Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Need to thank vets driven home

Veteran of the Year Bill Goralski
By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com 

Normally I write this column about nature topics. Today, the closest I'll come to that is human nature.

I want to tell you about an experience last weekend. How I experienced it was shaped by growing up while my country was involved in an unjustifiable and wasteful war, and growing up with a father who was happiest when his head was under the hood of a car.

Later in life, my dad bought the car he wanted as a young man. This is a special vehicle, even among collectable cars. It's a 1958 Ford Skyliner, known more popularly as a "retractable."

The car has a solid hardtop that -- thanks to the best engineering of the mid 1950s -- retracts into the trunk. With the passing of my dad almost a year and a half ago, the car has been in my care.

But this story is not about cars, it's about veterans.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weather is key to popular locks paddle

Paddlers pack into Appleton lock #4 on their way to
Sunset Point Park in Kimberly. David Horst photo
By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

iving history,  unseasonable warmth and the promise of eagles — all trimmed in fall color — made for a perfect combination to draw a crowd to the last Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle of the season.

We had 194 paddlers take to their kayaks, canoes and stand-up boards to tour the four Appleton locks Saturday, Sept. 27. We launched from Appleton’s Lutz Park and landed just over two hours later 6.5 miles downstream at Kimberly’s Sunset Point Park.

Along the way, four lockages courtesy of the Fox River Navigational System Authority required sardine-like proximity for the 130 paddle craft, two 10-person voyageur canoes and safety patrol boats from the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department and Appleton Fire Department.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mistreating wildlife for grins:
Who thinks like that?

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

Driving west on State 96 short of Medina recently, I saw an impressive turtle sitting just across the centerline.

Whooping crane training at the White River Marsh, Princeton.
Based on its size and the height of its rounded shell, I’d guess it was a Blanding’s, a threatened species in Wisconsin.

I watched in the rearview mirror as a pickup truck bore down on it and then edged over to avoid the turtle. Once I shed the traffic around me, I turned around and went back to do the Boy Scout routine and help the turtle across the highway.

When I got to the spot, the turtle was gone, apparently already helped to the shoulder by someone else. Faith in humanity restored.

My opinion of some of my fellow Wisconsinites had been flagging after reading about two instances of interaction with wildlife.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Park-to-Park portage
just a bump in the trail

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

See more photos
A helping attitude and a small strip of carpeting made all the difference.

July 4th weekend — two weeks before the Park-to-Park Paddle, the state’s largest day paddle event that has drawn as many as 350 kayaks and canoes — we read that a gate on the Menasha Lock was broken, then fixed, then broken again.

The Park-to-Park takes those hundreds of paddlers through the Menasha Lock. In fact, the iconic image of the P2P is hundreds of colorful boats packed into the lock.

Do we shift the launch to below the lock, or do we portage around the lock? As one of the organizers of the event, I initially favored sacrificing the length of the paddle to avoid what I expected to be the pandemonium of 200-plus paddlers trying to scale the rocky shores on the Menasha Lock basin.

But a few factors changed my mind.

Monday, July 7, 2014

History revealed in what the saw sees

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

The great thing about history is it doesn't just live in books. Sometimes, history is just hanging there on the wall.

Setting out from Newport Park.
See more photos.
In the best of the essays in his must-have classic work "A Sand County Almanac," pioneer environmentalist Aldo Leopold tells the story of he and wife Estella sawing through a large, old oak tree. He uses that event to frame the natural history that was happening as the tree was putting on the growth rings they are transecting with the two-man crosscut saw.

As we paddled down the Wisconsin River on June 21 as part of the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle series, I was describing the essay to fellow paddler Daren Barrett in more detail than you would expect to be tolerated by someone who easily could accelerate away from me. Barrett was unfamiliar with Leopold and how his environmental legacy was tied so closely to Wisconsin history, but was genuinely inquisitive about it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Downed trees slow progress

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

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We were facing one of our bigger challenges when we launched 36 boats one by one into the pool below the Germania Dam on the Mecan River north of Princeton.

The Mecan (pronounced MI-can) is a narrow trout stream through the wooded central Wisconsin countryside. It makes for beautiful scenery. But the erosion force of the river current, plus time, equals downed trees across the channel. In our case, that was true in quite a few places.

