Beryl, Basalt, and Gnats

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.

Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades
Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades

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.

Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)
Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)

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.


Later

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.”

West with the NightBy the way, I highly recommend the book.  A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.

Bartenders should always be trusted.

The Source

St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River
St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River

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.

Revelatory

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against FateHere are a few quotes from The Revenge of Geography that lay out the book’s objective.

. . . the aim of my study [is] to have an appreciation of the map so that, counter-intuitively, we need not always be bounded by it.  For it is not only narrow-mindedness that leads to isolationism, but the overstretching of resources that causes an isolationist  backlash.  [The U.S. has been aggressively overstretching our resources throughout the new century.]

Geography informs, rather than determines.  Geography, therefore, is not synonymous with fatalism.  But it is, like the distribution of economic and military power themselves, a major constraint on – and an instigator of – the actions of states.

I wish to argue for a modest acceptance of fate, secured ultimately in the facts of geography, in order to curb excessive zeal in foreign policy, a zeal of which I myself have been guilty.

Kaplan writes not just about how geography affects the United States.  He covers the globe, with chapters for each of the world region’s:  Europe; Russia and Central Asia; China; India; the Mideast from Egypt to Afghanistan; Iran; the former Ottoman empire and specifically Turkey; and the Americas.  His ideas about the United States and Mexico are, for me, revelatory.

The blurring of America’s Southern frontier is becoming a geographical fact that all the security devices on the actual border itself cannot invalidate.

While we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to affect historical outcomes in Eurasia, we are curiously passive about what is happening to a country with which we share a long land border, that verges on disorder, and whose population is close to double that of Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

In the long run, looking deep into the twenty-first century and beyond, . . . a border between a highly developed society and a less highly developed society will not attain an equilibrium, but will advance in the more backward society’s favor.  In other words, the preservation of American nationalism . . . is unachievable unless Mexico reaches First World status.  And if Mexico does reach First World status, then it might become less of a threat, and the melding of the two societies only quickens.  Either way, because of the facts that the map imposes, we are headed for a conjoining of Mexico and America in some form . . .

Kaplan throws in a healthy does of information about the history of geographic and geopolitical thinking – about a third of the book  is devoted to such.  He concludes this section with the chapter The “Crisis of Room”

With civilizations densely jammed one against the other, and the media a vehicle for constant verbal outrages, as well as for popular pressure from oppressed groups, the need for quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy will never be greater.  One crisis will flow into the next, and there will be perennial need for everyone to calm down [Kaplan’s emphasis].

I learned a great deal from this book.  Kaplan writes objectively with no partisanship.  He just wishes to point out that geography is important – so pay attention.  The maps are excellent; the writing absorbing; the lessons important, believable, and thoroughly backed-up by logic and geographic fact.

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