Winter is a great time of year to appreciate just how ugly buckthorn is. Contrasted with a majestic oak or stately hickory, the buckthorn’s lack of grace and beauty is readily apparent. It grows like a cancer, stealing nutrients, water and sunlight from the healthy flora it invades, and some research indicates it has an allelopathic impact as well. It’s polluting our forests and obscuring the natural beauty of the landscape.
I try to make the best of the opportunity I have to work at The Springs, and that means getting out year-round to do battle with the buckthorn. But, it is definitely harder to motivate when the temperatures drop and the snow begins to accumulate. After bailing out last Sunday, I did get out a couple times this week and I’m getting used to winter again.
Tuesday morning fetching some water at the Hotel Springs.
On my way to signpost #2, I stopped to check out the work that Chris Mann, Ben Johnson and the Kettle Moraine Land Stewards did on Sunday. That was a nasty day that The Buckthorn Man wimped out on. They made good progress pushing back the wall of buckthorn on the east side of the trail as it leads to signpost #1.
I stirred up the coals and warmed up before heading to my destination near signpost #2.
I picked a spot where a huge aspen had fallen, and there was lots of dead wood to start a fire, and was soon joined by Andy Buchta.
After a few hours cutting, my chainsaw was running rough and I had to stop and figure out what was going on; there was a part loose rattling about somewhere inside. There is always something new to learn about chainsaws and, apparently, when I replaced the muffler a few months ago, I did not tighten the screws properly. Fortunately the saw is designed to capture the screws if they work themselves free and I simply had to screw the muffler back on. We got modest results and dispatched some very ugly buckthorn.
Below, looking west, then east.
I took my gear back to the truck and returned to hang out by the fire.
Thursday proved to be a bit more challenging; Andy informed me that it was -4 when he arrived, and snow was forecast for the afternoon. I was joined by Chris Mann, Austin Avellone, Phil Hass, Drew Ballantyne and Andy Buchta deep in the Buckthorn Alley, where the trees were hideously misshapen after years of falling over themselves and resprouting. The views below are looking west, north and east from where I parked my sled.
Drew keeps our drinks from freezing.
We sent many odious buckthorn to hell that day. Below, mid-day, looking west and north.
Wrapping up for the day.
Compare this view west to the first look above
and, likewise, this view looking north.
Thanks again to Chris, Andy, Phil, Austin and Drew; you guys rock!
Pat told me that after she became a Thousand Miler she just “fell into” the role of trail coordinator for the Waukesha/Milwaukee Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. But, you don’t get the kind of results Pat has achieved by just talking the talk. Pat became a Mobile Skills Crew leader, and with that foundation, she has lead dozens and dozens of chapter workdays in addition to coordinating the trail mowing. She is an innovator as well: raising the standard for trail signage across the whole state with her Blazing Babes program.
To see Pat’s Ice Age Trail work first hand you are simply going to have to Walk The Wauk. It was Nancy Frank who came up with the idea for each chapter to design a program to encourage people to walk their sections of the IAT. Kris Jensen, the current Waukesha/Milwaukee IAT Chapter Coordinator, came up with Walk The Wauk, and it has been a tremendous success, with over 550 people registering and around 175 completing the entire 44.7 miles of IAT in Waukesha County. Parents, challenge your children to Walk The Wauk with you!
In addition to her work on the trail, Pat is an excellent spokesperson for the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter in particular. Discover Wisconsin featured Pat in the conclusion to their four-year journey on the Ice Age Trail. Once people find out that you have a skill, you get called on for all sorts of projects and Pat, and her husband Gary, generously helped complete a boardwalk on Mud Lake.
Last month, while hiking at The Springs on a Saturday night, I realized that the traffic on Hwy 67 was killing my buzz. “I’ve got to get away!” After my next workday, I decided to hike the IAT from Hwy ZZ south to Piper Road for a change. I knew Pat and the chapter trail crew had been working on this stretch for 3 years and I was eager to see it. It was a cold, full moon, November night when I walked a bit of the wauk.
The white pine canopy towered overhead as I began the climb up into the moraine. This old pine plantation just keeps getting better looking with age: taking on a much more natural look after a succession of skillful harvests. The transition to Oak and Hickory occurs as you get up into the gracefully undulating kettles and ridges. “Where am I?” The last time I walked this trail was behind a Billy Goat mower and I couldn’t believe how different, beautiful and quiet it was. At the halfway point, I had to call Pat. This was amazing!
We setup a date to walk the segment together and met at the IAT parking area on Hwy ZZ, a ¼ mile east of Hwy 67.
