Tag Archives: nostalgia for the Carboniferous

Mother of Waters

(Previously: Black Earth energy receptor fields, The Wisconsin desert)

O it’s fine to get up all in the morning
With the lark flying high in the sky,
And pack up all your belongings …
-John Tams

July 19th; second day of the Mississippi trip. In a way it wasn’t until I was packing up to head westward that I was really conscious of having an adventure: rather than turning around to go back home as I usually do on weekend trips, I was pressing on to fresh fields and pastures new.

I picked up the bike trail for a few miles to the very small village of Gotham – pronounced “Goe-tham” – where I joined Highway 60, which winds along with the Wisconsin River. Wooded bluffs rose on my right hand:

Highway 60, west of Gotham WI

and the river with its many islands shimmered on my left:

Wisconsin River from Hwy. 60, between Gotham and Orion

and for the first hour or so, traffic was almost non-existent.

One of the bluffs that I passed bears the curious name of Bogus Bluff. In his book, The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles, August Derleth has the following to say:

Around Bogus Bluff in the town of Orion has sprung up a really remarkable rigmarole of legend and fact. There is, for instance, the account which is purported to have appeared in print in the Vienna (Austria) Courier of a cave near the bluff in which abounded the bones of prehistoric animals, and the skeletons of a vanished race. One S. von W., supposedly the author of the account, wrote: “Fragments of rock were everywhere, amongst them the bones of prehistoric animals. Here and there were also fragments and antlers of deer and elk … I cannot describe the horror I felt. The bottom of the cave was covered with skeletons of a vanished race. Skulls were everywhere…”

But it is the counterfeiters who lend something of authority to the fascination of Bogus Bluff. There were counterfeiters, apparently…[t]he variety of the stories handed down is infinite.

Orion is a ghost-town now, but just across the river is Muscoda, Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. Though alive and well, Muscoda was not yet really awake. I stopped for a rest at a park with a war memorial and an appropriately-decorated Little Free Library:

Little Free Library and war memorial, Muscoda WI

which contained a copy of Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree, the final book in the Dark is Rising sequence.

From Muscoda westward again, on a path running through Big Cat Slough, and then onto Highway 133 and through Blue River. It was getting on towards mid-morning, and people were out and about as they hadn’t been in Gotham or Muscoda; people sitting out on their stoop waved to me. Looking south from the main drag of Blue River you could see a striking series of high, isolated bluffs rising out of the floodplain, with the sun shining on their tops, so I can well imagine that sitting outside is popular.

And beyond Blue River is Boscobel. Notable in trivia as the birthplace of the Gideons, and home town of Senator Blaine, the architect of the repeal of Prohibition, it was of interest to me in that moment largely as the location of the Unique Café, a popular little spot where I wolfed down two breakfasts in one sitting.

With that ballast, I crossed the river once more. The remaining 25 miles of riding, and particularly the last 10, were a heck of a slog which I won’t go into great detail about; except to note that the precipitous hill climb on the way into Wyalusing State Park was beyond grueling, and in fact for a substantial chunk of it I gave up and walked my bike, and for a percentage of that chunk I just flopped on a bank of grass and got my breath back.

Not far past the top of the hill is a little store selling odds and ends just outside the park entrance, where I stopped for a cold Coke and chatted with the woman who ran it. When I explained that I’d come from Madison on my bike – though, you know, not all that day – and climbed that freaking hill, her reasonable question was “What on Earth possessed you to do that?” The park ranger who checked me in asked more or less the same question.

Inevitably, there was another climb to get to my campsite, but after a couple of litres of water I was able to face that and make camp. I just rested my noodly legs for about a half hour, but then pulled up the trail map and went for a hike.

