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Marching to a New Color

Short and sweet. Yes, it took the entire week to develop a spring based photograph in orange. Orange is a lot easier in October than March. I cheated, I got to practice my layers and textures skill. Not going to say a lot this week. It ends in three hours anyway and the challenge changes.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:Orange

 

Visit my new photography page at  ViewBug

 

 

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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…

http://www.today.com/video/today/54174987

Read the Kentucky Courier Journal about the national reward…

http://blogs.courier-journal.com/watchdogearth/2014/01/24/reward-for-killed-cranes-doubles/

Please get the word out and HELP. Thank You.

Link

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:

http://www.ustream.tv/flyingcranes

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.

http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes

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:

https://www.savingcranes.org/

http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/

http://www.operationmigration.org/

http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/wildlifeareas/whiteriver.html

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/st_marks/

Strange way to boil water or Beauty and the Beast upset Paradise

It appeared as a white plume, a large feather-like trail writing a detour across the distant horizon. I was driving on Highway 23 thinking,  another idiot’s burning leaves on a windy day. Tree branches waved as I passed, hoping the distant smudge would soon disappear. On a good day with no Sheriff’s car parked over a hill, driving time from Montello to Princeton is around 15 minutes.

The smoky sky had changed color and seemed to be bouncing off its source and rolling along the blue ridges like yellow tinged puff-balls by the time I slowed and drove into town. Traffic halted in front of me as a fire truck loaded with hose rolled out and parked across the street. A Jeep towing a 4 man ATV mule pulled out and sped south of town. Volunteer fire fighters started arriving, knitting their cars through stalled traffic like grannies on a mitten making challenge. Along with a couple of other drivers I gunned out ahead of the delay in timing. Not usually curious, just once I let this take me where it might and drove out the same highway.

I though I was getting closer when thicker smoke started flowing across the highway. Surely a sign the source was just around the next corner.  Not true. I started to doubt my original thought that I was looking for a leaf burn gone astray. Miles and time passed, smoke still flowed on currents. This was still growing and I hadn’t found it yet. I drove another twenty minutes before finding  the fire location.

Two more fire trucks passed me and turned down a road that appeared to head to a  park.  I decided it wouldn’t be smart to follow them. Further down, an old beaten road appeared and I took it. That lumpy road seemed to be the area of the fire. Several other cars were already there, sightseers like myself, curious, watchers that had been driving by and couldn’t help pulling in. Children were playing in the field a few hundred feet from the blaze as if it was a family picnic.

This strange, whirling, tornado-like, monster of white was churning through a marsh snacking on tidbits from pine trees and leaving stark black toothpicks standing behind it. Over the years, I’ve kept watch on other grass and forest fires from miles away.  Each spring we burn our backyard prairie. I’m familiar with the smell of  burning grasses, pines, oaks, and prairie flowers. Grass fires burn white, forest fires sooty grey with an odor of dirty, wet chimneys.

Standing today in front of the burning marsh looking at a strange tornado-like beast towering toward the opaque sky, I understood both fear and curiosity fire and storm have on us. The group I mingled with knew the brisk wind was blowing directly at us. Ash from the fire was falling down around us. Had it been a bit of pine needle, sedge, cattail, an abandoned birds nest? The field in front of us had already been entirely shown of its corn crop or we’d have been in immediate danger. It was difficult to leave, strikingly attractive and gut-wrenching repulsiveness fighting an ages old battle to change natural elements. I knew it was best to put a distance between us and a still very greedy blaze.

I’ve spent a lot of time near wetlands and marshes yet it seems strange to watch a blazing marsh. It sounds like an oxymoron.  We’ve actually had very long, dry spells this year and we’ve got a lot of tinder dry ground litter. I regret not knowing this area and I have no idea what existed before the flames tore through it. It certainly had to have been a heated battle between a wetland beauty and the flaming beast.  Beauty certainly  lost this round.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/daily-prompt-strange/

ROAD TRIP

I know that bungling through wildlife areas and marshes behind the wheel of a car makes about as much sense as exploring the Arctic Ocean wearing a bikini while skateboarding. Neither process is going to actually get me up close or down into range of smelling wild roses. Nature areas, by design, keep people at a distance to protect native habitats and the birds, mammals and fish that allow for seasonal exploration, hunting and fishing opportunities for the bit of nature lover or cave dweller among us.

