Bless this Mess or Landscaping Naturelle

I can’t see the forest for the trees, or the springs for the sedges. I need to go close and deep to my subjects. These are my landscapes. In nature, nothing is tidy. Nature is messy; erratic, bent, broken, fallen, wet, dead, dry, or sometimes flooded. For that reason you won’t find manicured lawns and long picturesque driveways in my work. Mother Nature abhors a vacuum (cleaner if you will). She’s a slob, a slacker, she works on her own schedule. My hope is to catch some trace of the goodness she left behind. Like a treasure hunter picking through the remnants of a pack rat

Enjoy what I find. Thanks for stopping by the Road Less Paved. I’ve enjoyed your visit.

StillPageCreekFox River PrincetonPageCreekHardwoodsFox RiverPageCreekBirch

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:Landscape

Sunrise at John Muir’s Fountain Lake


Prairie view of Fox River National Wildlife Refuge. This was part of the original Fountain Lake farm of John Muir’s boyhood. Photo taken from the entrance to the John Muir Memorial Park, Marquette County, Wisconsin


This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.

Sierra Club – John Muir’s Wisconsin

If this were 1849, I could put a canoe into what would have still been a small rice lake behind our house. The outflow stream would have taken me down to the lazy Fox River. Paddling upstream, I would have arrived at the Muir’s Fountain Lake farm in hour. Today, if I was a hawk or an eagle, I’d take the 7 mile overland flight and arrive, with a good tailwind, in ten minutes. The land between is bog, wetlands of mostly carr sedge, an occasional thicket of woods, but still undeveloped and roadless. Even back then, walking would have been difficult. Today, the drive takes around 25 minutes because I’m cautious of deer – and I do slow down and enjoy the scenery.

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:Half-light





John Muir and the Three Little Where’s or Which Prairie When

Cuppants (Silphium perfoliatum) flow into a sea of yellow Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), and orange coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida).

Cuppants (Silphium perfoliatum) flow into a sea of yellow Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), and orange coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida).

Once upon a time, there was a tall man named John Muir.  He went for a walk through a prairie.  Pretty soon, he came upon a small familiar looking lake. He whistled and, when no one answered, he sat down.


At the lake in the meadow, he spied three murky views into the future.  John was a quirky curious fellow.  He stared as the first hazy image became clearer.

Seedheads of Black-eyed Susans

Seedheads of Black-eyed Susans

“This image picture is so wrong!” he exclaimed. “Tis a very cold semblance to what I remember.”

Now on his knees, he gazed as the second vision cleared.

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

“This landscape is too contrived!” he said. “Nothing looks familiar to me.”


As the last swirl in the lake became clear he exclaimed,  “Ah, this view is just right!”

Queen Anne's Lace - pre-bloom

Queen Anne’s Lace – pre-bloom

He happily sat back, crossed his hands behind his head, and recalled his boyhood.

Black-eyed Susan - skeletal remant of July

Black-eyed Susan – skeletal remnant of July

After seeing the three visions John was feeling a wee little sleepy.  Shuffling off to a hillside where he saw three trees, he leaned against the first tree to rest.

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) - after the bloom has faded

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) – after the bloom has faded

“This tree is too hard!” he exclaimed.


So he leaned against the second tree.


“This tree is too small!” he growled.

Prairie Cinquefoil

Prairie Cinquefoil

He chose the third tree, a young Bur oak, where he sighed and fell into a deep slumber while listened to the rustling dried leaves, sounding like far off tinkling of bells in a Buddhist temple.

Ratibida pinnata (Yellow Coneflower)

Ratibida pinnata (Yellow Coneflower)

As he was sleeping, three organization leaders came to discuss how to revive the worked-out land on which he slept.

Wind painting the Little Bluestem -Schizachyrium scoparium grass on the tall grass prairie

Wind painting the Little Bluestem -Schizachyrium scoparium grass on the tall grass prairie

Papa bear, who owned the largest portion of the land, decided it would be seventy-five percent native wild flowers, with a smidgen of sedges, and a portion of four native grasses, keeping the upland hardwoods, and a plan to open walking paths. This would become the John Muir County Park.

Wind painting with Big Bluestem grass, staple of the tall grass prairie

Wind painting with Big Bluestem grass, staple of the tall grass prairie

Mama bear, who owned the original homestead, the actual site of the Muir family house over looking the lake (NOTE: Private property no public access) felt the original prairie land would have been mostly grass with a smidgen of prairie flowers. They have maintained their property as predominately short grass prairie with appropriate prairie plants. I think John would easily recognize his front yard.

