Our group was small but not lacking enthusiasm as we launched our canoes just below the dam at Mongo. The weather posed a threat but we barely got damp as only an occasional misty rain fell. It actually was quite refreshing and cooling on a humid July morning. At least we weren’t soaked as were some paddlers in a large group we encountered on the river who had the misfortune (or was it deliberate?) of capsizing in the gently flowing waters of the Pigeon.
After a four-plus paddle on the Pigeon we worked out way through a significant bed of lily pads and left our boats behind forgetting any thought of our damp clothing which quickly became decorated with muck. Nate kindly excused his senior troops’ slowness of pace, even though using walking poles, as he explained that because he spends so much time in this irregular habitat he has developed “fen legs.” But there we were, the beauty of Nasby fen stretched out before us! As we struggled through the unpredictable terrain it was hard (but very important!) to keep our eyes on each step we took. The Blazing Star was bountiful and profoundly beautiful. Among other plants, we saw Death Camus, Kalm’s Lobelia, Hardhack, Meadowsweet, Sundew, Pitcher Plant, and numerous grasses, sedges, and rushes. How, buried under the dense vegetation, Nate spotted a spike of a newly emerged Purple Loosestrife, we don’t know. But he took time to dig it from the mucky soil lest it get a start on reinvading the fen. And on went the daring explorers from muck to marl, seeps to rivulets, skin-slicing but delicious blackberries, and hummocks to sinkholes just waiting to swallow a victim, until we again reached the water’s edge where our canoes, well banked in ankle-deep muck awaited the all-too-short final stretch of our journey and we crossed the widened pool on the river to the take-out point above Nasby Dam.
It was interesting that the devotion of the day of our Pigeon River paddle and Nasby Fen tour, July 30, from Sara Young’s Jesus Calling was as follows:
“Worship Me in the beauty of holiness. I created beauty to declare the existence of My holy Being. A magnificent rose, a hauntingly glorious sunset, oceanic splendor- all these tings were meant to proclaim My presence in the world. Most people rush past there proclamations without giving them a second thought…
How precious are My children who are awed by nature’s beauty; this opens them up to My holy Presence. Even before you knew Me personally, you responded to My creation with wonder. This is a gift, and it carries responsibility with it. Declare My glorious Being to the world. The whole earth is full of My radiant beauty- My Glory!”
This article, along with others, was featured in this month’s edition of Rustling Grass. To see the full newsletter, visit the archives page or subscribe by emailing us at email@example.com.
Over the years, I hear BHM director Nate Simons describe the colors of prairies at certain times of the growing season. It is fun to hear and feel his enthusiasm for just that moment of the year and the colors we are enjoying.
Nate will say, “Ah, these prairie colors of late spring when spiderwort and beards tongue are starting to bloom, are just the best.” A prairie fen visit in fall will elicit an “Oh yes, the colors of fall fens are the best!” We enter and are treated to the blues of asters and gentians, deep greens of sedges and grasses, and browns and bronzes of developing seed ends. Right now, we are in mid-July.
Right now, I stop and do double takes at our own home prairie projects. The combination of just three common plants, butterfly milkweed, bergamot, and black eyed Susan is just stunning. So rich, they are. I think of Nate’s take on this time of year color. “Aww, this is the best,” he’ll say. And then late summer will come and there will be a new best!
Get out and enjoy mid summer’s colors and wait with eager anticipation, with Nate and the rest of us, for the next color show to come!
Blue Heron Ministries will host a day-long van/bus excursion to travel to various prairie plantings in LaGrange and Steuben Counties. Come see prairies planted by staff and volunteers of Blue Heron Ministries. We will see prairies in various stages of maturity and comment on installation and management techniques. We will bemoan not-so-good results and celebrate great results together.
One Blue Heron Ministries project the past several years is restoring a wonderful farm of rolling hills and wetlands in northwest Steuben County. The 277-acre farm is owned by John Bachelor who inherited the place from his parents Charles and Mary Bachelor. Thanks to John;s vision to see wild places restored, former agricultural fields are now being planted and transformed into prairie, some mixed with oaks and other hardwoods, representative of original, open, oak savanna continuum, typical of our area prior to settlement.
The plantings are now several years old and the landscape is shaping up and displaying the seasonal moods of this ecosystem. This late winter and early spring, I had the good fortune of being on BHM tree crews, planting a couple of species of oak. This summer, fellow BHM teammate Rita Smith, and I have been working these fields, finding trees among the vegetation, weeding around them, flagging them, and eliminating nearby competition. It was a several day project, where our hands touched nearly 3,000 young tree saplings!
Doing that repetitive work, my mind wanders from what the landscape truly looked like 300 years ago. A bison may have stepped where now white-tailed deer walk. What was it like 20 years ago when cows roamed the fields or hay waved in July breezes? I touch a tree to adjust a ribbon and I wonder which on of the crew touched it similarly, as we careful planted it this spring, or the spring before, or before. It was mindless for us possibly, but maybe on this one tree we too paused to think about the past at that very spot, or dreamed of whit it will look like in 3 years, and 30, and 300.
Working these hot, summer, sultry days is a challenge in mid day heat, but oh what a joy in the very early morning when mist hangs heavy and the damp air still feels cool to the cheek. It was July. The soft colors of wildflowers in a light fog fading into the rolling hills are just spectacular. Later in the day, things brighten and yellows and blues become bolder.
On all days, bird calls become background sound. red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and common yellowthroat warblers are the most common in this habitat. On June 28, in the heat and doldrums of midday. I was jolted from work routine by a familiar bird call. As with other background sounds, it may have been there a while in my subconscious, but all of the sudden, it hits me!
“Hey, that’s a sedge wren!” I recognized the call and the bird was not far from me. I recognized the call from the late summer of 2014 when we had one in our home prairie restoration. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds describes it as, “chap chap chap chap chap chap chap chapppper-rrr” It is very distinctive once you learn it. After some searching, the bird popped from a low plant to a higher perch to be identified.
Sedge wrens are state endangered in Indiana. It is rarely found. Research shows that they sometimes nest in small groups, but those groups are nomadic and the colony might not stay put. This bird may be and unmated male, just displaying here for a while.
That is significant. That fact that it is here! Here now means this habitat we are restoring. That is exciting. The optimum habitat, again described in the Peterson guide, is “grassy meadows, sedgy meadows” It describes the bird as “Scarce, local.”
Now questions remain. Will it hang out long and become a serious resident? Will there be more next year and provide us a breeding population? That’s the magic of restoration. We do all we can to reintroduce the original components of this rich community return and are restored. Stay tuned on this sedge wren, an endangered species, and others!
This article, along with others, was featured in this month’s edition of Rustling Grass, a monthly e-newsletter put together by Blue Heron Ministries. To see our past editions of the newsletter, visit our archives page. To receive them directly to your inbox, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.