspiration from The Springs.

The dynamic DNR duo, Melanie Kapinos and Amanda Prange, organized a volunteer workday pulling garlic mustard at The Springs and we were happy to have Wendy and Rene help us.

Like a martial arts expert, Ben Johnson turned the pull of The Springs into the capstone project for the masters degree in environmental studies (emphasis on environmental management and planning) he is working on through the University of Illinois Springfield. This is a 240 hour commitment and we thank Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine Forest — Southern Unit, for expediting this DNR internship.

Just last week DNR conservation biologists Nate Fayram, Jared Urban and Sharon Fandel visited The Springs and they provided great feedback and ideas about how we can do the right thing here together.  Jared was inspired by the visit and shared this excellent document, Biotic Inventory and Analysis of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, which is also available at forest headquarters.

I had a heart-warming encounter a few days ago at The Springs, specifically, at the hotel springs,

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where I met a group of people who were conducting a meaningful, and possibly religious, baptismal ceremony.  I was drawn by their energy, and surprised later, when they stopped on their way out to give me a beautiful, rose crystal, straight from the Black Hills, for my heart.  Not my head; my heart.  I get it!

DNR fisheries biologist Ben Heussner, organized a workday tomorrow to fill in with brush the wet areas on the outside of the coconut rolls they placed into the river late last fall.

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And yesterday I ran into DNR Water Resource Management Specialists Rachel Sabre, Craig Helker and April Marcangeli, who were doing their annual fish count on the Scuppernong River.

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Yes indeed, The Springs are attractive!

I started yesterday near the old hotel site taking down some of the aspen we girdled last year so that we can use the wood as fill along the riverbanks tomorrow.

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After a couple tankfuls of gas in the chainsaw, I was ready to move to the north side of the river when I saw Craig, Rachel and April with their fish shocking sled in the river.  I helped them last year and learned how they use electric shocks to temporarily paralyze the fish so they can catch and count them.  A coincidence, or was it the law of attraction?  I took a break from the chainsaw and followed them upstream.

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Don’t miss the shocking interview with the DNR team at the end of this video!

I was a mosquito on a buckthorn leaf watching them sort, count, measure and weigh the fish.

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4 Brook Stickleback

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58 Central Mudminnow

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107 Sculpin

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10 Grass Pickerel

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46 Brook Trout

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What do the numbers mean?

I really appreciated them welcoming me into their workspace and giving me an interview after barely catching their breaths!

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I commenced to taking down some huge aspen on the north side of the river and, an hour or so later, there they were again,

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taking their annual habitat survey.  I’ll let Craig and Rachel describe it.

I ended the workday cutting garlic mustard flowers with the brush cutter.  It looks like its run is just about over at The Springs this year.  I think we put a hurt on it.

Then it was off to the baths at the marl pit bridge and a sun setting headstand.

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See you at The Springs!

 

Flower Power

If your heart is burdened come, to the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and feel the healing flower power.  The soothing outbursts of form, color and texture will soften the rough edges in your mind and bring you peace and calm.

Resurgent lymes symptoms knocked me off my horse after the Whitewater Oak Opening burn and I was temporarily blinded to the beauty of life.  Yesterday was the first time in two weeks that I felt “normal”.  The antibiotics are helping my body heal but it’s flower power that is healing my mind.

Columbine at the Hotel Springs bridge.

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Large-flowered Bellwort just around the corner.

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Kitten Tails and Pussy Toes near the Emerald Springs spur boardwalk.

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Wood Betony and Marsh Marigolds.

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This is a perfect time to see a huge variety of woodland flowers at The Springs!

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Sleeping seemed like the best option for a while there, but I willed myself back into action last Monday.  Siddhartha taught me to listen to the river and Jayne Jenks, with the Waukesha County Parks and Land Use, taught me how to test the water’s quality.  I’m now part of the Water Action Volunteers — Citizen Stream Monitoring team and happy with my site on the Scuppernong River, where it crosses Hwy Z, just downstream of its confluence with the South Branch.

I stopped at The Springs on my way there to re-girdle some of the aspen near the hotel site.