Sugar Maple Trail, Wyalusing State Park

This trail wound past Pictured Rock Cave:

Pictured Rock Cave, Wyalusing State Park

and down, across a road, across train tracks, to the waters of the Mississippi, where I took off my shoes and waded in the cool shallows:

Wading in the Mississippi, Wyalusing State Park

Just a couple of hundred feet from the water’s edge the Sentinel Ridge trail begins. This climbs fairly steeply up the ridge in several stages, eventually taking you a few hundred feet above the water. It was steep enough that I kept worrying my legs, given all they’d already been through that day, would just give up. But apparently they were willing to do pretty much anything, as long as it wasn’t getting a bike up that damn hill on County Road C. I had to stop and catch my breath several times, but even before reaching the heights there were significant rewards. The constant reader will not be surprised that by “rewards”, I mean “ferns”; lip-ferns (Cheilanthes) to be specific:

Fern (Cheilanthes sp.), Sentinel Ridge Trail, Wyalusing State Park

This is my first Cheilanthes in Wisconsin, though I saw several in Yosemite.

At that point I thought I was close to the top of the ridge, but no – there were yet more steep pathways and steps to traverse. Finally I emerged onto a grassy swathe which ended in a parapet overlooking the river. Set into the bricks was a monument to the last Wisconsin passenger pigeon:

Passenger Pigeon Memorial, Wyalusing State Park

and spread out far below was the delta where the Wisconsin flows into the Mississippi:

View of confluence of Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, Point Lookout, Wyalusing State Park

It was an amazing sight that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know that it entirely makes sense, but something about having reached that point under my own steam, having bicycled and camped and walked and climbed from my front door, was an answer to those questions from earlier: why I had undertaken the whole weird journey in the first place. Whenever a freight train passed over the tracks, the sound would carry across the water and upward, reaching the ear as a distant, muted and evocative clatter.

About the rest of the evening there is not much to tell, except that a little farther on, at the north end of the park, was a small concession-stand operated by the Friends of Wyalusing State Park, whose primary dinner offering was microwaved cheeseburger. I ate one, and then sheepishly went back for two more. It had been a good seven hours since breakfast in Baraboo, and those cheeseburgers tasted ambrosial. I wandered downhill and back to my camp-site, and read until I started to doze off, which did not, unsurprisingly, take long at all.

Concluded in Part 4: True journey is return.

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A topographic anomaly

Despite falling in the middle of a spell of humid and stormy weather, the Fourth of July this year dawned with almost perfect weather, and I took advantage of it by heading to Blue Mound State Park for the day.

Last fall I posted a view of West Blue Mound, seen through mists from the trail winding past its foot:
Blue Mound in mist, 9/8/2013

And this summer, the view from the top, in sunshine:
View from West Observation Tower, Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

That’s from the top of one of the observation towers helpfully provided, since in summertime the view would otherwise be confined to what you could see through the trees. The tower is not incredibly high, all things considered – just enough to be over the treetops – but it was an epic enough climb for me, given my lack of head for heights, that getting to the top without a panic attack felt like a considerable achievement. The view (as you can see) really was worth it.

When I reached the ground again, I was met by a bedraggled but still striking Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus):
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14
I often see butterflies gamely continuing on with very torn-up wings, and I’m sure it’s anthropomorphizing but I always find it moving. Particularly those last few tatters of iridescent blue that you can see in the tail there.

The Flintrock Trail runs down from the Tower and around through the northwest section of the park; as the name suggests there are many boulders and outcroppings of chert along the route. Apart from being visually striking, the masses of chert on West Blue Mound are a strong going explanation for why it has stayed a high point:

Blue Mound State Park, located in the state of Wisconsin (USA), is host to a topographic anomaly known as Blue Mound. This mound is the western of the two mounds that make up the park, and it marks the highest elevation in southern Wisconsin. Unlike its eastern sibling, Blue Mound possesses an unusual chert cap that may have protected it from erosion, thus preserving its stratigraphic integrity. Although Blue Mound’s unique chert armor was noted in 1927 by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, no published work has satisfactorily explained its origin.

The plentiful chert outcroppings and boulders also support a variety of plant-life, from mosses and liverworts, to rock polypody:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14
and even flowering plants, such as these tenacious harebells:
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

Perching on a rotten log was an ichneumon wasp with an ovipositor as long again as the rest of its body:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

Mourning-cloaks flitted around like little scraps of shadow:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

The cooperation of the weather with the holiday really was striking; the day before and day after were both dismal. The bison statues next to the bike path in the Midvale Heights neighbourhood of southwest Madison were decorated for the occasion:
Bison of Liberty, Midvale Heights, Madison

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The year’s midday, Part 1: Up the airy mountain

Though campsites proved impossible to find, I was determined this year (weather permitting), to at least go for a good long ride on the Summer Solstice and see some new natural places. Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area was on the list, and is under 30 miles away, so I planned to go there for sure; and if I was tired after that to just meander back home, otherwise press on to Parfrey’s Glen, just across the Wisconsin River.