We hopped in Pat’s car and drove down to the IAT crossing at Piper Rd and began walking north on the 1.5 mile segment (see map above) until we arrived at the trail reroute project shown below. We are looking at the old trail’s path; right down a “fall line”.
Pat talks the talk.
Pat taught elementary school for 34 years, most recently at Summit Elementary, and she insisted that I give a quiz after each trail reroute video. So please, sharpen your pencils and get rid of your gum — somewhere.
In what order is the 4-step bench building technique executed?
measure, dig, push, cuss
dig, measure, cuss, push
backline, bench, back slope, critical edge
cuss, measure, cuss, dig
We soon arrived at the next rerouted section: a 280 yard doozy.
The section above ties right into the last, and prettiest, reroutes planned for this segment. The new, 250 yard trail, is flagged, raked, easily followed and scheduled to be opened next spring.
Here is a testimonial to Pat from my spiritual father, Mike Fort:
In my Ice Age Trail experiences with Pat, she is always well-organized and clearly communicates what the goals of the various projects happen to be. In addition to all her responsibilities with the Ice Age Trail she has also really helped with our restoration efforts at Lapham Peak. She works and leads with an upbeat cheerful attitude that is infectious no matter what the challenge. I’ve really enjoyed working with her.
Much of the Southern Kettle Moraine forest is thick with buckthorn, and one of the most exciting things about the IAT trail work that Pat is leading is the creation of view sheds, or stewardship zones, where the brush is cleared away so you can see the lay of the land.
This stewardship zone is just north of the third rerouted stretch shown above.
I think The Buckthorn Man should join the Monday Mudders! This next view shed is just a bit north up the trail.
The last stewardship zone is at the junction with the spur trail that leads to the parking lot on Hwy ZZ where we met.
Pat, I know I speak for The Buckthorn Man, and everyone who enjoys the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Waukesha County, when I say emphatically: THANK YOU!
My hate is general, I detest all men;
Some because they are wicked and do evil,
Others because they tolerate the wicked,
Refusing them the active vigorous scorn
Which vice should stimulate in virtuous minds.
Ok, I confess: whether it be from honesty or hubris, I don’t know, it’s true, I do feel that way sometimes. I barely saw a soul last week working at The Springs, and that was fine by me.
To occult something is simply to hide it from view. As Mark Passio explained in his Natural Law Seminar, people occult knowledge to create or preserve a power differential they use to their advantage. Take the idea of satanism; what is the first thing it conjures up? Mark was a priest in the church of satan, and when I heard him explain their 4 basic tenets, which he knew first-hand, it opened my eyes.
Survival: self-preservation is the top priority
Moral relativism: if it’s good for me, it’s good, if it’s bad for, me it’s bad
Social Darwinism: it is right and desirable for an elite few to dominate the other 99.9999% of humanity
Eugenics: who is allowed to procreate, and at what rate, must be controlled
That is satanism unocculted.
At the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail, it is U.S. Highway 67 that has been unocculted. The removal of huge colonies of black locust trees from both the north and south ends of the preserve, along with the buckthorn cutting, have exposed the sights and sounds of the highway to major portions of the trail. I won’t occult the truth: this is very obnoxious, especially in winter, and worst of all, at night. The bright, rolling headlights, intermittently blocked by trees, evoke the feeling of prison bars and clandestine interrogations; not very relaxing or natural. And on Saturday night, it was one car after another… I don’t like it one bit. We have to get some native shrubs planted and recreate a healthy understory.
Despite my deeper appreciation for those who prefer a wall of buckthorn to highway traffic, I continued to work the brush cutter last week at The Springs. Tuesday was cold and I had to rest my water bottle in the relatively warm river to keep it from freezing solid.
Here is how it looked before I started…
… and after
While on my evening stroll, I got a call from my old friend, Randy Schilling, who came out to The Springs 2 years ago to harvest some oak, hickory and cherry logs. He had some presents for me: vases and bowls turned with care into art on his wood lathe.
Thanks Randy. I love you man!
Friday was perfect and I worked on the south side of the river just upstream from the gaging station bridge.
Again, before …
… and after.
I think this is the best use of my time now: solidify the gains that have been made in the last few years and prepare for the burn next spring.
Yesterday I did some work on the south end of trail focusing on black locust.
Think of The Springs as the heart pumping life giving water into the main artery of the Scuppernong River. When I began working at The Springs, 3 ½ years ago, I found the heart clogged with watercress, silt, marl and muck.