The paradox of nature areas is that if not for hunters, there would be no protected and restored areas to visit now. Approximately seventy-five years ago, the great sportsmen’s clubs started to realize their opulent lifestyle was disappearing. These were men with money, big business owners and politicians. Luckily, they also had foresight and the ability to organize, plan, and purchase properties that had been ill-suited for anything but marginal farming.

These groups eventually became dozens of citizen’s action organizations and land protection agencies. In Wisconsin, we now have a great diversity of public lands for recreational activities. By purpose or accident, the planners of these areas also ignored accessibility to prime viewing areas and zones by anyone unable to hike in. The exception is that All Terrain Vehicles are often permitted during hunting season.  Preserved areas, therefore, become available only to the physically able. And I’m not very capable or trusting of my abilities to walk very far anymore. I’m in a place where a great many citizens find themselves nowadays, viewing nature from a distance, looking for small signs of movement, blurs, flashes of colors or the very rare, but lucky roadside view.  I explore with greatly limited access.

Forget access roads, few exist in Wisconsin nature areas. I’m lucky if I can find a place to park a single car. I gave up looking for marked trails. I hiked many a deer trail only to find no view at the end. Whitetail don’t give a bleat about the view beyond dinner service between their agile hooves. The areas that show trails on their maps probably haven’t been maintained for many years. I found rows of full-grown trees and fence line weaving in and out of what should have been clearly marked trail.

Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area is 7,000 acres located mostly in Green Lake and a small portion in Marquette County, Wisconsin. Not a long drive via map, however the only roads in are also the only roads out so it’s necessary to repeat yourself to get home.

Hubby was home on vacation and he promised me a road trip. Road trip to me is, follow me into the wetlands and no complaining, okay?

“No problem, will I be back in time to run the Path of Exile race at 3 pm?”

My watch read a little after 11 am so I nodded yes with confidence. I didn’t feel there was any need to speak since he probably wouldn’t hear me anyway. He still had his computer headphones on and the sound cranked up.

I gathered up my trusty Wisconsin Southern Coverage All-outdoors Atlas and Field Guide by Sportsman’s Connection. I love this spiral bound wish book of all the places I want to drive to and manage to find my way out of. It’s my version of hitchhiking through Europe and a great African Safari. Will I really get lost or will I manage to find my way home. I don’t have a GPS or a smart phone. Just my Atlas, a standard compass and dumb ass cell phone that pings off every other cell tower like an electronic billboard with a new message from my provider. The big wave of the future will be the mass flushing of cell phones.

“Here we go surfing now, everybody’s surfing now…” I’m bobble-heading while sitting in the car waiting for hubby.

The car console contains water bottle, mine, big honking green energy drink, hubby’s, two cell phones, binoculars, camera, two sets of car keys, Atlas, we are ready to launch the little Kia Spectra on a new adventure.

Still buckling his seat belt, “You sure you know where you’re going?”

I try to arch my left eyebrow but the weight of the neck wrinkles win the pull of gravity and all I manage is a slow upward slide of my eyes.

“Duh, yeah …but be prepared, it’s going to be a long drive,” I reminded him.

“So kay, no problem, did you bring my camera?”

We’re already on the highway. “No…I asked if you wanted ‘YOUR’ camera because remember, you’re responsible for bringing ‘YOUR’ camera along,” I repeated for the twentieth time on the twentieth road trip.

“Damn, I hate your camera, useless thing!”

“Well, I’m not too fond of it either, but it fit’s better than the full size one for this kind of trip. We can always take video if we get lucky and see any White Birds.”

