Blue Heron Ministries

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


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2020 Summer Field Steward Internship

Blue Heron Ministries is looking to fill one field steward internship position for the Field Steward Internship 2020summer of 2020. We are a nonprofit Christian land conservation organization based out of Angola, Indiana. We work with other nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and private land owners in and around northeast Indiana and southwest Michigan. Our mission is to build communities where creation is kept and keep creation so that community may be restored. A description of this internship is as follows:

  • Intensive and arduous labor.
  • Term will be the beginning of June thru mid-August (flexible).
  • 35-40 hours a week.
  • $10/hr.
  • Invasive species control predominantly in wetlands in Steuben, LaGrange, and surrounding counties (Indiana and Michigan). Some travel and overnight stay will be required for distant projects.
  • Control of herbaceous invasive species (i.e. reed canary grass, cattails, purple loosestrife, etc.) will involve herbicide applications. Some upland and wetland brush control will be included.
  • Work conditions will be hot, wet, and poisonous (poison sumac, poison ivy, Massasaugas, etc.) but where else can you enjoy the presence of God while caring for His creation in such a tangible way?
  • Flexible to work with course requirements.
  • Able to assist with housing.
  • Intern must have a positive attitude, the willingness to learn and take direction, the ability to work independently and with a crew, and possess an attention to detail.
  • No experience necessary.
  • Intern will obtain an Indiana pesticide applicator’s license during the internship.
  • Interns will gain knowledge on a number of topics including but not limited to:
    • Plant identification and monitoring
    • The what, why, and how of ecological restoration
    • Land management practices within prairie and oak ecosystems
    • The lawful, ethical, and safe use of herbicides
    • Opportunities to network with other conservation organizations

Send resumes and cover letters to mailto:stuartbheron1@hotmail.com attn: Nate Simons, by February 28, 2020. Applicants will be called for interviews the following week.


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2019 Annual Report

With the close of calendar year 2019, Blue Heron Ministries completed its 18th year as a subsidiary ministry of the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes. Five highlights marked the year. For the first time we invited two summer interns to join us. Emily Schmidt stayed on to become a full-time field steward. Secondly, we paid cash for a lakefront property. Thirdly, we added space onto our garage…and paid cash for the work. We initiated our first “ask” for funds to acquire property since 2003 and raised over $51,000 from friends. And the stewardship staff became affectionately known as the “Blue Crew” within the conservation community.

Education
Together we explored, worked in, and taught the wonders of God’s creation within the community. Rustling Grass e-newsletter and Facebook presence continue to inform friends of our theology, our work, and upcoming volunteer events. Scheduled public events included:

  • John Brittenham presented “Cultivating Land Awareness and Stewardship with Students at a K-12 Montessori School” at The Stewardship Network’s annual conference.
  • 17th annual Prairie Planting Party (Brennan Woods Fen) in February instead of last December.
  • Program presentations for the Pleasant Lake Lions Club, Pleasant View Church of Christ, Branch County S&WCD, and Steuben Genealogical Society.
  • Public demonstration prescribed fire at Spangler Grove.
  • John led a workshop on butterfly identification and monitoring strategies.
  • Led Mrs. Clary’s 2nd grade class on a day hike to teach stewardship in area preserves.
  • Initiated and led a bi-monthly Conservation Workshop Series at Pokagon SP.
  • Led volunteer work day at Pigeon River Fish & Wildlife Area. Controlled brush in a decadent oak savanna.
  • Presented the homily for an outdoor wedding at Badger Barrens during the wild blue lupine bloom.
  • Led volunteer work day at Badger Barrens.
  • Led a canoe/kayak trip on the Pigeon River.
  • Led ecology field labs at Grace College.
  • Four (4) October volunteer Seed Collection Tours.
  • 15th annual Thanksgiving breakfast.
  • 18th annual Prairie Planting Party at Clear Lake Nature Preserve. 24 sowers!
Volunteers pull the weedy hairy vetch at Badger Barrens Sanctuary

Volunteers pull the weedy hairy vetch at Badger Barrens Sanctuary

Land Trust
Blue Heron Ministries owns 149 acres of sanctuaries and holds conservation easements on 1,153 acres of private property. In 2019 we:

