Oaken Word

Siddhartha taught me to listen to the river. Time is an illusion; the “present” moment is an embraceable gift to us. Instead, we often treat time as a commodity to be spent, or saved, or wasted. The past haunts us, we fear for the future, all the while missing the gift of the present moment.


I was lucky to spend some time with the oaks this past weekend; paying attention, listening and feeling the gentle vibration of their subtle speech. The last few weeks I’ve been distracted with the burn, inmates and doctor visits but I found calm again in the present moment amongst the oaks.

On Saturday, May 11th, I joined Ginny Coburn and DNR Conservation Biologist Jared Urban for a workday at the Lone Tree Bluff Scenic Overlook to girdle some aspen trees. Jared leads the Endangered Resources (ER) team in southeastern Wisconsin. His crew varies in size from 3-5 people and they are responsible for approximately 20,000 acres.

Jared hobbled to the top of Lone Tree Bluff on crutches due to an ankle sprained while lighting a 90 acre prescribed burn at Lulu Lake on May 6th. This was after the ER team spent the bulk of the day helping to burn the Scuppernong. The expression “Still waters run deep”, was coined with Jared in mind; I calm down just being around him. But, you should have seen his face when he described the fires he lit at the Scuppernong; the tone vanished as his jaw dropped and I could see the 40′ flames reflected in his widened eyes. Below, Jared gives us a natural history lesson and explains the science behind girdling aspen trees.

When you contrast the billions and billions of dollars the government spends on the military, security industrial complex, versus what it spends to nurture the land, it recalls to mind TreeBeard’s lament in The Lord of the Rings that, ‘no one cares about the trees anymore’. The war mongers misleading us, our Saruman’s if you will, have propagandized us using the old divide and conquer strategy, demonizing Muslims, and distracting us from what our real priorities should be here in the homeLAND.

Whew, I’m ranting again. I’ll try to be more calmly passionate (sounds like something Joseph Conrad might have written, not to suggest I could have even sharpened his pencil). We had a lot of fun working together and I thoroughly enjoyed it.




In the back row Diane, Carol, SwordMan, Princess and Ginny and in the front row, Carol, Thayer and Jared.


I’m new to this area so I stayed to explore a little. Here are a few shots of the bluff.



The Bluff Creek Springs emerge from the north side of the moraine and feed Bluff Creek. I had to check them out.




I found another set of springs on the east side of the moraine.

I wanted to hear what the oak were saying up at Lapham Peak, where Mike Fort and the Lapham Peak Friends have been restoring the prairies, oak woodlands and oak savannas for over 20 years. They have perfected techniques for cutting, stacking and burning buckthorn that are models of efficiency. This past week they did a 75 acre prescribed burn in the area marked in white on the map below and they burned approximately 177 acres total in the park this spring burn season.


This huge swath of the north flank of the peak extends from “the big slide” cross country ski trail east to the tower hill road. I was in awe taking in the scope of the effort as I well remember this hillside was thick with buckthorn.





The oaks were swaying and singing gratefully with the blustery north wind, giving thanks for the tender loving care of the Lapham Peak Friends.

Approaching the tower.

A bird’s eye view from the tower (I need a wind screen for the camera mic).

If you haven’t visited Lapham Peak lately, or ever, consider paying attention to what the friends have accomplished and spend some present moments there.

On Sunday, May 12th, I was back at The Springs. Wow, I wonder how long it will take for the forest floor to become green again. I wonder if the native flowers and grasses will have enough strength in their roots to push up fresh growth this year; or next. I began the day spraying garlic mustard, which appeared in isolated patches that escaped the fires.


I was pleasantly surprised, and heart warmed, to see Lindsay, his wife, Connie and her granddaughter Sophia, arrive to pick up a load of wood.


When I talked to Don Dane after the burn he mentioned that this would be a great time to attack the spotted knapweed on the Indian Campground. Loaded with the recipe I got from Lindsay, I started that application. Spraying herbicide is my least favorite thing to do in the woods and I limit how much I do in a day. There is plenty more garlic mustard and spotted knapweed proliferating out there and I’ll be spraying for the next two months.



Some scenes from the Indian Campground.




Looking down into the river valley from the Indian Campground.



Next on the agenda was girdling aspen. I intended to continue working at the old hotel site, but I thought better of it as I was walking down the river valley, and I attacked a few isolated clonal colonies that were spreading into the valley.

