Spring Break

Thanks again for following my exploits at The Springs!


I’m going camping near The Springs — back online in a couple weeks. I’ll definitely be mixing a little work with pleasure and hopefully, will have some good stories to tell when I get back.

I’m under assault again from borrelia burgdorferi, and his bacterial buddy, ehrlichia. They definitely have a monthly cycle. I could barely get out of bed yesterday, but I’m feeling much better now. I’m hoping that fresh air and water, and lots of rest, exercise and good organic vegetarian food will get me back on track. Nevertheless, I have tons of medical tests to review with my doctor when I get back in town — it ain’t over yet.

See you at The Springs!

Scuppernong Springs Refuge

Nature is my refuge, it’s been my Bridge Over Troubled Waters ever since I was a boy growing up in a family of 12, and now no less since I’ve become aware of the truth about how the world really works. I feel a bit selfish spending so much time at The Springs; shouldn’t I be doing something to stop the U.S. intervention in Syria, or, nurturing my gardens at home?

The world “out there” is never far from mind when I’m at my Scuppernong Springs Refuge. I felt comforted and protected there yester-Sun-day morning and, as the day progressed, I calmed down a little.


I started the day in the lower meadow cutting cattails and purple loosestrife. I have seen loosestrife eating beetles and their effects at The Springs; nevertheless, this will be a bumper year for the purple invader.


As I was walking along the south side of the river in the lower meadows heading back to my truck, I had to stop and appreciate how beautiful it was (sorry, the video is blurry for the first couple seconds, while the camera focuses.)

I’m cleaning up my “to do list” — last time it was girdling black locust — and there was some brush I cut back in the spring between the cut-off trail and the river that I needed to get piled (note, I mistakenly refer to the upper meadows at the beginning of the video, s/b lower meadows.)

There is one more place that needs piling and I’m chomp’in at the bit to start whacking buckthorn again. Meanwhile, I spent the afternoon pulling and digging weeds, mostly spotted knapweed on the sand prairie. I’m seeing tons of young lupine plants on the western slope of the north side of the prairie and, in many cases, I was able to dig out the knapweed leaving the lupine unmolested, which was very satisfying.

Later, I took a walk around the trail and captured these images of the lower meadow


After a cloudy day, the sun came out just in time for me to take a dip in the river and do a bit of yoga at the marl pit bridge. I got these parting shoots as the clouds thickened again.






See you at The Springs!

The Trivium

I had a “gut check” on the way home from The Springs last night. Jason Dare, the real deal when it comes to ecosystem management, met me by coincidence on the trail near the Hillside Springs, and, in the fading light, he helped me see a new approach to “gardening” at The Springs. As I drove home, I questioned whether or not I had made some mistakes, used the wrong poison in the wrong place at the wrong time, or missed golden opportunities to repel nascent invasive species. I faced the challenge of integrating new information that contradicted what I thought I new, and was putting into practice; I was confused!

Fortunately there is a way to dispel confusion — the liberating art of critical thinking known as The Trivium Method. As I reviewed what Jason said I recognized: The Grammar i.e., the knowledge of objects in the real world; The Logic, or process of non-contradictory identification that leads to understanding and answers the question why; and The Rhetoric, manifest in Jason’s wisdom and ability to explain the how to me. Just listen for yourself!

Armed with the trivium, I’m learning the phenology of the varied plant communities, the biology and the proper use of herbicide. I’m encouraged by people like Jason Dare, who is going to give me a list of the weeds he was inventorying for the DNR (and strategies for attacking them), and Ron Kurowski, who is going to give me a survey of native plants, and I hope other knowledgeable nature lovers will contribute as well. It seems like ever since the Native Americans were kicked out of the area in the late 1820s, people have viewed The Springs with and eye to make a buck. Now we are changing that and it is a wonderful opportunity to do something for the shear joy of it. I hope you will consider contributing your time and talents to this effort. Persistence is the key!

Had I known when I arrived yesterday morning what I know now, I would not have sprayed buckthorn seedlings and re-sprouts at the trailhead. Jason explained why October-November is the only time he will spray buckthorn seedlings and how a mix of Garlon 3a and Escort would be the least toxic approach, given the sensitivity of the area. Summer is time to focus on herbaceous weeds and that is what we plan to do from now on. Sound advice from someone with a lot of experience managing ecosystems. The knowledge, understanding and wisdom is sinking in!


