Ripples 4/25/24

Ripples contributed from the archives by Nancy Nabak, communications coordinator

Our 50th anniversary archived Ripples comes from Dunesletter Number 20, June 1980.  “Animal Highways” written by Helen Dicke.

“Animal highways, bird hotels, plant museums, secret places, grocery stores, nature showcases. Yes, you can see all of these while hiking down a country road.

Perhaps when you are out in the country, you may notice the remnants of an old rail fence; posts driven in the ground just far enough apart to be connected by split rails. If you look closer, you may see in the surrounding bushes brown thrasher nests left over from the previous year. The posts themselves may hold a nest taken over by a mouse in which to raise its young. A food cache for the mouse might be seen inside another post, along with signs of moth larvae and cocoons. A rabbit may dart out of your path, using the fence as cover for its escape. Chipmunks might chatter their annoyance at being disturbed and disappear down small holes amidst the vegetation…! These are the charms of a vanishing American institution, the fencerow.

Ancient fences were either living – rows of trees and shrubs – or inanimate, rocks plowed up or stumps dug out of fields. These hedgerows, for so they were and are called in Europe, served as boundaries for landowners as well as wildlife. They insured privacy and gave the owner a sense of belonging. Hedgerows were also harvested by the people; blackberries and elderberries for jam, hazelnuts for baking, rose hips for cough syrup, and holly for decorations.

Wisconsin pioneers used whole logs, placed in an angled pattern, for their early fences since lumber was plentiful and field needed to be cleared. The post and rail fence, made famous by Abe Lincoln, followed. This type of fence could take up to thirty feet of tillable land out of a field because plenty of room was needed for both the zig-zagging fence and a turn- around for the horses and plow.

…There are still some good, “old-time” fencerows around. Just one can teach us many ecological lessons. We see the web of life along the fencerow. The plants attract plant-eaters such as rabbits, grasshoppers, and birds. These attract other animals, predators, which find them to be good food. Sparrow hawks, redtails, weasels, and fox all haunt the fencerow in search of a meal. Then other animals, including man, hunt them.

…and a meadowlark stops to sing his greeting from a rail. Some of his droppings in earlier years contained seeds of the many varieties of native plants now found along the rows. Bergamot, bottle gentian, asters are there, plus “planted” trees and shrubs. Some of the seeds came as berries- others as burrs (burdock) clinging to the fur of animals, or were winged (maple) and carried by the wind.

Hungarian partridges, song sparrows, indigo buntings will all be seen here in the season. Pheasants, too, use the fencerows for traveling fast and far. If a sandy spot appears, perhaps the rooster will preen and dust his feathers there.

Hotel? Highway? Home? Grocery store? Yes, you will find them all along a simple old-fashioned fencerow.”

Sketch accompanied original article, artist unknown.

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