Blue Heron Ministries

An opportunity to be stewards of our Lord's creation within the context of community


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Resting in the (Prairie) Snow- by Nate Simons

He directs the snow to fall on the earth

and tells the rain to pour down.

Then everyone stops working

so they can watch his power.

The wild animals take cover

and stay inside their dens.

The stormy wind comes from its chamber,

and the driving winds bring the cold.

God’s breath sends the ice,

freezing wide expanses of water. (Job 37:6-19)

 

It is good and right to stop work and rest. Resting is something I must discipline myself to do. It is something of which I often remind myself.. that God’s rhythm for us is that we work from a place of rest. Rest first!

 

So. this winter I have taken a few minutes several times to rest in the snow and to understand our Dad’s presence in the moment and in the snow.

 

My three oldest grandkids (Courben, Judah, and Grace) and I took hikes through the prairie and onto the railroad tracks. The snow-covered mowed trail offered the path of least resistance for the little one and for four-footed friends. We followed animal tracks. Rabbit. Deer. Coyote. Did you know that a rabbit at full speed bounds a fill seven feet?

 

Aimee and I dusted off our antique cross country skis and made tracks through and around the prairie. Aimee considered it exercise. I called it rest.

 

A small flock of tree sparrows with their russet caps and dark-dimpled breast have made our prairie home for the winter. There is plenty of aster, goldenrod, and Indian grass seed left to glean. And cover from the wind. The wing prints in the fresh, powdery snow mark the birds’ activity.

 

The dark, dried seedheads and desiccated whorl of leaves of Culver’s root is easy to spot as it contrasts with the snow. And I found a new location to collect wild seed of the plant next year.. a fen at Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area.

 

Field mice, as light weight as they are, press into the fresh snow. You can’t go around it. You can’t go over it. So you gotta go through it (or under it).

 

Stopping to observe and appreciate the beauty of snow on the prairie is rest.

 

The prairie plants are resting, too. One third of their biomass is still visible and dead standing above ground and two thirds of their biomass, in the form of roots, is alive (though dormant) below the frozen and wintry ground. The prairie is resting and waiting for renewal from a spring fire and summer’s sunshine. Then it will work to convert the energy of the sun plus water and minerals from the soil into foliage and flowers and see all over again.


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Working in the Great White North- By Fred Wooley

The first week of January was certainly “welcome to winter” in northeast Indiana. Single digit temperatures and snow were the daily norm. Our work continues in such conditions. We bundle in layers, crack out the big Mickey boots, pull on the thickest gloves and mitts, and have at it. Those small hand warmers come in handy too.

 

We add a little antifreeze tot he herbicide to keep things flowing from our daubers and the brush cutters seem undaunted by the cold. It pays to have good equipment.

 

On January 3, four of us left our Blue Heron Ministries morning meeting at the Chapel of the Lakes home office and headed northwest into Michigan. Temperatures were about 8 degrees and a few inches of snow covered the ground. It seemed to be winter enough. Our worksite was on the Berrien side of the Berrien/Van Buren County line. The natural area is two adjoining nature preserves, the Butternut Creek and the Four Macomb County Ladies Nature Preserves. Both are managed by the Michigan Nature Association. We made our way over, first on Indiana State Road 120, then up to Michigan US 12, and then really wound our way around back roads
until finally turning on to a north-south road lined with trees on both sides. It was clear we entered a new type of winter. Everything was white, the road, the trees, all around us, including the sky filled with falling snow.

 

There was no such thing as roadside parking, as snow was piled too high on both sides. Fortunately, we found a pull-off of sorts and gunned the 4×4 truck up into a safe notch in the forest.

 

Getting out was truly stepping into winter wonderland. This is Berrien County, Michigan. Winter skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing enthusiasts know it well. It’s the most southwest county in Michigan and benefits from lake affect snow. We were in it today. We stepped into nearly knee deep snow- that light, fluffy, airy snow.

 

We gathered our gear, including lunches, because it was a 20 minute walk back to the site from the road and we would not be taking the time to walk back just for lunch. First we walked down the road and then turned west into a deeper forest. In a short distance we came to a planted pine grove which was truly magical. The dark trunks were a deep contrast to the all white surroundings. The trail back to the worksite had been broken a day or so before, but nearly covered now. Occasional orange ribbons tied to trees provided the route. Being fourth in line, I felt like the last deer along a game trail. The trail was now the width of two boots and 12-15 inches deep.

 

We finally made it to the site, a wet fen, but not before having to cross a narrow creek. It wasn’t easy on a ten-inch diameter, snow-covered fallen log. Peter slipped and would have taken a cold bath, but a thin layer of snow covered ice allowed him to scramble to safety. Josh and Gary stayed back to cut “hand rails” to place in the creek while Peter and I proceeded to the worksite.

