I am starting two new challenges: to cover the segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin and to read fifty classic books over the next five years.
North Country National Scenic Trail
I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete this challenge given my age and the state of my health. I intend to have fun trying. I used the verb “cover” in the first paragraph above because some of the trail follows roads so I’ll be able to drive. The rest I’ll have to hike – definitely a challenge since I can manage only a mile or two at a time.
The North Country Trail Association describes the trail as “the longest in the National Trails System, stretching 4,600 miles over 7 states from the middle of North Dakota to the Vermont border of New York. The stretch in Wisconsin is 207 miles and runs from the Minnesota – Wisconsin border near Superior, Wisconsin to where the Wisconsin – Michigan border meets Lake Superior.
The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*. Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.
My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently. It gets dark very early these days.
So I’m trudging through a dark wood. There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse. They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening. I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else. It’s actually a beautiful evening. More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.
I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin. Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.
I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.
I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.
I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin. Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms. And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.
Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse” [Merriam-Webster.com]. Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.” [dictionary.com.] So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.
This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.
This is a fun area to explore. It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming). The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail. The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.
I mapped my hike before setting out today. According to Google Maps, it would be 2000 feet from the parking lot to the river, 2000 back. However, the universal law of geography kicked in not long after I started the hike. I learned this rule in college on the first day of Geography 101. The rule is that in nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. There are always intervening ravines, impenetrable thickets, fierce and angry thorns, deep woods, wet ground, mean bulls (happened to me once, I swear). Columbus ran into a continent. Don’t forget the next-ridge corollary to the universal law. When you finally reach the ridge you’ve been straining for, there is always one more ridge to go.
The universal law kicked in today. I knew I would be hiking over level ground and open fields with a band of trees along the river. Should have been easy, even for me in my febrile old age.
Later: I am now seated at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, an oasis for an exhausted, muscle-sore hiker trying to recover from what ended up a challenge. Even so, I’m glad I went and finished the hike. I captured some decent photos for my project on the Chippewa River. Here is another universal law I learned in college but not in the classroom: a cold beer (in this case Dos Equis Lager) never tastes so good as when one is tired and dry. It tastes great and you can tell yourself that you’ve earned your beer, and the next one, and . . .
Here are some other photos from the hike in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area southwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Leaf Of Common Mullein Backlit By the Sun
Sundown On the River Bottoms (2)
Chippewa River Below Caryville Bridge, facing west
Chippewa River Below Caryville Bridge, facing south
Trees yawning over a dry channel in the Chippewa River Floodplain
A Natural Levee On the East Bank Of the Chippewa River Looking North
I went out in my car around 4:00 PM. I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it. No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs. I could see the bridge through the bare trees. It looked very high and impressive. The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.
I turned to Plan B. I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized. The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was. I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped. It didn’t look very impressive from the road. So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot. Nice trails. Very pleasant.
There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road. It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time. All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography: vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns. Much texture and color. The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely. Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss. I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess. Purple and red vines. Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.
Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow. Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.
The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather. A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown. The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.
I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016. For some reason, I forgot to publish it. Better late than never.
I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday. As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails. The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection. I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail. I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative. The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area. The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint. I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.
Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed. That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction. The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR. By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.
Most of the better photos I took were of small things. I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.
I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock. The top of the knob is relatively flat. The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge. Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens. There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.
I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime. I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out. Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head. (Hovering? They were attacking.) I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.) Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible. That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.
On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum). The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got. By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing. This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects. The first time it was mosquitoes. Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots. The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.
I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind. What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats. Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent. She was one of the first pilots in the region. She writes about elephant hunting:
Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush. A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat. Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files. The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.
All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain. Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”
By the way, I highly recommend the book. A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.
The Fish Lake State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin near Grantsburg is part of a collection of areas managed as The Glacial Lake Grantsburg Properties. They are Fish Lake Wildlife Area, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, and Amsterdam Sloughs Wildlife Area.
The Fish Lake area is mostly “huge sedge marshes” interspersed with areas of low hills with oak forests. The first time I visited Fish Lake, I was not very impressed – it seemed too flat. The more I visited and explored, the more I came to appreciate the area. There are lots of nooks and crannies, paths and dirt roads to explore. I was there yesterday, a beautiful warm Sunday. I didn’t encounter another soul. That’s heaven for an introvert that loves exploring solo.
I reached the source of the St. Croix River in northwest Wisconsin. Last year I tried twice to reach the source. The first time I got to the start of the Brule Portage section of the North Country trail after I was already tired out so I didn’t hike very far. The second time I could find no way to get to the source. There was a clearly marked side trail to the head of the Bois Brule River but nothing to the St. Croix. After the second try, I decided that I would come back for another attempt when the snow had melted but there was not yet any foliage in the woods. I also studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (page 25 I think.) I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix.
I drove, I parked, and I walked in on a trail which shortly ended at the North Country Trail from where I could easily see a small pond. I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps. I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away. The mid-summer foliage completely hid the pond.