  • Closed on the Center Lake property (109 acres) after a 6 ½ year delay. Due to a
  • Bicentennial Nature Trust grant and a bargain sale, we spent no money.
    Purchased another half-acre lot on Mirror Lake adjacent to Badger Barrens.
Pale vetchling peavine is doing well in the open oak woods of Mirror Lake

Pale vetchling peavine is doing well in the open oak woods of Mirror Lake

Natural Lands Restoration
The hands-on craft of ecological restoration is the visible and active expression of our faith that relationships between God, humanity, and the rest of creation can be restored and experience substantial healing even in an imperfect world. “Stewardship of creation” is our banner. Contractual work is how we primarily fund the ministry. Blue Heron Ministries actively stewards over 1,900 acres covering over 70 separate projects for private, non-profit, and local governmental landowners. 2019 highlights included:
Controlled woody and herbaceous invasive species and conducted prescribed fires (60 this year!) in rare and declining habitats: fens, sedge meadows, prairies, sand barrens, and oak savannas and woodlands within a geographical triangle from Steuben County to Lake County, IN and Newaygo County, MI.

  • Sowed 118.5 acres of prairie using locally-genetic seed.
  • Helped search for federally-endangered Mitchell’s Satyr Butterflies in a fen in LaGrange County. Found one!
  • Completed the final year of several, large multi-year contracts including: LaGrange
  • County Park’s Pine Knob Park Fen and Savanna Restoration, Michigan Audubon Society’s Shagbark Trails, and Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy’s Clear Lake Nature Preserve.
Shelby performs some internal ignition in a white oak woods at Ferrara Savanna

Shelby performs some internal ignition in a white oak woods at Ferrara Savanna

Conservation Design
We kept up on community and local conservation needs.

  • Consulted with an Elkhart County landowner to perform a wetlands assessment.

Financial
For fiscal year January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019 (see attached “Blue Heron Ministries Profit and Loss”), we had a net income of $10,260! Thanks, Dad, for this kind of blessing, too! Year-end account balances:

  • Unrestricted cash on hand (12/31/19): $58,583.30.
  • 12-month Certificate of Deposit (Enforcement Fund): $17,518.71.
  • Escrowed 3-month’s-worth of payroll for entire staff ($62,730.70) and 3-month’s-worth of operating expenses ($7,852.45) in case of future downtime.
  • Gave year-end bonuses to staff and increased field staff wages for 2020.

Guided by Board of Advisors (Tom Smith, Neal Lewis, Peg Zeis, and Beth Williams), organizational staff Nate Simons (exec. director) and Beth Williams (admin. assistant) along with a cohesive Blue Crew (Phil Bieberich, John Brittenham, Peter Bauson, Josh Hall, Gary Wappelhorst, and Shelby Holsinger) worked with a dedicated “family” of volunteers and part-time field crew members to fight fires, apply herbicide, gather seed, and plant prairie. Blue Heron Ministries exists as a unique opportunity for folks to apply the hand’s-on craft of ecological restoration to steward our Lord’s creation within the context of community.


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Observing God’s Beauty – by Fred Duschl

Psalm 100: 5: For God is sheer beauty,
all generous in love, loyal always and ever.
Translation by Eugene Petterson, in The Message.

“I hate snow and winter,” some people say to me.
I observe: each season is a window into God’s beauty.
“Oh, I cannot stand that wintry cold,” some of us
may be saying. Yet, I think, we are humans with great minds.
We can deal with changes in the weather.
I say: “Dress for the season.”

So I do. I get out my long johns. I unpack my lined jeans.
I find heavy socks. I put on my Mickey Mouse boots,
find a wool scarf and a wool hat, find my acrylic mittens,
and lastly, I snuggle into my heavy winter coat.
I am ready. Thank God for warm clothing.

My dogs and I face into the bracing cold weather.
We were taken aback with a three inch snowfall on November 12,
and besides that, hit with a 10 degree cold morning the day after.
Even with all of that, did you see the clear full moon?
It was beautiful.

