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Spring in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve

 

Happy First Anniversary!

May 27, 2014

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MISSING MUSES, JOHN MUIR, AND MYSTIFICATION

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ― Wendell Berry

…and so I have reached a wall I cannot find my way around. I’ve tried to write my way through it, dug deep beneath to unearth profound ideas, and called upon Muses to uplift my spirits so that I might see what lies beyond. Nothing produced any grand scheme. My mind used to open and place words faster than a beaver could fall a sampling. If a mystified mind is employed surely I’m working overtime without pay. A Muse of Perspiration has replaced my Muse of Inspiration.

It doesn’t matter if I work by light of day, or lamp, nothing shines forth. Late last night was the closest I came to hearing the faint whisper of my creative Muse. I was on the back porch, overcast, no light flickered from sky or woods. Nothing glowed from within the house. A free symphony of night sounds uplifted me – and mystified that this should happen while I was in total darkness, with only lean capability to recall the scale of the occasion. I couldn’t sit and write my cascading thoughts as they turned into articulate visions in the dark of Cicadas and Tree Frogs. A playful, short-seasoned chorus which only the night breeze hears. It was similar to,  ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, will it still make a sound?’

I’d been gifted with several minutes to absorb an experience I could bring forth at will during the remainder of my life. It was long enough to acknowledge my Muse of Realization – this is what John Muir listened to while awake in his loft bed a few miles away some 160 years or so ago. I’ll wrestle my stupefied Muses and give them a good cussing for kicking back and chugging good old Wisconsin brews while ignoring my pleas,  I’ve posted a short sideshow from the John Muir Memorial County Park in Marquette County, Wisconsin. The prairie restoration is on the acreage below the original boyhood of John Muir, surrounding Fountain Lake (now named Ennis Lake). The park is located on County Highway F, approximately halfway between Portage and Montello, Wisconsin.

Later in his life, John recalled his arrival on the farm in 1849 as, “To this charming hut, in the sunny woods, overlooking a flowery glacier meadow and a lake rimmed with water lilies, we were hauled by an ox-team across trackless Carex swamps and low rolling hills sparsely dotted with round-headed oaks. . .This sudden plash into pure wildness–baptism in Nature’s warm heart–how utterly happy it made us. . .Everything new and pure in the very prime of spring when Nature’s pulses were beating highest and mysteriously keeping time with our own. Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”  Obviously, John had no problem in his life with missing Muses or mystification.

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!”

WHAT IF …

Wild Lupines at Summerton Blog

Wild Lupines at Summerton Blog

 

I wanted to step back in time a hundred years and visit a couple of wetlands before two families of farmers parted the tall sawgrass like a Saturday haircut and walked behind a couple of oxen bought on the cheap from departing sodbusters, and butchered as stringy beef steak after the first plowing.

Summerton Bog

A 1919 Plat Map of Marquette County, Wisconsin shows land allotted to a variety of Summerton kin, Frank, William, Milford and J.L. At least the bog kept the surname of, if not, the original land owning family, most likely the one that contributed the most to the Nature Conservancy. It’s not a difficult location to find, but like many smaller Nature Conservancy sites parking is minimal and not well maintained. Parking was one narrow mowed down slope site with no turnaround.

Summerton Bog

I’d walked the bog before, in winter, when I could clearly see the artesian springs bubbling to the surface where dead sedges and saw grasses draped over on themselves like laundry fallen off the clotheslines. In late spring the tallest grasses were tickled by rivulets, most lush and nutrient fed by the constant flow of water. I was homo-stompus trying not to blunder through sedges dressing me to mid-thigh like an inverse kilt. Carefully placing alternating ugly size eleven black rubber boots, (this was no place for America’s Top Model), only thick corrugated soles lapped the tannic bronze water seeping through last year’s decaying mounds.

