The Buckthorn Barrow

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

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

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

A short business meeting will follow the program.

Refreshments will be served and door prizes awarded.

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

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

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


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

IMG_2418 IMG_2419

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


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

IMG_2411 IMG_2412

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

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

IMG_2415 IMG_2416

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

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


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

IMG_2422 IMG_2426

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

IMG_2429 IMG_2430

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

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

IMG_2435 IMG_2439 IMG_2441 IMG_2445 IMG_2446 IMG_2451 IMG_2454

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.

IMG_2338 IMG_2339 IMG_2340

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


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

IMG_2344 IMG_2345

Ben mounts a woodland birdhouse near the Indian Spring.

IMG_2348 IMG_2349

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.

IMG_2354 IMG_2355

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.

IMG_2357 IMG_2359

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

IMG_2361 IMG_2362 IMG_2363

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!


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.

IMG_2366 IMG_2367 IMG_2370 IMG_2372 IMG_2374 IMG_2377 IMG_2379 IMG_2385

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.


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.


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.

IMG_2256 IMG_2258 IMG_2259

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

IMG_2261 IMG_2263 IMG_2265

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

IMG_2271 IMG_2274 IMG_2275

Sundown Monday.

IMG_2279 IMG_2282 IMG_2284 IMG_2289 IMG_2292 IMG_2294 IMG_2298 IMG_2299

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

IMG_2300 IMG_2302 IMG_2303

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

IMG_2305 IMG_2306 IMG_2308

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.

IMG_2315 IMG_2316

Vernal equinox on the sand prairie.

IMG_2314 IMG_2322 IMG_2324 IMG_2326 IMG_2328 IMG_2330


See you at The Springs!

Burn the Alley

We must have made over 200 brush piles in the Buckthorn Alley since late November; well, Andy Buchta made most of them.  Green and wet as they may be, now is the time to make them go away. I don’t want to look through them for 9 months to see past them. The landscape demands a clear view!

I had two opportunities this past week to light up the Buckthorn Alley and it was my great pleasure to be joined by Rich Csavoy, Dick Jenks and Ben Johnson. On Monday we started with piles right at the parking lot on Hwy ZZ.




Rich and I prepped the piles with chainsaws and I did the lighting. Dick helped the fires burn completely by consolidating the burning piles and fanning them with the leaf blower. The snow was soft and deep, and it was an effort to move from pile to pile, but we managed to get 33 lit.




I worked the fires until 5:30pm and used the technique we recently learned from Gary Birch of disbursing the ash piles with the leaf blower.

The sun was on it’s way to set behind a bank of clouds as I made my way up to the Indian Campground. I really appreciated and enjoyed working with Rich and Dick again!




Yesterday, I heard the whine of Dick’s chainsaw shredding the morning stillness as I arrived around 8:30am.


Last November, Dick suggested we save the “nice” buckthorn logs, cut them into firewood, and offer it to Ottawa Lake campers (donations to the Wisconsin DNR are welcome!)  He followed up by creating this brochure to advertise…

Free Campfire wood

and by actually doing the work.  Dick, I’ll bring that sawbuck you gave me to The Springs tomorrow!

The air was moving when I began lighting piles and I made good progress initially.  Then, I looked up and saw Ben Johnson carrying a 12′ aluminum ladder and dragging a sled full of birdhouses and tools.


Dick split his time between cutting firewood and tending the 25 brush piles I lit, while Ben meticulously scouted sites and mounted 26 bird houses.

IMG_2200 IMG_2202

At the end of the day Ben and I retraced his steps and he collected GPS data points for every birdhouse location.

IMG_2205 IMG_2207 IMG_2211

For some reason, the late afternoon light, or maybe it was mother nature herself, cast a most beautiful soft blush on the landscape.


The sun was setting as we arrived on the Indian Campground…

IMG_2213 IMG_2216

… but I wanted to watch the grand finale from the Marl Pit bridge.

IMG_2217 IMG_2221 IMG_2222

See you at The Springs!