The longest day of the year began in considerable fog; so much so that “dawned” doesn’t seem the correct verb. The fog shrouded everything and, given the near-absence of traffic, seemed to muffle sound, making my breath loud in my ears as I pedaled northwards out of town. What features could be seen in the near distance appeared strange and desolate:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
After a couple of hours’ riding I stopped in Lodi, where blue sky and sunshine were beginning to show themselves, for a revitalizing espresso. And then out of town again, passing Lake Wisconsin to my right:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
… and on to Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area.

The eponymous rock is an outcropping of the Lower Magnesian escarpment, which I talked about in my account of visiting Lodi Marsh last fall, rising some 200 feet above the surroundings. There is a gravel trail that leads straight up, and a path that meanders through forest for awhile before climbing sharply to the top; that was the one I took up. In the shadows there were a considerable number of ferns; on one of them I spotted this striking little membracid:

Bug (leafhopper?), Gibraltar Rock SNA
… and also, in part thanks to the recent spate of rains, there were a couple of new (to me) slime-molds! Firstly, white-coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa):
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
(Apologies – the picture is a little bit washed-out by the flash. The non-flash pictures just came out too blurry.) Secondly, a patch of charmingly-named dog-vomit slime (Fuligo septica):
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
If Wikipedia say true, Scandinavian folklore has it that dog-vomit slime mold is actually the vomit of troll cats, which are apparently also a thing in Scandinavian folklore. There’s a citation, for a University of Minnesota press book entitled Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. To no one’s surprise, the Stoughton Public Library has this book, so I’m ILL-ing it as we speak and will keep you posted. (ETA: more details in Part 3.)

From the shadowy forest, a sudden steep scramble up a rocky path and you are at the cliff-top, with a fine sunny view, even for those who – like me – will not go within four feet of the drop:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
Birds of prey could be seen riding the thermals, and from far below drifted up the sounds of a rooster crowing and a tractor starting up. I took the short route back down. By the trailside I spotted an old friend, the assassin bug Zelus luridus:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14
There was a couple who had passed me on their way to the top coming back down when I took that picture, and wanted to know what it was of. So I explained, briefly; managing to stop myself before I could launch into the bug’s gloriously icky method of feeding, or the Canadian stamp that features it.

I was already on my bike and rolling out of the parking lot when I spotted, but could not get a close-up, of this butterfly – a red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis), I’m fairly sure:
Solstice bike trip (Gibraltar Rock & Parfrey's Glen), 6/14

This was the point in my day-trip where I’d planned to decide whether to push on to Parfrey’s Glen or slope back into town. It was not quite 10AM, and it was neither too hot nor threatening rain, and so taking a poll of my energy levels I decided to head on; so, rather than rightward to retrace my path, leftward to take the road to the Merrimac Ferry.

(Part 2: Down the rushy glen)
(Part 3: Afterword)

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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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Lost City Forest and Area X

Out of a looming work deadline, I managed to carve out a short jaunt last weekend, in which I walked in the Lost City Forest and thought about Area X.

Fiddlehead, Gallistel Woods / Lost City Forest, UW Arboretum

Lost City Forest is a part of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. The name is not a flight of some ecologist’s whimsy – it refers to the land’s previous but short-lived existence as the site of a housing development touted as the “Venice of the Midwest”, where construction started with grand ambitions, but failed to take adequate note of some engineering considerations, such as the load-bearing capacity of the low-lying, marshy soil.

Not to put too fine a point on it, they built a subdivision in the swamp, because everybody said it were daft, and it sank into the swamp. Such difficulties can be overcome with sufficient cash and political will – for an example, St. Petersburg – but the Lake Forest Land Company was not the Tsar of All the Russias. They simply went bankrupt, and nobody else really felt like taking up the torch of building the Venice of the Midwest, so the land became part of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, and in time turned into Lost City Forest.