Outside, I observed the beauty of the new fallen snow.
Did you see all those late clinging leaves
from the oaks and American beech,
now lying on top of the snow?
Leaves, black and brown, covering the white snowfall.
And over there, fire engine red leaves fallen from the Fire Bush,
placing red splotches of color onto the snow.
They are, you know, just calling attention to God’s beauty,
if we just observe.

Into the woods comes a hunter, dressed in his
camouflage suit and hat, carrying his chair and his bow.
He seats himself in a tree. After a while,
he observes racoons walking by,
just chattering,
calling out to each other.
And over there, running squirrels, filling their mouths
with acorns and hickory nuts, burying
them in dirt for a future meal.

The hunter waits for “his” buck deer,
but they are smart deer, keeping themselves at a good distance.
But the quiet slowly sinks into the hunter’s soul.
Contentedly, he prays and thanks God for sharing
beauty and love that the hunter finds in nature.

Meanwhile, I walk into the same woods.
I listen
to sounds of the forest, rustling leaves,
some now letting go from the mother tree,
slipping, floating gracefully to the snow below.

I hear
crows cawing as I come near.

I listen again
to the mournful cries of the red-tailed hawk
looking for a meal.

I recognize the
moving sound of a semi truck
in the distance traveling its way across the state route.

Thank you, God,
for the sounds of nature and of man.
The key to seeing God’s beauty around us
is observing, being attentive, and being aware
of what is around us.

So I thank God
for being able to pay attention, to observe,
to being mindful, and of seeing,

God’s gifts of nature surround us all.
Thanks be to God for His beauty, His Love, and His Faithfulness.
I bow my head in wonder and in awe.

November 24, 2019

Gracie

Nates’ granddaughter, Gracie, bundled up to create some artwork in Columbus, Ohio’s first snow of the season – by Natalie Shoemaker


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Prairie Planting Party 2019 – by Fred Wooley

Always a tradition, always fun, always a culmination of a year’s effort, Blue Heron Ministries’ employees and friends gathered for our annual prairie planting for 2019 on December 7. Each year a site is selected to hand plant a one-acre plot of new and, given the site’s location, restored prairie.

BHM December Prairie Planting 12_7_2019 Brennan Woods _ Evelyn. Naomi. John Brittenham _ by Fred Wooley

Evelyn, Naomi, and John Brittenham – by Fred Wooley

The work for the project begins during this year’s growing and fruiting season. Seeds of prairie grasses, sedges, and forbs are gathered in late summer and all fall. The bulk material is dried and stored in breathable bags. Throughout the wet and cold days of November and early December, those seeds are cleaned, separated from the chaff, leaves, and stems, weighed and carefully labeled and recorded.

The work at the planting site usually begins two growing seasons before planting with carefully applied herbicides and plant removal. A one-acre site is selected on one of the properties managed during the year by Blue Heron Ministries.

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Cheryl Taylor scattering seeds – by Fred Wooley

It then all comes together the first Saturday of December. The first Saturday of Advent, we gather to plant an acre of prairie, recognize the preparation of the Christmas season, and celebrate the coming of both a restored prairie and the birth of the Christ child.

This year 24 people, ranging in age from 3 to 83, participated. We gathered at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (BHM headquarters) and caravanned to Clear Lake and the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy-owned Clear Lake Nature Preserve. Approximately 12 acres of former old field within the 45-acre preserve is being converted to prairie by Blue Heron Ministries. Within the 12 acres, this year’s one-acre plot was staked out in quarter-acre blocks and ready for us.

It was a cool and cloudy day, but all bundled, we were ready. Two huge tubs of prairie seed were mixed with oats on site; the oat seeds serving as a “carrier” for the tiny prairie seeds. The contents of those two tubs were divided into four portions and four times, director Nate Simons scooped the mix into the buckets of 24 eager seed spreaders. We then four-times stretched out over a long line and walked from one side of each quarter-acre plot to the other dispersing our seeds.

It is a simple process. Now nature takes over. The winter rains and snows carry the seeds into a receptive earth and next spring germination occurs and a prairie begins.