Kettle Moraine Oak Opening

A lot of ingredients go into a successful land restoration recipe and you’ll always find persistence as the base stock. Our chef Saturday, February 15, at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening SNA chilly bowl, was noted Oakologist and Wisconsin DNR Conservation Biologist, Jared Urban.

Restoring and preserving oak savannahs and woodlands is an important goal of the DNR’s Endangered Resources Program (newly christened as the Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau), and Jared has been focusing on organizing and empowering volunteers to accomplish this.


Zach Kastern gets the party started.

Our chef sets the table.

Feast your eyes on this work crew!

Jared likes to spice up workdays with unique mixes of people, locations and activities and Saturday’s stew pot included burning brush piles and cutting and poisoning buckthorn, honeysuckle and other brush on the sunny south side of an oak covered moraine just northeast of the intersection of Bluff Road and County Hwy H.  Enthusiastic volunteers from the Ecology Club, and S.A.G.E. (Students Allied for a Green Earth) at UW Whitewater, the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, and others, provided the meat and potatoes for the savory stew but Jared’s “secret ingredient” was Gary Birch.

IMG_2001 IMG_2002

Gary has dedicated his professional career (first with the Wisconsin DNR and currently with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation) and a lot of his personal time to nurturing, protecting and researching the flora and fauna in Wisconsin.  Here is a small sample of Gary’s diverse activities:

NR40 establishes classification of invasive species and regulates certain categories of plants. The BMPs (Best Management Practices) identify measures that ROW (right-of-way) managers can take to minimize the introduction and spread of invasive plants by applying maintenance resources effectively. A growing concern for more than 20 years, experts point to invasive species as a threat to ecological balance and the economic value of Wisconsin’s lands and water.
Gary Birch, an ecologist with the WisDOT Division of Transportation Development, says the department is reviewing the impact of NR40 on its policies and mowing directives for state highways.  WisDOT also is working with the DNR to create programs on invasive species management for use around the state. Birch hopes to circulate the DNR Field Guide at future workshops, part of “a monumental effort” to help road maintenance managers and crew members recognize problem plants and what methods to use, when.

Gary’s life’s work epitomizes  persistence, which is the key to any “monumental effort”.  His latest tip is to check out the Pleasant Valley Conservancy SNA, which I plan to do soon!  Thanks for everything you do Gary!

Meanwhile, back at the Oak Opening, Jared led a crew of brush cutters, stump poisoners and brush haulers and I led a team to set the piles on fire..




Zach Kastern led another team clearing brush along the horse trail.



Jerry took one for the team.


Herb Sharpless, with the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, led another crew working farther north along the horse trail, but they were in brush so dense that I didn’t see them!

It was another wonderful and satisfying day working at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening SNA!


See you at The Springs!

Eagle Oak Opening

What’s in a name? The Wisconsin DNR’s Endangered Resources Program has been rechristened the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be kicking some invasives’ butt with the Endangered Resources crew than resting like a folded doily in some mothballed bureau. What’s not to like about ER? I can’t even pronounce BNHC!

Long live the ER team! It was less than 2 years ago that Jared Urban began coordinating with local volunteers to adopt a State Natural Area and yesterday we saw the maturation of that effort in a splendid workday at the Eagle Oak Opening SNA. ER crew leader Jessica Renley, along with Jared, Adam Stone, Scott Stipetich and Don Dane formed the nucleus of a high powered and highly organized effort to remove red cedar and other unwanted trees from the Eagle Oak Opening.


We had a great group of volunteers!


Jared explains the who, what, where, when, why and how.

The ER team had prepared four different work zones ahead of time by clearing small areas and stacking brush piles. Shortly after we divided into teams, we had 4 fires raging, 3 sawyers sawing, 2 poison daubers and whole lot of brush piling. Actually, there were 6-8 chainsaws ripping and everyone was busy doing their part.

Scott, Jess and Izak.



Jill and her boys work one of the hillside piles.




Don and Zach Kastern led the team at the base of the hill and they had some challenges getting the red cedar out from under telephone lines.



Alex stokes the fire.


Back at the top of the moraine Jared, Maggie, Jim and Nannette worked the pile.


Time, sparks, sawdust and cedar flew as we cleared the hillside.






