sna poems #90: east bluff (+ new feature: sna soundscape!)

the east bluff that flanks devil’s lake is the monadnock of my dreams. i’ve been hiking it since i can remember, with my brother, parents, and grandparents, then friends, my wife, and my kids too. (by the by, a monadnock is a residual hill or mountain that has been buried by sediment but then unearthed by erosion and remains b/c it’s tougher than the other materials around it.) the baraboo hills, of which the east bluff is a part, formed almost 2 billion years ago, when the baraboo quartzite metamorphosed and then uplifted in this area of what would become wisconsin.

the east bluff offers spectacular views of devil’s lake, the surrounding valleys and bluffs, the johnstown terminal moraine, and the wisconsin river. in addition to its dramatic quartzite cliffs, outcroppings, and talus slopes, a prairie, pygmy forest, southern forest, and bedrock glades lie atop the bluff too. the alaskan grotto is a linear cavernous feature along the bottom of the south slope, and rounded “potholes” formed by rocks tumbling in moving water lie along one sheer trail. (that’s where i proposed to my wife.)

it’s always a treat and an honor to hike east bluff, but this was an especially fine walk/climb since it was the first time my brother and i have hiked there since the pandemic began. and, courtesy of my brother and spontaneous response to bird call, the “sna poems” will now have an occasional additional feature, the “sna soundscapes,” ambient tracks composed by him with found-sounds from the sna’s we visit. you can listen to this site’s soundscape—featuring bird calls, insect droning, and the sound of human hand on 1.7-billion-year-old quartzite—here. enjoy!


talus slope

turkey vulture—



no word

for the sensation

of sole on lichen


spider wort commands the prairie

amid the drone of insect life

earth age rock stand

meadow rose
false solomon seal


wisconsin a ribbon beyond

johnstown moraine below

ocean striation underfoot

bird effigy mound on the south shore

sna poems, #87: new munster bog island

new munster bog island is sandy knoll of hardwoods surrounded by shrub-carr and tamarack bog. the kids were along for this one, and a couple did try to bushwhack with me, but that shrub-carr was tough, and we got turned back before we reached the knoll.

however, after some time crawling around in the mud and moss, we went back and enjoyed the habitat around and in palmer creek, which lies between the sna and the parking area. saw waxwings and herons, springs under bold spring skies. lovely.

i did find a patch of watercress (thanks to the wdnr and british poet geraldine clarckson for the i.d.), which was very pretty, but also a non-native that can choke out other plants in cold-water springs. and it was in a spring run. next time i’ll forage it, giving other plants some room and us some food direct from the earth.




holds afar


we’re grendels

in the mere—

bog monsters


waxwing in the willow

your form

to the pine crown

sna poems #86: texas island woods

texas island woods is a mature hardwood forest inhabiting an “island” upland surrounded by marsh and shrub swamp in jefferson county, wisconsin. access is via a causeway path, which i assume is man-made. this was my last hike of the day, and it had gotten really hot for the first time this year.

that wasn’t so bad, but the fact that the woods is surrounded by wetlands meant there was also a serious number of mosquitoes—while this is wisconsin and i should be prepared for them, it was early enough in the year that this was the first time i’d been swarmed. trying to take pictures, my hands were covered by 8-10 mosquitoes by the time i was able to close the (digital) shutter…

but a delightful wood with what appears to be a healthy under story, with lots of large-flowered trillium and mayapple. the highlight of the trip was getting close enough to the wood’s edge to see that it was in fact an “island” by the break in trees and water/marsh plants beyond (as above). this was the last sna to visit in jefferson county!


here is the misstep, the weak-knee

it’s late in the day

among the shagbark and trillium


mosquitoes cloud

and thorns tear

in this island wood

sna poems #79: crooked lake wetlands

crooked lake is a seepage lake surrounded by a diverse wetland complex all about (including open bogs, my favorite aside from fens…), forest, cedar lake, and other unnamed lakes—all settled amidst the interlobate morainal hills of the northern kettle moraine. crooked lake’s outlet forms a tributary of the east branch of the milwaukee river, which flows right down the hill from my place in milwaukee on its way out to lake michigan.