BHM December Prairie Planting 12_7_2019 Brennan Woods _ 24 in a line! by Fred Wooley

 24 in a line! – by Fred Wooley

After the planting, participants reconvened at the home of CLTLC Director Bridget Harrison. We enjoyed refreshments and reviewed our day and gave thanks and praise during this beginning of the Advent season.

It is always a wonderful mix of people on these events. We have BHM fulltime and part time employees and family members. That is a tribute to any organization when an employee “gives up” a Saturday, a day off, to participate in a work related event. That speaks to both the dedication of employees and the notion our work is as much mission as it is paycheck. We have volunteers who find great satisfaction seeing their fruits, literally the “fruits” of their efforts, come full circle. And we have friends, supporters of BHM who support us from near and afar and while not always able to be on site for every event they find equal satisfaction of seeing and showing their support for and love of preservation and restoration in action.

24 seed sowers at Clear lake Preserve 12.7.19 by Don Luepke

24 seed sowers at Clear Lake Nature Preserve – by Don Luepke


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Greenhouse helpers needed!

*Update – Phil is requesting helpers at the greenhouse (8385 E 300 N Howe, IN 46746) this Friday, December 20th at 1PM.

If you have a green thumb or just want to learn more about the process of growing native wildflowers, we would love to have you join us in the greenhouse!

The fun begins in December when we will be sowing seeds that seem to grow best when left out in the elements over the winter. Then near the end of January/February we will be bagging seeds with damp sand for cold/moist stratification and placing them in a refrigerator until planting season arrives. We will begin planting seeds in the greenhouse at the end of March and young seedlings will be transplanted into larger pots starting in April. The final step of the process will be transplanting the new plants into landscape and nursery beds beginning in May.

If any of this sounds like a good way to spend time with friends or you have any questions contact Phillip Bieberich at philbieberich@gmail.com

Seed storage, dried and ready to be cleaned. BHM barn shelves. 10_29_2019 by Fred Wooley

A portion of the BHM 2019 seed harvest. photo by Fred Wooley


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Oak Openings – by Nate Simons

I love weddings! And I love bur oaks. In this installment of excerpts from James Fenimor Cooper’s Oak Openings, we get to peek into a wedding scene set in a bur oak grove. Remember the setting for the adventure was the Kalamazoo River and the oak openings of the present day Kalamazoo-Portage-Schoolcraft area in Kalamazoo County. The time is late summer, 1812. The only characters in this scene are the hero (professional bee-hunter Ben Boden, also called Le Bourdon); his soon-to-be bride, Margery; a missionary to the Potawatomi tribe (and any other tribes that would listen)named Parson Amen; and the missionary’s American military escort, the corporal. The story is very romantic and the description of the scenery is as well, but Cooper does paint a word picture of a Midwestern landscape that is long-forgotten, is almost lost today, yet might serve as a model for the wildlands of Lakes Country of the future.

Little ceremony is generally used in an American marriage. In a vast many cases no clergyman is employed at all; and where there is, most of the sects have no ring, no giving away, nor any of those observances which were practised in the churches of old. There existed no impediment, therefore; and after a decent interval spent in persuasions, Margery consented to plight her vows to the man of her heart before they left the spot. She would fain have had Dorothy present, for woman loves to lean on her own sex on such occasions, but submitted to the necessity of proceeding at once, as the bee-hunter and the missionary chose to term it.

A better altar could not have been selected in all that vast region. It was one of nature’s own erecting; and le Bourdon and his pretty bride placed themselves before it, with feelings suited to the solemnity of the occasion. The good missionary stood within the shade of a burr oak in the centre of those park-like Openings, every object looking fresh, and smiling, and beautiful. The sward was gieen, and short as that of a well-tended lawn; the flowers were, like the bride herself, soft, modest, and sweet; while charming rural vistas stretched through the trees, much as if art had been summoned in aid of the great mistress who had designed the landscape. When the parties knelt in prayer–which all present did, not excepting the worthy corporal–it was on the verdant ground, with first the branches of the trees, and then the deep, fathomless vault of heaven for a canopy. In this manner was the marriage benediction pronounced on the bee-hunter and Margery Waring, in the venerable Oak Openings. No gothic structure, with its fretted aisles and clustered columns, could have been one-half as appropriate for the union of such a couple’.