Area X, on the other hand, is not exactly a real place. It’s a creation of weird fiction author Jeff Vandermeer, in his Southern Reach trilogy, out this year (the first two volumes already published, the third due in September). In Area X, inexplicable and unsettling things happen. There is a tower – or maybe it’s a tunnel into the ground, people can’t quite seem to agree – with a fungus growing on the walls whose fruiting bodies spell out semi-coherent apocalyptic text. People who enter Area X either never come out, or re-appear suddenly well outside its borders, dying of cancer. Meanwhile, the air and water there are oddly low in environmental pollutants.

I say it’s not exactly a real place, because it is inspired in part by St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, not far from where the author lives. The descriptions of natural and semi-natural places have the detailed feel of careful observation; in the first book, Annihilation, there is a vivid sketch of an overgrown, abandoned swimming pool, a touchstone for the book’s viewpoint character (not given any name beyond ‘the biologist’ and her husband’s nickname for her, ‘Ghost Bird’), which appeals to all the senses – even reading it on a bus in icy February, I could smell the algae in the water, and hear frogs calling in the humid night air.

As I wandered through the hush of the Lost City Forest, the bones of hundred-year-old house foundations invisible beneath my feet, I found myself thinking of Area X. Before its mysterious transformation, Area X was not a pristine wilderness; people lived there. Like almost every place on land it has a history with humans; “history” having the colloquial connotation of “there’s been a messy relationship”, as well as the primary meaning. But, uniquely, it has been forcibly re-wilded by some undetermined agency: God? Aliens? Ghosts? Its own will, somehow? That aside, there remains something unsettling about how quickly and thoroughly a piece of terrain can be, well, un-settled, the traces of human work reduced within a lifetime to crumbling cement under tree-roots. You feel that very strongly in Lost City Forest.

Where there was full sunlight and water, there were turtles (Chrysemis picta):
Turtle, Teal Pond
They basked at the edge of Lake Wingra and in Teal Pond. By my feet, a young snapping turtle zipped into the water, too fast for me to get my camera in place. By the way, this belief has no basis in fact, but every year I feel that once turtles are out, winter doesn’t get any more touchbacks. A solid wall of clouds laden with snow could move in, but then they’d have to be “I can’t, you guys. There’s turtles.”

It doesn’t quite fit the narrative flow, but most of the good pictures I got that day came from neighbouring Gallistel Woods, rather than Lost City itself. As the season advances, more colourful wildflowers are starting to appear, like celandine-poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum):
Celandine-poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Gallistel Woods, UW Arboretum
and prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum):
Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), Gallistel Woods, UW Arboretum

In Ontario, where I was born and raised, the (white) trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is the provincial flower, and it’s actually kind of a big deal there; I can’t think of any other province or state where the official flower is such a thing, except maybe Texas with the yellow roses. The state flower of Wisconsin is the wood-violet, and even here in the capital I’d be prepared to bet that only a minority of people I buttonholed on the street would be able to tell me that without recourse to Wikipedia, which, full disclosure, is how I found out to put it in this post. Anyway, as a boy I was assured any number of times that picking trilliums was highly illegal, although this doesn’t actually seem to be the case.

Outside of the woods, the life of my species went on. A helicopter came in to land on the roof of St. Mary’s Hospital; a brass-band in the park played “Solidarity Forever”; someone went by with most of a windowsill container gardened balanced on the handlebars of their bike. If any naturalists are observing us, that is the sort of thing I’d prefer them to see.

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Over the Lower Magnesian

The bones of things stood out everywhere…
-Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars

One of the starting points of the long process in science which led to the discovery of the Ice Ages was a very simple one: a botanist in Bavaria was looking at the moss on a rock, and it occurred to him to wonder how the rock, of a different kind from the bedrock in the area, had come to be there gathering moss. This was something a lot of people had already been wondering. Some of those people had access to Switzerland, with its glaciers, and had already realized that glaciers had considerable ability to shove rocks here and there. And some of them were starting to think that this had, at some past time, happened not just in the high mountains of central Europe, but across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Our botanist – Karl Friedrich Schimper – came to this conclusion as well. He wasn’t the first to, nor was he the one to he ultimately convince the scientific community; but he did hang a name on this episode of Earth history, not in a peer-reviewed paper, but in a poem: “The Ice Age Ode”.