How do we measure the health of the heart of a river? The Wisconsin DNR does a fish count, on the stretch of the river between the gaging station bridge and the hotel springs, every year as a way to measure water quality. The counts have been going down since I began intervening by pulling out watercress, opening up the channels from the individual springs to the river, and stirring up and releasing muck and marl downstream.
Are my actions, metaphorically speaking, my heart surgeries, diminishing the quality of the water? Yes, if you go by the fish counts alone and you assume that my actions are the main causative factor for the decline. But, consider the river, choked with watercress, as a weight lifter dependent on steroids. The watercress dominated habitat provided shelter and macroinvertebrates the trout depend on, thus artificially boosting the fish counts. And, just like a weight lifter depends on steroids to maximize his power while ignoring the long term effects, the high fish counts at the Scuppernong River were dependent on an invasive plant dominating the river, to the long-term detriment of the heart.
What’s wrong with a river choked with watercress and filled with muck like a lake bottom? After all, the fish counts were high and we used to see trout in the river all the time.
It isn’t natural and it isn’t healthy long-term for the river watershed. The remnants of the entrepreneurial spirit of the European settlers on the river are four separate embankments that span the valley of the headwaters. Upstream of these four humps, muck and marl have backed up completely changing the hydrology. We do not see the diversity of macroinvertebrates typically found on stoney, sandy, bottom riverbeds. Now, I’m asserting that without data to back it up. I’m simply assuming that a muck and marl riverbed will not have the same diversity of species as a stoney, sandy riverbed. To address this lack of data, I plan to begin collecting biotic index data at various points in the headwaters so that we can compare it to after the four “humps” are removed, which will happen next Spring.
The width of the river in the majority of the headwaters above the hotel springs is 2 or 3 times normal and it resembles more a lake bottom than a riverbed. This widened and shallow system provides an ideal water source for the invasive cattails and phragmites that dominate the headwaters valley. Their root systems are hollow tubes ½ to ¾ inch in diameter, strong as pvc but much more flexible, that tap into the river The key to addressing this problem is, as Tracy Hames would say: “Fix the water“. Removing the humps will generate a headcut, which will cause the stream channel to narrow increasing its velocity and exposing a stoney, sandy bed. This will make it much easier to intercept the root systems of the cattails and phragmites and turn off the spigots that are feeding them. And keeping the watercress to a reasonable amount, so it does not impede the river like a vegetative dam, will help keep the water cold as it rushes downstream.
I had a dramatic, three-day, run at The Springs this past Wednesday – Friday swinging my chainsaw with boundless energy. I’ve been chomp’in at the bit for 6 months to take down the buckthorn in many key areas, where a small amount of work can yield dramatic new vistas, and I tackled the areas marked in blue below this past week.
I’ll take you on a video stroll along the trail later below.
On Thursday, I was joined in the morning by a new volunteer named Dave Kieffer, who took a vacation from his project management role to help me out. Dave worked the brush cutter and I swung the chainsaw in the area marked in blue above that is closest to the cut-off trail.
We had a date in the afternoon with Ben Johnson and another new volunteer, Ryan Wendelberger (a senior at Brookfield Central High School), to relocate two boardwalks so we shifted gears around 2:00pm. Here is how it looked when we finished.
Dave and I staged some logs to use as pedestals for the newly relocated boardwalks and then we met Ben and Ryan at the DNR parking area above the Hotel Springs, where we planned to take the boardwalk sections. Amazingly, Ben, Dave and Ryan were able to transport the boardwalk sections using Ben’s hand dolly. We were soon busy positioning one of the sections as a bridge on the north loop trail, where water is clearly attempting to cross the existing causeway and join the outflow of a spring just south of the trail.
Ben explains what we are doing.
Everyone pitched in for a great team effort!
The light was fading as we nailed the last boardwalk pieces and applied the final touches. Thanks again to Ben, Dave and Ryan for your outstanding contibution!
Here it is in the daylight.
Friday I was still raring to go.
I wanted to cut in an area on the northeast edge of the loop trail (shown in blue on the map above) to connect the opening along the trail and former cranberry bog to the opening made by Steve Tabat and his crew as they harvest black locust trees.
View from the trail.
The views looking right , center and left from where I staged my gear.
It was surprisingly warm and I had to strip off my long johns after the first tankful of gas. I put a new spark plug in the machine because it was running rough the day before and that did the trick! The views below are right-center and left as compared to those above.
Come along with me as I stroll down the north loop trail past the areas that were cut.
Afterwards, I took a blissful walk along the river towards the Scuppernong Spring.
The sunset was dramatic!
See you at The Springs!
p.s. I’ll be camping all next week at My Shangri-La. Do drop in and surprise me.