James Fenimore Cooper, Oak Openings pg 333

Kauffman Farms bur oak on the first of November by shelby holsinger

Kauffman Farms bur oak on the first of November – by Shelby Holsinger

The Kauffman Farms bur oak set against this year's first snow by Nate Simons

The Kauffman Farms bur oak set against this year’s first snow – by Nate Simons


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“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1, NLT)

It is Thanksgiving season, and yet giving thanks is to be a daily, even hourly predictable pattern in our lives. So this is a good time to remember our Father’s goodness and remember how folks who have been good to Blue Heron Ministries remind us of our Father’s goodness. I am reminded that when we are generous and show love, we look a whole lot like our Father. When we reflect the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are living into our true identity as sons and daughters of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And here we are vocationally conformed to the image of Christ.

So, thank you to:

  • Allison Klement, Terri Gorney, Hannah Olsen, Donna Rayl, Henry Kroondyk, Harve Hathaway, Mary Durand, Bridget Harrison and Dave Drogos, Marilyn Clevenger, Mike Clock, Janel Rogers, Fred Duschl, Rick and Martha Fansler, Aimee and Nate Simons, Melvin and Denille Conklin, Anita Dierkes, Lee and Pat Casebere, Steve Witte, Jim and Bette Thomson, Ken and Dee Wolf, Roger and Mary Hawks, Kate Sanders, Pam Morton, Peg Zeis, Jo Burkhardt, Fred Wooley, Cheryl Taylor for the Ralph E Taylor Conservation Fund held by the Steuben County Community Foundation, the Ropchan Foundation, and an anonymous donor from Clear Lake for your generous financial gifts to Blue Heron Ministries towards the acquisition of the addition to Badger Barrens…otherwise known as Headacres Farm.
  • Jim and Lynn Simons, Roger and Mary Hawks, Dee and Ken Wolf, Abby and Byron Getz who faithfully support Blue Heron Ministries with regular financial gifts.
  • Linda Austin, Greg Carlson, Barb and Gary Baus, and Lauri Rowe who, out-of-the-blue chose to give financially to the work of Blue Heron Ministries this year.
  • Phil Bieberich, John Brittenham, Josh Hall, Gary Wappelhorst, Fred Wooley, Shelby Holsinger, and Emily Schmidt who have chosen to labor full time with Blue Heron Ministries to bring about the restoration of the natural landscapes of Lakes Country.
  • Peter Bauson, former full time field steward with the Blue Crew, who has moved on to more and greater adventures.
  • Mike Holcomb, Tina Flanigan, Gene Huss, Dave Drogos, and Will Rocky who joined the Blue Crew as needed to help with prescribed fire.
  • Ariana Perez Diener, our intern who cheerfully labored with the Blue Crew this summer.
  • Beth Williams, our administrative assistant who brought new life to our Facebook page and Rustling Grass newsletter and even tried her hand at grant writing.
  • Tom Smith, Peg Zeis, Beth Williams, and Neal Lewis, Board of Advisers who gather occasionally to keep the mission and path of Blue Heron Ministries headed in the right direction.
  • Nathan Shoemaker, my son-in-law who is ready to answer my often stupid computer questions.
  • Kurt Stump, Peg’s neighbor who faithfully kept the trail at Badger Barrens cut.
  • Jim McCulloch, a neighbor of our office who faithfully kept our garage lawn cut.
  • Peg Zeis, Bette Thomson, Emily Brittenham, Kathy Brittenham, Don Luepke and Fred Wooley who met as our first ever committee members to brainstorm and plan future Blue Heron Ministries events.
  • Denille, Olivia, and Alexis Conklin, Mary Durand, Don Luepke, Kate Sanders, Atiyana Ward, Tori and Addison Mumaw, Lynn Simons, Jim and Bette Thomson, Deanna Vazquez, Beth, Marc, Jeremy, Sarah, and Rachel Williams, Peg Zeis, Heath and Luke Hurst and Maraiah Russell, Lorri Stump, Donna Rayl, Ken Holden, and Jeannine Walker, a hearty bunch of volunteer friends who served to steward our Lord’s creation by pulling weeds at Badger Barrens and collecting seed for our prairie planting projects.

