Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A walk in the Catskills

shows me the track of an fallen tree

the pollinator of the bluebead lily resting atop a fern blade

the attention of the long-spurred violet who lines the trail with six or eight other violets, the leaves of the common violet satisfy my thirst

speckles of the Virginia waterleaf always in repose

the wings of a mother bird

the rouged leaves of the painted trillium

red lanterns of columbine, solitary, awaiting more sun

Junco's nest, woven by a bird fed on mountain mint seed harvested from my lawn an overnight flight away

The blooms of bluebead lily found by Jared who turned off the trail, drawn by who knows who - the lily?

a dark insect drawn to the light

the trillium on the ridge


and dwarf fairy candles usually called foamflower

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Prairie Pilgrimage

Traveling to the prairie:

On one hand, a horror of industrial agriculture, seas of corn with virtually no natural areas, stretching across upper Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, into Wisconsin (see previous entry, The Human Barrens).

On the other hand, the intense beauty of the prairie remnants, and the intensity of the devotion to prairie restoration, left me awestruck. If this was the birthplace of ecological restoration, than no more fertile land could be imagined.

Here are some of the plants and places which took root in my heart during our prairie pilgrimage.

 Indian paintbrush at Shaw Prairie, shown to us by a beloved friend.

Oak savannahs, groves of burr and black oak with a tall herb layer beneath. "Rediscovered" and restored as an ecosystem type. Later, driving, we could see gatherings of burr oaks near old homesteads, waiting to be rejoined with their herb layer, waiting for a burn, waiting for buckthorn removal...

The large, cut leaves of Silphium laciniatum (compass plant) stood straight up from the ground. Here, the leaves are taller even than the blooming stems of Echinacea pallida. Compass plant, and its relative prairie dock, won my heart, I will miss them back east! Marion, if you can have your backyard spicebush, can I have some garden Silphiums? The photo here is from the restored prairie at Dorothy  Carnes County Park, WI.

Opuntia humifosa, native cactus of the "Wisconsin Desert" - Spring Green Preserve, WI.

Goat's Rue at the Wisconsin Desert.

 Lead Plant, whose roots exploded like firecrackers when put to the plow

More Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)

White False Indigo at Kankakee Sands, IL, as we said goodbye to the prairie

 American Lady butterfly at Midewin National Grassland

 A spectacular haploah moth at Midewin

The Human Barrens

When the Europeans first came and destroyed the prairie, they sang songs wishing for death:

When I die, hallelujah, I'll fly away, fly away

They faced horrible resistance. Miles of cordgrasses prevented visits between kin. Swamps grew thick with life, resisting all taming. The settlers  were harried by native people, defending the land and 10,000 years of coexistence.

Until the steel plow, the settlers could not cut through the tallgrasses and the golden wildflowers with their roots 20 feet deep seeking water in the cool of the earth. When the plow arrived, the roots popped like firecrackers when ruptured, 10,000 years of growth severed by the streamlined blades. In fifty years, the tallgrass prairie disappeared.

When the settlers drained the glacial lakes, a holocaust of drought spread over the water-starved land. The great cranes of the sandhills watched as their children withered. The drained lakes became malarial, mosquitos bred unchecked in the still, dead mire. The settlers wept, died, cursed life, and continued on.

When all the land was withered of its abundance, the settlers planted shallow-rooted annuals where the ancient sun flowers had stood. These were sometimes destroyed by the winds and heat. A blizzard of dust, the skeletons of soil stripped of its plants, swept and scoured the land. Again the settlers sang: when I die, hallelujah, I'll fly away, fly away

The golden silphiums, sun flowers with roots like tree trunks set deep in the soil, took last refuge in the cemeteries of the settlers, keeping company with the dead and all that was past.

The inexorable push continued. The cattle diseases of Europe infected the native people, leaving one in ten. Rail lines crossed the prairie, and the herds of buffalo were shot from train cars, for sport. Any life native to the continent was scorned as false, bastard, or weed, and for settlements, European flowers were imported. These domesticates, stripped of wildness, replaced the richest flowering land on earth.