Generation after generation of people lived and loved along the banks of the Scuppernong River. They never imagined saw mills, cheese factories, trout farms or marl pits; instead, they imagined that the spring waters, diverse prairies and oak savannahs would continue to support them, their children, and their children’s children for generations to come.
When Chester W. Smith arrived in 1847 he imagined the power he could create harnessing the force of the river and he dammed it to make the Buttermilk Mill. His cultural background emphasized man’s mastery over the natural world; it was his oyster!
Talbot Dousman imagined a more sophisticated application of the water in 1874, and he bisected the Scuppernong River with embankments and flumes transforming the headwaters into a trout farm.
The marl works left scabs and a deep scar on the land, wounding and abusing the river during the years it was operated along its banks.
In the early 1990’s DNR Naturalist, Ron Kurowski, and others, imagined the Scuppernong River the way it was before European settlement, and they began reversing the anthropogenic impact via the Scuppernong River Habitat Area restoration project. What does it mean to imagine the river minus the reckless impacts of those who preceded us? I think Dr. Megan A. Styles, Ben Johnson‘s professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, expressed it quite eloquently in a recent email to him:
You’ve hit on a really important central theoretical tenet in restoration ecology — very rarely is the landscape “restored” to a precolonial state; it is actually constructed (notice there’s no “re-” here) anew in a manner that reflects (1) contemporary environmental values and (2) the ways that we “imagine” a truly wild and functional ecosystem should look like. I use the word “imagine” here not to suggest that it is not based in science (it certainly is!), but to remind us that there is a creative process afoot here as well. What we consider a desirable habitat will change over time in concert with changing values and new scientific discoveries.
Ben Heussner and the Wisconsin DNR Fisheries team imagine what a natural and healthy trout habitat should look like and they — one spring at a time, one bend at a time, one tributary at a time — have been reversing the anthropogenic effects on the Scuppernong River watershed for the last 20 years. Recently they performed an elevation study of the Scuppernong Springs to get the data they needed to objectively support what was visually apparent.
On a recent visit to The Springs, Ben interpreted the results of the elevation survey and explained their plans for the headwaters:
From the Hotel Spring bridge (site 3 below) we walked upstream along the river bank discussing how the river bed would change as a result of the projected head-cut. Heussner concluded that the scope of the plan, in addition to the work at the “perch” at the Hotel Spring bridge shown above at data point 1078, should include reducing the humps left after the removal of the embankments where the two bridges lead to the Hillside and Hidden Springs (sites 1 and 2 below), and the hump at the embankment where the mill pond was formed (site 4 below). He is working now on the permitting process and targeting Spring, 2015, to implement the plan.
Then we walked downstream from the Hotel Spring bridge and inspected the results of the back filling we did last spring to compliment the bio-logs the DNR installed late last year (with help from Trout Unlimited), and imagined what it will look like when these areas fill in with vegetation. The river is really ripping through this stretch now, creating a sandy, stony bottom and carving deep pools and cut banks; great trout habitat! Ben is hoping that, with one more workday this December, they can finish the stream bank remediation effort all the way to the gaging station bridge.
Meanwhile, this year, after a long hiatus, the DNR has begun stocking trout again in the Scuppernong River watershed:
McKeawn Springs, 37 Brook Trout yearlings
Ottawa Lake, 1,485 Rainbow Trout yearlings
Paradise Spring Creek, 300 Brook Trout yearlings
Paradise Spring Pond, 200 Brook Trout yearlings
Scuppernong River at Hwy N, 148 Brook Trout yearlings
South Branch Scuppernong River, 74 Brook Trout yearlings.
We are constructing a new reality at the headwaters of the Scuppernong River that reflects: “contemporary environmental values”, and what “a truly wild and functional ecosystem should look like.”
♥ ♥ ♥
Last Thursday I resumed my efforts to prep the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve for the next prescribed burn by cutting buckthorn sprouts and seedlings with my brush cutter in the area around the old hotel site. The new bench that Ben and Karen Johnson built is getting a lot of use!
I noticed that the black locust removal effort has resumed in earnest. This is dramatically changing the look of the northeast corner of the property.
I also addressed an issue that DNR trail boss, Don Dane, pointed out a while back, and which Dan Carter reiterated on his recent visit, and that is the steep little short-cut trail that was getting “burned in” from the Hotel Spring bridge up to the Sand Prairie. Here are before…
… and after images.
Ben Johnson joined me after work and we harvested some red oak logs that we planned to use to raise a boardwalk at the east end of the Buckthorn Alley.