Anyway, the point is: for those of us who live in places once covered by glaciation, is for the most part that a rock you see lying on the ground could have come from anywhere; most likely, a mile-high wall of moving ice scraped this off somewhere and then, roughly 20,000 years ago, dropped it in the general vicinity – in shorter terms, it’s probably a glacial erratic. It has passed through a kind of singularity, not very far back in time at all. When that rock was scraped off wherever it began existence, there were already biologically-modern human beings.

But of course, even when you can’t see them, the geological features that were there before any of the glaciers came are still down there below the erratics. Mostly you can’t reach down and pick up a piece of them, but they make their presence known. If, for example, you ride your bike north from Madison to Lodi Marsh, you find yourself, somewhere in the town of Springfield, beginning to climb up a long, shallow slope, near the intersection of Fellows Road and County Road V attaining a height with a fine view towards the Wisconsin River:
Fellows Road, on the way to Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13
and from there there is a downhill run, much steeper than the climb you just made; the enjoyment of coasting down it only a little tainted by the knowledge that, later on, you are going to have to get back up that steep slope. This formation, with one shallow and one steep face, is a cuesta – in this case, the Prairie du Chien Cuesta. (A little confusingly, following the cuesta westwards won’t take you to Prairie du Chien; it’s made of some of the same rock that’s found near Prairie du Chien, but that is not part of the cuesta. It’s also been called the Lower Magnesian, due to the presence of magnesium-bearing limestone; the only reference to an Upper Magnesian is in a WPA publication from the 1930s, but that also seems to refer to the Prairie du Chien Cuesta, so the puzzle persists.) Down under all the erratics, this is made of satisfyingly-ancient Ordovician rock over 400 million years old, of an age with trilobites and ammonites.

Down at the bottom of the steep face is Lodi Marsh State Natural Area. In fact it lies particularly low, because it is in a tunnel-channel, carved by water running under the glacier. Lodi Marsh has the highest documented moth biodiversity in Wisconsin, and, this presentation suggests, possibly in North America. That’s pretty cool! A sunny October day is probably not the best time to observe this. Of the hundred-odd kinds of moth found there, I saw exactly one, though in considerable numbers: woollybear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella). They were at various stages of development, from little ones chewing on grass with the laser-beam focus of an ultramarathoner:
Woolybear (Pyrrharctia isabella), Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13
to larger ones zipping around
Woolybear (Pyrrharctia isabella), Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13
presumably looking for a good place to pump themselves full of natural antifreeze and pupate. Woollybears are charismatic enough that several towns have festivals honouring them; the largest in Vermilion-on-the-Lake, Ohio – which coincidentally is where I got married – where they race caterpillars and crown a Woollybear King and Queen.

Anyway, so much for moths. If the mosquitoes aren’t too bad next summer, I’ll go up again some July evening with a lantern.

It was a very warm day; I started out with several layers, which over the ride up piece by piece went into my saddlebag until it was back to T-shirt and shorts. Despite that there was no mistaking it for summer; the leaves were turning and falling, of course, and instead of the loud hum of cicadas there was the rustling of the wind in the trees. The wind was pleasant, but strong enough to make sixty-foot-high birch trees oscillate from bottom to top, and there was a note in it which could definitely turn into a howl.
Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

Despite the name, the stretch of Ice Age Trail that runs through Lodi Marsh Natural Area doesn’t actually take in too much marsh. It’s cut in two by the Lodi-Springfield Road; just to the west is a steep, stepped trail that leads down to the edge of Spring Creek, beyond which you can see the marsh proper:
Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

and farther along you enter a swathe of dry-mesic prairie. “Dry-mesic” – I finally take the trouble to learn, after blowing past it and similar verbiage in any number of DNR natural-area writeups – is descriptive of the moisture and drainage of a prairie, which varies along a continuum from dry to mesic to wet, with dry-mesic being intermediate between the first two. Dry-mesic prairies are not in equilibrium without fire, so to keep them in existence there have to be controlled burns. The going hypothesis around the moth diversity (according, again, to the presentation linked above; if I’m reading the slide right, it’s citing “personal communication”, so I can’t chase down any further references, plus I’m not an entomologist or ecologist anyway, so, take with grain of salt) is that the unusual transition from marsh to dry-mesic prairie – plus the nearby oak savannah – is particularly good for moths.