Just as I finished spraying, I got a trail update from a veteran birder named Tom, who said the north end of the trail was getting really overgrown. This is buckthorn alley and I confess that I have not walked this stretch of trail since the burn. I got after it with my brush cutter.

I had intended to pile brush in an area 100 yards or so down the main trail, where the first views of the prairie open up, and resumed that objective after sweeping buckthorn alley.

Here is how it looked after a couple hours. In light of my conversation with Jason, I’m rethinking the plan mentioned at the end of this video.

It was cool and breezy all day but the darn mosquitoes came out in force as evening progressed.


Ron mentioned in his last visit that oak wilt was attacking the black oaks and here is example along the river.


A last river view before heading home


See you at The Springs!

Signs of Volunteers

The Springs are buzzing with excitement and I’m not just referring to the voraciously hungry mosquitoes. Last week many groups of children visited and yesterday the first class of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist program, run by the Wehr Nature Center, was here. The Law of Attraction is definitely at work at The Springs. Amanda, Melanie and their crew of volunteers were vibrating with energy as they converted their thoughts and emotions into actions installing a new set of signposts (that Don Dane made) to accompany the interpretive brochure.

Melanie and Tara digging the hole for post #3 at the marl pit factory.

They had to painstakingly pull out brick after brick from hole #4 by the marl pit bridge.





Here is the rest of the crew: Kay, Barb, Berta and Rich. Together they worked on at least 9 different signposts. Nice!

When I first arrived, I sprayed Habitat on some areas in the river valley where the phragmites and cattails were the only plants growing. I’m not going to spray anymore, anything in the river valley. In most of the valley a wide diversity of plants have emerged interspersed with the invasive ones. It would take a huge quantity of Habitat to spray the entire area and many good plants would likely be killed, not to mention the residue from the poison that would infiltrate the river. As Dana Carvey impersonating George H.W. Bush would say, “Na, Ga, Da”.

I finished girdling a clonal colony of aspen, the last I plan to do at The Springs this season, located on the east end of the cut-off trail in an area that was once cleared for farming. The views from this section of trail south towards the river will be stunning once the aspen and buckthorn are removed. There is still some buckthorn between the trail and river in this area and I plan to get after it soon.

In the afternoon I resumed brush piling on the west end of the cut-off trail. We feverishly cut and cut between the trail and the river during the early spring to lay down as much buckthorn as possible before the burn and I’m almost completely caught up piling it now. Here is a view of the area I was working at from the gaging station bridge.


And from the cut-off trail.


Here are a few scenes from the marl pit bridge.

And the marl factory.

Jill Hagen Smith, who participated in the Wisconsin Master Naturalist class, and who leads children’s nature outings at the Wehr Nature Center, was soaking her feet in cool spring water.



I wish I had known they were going to be there, I would have loved to talk to the group about our restoration efforts.

I made an early exit for home.


See you at The Springs!

Phragmites Update

Last year we began attacking the phragmites that was rapidly spreading in the Scuppernong River valley area around The Springs. It had grown thick and tall with year after year of accumulated stalks providing support for each new year’s growth. In one area we tried gathering handfuls, tying them, and clipping the bunches at around 24″ high and daubing the the cut ends with Habitat. This worked very well as you can see in the video below taken by the Hillside Springs. Unlike other areas of phragmites that were not treated, only cut and burned, we see very little regrowth here.

In this area by the Hidden Springs, we cut the phragmites in early summer and in mid-October Lindsay sprayed the fresh new growth with Habitat. Again, we see excellent results with little new growth after the fire.

The following videos show the area just to the west of the observation deck at the Emerald Springs and then the area adjacent to the deck on the south and east sides, where the phragmites was cut last summer and burned this spring, but not treated with Habitat. You can see it is coming back like gang-busters.

In the next month we will be spraying phragmites and cattails with Habitat, focusing on the areas where these two plants dominate. In areas with more plant species diversity, we will not spray and instead, we’ll use the bunching, clipping and daubing technique; or we may just cut it. The goal is to open a window of opportunity for native wetland plants to re-emerge.

I dared the threat of showers yesterday and got a full days work in at The Springs. I wonder what creature made these holes on the sand prairie.



I continued girdling aspen; this time on the north side of the scuppernong river just west of the old barn site. Per Robert Duerwachter’s excellent history, The Ponds of the Scuppernong, this area was cleared and planted in corn. The opportunistic aspen and buckthorn have since moved in and removing them will give room for oaks and hickory to return instead.

