Tag Archives: an inordinate fondness

Some highlights, August-September 2014

So I do have some expeditions and observations to write up, but after the final post on the Mississippi trip, my day job revved into crisis mode and has more or less stayed there since. I’ll get back to a regular schedule soon, I hope, but in the meantime here are a few snippets from the past couple of months:

More milkweed denizens

This year I have seen a great many things on milkweed, though not, alas, any monarchs of any stage; but other people have been seeing them, which is good news. I did see this striking milkweed tiger moth (Euchaetes egle) at Curtis Prairie in the UW Arboretum:

Milkweed tiger moth (Euchaetes egle), late-stage larva, Curtis Prairie, UW Arboretum

and at Starkweather Creek, rather late in the season I thought, these amorous red milkweed bettles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus):
Red milkweed beetles, Starkweather Creek

Freeport wetlands

More on the ride I did in late August, following the combined Badger State/Jane Addams trail system all the way to its end in Freeport, Illinois, anon; but just past the trail’s end – and right off the highway – Freeport has a nice little Wetland Preserve Park, where I snapped this leopard frog (Rana pipiens) in the grass:
Leopard frog (Rana pipiens), Wetlands Preserve Park, Freeport, IL
and, just outside the gates, this great blue heron (Ardea herodias):
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias), Freeport, IL
When I lived in Redmond, Washington, I used to see blue herons on my commute all the time; they are still common enough there that the stylized one on the city’s logo is not inaccurate. Vying with the heron for pride-of-place in Redmond iconography is the penny-farthing bicycle, and though I saw plenty of bikes during my 2 years in Redmond, I don’t think I ever saw a penny-farthing, so there you go. To be fair, penny-farthings are terrifying and hazardous to ride; there’s good reason that the currently-dominant frame design was originally dubbed the “safety bicycle”.

Fall fungi

Okay, I realize having favourite things about fall has become a cliche. But, there it is: more than pumpkin ale, more than jumping into piles of dead leaves, I really like walking in woodlands full of fungi, and the one outing I’ve managed in September – just to the UW Arboretum, through Gallistel Woods and Wingra Woods – has not disappointed.

Here some millipedes are equally pleased:
Mushrooms & millipedes, Gallistel Woods, UW Arboretum

Splash cups (Cyathus striatus):
Gallistel & Wingra Woods, UW Arboretum

El is a Sound of Joy

On the Labour Day weekend I took a bus down to Chicago to observe members of my species about one of our most admirable characteristic activities, making music – specifically the Sun Ra Arkestra, still led with style by saxophonist Marshall Allen at the age of 90, closing out the Chicago Jazz Festival with a bang.

In a crowd of thousands at Millennium Park, I didn’t get very close, but there was a screen at the back of the stage for a closer look at the musicians:
Sun Ra Arkestra, Chicago Jazz Festival

Chicago itself, where Sun Ra spent a fair chunk of his early career, made a terrific backdrop as the sun sank down:
Chicago Jazz Festival

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True journey is return

To be whole is to be part; true journey is return.
-Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

(Previous posts from this trip: Black Earth energy receptor fields, The Wisconsin desert, Mother of Waters)

The silence of a country road in the Driftless Area at dawn Sunday morning is deep, though not uninterrupted: it was broken by the odd rooster, a dog here and there, the siren of a single Crawford County Sheriff’s Department car blasting down the lane on its way to some rural emergency, and me getting short of breath and cursing Google Maps for its propensity to direct me down hilly back-roads instead of flatter if busier main arteries.

In about an hour I reached US-18 and from there things were smoother: rolling, but without so many bastards of hills. For several miles I kept passing Mennonites in carriages; the driver would lift a dignified hand in greeting, which I would attempt to return. I think I got the lifting part down. At any rate, it was another hour and a half or so of that to Fennimore, where I stopped for two breakfasts – again featuring blueberry pancakes exceeding my head in diameter, and if you haven’t seen my head it’s one of those long, lantern-jawed Irish deals, I have a hard time finding hats that fit – and then another couple of hours to the city of Dodgeville.

My initial plan had been to roll into Governor Dodge State Park, do a little hiking there, camp, and head home; but once I reached Dodgeville and the head of the Military Ridge trail, it struck me that it was only 1 in the afternoon, and the rest of the way was mostly downhill on trails, with a couple of possible spots to break for the day if I really couldn’t push on. So I kept on going, and ended up home at around twilight: a distance of about 107 miles. That’s my first century, though I feel it was so lackadaisical that it’s hardly worthy of the name.