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Carl Baumann was there removing a huge, dead, black locust that had broken off and was leaning into a cherry tree and hanging over the south end of the trail.  Thanks Carl!  Our friend Marty came back with his skid steer loader and smoothed out the tracks he laid in the mud this past spring.

Wednesday was my first real day back at work and I was pretty light-headed and emotionally unstable by the end of the day.  I started with the chainsaw on the south end of the trail, where I want to extend the sand prairie and continue opening up the “big sky” views out towards the Scuppernong River Habitat Area.

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I’ve been focusing on garlic mustard lately, but I need to cut buckthorn to preserve my sanity…

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… and balance!

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I spent the afternoon whacking garlic mustard on the south end of the loop trail.

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When I woke up yesterday, I was raring to go — back to my old self!  I started with the buckthorn near the parking lot on Hwy ZZ.

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You’ll be able to see the sun setting over Ottawa Lake as you return to the parking lot when I get the rest of this mess cut.

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I spent the late afternoon cutting garlic mustard north of the hotel site.

The views of the north side of the river are outstanding.

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I missed the sunsets!

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Out on the marl pit.

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See you at The Springs!

Buchta Wins Gold in PilingStyle

It was a clear and cold morning at the 2014 Scuppernong Springs Olympics.

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In, perhaps the biggest upset in Olympic history, Andy Buchta…
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…surprised the pundits and walked away with the gold medal in the PilingStyle event. In his first appearance at the Olympics, Buchta, a roofing professional by trade, impressed the judges with his flawless technique and flair for the dramatic as he created tall, compact and uniquely expressive piles from the scattered, snow-covered, buckthorn brush. Andy flew under the radar all week as most eyes were focused on three time gold medal winner, the Russian brush piler, Boris Maksmopilenovitch.

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(I turned on the camera’s date-time function by mistake!)

The Buckthorn Man surveyed the field just before the competition began.

While Andy experienced the thrill of victory, The Buckthorn Man suffered the agony of defeat. All week long in training The Buckthorn Man set new records for slashing and burning in his signature ChainsawStyle event. He was notably loose; joking with teammates, and seemed to have put his failure to win gold at the 2010 Hartland Marsh Olympics behind him. But on the big day, he bolted upright at the 5:30am alarm and it was game on.

Unfortunately, and indeed, heartbreakingly, it was not The Buckthorn Man’s day. The hose on his Red Dragon Torch cracked and spewed propane gas preventing him from lighting it and starting a brush pile on fire. Then, without a heat source, he was unable to keep his poison sprayer from freezing up, despite the fact that it contained only anti-freeze and triclopyr. When we ran into The Buckthorn Man at the trailhead, he was inconsolable; refusing, or perhaps incapable, of answering any questions.

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We located this transcription of a discussion of The Buckthorn Man’s disappointing performance between Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth on the internet (no wonder it was not televised live!)

Costas: I’ll be frank with you Cris, I think it is highly suspicious that The Buckthorn Man’s Red Dragon torch failed just when he needed it the most. I suspect the Russkies and, given his background in the FSB, that Putin was behind it.

Collinsworth: Ahh Gee, I dunno Bob. The Cold War is over isn’t it?

Costas: Not so fast Cris. Do you really think those evil commies have given up their dream of overthrowing monopoly capitalism and replacing it with a socialist paradise?

Collinsworth: But Bob, according to Antony C. Sutton’s seminal work Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, WE funded the Bolshevik revolution and helped Trotsky and Lenin win recognition for their fledgling revolutionary government.

Costas: That sounds like a bunch of conspiratorial drivel to me Cris. Why would Wall Street support the Bolshevik Revolution?

Collinsworth: Bob, have you never heard of the Hegelian Dialectic, you know, thesis/problem, antithesis/reaction, synthesis/solution? The problem for the monopoly capitalists was that the masses were beginning to recognize how badly they were being exploited and how the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. So the financial oligarchs in the west created the reaction in the form of the evil communist empire to scare the people into believing that their liberties and freedoms were being threatened. Since Wall Street, via it’s interlocking relationships with the central banking systems across the world, was controlling the finances of both the “West” and the “East”, their solution was to play one off against the other, thus keeping the military industrial security complex fed and causing both the U.S. and the USSR to go deeply in debt TO THEM.