The medicine plants were not spared. The shadows of the clouds which played across rolling hills of echinacea and monarda no longer transformed the tones of these lavender and purple blooms.

All abundance was stripped from the earth. The prairies were disappeared so utterly that, passing through this area now, one might see no hint whatsoever of bobolink, echinacea, or buffalo. Instead, a vast sea of corn feeds the settlers, who no longer sing songs wishing for death, but glut themselves on sugar and salt, having vanquished all else.

A sea of corn across the midwest...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Early June Garden

The time of the blueflag iris flowers and cinnamon fern fertile fronds has passed. Now we await Joe Pye weed.

Approaching the garden gate sends the flicker pair from the bean row into the ash tree. The house finches from the fence tops to the wood's edge. The bluebirds and their first brood from the fence post to the phone wires. The bumblebees remain at the red raspberry flowers, their satisfied hum undisturbed by my hand. Dragonflies cruise the length of the barn, their wings snap loudly as they turn sharply. The hummingbird comes close, startling me with his noisy buzz, and darts nearly under the water pouring from the rainbarrel hose in my hands.

Birds hunt from bamboo posts. Their droppings are on the leaves of the topmost bean plant. The groundhog was seen on the meadow's edge, but not yet in our garden now double fenced (hog fencing for deer with chicken wire overlay for groundhog and rabbit). Slugs have eased their destruction with the dry weather.

Now, as darkness is nearly full, the wood pewee urgently calls with no breaks. He takes the sound space vacated by the Baltimore orioles who continue to sing and call during daylight hours to their nestlings who cause a branch of the pin oak to tremble each time they see a parent with a caterpillar arrive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spring into summer

The telephone pole above the meadow in which elderberry and water hemlock bloom, wild geranium jester seedpods ripen and explode, and common yellow throats call.

Early spring has long passed. Ephemerals are in seed and fading. Spring peepers are quiet, replaced with the calls of grey tree frogs and bullfrogs. Midspring - marked by warbler calls and sightings (we saw a mourning warbler in the hemlock and a Blackburnian warbler in the catbird cave in the week before we went to the Catskills - the week of May 9th) - has passed also.

The heat has settled in, alternating with rains that temporarily break the heat and humidity. First broods have hatched (chickadees), caterpillars are obvious (definite tussock moth), fireflies are an evening display (especially over the meadow below the garden), and strawberries are done. Our cold-hearty greens went to seed incredibly fast (no problem, we were sick of them after eating them from our greenhouse this winter). Heat rash, depressed appetite, tick bites, dehydration, increased demand for fruit.

Blueberries are ripening. We've each eaten one apiece of low and highbush blueberries. A sharp-beaked bird enjoyed a plump, squat reddish-green blueberry. It's time to stop procrastinating on the chickenwire blueberry hoops.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The raccoon through the screen door. Photo by Jared.

A raccoon walked across our front lawn, up our front steps, across the porch, down into the woodland garden, out to the walkway, along our meadow trail, and finally under the tupelo (The Half Tree) whose boughs cascade down to the ground, behind which the raccoon disappeared.

This trail walker looked like a house cat who easily walks the "master's" well-worn paths. Reminds me of what many of us in the stewardship/preservation world say, "Not too many hikers yet, but the deer sure use the trail."

I, too, follow trails that make the forest easy to navigate. Old logging roads and deer paths work best for an upright adult.

As I child in Rahway, I followed several types of paths: sidewalks - the half mile to school & my Grandfather's homemade cement walkway with broken brown, green, and blue glass embedded, the cinder trail around the lake in Rahway River park near the school, and the unofficial (I guess) trail along Rahway River's banks from Whittier to at least Church Street.

Having been in one place for nearly five years - the longest ever since I've been on my own - we've worn obvious trails around our house. In the shade, the trails are exposed dirt. In the sun, path rush and plantain.