state natural area poems #58: johnson hill kame


johnson hill is a “moulin” (French for “mill”) kame, a conical hill formed from the action of melt-water pouring into cylindrical holes inside a glacier. the swirling action of the water deposits the sediment in a stark cone on the surrounding lowlands. it’s really a strange thing. but we hiked across the field and braved the bit of forest that stretched between us and the kame (the shrub layer thinned out after a bit), and enjoyed an afternoon playing and climbing and sliding over this bizarre hill. northern and southern mesic forest set the scene. the loose rock at the foot of every tree made clear the glacial nature of the hill.

thanks to the wisconsin dnr for tending this plot.


ah, the moulin kame!

we circumambulate

the ancient whirlpool


further in the shrubs thin

and the stout hill looms above

here we find some respite


the cradling arms of sediment

welcome children’s play

goldenrod on top of the world


here at the forest’s

edge, the snow

and eagle under moon

state natural area poems, supplementum #14: pheasant branch conservancy

pheasant branch conservancy comprises a series of habitats surrounding pheasant branch creek. the creek finds one of its headwaters in bubbling springs at the base of frederick’s hill. the wooded and prairie uplands give way to pheasant branch marsh before the creek empties into lake mendota, one of the four lakes in the area around madison, known to the ho-chunk as ‘dejope’ (‘four lakes’). atop frederick hill is a group of middle woodland conical and linear mounds.


oaks praise the sky

on the sun’s day

scuffle beneath the snow


up from the surging springs

pasque flower is hiding

vascular refugees

state natural area poems #57: sugar river wetlands

sugar river wetlands is a large wetland complex within the sugar river watershed. surrounded by highways, it’s a site of restoration for wildlife and several rare plants. the site includes sedge meadow, calcareous fen, shub-carr, wet-mesic prairie, and emerging aquatic wetlands. the springs and fen area we explored were brimming with quiet activity as the water flowed into the sugar river.


the seeps work gently

thru matted grass, earth grooves,

alluvial moves under stars


the snow piles verve,

somewhere a piping chirp erupts,

and this all flows to the sugar


i exult in muck and duckweed,

frozen feet, the touch

of water straight from earth

state natural area poems #56: olson oak woods

olson oak woods is found a few miles west of the johnstown terminal moraine that marks the limit of the last glaciation in this part of wisconsin. several different oak species, some dating back to the mid 1700s, reveal the former savanna habitat that has now turned to wood due to lack of fire. there are heavy and lovely cliffs throughout, reminiscent of the cliffs at magnolia bluff in rock county not terribly far away. some prairie plants remain, though they’re all sleeping now.

thanks to the wisconsin dnr and madison metropolitan school district for tending this land.


above the hollow,

bracken spills

over limestone


the cliffs give us oaks

and flowers from days past—

quiet bedrock now

state natural area poems #55: nichols creek cedars and springs

nichols creek cedars and springs lies on a morainal slope and the adjacent lowlands. the north-facing slope has springs and seepages that feed nichols creek and many white cedars. such a distinctive wood for this part of wisconsin. we walked thru much of the adjacent/surrounding nichols creek wildlife area.


the smell of carrion in the air

as the temperature plummets down

the owl’s call on deep sustain


the cedars

so still

on the seeps

state natural area poems #54: kamrath creek forest and fen

kamrath creek forest and fen is a tremendously kinetic set of natural communities to visit in the winter. while most areas now are quiet and still, here water seeps from springs and down spring runs into kamrath creek from forested slope and thru sloped fen, sometimes meandering from several seepages at once and with arms of the creek creating near-islands as the water rushes to get down the incline. can’t wait to get back in the spring. oh—and the yellow birches, my goodness!

thanks to the wisconsin dnr for tending this patch of earth.


ice globules adorn the seeps

along a well-worn trail, as water

bursts forth in winter’s deep


upstream to headwaters,

the beeches begin

hello to old friends


this is the place where waters flow

and reveal northern stone to the eye

where green endures thru the year


a spray of beech leaves

above the snow:

freedom for the mind

state natural area poems #53: kettle moraine red oaks

kettle moraine red oaks is a 2nd-growth southern dry mesic forest that got its second life back in the 1880s. the oak-maple-hickory forest is situated on high interlobate moraine with lots of deep, dry kettles. dramatic topography.

thanks to the wisconsin dnr for tending this land!


cottontail roads beneath the ash

cacao lingers on the tongue

our shadows blossom on snow


glacial hands

worked this land—

our turn to tend

state natural area poems #52: lodi marsh

a happy new year to all!

lodi marsh lies in a valley of glacial till, fed by springs and seepages. the hills to the west of the site frame the open marsh and sky dramatically. forest and prairie cover the southern knoll. the countryside around lodi is a wonder.


clearing a path

in the valley till—

hawk shriek westward


the cattail forest covers

untold sleepers just waiting

to rouse and rise from the muck


dust-yellow constellations

on pillars of seep and slough

pale sky a mirror of pale ground

announcing the snowstorm’s approach

state natural area poems #51: clover valley fen

clover valley fen contains a series of 8-10 ft high peat mounds that began building around a set of springs 11,500 years ago(!). sedge meadow and woods surround the fen mounds, and whitewater creek runs thru it all. the iced-over wetland was a maze of frozen tussocks, some a foot over the ice. the fen mounds were spectacular, with spring water still visibly running off below the ice.


i stand on 11,000-

year-old peat, massive—

morning sun casts long shadow


bryophytes make a frozen home

on patchwork of tawny fen

the springs give them life


stilting our way

over calcium-rich waters

deer have set blazes

state natural areas #50: bluff creek

bluff creek is fed by hardwater springs and seepages from a morainal ridge. the surroundings contain mound fens, dry-mesic woods, wet-mesic prairie, and sedge meadow. it’s a watery and grassy melange! one of the season’s first sticking snowfalls decorated the terrain for the morning’s hike.


wild thrushes over the spring run

and snow-capped goldenrod bowing

the fen-world opens its cold, wet arms


waxwings in the birch grove, a crest

flexes and relaxes—to the branch,

buckthorn berry in beak

thanks to wisconsin’s dnr for tending this land and its many water features.