Costas: That is total Bullshit Cris. Cut his mic! (Costas, storms off the sound stage.)

Although he might have been able through shear force of will to persevere and get some work done, The Buckthorn Man decided to take the day off, relax, and enjoy The Springs.

When I emerged into this view of the prairie, I was stopped in my tracks by how quiet it was. I’ve been so busy at The Springs — I haven’t taken as much time as I should to look and listen.

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Here is the view from the Marl Pit bridge, where I stopped to listen to the river.

The view from the gaging station bridge.

The Indian Campground.

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The Indian Spring channel.

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The Scuppernong Spring.

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The Hillside Springs.

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The Hidden Spring.

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This one doesn’t have a name. How about the Robin’s Spring?

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I left The Springs early and bought a new Red Dragon torch on the way to the Hartland Marsh, where I picked up a load of seasoned buckthorn for the party this weekend and spent the rest of the day wandering.

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 me! Pati 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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See you at The Springs!

Living Waters

It was late afternoon and the light was beginning to fade as I made my way westbound on the cut-off trail along the north side of the Scuppernong River.  My footsteps crunching the snow alerted the dabbling ducks near the bend in the river in front of the old barn site of my arrival, which they discussed with noisy quacking.  “It’s OK, don’t go, I won’t bother you…”,  I said to myself as I attempted to quietly exit the area, while simultaneously stealing glances over my shoulder at the beautiful mallards floating and foraging in the swift current.

Too late.  Their survival senses, keenly tuned to the habits of the hunter, drove them instinctively to flight.  Wings flapped and water splashed as a score of noisily quacking waterfowl flew downstream over the gaging station bridge.  Oh well. I continued on the cut-off trail, which lay buried and indistinct under a foot of snow, and suddenly another flock took flight.  Wow, that was at least 25 birds!  By the time I made it all the way to the marl pit factory, I had roused at least 200 birds from the peace and prosperity of the living waters.

The springs that flow in this “sweet scented land” invoke a feeling of mystery and awe in me.  I drink the waters in body and spirit and thank the Creator for these blessed springs, as people have since time immemorial.

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Thursday morning dawned clear and cold and I fetched some living water at the Hotel Spring.

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I made my way down the Buckthorn Alley to resume cutting the nearly impenetrable thicket that borders the trail.  My eyes were sharper than my blade and I imagined laying down a huge swath on both sides of the trail.

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It was tough going as I slashed with steel and Stihl on the south side of the trail. Pati joined me and stoked the fire with freshly cut buckthorn. We both simply enjoy being outside; our work is play.

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When I finally arrived at the gaging station bridge, after spooking a multitude of mallards, I noticed the river was cloudy with disturbed marl, vegetation and, probably duck poop. I wondered if the activity of the dabbling ducks might actually help reveal the stoney river bottom and thus improve the habitat for brook trout. I scared up more flocks of ducks in the vicinity of the Emerald Spring and was surprised that the bubblers there were completely hidden by the cloudy waters.

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I wondered if the recent deep freeze had driven the birds to the temperate, living waters, of The Springs, and I speculated that hundreds of hunkered down mallards might indeed be responsible for the milky color of the water and the heavy dusting, of what I suspected was duck poop, that had collected on the sandy marl dunes that cover the river bottom in this area.

See you at The Springs!

Super Friends of the Scuppernong Springs

2013 was a fantastic year at The Springs. Here are highlights from the perspective of all the Super Friends♥ of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. We don’t have a normal friends group; no, we have Super Friends♥

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January

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We burned a lot of brush piles on the south side of the Indian Spring and all across the Indian Campground, aka, the Sand Prairie.  My old friend from “The Quiet Company”, Mark Mamerow, was a big help.

The USGS installed a ground water flow meter at what I now call the “gaging station” bridge and Rich Csavoy and Lindsay Knudsvig were very active helping burn 173 brush piles.

Lindsay, Rich and I cut and piled buckthorn between the cut-off trail and river.  DNR trail boss, and jack-of-all-trades, Don Dane, provided native flower and grass seeds that we sowed near the Indian Spring.

