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Monday, November 20, 2017




Monday, 9:00 AM.  28 degrees F at the ferry dock, 26 on the back porch.  Wind SW, mostly calm at present, but picking up.  The sky is partly cloudy, the humidity 81%.  It will warm into the low 40's today, then the highs will drop to around 30 through Thursday.  It will warm into the low 40's again  and rain on Friday.
   We got home yesterday from good friend Andy Larsen's "Celebration Of Life" memorial service, which was held Saturday at the Mequon Nature Preserve north of Milwaukee.  The trip down was a bit arduous as it rained all the way and threatened to turn to ice, but we were fortunate and dodged that bullet.  The weather was cool but sunny and beautiful for the return trip, and the event on Saturday was very successful and attended by about 300 people.
   Andy was a very popular naturalist, teacher and writer who had a considerable following in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.  I usually hate such events as they often end up being more about the presenters than about the person being memorialized, but this was different, probably because Andy was himself so different, his personality and teaching so unique that it stood up to the  best efforts of the speakers.
   Andy taught by putting his students (regardless of age or degree of dignity) through unique learning experiences.  Seldom was anything dull, and was occasionally even mildly hazardous.   There were a number of speakers, none of them told the same story, and many were humerus.
   I have one of my own, although I did not relate it at the memorial.
   Early one spring evening several years ago we were at the Larsen farm, sitting around the campfire with Andy and Judy and a few other folks, having  drinks and a quiet conversation, when we heard a persistent "peent, peent, peent."  We all recognized that sound as the unmistakable courtship song of a male woodcock, which tries valiantly to impress his lady love by flying straight up like a little helicopter to a dizzying height and then dives straight down, pulling out at the very instant of crashing dead in a heap, and then doing a courtship dance.  Andy got up and started off, we all thought, to find the little daredevil.  Several of us followed, not only because we were interested in witnessing the death defying display, but because Andy had long been severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease and couldn't be trusted to wander off on his own in the dark of night.   So we bravely followed Andy, his flashlight piercing the gloom.
   I should have know something was amiss when we didn't head directly towards the sound of the action, but walked on down the dark road towards County Highway K.  Ah, I thought , we are sneaking up on the madcap rascal from a different direction.  That theory was proven wrong when Andy took another turn in the dark and crawled under a barbed wire fence.  Then the flashlight went out.  We had no real option but to follow closely or risk loosing him or ourselves in the enveloping blackness.
   The mystery of where we were heading grew as our feet began to get wet, and it wasn't long before we were ankle deep in cold water.  The entourage stopped and we all stood silently, since there seemed to be nothing else to do.
   Then after some moments of utter silence we heard a faint "peep," and then another and another, until there was a racket, a veritable din, of "peeps."  We were standing in the midst of a chorus of spring peeper frogs.  Then Andy turned on his flashlight.  There were tiny greenish frogs everywhere around us, obviously thousands of them, each one no bigger than a fingernail.  And they were copulating, the male frogs astride the female, all of them in an obvious state of ecstacy, all the while singing their diminutive hearts out.
   Thank you, Andy.
Judy read the following poem as a final tribute:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning's hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there. I did not die. 
      Mary Elizabeth Fry

   The poem is beautiful and relevant, but it is a 
scientific poem,a rational white man's poem
that refers to the immortality of the atom,
not of the soul .  I prefer to think of my friend Andy 
in the Ojibwe idium; he walked on.

Friday, November 17, 2017



 Friday, 8:00 AM.  37 degrees F at the ferry dock, 33 on the back porch.  Wind WNW, mostly calm with occasional moderate gusts.  The sky is drearily overcast and cloudy, the humidity 76%.  The barometer is falling, now at 29.81", predicting rain and snow by mid afternoon.  The high today will be in the mid-30's,  with temperatures falling to the low 30's for the weekend, with mixed skies.
   We are traveling to Milwaukee to attend a memorial tomorrow for Andy Larsen, a noted Wisconsin naturalist and good friend.  We were prepared for bad road conditions, but it appears as though we may dodge the bullet, but there will no further posts until Monday.
   Today is my birthday, I hope there will be no cake with candles as there would be too many for me to blow out without a fire extinguisher.  It wasn't so many years ago that I was middle aged, then  "young old," then the merely "old. " I am now, I fear,  among the "old, old."
   Virgin's bower and wild cucumber are both native American vines that are quite prevalent and can easily be confused from a distance.  The former was discussed in yesterday's post and the comparison continues today.
   Wild cucumber vines ramble over trees and shrubs in wet spots, making many woods edges look like they have a bad haircut.  The vines are pretty in an unkempt way, and are sometimes planted to climb on arbors, but I wouldn't want them to eat my house.
  Wild cucumber, Echinocystis lobata, in the Gourd Family, the Cucurbitaceae, is common throughout much of southern Canada and the lower 48 states of the US. The Latin genus name refers to the prickly fruit, and the species name to the distinctly lobed leaves. Since wild cucumber  has at times been used as an ornamental vine, it is also escaped from cultivation.  It is an annual and climbs by tendrils like the garden cucumber, but is not related to it.
   Each "cucumber" or "balsam apple" bears four seeds, which reportedly were used to make beads by American Indians, and who also used the plant as an analgesic and a love potion.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


                                                  ...VIRGIN'S BOWER SEED HEADS,,,

                               ...CLEMATIS VIRGINIA CLAMBERING OVER SHRUBS...


