To everything, there is

At the start of the 2000s, after we breached the wave of Y2K and its potential mania, we weathered another onslaught. Well, we did, but not everyone made it through the ride. The farm animal sanctuary was not even a thought and wildlife rehabilitation training was still a phone call away. Instead, we planted 100 trees. Because the trees were small and the ground was traditionally a farmfield, a passerby in his cups mowed all but three of the grassed-in trees down. So we let the turf grow, transplanting native grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass, all grown and gifted to us by Dennis Seitz. These, as well as wild asters and milkweeds, were slowly outpacing invasives like Canadian thistle. In the meantime, flocks of goldfinches cheered among the purple tops.

The pace wasn’t fast enough. One day, a township trustee arrived with a brushhog. He mowed through the thistle, Steve ran ahead of the blades. Praying mantis, adults and nymphs, clung to his hair, shirt and forearms. He stood in front of the driver, held his mantis-covered-arms aloft, saying, “See this? This is what you are doing.” With one tree still standing, insects and songbirds scattered, the tractor left. One neighbor asked us how this could have happened, here in America. It can and it did and we all lost.

_MG_9249That was 20 years ago. “Drift Zone” signs populate the neighboring fields. Local nurseries carrying various types of milkweed—and people are planting them. Several neighbors grow almost-acres of native grasses, wildflowers and Canada thistles poke their spiky heads up here and there as the natives are allowed to reestablish. Even so, anger still festers in me, 20 years after we were made to stand by and suffer a fool’s errand. Few mantids have turned their mystic heads my way since then and the goldfinches are still shy. IMG_1543

Today, my mother sent me two photos. A garter snake was soaking up rays on a weeping spruce at Red Fox Cabin this morning. It’s safe on its sunny bed, free from hungry chickens at our end and away from the road’s racing vehicles. The other photo is a mantis nymph, its image captured by Beth Scheckelhoff of Ohio State University’s Putnam County Extension. She saw a lot of mantid nymphs in the gardens above Cranberry Run. This makes me happy—even feel forgiving—though I’ll never forget.

Bridging confused seasons

This week’s April morning snow reminded me that the mucks will likely occupy a place on the door mat beside the sandals, probably for a double-digit number of days. The garden hose thawed in 80°F last Friday. Resting water froze again on Saturday. There is a groundhog somewhere who predicts eight more weeks of hauling water buckets.

We grouse about layers of sweaters, vests and coats, socks and boots. We never know what to tell visitors to wear, so we just tell them, “Come prepared for the weather. There will be hot chocolate or lemonade.” Pigs Nemo and Carlton have done their winter worst, rooting three acres of soil so that the pastures resemble a mine field. If this didn’t happen every year, we would despair of the unsightly furrowed ground.

“We’ll never be able to fix this,” commented Steve on the first spring with multiple pigs in the farm animal sanctuary. We stood on the front porch and despaired over upturned soil, bare of green grass and treacherous for foot traffic. A month later, after the first mow, the grass was green and patches of Grandpa Seitz’s bird’s-foot trefoil bloomed on the hillside. The garden was remarkably free of Japanese beetles. We realized that the pigs had feasted on more grubs than shoots. Now we grin and bear the brown ruts, knowing that there will be more than enough thick grass to cut when shorts-and-T weather settles in.

So…this snow. The sky is clear and the forecast predicts a high of 55°F. The barn and shed roofs are beginning to drip. The chickens and turkeys dodge the drops as they breakfast and the geese revel in widening puddles.

20180419_072542In the cold shadows of the nature preserve, the colors are still blue, gray and purple. I cross the footbridge, going where a raccoon has recently come. Blue flag shoots and water grasses rise from wetlands, brilliant green contrasts to the white that coats the trees on the high bank and the land bridge between the old stone quarry and Cranberry Run. Thanks to Paul Nusbaum, the land bridge is clear of bush honeysuckle. This will provide a living lab for school groups to discover the differences between wetlands and running streams.

Here comes the sun. I’m off to work, away…and it’s alright.20180419_072730

off the lake and (hopefully) out of the bush

A chalk board rendering on the Lake Erie food chain, discovered in a lab at OSU's Stone Lab

A chalk board rendering of the Lake Erie food chain, discovered in a lab at OSU’s Stone Lab

On approach to Stone Lab

On approach to Stone Lab

During what I recalled at the time as a third trip to Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie’s Gibraltar Island (although I think a fourth stop snuck in there somewhere), I was struck by several things:

-Although Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it is a force to be reckoned with when the wind is high and the waves are rolling (in fact, I believe it’s one of those rare occasions when it is appropriate to use the word ‘awesome’ as a descriptor).

-Lake Erie water snakes are gorgeous creatures, especially when tangled up in a ball on a sunny dock’

Water snakes in the sun on an old Gibraltar Island dock

Water snakes in the sun on an old Gibraltar Island dock

-The bottom of your sleeping bag, with the top curled securely over your head, can pass as a safe place when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you are on an island roughly the size of a football field without a boat and no way off until morning.

-Gulls perched on an outcrop at the bottom of a cliff overlooking Lake Erie at sunrise are ever so much more beautiful in real life than in a Pixar film.

-Bush honeysuckle invades even the small freshwater islands off Ohio’s shores.

HAB art: algal samples of all types were collaged and framed in one of the labs on shore at South Bass Island

HAB art: algal samples of all types were collaged and framed in one of the labs on shore at South Bass Island

I was there to learn more about harmful algal bloom and the current state of what humans know about the how and why of the overabundance of cyanobacteria. I came away with 10 lectures and a research vessel outing’s worth of that, as well as a greater determination to help develop a plan to control bush honeysuckle on The Quarry Farm.

Why do we want to control bush honeysuckle? Yes, birds and small mammals eat the berries, but these red edibles are wildlife junk food: cardinal potato chips. The goats of the farm animal sanctuary have helped get a handle on Russian and autumn olives, multiflora rose and even garlic mustard, but bush honeysuckle wreaks havoc on their digestive systems so we must keep it out of their reach.

Silt plumes from a lake bottom sample off Put-in-Bay

Silt plumes from a lake bottom sample grabbed off Put-in-Bay

And the spreading shrub is a monoculture of sorts, growing quickly and shading out all native species as it spreads like wildfire. The 2012 derecho felled some of the preserve’s tallest trees and the invasive jumped right in to fill the void. Without intervention to control bush honeysuckle, which humans introduced to North America in the first place, there will be little left to hold the soil in place and out of waterways, and there will be few nutritional foods for native wildlife.

We are writing a grant proposal for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds to get a major push underway. Thanks to support from Jim Hoorman of Ohio State University Extension, Dr. Ken Krieger of Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research , Tim Brugeman of the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership, Dr. Jan Osborn of the Putnam County Educational Resource Center and Brad Brooks of Tawa Tree Service, we’ve got some major stamps of approval for a project that we believe can be implemented well beyond the tree lines here.

Stay tuned.