In the afternoon I continued piling brush finishing the area on the east end of the cut-off trail between the trail and the river. The forest floor here is lush with grasses, geraniums, columbine, may apple and other flowers.

The view from the hotel site.


Last spring I was scolded, for good reason, by a man who complained that I was cutting down all of the wild plum trees along with the buckthorn. I noticed the difference myself and have made a concerted effort to discriminate between the two. I’m hoping to enjoy some of these fruits by the gaging station bridge.



There are wild plum trees by the old barn site and along the loop trail heading north from there near the cranberry bogs.

See you at The Springs!

South Branch Scuppernong River

“I’m more ‘here’ when I’m here, partly because I’ve learned more about the river.”, that is how Milton Bates described his deepening present moment awareness in his fantastic book, The Bark River Chronicles. We drew inspiration from Mr. Bates to embark on our own Journey Down The Scuppernong River, and it has been a wonderful, enriching and, unfortunately, a bit disturbing, learning experience. From the pristine headwaters at the Scuppernong River Nature Trail to the final, completely degraded, drainage ditch, that passes through the mud farms west of Hwy 106, the journey has taught us a lot about natural history and the impact of white settlers with their insatiable, often short-sighted, desire to convert natural resources into money — which continues to this day.

On our journey downstream we tried to document all of the tributaries and water sources that feed the Scuppernong River but we missed one of the most significant; the South Branch of the Scuppernong River. I remember now exactly when we encountered it on the second leg of your journey, as we approached an abandoned farm just east of Hwy Z, and I assumed at the time that it was just an irrigation canal.


(full image here)

I even mentioned in a previous post the brook trout that were released into the south branch, but it did not register:


John and Sue Hrobar visit The Springs often, and we discuss, fish, flowers and the pros and cons of intervening to attempt to restore native habitats. Lately, our discussions have focused on what has happened to the brook trout in the stretch of river near the headwaters since we have begun clearing the springs and river. John concludes, because we don’t see trout in the river like we used to, that our efforts have disturbed a critical balance making the river unsuitable for trout. The major change being the removal of water cress, which was literally damming the river and causing it to overflow its banks, but which may have been providing the habitat for bugs and insects on which the trout depend. He suspects that our clearing of all the feeder springs has not increased the flow of water and has only released more mud and sediment into the river. I respect John’s ideas and I’m trying to understand what is going on with the fish. What is good trout habitat and what should a healthy, natural, spring-fed river look like? Here is what the WDNR considers suitable habitat for trout fishing on the Scuppernong River and its tributaries.


(full image here)

John and Sue enlightened me as to the existence of the South Branch of the Scuppernong River and I really appreciate that. The source is the Stute Springs, just south of forest headquarters. You can follow its course north and west by zooming into this map:

It was really peaceful yesterday morning when I arrived at The Springs and encountered this wind blown cherry tree blocking my access to the parking area at the terminus of a DNR, 2-track, access road at the south end of the trail.


Coincidentally, this happened to be an area where some black locust stumps where protruding in the road and I shaved these as well as removed the downed tree. I continued spraying first year garlic mustard seedlings on the south end of the loop trail using a 2.34% solution of glyphosate and then proceeded to the north side of the scuppernong river to girdle some aspen.


I spent the afternoon piling buckthorn between the north side of the river and the cut-off trail and made another dozen or so piles. John and Sue arrived to say hello and we had a great conversation regarding the restoration effort and then they lead me to this rare patch of kitten tails.


Golden Alexander is in full bloom.


Spider Wort is prolific on the sand prairie.


Our good friend, the north wind, blew into The Springs and it was cool and cloudy most of the day, but when the sunshine finally broke through, it was glorious.





Another spring may have started flowing, check this out:

Views of the Scuppernong Prairie from the Sauk Campground…




… and the marl pit bridge.


My sweetheart, Pati Holman, road her bike the 40 or so miles from Milwaukee to join me and we took a nice walk around the loop trail before heading for home.


See you at The Springs!

Ticks and Mosquitoes

The sensation is like that of a feather vaguely wandering across the skin.  Slowly, like ripples spreading in a pool of consciousness, the mind awakens to the touch; there is something crawling on me! Out at The Springs we are under attack from the ground and air by ticks and mosquitoes. Good Lord! The ticks are thick and “questing” and, along with their airborne allies, they share an affinity for the same flesh to satisfy their wanton blood lust. The ticks leave a memory upon the surface of the skin that comes to mind again and again; long after they have moved on. Every itch and tingle is a tick! They are in My Truck, waiting for me!

