It’s a chilly, breezy spring afternoon, and I’m crossing the Cranberry Run bridge. lugging a flat of purple violets dug up from the garden around Red Fox Cabin. I’m headed for the floodplain to the north between our Quarry-turned-wetland-pond and Riley Creek. As I follow the trail around the northwest corner of the Quarry, bullfrogs erupt noisily from the bank and plop-plop-plop into the water. Out in the shallow depths of the Quarry several beds of flags are pushing up spiky leaves. Their clear blue flowers will come later. On both sides of the path Spring Beauties are blooming, small and delicate.
Farther north on the trail, the Spring Beauties are sparser and the soil looks washed. Floodwaters flow down Cranberry Run from the south to cover this area at least once a year, draining slowly into Riley Creek. It’s here on the floodplain that I’ve come to plant some violets and see what might be starting to grow this spring. That’s of special interest because for years dense, spreading thickets of bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose, as well as wild grapevine tangles have effectively shaded out most vegetation. Until now.
As a result of David Seitz’s hard work this past year, the invasive scrub that had smothered the plain is now the stuff of several enormous brush piles, some given names for fun like the Giant Turtle Pile and North Turtle Pile. These mounds are providing wildlife cover, while sunlight filtering through the branches of hackberries, bitternut hickories, and sycamores will bring dormant seeds to life—for better or worse perhaps, considering what may have settled out of floodwaters and lain in wait for sunshine. The coming months will tell. Today I’m seeing tufts of grass and sedges and wispy sprigs of bed straw that may soon cover the ground like green froth—and twine around ankles.
As I head back down the trail, violets all planted, I imagine a time when they’ll form a purple carpet lifting above tall grasses. I imagine Dutchman’s Breeches, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Trilliums, Jerusalem Artichokes, Heliopsis, and other native plants migrating to the floodplain. I envision myself transplanting more native plants and flowers to the woods. I picture the native trees that Anne is going to plant soon grown tall and sheltering. Several times, I spot an enemy near the path and stoop to yank a leafy honeysuckle seedling.
Tonight’s Golden Snitch Walk was called on account of no snitches. In mid-March the evening air was buzzing with them. As I closed the gate on evening chores, two American Woodcocks–the absolute model for J.K. Rowling’s glittery winged ball, or I’ll eat my Ravenclaw hat–twisted in their funnel-cloud dance not more than 20 feet above me.
Then it got cold; freezy enough for S’more to agree to keep his thermal goat coat strapped on just a little while longer.
Our first scheduled woodcock walk was windy and chilly. We saw deer and Indian hemp, counted birds and tracks. But snitches were nowhere to be seen or heard. That didn’t changeover the next few weeks. I told the April 6 preregistrants that the birds had come and gone for 2019.
This dead tree is home to woodpeckers, fungi and all sorts of creatures.
Snitches aside, today was a gorgeous day; the first real spring day that we’ve had since one random warm breath in March. I walked the planned walk route, dipping a net into the quarry. Its waters team with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, snails and shrimpish scuds. No mosquito larvae dare swim near the predatory odonata; such is the beauty of a healthy wetland.
No frog egg masses string the surface yet. There are frogs and toads clucking, burring and trilling from the quarry’s edge northeast across the vernal pools of Coburn’s Bottom to the property line at Riley Creek. All those Hey-Baby-Baby-Babies mean tadpoles are brewing in the slurry. A toad hops across the trail in front of me, not a snitch but gold all the same from the lowering sun and amphibian afterglow.
Two Canada geese sail in for the night, skidding across the quarry’s still surface. The ripples haven’t yet subsided when a small flock of wood ducks join them. I hurry along the path to bridge Cranberry Run so as not to scare them away. I’ve just climbed the hill and am up and out of the preserve when, behind me, I hear an airborne whistling.
I look up to see a winged softball arc over the quarry.
On Saturday, my old frayed running shoes picked up another layer of camouflage.
Easter Eve started out chilly, with thick frost and a skim of ice on the goats’ and donkeys’ water pans. On the quarry, wood duck and mallard couples made come-hither eyes at each other until we spoiled the fun. Wood ducks skittered over the east bank and a mallard duck “wank, wank, wanked” toward Riley Creek, her emerald-headed, testosterone-addled suitor in pursuit.
The turtles were more confident, waiting until we had our cameras out before they slid below water surfaces. Steve found one crossing between Cranberry Run and the oxbow “cut-off”, a wetland left when Allen County engineers tried to tame the little creek’s meanderings half a century ago.
We saw bloodroot leaves uncurling from the ground. Native Americans used the red extract from this wildflower’s roots as a natural dye, most notably for basket weaving. Above ground and growing wild in the sunlit clearing around the old homesteads well north of the tallgrass meadow, the bloodroot flowers bloom.
A few spring beauties and ramps dot the southeast ridge as it rises east of the cut-off. In the warmer air and spongy soil in the U of the oxbow, three toadshade trilliums fan over moss and decaying stumps crawling with industrious crustaceans.
Steve counted four species of butterfly, including two red admirals duking it out with anglewings–commas or question marks?–a camera-shy mourning cloak and a spring azure doing some sort of strange contortions in the back field.
We also picked up several bottles and cans, one with the smaller V from an old pull tab. These are the ‘blooms’ that are best picked. Never planted is even better.
Although the air is hot and dry and the fields are gasping, this same daytime heat and cool nights kept the mosquitoes at bay long enough for Ottawa Elementary third grade to spend some time on The Quarry Farm before summer vacation begins. Teachers Kelly Nienberg and Vicki Otto blazed the trail for what we hope will be many field visits by local schools.
We only had this group for an hour and a half, but while they were here they made fresh, fragrant tussie mussies of mints, lavender, rose and oregano. Also called nosegays or posies, tussie mussies are small bunches of flowers or aromatic herbs that have been given as gifts since Medieval times. ‘Nosegay’ is probably the best label, because they likely gave the recipient something to bury their nose in to hide the fact that the giver (and themselves) didn’t bathe very often.
Posing on the porch of Red Fox Cabin
After tussie mussies were stored for the bus ride back to school, kids, teachers and chaperones walked down the hill and up the hill along floodplain streambank, meeting Nigerian dwarf goats Marsh and S’more and Buddy the donkey along the path as the trio worked their day jobs eating invasive plant species. They watched and heard bullfrogs, leopard frogs and Blanchard’s cricket frogs (unless the frogs saw them first) and sampled wild strawberries.
Some caught a glimpse of a mother woodduck as she fled the scene. They saw the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper. They learned that nature provides a cure for many of its thorns, like sowing anti-itch, astringent jewelweed right next to poison ivy.
Cookies and lemonade cooled all hikers as they gathered off the porch of Red Fox Cabin. Some bundled fresh garlic from the cabin gardens to take home. Someone even snacked on a garlic bulb (we know because we found it, bite out and all.) Before boarding their bus, the students presented a donation to help support The Quarry Farm. We hope they come back and see what comes of their good works.