We cut up the downed tree on the left shown above and moved the logs over to the boardwalk with a hand dolly.
On Friday I strapped on the brush cutter and did some “mowing” along the cut-off trail. Although it looks like a carpet of buckthorn, there was a lot of wild strawberry and geranium actively growing at ground level and I was glad I wasn’t spraying herbicide.
Later, I checked out the results of the latest hand-to-hand combat with the black locust. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the handiwork of Steve Tabat and his crew, although I have not seen them personally in action.
On Sunday, Ben Johnson and I began an ambitious boardwalk raising effort.
In a couple hours we had the deck torn apart. You can see how it was embedded in the dirt.
It took a while to get going and determine the best, complimentary, way to use our skills, but soon the new boardwalk was taking shape.
It was fabulously busy and we were constantly interrupted by hikers; good thing Ben posted a couple of orange, “trail work ahead”, cones to warn them.
Ben Johnson and I have been on a real nature binge at The Springs: intoxicated with fragrant breezes, bubbling spring water, clear blue skies, colorful wild flowers, singing birds, liberating temperatures, and, most of all, satisfying work. We positively indulged in a nature bender!
Ben’s three day bacchanalia began last Friday, when he raised two boardwalks near the trailhead to ecstatic new levels. The 8′, 4×6″ runners, that supported the deck boards disappeared into the ground long ago and were blocking the water, microbes and invertebrates that move through the soil.
The affair lasted all day, and when it was over, he was drunk with success.
I joined Ben on Saturday, modestly intending to cut buckthorn sprouts and seedlings near signpost #1 and completely unaware that he was riding the Bull. I reminded him that our recent deckrepair efforts were motivated by Big Jim Davee, and he just gazed a bit glassy eyed down the trail and said: “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.” We briefly discussed the next boardwalk on our priority list, and, assuming he was simply going to lift up the 8′ sections and reset them on level logs, I left Ben to his mission and proceeded to cut brush near signpost #1.
Deck #3, comprised of 6, 8′ sections, is close to the east edge of the Buckthorn Alley and it rocked and rolled as you passed over. There are wetlands on either side and, like decks 1 and 2 above, the runners were totally submerged in the soil.
A closer view of the gap shown above.
The far end of the boardwalk.
Just before noon, I noticed that my iPhone had gone totally mad and I was not able to use it. I was desperate (yah, a slave to my fondle slab) to keep in touch with Pati, who had just arrived in Uruguay to work with children for three weeks, and I had to let her know that I was incommunicado. I raced over to deck #3 to borrow Ben’s phone and found him hard at work.
He had surveyed the situation and boldly, or perhaps, bulldly, decided to raise the deck in dramatic fashion. Back in my days at “The Quiet Company” we called this ‘setting a stretch goal’ and Ben delivered. By the end of the day he was halfway done.
I wondered why I had spent the day cutting brush; I should have been helping Ben. I promised to help him finish the next day.
We decided to harvest logs to raise the last 24′ of the deck from a huge red oak tree that had fallen across the trail, and Ben made quick work of it with his new chainsaw. Another day reveling with mother nature; we couldn’t get enough!
The deck turned out great and I was really impressed with Ben’s effort!
That was an intense, extended, weekend for Mr. Johnson!
Below is an example of the brush clearing I have been doing. Ever since DNR Trail Boss, Don Dane, said they were planning to burn The Springs in the spring of 2015, I’ve been thinking about laying more fuel down on the ground. I could be wrong, but I’m hoping that the cut buckthorn will dry out by next spring and contribute to a hotter ground fire, which in turn will scorch the cut tips of the buckthorn stems and kill them.
The same views after brush cutting.
I cut brush all day Monday and it was very relaxing.
Ben Johnson,and his wife Karen, were hard at work while Pati and I vacationed up North. They added 12 more steps to complete the erosion control on the path down to the Indian Spring from signpost #6 and they installed a very stylish bench near the Hotel Spring.
I whacked some buckthorn sprouts and seedlings with my brush cutter on Tuesday and ran into Dr. Dan Carter from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. He was documenting rare plants and waiting for the rest of his team to arrive to complete the demarcation of the wetlands for the Wisconsin DOT. I know, “Say it ain’t so Joe!”, but WisDOT is in the initial planning stage of some changes deemed necessary to make Hwy 67 safer. Please plan on attending the public meeting, which WisDOT will be scheduling for later this Fall, and help us make sure they don’t mess with The Springs.