And so there ended up being no natural history to speak of on that leg of the trip, though the highway did pass through some striking rock-cuts, and there were plenty of butterflies along the trail. I put in my headphones and enjoyed just being out there. When the going got difficult in the last dozen miles or so, I did switch my listening to the heavy inspiration guns: “Northwest Passage”, and the main theme from Pacific Rim. And then I was home, ready to shower, eat, and collapse, in no particular order.

I’ll close out with some of the pictures I didn’t find a place for earlier, and some random thoughts. From Cross Plains, the first morning, this delightful mammoth sculpture at the Ice Age Trail office:
Mammoth sculpture at Ice Age Trail Alliance HQ in Cross Plains WI

A ladybird pupa clinging to a blade of grass, right by my front wheel, at Tower Hill:
Ladybird pupa with bike, Tower Hill State Park

A rock-cut just past the river crossing at Boscobel:
Roadcut on Hwy 60 just outside Boscobel WI

A view towards the lip of Pictured Rock Cave at Wyalusing:
Above Pictured Rock Cave, Wyalusing State Park

and a plaque commemorating the entry of Père Marquette and Louis Joliet – and 5 Métis voyageurs, who are generally not named and not even mentioned by this inscription, but who doubtless did the heavy lifting and navigating – into the Mississippi from the Wisconsin, 300 years and a few weeks before I was born:
Marquette and Joliet commemorated, Wyalusing State Park

All in all, despite some tough bits, it was an excellent trip. If anything went less well than hoped, it’s that really clear nights have been in short supply this summer, meaning that even though I was in fairly dark-sky locations there wasn’t much by way of stargazing to be had. Which is especially sad, given that Wyalusing State Park has its own observatory! But otherwise the weather co-operated, and even the bugs weren’t too bad.

One thing I noticed, though, is that after 2 days of serious riding (60-70 miles), my appetite for adventure on the third day is greatly lessened. Next time I do this, I’ll plan on following every 2 days of hard riding with a down day, probably of 25 miles or less, to relax and recuperate. On that plan, I’m thinking a 350-mile roundtrip over a week, though probably not until next year. Still contemplating possible destinations; possibly the complement to this year’s trip, following the Fox River to Lake Michigan at Green Bay.

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The Wisconsin desert

(Part 2 of the narration of a three-day bike trip I took in July 2014. Part 1: Black Earth energy receptor fields)

The Spring Green Preserve lies off of a quiet country road, about halfway between the village of Spring Green on the flat banks of the Wisconsin and a long, steeply-rising bluff. Between laneways with farmhouses at the end is a little gravel parking lot with a Nature Conservancy sign. Just past the parking lot the path into the preserve begins; it is no more than a few steps before you realizing you are walking in sand, and prickly-pears – mostly gone to seed by that time, but one or two still blooming – line the path to either side.
Late prickly-pear flower (Opuntia sp.), Spring Green Preserve
It is properly a sand-prairie rather than an actual desert, but the effect of sand and cacti is strange enough in the Upper Midwest that you feel thousands of miles have been travelled between one step and the next. Once there was a great deal of sand-prairie; the Spring Green Preserve is one of the few remnants. On a hot July afternoon it hums with life. Though I saw none of the several species of lizard and snake – to my disappointment – there were, for example, plenty of butterflies. There were painted ladies, and a profusion of American coppers (Lycaena phlaeas):
American copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Spring Green Preserve
Grasshoppers were a multitude, flying up in all directions every time I moved. On the sand, velvet-ants (actually a kind of wasp) zoomed about so fast I could not even get decent video, let alone still pictures; distinctive looking genuine ants moved at a less frenetic pace:
Ant, Spring Green Preserve
and scarabs, looking as though they had escaped a wall of hieroglyphics, skittered along the path:
Beetle, Spring Green Preserve
The open sand-prairie gave way to a cover of oak-trees, and then it was time to turn around and head back to my bike.

