i’ve been stepped back from the digital world somewhat lately, but a few bits of good news to announce have brought me around. first up, a late entry.
paddler press, headed up by deryck robertson, recently released a handsome chapbook entitled the covid verses, with 30 poems made by a bunch of writers during/on the pandemic. some heavy, some lighthearted, some somewhere else. deryck kindly included my jefferson cty highway lune.
the whole collection is worth a read, and you can pick up a copy and support paddler press here!
pan hollow is, as the dnr website tells us, a flat-bottomed gorge in the baraboo hills, tucked between baxter’s hollow and pine hollow. streams and glades, dry, dry-mesic, and mesic forests throughout. false mermaid, one of the spring ephemerals (and an annual!) lives here along with many bird species and an endangered sedge.
but, i’ll be frank. it was the end of a wonderful and long day of hikes, and i was simply too tired to go very far. so i had a very pleasant walk in a spring snowshower, but didn’t reach the hollow itself, walking along the bluff ridge and tramping a bit thru the woods before heading back. this hollow deserves another visit at some point too, but i was glad to walk it nonetheless.
my friends, the natural bridge and rockshelter sna has exactly that, a formation cut into the sandstone over millions of years and the largest in the state. excavations done here reveal remains and artifacts dating back to ca. 9,000-8,000 bc. (!) it’s a wonder surrounded by upland oak forests and remnant prairie.
we’d visited before (and my wife, mamie, graciously agreed to be in a few shots for scale), but it’s been too long. the rock shelter is 60′ wide and 30′ deep, but it was late in the day and i simply didn’t have the energy for more pictures. next time (again). it was hard to see all the initials and words carved into the bridge’s base; i’m not a stickler for humans not interacting with natural environments that are being preserved, but the degree of defacement is tough.
up and down and up and down, then some tiny virginia waterleaf just starting out.
for ten-thousand years
in this neighborhood
you’ve sprung out the earth
with verdant drapery
ridges and pockmarks
over wind, sand, oak
“we’ve lingered” referring to our species, in no way attempting to erase the 200 years of the settler-colonial project in wisconsin.
hemlock draw is yet another gorge in the baraboo hills. the terms (“draw,” “hollow,” and “gorge” are used fairly interchangeably in the area.) this particular gorge has honey creek running along its bottom between sandstone and conglomerate cliffs.
the draw is named for hemlocks b/c this is another place in the hills where more northerly species of plants (including hemlock) grow in the southern part of wisconsin. it seems this is b/c of the species’ ability to linger along the microclimates of the gorges where cooler conditions have prevailed; communities that died out this far south with the retreat of the glacier were able to hunker down in spots that persisted cooler.
there are sea stacks here from when the whole area was under water, tho’ we didn’t catch them this time as the day was drawing on and legs were getting weary. next time.
first id of yellow-rumped warbler, and some more signs of forb life here than in other spots we walked that day. the bare cliffs are imposing and majestic.
cleared forest, lamb’s ear
a new world from rot
wtih last year’s bear corn
if you made it this far: there was some burn along the top of one ridge, and this hollowed-out snag was still standing precariously, with the glossiest burn all around the interior. smell and touch are absent, but the view was fascinating too.
a winding rural road up one of the baraboo hills out past baxter’s hollow took us to the top of pine hollow. pine hollow sna is a sandstone and baraboo quartzite gorge roughly 300 ft deep w/ flanking cliffs as high as 80 ft (according to the dnr’s page). a wide variety of life here, as the deep gorge affords a variety of habitats. hemlocks and white pines tower over the cliffs.
moss and ferns lie thick on the ground along the stream bed. there’s also a sedge meadow at the bottom of the hollow, but we spent our time up in the stony heights.
a late spring snow was falling and swirling up and down the gorge while icicles hung off the outcrops along with the moss and liverworts. trackless and gorgeous (pun very much intended). also, a first id of rattlesnake plantain.
our day in the baraboo hills started in earnest at baxter’s hollow, a broad gorge formed in the bluffs by otter creek with the largest stretch of unbroken forest in southern wisconsin—almost 6,000 acres, some still held in private hands. a rugged path marches thru the main site, but it feels very remote inside.
snow fell much of the time, but the sun peeked out toward the end of our hike. then we spent some time down by otter creek as we made our way out. a serious sanctuary for many aquatic insects, wildflowers, mammals, and especially birds who live away from edges. we exulted in the quartzite.
first id of hermit thrush—saw a few!
marsh marigold fresh
along the spring run
under a light snow
on tumbled quartzite
in the leaf-bare wood
flits from branch to branch
reaching out fair limbed
the oak against time
below the white pines
a wary spider
and now, the liverwort we found by otter creek, up late this year it seems:
i’m enamored with the baraboo river, have been since i was a kid driving above it on hwy 33 thru the town of baraboo. we stayed at pine haven west of town, east of the lower narrows. the baraboo lies along the southwestern border of the property, and i had a chance to walk along its stretch first thing in the morning.
the alterations to the land and water (clearly going way back) were interesting, there’s an old defunct bridge’s stone foundations left looming over the river, and some ducks i couldn’t get a good look at kept flying further upstream as i tried to spy them out. snow flitting down.
pewit’s nest is a sandstone gorge thru which runs skillet creek. it appears the gorge was formed when glacial lake wisconsin burst its shores and carved out all manner of getaways in the surrounding terrain. it’s a beauty with several low waterfalls and a small forest surrounding.
on this trip, some titmice welcomed us onto the path, virginia waterleaf was getting going, and we had the pleasure of meeting a barred owl just hanging out in the top of a conifer growing on the northern side of the gorge.
the site was being abused by folks leaving garbage and tromping off the trails a while back, and i was glad to see that it looks like things are going better now, and that it’s because the dnr enabled access rather than denying more access. that is, they made more deliberate paths, put up wooden fences to steer folks thru the site and off the bluffs etc. good stuff and a welcome end to easter sunday 2022.
many thanks to paddler pressfor giving a home to my self-evidently titled poem on the free organ concerts held at st. hedwig’s church here in the east village before covid hit, “on free east village organ concerts in september.”
you can read it here (on p 32), there’s audio of me reading it just below, and do have a read thru of the rest of the issue too!
milwaukee river and swamp sna is a mixed site with lowland forest, conifer swamp, and shrub zones. the east branch of the milwaukee river flows thru the site, and it hugs mauthe lake. the lake, river, and wetlands make the site a popular home and migration corridor for birds. we saw a song sparrow, common mergansers, buffle heads, a bald eagle, and downy woodpeckers, along with several more common species. my wife spotted the eagle standing on the lake ice a few hundred yards off and then it took off and flew right over us, as cranes called from further afield.
the walk thru the lowland hardwood forest was full of life, even at this early part of the year. so much to hear and smell and see and touch. we didn’t make it far enough to get to the swamp, but there’s always next time.