Dan has a keen eye and he spotted the sixth known occurrence of Pipsissewa (Chimaphila Umbellata) in the area: “It is more rare in the region than any other plant I am aware of at The Springs…” (photo courtesy of Dan Carter)
I want to give a belated thank you to Scuppernong Springs Super Friend, Anne Moretti for informing me that there is a difference between Buckthorn and Chokecherry!
Last year when I was cutting in The Buckthorn Tunnel, Anne noticed that I was oblivious to the distinction and she gently pointed it out. Well, I’m a little slow when it comes to confronting my own ignor-ance and I finally “did the grammar” and now I know the difference. I’m going to let 100 Chokecherries blossom!
I had a crazy busy week and didn’t get much work done at The Springs, but Pati and I did enjoy a wonderful late afternoon at Ottawa Lake yesterday, and we caught the sunset from the Indian Campground.
Is it an obsession, a religion, a deep metaphysical connection to our primal ancestral past? I’m not quite sure why some of us have the ability to see and feel the natural world, while others have no association whatsoever to the land. That’s a pretty judgmental assumption to make, but quite simply, some people get it and others don’t. The Aboriginal People of Australia believe in “dreamtime,” a spirit world where they can transcend space and time. Maybe there are a few of us that are fortunate enough to journey into a green dream: a mindset or inquisitive state of consciousness where we can actually speak the language of ecology. And it’s absolutely a journey. Nobody just walks into the woods and is given this gift. We have to work at it, study, inspect. We must experience the rain on our faces, see the first buds open, and the last leaves fall to the ground, the progression, the phenology of the landscape.
On September 4th, Ben bugged out of work early and headed straight for the gaging station bridge to do a little stream bank remediation. The view downstream before he got started on that steamy afternoon.
Seen from the left bank.
A few years back, after investing a good many years in college, and a solid decade trying to capture an income under a fluorescent enclosed sky, I asked myself, “does any of this make me happy? Ok, then what would?” I felt there was only one route to take, and that was in a natural setting, far away from the corporate path I had chosen. It’s not quite so easy to dump ones routine and dive into a new career. I have plenty of experience in the “green industry”, but the world of commercial landscaping is a far cry from ecological stewardship. To get to where I wanted to be, I felt that education was the key component. So I again enrolled in the university. I chose to pursue an MA in Environmental Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
One of the first things Ben noticed when he began volunteering at The Springs, a fact I lamented as well, was that there were no benches anywhere along the trail to rest one’s weary bones. We talked about it many times and I know the satisfaction Ben must have felt when he finally got a chance to do something about it. On Saturday, September 6th, he did some erosion control at the edge of the stone wall at the Scuppernong Spring and installed one of his custom benches using red oak pedestals foraged from a pile up the trail where the source tree had fallen across the path.
On Sunday I joined Ben and we picked out 4 more pedestals, loaded our wheel barrows with two more benches, and headed for the Indian Spring.
The bench design couldn’t be simpler and they are surprisingly stable when screwed into thick oak stumps.
The views from the bench, looking right and left, of the some of the springs that comprise the Indian Springs.
You get a great view of the prairie to the west as well.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, so on top of the scholastic pursuit, I began volunteering at the Wildlife in Need Center as an animal rehabilitation technician and this soon evolved into showcasing wildlife at educational events. The next step, and it felt like the natural one to take, was to find a habitat or ecosystem to immerse myself in, and take the time to learn the land. The Southern Kettle Moraine DNR volunteer coordinator pointed me towards Paul Mozina and the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. I wouldn’t say that I found a blank slate to work, it was more like a Jackson Pollack painted over the top of a Thomas Cole.
We took the other bench up to the sand prairie and, amazingly, Ben picked one of my favorite spots, from which you get a classic view of the Scuppernong River winding westward, to plant the bench.
The view from the bench.
These conveniently located resting places cost almost nothing to build, and only a few minutes to install, yet they had gone wanting for years.
In due time, I came to understand that the work at the Springs was the practice of restoration ecology, be it in the river, the sand prairie, or knee deep in the snow removing buckthorn. Vegetation is a monster to ID, learn, and control in itself, but I felt the fauna of the area deserved attention as well. I used the skills gained through osmosis as the son of a carpenter (thanks Dad) to build fifty nesting boxes for various woodland and prairie species. I would like to think that the overall avian population at the property increased as a result of this project. That’s the restoration, let’s bring back what’s native to the Springs.
The morning passed quickly and in the afternoon I headed over to the buckthorn alley to cut the buckthorn resprouts and seedlings that flourished there with my brush cutter. Ben had other plans. There are two trails that descend from the sand prairie down to the Indian Springs and they converge along the edge of the outflow stream forming a little loop trail. Both trails are pure sand and suffering from erosion, so Ben decided to build some stairs.
