Friday, October 13, 2017

Another season has flown...with Lois Nestel

“Another season has flown,” wrote Lois Nestel, the Museum’s founding naturalist and director, more than three decades ago. “We watched its passage in the flight of warblers appearing from nowhere to feed and move like phantoms, ever southward. We saw it in the gathering of flocks of restless robins, in drifting parachutes of milkweed seeds and swirls of falling leaves. We heard it in the strident notes of crickets and in the droning of great slow bumblebees on the last frostbitten flowers. But most of all we saw it in the wedges of geese winging across the autumn sky. Summer rides their wings and with them it will vanish to return only when they come again to herald another year.”



Some things never change. This fall I watched those same flocks of birds, drifting seeds, and swirling leaves. I took a net to the cold-hobbled bumblebees and gathered specimens for use in our next exhibit. And, on one deep-blue evening, as a glorious pink sunset shot through the clouds, a pair of geese swung down out of the tentative stars. Their wild honking sent a chill down my neck, and I let the kayak paddle rest while they dipped lower and lower toward my bow. Powerful wings sent ripples scooting across the lake’s glassy surface, and then lifted the geese back up just long enough to reach the far, dark shore of the lake, where they vanished. As I turned to paddle home, a half-moon sent its own ripples across my path.

Lois continued, “It is difficult to explain the feeling of nostalgia, of longing, yearning, created by the sight and sound of flying geese. What sound turns eyes skyward more surely than the calling of wild geese? The eyes follow their passage and as the voices fade and forms become receding, wavering motes, we turn again to everyday affairs with an inward sigh of vague, unexplainable regret.

“Summer has gone, and we deplore its passing. But the transient, delicate beauty of flower and leaf is not lost forever; it is simply laid aside temporarily to be superseded by other beauties, different but equal. Falling leaves disclose the graceful structure of trunk and limb as lacy networks against the sky. Leaf-darkened woodlands are once again open and airy, and one can see deep within places that a short time ago were walls of green.


“Birds’ nests, once well hidden, now hang openly on naked branches, revealing by their architecture the nature of the builder. The nests of hornets and the cocoons of the great moths are also exposed to seeing eyes.

“With summer’s ending, nature has not closed her book but has merely turned the page, and the stories written on the fallen leaf and snow are as thrilling and delightful as those written on summer’s green page.”

Among the seasonal changes of field and forest, humans set about their own complementary autumnal routines. I don’t have a fireplace or woodstove, so I content myself with smelling other people’s morning fires on my way to work. Then at home in the evening I bundle up in a down vest and put a flannel bag full of rice, heated in the microwave, by my feet. Lois had a much nicer way to keep her toes warm.

She wrote, “The now familiar energy crisis has many connotations; most of them unpleasant, but for me there is one very positive aspect, based as much on sentimentality as on practicality. This is the swing back to wood as fuel and the accompanying sight and scent of woodsmoke.

“Especially on chill evenings there is something very comforting in the sight of smoke rising from neighboring chimneys and the fragrance of different kinds of wood mingling on the frosty air. This is nostalgia time, for one of the treasured memories of childhood is walking home from school in the winter twilight and seeing across the snow-covered fields the lamplight glowing softly from kitchen windows and smoke rising from chimneys—the first warm breath of home fires with their promise of warmth and security.

“It also meant, of course, wood boxes to fill before dark: one for the kitchen stove, another for the living room heater. For in those days, wood was not a supplementary fuel, but the only fuel. Now, again, woodpiles grow in back yards and the crack of the splitting axe rings through the air.

“Blue-white smoke rising from chimneys not only speaks of warmth and comfort within, but tells wind direction and strength and, to some degree, the atmospheric conditions. In years past this was my only barometer.

“For many, wood is not just a supplement to ease the burdensome expense of gas or oil. A few have gone all the way and reverted entirely to wood as fuel. Cooks are learning once again the satisfaction of soups and stews and bean pots simmered long and slow on a wood range and the comfortable sound of a teakettle singing on the back of a stove.

“There is a saying that wood warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. I think a third warmth could be added—the deep heart-warmth that glows like embers within and rises like smoke on a still day to gladden all surrounding souls.”

Happily, those who are lucky enough to have fireplaces kindly share the sight and smell of their woodsmoke with the rest of us.

Special Note: Emily’s book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/. Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!