 

It was sort of an open area, but beginning to fill with invasive honeysuckle and autumn olive. The objective was to cut, apply herbicide, and stack the branches, exposing the fen floor to what would be warm sun come the growing season. We set about working and found it to be the most challenging of this winter, not because of the cold, but because of snow depth. It was not easy to get close to the stem and trunk bases to cut and daub herbicide tot he stumps. We plugged away though, working in pairs, one cutting and daubing, the other pulling and piling branches.

 

There were times we’d laugh as in the process of cutting, we’d nudge a limb above and send down a pillow of snow covering our work. Just coming out of the holiday season when we often played Christmas music, I thought of that old Dean Martin song, “It’s a Marshmallow World.” At least I think that’s the name of it. That’s the main lyric and it perfectly describes the world in which we were now working.

 

While out there, we were joined by four people from the Michigan Nature Association who were out flagging future work areas. We laughed as we met up, realizing the beautiful, if not peculiar, conditions for two teams of four to be meeting out in a winter wilderness, so far from a road, so far from shovel and plow.

We took each other’s photographs and went back to work. We left at the end of the day and drove as quickly out of the snow as we drove into it. We have not been back to Butternut Creek since. We heard the report for another 10-12 inches of snow the next day. The work conditions would really be difficult at that point. We’ll leave those woods for skiers and snowshoers. There will be other days for fen stewards.. when the snow melts a bit.


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Join Us This Month!

October Prairie Seed Harvest – October 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th from 10AM-4PM

Every Saturday in October, we travel to different areas of Steuben and LaGrange counties to collect native prairie plant seeds.

Come, gather with Blue Heron Ministries friends for the opportunity to fellowship, visit unique natural communities, learn about native plants, and enjoy the autumn harvest. The whole family is welcome! Children often find this to be a fun experience.
We’ll meet at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (2955 W. Orland Rd) at 10AM and carpool to the site(s). We have all the tools and buckets, just bring your lunch.


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Join Us Later This Week!

September Prairie Seed Harvest – September 16th from 10AM-4PM

We’re going to head into the prairie a little earlier this year for the fall harvest. We’ll be after some species that we normally don’t have the opportunity to gather in October.

We’ll meet at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (2955 W. Orland Rd) at 10AM and carpool to the site(s). We have all the tools and buckets, just bring your lunch.


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Rainy days and Mondays never get us down! It’s seed time! – By Fred Wooley

Rain fell off and on all night and into the early Monday morning hours, accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. Driving into the Blue Heron Ministries office to gather by 8:00am, eight employees encountered skies ranging back and forth from dark to light to very dark, and intermittent rain. Distant thunder was continuous. All was quiet if not cozy in the small BHM office, lined with bookshelves, desks, counters, and dry-erase boards. We sat in a circular fashion, as is our morning tradition, on the variety of chairs, and discussed plans for the wet day ahead, offered thanksgiving, and prayed together.

It’s now the third week of summer and the first seeds of some plants are ripe and

Peter Bauson emptying chaff cleaned

prime for picking. Seed collecting was today’s major focus. In the event of unrelenting rain, we would clean seed already gathered the past couple of weeks and stored at the barn. Some of the crew would work on equipment, some on cleaning and organizing
herbicide containers, others would stay back to plan future projects and write for this newsletter.
Aaaaand… if and when the skies clear, we’re back out to gather more seeds, the target plants identified in today’s morning meeting. Most of the crew left the office for the
barn and quickly divided into the seed sorting and cleaning tasks. The barn is not big and packed fairly tightly with equipment, supplies, chemicals, plant potting materials, and other items that cover our business over the year. The loft above has no hay, but shelving and racks for drying, separating, and storing seed.
Seed collecting begins in very early summer and progresses through late fall. Volunteer collectors and BHM employees will cut and strip plant seeds from a number of sites

cleaned seed ready for storage

throughout the region that offer pure and local genotype species. Enough seed was collected and on racks by July 10, BHM employees today were able to shed rain coats, don dust masks, and screen and bag pure seed.
Many proclaimed how great a Ziploc bag looks filled with pure seed. You could say you hold in your hand the efforts of one or more people visiting some of the most beautiful natural areas in northeast Indiana, collecting, laying out to dry, and now screen-cleaning the seed. In that bag is the sunshine of 2017 that fueled the process of soil, water and this unique plant to grow, flower and fruit. Though just pure seed, in that bag are also that plant’s, roots, stems, flowers, and fruits of many early summer rains for many years to come.
Think about that. A rainy day and Monday will never get you down.