Lindsay, Pati and I began our Journey Down the Scuppernong River in an effort to become more intimately familiar with the Scuppernong River Habitat Area.

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February

We continued exploring the Scuppernong River hiking the frozen, snow covered, banks from Hwy N all the way to Hwy 59.

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The powers that be relented and I got a window of opportunity to burn the brush piles I had left behind at the Hartland Marsh.  I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends from the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Pat Witkowski, Mike Fort, John Mesching, Marlin Johnson, Glenn Ritz, Jack, Dick and the maintenance crew from the Village of Hartland.  We lit over 300 piles during the month on many workdays.

Carl Baumann and Rich Csavoy helped cut buckthorn between the cut-off trail and the river.  I hope to work with these righteous dudes again soon!

Steve Brasch, Carl, Lindsay and I had a couple of brush pile burning adventures and Lindsay showed me the value of having a leaf blower handy to ignite a smoldering pile.

Pati and I continued our investigation of the Scuppernong River watershed following the outflow from McKeawn Spring to the river on a gorgeously warm winter day.

One of the most memorable days of the year was with the DNR Fisheries team of Ben “Benny” Heussner, Steve “Gos” Gospodarek, Andrew Notbohm and Josh Krall (right to left below, “Double D” Don Dane kneeing in front) as they reviewed their past efforts to rehabilitate the river and formed plans for the coming year.  They made good on their promise returning for two workdays on the river, most recently with a crew from the South Eastern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group.

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March

Pati, and I and Lindsay continued our Journey Down the Scuppernong River hiking from Hwy 59 to Hwy 106.  We attempted the last leg from Hwy 106 to where the Scuppernong River joins the Bark River south of Hebron, but we were foiled by melting ice.

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I continued clearing brush between the cut-off trail and the river and was glad to have the help of Boy Scout Troop 131, from Fort Atkinson to help pile it up.

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Lindsay and I were honored to jointly receive the Land Steward of the Year Award from the Oak Savanna Alliance for our work at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  I continued investigating the Scuppernong River watershed hiking the Paradise Springs Creek from it’s source to it’s confluence with the river.

Steve, Lindsay, myself and Carl had a classic brush pile burning day in the area around the Scuppernong Spring and shared a few cold brews afterwards.

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I began volunteering with Jared Urban and the DNR’s Endangered Resources team and met great people like Virginia Coburn, Zach Kastern and Herb Sharpless.

Dave Hoffman and Matt Zine secured a $75,000 NAWCA grant for the DNR to continue the work on the Scuppernong River Habitat Area that Ron Kurowski had championed for over 20 years.

April

We began clearing brush in the area around the Old Hotel and Barn sites near the Hotel Springs.  Rich Csavoy, Pati and I continued to clear the brush between the cut-off trail and the river; this time on the far east end.

John and Sue Hrobar (shown with Don Dane below), the “Keepers of the Springs”, began to report that they were not seeing as many brook trout as they had in previous years and attributed this to our removing too much water cress the previous spring.  Indeed, Ben Heussner had warned us that the trout relied on this invasive plant for food (bugs) and cover.

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DNR wunderkind, Amanda Prange, her boyfriend Justin, his mother Beth, Roberta “Berta” Roy-Montgomery and DNR Ranger Elias Wilson (who would save my life 3 weeks later!) joined me for a day installing prothonotary warbler houses and piling brush.

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Rich, Berta and I began girdling aspen.  This was new for me and now I realize we were a bit early.

Rich and I began spraying weeds like garlic mustard and spotted knapweed.  I started having misgivings about using poisons in this delicate ecosystem.

I began working in the Buckthorn Alley.

Pati, Lindsay and I made the final leg of Journey Down the Scuppernong River via canoe and were sorely disappointed to contrast this stretch of the river to those preceding.

Jon Bradley contributed an excellent photo essay to this blog.

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May

I began the month girdling aspen and working in the Buckthorn Alley.

