Tag Archives: the green fuse

Vital signs

Some of early spring’s usual pioneers are unmistakably showing themselves above ground. There is skunk cabbage, thermoregulating its way up, and hardy Siberian squill. Looking just about ready to flower are significant patches of cut-leaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata):
UW Arboretum, Wingra & Gallistel Woods
UW Arboretum, Wingra & Gallistel Woods
Also, some clumps of leaves that I think will shortly become Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica):
UW Arboretum, Wingra & Gallistel Woods
Ready to take advantage of this new growth there are a multitude of tiny flies, and a few bees, all keeping down near the ground; one fly obligingly settled on my sleeve:
UW Arboretum, Wingra & Gallistel Woods
… and, alas, already roving and prepared to take advantage of more active mammals, ticks:
UW Arboretum, Wingra & Gallistel Woods
By the looks of it, Sister Tick here has already had a pretty good meal.

There was even a garter snake basking, which I startled into taking cover under dry leaves before I could get a good picture. Well, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of garter snake pictures already posted.

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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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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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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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