landscapes: gwg #6

2013-05-26 17.00.342013-05-26 16.53.46 (1)

Scuppernong Springs Trail, Kettle Moraine South

When first posed with the idea of choosing a favorite landscape to write about I thought it’s just not possible – I love them all! I have fond memories and grand daydreams of nearly every ecosystem. I spent a lot of time in the desert over my honeymoon (just a year ago). I’ve traveled to and lived in Southwestern Colorado – in the high altitude of the mountains, the burnt out plateaus of Mesa Verde, and took many long trips through the Mars-like Utah wilderness. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Pacific Northwest, a place I once called home and am visiting in August after nearly a decade away. Touching wild anemones along the sound, coming across a ptarmigan in the high snow of Mt. Rainier, smelling the lush pine forests through the fog after the vast flatness of western Washington. It’s all so special to me, so vivid.

Then I read the prompts for current garden inspiration, both in practice and in thought. Besides my unrelenting fascination with succulents it seems my sights are set on something closer to home. I feel like this spring more than any other I’ve been keenly aware of the native wildflowers of Wisconsin, “weeds,” and the kettle moraine. This falls in line with the Pacific Northwest as it’s been drizzly, cool, and overcast for weeks. So rather than think back on my wide-eyed and camera-happy road trip through ghost towns or my job photographing alpine wildflowers over 14,000 feet I’d like to look at my current involvement in what many may find more boring, but perhaps I’ll help you take a closer look at what comes in naturally around you.

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As you may know we moved into a new place in October of last year. Some of the selling points were skylights (which allowed me great stargazing possibilities and a better opportunity to track the moons phases), a front balcony, and a big overgrown backyard with lots of potential. As I wrote about in a previous post I left what was growing and only dug into the raised bed and my planters for my fresh seedlings. I’d been awaiting surprises all spring. The results allowed for a fun, childlike wonder at all that was popping up each week. I worked hard to identify seedlings and soon flowers I had never noticed before. I spent time trying to identify native wildflowers and vegetation on the roadside, longing for hillsides of daisies and inspecting grass varietals. I awaited bursts from old bulbs and was seeking out further flourishing versions of what I had coming from walks past the fruitful front yards around the neighborhood.

For the first time I really have the space to plant flowers. I had been saving lots of exotic looking seed packs for this season, but with all the flash of a bold orange splash, black fist sized hollyhocks, or spikes rising 4ft and up I keep being drawn to the tiniest moments and the more naturalized beauty of the enduring wild perennials. I struggle with weeding, seeing the plants as deserving of being there, and all had ended up offering up beautiful flowers in exchange for the rent. The tiniest purple violets poking from under green leaves, the elegant ghost-like bleeding hearts, and a new favorite “weed” – variegated yellow archangel (and with such a lovely name). I even like dandelions, always have, and when most would pull them up at first sight I let them grow large with bold yellow pops in places where the clay soil was too hardened even for grass. They remind me of my youth, making bracelets and headbands at recess, and with edible greens it seems a shame to throw them out.

Also for the first time I have a yard that “requires” mowing and maintenance. To the dismay of my anal retentive retired veteran neighbor my quasi-hippie mentality of “let it grow, be free and natural man” seems to be pushing his buttons. The archangel is crossing his chain-link fence, the sage bush curling through his single wagon-wheel decoration, and the dark ground-creeping vines are pushing through his white quartz, which makes a foot wide moat between our yard/fence and his expansive concrete patio. He asked me to trim it all back. He only talks to me when he’s trying to teach me a lesson or something, which makes our relationship a bit more difficult. I did, to be neighborly and respectful and all, but it seems a shame to force out natural greenery, flowers, and edible herbs in exchange for a patch of rock that requires weekly sprays to keep it pristine.

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spring crocusI didn’t think I’d miss much about the compound, especially the yard, but there are a few things. The bike shed was cute and Lady loved to watch me garden from up there, but now having a full sized garage I’m ok with it. The bountiful raspberries between myself and the happiest neighbor dog Walter are no exchange for chain link and the grouchiest old dog I’ve ever seen (aren’t all bandana dogs friendly?!), but I recently found strawberries popping up between us. That and a few bursts of raspberry starts shooting out between bricks along the rarely visited south side of the house. The mulberry tree would have seemed like a blessing but it was terribly messy and brought nasty, invasive ants. Three trees in the new yard create a network of avenues for our squirrel family – Chester, Lucy, and Buster – to visit us outside our second and third story windows. The sparrow family living above our balcony, the single bachelor Robin, and the lovely noise of a local woodpecker… there’s a nice community of life surrounding this new space. I missed the mint over running the old front bed, crawling through the Virgin Mary and her little built-in shrine home. Soon enough I found it at the new home, reaching out between the thin green leaves of the lilies and the front door. The purple spring crocus, the almost neon green groundcover, the dilapidated picnic table cut in half for pot stands, and the ferns – oh the ferns – I miss it all. Before I could move my largest planters and recovered window frames the old landlord cleared out the entire patio. Above all I was bummed about the waste of loosing these things, of the money and time spent finding the planters, expensive planter dirt, and decorations I would be missing out on. Now all of it seems easy to let go of when I see what I’ve inherited with the new place. It’s opened me up to flowers I wouldn’t have seen or purchased otherwise and that’s a pretty good lesson. In the end what I miss about the old yard is an easy if not effortless replacement, of new possibilities.

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While I tend to spend most of my outdoor time in the yard or catching glimpses of others as I walk the surrounding blocks, we got to spend one afternoon of our anniversary weekend taking a day hike through the kettle moraine. I was hoping to spend Memorial Weekend in Door County at Penninsula State Park, a beautiful place with many wildflowers, clear water, and high views. We realized this was a bit futile as many other people would have the same idea that weekend, flooding the park and surrounding area with semi-local tourists. It also rained and was very cold all weekend so camping wasn’t the best idea after all. We’ll try again in the future. Instead we went south to the rolling hills of pine forests and glacial remains. It was lovely. It drizzled the whole time but that actually made it nice – keeping the family RV crowd out of the hiking trails, creating a serene gentle pitter patter soundtrack, and giving off that old Pacific Northwest feel. It smelled great, too.

We spotted tiny white shooting stars, a field of bright bluish purple lupine, yellow and red columbine, and plenty of wetland vegetation. We also came across a number of birds including a pair of wood ducks in a small valley pond on the most brief leg of our hikes. We went on three short trails – the nature trail behind the visitors center, the Scuppernong Springs (complete with a neat little bubbling natural spring), and a slightly longer one through the Scuppernong Forest. Each was a bit different with their own sounds, slightly different terrain and vegetation. The trees along the forest trail were almost exclusively huge pines that left a soft bed of needles to walk on. There were tons of long fern fronds on each side of us and the thickest moss I think I’ve ever come across. We only passed two other couples in almost 3 miles so it was nice and quiet, you could barely even hear the rain, but the Springs trail was very busy with groups of people nipping at our heels and jabbering louder than the birds. I did get the chance to come real close to a few woodpeckers and a chatty little finch along the way once we got away from the crowd. Overall it was a relaxing hike with enough hills for a workout and enough wildlife to keep me interested. I’d like to visit the area again some time but would definitely camp. So, what have you been up to?

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