Saturday, August 06, 2005
Field Trip Report
Went on my first major collecting trip this past week. The pictures are on Actual Film instead of being digital, so it'll be a while before I can post them. Meanwhile, a play-by-play:
Day 1 (August 2) - Kettle Moraine State Forest - North Unit
Left in the morning with what seemd like half the contents of our house in the truck. There is no light travel when camping! Drove to Kettle Moraine North, which is in eastern Wisconsin southeast of Lake Winnebago. I was expecting to be blown away by KM and the glacial landforms for which it's famous, but, well, I wasn't. I think I just wasn't visiting the right places, and forested glacial forms are hard to see. Nothing there packed the visual punch of, say, Camelback Kame in McHenry County, an improbable hill rising out of gently rolling grasslands like the Glastonbury Tor. Anyway, I collected some white pines near the forest HQ building, only to realize that most or all were planted, not natural, and I had to chuck them out. I found a lovely beech-maple woodland where I found many of my plants growing together, but as I hiked I had to keep my hands clamped over my ears to keep mosquitos from climbing into my brain. It was *so* hot and muggy, mid-90s, just awful, and I was wearing long pants and dying a thousand drippy, sticky deaths. Lesson learned, re: clothing in the forest: a layer of Deep Woods Off and a few scratches is far preferable to dying of heat. Just wear the damned shorts, and watch out for poison ivy. I stumbled across another of my plants when I stopped off to look at a kettle bog. I finally left KM, grateful for the a/c in the truck, stopped for some awesome gas station pizza (seriously!), and headed north.
Eastern Wisconsin - there's something about it I don't like much. It doesn't really look much different from northern Illinois, except more cows, but I found the patchy farm-and-forest landscape infuriating for some reason. Maybe I was just frustrated by my marginal successes at KM. I looked forward to the steel bridge over Green Bay but it was a disappointment. Green Bay has completely failed to take advantage of its waterfront; it looks like Gary. No wonder they're such rabid football fans; there's nothing else there to instill a sense of civic pride.
Wriggled my way up to Iron Mountain and then northwest to Iron River, not to be confused with Iron City, which is farther up. The highway wanders across the state line a few times. The country up there was much nicer, mostly wooded, dotted with small, depressed towns. It took me longer to get to Iron River and my campground than I anticipated, and when I got to the campground darkness was falling and I didn't have exact change for the self-service fee station. I drove around a long time, got change, and finally set up camp by the light of my lantern. It rained later, but I was cozy and dry in a virtually empty campground. I awakened at dawn to the sound of a loon, swam in crystal clear Golden Lake, broke camp and got on the road.
Day 2 (August 3) - Ottawa National Forest
Stopped first in the visitor's center, which has a very nice gift shop. I was very tempted by the hats and t-shirts and cute little stuffed porcupines, then realized I was just stalling and made myself leave. A display at the visitor's center described how the forests were clearcut in the early 1900s, which sent me into a panicky crisis - were the trees I was sampling all *planted*?? I called my contact at Ottawa and she confirmed that the hardwoods are natural but the pines may be planted or descended from plantations. The pine question, I have to look into some more. Sampling at the edges of the old-growth wilderness areas may be an option, but sampling *in* those areas is out of the question, even for a privileged science type like me. And a note: there are no white oaks here, and no record of starry false Solomon's seal in the past several decades. I wanted to find it and be famous, but no dice.
I spent much time driving aimlessly and getting more and more frustrated, debated just going home, fought off the urge to pull over and cry, etc. It was not a good day, although at least it was cooler. I finally found some of my plants in various places, including a terrible little gravel road sprinkled with what appeared to be chunks of pointy basalt. I was grateful for the truck's 4WD on this road, which kept trying to shake me off into the ditch. Listening fearfully for the sound of popping tires, I drove into the forest and collected oaks and maples and such, and took what I hope is an interesting photo of a pine plantation. Plantations are interspersed with the hardwoods throughout all of these national forests, and the abrupt change in forest character is startling. However, I'm happy to see that the resources are being managed so carefully. I can't imagine what it must have looked like when pretty much the whole U.P. was clearcut. It must have looked like the moon. Did the loggers experience any remorse, or was it all about taking everything the land offers and then moving on?
So, Ottawa's collection was disappointing. Next time - get a better map that delineates which parcels are forest and which are private. It was very fragmented and difficult to tell. At one point, I was cruising down the road and gazing at oak trees, wondering if they were on forest land, when a yellow sign caught my eye. I pulled over to read it; it said this is a national forest survey marker, and everything behind this sign is national forest. Can't get much clearer than that!
Left Ottawa, headed east toward Marquette, an actual city! Stopped at a Beef-a-Roo in Negaunee. This was the Beef-a-Roo that time forgot, though, with 1970s menuboards and fries that were very much like canned shoestring potatoes. Was creeped out by the people in the parking lot - carloads and vanloads of teenagers and adults, just...hanging out. I guess this is what you do when you live in Negaunee. An old guy who had been sitting in a van parked bumper-to-bumper with me started up just as I was pulling out, and I thought he was going to follow me. Good luck, I thought, gearing up for the chase. I'd become one with the truck over the last couple of days and there was no outdriving us. But he went a different way. Sigh.
The road followed Lake Superior for a while, and I stopped more than once to look at it. There are lots of roadside parks and rest areas on these roads that edge the lakes, probably so people don't feel compelled to stare at the lake instead of traffic. Lake Superior is gorgeous but since I do live a short way from another lake that extends to the horizon, it was less overwhelming than it could have been. Plus, was hazy and overcast. I stopped in at a welcome center where two bored employees engaged me in conversation and threw maps and guidebooks at me and told me about the eagles nesting nearby. Finally got to the Bay Furnace campground at Christmas, where every shop is Santa's this and Santa's that. Campground was very busy and there were lots of shrieking children. Lovely.
Day 3 (August 4) - Hiawatha National Forest, West Unit
Next morning, went to see the actual Bay furnace, and drove to Munising, the gateway town for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Briefly visited Munising Falls, and saw some of my plants there and was sad that I couldn't take them. Grumbled at the overcast weather, which eventually turned into driving rain. Nothing like driving in unfamiliar territory, somewhat lost, and being blinded by rain. Looked for an AM radio station for a weather report. The radio scan went all the way around and found not a thing.
Drove south on Forest Highway 13, which bisects the forest, and took occasional side roads to see where they led. Found a *gorgeous* place for pines and oaks off what may have been a dirt logging road. Picked wild blueberries and ate them, more because it's so charming to pick wild blueberries than because I like them. Pondered the policy that encourages people to go blueberry picking but freaks out when I want a few tree twigs to further my education. Had lunch at Island Lake campground, where tiny fish lined up in the shallow water when I approached, waiting for handouts. I obliged with crackers, and they churned the water like vegetarian barracuda.
Saving... more in the next post.