From Spring Green it was only about another ten miles to my campground. I followed the highway to the village of Lone Rock, and picked up a bike trail that paralleled the highway to go the remaining few miles. The trail is not quite so well-maintained as some of the state-managed gravel trails, but the prairie scenery to either side was fine, and before very long I was able to make a quick dash out across the highway to the campground.

To my surprise the campground – a private one, not DNR-run – had pretty decent WiFi, and I was able to check for crises at work and let people know how my trip was going. After that I pitched my tent, deployed the contraption that turns my Thermarest into a makeshift chair, pulled out a can of beer and my e-reader, and presto: all the necessities. I read and rested my legs. The site smelled of pine-trees, which slowly rained down tiny droplets of resin. Reading was increasingly interspersed with dozing, and at nightfall I crawled into my tent – no need to put up the fly, even – and fell deeply asleep. It had been a fine first day of traveling.

Resting at Fireside Campground after day 1; the Typhoon among the pines

Continued in:
Part 3: Mother of Waters
Part 4: True journey is return

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Under milk weed

So far this season, one trip northward, one southward; leaving two cardinal points to cover. I’d been meaning to drop by the CamRock Café & Sport in Cambridge again, since it recently re-opened under new ownership; and Sandhill Station, just down from the bike trail, is a nice little campground that generally has room even with a few days’ notice; so, to the east then.

There were possible thunderstorms in the forecast, but I figured, since it was only one night away, it’d be a good opportunity to field-test my camping gear, which I hadn’t used in rainy conditions. If I got soaked, worst case was I’d come home first thing Sunday morning, dry off, and use the rest of the day to make up for lost sleep.

Despite my resolve to head out at sparrow-fart and avoid traffic on Cottage Grove Road, it was past 7 and already pretty bright when I hit the road – sunblock time already! Fortunately the traffic was still sparse, and before I knew it I was sauntering into Cottage Grove’s Olde Town Coffee House for an espresso. Inasmuch as anyone can saunter, covered in sweat and carrying two panniers and a shoulder-bag.

And just beyond the Olde Town, the trail. When I went up to Gibraltar Rock and Parfrey’s Glen the previous week, I didn’t notice a lot of milkweed; but by this time the trail-sides were thick with it wherever there was no tree canopy. As I went past I tried to keep an eye out for monarch caterpillars – or, indeed, adult monarchs – but didn’t see any of either. There were plenty of butterflies, though, such as this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui):
Glacial Drumlin to Cambridge and Sandhill Station, 6/28/14-6/29/14
– with thanks to the iNaturalist community for helping me narrow down to species of Vanessa – and this skipper:
Glacial Drumlin to Cambridge and Sandhill Station, 6/28/14-6/29/14

Just after seeing those I veered off the trail to ride the few miles of road into Cambridge for a very welcome second breakfast at the CamRock; while I was inside the sky opened in a torrent, and then cleared by the time I finished eating – very convenient. Afterwards I headed due east to check out Red Cedar Lake State Natural Area; which, at least at the entrance I used, offered very little to the land-bound, with only a short path near the boat landing. It looked great from the roadside though:
Red Cedar Lake SNA, nr. Cambridge, WI

After that I’d planned one or two more stops – Rose Lake SNA, and maybe a trip into Fort Atkinson – but after only about 25 miles of riding I found myself worn out, and headed up to the campground. Which has, in passing, the most civilized approach possible:
Bicycle entrance to Sandhill Station

The short trail into the campground was edged with considerable milkweed, supporting a variety of denizens; for instance, this swamp-milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis):
Swamp milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis), Sandhill Station
… this stealthy green insect that I have yet identify:
Glacial Drumlin to Cambridge and Sandhill Station, 6/28/14-6/29/14
and plenty of very active orthopterans:
Glacial Drumlin to Cambridge and Sandhill Station, 6/28/14-6/29/14

There followed a relaxing afternoon of lazing around in the Sun on my air-mattress, drinking beer and reading, which is not very relevant to the focus of this blog. At one point, a gorgeous Virginia ctenucha moth wandered over and landed on my pillow, but flew off before I could bring the camera to bear.

During the night more thunderstorms came through, and I got the field test I’d been intending; but the rain-fly and groundsheet bore up under the wind and intense downpour. So ultimately, after a few minutes of tensely wondering if the whole thing would come down around my ears, it was actually pleasant to lie safely in my tent and read.