The most exciting day of the year was when the DNR burned the Scuppernong.  It was memorable in every way but it almost began disastrously.  I was using a drip torch for the first time and it was leaking fuel badly from the rim of the cap.  DNR Ranger Elias Wilson noticed the danger immediately and calmly said: “Put the torch down Paul.”  Again, he repeated, with a little more emphasis: “Paul, put the torch down.”  Finally, I came to my senses and realized the danger too.  Thanks Elias, you saved my life!

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This is probably a good place to thank Paul Sandgren, Superintendent of the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Assistant Superintendent Anne Korman, Don Dane, Amanda Prange, Melanie Kapinos and all of the DNR staff, including retired naturalist, Ron Kurowski and the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association for all of their help and support.

Within a few weeks, flowers and grasses were emerging from the blackened earth and I kept busy girdling aspen along the river valley and piling brush from the Old Hotel site north to where the trail turns west away from Hwy 67.  Garret and Jenny interrupted their studies to help me pile brush and I hope to see them again sometime.

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Spring was in full bloom and Rich helped me girdle aspen and pile brush between the cut-off trail and the river.  Ticks and mosquitoes where out in force and I got infected with lymes.

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June

Amanda, Tara Fignar and Melanie pictured below, along with others including Jim Davee, Kay, Barb, Berta and Rich (see this blog) replaced all of the signposts that accompany the interpretive guide.  Don Dane made the new posts.

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Jon Bradley built and installed this swallow house near the marl pit bridge and we are looking forward to the new tenants moving in this spring.

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I continued volunteering with Jared Urban’s Endangered Resources team in Oak woodlands around Bald Bluff.  Jared, Zach and Gary are great teachers!

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Jon Bradley contributed another excellent photo essay.

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I sprayed Habitat/imazapyr on phragmites near the Emerald Spring and no life has returned there — maybe this spring.  I suspected it would be the last time I used this poison.  I switched strategies and began cutting invasive plant seed heads with a hedge trimmer, or I cut the entire plant with a brush cutter.

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My lymes infection kicked into gear and I had a few miserable days.

July

Ben Heussner and the DNR Fisheries team returned to the Scuppernong River to lay down some bio-logs continuing their effort to improve the river channel.

I spent a few days working at the Hartland Marsh brush cutting along the boardwalks and mowing the trails.

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I was still spraying poisons like Transline and Milestone on various invasive plants at The Springs and it bothered me. I cut a ton of huge, flowering, spotted knapweed plants with the brush cutter to prevent them from going to seed and also started digging them out.

Pati, Lindsay and I were very disconcerted when we completed out Journey Down the Scuppernong River in the Prince’s Point Wildlife Area and I followed up and got a guided tour from DNR veterans Charlie Kilian, the recently retired property manager, and Bret Owsley to better understand what was going on.

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Ron Kurowski, retired DNR Naturalist and champion of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area restoration effort, met me at The Springs and helped me identify what was growing on the Sand Prairie and in other parts of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve.

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I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the idea of spraying poison on weeds ad infinitum and began looking for alternatives.  Late in the month I met Jason Dare, the real deal when it comes to ecosystem management, at The Springs.  He was doing an invasive plant survey for the DNR and I became painfully aware that I didn’t know what I was doing vis-a-vis spraying invasive plants with poison in that delicate ecosystem.

August

The Buddha said : “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  It was Atina Diffley’s award winning memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn that finally opened my eyes and raised my organic consciousness.

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I’m done spraying toxic poisons at The Springs, except for on freshly cut buckthorn, honey suckle and black locust stumps.

Ben Heussner had warned that our aggressive removal of water cress from the river in the spring of 2012 might impact the brook trout and John and Sue Hrobar observed that, indeed, they were seeing far fewer fish than in previous years.  We finally got some objective data when Craig Helker and his DNR team of water resources specialists, performed their annual fish count.  It was a fascinating day!  Below: Craig, me, Chelsea, Rachel, Shelly and Adam.

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The fish counts were down significantly this year and I don’t doubt that it was a result of our removal of too much cover and food source from the river.  At the time we pulled the water cress, it had formed thick mats that damned the water flow raising the water table along the river by at least 6 inches.  I thought it was important to help re-establish the river channel, and the flora in the valley, to remove the water cress dams.  Until we can establish a native water plant, like Chara, which is in fact making a comeback, to replace the invasive water cress, we will allow the cress to thrive short of damning the river again.