About then I’d driven down County Highway B and entered Green Lake County. I was always surprised when I drove south and east and found myself in Green Lake County. I regularly drove north by east to get to the same county to get to my boarded horse. I did mention we would be driving in a big loop with no exit. This is about the time my thinking gets, well, constipated, and I have to pull over to the side of the road and check the map again. I feel topsy-turvy, but I’m actually just south of normal, if there is such as thing as normal for me.

We’re into Amish country now, but surprised that no buggies are on the road. Don is trying to note where any Amish stores are, clearly disappointed they’re not open. The Amish stores sell yummy baked goods and in season have the finest honey in the area. All the head rotations a lapsed Southern Baptist can pull off still won’t open an Amish bakery on a Thursday.

I’ve turned off Highway B and onto Highway H. It’s a pretty drive, through wooded glades and curves reminiscent of times past when this was a summer resort area for the less than wealthy. Only a couple of campgrounds remain in the area now, tucked between the narrow, sluggish Grand River and much larger but equally shallow Lake Puckaway.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out this way and I missed the turn, even though hubby pointed out the weather tattered ‘Wedding’ sign hanging under the mailbox. I suspect that sign was placed there long before Estella left. A half-mile up the road I realize I’m looking at potato fields and Havisham’s corner was the turn.

Google Space Map was a fresco painted of forgiveness, use, abuse, repair, poor patching, making do and attempts to improve land for the use of the public. Eighteen reclaimed farms spread across my computer screen like faded wallpaper in an abandoned farmhouse parlor, half the roof gone, still a faint pattern after decades of sunlight and storm exposure. Amid the scabs of field edges previous scars of mounds and effigies left by people who inhabited the region prior to the farmers. Today’s field trip is edging close to a time trail of Native Peoples, failed farmers, hunters, conservationists, and day-trippers. The alterations to these lands will take generations to erase.

I’ve finally reached Grand River Road and I surge along between 30 and 5 knots, steering over a white-water of potholes washing under the poorly maintained road. As Commander of the wee imaginary bumper boat, Spectra, I’m weaving off one side of the road, down the center, and off-center again. Slowing for yet another pitfall, I glance at my husband and notice his love handles take longer to rise than fall.  I tilt sharply to the right to avoid another rut.

“HOLE,” yells hubby as both hands fly up and clutch his seat belt to his heart.

My pretend bumper boat flips to a stop as the left side of my head pinged off the window like a moth against a porch light. Of course, now an oncoming truck is approaching and a second one is moving up behind us. Not another car on the road until we find the possible entrance to the River Styx and a nanosecond to breath deeply and plunge axle deep and rise on a swell of gratitude with tires intact on the other side. I pull off to the side of the road while both trucks roll up what’s left of the broken concrete and take their individual piece of hell with them.

We’re at one of the pools where I enjoy stopping to swatch a wide variety of birds. Today nothing is happening. Hubby has the binoculars and he’s thrilled to spot a Grebe diving on the pond. We both make a full  sweep of the sky and adjacent area just in case a Whooping Crane might be in the about but nothing is hovering except dragonflies.

Farther along the road I hear, “Joe Pye Weed!”

A minute later, “ Look, Turk’s Cap Lilies!

“Did you see the pink Swamp Milkweed?” I asked. He’d missed that. I puzzled over his ability to identify Joe Pye Weed.

Eventually, the ‘improved road’ ended and we continued to the end of the drive on a nice flat graded gravel road. I loved the sound of crunching under the wheels, reminding me of an entire theater full of moviegoers chowing down of fresh, hot, buttered popcorn. When we ran out of road we found the gate to the dam open.  Unaware if there was parking down the access road we played if safe and parked at the road head and walked in. The view from the dam end of the marsh was lovely, a soft haze resting upon the horizon. A golf cart clattered past us, six family members hanging on to various handles and uprights. They pulled in and turned around at the dam and realized that our walking was our exercise for the week.