Friday, October 6, 2017

Discovering Pin Lichens

I was standing at the information desk, in the foyer of Lakewoods Resort, when the lichenologist returned from the field. Matt Nelsen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, and he gave a talk on lichen biology during the recent Northwoods Foray of the North American Mycological Association.

This is what a lichenologist looks like ;-) Matt Nelsen. 

I’d missed his talk due to my coordinator duties, so I eavesdropped eagerly as he chatted with a colleague about a chunk of dead wood he was holding. He’d been out exploring the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area northwest of Drummond, where, in 1990, the U.S. Forest Service had found 190 species of lichens during a survey.

According to Matt, he’d just happened to notice a decorticated snag that looked like it would be prime habitat for pin lichens. He said this with a lopsided smile and self-depreciating chuckle. Yes, scientists are aware that many of the words they use could be replaced with plainer language. Decorticated simply means the bark, rind, or husk has been removed. In the dictionary, “decorticated peanuts” is given as the example. In Matt’s defense, texts on lichens use the word decorticated frequently and, in my opinion, big words can often add poetry, precision, and entertainment value to a sentence.

Anyway, Matt was right. The decorticated snag was covered in pin lichens. When he held out the specimen of fibrous wood he’d sliced off so that we could get a better look, all I could see was a little black stubble on the surface.

Existing right under our noses, but mostly beneath our notice, pin lichens form a black stubble on the exposed wood of bark-less trees. When viewed up close, they reveal a whole new world. Photo by Emily Stone.

That was enough to pique my curiosity, though, and I followed Matt downstairs to the voucher room, where scientists worked with microscopes, technical keys, and each other to identify the more than 600 types of fungi collected at the foray. Although lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga, they are classified by their fungus, and so their study traditionally falls under the jurisdiction of mycologists.

Scientists doing science at NAMA.

One of those mycologists had brought with them the most amazing dissecting microscope I’ve ever seen. This type of microscope is meant for viewing objects through relatively low magnification, as opposed to a compound microscope that uses higher power magnification to look at things like bacteria and cells. The paired eyepieces provide for three-dimensional viewing, and lights all around the microscope’s stage illuminate the subject perfectly.

On the way downstairs, Matt had rattled off a bunch of the pin lichen’s unique characteristics. Some species of pin lichens are used as “old-growth indicators,” because they are picky about their habitat being undisturbed. The thallus, or body of the lichen, is inconspicuously buried in the wood. Each of the pin lichen’s “pins” is a stalked apothecium—a type of reproductive structure. At the tip of each stalk is a capitulum—a round cluster of dark brown spores enclosed in a thin membrane. Unlike many fungi who actively expel their spores, the outer coating of a pin lichen’s capitulum simply dissolves, and the spores might cling to the fur or feathers of passing animals, or be dispersed by wind or rain. Underneath the capitulum is a ring of yellow-green crystals containing vulpinic acid, and whose purpose is unknown.

The Museum has a brand-new digital microscope (Thanks to a donation from Dr. Ed Vernier!) Our lighting isn't as good as the professionals used, but it is better by far than the macro lens on my digital camera! So, this is the best photo of a pin lichen I've been able to capture...yet.

After Matt placed the drab chunk of wood on the microscope’s stage, it took me a few minutes to adjust the eyepieces and focus. As a naturalist, most of my training has been in looking at the world from the “thousand foot view,” with the naked eye, or with a hand lens. This was a whole new world. Linear ravines and ridges ran the length of the pale, fibrous substrate. On those ridges grew a savanna-like spread of Dr. Seuss-like, stalked, apothecia “trees.” And decorating the lower canopy of each “tree” was a ring of luminous green crystals. I felt like I’d just discovered a forest with its foliage made of gemstones.

Up and down I focused, immersing myself in this fairyland. My eyes galloped over the ridges, alighted in the canopies, and shimmied up and down the slender-stalked apothecia. How does something as beautiful as this exist in our world with so little notice taken of it? Any lichenologists reading this are probably chuckling at my naivety since they learned about it long ago. A portion of the rest of you probably think I’m crazy, and maybe a few others are grabbing their boots, hand lens, and knife to go investigate the nearest decorticated tree. Looking for lichens in Wisconsin should be pretty easy—there are over 662 species recorded from across the state, and 255 of those are found right here in Bayfield County.



So, filled with wonder and my new knowledge, I wanted to see if I could discover pin lichens again, this time on my own, in their natural habitat. Remembering Matt’s words, I headed down the street in search of a decorticated tree. At the edge of the forest in the Museum’s natural play area stood an old, bare white pine that I’d never paid much heed. Nosing in, I found them right away. Tiny black pins covered at least three square feet of the snag’s sunny side.  