Despite the little things that try patience and distract from the pure joy of living, I spent two Happy Days at The Springs this past Wednesday and Thursday (May 29-30). Rich Csavoy joined me on Wednesday and we had a marvelous time girdling aspen, pulling garlic mustard, piling buckthorn and discussing the first principles of philosophy. Here is a video tour of the north side of the Scuppernong River, just west of the old barn site, where we made around 13 piles.

The view downstream from the work site.


Looking at the new brush piles from the hotel site.


We are seeing a green heron quite frequently at the marl pit bridge.


The Sauk Campground as seen from the marl pit.


The pit.


The valley.


Lindsay, and his mate, Connie, stopped over and shared a delicious bottle of Zinfandel from the Lewis Station Winery wine with me and we surveyed the prairie as evening descended.

I was back at it again on Thursday with a stop down at the Scuppernong Spring to get some drinking water.


Here is a walking tour of the Sauk Campground with the advantage of the morning sun behind me.

I took a chance that it would not rain and sprayed 8 gallons of glyphosate on first year garlic mustard seedlings, which literally carpet many newly cleared areas. Then I girdled a clonal colony of aspen on the west side of the river across from hotel site. The goal is to keep the boundary areas along the river valley free of aspen. And finally, I returned to the north side of the scuppernong river, west of the old barn site, between the river and cut-off trail, to pile buckthorn.




Check out this patch of geraniums!


The water level is up to around .4′ from the early spring levels around .34′ and it seems like the river channel is getting more narrowly defined, i.e. some of the marl and muck is getting washed downstream.

The Emerald Springs are constantly changing their configuration.



I recently discovered John Muir’s writings and just listened to The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. I don’t think anyone can describe clouds like John Muir. From The Mountains of California:

When the glorious pearl and alabaster clouds of these noonday storms are being built I never give attention to anything else. No mountain or mountain-range, however divinely clothed with light, has a more enduring charm than those fleeting mountains of the sky–floating fountains bearing water for every well, the angels of the streams and lakes; brooding in the deep azure, or sweeping softly along the ground over ridge and dome, over meadow, over forest, over garden and grove; lingering with cooling shadows, refreshing every flower, and soothing rugged rock-brows with a gentleness of touch and gesture wholly divine.


Scuppernong Storm Clouds.





See you at The Springs!

The Sauk Spring

After a couple days, I start to miss The Springs.  They draw me away from the present moment into a dreamy future, which became reality for me last Thursday as I worked, wandered and wondered in a Garden of Eden. This place is flowing with living waters and I drew some for the day at the Scuppernong Spring.


I crossed the Indian Campground on my way to an area at the bottom of the slope to girdle some Aspen trees.

IMG_1571 IMG_1572

It wasn’t until I started working with real Indians, I mean people born in India, that I started to become frustrated with the common use of the term here; a case of mistaken identity.  Language is so powerful!  Who were the “First People”, the “Native Americans”?  If only we could have learned from them how to live in harmony with the land and honored them with their own names.

Watercress and quack grass are two non-native plants that can really take over an area.  Lindsay pulled a ton of these invaders from the Indian Spring, or maybe we should call it the Sauk Spring after the tribe, along with the Fox, that ceded over 50,000,000 acres of their tribal lands to the United States in the Treaty of St. Louis back in 1803. Cede — to surrender possession of. We didn’t expect these deeply rooted plants to disappear and I thought it would be a good time to clean the spring again.




After girdling aspen for a while, I donned some rubber knee boots and pulled the new batch of water cress and quack grass that were rapidly spreading. Here are a series of videos and photos taken later in the day that give a tour of the Sauk Spring.




I love the sound of the water.

This view is a bit downstream from the source where an earthen dam was blocking the channel.

There is a second spring source that merges with the main channel on its way to the Scuppernong River.

The Sauk Spring is a relatively quiet place to hang out with a great view of the prairie.

Next, I headed to the old barn site, which is quite a bit noisier, to pile some buckthorn. Garrett and Jenny, two new volunteers, joined me and we did some stacking. I’m hoping to work with them again soon!




Finally, it was time for some fun and by this time the clouds had been blown away by a refreshing north wind.