Thursday, 8:30 AM.  26 degrees F at the ferry dock, 24 on the back porch.  Wind ENE, calm with occasional moderate gusts.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, the humidity 78%. The barometer is steady at present but will soon take a nosedive, with highs in the low 30's today.  It will warm some and rain tomorrow, with mixed skies and wintry temperatures for the weekend.  We had a dusting of wet snow last night which left the roads slick with an almost invisible coating of treacherous black ice.  No walk for Buddy and me this morning.
   Virgin's bower and wild cucumber are both native climbing vines that are quite prevalent and  interesting, and from a distance at least may be confused, so we will address them in two consecutive posts:
   The virgin’s bower,  AKA wild clematis Clematis virginiana, in the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae), is a perennial native climbing vine which one might confuse with wild cucumber at a distance, but the flowers and seed heads are distinctly different, looking like anemone (also in the Buttercup Family).  It blooms from July through September.  I have seen almost none of it his year, although it was abundant last year.
   The genus name is ancient Greek for a climbing vine of that era, and the species name indicates it is a North American plant.  It is native throughout much of the continent, where it decorates trees and shrubs along woods edges, roads and stream banks.  It is quite attractive, and has a pleasant, mildly sweet scent when in flower.  Flowers are followed by interesting clusters of filamentous seed heads (thus another common name, devil's darning needles). The vine climbs by the means of twisting leaf petioles and can reach fifteen or twenty feet in height.
   A Japanese species, sweet autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora, is a rampant grower and has been much planted in the eastern US.  It is very floriferous and fragrant but can quickly take over and has been declared an invasive species in some states.
   Virgin's bower is said to have had some use among Native Americans as an analgesic and a bitter tonic, and as a love potion. It is reportedly hazardous to handle or ingest, causing a severe but brief reaction to skin and mouth tissues; I have not experienced any such reaction but it is probably best to wear gloves if handling this plant.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


NOVEMBER 04, 2008
NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  39 degrees F at the ferry dock, 37 on the back porch.  Wind WSW, calm with very light gusts.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, and it is raining lightly.  The humidity is 97%, the barometer steady for now at 29.76".  High today near 40 with continuing showers.  Colder tomorrow and cloudy, then warming with rain showers again on Friday.  I hope we get some sun one of these days, it would improve everyone's mood.
   It has been said that change is the only constant, and that certainly pertains to all things natural, including the views from the back porch.  The above photos provide about as similar a view as I can manage, and the change in the view due to tree growth over nine years is quite pronounced, even though the trees involved are fairly mature and not growing all that fast.
  Has the view changed over the years?  Yes.  Is it any less beautiful?  No.  There is somewhat less water to view because trees have grown taller, although the magnification of the two photos is slightly different and therefore is not an exact comparison.
   Trees go down as well as grow up, and looking closely one can see there are several trees from the older photo that are no longer there, victims of disease or construction.  I do not have older comparison photos, which would show the view completely obscured first by a row of tall, ugly Lombardy poplars in front of the neighboring house that were mercifully cut down, and then which was still partially obscured by three very tall poplars behind the house which blew down in a powerful straight line windstorm.  Trees grow up, trees go down.
   The biggest change between the two photos is the growth of the big white pine on the left.  It is amazing how it has increased its influence little by little over the years.  Notice also the view window which we created a few years ago (with the owner's permission) which has reclaimed a good deal of the water and island view that had been lost due to the tree's growth (and needs to be done again).  The latter tactic is one that can be used to good advantage, sometimes even better than removing the offending tree.
   Trees not only interfere with views, they can be used to frame views, and stately or colorful or interesting trees can add much to a view.  Notice how the tree window frames a view, while lower branches block unwanted views of the road and parked vehicles.'s the only constant.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017