Each new natural neighbor I discover becomes a friend whom I can meet up with during a day in the woods.

A stop on your next journey of discovery!

 
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to.” 

– Mary Oliver, Hum.

Special Note: Emily’s book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/. Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Painted Ladies

I was having one of those driveway moments. A news story on NPR had caught my attention as I pulled into the Cable Community Farm, so I cut the engine and stared into space while listening to its conclusion. First my eyes were drawn to yellows and purples of the brightly blooming pollinator garden near the farmhouse. Then the movement really caught my eye.



A big bush of purple aster flowers was absolutely fluttering with activity. There was no quiet place to rest my gaze. Bees buzzed along of course, but the butterflies really stole the show.

Forgetting the news story, I hopped out of the car, grabbed my camera, and went to investigate. My first hope was that this was a cloud of Monarchs, since their plight has earned my sympathy and I’m cheering for them as underdogs. But although they shared the same orange and dark base colors as Monarchs, the pattern on these butterflies was distinct. Black-and-white upper corners highlighted orange wings with dark brown spots. These dozen or more afternoon visitors were Painted Ladies.



While Monarchs are lauded for their incredible migrations, they aren’t the only migratory butterflies; they are just the one with the most dependable schedule. Painted Ladies are incredible migrators, too, and travel from the southern U.S. and Mexico up to the northern U.S. and Canada. Some years we barely notice them, and some years they are wildly abundant.

Also called the Cosmopolitan, they are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Painted Ladies are the most widely distributed butterfly in the world. They migrate by the millions from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia up to mainland Europe, and bestow upon Britain and Ireland the same spectacle we’re witnessing now.

While the butterflies interrupted my NPR driveway moment, they’ve become news on their own. Newspapers in Colorado and Quebec have reported on giant flocks of migrating Painted Ladies in the past few weeks, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies sent out an e-newsletter encouraging people to report sightings on e-butterfly.org, a sister site to the more familiar eBird.org site developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Why is there such an influx of these beauties this year and this week?

First, there was a particularly large and early flight north last April and May. According to Iowa State University researchers on their Painted Lady Research Site, a strong El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean dumped rain on southern California last winter. The desert bloomed. Painted Lady caterpillars aren’t picky eaters, and so found plenty of host plants, and then proceeded to munch them down. When those caterpillars became adults, they needed to move on in order to find a new food source. Scientists have long noticed a connection between Painted Lady abundance and El Niño years.

Our mild spring weather then allowed for an early northward migration of a now-abundant flock. The pioneers headed across the U.S. and far north into Canada. Painted Ladies were spotted in Iowa as early as March 10, which is two months earlier than normal. With such an early arrival, the butterflies were able to have two generations instead of just one. Together, these factors resulted in a population boom.

Normally that abundance of butterflies wouldn’t be visible to us, because they typically migrate at an elevation several thousand feet in the air in order to take advantage of favorable wind currents. Using the wind, they can travel up to 100 miles a day, and reach speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour. Recently, a strong southern weather flow has brought the migrators down. It’s not efficient for a tiny butterfly to try and fly against the wind, so they are taking a break and refueling. That’s why we’ve seen such amazing numbers nectaring on flowers (and getting hit on the road) recently.

As soon as the winds change, though, the little beauties will take off. Wisconsin is too cold for either the chrysalis or adult to overwinter, so they must take refuge to the south and recolonize our gardens each summer.



Speaking of gardens, as I observed the swarms of butterflies, bees, wasps, flies, and other insects that crowded each goldenrod frond, sunflower face, and aster fringe, it was abundantly clear that what we plant matters to wildlife. This pollinator garden at the Cable Community Farm was thoughtfully laid out by Sarah Boles of Northern Native Plantscapes. She made sure to include flowers that would bloom early, late, and throughout the summer in order to provide a continuous source of nectar and other resources.

So the beautiful abundance that we’re witnessing this fall is due to many factors, not the least of which is the fact that at some caring humans make it a point to provide habitat for a species other than our own.

Now that’s what I call a driveway moment.



Find more ways to CONNECT with Natural Connections! 

Special Note: Emily’s book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/. Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Foray to Remember


Lois Nestel, the Cable Natural History Museum’s founding naturalist and director, loved mushrooms. She ate them, sculpted them, painted them, and taught the community about them. We still proudly display her work as part of our collections.
 
