How Clear the Waters Run

I think it will always thrill me to overhear someone asking someone else if they have ever been to The Quarry Farm, for people to talk about the animals, birds, gardens and the clarity of the stream. Not everyone will turn over their yard to goats, roosters, and geriatric pigs, but gardens—the riotous kind filled with a variety of native flowering plants—and trees can make birds and clear water more common. This region’s native grasses and trees have long, branching root systems that hold the soil like a strong net. Have you ever pulled English Ivy? This non-native is tenacious and fast-growing but you can remove a large patch with one pull, so shallow-rooted and interwoven is this European transplant. In contrast, ever tried to pull a Common Milkweed in its entirety? Best of luck.


Old Man Sycamore in the north floodplain of the nature preserve has a hollow base that provides shelter to who knows how many creatures each night and during winter’s worst. As shallow-rooted landscapes topple across Northwest Ohio, he and the 300-year oaks withstand wicked flood currents and down-bursts. As the floodwaters recede, the forbs at his feet grasp run-off silt and soil. Within 36 hours, Cranberry Run is clear again.


You hear a lot about native plants these days. Big-box stores as well as local nurseries stock a variety of plants labeled as native. Keep in mind that native doesn’t always mean native to here. Also, ask your green-grower what kind of substrate your plants are potted in. Mass-marketed plants are often potted for long shelf lives, their roots sandwiched in neonicotinoid-laced soils that wreak havoc on bees and other beneficial insects.


Remember that part about riotous gardens? Variety is the spice of life. Some native plants can be invasive without other native plants to keep them in check. The Quarry Farm Gardener finds it necessary to parcel out starts of Coneflower every now any then, as well as Menarda (Bee Balm). Much is made of the benefits of keeping Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. Without Ironweed, Coneflower, Asters, and Common Hackberry trees to watch over them all, who will feed and shelter Comma, Question Mark, swallowtails, and the Hackberry Emporer butterflies? And without Jewelweed and its orange orchid-like flowers nodding on the riverbanks and floodplains, how will I ever be rid of this confounded poison ivy rash?

A masked advance

Cedar Waxwing

For a warm minute, Northwest Ohioans were treated to spectacular fall color, said to be a result of a wet spring and dry fall. A droughty spring can cause tree branches to seal themselves off from new leaves. They’ll drop before they’ve had a chance to develop an autumn foliate aurora.

The minute has all but passed. The ghost of toilet-paper streamers haunt leafless branches. Who is going to chuck those golden streamers over the tallest tree after waiting in line to buy even the roughest roll of sandpaper not six months ago?

Golden Crowned Kinglet

Brown Creeper

Moth in Leaves

But there are other signs of autumn ticking off the clock. Last week’s storms rained newly-shorn corn husks. The cottonwoods along Cranberry Run are decorated with turkey vultures. They spread their six-foot wingspans and lift off for sunnier skies when I try to take a photo. Winter birds skitter up and down bare trees and Eastern Fox Squirrels fatten themselves on Osage Oranges. Moths blend with browning leaves on the woodland floor. The latter doesn’t bode well for wild winter stores since the green fruits are the rodents’ least favorite food source. Bring forth your tired, your weary, your fallen acorns because the wild ones are going to need them.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

There is running water in Cranberry Run. After last week’s rain, small puddles became a smooth pool of stained glass in shades of leaf-litter orange, red and yellow. After work, I walked down to where my grandpa once forded the stream and was sad to see that the stream wasn’t flowing. But it was, trickling over the most elevated riffle. What I didn’t realize was that Riley Creek was rising with heavy rains from the south, so fast that the Run’s current was flowing upstream.

Everything is flowing backwards these days. We can’t civilly agree (or disagree) on what to display in our yards, on our bumpers, or what to wear (or not.) What we can agree on is that cold air makes wearing a face mask easier. As Saturday evening’s snow fell fast and thick enough to leave a visible dusting, I didn’t mind so much when Quinn the Fox stashed her toys under my blanketed body, effectively tucking me in for a chilly night.

(Thanks to Deb Weston for sharing her photos. Her subjects cooperated. Maybe it’s because she is such an avid birder here on The Quarry Farm that she’s become one of the flock.)

Walk softly and carry a big tissue

20170204_093000Your accent is determined by where you live. More specifically, words are shaped by the temperature range in one’s part of the world. In North America, anyway.

I’m pretty sure that I’m right about this.

For example, people in the South speak with a drawl because the climate is hot. The further southeast you go, the slower the mouth moves because the lips have to from shapes against increased humidity. Move west past the Rockies and the load lightens, but it’s still hot enough for slow, lilting conversation.

The Great White North is famous for words like ‘about’ being pronounced as ‘aboot’. Frozen facial muscles can only stretch wide enough to form a small, round shape. Making an ‘oo’ sound retains more warm air inside, too, than a full blown ‘ow’.

I blame my Midwest nasal twang on the Great Lakes effect. Try as I might not to sound like badly-tuned violin, my sinuses are in such a constant state of flux that most words sound like mosquito in August. This year’s pitch and fall from cold dry wind to warm rain (thunderstorms this early February morning) make it especially difficult to round the tones.


20170204_111122Even the animals that graze on wintering roots and buried grubs in the floodplain run for higher ground when any door is opened. They are conditioned to sudden rainfall. We leave the outbuilding doors open, even on high blue sky days like yesterday.

Jimmy Toskr has no reason to speak at all. He snoozes comfortably in his hammock, stretching just enough to give the camera an eye that communicates well enough. There’s even an accent in there somewhere, one that will be quite vocal as squirrel hormones build outside in the treetops.