Summerton Bog

In mid-step I flashed back to a misadventure into another bog where my heel wouldn’t sink a couple of inches every few feet and bounce along for another step. Unreasonable fears of encountering a human-eating bog-thrasher flipped my anxiety into overdrive and I hurried back to Summerton’s entrance. My original plan was to photograph the bog’s wildflowers, not to set a new record for trail gaiting through a wetland. As I sped past, colors’ kissed their neighbors with bravado and laughed in the breeze. My eyes were weaving patterns from shades of grasses and textures from highlights and shadows. Amazing tidbits of prairie and bog flowers, ‘Made in the USA’, rich colors and sweet memories were simply Splenda in the grass. And even some of the grasses are invasive!

The original flora I was seeking no longer existed in this place, at this time in late spring. Perhaps only one flower, the Wild Lupine, photographed on this trip was a native plant. The rest were European-American wildflowers, originally planted by settlers in their gardens and now common and sometimes invasive escapees on bogs and prairies. From my conjured step back in time I was able to bring forward several of the native grasses and sedges, woodlands, and the artesian springs. Perhaps at other times during the year a greater range of native perennials will put in an appearance.

Closer to my heart, what if the bog out back of our home was still the small lake local Natives gathered wild rice in fall? Now it’s a silted over sedge bog, with two narrow trickles of water running through it, well on the way to joining encroaching woodlands. Not even a hint of wild rice remains.

An unknown farmer lived on this land before us. Late one day in the 1930’s, having finishing his upper field he started driving his tractor toward his lower work across the bog. That tractor had been fairly new, still a nice hunting shade of bright orange. He steered the ironed wheeled behemoth down the backside of the wee slippery slope one moist day when the monster gulped and the tractor entered the bog never to plow again. The deep, acidic, muck won every attempt to wrestle that tractor free. The tractor would celebrate more than seventy years of mockery in the war over man versus wetlands.

Long into the future, an old codger with a long memory and a hankering to rebuild a piece of his youth showed up with a couple of husky young friends and two strong, late model John Deere tractors. They started early one morning with a backhoe, three men on shovels, and two tractors hitched together. Just about dusk they finally uncorked the old tractor loaded in onto a trailer and hauled it off. It was in amazing shape for having been digested by Moby Bog for over seventy years. Bogs must have a very slow metabolism.

The following spring I went looking for a few worthy photos and noticed a beautiful group of Marsh Marigolds growing in a shallow pool of water where the old tractor had been. Carefully stepping through the still black water that reflected the marigolds and with one wrong step I was stuck above the knee in the bog with my left foot pointed southeast and the corresponding hip rotated north seeking terra firma. Like quicksand, when I tried to pull my foot out it went in deeper. Somehow I managed to save the other foot and the camera.

Eventually my husband noticed I didn’t return to the house and found me out back. After laughing himself silly, he tossed me a stick and I was encouraged to lean my weight on it and pull myself up and out. However, it was, literally, a stick. Being heftier than the catbird chirping in the Red-twig Dogwoods at my back, I crumpled back into the oily morass. My shit-kicker boot was rapidly filling with a thick peaty ooze as my foot slid ever farther toward the next town beyond us or in my mind, rapidly took aim at my chin and my unwelcome meal of mud pie and inevitable extinction.

Hubby, the woodworker, finally sorted through his collection of fine lumber, found a satisfactory slab to bear my weight and gave an accurate heave-ho across the sides of the pit from hell. At last I parked my oh-so-weary ass and cocked my free leg sideways above the clutches of the muck and sobbed. The sinister bog was still chewing away at my foot, trying to pull me into its ancient mire of extinct mammoths, bison herds, lost deer, and the old iron-tired tractor that had been stuck since the early 1930’s.

Devising several inspired contortions not shown in the Kama Sutra I finally managed to remove my leg with the foot intact. I swear the damn bog belched as it swallowed my rubber barn boot and soggy sock. In early September, when the morning mist comes on early, just before the sun rises, I still imagine the old tractor’s lonely farmer cussing up a blue mist over the bog and through the trees that have overgrown his fields. All these years I assumed the bog only got his tractor.

Swamp Thang

Swamp Thang