This past weekend, September 7-10, the Museum once again found ourselves immersed in mushrooms, and I think Lois would have loved it! The North American Mycological Association (NAMA) holds an annual foray every year in a different place. This year it came to Lakewoods Resort, east of Cable, WI, on Lake Namakagon. Last year it was held in Front Royal, VA, near Shenandoah National Park. Next year’s foray will take place near CraterLake, OR. Keep track at namyco.org.


Usually a local mycology club hosts the annual foray, but since the Cable Area doesn’t have a club, the Museum stood in. I coordinated the field trips (among a zillion other things) and recruited a swarm of volunteers to help with everything from driving vans to running the information desk. We all had a blast.


Ed Johnston ran the Museum Shop's table in the vendor area for at least one shift. We sold LOTS of mushroom books to forayers, and have additional books still in the store.
 
Thursday began slowly, with out-of-towners just beginning to arrive. One of the early birds, Jay Justice, a free-range, free-lance field mycologist from Arkansas, kindly agreed to give a short lecture and field walk for the public at the Museum on Thursday morning. Thirty-five people hung on every southern-accented word and gathered ‘round as we walked less than a block but still found plenty of mushrooms to look at.

 
In the afternoon, I led a field trip to Paine’s Island on Lake Namekagon. It’s privately held, but the owners are Museum members who are interested in mushrooms. In exchange for welcoming strange mycologists into their haven, they were able to join the foray. Our pontoon driver was also Museum member and amateur mycologist. Together, we scoured the forest for mushrooms.

 
Well, more like we started walking and then had trouble not squashing mushrooms wherever we stepped! One fallen log-a mossy old basswood trunk-was a mycological gold mine. The longer we looked, the more we found. The most visible fungi were artist’s conks-the firm shelf fungi with white undersides you can draw on. Looking closer we discovered a Lilliputian world of slime molds, jelly fungi, cup fungi, and more.

 

Glowing orange clusters of mushrooms drew us further into the forest. Shimmering lilac caps brought us to our knees. I stayed with a group moving slowly, distracted at every turn by new fungi.
 
Part of the group took off at a brisk pace, and circumnavigated the island. One of them came crashing out of the forest after an hour or so, glowing both from sweat and excitement. In her hand was a bouquet of tiny parrot waxy caps. The ¾ inch diameter caps were a glossy pea green, while the stems were melon orange. Her smile was jack-o-lantern bright. This was a “lifer” for her, a mushroom that had been on her bucket list for years.

 
Friday and Saturday brought more abundant fungi, as the foray jumped into full swing. Four field trips with two 15-passenger vans each rolled out of the parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. sharp. Other attendees could choose from any of three simultaneous lectures each hour. When the field trips returned home, their mushroom baskets were piled high with specimens tucked neatly into waxed paper bags, each with their own voucher slip containing information about where the fungus was found. The drop-off tables quickly became buried as the scientists and grad students worked to identify, sort, and organize the hundreds of fungal specimens.

This is the organized display tent.

Even the experts I talked to at the foray-mycologists who have been traveling the world for years--told me that they saw fungi in person here that they’d previously seen only in books. Even people just foraging for the pot had their day to shine. Many pounds of choice edibles like black trumpets, chanterelles, and chicken-of-the-woods went home with happy mycophagists.

Black trumpets and other edible mushrooms were not in short supply!
Our evenings were spent in the giant convention room, with 350 people eagerly awaiting the announcement of “finds of the day.” Drab, obscure fungi won most of the prizes. These fungi are rarely found because they are easy to overlook.

Britt Bunyard presents a "find of the day."
It seems as though almost no fungi was overlooked by this group, though. While the total number of species collected won’t be final until after Patrick Leacock, the foray’s lead mycologist (www.mycoguide.com), checks them over at the Field Museum in Chicago, the experts are guessing that we’ll get names on at least 550 species of fungi, collected over just a few days, in an area reaching from Madeline Island to Shell Lake. This breaks the previous record for the number of species collected at a NAMA Foray: 523.

The best sample of each species was carefully documented, photographed, and dehydrated, and will be housed in the herbarium at the Field Museum alongside 20 years’ worth of these vouchered specimens gathered at NAMA Forays.

The experts confer.
The NAMA Northwoods Foray was a resounding success. “The best ever!” according to some long-time NAMA members. You can see photos of the event by searching for #NorthwoodsForay17 on Facebook or Instagram.
 