A quick stop at the Scuppernong Spring.






Finally, I started piling buckthorn just north of the old barn site. I have been a cutting fool for the last couple months thinking that I would get a crew of inmates from the Sturtevant Transitional Facility to help me pile, but I don’t think that is going to work out, so I’ll be piling for the next few weeks to catch up. I made around 10 piles and it was very relaxing work with a great view down the river to the west.



DNR Visitor Services Associate extraordinaire Amanda Prange is leading an effort to install a new set of signposts to match the trail brochure.


The Hatching House Spring is looking great.


I followed the channel of the Indian Spring’s towards it’s junction with the Scuppernong River and caught this panorama video. The marl pit factory ruins are just to the right of the sun.


Speaking of which!




See you at The Springs!

Critical Thinking

I like to fancy myself as someone who knows how to think critically, but I suffered a momentary lapse of reason recently acting on belief instead of real knowledge. Fortunately, the consequences in this case were minor and served as a good reminder. To think critically consistently, a tool like the trivium is indispensible; grammar, logic and rhetoric, these are the keys we can use to distinguish truth from fiction and knowledge from mere belief or opinion.

In my last post I reported that we have been spraying spotted knapweed with glyphosate, aka, RoundUp, on the Sand Prairie believing this was the right approach for this invasive plant. The problem is I had not researched this plant i.e. I had not done my grammar and answered the questions of the Who, What, Where, and the When as applied to spotted knapweed. Lindsay sent me the link above via which I learned that the preferred technique is to “Apply selective herbicide clopyralid during bud growth in early June for best results (48 oz per 100 gal water).” I complained in the post that I didn’t have any clopyralid without doing the grammar on this compound. Thankfully, Lindsay did and he informed me that clopyralid is the active ingredient in Transline, which we do have. So this was a good reminder for me to apply critical thinking skills as we continue to try to restore the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve.

The scientific method goes hand in hand with the trivium and critical thinking and I’m trying a little experiment in the Scuppernong River just a few yards upstream from the bridge across the former embankment that created the upper pond. When Ben Heussner and his team of DNR Fish Biologists recently inspected the river, he pointed out that the river was not “head cutting” at this point and that is why it is still filled with silt and marl upstream. I’m trying a little low tech experiment to encourage the river start head cutting here.

Saturday, April 27, was a very pleasant day at The Springs and I started out spraying garlic mustard along Hwy 67 north of the old barn site. The understory here is severely degraded and consists mostly of garlic mustard.

Then I spent a couple hours girdling aspen at the old hotel site. There are some huge trees here and I was skeptical about attacking them with hand tools, but the bark is separating very easily from the trunks now and I made good progress.



Around mid-day, I headed over to the Buckthorn Alley, or, perhaps tunnel is more descriptive, and got started on one of the nastiest buckthorn thickets I have ever seen.





I made a small dent and already you can start to see things, like the sky, that will make this section of the trail much more enjoyable and interesting.

The day flew by and I had a date with Pati at home, so I had to depart before the sun set. Here is a parting panorama taken from the Indian Campground.

See you at The Springs!

Frog Celebration

Welcome back to The Springs! I was lucky and fortunate to spend both this past Saturday and Sunday at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. I don’t know if the health benefits derived from the fresh air, sunshine and cold spring water can be objectively measured, but by the end of the day yesterday, I was in a blissful state.

Rich Csavoy joined me bright and early yesterday morning and we loaded up our backpack sprayers and got after the garlic mustard in the area around the old barn site. Rich showed me what the seeds look like when they first emerge and we tried to hit some of these, which literally formed a carpet in some areas. The DNR intends to burn here if conditions permit, but “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, and we are not assuming this will happen. We also sprayed some spotted knapweed on the Sand Prairie that covers the Indian Campground.

After spraying we commenced girdling aspen trees at the old barn site. I refer to them as “clones” in the video below, but the correct term is clonal colony.