Reaching the spillway, we found the family, grandfather, son, oldest grandson, probably a preteen, and a couple of preschoolers, a boy and girl. Both preschoolers were wearing sandals as they romped over the gravel and rocks looking for insects and critters in the marsh grasses. The girl dressed for dinner out, a black sequined top dress with a sheer nylon skirt. Any fashionista posing for paparazzi would look stunning in it.

She ran up to us while her brother sailed into the cattails.  “What are you looking for,” she boldly inquired.

“Elephants…” replied my husband.

POKE … indentation meets love handle.

“What!” he exclaimed. “Could be, why let her down.”

I looked at her puzzled face just before she ran off behind her sidekick. They turned and charged back down the slope.

“Please be careful, I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself on the rocks,” I asked her, concerned for her safety.

“Oh let her be, it’ll heal by the time she gets married,” my husband mumbled.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled.

The closest to wildlife we’d encountered were the deep resounding burps of a couple of frogs while walking the path to the dam. It was disappointing not to find birds of any type. We started the walk back to the car.

“You are a Whooping Crane,” my husband told me, “you’ve got long legs.”

“Yeah, I know – and a beak,” I reminded him.

“But wait,” he said, “you’ve got red hair.”

“… and you’re a white chick!”

ZE PLANE, ZE CRATES, ZE CRANES

In 1978 an old television show called Fantasy Island, a character named Tatoo, came running on camera, peeping in his small French accented voice, “Ze plane, ze plane!”  At that time, an estimated one hundred or so wild Whooping Cranes were still very much on the edge of extinction in North American. Certainly, none of them ever arrived via airplane. They summered in northern Canada where they bred, fledged their young and migrated 2,600 miles to wintering grounds on the coast of Texas.

That meager flock of Whooping Cranes were the sole descendants of the last 15 wild Whooping Cranes still alive in 1940. Extinction was possible, where they would only be available as museum mounts, paintings, photographs, and romantic stories of how the largest remaining bird on this continent disappeared from the horizon on our watch. These amazing great white cranes slowly increased in number, and now labelled the Western Migratory Population they are the lone genetic lineage for all Whooping Cranes. Whooper’s bond for life and generally produce only one chick that lives. Reproduction rates are low and after more than 70 years the western population still numbers less than 300 birds.

Hoping to maintain a species comes with knowledge that a single event, an oil spill, hurricane, or a drought causing a lack of fresh water on the Texas wintering grounds could create a life-threatening disaster for this flock. They face new problems from oil-sands, pipelines, and potential wind energy fields on the migration route.  And we cry for the yearly birds killed by hunters, those by accident, or worse, by intent and cruelty.

A little over a decade ago, a second backup group of Whooping Cranes was considered for introduction.  However, there were no native birds in the eastern United States.  This flock was going to be developed from captive birds. They would have no migratory patterns learned from previous generations passed down for millions of years by parents to their fledglings. Humans would need to intervene, but humans raising wild birds doesn’t work. Birds imprint on the first thing they set their eyes on. If it’s a human the bird will grow up and never learn how to be a bird. An entirely new science was going to be put to use, joining several different research groups with one goal.

Whooping Cranes of the Eastern Migratory Population are genetic offspring of the western flock, however, these eggs came from monitored Whooping Cranes via careful selection to maintain diversity.  All of the eggs were hatched under careful monitoring and supervision,  and when grown the birds were then reintroduced into the wild to form a second flock migrating between Wisconsin and Florida.  Different methods of raising chicks at several locations in Wisconsin are being used. Only one is monitored for the public to view via computer thanks to Operation Migration.org.