That success was no accident, though. The lead organizer, FUNGI Magazine editor Britt Bunyard, chose Bayfield County because he knew the fungal diversity was incredible. We chose Lakewoods Resort because their incredible staff is accustomed to big events, and also because they are smack-dab in the middle the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and an incredible network of trails. The Museum chose to help because we knew that our volunteers would step up, keep things running smoothly, be thrilled to welcome people to our woods, and hungry to learn more about fungi. With this event, we fulfilled our mission by connecting 350 mycologists from around the world to Northwoods Nature!
 
I think Lois Nestel would be proud, don’t you?
Lois Nestel's granddaughter, Sandy, holds a mushroom they found together. Photo by Lois Nestel.
 

Special Note:Emily's book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/.  Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!
 
For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!
  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sharpies at Hawk Ridge

A blustery northwest wind cut right through two layers of wool as I stepped out of the car at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN. Binoculars, bird books, hot tea, and windbreakers in hand, my parents and I set up our watch with about fifty other birders and volunteers. Bright sunshine alternated with shadows cast by hurried gray clouds. Up on a wooden platform, several experts peered through spotting scopes, intently searching the sky. Their quarry: hawks.

Each fall, about 82,000 raptors pass over Hawk Ridge on their southern migration. Understandably reluctant to cross a large body of water, the birds funnel southwest along the shore of Lake Superior. The high, rocky outcrop of Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve makes a great viewing platform, and people from all over (like my parents from Iowa) come to watch the migration here.

Under some conditions, hawks will fly low over the ridge, zooming just above the heads of excited birders. Today, most of the raptors were tiny black specks in the distance, only visible by scanning the wild blue yonder with our binoculars.

Raptor biologists here have a special trick for getting close-up views of the hawks - bait. Using a technique a lot like fishing, researchers pull the string on a lure to make it look like an injured bird. When a raptor swoops down for an easy meal, it becomes tangled in one of a series of nets. Researchers carefully extricate it from the net, take a variety of measurements, and attach a numbered band to its leg. About three percent of birds banded here are recaptured. Based on the data collected from recapturing banded birds, sharp-shinned hawks migrating over Hawk Ridge generally head southeast to Illinois, and then southwest toward east Texas and Mexico, following the prevailing wind pattern.

Sometimes naturalists bring a recent captive down from the remote banding station so that folks on the overlook can get a better view. Moments after we arrived, two naturalists called everyone over to see a couple "sharpies" in hand. To prevent the hawks from hurting the humans or themselves, the naturalists held their wings, tail, and legs gently but firmly in the fist of one hand. The birds, both hatch-year females, looked quite calm.




Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks in North America, and have the biggest size difference between males and females. Females are up to one-third bigger than males, and this size difference means that they focus on different sizes of prey. Males tend to hunt smaller birds, such as sparrows, while females can concentrate on larger prey, like robins. This has two big advantages: males and females do not compete for the same food source, and chicks can get appropriately sized food as they grow.

During the first few weeks after hatching, the female sharp-shin broods the chicks while the male hunts and brings in small songbirds. He typically removes and eats the head before delivering the meal. As the chicks mature, the female joins in the hunting and brings larger prey for the hungry fledglings.

Sharp-shinned hawks are agile and acrobatic fliers, navigating dense woods at high speeds by using their long tail as a rudder. Short, rounded wings help them zip through tight spaces after small birds. During migration, they leave the dense forests of their northern nesting grounds and take to the open sky.

To help make the journey easier, these and other hawks will ride thermals, which are rising pockets of warmer air, formed by the uneven heating of the surface of the Earth. Thunderheads are visible thermals, where clouds of water droplets show just how high the warm air is climbing. When you see turkey vultures or other birds soaring in lazy circles without flapping, they are riding thermals.

For every mile a bird rises on this avian elevator, it can coast downwind seven miles without flapping. Still, sharp-shinned hawk' migration from the top of this continent to the bottom takes strength, endurance, and stored energy. In order to be ready for the journey, these small hawks grow furiously-going from egg to adult size in just over 7 weeks.

The Hawk Ridge naturalists spent a few minutes answering questions, and then asked for a volunteer to release the bird. In a flurry of feathers, the hawk left the visitor's hand. It swooped below the cliff for a moment, giving us a spectacular "birds-eye view." With a series of graceful circles, the sharpie gained altitude. Soon the little hawk was a mere speck in the sky, one of the many birds on an incredible journey, visible only through our scanning binoculars.

