sna poems #97: browntown oak forest

browntown oak forest is a southern dry and dry-mesic forest situated on a st. peter sandstone ridge in the driftless area. the variable topography and soil types nurture a diversity of plant communities. one part of the slope has sandstone outcrops.

the trails (such as we could find) were going feral, which restricted our movement into the forest somewhat, but a jaunt down the ridge to the sandstone was freeing.

first id’s of tall bellflower, st. john’s wort, and knapweed; also first coral fungus spotted since i started these.


me and this hickory

outcropping here

on sandstone slabs


coral fungus

glows on log:

a shimmering bouquet


rough and rounded spawn

of oak, walnut, hickory

jewel the forest floor

then over to baumgartner’s in monroe for serious cheese sandwiches…

New Poem in St. Katherine Review

The first State Natural Area I visited here in Milwaukee County, Cudahy Woods, is a 40-acre plot that never got logged or developed and so is old growth in the middle of Wisconsin’s most urbanized county. It’s a delightful place and close to my heart because it’s where I started the project of teaching myself about Wisconsin’s flora and natural history.

And today I’m delighted to share that St. Katherine Review has graciously published one of my poems about this old-growth treasure. You can read it here, and do check out other work on their site—it doesn’t disappoint!

sna poems, series anthropocenum #11: washington park, milwaukee

washington park was formed on the city’s west side back in the 1890s, and it’s still a gem. right in the middle of the urban landscape and bordered on one side by highway 175, it’s a fine mix of rolling park, open pond, and small wetland, with some gorgeous old trees and an art-deco ampitheatre. the city is celebrating the bucks’ championship win today w/ a parade, so we had to stay north of downtown, and glad we did.

a few great blue herons were flying about, and first id’s of cardinal flower and monkey flower! also, the spotted touch-me-nots are back.

thanks to my daughter for suggesting the walk, thanks to the urban ecology center for tending the site and providing programming in the park, and a couple photos here are credited to my wife.

cardinals and saffrons trumpet

a lance living and angled

the festive city surrounds

cardinal flower more impressive in person even than i had expected

spotted touch-me-not with insect friend

columbine still blooming

great blue heron taking a break from wading

joe pye weed

monkey flower, arresting and unassuming

wood sorrel

if you made it this far, it looks like these were cicada parts…

sna poems #96: york prairie

on to green county! my dad and brother were along for the trip this time, and we did a day-long tour of the county with five sna’s.

green county is in the driftless area, the part of wisconsin (and neighboring minnesota and iowa) that was not smoothed and altered by the wisconsin glaciation, as the rest of the state was. different terrain but still southern wisconsin.

our first stop was york prairie, which contains remnant tallgrass prairie, a multitude of native plants, and rare and threatened plants. the sandy soil and rocky terrain were a new experience in prairie for me, and a light shower gave the walk a different energy part-way thru. first id of hoary vervain and golden alexanders!


mullein blooming

rough and heavy

to the touch


prairie valley sings

with yellow throat song—

shocks of stalk and sepal


below leaf and stem

under rain and sky

bedrock glimpses prairie

sna poems #95: logan creek

logan creek sna lies on the northern side of clark lake and is dominated by a northern wet-mesic forest. a small prairie buffers the parking lot from the woods.

we had a fun time running thru the beeches and hemlocks, cedars and birches. critters mammalian, amphibian, and reptilian darting off the path ahead of us left and right. one of the board walks was out, and we were losing daylight, so we weren’t able to see the lake, but hopefully we’ll be back some day.

first id of ramps by the flowers.

thanks to the ridges sanctuary for tending this land!


amphibians rustle and pause

reptiles in the evening sun

a grasshopper hanging low


we admire the fungal beech-ring

and slumping birch graveyard,

mourn the absent hemlock

if you made it this far: here’s a good reminder to keep your wits about you. this birch fell completely along the trail. if someone had been on that bench, they’d have had quite a view of the fall…

Webinar for Paraclete Press with Abbot Primate Gregory Polan on the Divine Office

I had the distinct privilege yesterday of having a conversation with Abbot Primate Gregory J. Polan, OSB and Rachel McKendree of Paraclete Press about the practice and virtues of the Divine Office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours) and my new book, The Saint Benedict Prayer Book.

We discussed a bit of the history but more so the vision of reality that is conveyed by the performance of the Hours, why it matters as a form of prayer in the world today and how it shapes who we are. It was a fabulous discussion with much wisdom from Abbot Primate Gregory.

If you have an interest, you can watch the full conversation here, and you can pick a copy of the book here.