  Tuesday, 8:00 AM.  38 degrees F at the ferry dock, 34 on the back porch.  Wind SW, mostly calm with light gusts.  The sky is again cloudy and overcast, the humidity 90%.  It will be cloudy today, with the high around 40.  Cloudy conditions will continue through the week with highs in the low to upper 30's.  Snow showers are forecast for Wednesday night, and rain on Friday.
    European (glossy) buckthorn, Rhamnus frangula (synonym Frangula alnus) in the Buckthorn Family (Rhamnaceae) is a Eurasian invasive species that can rapidly take over areas of native woodland and city vacant lots.  It is a real threat, and should be eliminated when possible.  Now is a good time to identify and destroy it, as its leaves are still green, and its ripe fruit prominent.
   Its still-green leaves are entire, without lobes or teeth, and are mostly alternate, with prominent veination, and a glossy appearance.  The young bark is cherry-like, brown and shiny or sometimes gray , with numerous lenticels. The inner bark of the twigs is yellow. The abundant pea-sized berries are blue-black when fully ripe, and have two to four small seeds clustered together, each with one flat side.  The berries are extremely bitter. 
   Buckthorn seedlings and saplings pull easily, but larger plants must be dug out, or cut back and the stumps or large branches treated with  a strong herbicide.  The berries cannot be allowed to fall to the ground, where they will germinate readily next spring.  The branches with berries cannot just be fed into a wood chipper, as the seeds are not harmed thereby.
   There are some cultivars that are sterile and do not bear seeds,  so are safe to use as hedge plants, but there are much better choices for that purpose in my opinion.
   About the only safe things to do with the berries is to bury them deeply, compost them until they germinate and then die, or perhaps best, put them in a plastic bag and in the garbage.

Monday, November 13, 2017



Monday, 9:00 AM.  33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 28 on the back porch.  Wind NW, calm at present  The sky is cloudy and overcast, the humidity 79%.  The barometer is just beginning to fall gently, now at 36.45".  Highs today mid 30's, warming a few degrees tomorrow, the sun appearing this afternoon.  The balance of the week will have mixed skies with chances of snow flurries or rain Wednesday night and rain on Friday.  Today is quite tolerable with no wind.
   One of the great transformations of the Northland has just occurred. The tamaracks, Larix laricina, in the Pine Family, have changed from green to gold and many have lost their needles entirely.  As you probably know, the tamarack, or larch, is a deciduous conifer…it loses its needles in the winter, so it is not, in any real sense, an “evergreen.” It is a true tree of the far northern boreal forests but ranges down into the Northeast and the Lake States.
   I’m not sure what the evolutionary advantage might be to losing its needle-leaves, when almost all other conifers keep them all winter to good advantage, so they can photosynthesize at least on warmer days.  We could create or find some theory to explain it, but I prefer just to enjoy the anomaly and the beauty of the golden trees in fall.
   Another Larix species is the European larch, Larix decidua, quite similar but with larger, pendulous cones and a somewhat more formal shape. It is equally hardy. Our neighbor has a nice specimen. The Japanese larch, Larix leptolepis, is also a beautiful tree.  These trees are all closely related, and probably all evolved from the same parentage, either differentiating as the original species moved into new territories with differing climates, or evolved in place as climates changed. 
   All things considered, I prefer our native species for landscaping purposes and of course for restoration projects.  All of these trees need plenty of room to grow.
   Another deciduous conifer is the southern bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, not hardy this far north, but a very beautiful and useful tree; as is the "living fossil" dawn redwood, Megasequoia glyptosroboides, found in Jurassic fossil formations and thought to be extinct until it was found growing in China in the 1940's. 
   A conifer which goes the opposite direction entirely is another living fossil, Ginko biloba, which has broad flat leaves, rather than needles.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Sunday, 10:00 AM.  33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 31 on the back porch. Wind W, calm.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, the humidity 78%.  The barometer is steady at 30.37". It will be cloudy, cool and dry through the coming week.
   I do not consider myself a veteran, even though I now am eligible for some veterans benefits. I served for a number of years in the Army Reserve, on both active and reserve duty, but serving between Korea and Vietnam,  I never fought in battle and don't consider myself worthy of being honored as a veteran.  I did, however, wear the uniform for many years and was always ready to answer the call, and sometimes feel guilty that I was not called up.  To quote the 16th Century English poet John Milton, "They also serve, who only stand and wait." Today's Reservists are much more  likely to be called to active duty, and serve in battle.
   Three close relatives of mine served in WWII, all of whom have died within the past year or so, and shortly before their deaths were honored to be chosen to fly to Washington, DC to visit the WWII Memorial. They all went on the trip together, accompanied by some of their children.  It was a high point of their lives.  A brother-in-law, now long gone, served three tours in Vietnam.  I am grateful for what they did for myself,  my family and my country, and extend that gratitude to all who sacrificed their youth, and many their lives, so the rest of us  could live in freedom.
   We can each of us serve by using the freedom and opportunity which we have been given through the sacrifice of others to battle for the American ideals of liberty, justice and truth for all people, and by recognizing in our own lives the never ending war of good against evil.