Ben plans to finish the steps on this path and then tackle the more deeply eroded trail that leads directly down to the Indian Spring.
Johnson, another carpenter’s son, loves to work with his hands on wood. We saw some of his handiwork resurrecting the deck near the Scuppernong Spring. Thursday after work, he stopped out with his friend and coworker, Glen Rhinesmith, and replaced the missing toe boards on the boardwalk leading to the Emerald Spring.
While Ben worked, I got to show Glen around The Springs and I learned way more from him than he did from me. Glen has a great eye, two in fact, and deep, deep knowledge about plants, fish, birds and the natural world, not to mention photography and ham radios. I hope to post some of his pictures of The Springs here soon. Here are just a few of the interesting things he pointed out to me.
Though I thought the day would never come, I have reached the final course in the Master’s degree program at UIS, the capstone internship. With the help of Anne Korman, Assistant Superintendent of the KMSF – Southern Unit, I secured my graduate internship with the WDNR at the Springs. We have outlined projects and areas of need on the property. First priority is invasive vegetation, followed by trail improvements and accessibility. The fisheries team has also given me the opportunity to learn about stream restoration. It’s an honor to have such a beautiful classroom in which to work. This is the place where I enter the green dreamworld. I carry on a conversation with the land. It’s a very Leopoldian concept. Restoration ecology is an ethical practice, deciding what is right for the landscape.
Thanks Ben! It’s a pleasure to work with you.
I got a few licks in myself this past week cutting buckthorn resprouts and seedlings along the trail from the parking lot on Hwy ZZ all the way to the end of the Buckthorn Alley.
The spotted knapweed flower weevils we released in early August appear to be doing well and I have spotted them munching seedheads on the south end of the prairie and in the huge patch of knapweed to the east of the Indian Spring spur trail. I am leaving these remaining mature knapweed plants for the weevils despite the fact that they are loaded with seeds. There are lots of first year plants that do not have flowers, and that are far from where I released the root weevils (they migrate less than 100 yards a year), that I may dig out yet this season.
I love the view from the Scuppernong Spring as the late afternoon sunlight illuminates the valley.
Sunset out on the marl pit canal looking East towards the sand prairie.
Like the buckthorn thickets of the kettle moraine are ‘a bit’ like the jungles of Africa, The Buckthorn Man is only ‘a bit’ as noble and virtuous as the mighty Tarzan. Yes, yes, if only I could be as self-possessed as the king of the jungle, how liberating that would be.
Imitating the lord of the apes, I aspired to noble contemplation of ethics and aesthetics as I bent over the spotted knapweed on the sand prairie and listened to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. Sweet freedom. Paradoxically, I do love my servitude to The Creator, which is my free choice to labor at The Springs, because it enables me to manifest my version of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, and satisfy my desire to make the world a more beautiful place.
I finally did read A Sand County Almanac, which includes Leopold’s thought provoking essay, “The Land Ethic”:
A land, ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.
Much of what he said resonated with me, but, and I hope you won’t think that The Buckthorn Man simply must have a buckthorn spike stuck in his butt to quibble with Aldo, like other careful readers, I found myself disconcerted by some of the things he said, or, as the case may be, did not say. He fails to mention the highly evolved Seventh Generation Earth Ethics of the indigenous people, while hoping that “we”, homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”), who violently and rapaciously “conquered” the land, have learned a lesson.
A nation spawned from empires built on the backs of slaves is not easily weaned from gluttonous exploitation. Lest you think my ranting hyperbolic, consider this example from Donald Culross Peattie’s fine work, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America:
Until almost the turn of the present century (1900), pecans reached the market largely from wild trees. The harvesting methods in early times consisted in nothing less heroic and criminal than cutting down gigantic specimens — the bigger the better — and setting boys to gather the nuts from the branches of the fallen giants. It seemed to the pioneer then, as it did to every American, that the forests of this country were inexhaustible. Thus it came about that the wild Pecan tree had become rare before men began to realize how much was lost.
Before I proceed with the riveting story of what happened when The Buckthorn Man returned to Shangri-La, I must complain about another, subtle perhaps, line of Leopoldian thought. He espouses a moral relativism that positively rankles me: “An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social from anti-social conduct.”, and later: “The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approbation for right actions: social disapproval for wrong actions.” No Aldo, NO! There is an objective difference between right and wrong, independent of the whims of society, which Mark Passio eloquently and passionately explains in his Natural Law Seminar.
If you have any doubts, please check with Fredrick Douglas.