I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond. The stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix. I confess that I didn’t get to the literal source. Walking was like bushwhacking through a jungle. I didn’t have the energy to go the extra 100, at most, yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.) I can claim that I saw and photographed the headwaters, if not the actual source, of the St. Croix so I consider the expedition a success.
Pond On St. Croix Creek
Near St. Croix Creek; Like a Jungle
St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River
I hiked yesterday on the Riverside Trail in William O’Brien State Park. I live only 20 miles from the park but haven’t been there in years, decades even.
It was well below zero with an even lower wind chill. (I guess wind chills are always “even lower”.) I saw no one on the trails. I saw two gray squirrels, one mouse or vole, and few crows. That is all. I felt very good about braving the bitter cold and remaining reasonably comfortable – I was dressed for the weather complete with long underwear and a balaclava. In one spot on the ice of a side channel of the river out of the wind and in full sun, I was actually quite snug. My camera worked well in spite of the cold. The only effect was that my lens’s zoom mechanism was stiff.
There is not much color left in the woods; lots of grays, browns, and tans. The leaves are off the trees. There are no wild flowers left. There is, however, some surprising color in some of the smaller bits of the forest: fungi, lichens, mosses, and some remaining small, green plants. Among the green plants, the most vivid are those growing in or close to water.
The slide show below is of some of the color I saw over the last two days on the Osceola Loop of Ridgeview Trail north of Osceola, Wisconsin.
Under the slide show are some words about toadstools and mushrooms from Colin Tudge’s book The Tree.
Fungi in general consist of a great mass of threads (known as “hyphae” which collectively form a “mycelium”) and a fruiting body that typically appears only transiently, and often manifests as mushroom or toadstool. Many of the toadstools that are such a delight in autumn, and are avidly collected by gourmet peasants in France and Italy and elsewhere, are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which, below ground, are locked into mycorrhizal associations with the roots of trees and help them grow. Thus the fungi are even more valuable that they seem. The wild mushrooms and toadstools are often only a tiny part of the whole fungus. The whole subterranean mycelium, including the mycorrhizae, sometimes covers many acres and weighs many tons. Forest fungi, mostly hidden from view, include some of the largest organisms on earth [emphasis is mine].
This time of year, late March and early April, I always complain about the weather. I’ve lived in the upper Midwest for decades, so I should know that we always get winter weather this time of year. But I always think that maybe, just maybe, we might make it through the end of this season with no more cold weather. Never happens. Never, ever. So the best thing to do is to bundle up and get outside. I did today. I spent the afternoon hiking in the state park. By the end of the afternoon the sun was coming out and all was good with the world. Spring is, after all, just around the corner.
I was walking through the woods when I noticed bits of bright red among the dead leaves scattered on the ground. I first thought that they were litter left by careless hikers. Luckily I took a closer look. They were mushrooms. When I got home I looked them up. Scarlet Cups, one of the first mushrooms to emerge after winter. One of the first signs of spring. A surprising color to see on the forest floor at this time of year.
The Uncommon Age Fitness Studio is a five-minute walk from my apartment (The first time I drove to it I found out rather sheepishly that I was in the car for only one minute). I have walked past it dozens of times and often wondered what it was like. It looks good from the outside. Recently I’ve gotten a bit desperate and feel that the only way to beat my constant, relentless fatigue is to concentrate on physical fitness, health, and sleep. I’m working with a sleep center on my problems with sleep apnea, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some external motivation to do better with physical fitness. So, I decided to try Uncommon Age.
I have now had two session with Jan, a personal trainer. I am very optimistic, one reason being that Jan and the owner Marty are optimistic and very friendly – easy to talk with. I like the workout room. Clean, uncluttered, and sunny with large windows on both sides. Yesterday I worked on a Pilates machines for the first time and loved it. Best-feeling workout machine I’ve ever tried. I look forward to my next session tomorrow.
I have an overall goal of feeling good and energetic again. I also want to lose a lot of weight (I don’t think I will mention how much. It’s too embarrassing.) and to be able to hike ten strenuous miles without becoming exhausted. Eventually I will move from private, one-on-one sessions to classes. I will post occasionally about how I’m doing.
Wish me luck although I hope I don’t need any. Wish me perseverance!
I hiked to the falls on Willow River State Park yesterday. I wanted to see and photograph the falls as they look in the midst of this cold spell. (Speaking of cold, when I got to the park, I discovered that I had brought two left-hand gloves and nothing for my right hand. I spent the outing with my right hand in my pocket or getting icy cold when I was taking photos.) I was surprised by how much ice there was and by how much the ice muted the sound the falls makes when there is no ice. I’m posting two pairs of pictures. One of each pair was taken in late June. One in each was was taken yesterday.
I recently hiked a section of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin that passes through the Mckensie Creek State Wildlife Area northeast of Luck. The trail was nice; more hilly than I had anticipated with a pleasant, trickling brook and a welcome bench overlooking Lake McKensie. I walked a bit over three miles. The three miles included 363 feet of relief. Below are some photos from the hike.