Together you all brought a bit of heaven to earth this year. This is kingdom come here and now! while we wait for Jesus’ return to bring heaven and earth together in its completeness.


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Last of the Blooms – by Nate Simons

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Bottle gentian – by John Mowry

On a mission to locate it, John Mowry captured this photo of a single flower of the bottle gentian. Bottle gentian is one of the last prairie flowers to bloom. The second week of October, John found this plant showing off its autumnal beauty in a wet prairie near a tamarack tree in northeast Steuben County. Also called closed gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), this flower never opens. The flower is only pollinated by bumble bees that are strong enough to force the closed petals open. Completely disappearing inside, the bee gathers nectar, accidentally covers itself in pollen while turning around, forces open the petals, then exits to fly away to another.


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Oak Openings – by Nate Simons

On our way to South Haven to enjoy the beaches and waters of Lake Michigan one fine late August day, we stopped at the rest area on Interstate 94 near Kalamazoo. Near the parking lot, an historical marker with the words “Oak Openings” caught my attention. I read about the natural history of the region around Kalamazoo and the term coined by mid-nineteenth century author James Fenimor Cooper (think Last of the Mohicans) in his book by the same title.

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A weathered bur oak at the edge of a field at Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area

Oak openings as a landscape type were once found in our region. In fact, oak openings are described as the settlement place of choice in the History of Steuben County: 1885. Oak openings, as the name suggests, are open areas in an otherwise closed-canopy forest. The openings, historically were hundreds and thousands of acres in size. Bur oaks were the predominant tree of the openings and typically were scattered within the openings with the floor of the openings composed of prairie grasses and wildflowers. The oak openings existed on a landscape continuum between forest and prairie.

So I bought the book, Oak Openings, and finally finished it this month. In the tale Cooper writes of the adventures of a professional bee-hunter and his interactions with the Potawatomi tribe at the beginning of the War of 1812. The setting for the adventure was the Kalamazoo River and the oak openings of the present day Kalamazoo-Portage-Schoolcraft area in Kalamazoo County.

In this and the coming issues of Rustling Grass, I will share excerpts from Cooper’s book. Following is the description of the tale’s setting. Go back in time with me and imagine a wilderness that was the happy hunting grounds of a people who lived here before us and took care of the land a bit differently than we do.

The precise period of our legend was in the year 1812, and the season of the year the pleasant month of July, which had now drawn near to its close. The sun was already approaching the western limits of a wooded view, when the actors in its opening scene must appear on a stage that is worthy of a more particular description.

The region was, in one sense, wild, though it offered a picture that was not without some of the strongest and most pleasing features of civilization. The country was what is termed “rolling,” from some fancied resemblance to the surface of the ocean, when it is just undulating with a long “ground-swell.”

Although wooded, it was not, as the American forest is wont to grow, with tail straight trees towering toward the light, but with intervals between the low oaks that were scattered profusely over the view, and with much of that air of negligence that one is apt to see in grounds where art is made to assume the character of nature. The trees, with very few exceptions, were what is called the “burr-oak,” a small variety of a very extensive genus; and the spaces between them, always irregular, and often of singular beauty, have obtained the name of “openings”; the two terms combined giving their appellation to this particular species of native forest, under the name of “Oak Openings.”

These woods, so peculiar to certain districts of country, are not altogether without some variety, though possessing a general character of sameness. The trees were of very uniform size, being little taller than pear-trees, which they resemble a good deal in form; and having trunks that rarely attain two feet in diameter. The variety is produced by their distribution. In places they stand with a regularity resembling that of an orchard; then, again, they are more scattered and less formal, while wide breadths of the land are occasionally seen in which they stand in copses, with vacant spaces, that bear no small affinity to artificial lawns, being covered with verdure. The grasses are supposed to be owing to the fires lighted periodically by the Indians in order to clear their hunting-grounds.