If you would like more information on the migration at Hawk Ridge, visit their website: www.hawkridge.org. You can also join Museum Naturalist, Haley Appleman on a Hawk Ridge field trip on September 27. Call 715-798-3890 or visit cablemuseum.org for the details and to register.

Special Note: Emily's book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/.  Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!

Friday, September 8, 2017

An Autumn Walk with Lois Nestel

As the fall winds begin to blow, I once again seek strength and renewal in the words and wisdom of Lois Nestel, the Museum's founding naturalist and director. She wrote:

"We come now to the season of restlessness and change, a time of extremes when the crisp frostiness of morning may mellow into voluptuous warmth under a benevolent sun. Fruitfulness gives way gradually to senility and decay, an erosion of life forces as the pace slows toward the time of rest.




"This is autumn, when the beauty of maturity becomes apparent in the flowing colors of the leaves, in seedpod, capsule, and cone; autumn, when late-blooming flowers become rare treasures and the spider's web, bejeweled with dew, a work of art.

"By day sudden swirls of birds announce the feeding of migrating flocks. By night the passage of countless others is proclaimed only by faint twitterings high in the darkened sky. Muted colors, muted sounds...a tuning down from summer's hectic pace.

"Days of crystal clarity, days hazy blue or fog-enshrouded, denote the season. Summer and winter are in never-ending altercation, but with summer weakening with the passing time. The brilliance of the stars seems greater and the harvest moon repeats the antique gold of autumn leaves. Chill nights quiet the cricket's song but arouse that of the ululating coyote. The tide of plant and insect life ebbs as that of the predator rises to full flood.




"Every creation in its own unique way senses the changing season and prepares accordingly. For many there is death, with only token forces remaining to carry on the generations. For some there is dormancy and rest; for some a changed but continuing activity, while others-from choice or necessity flee southward. Human response differs only in detail from that of other creatures: the instinctive urge for comfort, survival and continuity.

"Chill days and scudding clouds and instinct say, "Prepare, the time of hardship looms ahead." There is an awareness, an urgency that quickens with the shortened days. There is an upsurge of fresh energy to meet the challenge of the future, a determination that makes the heart sing, not a last requiem to the dying season, but a song of thankfulness and joy.

"Emerson, in his poem "Apology," wrote: "Think me not unkind and rude that I walk alone in grove and glen; I go to the god of the wood to fetch his word to men."

"While I may not go to the wood to fetch back words of wisdom, I do by choice traverse it alone on most occasions. There may be many reasons for my going. I may be searching for specific plants for photographic subjects or equally practical purposes, but most often (and most rewarding) I go for the soothing, healing peace the solitude of a quiet woodland brings to me.

"At this time of year the tranquility of nature seems most apparent. It is the deep-breathing pause between the hectic days of growth and fruition and the chilled dormancy of winter. Fallen leaves carpet the earth in hues that rival and outshine the crafts of the Orient. Mosses, at their greenest now, seem to glow with an inner radiance on rock and stump and fallen tree. The beauty of these lowly plants is equal to the fairest flower or mightiest tree. Mingling one with another, they clothe the raw earth and decaying wood in protective emerald garb.




"Beneath tall evergreens one can move in cat-footed silence over moss and needle-cushioned ground, seeing, hearing, and feeling the serenity of a natural world. Being alone in this way is not being lonely. Freed from the need for conversation and the distractions of everyday affairs, one can open the doors of the mind, airing out the pettiness, discord and annoyance.

"Truly there is great wisdom here if willing hearts and open minds can accept it: the endless patience of forest and earth to renew themselves despite the many violations wrought upon them by man; the lack of malice among wild creatures who prey upon one another only to sustain life but never in spite or rancor. And there is hope and faith, for even as the dying leaves color the earth, the trees and shrubs are putting forth new buds for the year to come. The seed, fallen to the ground, bears the germ of the plant yet to come, and the bulb beneath the earth bears within its heart next summer's flower.

"These things speak to me in my solitary walks. They speak in the still, small voice of the spirit and I am strengthened and renewed."

Special Note:Emily's book, Natural Connections: Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses is here! Order your copy at http://cablemuseum.org/natural-connections-book/.  Listen to the podcast at www.cablemusum.org!


For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: "Better Together--Celebrating a Natural Community" is now open!