Even in October the prairie was full of grasshoppers and crickets, scattering with every step I took:
Field cricket (Gryllus pennsylvanicus), Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

On the east side of the road the trail climbs up a hillside and plunges into some deeper woods; first oak, then birch, and then more oak. At that point the path meets a ravine and splits to left and right. The Ice Age Trail proper continues to the left. To the right, though, the trail rapidly becomes completely surrounded by ferns, both uphill and downhill, and shortly after that the ferns completely occupy the trail itself. And then there is no more trail! Just ferns. If you go left, after a ways the trail finishes up in the town of Lodi itself. To conserve energy for the ride home I didn’t walk the entire way.

The woods on the eastern leg of the trail, besides ferns, also boasted plenty of mushrooms, such as this bright yellow Pholiota on a birch log:
Pholiota sp., Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

Pholiota sp., Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

and also more aethalia of wolf’s-milk slime mold:
Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

Near the marsh was also something that I think may be red raspberry slime mold (Tubifera ferruginosa), although quite a small specimen compared to most of the available images if so:
Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, 10/13/13

The ride back up the steep face of the Prairie du Chien Cuesta was no more fun than I anticipated. In fact, after reaching the intersection about halfway up, I just walked my bike the rest of the way. But then it was a long coast down the shallow face, back to the trail.

(Apart from Wikipedia and what’s directly linked, this post drew from Landscapes of Dane County, by D.M. Mickelson, published by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and viewable for free online; and from Wisconsin’s Foundations: A Review of the State’s Geology and Its Influence on Geography and Human Activity , by Gwen Schultz – the second edition published 2004 by UW Press.)

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Raymer’s Cove

Raymer’s Cove on Lake Mendota, near the western end of the Lakeshore Preserve, always feels wild and remote to me. This is pure illusion: a couple of hundred feet away is a parking lot, and beyond that Lake Mendota Drive and many blocks of grad student housing. I usually get there the long way around, though, from the Picnic Point entrance bike-rack, up through Bill’s Woods and around the Biocore Prairie, and then along a winding lakeside trail, through Tent Colony Woods (where, for many decades, students lived in tents over the summer, before more permanent housing got built), to where a wooden staircase descends the side of the sandstone bluff to the cove’s sand. Only trail-runners and the odd motorboat are reminders that you’re still in the heart of a city.

In this way that stretch of the Preserve reminds me of Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit, which likewise always feels like a wilderness – when the protagonist of Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine went there to meet her sea-monster mother, I wasn’t surprised in the least – but any place made of construction debris is ipso facto not wild. All the same, you hear the wind and the waves there rather than traffic, and the little automated lighthouse at the end can seem like an ancient ruin. In fact it is a little younger than me.

Down at the bottom of the stairs, cool lake-water around your feet, you can see how the sandstone bluffs are being etched away from underneath by the same gentle yet persistent lapping. The crumbly, calcium-rich stone, hanging right over the water, is good fern habitat; there was bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera):
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
and cliff-brake (Pellaea sp.; to determine the species, I would have needed to take note of whether the stems were smooth or hairy, something I only learned on getting home and consulting the field-guide):
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
and clinging to the rock-face, among the moss, is a profusion of liverwort:
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
Incidentally, over time I’ve noticed that the most common search-terms that find my online pictures are ‘espresso’ and ‘liverwort’. I almost wish I’d known this a year and a half ago; “Espresso and Liverwort” would’ve been a great name for this blog. (Now that I have some slime-mold pictures up, due to overzealous stemming on Flickr’s part a lot of people are hitting those pictures with the term ‘slimed’, and then probably clicking away in irritation from images with no connection to Ghostbusters or You Can’t Do That On Television. Or other things I’m not going to speculate about.)

I had no espresso on this jaunt, but there were grad students nearby, so no doubt the nearest shot was only a stone’s throw distant.

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