In the morning, with everything still dripping, I packed up early and hit the trail homeward. Riding in the early morning I sometimes feel like the only person awake, but truck-drivers and anglers are up before me – several of the later were already out, trying their luck in Rock Lake. A little beyond them, a courting pair of sandhill cranes, calling like the rusty hinges on a door to the underworld; one let me get close enough for quite a decent picture:
Sandhill crane, Glacial Drumlin State Trail
before they creaked off over the lake.

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Where the Sun doesn’t hide

I want to be where the Sun doesn’t hide
Down on the unbeaten track
Over the border, under the wire
Out in the back
I’ll never turn back…

-The Men They Couldn’t Hang, “A Map of Morocco”

At the crossroads,  SW Wisconsin
Dear Reader, is this sign not Romance incarnate? You can roll to a stop in the grass and consider, under a noonday sun that seems poised – in defiance of all Newtonian mechanics – to just hang there forever, which way to go next. It suggests that in another dozen miles or so you would meet a similar sign, and another, indefinitely; sad to say, not really the case (yet) – the farthest you can go is Freeport, Illinois, and then it’s back to the highways. The Road does not go ever on.

But it’s enough for a weekend off, cycling among these little towns; their names paying tribute to (among others) Thomas Jefferson, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and Edward Brodhead, Chief Engineer of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad. The trails are converted rail-beds, making for mostly easy riding. There are bright and sunny stretches of recovering meadow, shady woodlands, and long segments with marshland to either side, particularly on the Sugar River Trail past Monticello. And, of course, there is the former railway tunnel, south of Belleville; not all that long, but very dark when you get into it due to bending in the middle. Even on the hottest days it exhales cool, moist air, and if your bike lights, like mine, are sufficient to keep you from running into a wall or stumbling over a rock but not adequate to illuminating the whole interior, then it is something of an awe-inspiring experience: a brief jaunt into the Underworld. The rock-cuts at either end almost always have water trickling down them, and are festooned in moss, ferns, and spiderwebs.

In high summer, which we seem to be entering early, once you get past around Exeter Crossing Road on the Badger Trail there always seems to be a profusion of butterflies. I definitely saw a great many crescents and clouded sulphurs, and a few viceroys and swallowtails, and a couple of blues. None of them had time to stand still for my camera. The trail banks were covered in flowers; mostly dame’s-rocket and wild geranium, but with the occasional Canada anemone, wild salsify, and in one spot, greater celandine:

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), Badger State Trail near tunnel

.. not to be confused with the lesser celandine of the Wordsworth poem; or the celandine-poppy, which I blogged earlier in the season. (Sidebar: in several places, mind you, I’ve read the assertion that on Wordsworth’s memorial in St. Oswald’s Church is a carving of the greater celandine; if true, an error similar to the placing of an Archimedean spiral rather than a logarithmic spiral on Jakob Bernoulli’s memorial. The Archimedean spiral is all very well, but lacks the particular symmetry which justifies the Latin motto Eadem mutata resurgo (“though changed I shall arise the same”). In both cases, perhaps unsurprisingly, my sympathies are with the artisan who was given insufficiently-clear requirements.) Though not immortalized in poetry, the greater celandine may yield antibiotics effective against MRSA.

More servants wait on man
Than he’ll take notice of; in ev’ry path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
-George Herbert

The crossroads above actually marked the point where I turned back, to follow the Sugar River Trail to its end in New Glarus. That stretch of trail meanders past Monticello’s old railway station, offering a bench in the shade, and has a very beautiful segment with a rock-face on one side and a slope running down to the river on the other:
Sugar River State Trail, N of Monticello
I only resisted with great difficulty scrambling up to that cave to have a look inside. I did scramble up a bit to snap these ferns:
?Rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum), Sugar River Trail between Monticello and New Glarus
.. rock polypody, I believe.