This vernal pool as at the south end of the loop trail.


The Sauk Campground is a sand prairie that really comes alive with color in the spring. The Hoary Puccoon is in full bloom.



And so are the Wild Lupine!




On my way to the marl pits at the north end of the Sauk Campground…



At the pits looking east towards the Sauk Spring area.



May Apple on the cut-off, aka “lost”, trail.




It was a lovely, cool, bug-free, full-moon evening and I watched the sun go down from the Marl Pit bridge.








See you at The Springs!

The Hidden Spring

I’m celebrating! Its been 2 years since I returned to the The Springs and 2 years since I had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from my neck. So much has changed since then in both me and The Springs; I got healthy, retired and discovered philosophy, and The Springs got some tender loving care including a good cleaning.

One of the most exciting things we did last year was to uncover springs that were totally obscured by watercress, phragmites, cattails, buckthorn, and other brush.


We began the cleanup focused on removing the watercress that was damming the river, without consulting the map above, so it was one surprise after another as we “discovered” the two sets of Hillside Springs, The Hidden Spring and the Hatching House Springs. Yesterday, the morning light was just right and I paid respect to The Hidden Springs.

The views from the steps above the springs.




There are some nice bubblers here.



Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage frame the springs.





In discovering philosophy, I found my own hidden spring; a spring for my soul. One of the very simple ideas I’m contemplating is from The Yogatattva Upanishad that I found extracted in C. W. Leadbeater’s book The Chakras:


What a beautiful way to visualize the body and breath in harmony with nature!

Chester W. Smith erected the first dam just below the Hotel Springs in 1846 to power a saw mill and the river valley was flooded until 1992. The fires have laid bare the landscape and it is clear where the trout farmers divided the flooded river valley to suit their purposes. We are hoping, if we can check the phragmites and cattails, that some of the original flora might resurface.



This embankment crosses the valley just north of The Hidden Spring.


I continued spraying spotted knapweed on the Indian Campground; this is working very effectively. I sprayed a lot of flowering garlic mustard in the area south of the trail that did not get burned.

This painted turtle was sunbathing on the trail just above the Indian Spring.




I finished girdling the aspen in the area around the old hotel site and piled the remaining brush there as well. Check out this video walking tour.

I spotted some Pussytoes and Wood Betony along the trail by spur to The Emerald Spring. A profusion of new growth is emerging!



See you at The Springs!

Good Morning Springs

How can I describe what a great time I had at The Springs yesterday? The temperature and humidity were as pleasant as a Pacific Island. The air was fresh and breezing and the sunlight clarified everything. My thoughts were occupied by the current time; the present moment. Time is a spiritual current-cy. How do we spend it? What do we pay attention to? ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ and ‘what goes around, comes around’ aren’t just cliches; they are examples of Natural Law, specifically, the Law of Attraction, which is immutably in-force everywhere at all times. So when I say I had a “great time” at The Springs yesterday, I mean it was joyful to invest my spiritual currency paying attention to nature and working to help create the beautiful world that I want to see.

The morning light was flush on the Hillside Springs.





This Green Frog was enjoying the spring too.


There are lush patches of fresh watercress just below the Scuppernong Spring and I harvested a bagful to include in my green juice recipe.



As I was rinsing the watercress at the point where the Scuppernong Spring spills out of its pool and starts to flow as a river, a brown trout emerged from beneath a rock rim and swam about in the pool. I don’t know for sure what is going on with the trout; are they visitors, or a local reproducing population?


Thousands of garlic mustard seedlings have emerged at the south end of the loop trail literally carpeting the ground. I carefully sprayed them with glyphosate trying to avoid the many good plants that are also emerging.


I conscientiously sprayed the spotted knapweed that dominates the sand prairie of the Indian Campground with clopyralid; carefully avoiding the many, many, diverse plants that are also coming up. This sand prairie is going to come alive with color in a couple weeks.

There were more aspen to girdle along the river valley. If we don’t do this, the clonal colonies will spread into and dominate the valley floor.


I piled brush in the afternoon by the old hotel site. You can see the foundation stones in many places now. I forgot to take some pictures, but if you’ve seen one brush pile… I was covered with soot when I finished and took a cool dip in the river by the marl pit bridge to wash off. Clouds moved in and I marveled at their beauty while doing some yoga asanas.




With the video below I attempted to capture one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments.

See you at The Springs!