I began attacking the phragmites and cattail that dominate the river valley with a hedge cutter loping off the maturing seed heads and leaving the emerging golden rod and asters undisturbed beneath them.

September

I learned to adjust my efforts to the plant life cycles and spent a lot of time pulling weeds by hand including: Canada Fleabane, American Burnweed (shown below), Common Ragweed , Queen Anne’s Lace  and Sweet Clover.

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I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew attempting to eradicate invasive weeds at The Springs without using poison.  I take heart when I consider all of the Super Friends♥ that are willing to help.  Sue Hrobar captured this ambitious water snake and it inspires me to keep trying!

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I’m getting more philosophical these days and thank my friends Mike and Yvonne Fort for their inspirational efforts at Lapham Peak State Park.

I began pulling Japanese knotweed and purple nightshade as well as all of the other aforementioned weeds and it almost seemed like the whole nature preserve was just a big weed patch.

Pati and I usually go camping in the mountains in September and she couldn’t make it this year so I decided to camp at Ottawa Lake and see what that was like.  The two walk-in sites #334 & #335 adjoin the Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area.  Lindsay and his wife Connie and Pati joined me for my first evening at site #335 and we agreed that the wall of buckthorn on the hillside between the campsites and fen simply had to go.  I divided my time over the next two weeks between working near the campsites and at The Springs.

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October

I began cutting buckthorn on a stretch of trail at The Springs that I christened the Buckthorn Tunnel.

The task of weeding the Sand Prairie is daunting to say the least and I’m glad to have the help of Jim Davee, Pati and Tara Fignar.  I know we can stop the spotted knapweed from going to seed and then it’s just a question of carefully digging out the plants.

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Lindsay informed me that there is a weevil that attacks only spotted knapweed and I’m considering if we should try to introduce it at The Springs.  That reminds me that we need to reintroduce more Purple Loosestrife beetles, as we had a bumper crop of this invasive plant in 2013.

Anne Moretti, Jim Davee and Tara Fignar helped me pile the buckthorn I had cut in the Buckthorn Tunnel.  I really appreciated their companionship and contribution.

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The fall colors where just starting to emerge by the end of the month.

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November

The Fall season lingered long and colorful.

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I spent another week camping at Ottawa Lake and continued cutting buckthorn and thinning American Hop Hornbeam near sites #334 and #335.

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I began opening up a new area on the northeast end of the loop trail where it passes by an old cranberry bog; at signpost #13, the junction with the cut-off trail.  And I continued piling the freshly cut brush along the Buckthorn Tunnel.

Jon Bradley contributed another post-full of beautiful and interesting photos.  If you would like to contribute photos or stories to this blog, please let me know.

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I spent 3 days piling the brush cut near campsites #334 & #335.  I separated the good logs, suitable for firewood, from the brush and plan to return this spring to cut the logs into smaller pieces.

Lindsay took a full-time position at UW Madison and Rich focused on his beautiful grandchildren, awesome garden and classic pottery, but the Three Brushcuteers reunited for a day piling the brush I cut near the cranberry bogs mentioned above.  It was sweet to spend time with them again working in the forest.

Ben Johnson and Andy Buchta joined forces with me to pile brush right at the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ.  They are both hard-working men and I truly appreciate their contributions.  Both Ben and Andy have returned numerous times since then and I really enjoy working with them!

Towards the end of the month, master naturalist Dick Jenks began volunteering as well, doing everything from cutting, to piling, to burning brush piles.  Dick, Ben, Andy and Jim all have great ideas and are very observant.  I’m really benefiting from their experiences and perspectives.

Conditions were borderline, but we succeeding in lighting up all the brush piles we recently made in the Buckthorn Tunnel.

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December

After more than 6 months delay, while we focused on other areas of The Springs, we finally got back to the obscenely grotesque and nasty Buckthorn Alley.  You will not find a worse thicket of buckthorn anywhere on the planet.  With the help of Dick Jenks, Ben Johnson, Andy Buchta, Jim Davee and Pati, I was eager to “get after it”!