Pax et Bonum!

sna poems #94: whitefish bay dunes

it was a hot one. i visited whitefish bay dunes—what the wdnr calls “the largest and most significant Great Lakes dunescape in Wisconsin”—when it was in the mid-90s. tough going but very focused, and not many other folks on the trails. the dunes range from open beach right on the lake to heavy forest a couple dunes back.

i took the northern trail to “old baldy” (the highest dune in wisconsin at 93 ft above lake level), which came out of northern mesic forest into open glades of juniper and fern, not to mention all sorts of small, ground-hugging plants i hadn’t the slightest clue on. very unique habitat inhabited by very unique flora. after climbing up baldy i took the southern trail back, which lulls thru a forest of balsam fir, white cedar, and birch on the backside of the fore dune—very fragrant and pleasant despite the heat, especially along the hollows.

(by the way, i love that the wdnr uses the word “dunescape.”)


thimble berry thick

on the midday sunning earth

dune asks nothing


porcupines are there somewhere

behind aspen stumps

and miniature fountains of moss


juniper and fern

are friends

in the dune-glen


solitude here on tallest dune

as aspens crest-quake

no one else so foolish in the heat


words are bountiful

but no smell of balsam fir

touch of outcropping

if you got this far: look at this snail doing her balancing act on top of a small forb (about six inches tall at most). it was eery and delightful.

sna poems #93: empire prairie, westport drumlin unit (+sna soundscape #3)

there are five remnant prairies left of the formerly massive empire prairie, which covered around 50,000 acres in wisconsin’s columbia and dane counties. the westport drumlin site is remarkable for the dramatic relief of the drumlin (a whale-shaped hill shaped by a glacier) caused by the surrounding corn-filled fields. also of particular note is the presence of an oak opening on one side, a fairly rare ecosystem these days. the rock outcroppings along parts of the drumlin indicate the glacier may not have sculpted this drumlin as extensively as normal.

it was a very wet and very satisfying walk. we turned back once due to lightning, but then the rain let up and we changed course once again. after a walk along the bottom of the drumlin and into the oak opening (rain sounding great on the leaves), i trekked up to the ridge and had a look about the lowlands surrounding. a graceful time. also, first conscious encounters with leadplant, thimbleweed, and flowering spurge. the soundscape is flush with raindrops.

thanks to the wdnr and groundswell conservancy for protecting this site.


rain is falling

oaks flanking

stone stock still


red ridges


by thimbleweed


i walk the drumlin path

a scar along her crest,

offer prayer for the world

sna poems #92: cherokee marsh

first off—thanks to everyone who keeps tuning in for these, and any new readers here for the first time. it’s fun knowing some folks out there enjoy seeing what i’m finding on the land. (or what’s finding me.)

but yes: cherokee marsh is a portion of a larger wetland complex in the four lakes region of wisconsin. the northern portion (which we visited) is a fen, tho’ it has lots of flora characteristic of other kinds of wetlands. presumably in part b/c it’s got a railroad track running thru it…

we had a good walk—lots of spiderwort, mullein, grasses, cattails, white campion, water, redwing blackbirds, sky. also, crushed baraboo quartzite underfoot as the railroad bed.

have a view and a read below, and listen to the found-sound-scape immediately below, courtesy once again of my brother. (lots of chittering birdsong, and that crunching you hear is homo sapiens footfall on crushed baraboo quartzite.)


moss and mullein

don’t care where they grow

under wing-dip


what saffron tuber are you,

struggling to air

beside this railroad track?


thunder rolling

over horsetail

for eons

sna poems #91: devil’s lake oak forest

devil’s lake oak forest is a southern dry-mesic forest of red oak and red maple, with some older open-grown white oaks. all situated on terminal moraine that had likely blocked the gorge thru which the wisconsin river used to run and which now is the home of devil’s lake. the forest is flanked by devil’s lake access roads, which was different for a sna, but i’m glad it’s protected.

this was when the day started getting really hot, though the part of the forest that butts up against east bluff and the grottos trail was mercifully cool. the biggest discovery of the walk was american cancer-root (or bear cone), a chlorophyl-less plant that is parasitic on oak roots. very cool.

i’ll once again link to my brother’s “sna soundscape” from the last post (east bluff), as a couple of the field-recorded sounds were from this forest as well. (by the by, funny story: the long title of the audio track comes from the thwarted third hike of the day we attempted. the road into the last sna was closed, so we walked in, but then we saw that there were a large number of caterpillars hanging down from the canopy on silk threads, secreting some kind of white, frothy substance and clearly doing something important for their life cycles. we abruptly abandoned the hike after the realization that they were, in fact, all around us, though we had initially stopped because we saw only a few. it was strange.)


moss fronds drape

the dry creek’s banks

cool in the grotto


bear cone inflorescence

forcing the forest floor

root kissing root unseen

see the caterpillar?
…this is the caterpillar road…