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Plug planting at Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site – by Fred Wooley

A recent project took us to the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site in Rome City. The Historic Site has acquired a neighboring farm. The agricultural field of about 70 acres is being restored to the natural landscape it once was. Still in its early stages, a short grass prairie is beginning to look like it’s been there for years, like it belongs…because it does!

Five scattered wetlands have been restored through a process of breaking drainage tiles and moving earth to create low dams.
Enter, Blue Heron Ministries. BHM worked with the Historic Site to develop a plan to re-vegetate the wetlands. The goal is to create a native wetland plant edge between the

plants in flats

open water of the wetlands and the adjacent prairie installation. In late June and early July, BHM made five trips with varying crew sizes to plant 2 x 2 inch plugs of native wetland species of sedges, rushes, and of course, forbs…nearly 30 species in all.
We procured over 4,000 wetland plant plugs from Heartland Restoration Services in Fort Wayne and another nearly 1,000 plugs were gifted by the Indiana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, left over from a project they had completed. Thank you TNC!
Over the course of five days, crews of four to six made the trip to Rome City and planted plugs. The wetland plants were first separated into three zones, one out in the

Brett Bloom drilling holes

standing water, one along the muddy edge, and one just a little higher above the mud flats. A gas-powered auger with a three inch bit facilitated the placing of plugs. In deeper water, the plants were cut in with long bladed planting knives.
While working, we encountered numerous side attractions which added to what could have been monotonous work of plugging plants. Leopard frogs were active along shorelines and bullfrogs were “baroooooming” out in open water. A harrier flew by giving its characteristic call note and that of a spotted sandpaper broke the silence and revealed its teetering poster across the water.
We’d occasionally chase a family of mallards around the ponds, not intentionally, but as we circled the wetlands with flats of plants, the ducklings and mama kept a safe distance going from side to side. The most unusual sight for me, a mammal checking out our freshly planted greenery, was an adult woodchuck! It allowed me to walk right up to it! A woodchuck in water might partly be like a fish out of water. It eventually had enough and exited the water and laid a soggy trail to some distant hole in the prairie.
Woodchuck checking out freshly  planted plugs
There were also Dave Fox and Tiffany Conrad sightings! Dave and Tiffany are site manager and site interpreter at GSP. They came by a couple of times to get photos, take measurements for laying strings to prevent geese encroachment, and mostly to share their excitement and that of their staff, volunteers, and public. We look forward to our return visits to monitor success of the project as the wetland sedges, bulrushes, grasses, and wildflowers establish, spread, and fill in the wetland edges. We think Gene Stratton Porter would have approved the restoration work and we think you will too. Consider taking a hike with your family!


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That’s A Thorny Subject! – By Nate Simons


And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

The first man heard these strong words from his Creator as a result of his rebellion. And the world has never been the same.
I am often reminded of this part of the Story when we work to restore vitality, diversity, and beauty to wild places in and around northeast Indiana. Basically, the work of ecological restoration is to undo, bit by bit, the curse. Or as Scot McKnight writes in Blue Parakeet, “A Jesus community undoes the distortions of the fall because it seeks to live out the fullness of the Story.” Much of the work of Blue Heron Ministries is removal of weeds (or plants we deem unfit because they do not belong) from areas in which we want to see desirable or native plants and plant communities thrive.
So thorns and thistles are considered “weeds” in the garden we call “home.”
Late June and early July thorns and thistles abound. It is time to control Canada

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Thistle. And we do. But it is also time to harvest berries. Black raspberries. Red raspberries. And gooseberries.
Black raspberry brambles have spread along the fencerow at the edge of our prairie. Red raspberry canes arch (and spread) over wire supports in our garden. We planted three gooseberry bushes in our garden twelve years ago after transplanting them time after time as we moved from home to home over the years…an original gift from a friend. It is a good year for berries. After a bad year for gooseberries last year, this has been a bumper crop year. But all three have something in common. Thorns! They grab and scratch and poke and don’t seem to let go. And yet, the work and the sweat do yield a wonderful prize. Black raspberries, red raspberries and gooseberries for fresh eating on summer fruit salads, warm crumble-topped pies, jars of sugary jam, and frozen for winter treats.
I enjoy the fruit of the scratchy, pokey, sweaty labor. I wonder if maybe the curse is lifting a bit. I wonder if sweet berries (yes, gooseberries are “sweet” if you wait to collect them when they are pink-to-maroon and ripe). I wonder if the death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the coming of his Kingdom on earth….such that we can see and taste some goodness in those thorns and thistles. And I look forward to the day when the curse is finally lifted for good. It might be a day when new and thornless varieties of my beloved fruit will abound. That will be a sweet day indeed!
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (Romans 8: 18-21)
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)