fantastic walk with perfect spring weather under glorious skies, and many spring ephemerals—some emerging, some at full tilt, and others already on their way out for the year. saw our first stand of bellwort, which i’ve been looking for since last march, so it was a sheer delight to lay in the soil and spend some time with them.

this was the last state natural area to explore in sheboygan county. good to have another county covered, but, as we say in wisconsin: forward!


liverwort dying back

on each and every hillside

the lake only from afar


streakt & frilling threeness

skirts trunk & frogcall

mayapple waiting to bloom


legging it past kettle bog

and eureka! you’ve found me—bellwort

riding above the muck

since i haven’t stated this here in a while: this “state natural area poems” project began last year when lockdown happened in wisconsin, in order to have something to do with my kids as well as to keep us grounded in our local and regional habitats.

it started with the idea of visiting a state natural area (the preserves with the highest protections in wisconsin), going for a walk, taking a picture, and writing a three-liner about whatever we encountered there. and the original area was milwaukee county and adjacent counties. it’s now mushroomed into the main series and two sub-series, way more counties, and usually many more than one photo and one poem per site. the natural world just gives too much for such meager making!

i’ll keep going until we run out of sites to visit (not likely) or breath leaves the body.

peace to you and yours.

sna poems # 76: rose lake

rose lake is a shallow seepage lake surrounded by wetlands and hills. the western end has a large floating mat of sedge, grass, and rushes! lots of wildflowers sprinkled all over the forested hills skirting the shores. also, the wetlands and mudflats are teeming with birds—my son decided to try perfecting his goose call while we walked…

first confirmed sightings of dutchmen’s breeches and a couple anemone species for me, and we could hear sandhill cranes calling out from the other side of the lake, out of sight. a joy of a walk.


cataracts white fluming

brushing the mucked lakeside

earth gives underfoot


curving mineral

in mud & sluice

building into time


new greening

low and lovely

anemone cousins

sna poems, supplementum #21: kettle-moraine state forest northern unit, greenbush trails

the kettle-moraine state forest is a long, delightful gash of interlobate moraine that formed from the tussling of the green bay lobe and lake michigan lobe of the laurentide ice sheet as they advanced and retreated over thousands of years.

on this particular trip, i hiked to the top of a morainal ridge and sat on a rock to read phyllis walsh’s book river. if you’re a lover of short, dense poems, you should certainly check out walsh’s hummingbird press, if you haven’t already. and check out their HUMMINGBIRD: Magazine of the Short Poem. another wisconsin poet (in addition to lorine niedecker) inspired and encouraged to dense, imagistic poetry by cid corman. the poems below are imitative of those found in the river collection.

(note again: still the flip-phone trip; low res images.)


april arctic air

crane-call answers to walsh’s

poems on the crest


cloudy day

liverwort blooms

on ice’s relic

sna poems, supplementum #19: cudahy woods

anyone who’s kept up here will know cudahy woods a bit already, but suffice to say: cudahy woods is a 40-acre parcel of land in milwaukee county that somehow escaped the axe and plow. it’s a beech-maple forest with an unnamed stream running thru, and airplanes skirting by nigh-constantly from mitchell int’l airport.

it’s also where i first started this project and started learning about spring ephemerals, so it has a special place in my heart. so this is kind of an “anniversary post,” and i already found two new flowers i hadn’t identified last spring!


purslane swell delicate

amid a sea of trout

the forest floor vibrant

springbeauty (purslane family)

trout lily sea



glory of snow

trouts about to burst


monks’ stiff hoods in the muck

down from cowslip grove

chart stream bed’s shimmer

skunk cabbage

marsh marigold/cowslip

a stream with no name