We are refining our techniques but this type of hand work is laborious. This is my first attempt at girdling aspen in this way, without using poison, and I want to give it a fair shot. I must confess though that the prospect of girdling the clonal colony of huge aspen at the old hotel site by hand is a little daunting. When I was working at the Hartland Marsh, I used my chainsaw to girdle a clonal colony of 40-50 huge aspen and I sprayed some glyphosate into the cuts. This worked perfectly and to this day there is nary an aspen in sight. I’m inclined to use the same approach at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail except for switching from Glyphosate to Transline, which the DNR uses for black locust, which spreads by putting out suckers from it’s roots . We’ll see how it goes.




After dispatching that clonal colony of aspen, we grabbed some heavy duty garbage bags and picked up litter on both sides of Hwy 67 south of where east-bound Hwy ZZ leaves Hwy 67. I had noticed a lot of trash when I was spraying garlic mustard along the highway on Saturday. This was a good opportunity to get some nice views of the springs and river.

Finally, Rich loaded his van with cherry, oak and buckthorn firewood and I headed over to the cut-off trail with my chainsaw. Here is a view of the area from across the river at the old hotel site. You can see a swath of buckthorn amongst a large sugar maple tree.


I was chomp’in at the bit to finish this last stretch of buckthorn between the cut-off trail and the river and slashed and flailed with impassioned vigor. Three tankfuls later…

The view across the freshly cut area from the cut-off trail.


And the view from the old hotel site.


By the time I loaded my gear back in the truck and began my ritual walking tour, I was very relaxed. The Marl Pit bridge is one of my favorite places to hang out. In the summer, I always take a bath here in the river and do a little yoga to relieve any muscle stress. Here is panorama video from that location.

The highlight of the day however was the sound of the frogs; a veritable din! Listen to the Spring Peepers and Western Chorus frogs in this video.

The frogs are very active in the wetlands and old cranberry bogs along the cut-off trail. Last spring it was so dry, there was barely a peep from the frogs. Check them out if you get a chance.

The Indian Spring.


Sunset at Ottawa Lake.



See you at The Springs!

Let the Sun Shine

I was starting to feel the signs of Vitamin D deficiency.  Thankfully, the Creator blessed us with a gorgeous sunny day and I was happy to spend it at The Springs.  The agenda for the day included spraying garlic mustard, girdling aspen and cutting some buckthorn,

I interrupted a pair of geese in a pool just below the Scuppernong Spring as I was fetching some drinking water for the day.

With the light snow and chilly temps, I decided to try girdling some aspen down by the Indian Springs until the sun could do its work. Here is a view of the two groups of aspen clones I wanted to get.



It’s getting easier and I was able to girdle around 15-20 trees in a couple hours.

The garlic mustard, spotted knapweed and other weeds are just emerging and it’s a perfect time to spray them with glyphosate. The plants are small, so they require less spray, and the weeds are the only things that have leafed out so there is very little collateral damage. I finally got a couple of decent backpack sprayers and that made it a lot easier. I ended up spraying the rest of the day using 12 gallons of mix and covering the south end of the trail including the Indian Campground, Indian Springs and Marl Pits. No doubt there will be additional weeds emerging from these areas, but our efforts over the last two years are paying off and the weeds are on the run.

This is a great time to visit The Springs if you are a birder. Ruby crowned and gold crowned kinglets are migrating through and they are fun to watch. Sand hill cranes, great blue herons, ducks, hawks, vultures and pileated woodpeckers, amongst many others, are active as well.

Here is a view of the Hillside Springs. Last June, these springs were completely covered with water cress and the surrounding hill was a thicket of buckthorn and honeysuckle; you couldn’t even see the boardwalks.

John and Sue Hrobar hike at The Springs frequently and they are keen observers of flora, fauna and fallenover. They reported that the pole holding the antenna at the stream gaging station had broken free and was leaning against the bridge. Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit, came out to investigate and within a day or two, Mike Parsen, Hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and Rob Waschbusch, from the US Geological Survey got it repaired.


There were a lot of people at the springs today and I had a great time meeting and talking with them as I was taking a leisurely walk.


The frogs are back!

See you at The Springs!

Cutting and Piling Buckthorn

Buckthorn is a nasty invasive tree that can completely dominate an area slowly eliminating all competitors.  It seems like the only thing that likes buckthorn is garlic mustard!

Here are a couple videos of our current efforts in the area of the Indian Springs.  I’m planning to update this site with a work schedule, or simply a task list, so that those who would like to help will know when we are working or what they can do on their own schedule.  We can definitely use some help piling brush and Phragmites.