A spur trail leads from the town of New Glarus right up to the park. Their walk-in sites are lovely: mine had adequate shade, just a bit of a slope, and an expanse of mostly rock-free, mossy ground to pitch my tent on. After a short rest I headed out for a ramble. I checked the current weather on my phone and it had hit 30C; definitely hot for the 31st of May! New Glarus Woods is not a huge park but it has about six miles of trail. Oddly enough, it was only when I was wandering down the paved spur trail back into town to get some dinner that I saw my first tiger beetle of the year:
Six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata), New Glarus Woods State Park

I ate, by the bye, at a place right on the trail which basically wins at signs: “Sugar River Pizza Company: 80+ Craft Brews”. They will also serve you an enormous bowl of cinnamon nuggets and vanilla gelato. Oddly, after a long day’s ride plus about an hour and a half hike, I was unable to do proper justice to their food; the heat and sun must have flattened out my appetite. (The next day, after the ride home, I was able to inhale a full order of biscuits and gravy from 4&20 plus a full order of their French toast, so there’s that.) Then back to a nice quiet campsite, and the cool night air stealing under the fly of my tent.

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Brown dragon rising

2014 so far has been a year of odd contrasts, on account of the harsh winter and late spring. In mid-March we were still getting days that dropped to nearly -20C plus windchill, despite the brighter sun and longer days; and now, although the trees are mostly still bare, there are days where the weather climbs into the +20s Centigrade. And, which is not unusual in the Great Lakes region, we went from long-johns weather to sunblock weather with hardly anything in between.

Last weekend I carved out a few hours and made my first visit this season to Cherokee Marsh. It was sunny and warm, and I have been told that on such days you can find fox-snakes warming themselves on the boardwalks. No luck in that quarter, though. There’s a fenced-off area towards one end of a drumlin which is apparently the location of a sizable snake hibernaculum; despite the warm days, they may still be playing it safe in there.

Entering Cherokee Marsh is a surprisingly abrupt transition. You crest a hill on Sherman Avenue, and then glide down past a couple of housing developments, a church, and the entrance to a golf-course; and then as if a curtain has dropped, the traffic noise fades almost to nothing and the drone of frogs and insects swells:

(Here’s a direct link; this widget doesn’t seem to survive syndication to LiveJournal unscathed.)

Riding along the road, you can, for a few hundred metres, still see parts of the golf-course; but as your wheels start to crunch gravel, your feeling is that you have come away to the water and the wild. You wind around a few bends, and then arrive at the parking lot – which, happily, is endowed with a decent bike-rack, not to mention bathrooms and a drinking-fountain. And from there, a few paces take you into oak savannah.

That day the trees were still bare, and the ground was alive with ephemerals. A profusion of anemones; wood-anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), I think – the other possibilities are rue-anemone, but the flowers were single, or false rue-anemone, but the leaves and stems were hairy:

Wood-anemone? (Anemone quinquefolia), Cherokee Marsh

mayapple in clusters like so many outsized cocktail umbrellas stuck into the soil, and, again, cut-leaf toothwort, now coming into full flower, and visited by a spotted lady-beetle (Coleomegilla maculata):
Spotted lady-beetle (Coleomegilla maculata) on toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), Cherokee Marsh

.. so, presumably, also visited by aphids, the beetle’s food of choice.

The Yahara River here is broad and slow, just north of where it flows into Lake Mendota. The calls of birds echoed across it, along with the splashing and conversation of a pair of kayakers. The trail leads along the verge of the river for a little while, and then a turning leads steeply up a drumlin (the one with the snake hibernaculum); beside the path is what I’ve always known as jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum):

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Cherokee Marsh

but which, apparently, is blessed with a great number of English vernacular names:

… jack-in-the-pulpit, bog onion, brown dragon, Indian turnip, American wake-robin, or wild turnip …

To my eye it doesn’t look that much like a dragon, brown or otherwise; but then, it doesn’t look a whole lot like someone in a pulpit, either.

At the crest of the drumlin is a bench, where you can sit and look out towards Token Creek before descending. Rainclouds were starting to gather, so I looped back down towards the entrance, and made my way home.

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I heard the spring wind whisper

The spring equinox has come and gone, but it is still wintry – the temperature barely crept above freezing today, though it felt warmer in the sun. Piles of dirty snow are still lurking everywhere, and ice still festoons some tree-branches together with signs of life:
Ice and new growth, Starkweather Creek
Underneath the stones, a thin layer of ice still sits on top of the soil, but woodlice, beetles, and little spiders are venturing out upon it:
Wood-louse, Starkweather Creek
Beetle, Starkweather Creek
And best of all, new leaves are coming up through the leaf-litter:
Leaf, Starkweather Creek
There will be violets within a few weeks. Time to go farther afield and look for spring ephemerals!

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