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Everyone agreed we should separate the wood suitable for campfires at Ottawa lake from the slash and we have many log piles that we plan to prep using Dick’s custom sawbuck.  We’ll put some information fliers at the visitor’s center across Hwy ZZ and in the trail brochure box offering the wood to campers on a donation basis.  With the 25 mile limit on transporting firewood scheduled to kick in this season, we expect campers will take advantage of the buckthorn firewood.

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The snow cover was perfect for burning brush piles, and I took advantage of it burning all of the piles we had made the past year between the river and the cut-off trail.

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Dick Jenks with his sawbuck.

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We had a perfect day burning brush piles along Hwy 67.

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I took advantage of another fine day and lit up all the brush piles remaining along the main trail.

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John and Sue Hrobar informed me that Ben Heussner and the Fisheries team, along with the South Eastern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group, had executed another workday on the river on December 14.  Check out their excellent results here and here.

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Ben Johnson (shown below) got his first licks in with a chainsaw in the Buckthorn Alley.  And Jim Davee came out to pile brush there too.

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The year ended for me with a “Big Bang“, that, given my evolution of consciousness documented in these posts over the last year, should not be too surprising.

I worked with Zach Kastern on numerous occasions over the past year and so I was really excited when he made time in his very busy life to come out and help cut some buckthorn.  I hold him in high esteem!  Here is the “blue V” we used as our target to open a channel through the buckthorn connecting the trail to the remnant of a cranberry bog.

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Thanks to Ben Johnson for inspiring me to put together this year-in-review.  And THANKS to all the Super Friends♥ who pitched in to help reveal the beauty of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.

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See you at The Springs!

Born of a Virgin

During the night the sun/son of God was born of a virgin. I pondered this as I arrived at The Springs on the last day of the winter solstice; Christmas. What would happen if the whole world shook itself free of the myth of the historical Jesus and recognized the ancient astrotheological origins of the symbols and characters portrayed in “The Christmas Story”?

I walked quickly to the gaging station bridge hoping to get some cool pictures of the fresh snow. Compare the photos below to the headline image for this site above. The river was crowded with buckthorn on that sunny morning and the fresh, wet, snow hung thickly on the branches.

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I walked to the marl pit bridge and recalled the connections between the constellations Orion and Virgo and “The Christmas Story” that Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit explained in their fascinating book Astrotheology & Shamanism Christianity’s Pagan Roots (video here).

“The three wise men, or the three kings, are anthropomorphisms of the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Like the sun, Orion’s Belt also rises on the eastern horizon. In early December, Orion’s Belt will rise above the horizon approximately an hour after sunset. In mid-January, it will rise above the horizon approximately an hour before sunset. However, on Christmas Eve it will rise above the eastern horizon just after the sun sets. This occurs on the evening of December 24 to the morning of December 25. Symbolically, the three kings (Orions Belt) are following the star of “Bethlehem,” known as Sirius (also called Sithus by the Egyptians).

Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to they Perfect Light
~ We Three Kings

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The tale tells us that these kings traveled a great distance. This is because on this day, the three stars of Orion’s Belt begin their journey across the night sky immediately at twilight. When this alignment with Sirus occurs, it appears to point strait down at the earth as if it were pointing down to the place where the sun in the sky is about to rise. On this night, we know that God’s son, the sun in the sky, is about to be born. When this occurs it is Christmas morning. It is the dawning of God’s sun/son, the beginning of the (real) New Year, and the first day of the sun’s journey to the north.

During the summer months the belts of Orion and Sirius are turned up in the sky at a different angle and are often hidden by the daylight sun. Only one night of the year do they swing fully down and point directly at the earth in alignment with the sunrise while appearing on the horizon just after twilight.”

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And what about the virgin birth, I thought while gazing from the marl pit bridge?

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“The sun in the sky is born under the constellation of the virgin, Virgo, on December 25th. As a result, the sun deity is born of a virgin as well. As the Age of Pisces began, its opposite sign in the zodiac, Virgo the virgin, was on the western horizon. As we pointed out in chapter three, Horus was born of the virgin Isis-Meri on December 25th. Isis-Meri (Isis the Beloved) was the Egyptian name for the constellation of Virgo. Meri (Mary) also happens to be where words like marina and marine (references to the sea) come from, because cultures who watch the sun rise over the ocean witnessed God’s sun being born out of the ocean and walk on water.”   Astrotheology & Shamanism Christianity’s Pagan Roots

Would love and compassion disappear from the earth if people knew the truth about the origins and Christianity?    Check out Bet Emet Ministries for more interesting info: “Bet Emet’s Websites are intended to be a “Spiritual Pilgrimage” in ones study of “the Christ”; moving from the assumed Historical Jesus Christ to the Mystical Jesus Christ and finally to the Mythical Jesus Christ.”

I tucked this reverie in a back pocket in my mind and dragged a sled-full of gear down the Buckthorn Alley, where I planned to meet Ben Johnson (pictured by the fire below) and Jim Davee to cut and pile some buckthorn.

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It is definitely more challenging to work in the winter snow, but we had a nice fire to warm up by and this area is too wet to work in any other time of the year.

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I was happy with the results!

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Ben and I talked about the work the DNR did on the scuppernong river, that I recently reported on, and we decided to take a look from the south side of the river.

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From there we walked along the river’s edge all the way up to the “Big Spring”; that was a workout.

I hope the sun/son will be shining the next time I See you at The Springs.

Solstice Fires

I checked the weather during the taxi ride home from the airport and knew that I was meant to be at The Springs for the winter solstice. Wikipedia informs us that the word solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) but it neglects to explain that it stands still for three days and how this astrological fact is at the core of Christianity.

“It appears as though the sun has been moving toward the south and growing smaller every day, but on the evening of the winter solstice (typically December 21st or 22nd), this comes to an end.  On December 22nd, 23rd, and 24th the sun does not rise closer to the south as it has each day in the previous six months.

Instead, the sun will rise in the exact same location; it is without movement.  The sun is considered dead for three days.  There is a three-day period when our savior, the King of kings, the son of God (the sun god) is dead.  The new sun is born on December 25th, rising on the horizon and advancing toward the north as it begins its new life and the days begin to grow longer.  In fact, above 66.5 to 67 degrees latitude, the sun will actually disappear from the horizon during this three-day period.”  Astrotheology & Shamanism Christianity’s Pagan Roots by Jan Irvin & Andrew Rutajit (video version here)

It was this book along with Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, that helped me understand religion and liberate myself from it. And what does the word mean after all? It comes from the latin religare: to bind fast. No wonder tyrants and empires have used it to divide and control people.

How can one replace organized religion? Leo Tolstoy explains it at the end of Anna Karenina in a conversation between the noble landlord, Levin and one of the peasants who works for him:

“Oh, well, of course, folks are different. One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh, he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God.”

“How thinks of God? How does he live for his soul?” Levin almost shouted.

“Why, to be sure, in truth, in God’s way. Folks are different. Take you now, you wouldn’t wrong a man….”

The thought of actually living in truth for my soul excites me like it did Levin, but I’m just as likely to fail at it as he was.

Lots of wet, heavy, snow was predicted for the night so I seized the day and burned brush piles in the areas marked in red below.

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My first stop was on the cut-off trail.

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The freezing drizzle from the previous day made the piles a little harder to start but I managed to get the 25 in this area lit by lunch time.

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From there I went to the area along the main trail between signposts #1 and #2…

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… and I got 15 more piles going.

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As I was lighting the last pile, John and Sue Hrobar stopped by to share exciting news. They report seeing trout much more frequently than in the recent past and Sue was startled by a pheasant that was lurking under the marl pit bridge. John told me the DNR had been there (on Saturday, December 14th) installing bio-logs in the river just a little upstream from where I was burning brush piles on the cut-off trail (see blue stretch of river on the map above). I hastened to check it out!

This is a continuation of the excellent work they did back on June 30th.

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Nicely done! Mike Kuhr, from the Southeast WI Chapter of Trout Unlimited, added a comment to my last post referring to the work they did on the river with the DNR and I completely missed what he was talking about, responding with a non-sequitur from Taj Mahal’s “Fishin Blues“.

The solstice fires, driven by northeast winds, still burned brightly as I departed.

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See you at The Springs!