In a few days, similar words to Tatoo’s greeting will be on the lips and tips of many chat room fingers. They are a dedicated group of Whooping Crane fans,  old and new friends, known affectionately as Craniacs. Daily, for approximately six months they sit in front of their computer monitors, laptops and smartphones to watch the morning and evening antics, routines, growth spurs, and comedic errors of a yearly clutch of endangered Whooping Crane chicks in central Wisconsin. These birds, under the skillful hands of an organization named Operation Migration.org will raise these birds this summer, flight train them, and this autumn lead them behind a UltraLite aircraft skillfully imprinted as a parent bird teaching them the migratory route between Wisconsin and Florida. Next spring, a miracle happens when the birds return to Wisconsin using their own remarkable instincts.

The chicks hatched at  Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland where they undergo physical testing that would undermine a candidate for the Navy Seals. Their personalities are testing to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. Some tolerance is allowed for chicks to establish a pecking order, as long as they don’t actually continue to nit-peck like a wife that discovered mouse breath on her husband who said he was working late at the office. After a class is chosen they’re allowed to attend a mixer and see who wants to dance and who’s going to become the wallflower. Of course, someone always trips over their own feet, another peeps and runs, one takes a firm hock sit and won’t be moved, and the sudden bully chases all the other kids around the block. Only the block is round and heavily supervised by people who look like Casper, the friendly ghost with a misplaced appendage – a single wooden crane-like head where a hand would be..

Crane chicks are never allowed to visually come into contact with humans during the nearly year-long training process. With clever manipulations and puppetry the birds own genetic code will imprint onto puppetry and even lite aircraft substituting as parents. It allows the Whooping Cranes to remain wild. Rules number one through one hundred! All humans attending to Whooping Crane chicks for any purpose present in costumes aka ‘tumes’. Imagine a construction helmet and black muck boots, covered in a hybrid of your grandmother’s white sheets drying in the summer sun and a half-blinded person wearing a backward burka in 100 degree heat while all the juicy bugs of summer jump up your petticoat.

Gotta love the dedicated Whooping Crane people. The same crew training in Maryland with the eight chosen finalists will soon be moved to Wisconsin to begin phase two of the training program. But first the chicks are gently backed into standing crates and loaded onto a private airplane where they will receive first class attention on their flight over. Sorry, no reclining seats, headphones, movies, or mixed drinks allowed for the birds and crew. The Craniac’s are free to celebrate the impending arrival of the new kids on the block in any manner they choose. Virtual parties are probably already being planned. Tissues are being stockpiles by laptops, vacation days planned, people will be calling in late, this will be a cheers and tears celebration.

ETA, July 9, 2013, 1 pm CST at

Operation Migration Whooping Crane Cam
http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes

HOW MANY POUNDS OF ROCKS WILL PETE PICK?

Reed Canary Grass

Reed Canary Grass

Since frost out I’d been watching an elderly man in a vacant farm field picking rocks. Every day I’d gone past he’s been out there, dressed from cap to britches, in tones of faded UPS brown, baggy trousers tucked into practical rubber muck farm boots.  I have asparagus gone to fern and seed in my garden that’s brawnier than this petite man with his thin arms and barely wired biceps.

Last Tuesday I finally found myself driving behind him just as he was pulling to the side of the road to begin his day of rolling and rocking. I stopped behind him as a short thin arm extended out the rolled down window of his car and started frantically waving me ahead over and over again, the gesture reminding me of a sun worn whirligig before a big storm blows in.

When I opened my car door and started to walk toward him, he stepped out of his vehicle with a puzzled look on his face. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for weeks” I blathered. He backed off a few inches and looked up at the skyscraper frame of me, lifted off the worn brown cap on his head and scratched his seriously balding scalp. He chuckled and realized he’d just reeled in a captive audience for a country tale or two. I’d soon learn what makes Pete putter picking rocks and plunking them to haul back to the wee trailer hitched to his compact car.

I implored,  I was so curious, “Why are you in that field picking rocks every time I drive by?”

“Well, I wanted to plant corn in there this year and that damn ground just kept throwing up rocks!”

“Corn? What did you plant last year? I don’t remember seeing anything here.”