Wind painting the sedges and various grasses of the tall grass prairie

Wind painting the sedges and various grasses of the tall grass prairie

The federal government’s taken half the Muir family’s original homestead property and turned it into a tall grass prairie. Severed as cleanly by Wisconsin’s Marquette County Highway F, the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge, is a gem of a prairie reconstruction. Don’t visit Muir County Park and not cross the road to stand amid the waving grasses of a different kind of reconstructed environment.

Wind painting the tall grass prairie ...

Wind painting the tall grass prairie …

On a windy day you’ll understand why pioneer ancestors referred to their wagons as ‘prairie schooners’. The wind tosses waves of color, sunlight foams, and textures flow across my vision. Is it wind blowing past my ear or faint murmurs as John Muir and his boyhood friends scurry toward the distant river.

Wind painting a close in view of the neon, late August colors, of Big Bluestem prairie grass.

Wind painting a close in view of the neon, late August colors, of Big Bluestem prairie grass.

Would John Muir recognize any of the three landscapes? Which would look the most familiar to him? If an award were given for best adaptation, which of the three would receive it? I know which I prefer, and I know which I like least. Not that I would exclude any from my visits or my camera. All have something to discover, to teach, to preserve. Which to consider correct, I’ll leave for wiser minds than mine.

Wind painting the tall grass prairie dominated by Big bluestem, Turkeyfoot,  Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium]), and lively yellow of Solidago speciosa (Showy Goldenrod).

Wind painting the tall grass prairie dominated by Big bluestem, Turkeyfoot, Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium]), and lively yellow of Solidago speciosa (Showy Goldenrod).

(Unfortunately, I haven’t visited the private property – original home site in over ten years, so I have no current photos or permissions to post. You’ll have to trust me … it’s spectacular.)For information on where location and travel to Wisconsin’s John Muir country visit

all photography copyrighted, all rights reserved, Charly Makray-Rice 2014

Losing Ground and Lost in Place

For the second year in a row there has been a noticeable loss in the variety of our prairie plants. Our three native varieties of coneflowers disappeared entirely. Last year, only one bedraggled half-grown coneflower struggled for survival on ground where dozens had bloomed in past years. The Rattlesnake Masters are also gone, their blue-grey spiked globes hovering above waving grasses like minute alien aircraft. Perhaps it’s too early, but I can’t find my usual stand of Big Blue Stem prairie grass either. August may end up being the month we intentionally kill off half our prairie, necessary to replant and restore balance to our small re-creation of lost Wisconsin prairie. It’s been a very long time since I posted … I’d hit the blogger wall of indecision and over questioning; why was I doing this, what did I expect, and who am I? I’m back where I started, still haven’t answered any of those questions, but I have completed another set of photos to post. My site also looks different. I messed with my theme during my renewal and found I couldn’t upload my backup. Still working on THAT one! My apologies to those that I may have lost in the process … my links are also gone. Please contact me if you haven’t heard from me in a long time – I’m literally lost in WordPress land!

Someone Needs a Good Ass Whooping

The Whooping Crane is the third most endangered bird in North America. A mere average of 380 birds remain alive in the wild today. About a hundred are reintroduced birds that migrate between Wisconsin and Alabama or Florida. The majority are a natural flock that summers in Canada and winters on the coast of Texas.

The most malevolent killer of these stately, five-foot tall, white birds with their seven-foot wingspan, are not bobcats, alligators, or bears, but humans with guns. The birds aren’t predators, they pose no harm to domestic animals or farm crops. The birds spend most of their time foraging in wetlands and the edges of fields. In Kentucky, two more Whooping Cranes have been murdered.

Historically they were hunted for their for their brilliant white feathers. Today they’re killed for sport or plain ass stupidity. In 1950 there were less than 50 alive in the entire United States. Sixty-four years later not many more are around. They don’t breed every year like most birds. They raise their young for the first year. They mate for life. The environment today presents new dangers. Power lines, pesticides and poisons, loss of habitat, danger from oil spills and water shortages. The easier access of man to smaller territories inhabited by Whooping Cranes.

