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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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The edge of the lake

In the University of Wisconsin’s Lakeshore Preserve, where Willow Creek runs into Lake Mendota, are some reed-covered mud-flats, a favourite abode of geese. It’s fall and that always seems to render the otherwise brassy honking of geese faintly mournful. I love fall, and enjoy winter, but signs of fall do remind me that in a short while there’ll be several months with no insects, and no herps; unless I go to the Vilas Zoo and peer through plexiglass at the Galapagos tortoises and hissing cockroaches.

Lakeshore Preserve

A peculiar combination of circumstances renders these mud-flats admirably fitted to receive and retain any markings which may happen to be made on their surface.
-Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, 1854

Lakeshore Preserve

The flats have several shallow pools, which teem – that’s definitely the word – with invertebrates. Tiny flies hover just above the water, little worms and various water-striders skitter over the surface:
Lakeshore Preserve
Small fish zip around underneath the surface, and snails move across the bottom at a considerable clip:
Lakeshore Preserve

It was a fine autumn day to be out. The air was cool and the trails lined with aster, goldenrod, and white snakeroot.

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Filed under Observations