“Nope, wasn’t anything? I own 40 acres.”  Pete glanced down at his boots and lifted a foot a couple of inches then put it down again.  “ Well, to tell you the truth – it’s really only 39-1/2 but I like the sound of 40. Makes me feel richer than I am,” while carving his elfin aged face from ear to ear. I guess lifting his foot was his way of deciding if he was going to tell me the truth or not. “ Anyway, I owned these acres for over thirty years and never planted anything on them. Just felt like doing it this year. See that hunting stand back there, past the trees? Ben Bogbottom owns five hundred acres back there, nuthin’ but swamp. He never planted anything either.”

I look back of the small trailer he’s hauling and see it’s already got a small load of dirt and some grass clods. He catches what I’m looking at and flicks an explanation faster than a bullfrog on a fly.

“I already moved 145 wheelbarrows full of rocks outta that field this spring. Now I’m moving some-a-that Reed Canary Grass down to my last field, see the other two down there where the highway went and put in those new culverts onto my land last year but didn’t do a good job. Well that’s where I moved all those rocks and I’m dumping the grass to fill in where they missed when they put in the culverts where there wasn’t any before, you get what I mean?” I turned and looked at the two culverts each of which lead to a field bursting with Reed Canary Grass.

By then I could hear rocks rattling in my own head as I nodded yes to his query. When the county rebuilt a stretch of the highway last year they had closed the road to traffic and since no one lived on a five-mile stretch they rerouted all traffic. They had gone into the field across the road from Pete’s and removed marsh peat to raise the roadbed. That field, of course, had also not been farmed in decades. Pete told me, off the record, the field’s owner shall remain secret – well he tried last year to grow corn and he failed. He tried again this year and failed again. Pete crowed triumphantly, “Only thing that field can grow, is DIRT!”

Pete’s field was successfully growing a nice stand of corn and since he was so petite he would be able to walk among the rows and continue to hand pick rocks and put them into a ten-gallon pail he’d brought along to replace the wheelbarrow.

“How do you find the time to get out here and do all of this by hand?” I asked.

His shoulders humped up and down a couple of times while he thought about it. “I’m eighty-five years old. All I have is time. After I retired from the cookie factory, I drove school bus and helped my brother run his farm stand. Then my buddy, well he wanted to move down south and he had this garbage pickup route he wanted to sell me and I told him no thanks. I mean, why? The big company already picks up all the garbage around here, right. So anyway, see, he keeps asking me and I finally buy it from him and give it to my wife to go out and pick up garbage here and there. She’s been out picking up bits and pieces of garbage the other company won’t for over twenty years now.”

Pete’s still smiling, and he’s got all his teeth so I figure his wife can’t be too angry with him for dumping a garbage route on her. We’re still leaning on his car parked alongside the highway. Every once in awhile, I hear a high pitched whine from my car reminding me I left the engine running with the air conditioner going full blast and the window open so I won’t lock myself out.

Pete then wants to know who I am and what I’m doing driving down the road nearly no one lives on, so I give him a short course in Green Lake county Whooping Crane history and my horse down the road a bit. Pete gives me a bio on his five children, four of whom fairly successfully grew up to do what they planned as children.  The last daughter Pete described as “PFFT”.

Unless I was ready to surrender the next few hours I knew it was time to leave Pete. I promised I’d honk and wave next time I saw him and stop when I had time. He was made of finer stuff than me, less inclined to complain when things got rough, probably always measured his glass as half full, and would be thankful for whatever job he was given to do.

After I left, I found myself plagued by thoughts of Reed Canary Grass, that sterilizer of Mother Nature. Vast swatches of colors from pale yellow to deep violet in mid-June blocking all chances for native species to survive. With just one glance into Pete’s trailer I’d come face to face with an enemy I couldn’t fully comprehend surrounded me. In the past week all my favorite wetland roads and landscapes have become variations on a theme. Reed Canary Grass, in different stages of development. Nature can be choked in beauty.