Some of the volunteers left around noon, as we stopped for lunch and talked about what was working; or not.

Jess set the pace all day!


The DNR crew, Zach and I worked until around 4:00pm.

I didn’t want to leave; I felt totally at peace and savored every minute of it.











Watch the Volunteer Page for the next chance to work with the DNR’s Endangered Resources team at one of our beautiful State Natural Areas.

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.


My first stop was on the cut-off trail.


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.


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



… and I got 15 more piles going.



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.




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.


See you at The Springs!

Blazing Buckthorn


I love lingering by a fire on a winter day, especially when it’s fueled by buckthorn!

One of the things about volunteering at The Springs that gives me the most satisfaction and joy is the opportunity to go with the flow of weather, phenology or whimsy and do exactly what I think is right for the moment. The sweetest part is becoming cognizant that I’m in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. Sometimes it makes me burst out laughing.

Yesterday was one of those times, and a last minute adjustment to take advantage of calm north and east winds turned out to be a great choice. Dick Jenks joined me and happily suggested that our timing was good as snow was expected soon. He brought along a sawbuck he made that we plan use to cut up buckthorn logs. We are trying to work out something with the DNR to make the buckthorn available to campers at Ottawa Lake for a donation. Donations aside, I was glad to see that someone has already picked up the buckthorn logs we stacked near Hwy ZZ last week.


Our goal yesterday was to burn all the brush piles in the area near Hwy 67 marked in blue below.


We were wildly successful, and lit 61 piles, extending along the trail on both sides north of our initial target area. We started at the old hotel site and soon had all the piles there going.





Then we moved just north of the old barn site to light the next batch of fires.


The wood was dry and readily took the flame.



It was overcast and you could feel the snow coming. “I watched the fire the grew so low…”


Pati and I are taking a short vacation in Oregon; I’ll be back before the year ends.

See you at The Springs!

p.s. Consider participating in the State Natural Area Volunteer Program event on January 18th. You can sign up for notification of future events here by subscribing (SNA Volunteer topic is at the bottom of the list).

Spring Flames

Spring Flames — sounds like the title of a romance novel. My love for The Springs was aflame yesterday in the form of 42 brush piles that, driven by swirling, mostly westerly winds, flared bright and hot. The conditions were good enough that I had no ambition other than to light as many fires as I could.

God gave the day, God gave the strength. And the day and the strength were consecrated to labor, and that labor was its own reward. For whom the labor? What would be its fruits? These were idle considerations– beside the point.”  Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Book 3 Chapter 12

Based on the age of the brush piles and the wind direction, I picked the north side of the Scuppernong River as the target for the day.


Here are a couple perspectives from the trail just in front of the old barn site.


The view from where I drew my sled.


The winds became more consistent as the flurries stopped and the sun broke through, and the times I had to go back and relight a pile decreased. At some point every pile burst into a flare that swirled with the wind and always got my attention.



I changed out of my sweaty clothes and bundled up for a walk whereon I soon met Ben Johnson. He joined my stroll and our conversation made the time and steps fly by, as we enjoyed the beautiful winter sky.



See you at The Springs!

Sunny Burn

Just like mountaineers climbing higher, then descending only to climb higher still, we begin acclimatizing to the winter season with a longer and longer periods of cold punctuated by balmy warm days like we had today at The Springs.

There was still a bit of snow covering the ground and we thought it would be safe to burn some piles. We started just west of signpost #1 where the views into the prairie start to open up. Here is what it looked like before we got started.



Dick Jenks fueling his machine.



We kept a close watch on the first batch of fires as there was strong breeze blowing in from the southwest.


After these fires had calmed down, we proceeded to light the piles along both sides of the buckthorn tunnel. Despite the fact that the buckthorn had been cut only 2 months ago, it was relatively easy to start it burning. Here is how it looked after we got 22 piles lit.





Dick and I cut a bunch of buckthorn as the brush piles burned. It was a warm sunny afternoon and Pati came out to pile brush along the cut-off trail for a couple hours. Then we relaxed and strolled the trails absentmindedly missing the sunset, which seemed to happen faster than usual.



It was a wonderful day.

See you at The Springs!