I arrived at the Ottawa Lake campground on Friday, August 22, excited to setup camp at the walk-in site #335, only to find that it had been let to another party an hour earlier. It reminded me of that scene where Jerry Seinfeld complained to the car rental company that knew how to take his reservation, but not how to hold it. Undecided about what to do, I took a walk downstream in the Scuppernong River to inspect the work that was recently done to improve the channel.
Here are some views of the stretch of the river just upstream from the gaging station bridge that still need some channel remediation.
While wandering the trails I met Eliot and his son Isaiah, and they graciously invited me to stay with them at site #388, which is a beautiful site on the bluff overlooking Ottawa Lake. Thanks again guys!
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday were dedicated to digging and pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie. Most of the seed is still firmly attached and, since I did not mow the prairie this year, there is a ton of it.
I didn’t care if it rained.
It was hot, humid and buggy, but beautiful nevertheless.
The Hillside Springs.
The Indian Springs.
Ottawa Lake sunset.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I was determined to finish clearing the buckthorn along the trail that follows the east shore of Ottawa Lake between site #380 and #335. I was concerned about the bar oiling mechanism not working properly on my chainsaw and, sure enough, it was kaput. So, I carried a little pint bottle of bar oil in my chaps and stopped every couple minutes to manually apply some lubrication to the bar and chain. No problem!
… and after.
The sights and sounds of The Springs:
Buckthorn seedlings along the cut-off trail.
The cut-off trail.
Giant thistles that I should have positively identified as friend or foe a few months ago.
The Hidden Spring.
The area of phragmites that I poisoned near the Emerald Spring deck is finally coming back to life.
The Emerald Spring.
The Scuppernong Spring.
The Indian Spring.
A beautiful, unidentified flower near the Hotel Spring.
The valley of the headwaters.
Wednesday morning and I had a date with buckthorn.
… and after.
You can follow the lakeshore trail all the way from the beach to the north end of site #334 and enjoy wide open views of the lake and fen to the west the whole way. It’s lovely.
Thanks again to Carl Baumann, for splitting and restacking my stash of firewood!.
And thanks to Dave and Lindsay for coming out to visit; I really enjoyed it. I had a couple of uninhibited and inspired guitar jams by the fire and, despite all the rain, never had to setup my tarp at camp. It was excellent.
You can’t reason with weeds. Although they are knowledgeable about their environment and, they do seem to understand why they exist, and how to accomplish their goals, they are not capable of reasoning, because, unlike you or me, they can’t change their minds. Like cancer cells, all they can do is: proliferate, refuse to die, steal nutrients, and spread like crazy.
Kneeling in the Church of the Creator on the sand prairie at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail, digging and pulling spotted knapweed, hungry for someone to reason with, I called on the master, Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason is a profoundly stimulating and liberating work, and the world would be a better place if every man, woman and child would read or listen to it at least once a year.
All the knowledge man has of science and of machinery, by the aid of which his existence is rendered comfortable upon earth, and without which he would be scarcely distinguishable in appearance and condition from a common animal, comes from the great machine and structure of the universe. The constant and unwearied observations of our ancestors upon the movements and revolutions of the heavenly bodies, in what are supposed to have been the early ages of the world, have brought this knowledge upon earth. It is not Moses and the prophets, nor Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, that have done it. The Almighty is the great mechanic of the creation; the first philosopher and original teacher of all science. Let us, then, learn to reverence our master, and let us not forget the labors of our ancestors. The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine
This is the first summer I ever focused on weeds and, I’m happy to say, it hasn’t caused an identity crisis for The Buckthorn Man. Pulling weeds is a fine way to intimately connect with woodlands and prairies.
On Tuesday, August 12, I started the day with my brush cutter at the trailhead sprucing up the old buckthorn alley. It’s not an alley anymore, and the sunlight hitting the buckthorn seedlings, and the stumps we didn’t poison last winter, is causing explosive growth. I’m trying to decide whether to re-cut and poison these sprouts this fall, or, let them grow and wait for the DNR to burn the area again.
In the afternoon, I pulled spotted knapweed on the northwest end of the sand prairie. The ground was relatively wet and most of the plants came out root stem and all.
… and after
The sand prairie is looking better than it has in many years!
Later, after a refreshing bath and a little yoga on the marl pit bridge…
… I visited my favorite spots,
… and watched the sun set from the boat dock at Ottawa Lake.
Our deconstruction of the flumes just below the Scuppernong Spring was almost complete, save some old pipes and stakes that supported the structure.
Thursday morning was perfect for playing in the river, and I soon had them all dug out.