When cranes fly, they’ll catch a thermal and rise like a spirit into the heavens, gone from view within the tenth of a second used to measure who wins a race. Those lucky few that watch the near illusion are left standing in awe, wondering if they’ve actually seen a Whooping Crane or an miracle.

I’ve watched a Whooping Crane glide along the tree tops, following the path of a small creek through a protected wetland. Creeping along a highway shoulder at 35 miles an hour, I saw that brilliant white  bird from more than a mile in the distance. It disappeared when it came to ground after the third mile. Although I turned down the first road to the left, I  had no luck finding it, although, its distinctive whoop could be heard from the marsh.

Listen to the unique call of two Texas Whooping Cranes …

Approximately mid-March in Wisconsin, I open the bedroom and porch windows. I do it so I can listen for the sound of birds returning north. Canada Geese arrive first, followed by the mated pair of Sandhill Cranes that return to the bog behind our home. When the neighborhood hooking settles down, it’s time to separate the Sandhills from the possible Whooping Cranes. They might arrive separately, or they might arrive together. It depends. These are still young birds, they haven’t established permanent territories or picked out lifetime mates.

A few years ago, a young female Whooper broke ranks during the Florida UltraLite migration and flew off with a flock of Sandhill Cranes. When she returned, she was leading the flock, was the loudest, and the Sandhill Cranes were following her. I didn’t see them. We live between a hill and the Fox River  they were navigating over. I certainly heard them.

That same year, a single bird flew over and disappeared for the entire summer. Again, I heard him but couldn’t see him. When I heard he was missing, i suspected where he might be, but there was no way I could get in there. Eventually, in late summer, early autumn, he was located by an air search in the expected area. He’s well and with the flock in Alabama this winter.

Not so with the couple of birds that decided Kentucky would be a good place to mate and raise a family. They nested and produced their first egg this year. It was the first egg from the White River Marsh birds. It wasn’t viable, but it was a hopeful sign. Our birds had learned well, they were acting like wild birds, no attachment to humans, doing what they were trained to do. Go, leave, live naturally in the wetlands of the eastern fly-way.

In late November, someone decided it would be fun to shoot two Whooping Cranes wintering in Kentucky. Our magnificent Wisconsin birds have been murdered.  Please help us find the killer or killers of our young birds.

Living twenty miles from Operation Migration’s Whooping Crane summer site, makes the killing of these birds, very personal  We must find this person, or persons and turn them over for investigation and prosecution.  This was a joy killing, a criminal offence covered by the Federal Endangered Species Act. The reward recently doubled to $15,000. Someone needs a good ass whooping for what they’ve done. Please share this blog and pass the word along.

The Today Show updated and rebroadcast their recent feature on Operation Migration and the Wisconsin to Florida flock to include the killing and reward for our two birds.

Watch the NBC Today Show visit Operation Migration in Wisconsin…

Read the Kentucky Courier Journal about the national reward…

Please get the word out and HELP. Thank You.


Operation Migration – Whooping Cranes – Update: Florida arrival completed.

The flight started over three months ago approximately 25 miles northeast of my house. Eight five-month old Whooping Crane Chicks took their first flight away from their secure home pen and started a long, slow, flight to Florida.

Missed the live transmission?  Check out earlier flights via YouTube. OM will probably post a video of today’s last flight in a few days, so please check back on YouTube.

If you’re interesting in learning more about Operation Migration and keeping current with news on this year’s eight chicks, check out OM’s often humorous, daily blog journal, In the Field.

The final portion of the flight of eight endangered Whooping Crane chicks raised in Green Lake County, Wisconsin this summer, and trained to fly following a UltraLite, (personal aircraft) has been safely completed. UltraLites, piloted by costumed handlers, serve as surrogate parents to teach the endangered birds their migration route. Destined for a backup to the natural (remaining wild born) Whooping Crane flock which migrate between Canada and the Texas coast, the UL trained birds wintering in Florida, will  return north next spring without human intervention. Once taught the migration route it remains imprinted for life.

Now in Florida, the cameras are off. The two live video feeds are:

Live and awaiting the birds arrival at the St. Marks, Fl wintering pen site. This feed will be down until training begins again with new chicks next summer in Wisconsin.

If you missed today’s  live transmission check back at this link. The camera feed could be working at St. Marks, Florida while the birds are adjusting to their new home. Next summer it will again be transmitting 24/7 at the Wisconsin pen site.

For more information on the Whooping Crane, one of ten rarest North American birds, please visit these sites: