Kettle Moraine Natural History Association

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

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

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

Let me introduce you to the KMNHA board:

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

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

Buckthorn Alley Rumble

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The river bend.


The big valley.


Pati joined us for the sunset at the Indian Campground.

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

See you at The Springs!

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.

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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!

I Am the Buckthorn Man

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

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

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

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


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


This was the scene when I arrived on Wednesday morning.





I was gratified to see that Andy Buchta


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

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




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





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




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





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




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





Sunset at the Indian Campground.







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

Seattle Chainsaws Rip Denver Buckthorns

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

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

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



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




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


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





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





Sunset at the Indian Spring.

The views from the grandstands on the Indian Campground.





Early evening on the river.




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


See you at The Springs!

Wood Working

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The view from the old barn site.


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


See you at The Springs!

The Tree of Life

Is it any wonder that The Tree of Life has been the centerpiece of cosmologies and mythic traditions from time immemorial?

In the Kabbalah.


The Norse Yggdrasil.


An artist’s creation.


Below is a Tree of Life I recently had the pleasure of exposing at The Springs!


As we tear down the thicket that is the Buckthorn Alley, many beautiful trees are becoming visible; that’s what it’s all about for me. I put on an extra undershirt and braved the cold this past Saturday to work at The Springs.



After fetching some water at the Hotel Spring, I lit one of the brush piles that Andy Buchta made and got after it.


Pati met me mid-afternoon, after stocking up our water supply at the Parry Road Spring, and that was a good excuse to quit early.


We hung out by the fire for a while and then took a little walk. The video below shows how much further we have to go down the Buckthorn Alley to get to the open areas on the east side near signpost #13 and the junction with the cut-off trail.

Here is a short panorama video taken from the cut-off trail.

Views near the bridge by the Hotel Spring.



This spring gets late afternoon sun and is a favorite spot for birds.


View from the gaging station bridge.


And sunset at the Indian Campground.





See you at The Springs!

A Cold Day at The Springs


… is better than a warm day at the office! That’s me on the left back in the days when we struggled to get complex “Sales Illustrations” software to run in 640k of memory.


It was really challenging work but at the end of the day, it was just for money; my heart wasn’t in it, my mind was exhausted and the fire in my belly was out cold. It’s been 2 years since I retired and I’m very lucky the way things turned out.

Working at The Springs helps me keep my sanity. If you open your eyes, see what is going on around in the world, study history to build out a context for current events, and use a method like the integrated Trivium (knowledge/grammar, understanding/logic, wisdom/rhetoric) to sort fact from fiction, it’s hard not to get depressed. The powers that should not be are enslaving humanity and most people choose to ignore it. They choose IGNORE-ance rather than knowledge, contracting fear instead of expansive love. The Truth is that which is; that which has actually occurred. We can come to know the truth, and be set free, or we can ignore it, and be enslaved. The aggregate of all of our free will choices, bounded by the Laws of Nature, will determine the reality that manifests in this world. I encourage you to check out the work of Richard Grove at Tragedy and Hope, especially the podcasts, and tune in, don’t drop out.

Super Friend Andy Buchta is definitely tuned in!


He has been working at The Springs recently, piling brush along the trail where we have been cutting. You can see his latest efforts in the first picture above. It really warms my heart to see others independently volunteering their time and attention at The Springs and, thanks to Andy, I had a convenient brush pile to light up yesterday to keep me warm. Thanks as well to John Hrobar for stopping out with Sue and Tim and throwing a couple piles worth of brush on the fire. Below are a couple perspectives before I started working.


It was a cold, snowy day but I was happy to get out of the house and careful to keep my hands warm.




After work I enjoyed a walk around the trail in solitude and took the north end trail route from east to west through the Buckthorn Alley to get back to my truck. I think a couple more weeks and we’ll have a wide swath cleared on both sides of the trail through the Buckthorn Alley!



See you at The Springs!

A New Spring

I could sit for hours watching water bubble forth from a spring. It’s a form of hypnosis, or hypo (under)gnosis (knowledge). Gazing into a spring leads one to the under-knowledge; what is causing water to flow out of the earth right here, right now? If you go all the way, you’ll find it’s “turtles all the way down“!

I was working on the Buckthorn Alley yesterday and noticed a drainage ditch demarcating an area on the south side of the trail that I wanted to cut. Working along the west bank of the ditch, I noticed open water and soon beheld this spring.


What a hardy bubbler!

I arrived at the Hotel Spring to get some water around 8:00am, still basking in the glow from the fires the day before at the Eagle Oak Opening. Soon I was at the spot where I left off, on the north end of the trail, scoping out the situation.



It was relatively warm, and definitely sunny. I took it easy, cutting what I could (being frequently interrupted by the beautiful clouds drifting by overhead). My speculations about the torch not working due to cold temps were fallacious, as all it needed was a little WD-40 and resetting of the nozzle fitting.



The days are getting longer and I didn’t rush to stow my gear and get walking before the sun set. Here are some views from the cut-off trail.







Well, I could have easily lingered, hypnotized, at any of the springs along the way for hours, but the setting sun was beckoning.














See you at The Springs!

Turtles All The Way Down

The world rides on the back of a turtle! It’s a beautiful metaphor for that which is beyond our comprehension e.g., the nature of God, the origin of the Universe, or our existence in the spiritual realm.


My first exposure to “turtles all the way down” was during an interview of Dr. Patrick Byrne by Jan Irvin and Richard Grove on Gnostic Media, where they examined the “cosmology” of regulatory agencies that are supposedly monitoring our financial institutions and their speculative shenanigans.

… There was this story about Bertrand Russell, who was once debating with a Hindu cosmologist.  And the Hindu cosmologist said: “The world rides on the back of a turtle”.  And Russell asked: “What does the turtle ride on?”  And the Hindu replied: “On the back of another turtle.”  “Ok, and what does that turtle ride on?”, to which the Hindu replied: “Sorry professor, but it’s turtles all the way down“.

In the Hindu tradition the world rides on elephants, who are in turn supported by a turtle. It is mysterious that the turtle should play such a prominent role in the cosmology of traditions as diverse as the Hindu and Lenni Lanape. I just encountered it again in The Last Of The Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper in the character of Uncas, the son of Chingachgook, chief of the Sagamore.


In the story Uncas, the scout Hawkeye and major Heyward, in their attempt to free Cora and Alice, have fallen under the control of a tribe of Delaware Indians and Uncas is about to be burned at the stake. When his captors rip off his hunting shirt, they are frozen in their tracks by the sight of “the figure of a small tortoise, beautifully tattooed on the breast of the prisoner”. Seizing the opportunity to assert his rightful status Uncas declares: “Men of the Lenni Lenape! My race upholds the earth! Your feeble tribe stands on my shell!”


I often wonder what I stand on; is there any substance there? What is “there”. We have to start with principles and, per Mark Passio’s fantastic seminar on Natural Law, I’m trying to focus on the generative principle of CARE. What we care about is our spiritual currency. How we spend our time, and what we pay attention to, are the causes that manifest the effects we experience.

I was happy to spend another day paying attention to The Springs and satisfied with the effects, modest though they were. Given the recent heat wave, I thought conditions might be good enough to continue burning brush piles on the northeast end of the trail, where the cut-off trail intersects with the main trail near signpost #13.


I left my gear and walked down to the Hotel Spring to get some water.




We did get an inch or so of powdery snow the night before and I had my doubts about lighting the piles. I poked my chainsaw into one, consolidated a stack of wood, and tried to light it. My whimpering torch barely generated enough heat to light a doobie. Hmmm, must be the cold temperatures are not allowing the liquid propane to convert to gas at a fast enough rate, I speculated. The wood was wet and green and I barely got one pile going. I decided to switch gears and cut buckthorn on the east side of the old cranberry bog on the north side of the trail.


I gave it my best shot but, after bending a chain while trying to remove the bar from a pinch, and spilling the contents of the chainsaw gas tank on myself, I thought perhaps the price was too high to spend anymore time paying attention to buckthorn that day.



The white oak revealed above was my reward.

It’s a good thing I stopped when I did or I would have missed this classic winter sunset on the Indian Campground.







See you at The Springs!

p.s. don’t miss the workday this Saturday with Jared Urban and the DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau at the Eagle Oak Opening State Natural Area near Eagle.