I was the first to arrive and had some time to commune with the Germania Marsh. The expansive 2,500-acre wetland is held in place by the simple, 55-year-old steel and concrete dam. An osprey joined me, hovering on fluttering wings, looking for breakfast.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Year's first paddles, in a word, pleasant

Paddling the Kickapoo required that we be attentive for fallen trees.
See more photos.

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

WYALUSING -- Thinking about the first weekend of paddling for this year’s Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle series, I keep coming back to a word … pleasant.

The people, the paddling, the pace. The scenery, the socializing. The weather and the music — all pleasant.

The people numbered more than 30 kayakers and canoeists. Most were from the Fox Valley, but a few from the Milwaukee area.

The paddling Saturday, May 17, included the last stretch of the Wisconsin River and a short piece of the Mississippi — Bridgeport to Wyalusing — for a total of eight miles. Thanks to high water, the pace was 3 mph when we weren’t paddling, twice that when we helped.

The scenery was towering bluffs, overflowing banks, lots of turkey vultures and bald eagles — seven of them. On one island in a channel of the Wisconsin, we watched two mature eagles and one immature flit half-hidden from one perch to another.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Watching the morning? Count me in

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

TOWN OF HORTONIA — The annual International Crane Foundation Midwest Crane Count is a special morning for me, one I’ve shared with others only a couple of times.

Sandhill cranes are easily recognized by
their grey color and red caps.
This year’s count was April 12. With me — next to the abandoned house and weather-worn barn where I’ve done my counts for more than a dozen years — were Dr. Kevin and Candice Mortara and Kim Krzycki of Appleton and Jim O’Rourke of Green Bay. They are all people I’ve met through the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddles.
I have to say that standing outside for two hours early on a spring morning is not everybody’s cup of cold tea. To participate in the crane count, you must be at your assigned site by 5:30 a.m. and stay until 7:30 a.m. More than 2,000 volunteer counters at sites across six states are sharing your discomfort.
I like it because it is the one day of the year that I force myself to sit quietly and watch the morning come.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We're not out of the woods yet

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

A beautiful moonset makes giving up the woods a little easier.
David Horst photo
I was beginning to wonder if we had taken a serious hit in nature sightings.

We had moved our hobby farm from a rolling oak-hickory woods to 18 acres of hayfield. We weren’t seeing the deer under the bird feeders. We weren’t being treated to the daily parade of turkeys through the backyard.

I was starting to miss the woods in a big way.

Then came spring.

While it has not been reflected on the thermometer, spring is here officially and, apparently, in the hearts and instincts of our wildlife.

The weekend before the March 20 change of seasons, we first heard and the spotted — high up in the sky — the return of the sandhill cranes.

Cranes carry considerable importance for us. We have called our place Sandhill Llama Farm since we fenced in a pasture in the Town of Hortonia 19 years ago.

The name paid tribute to the sandhill cranes feeding in the field across the road, the sandy hill on which we built our house and my fondness for Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac.” Our new soil is clay, so our very name was riding on the presence of the big birds.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snowshoeing just requires that you put one foot in front of the other

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

Blame it on weather or maturity, but we hadn't explored the terrain surrounding our new Sandhill Llama Farm in the way we typically have other places where we've dropped roots in the past.

Abbie, Mat and Suzie embrace the cold
For one thing, we can see all of the 18 acres from the house. We know where to watch the deer pop through the fence line or the turkeys march along the edge of the hay field.

Motivated by recaptured youth, we patrolled the perimeter on show shoes in December's single-digit temperatures. The youth came in the form of two 20-something nephews who spent the Christmas holiday with us.

Abbie, Mat and Mat's girlfriend, Suzie, live in D.C. but embraced the snow and cold with childish enthusiasm -- well, at least the snow.

We equipped everyone with the smaller, modified version of bear paw snowshoes popular today. Vinyl stretched over tubular metal replaces the traditional ash frames strung with rawhide strips. They are lighter and more maneuverable.

In our yards, mow is less

By David Horst  sandhill7@gmail.com

OSHKOSH — How did tradition, professional consensus and neighborhood peer pressure arrive at the unsustainable conclusion that we should surround our homes with a monoculture of cool season grasses?

Lawn. It covers 92 percent of our suburbs. We keep it alive in this unnatural environment by soaking it with purified water and burning fossils fuels to cut back the growth we have stimulated.

Prof. Doug Tallamy, who chairs the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, suggested a standard for evaluating our yards a bit more thoughtful than making everything the same. How about we choose plants based on how many species of caterpillars they support?