The other week I made a field visit with my Ancilla College intern, Trace, who has been in the Earn to Learn program. The students have been helpful to our various ministries, in addition to simply being a pleasure to be around.
You might remember me talking about the north woods in a post last winter in which I stumbled upon an invincible mosquito.
We hopped in the UTV, rode north, then set off on foot along a ditch.
The visit to the north woods was a good chance to demonstrate how we “read the landscape.” What’s different this time? Is a tree down? New tracks in the snow? How is the corn yielding and why? What are those purple splotches on the ground? Each visit is an opportunity to solve one mystery and discover open several more.
As we continued, we came across some obvious wild turkey tracks. Marshall County (at least the western half) has great habitat for this versatile omnivore… a healthy mixture of fields, pastures, forests, and water. We rank among the top counties in the state for wild turkey harvests during hunting season.
The Indiana DNR says of the wild turkey:
Insects provide high energy food for fast-growing poult, but the backbone of turkey’s diet consists of wild fruits, acorns, green leaves, seeds, and domestic grains. Those of our eastern woodland feed on sumac, wild grapes, dogwood berries, beechnuts, acorns, greenbrier, roots and tubers. Water is taken freely and grit consumed to grind harder foods…
A combination of uncontrolled hunting and nearly absolute destruction of timber completely wiped out turkeys in Indiana and other Midwestern states. As late as 1945, it appeared that they might be a vanishing species in the United States. As marginal farmland returned to timber and conservation practices were applied to our plundered land, the state was set for turkey revival.
Well-regulated hunting has helped ensure that populations remain healthy and viable into the future.
We continued along the drainage to the main woods and zig-zagged around, looking for tracks, examining the trees, looking for anything out of place.
I was sure to take a moment and allow us both to just sit in the silence a bit. It’s what a woods is for, most of all.
This summer, we were visited by a university professor who was scoping out our land for a potential Bioblitz in 2019. A Bioblitz is “an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period (e.g., usually 24 hours). There is a public component to many BioBlitzes, with the goal of getting the public interested in biodiversity” (Wiki).
No promises yet… but we are hopeful this will work out. This prof was totally geeking out about the woods we had, as well as the wetlands, pastures, and prairie across our the breadth of the property. My mind started spinning about all the connections we could make with the public… and all the species lists I’d have! We have never really completed a full inventory of all the biota here… it would be an amazing experience.
As Trace and I headed back toward the heart of campus, we saw a trio of Sandhill Cranes pass overhead. That was a mated pair with a young who was raised on our property. We followed them to the pasture where they were foraging. They are in the center of the photo below… their dirty gray color makes for good camouflage.
I’ll close with one of my favorite poems, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry (collected in this volume with other poems). I recommend it be experienced as read by the author (click here), and given the proper space and attention to meditate on… but otherwise, here’s the text:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.