Ripples 5/2/24

by Jim Knickelbine

We are drawn outside by good weather, and have been blessed with our share lately.  A recent walk on Willow Trail at Woodland Dunes was refreshing, even though birds at that moment were hard to find.  While searching for them one could not help but notice evidence of very hard work along the trail-brush pile after brush pile composed of the stems of hundreds, maybe thousands, of invasive shrubs, buckthorn and honeysuckle.  For many years I was aware of the infestation in that area, but was able to only remove or treat a few shrubs here and there.  They multiplied faster than I could remove them.  But now, led by Max, the preserve’s land manager, some real progress is evident.  His concern for the plant communities and the effort he puts into their care and restoration is a good example of what can be done to help wildlife in the best sense.

Helping nature is a concept that comes more and more to mind for me as time goes on.  I think of the early days of Woodland Dunes, much of which was logged and farmed.  But not completely destroyed- plant and animal components remained which can heal the land over time.  We continue to add obstacles to natural restoration, like importing invasive alien plants.  Do we need to plant invasive barberry in the borders around our house?  No, but somebody convinced us to do it, in order to profit.  If the cost of financial profit is ecological harm, that cost can permanently outweigh the temporary benefit, unless serious restoration efforts take place.

Its the same on my property.  Once a forest, home to Native people, it was logged, then farmed, then mined for gravel.  In the old pits waste construction fill was placed.  And still, some of the original plants hang on, providing food and homes for wildlife.  I live among perhaps more invasive plants than I’ve seen anywhere else, but there is always hope.  Restoration of land is good for wildlife, and critical for one’s soul.  After spending time last winter removing invasive shrubs (following Max’s example), I recently spent a day planting trees of a number of different species, all natives.  The day was warm and the wind calm, and birds sang all around.  As I quietly planted I discovered interesting things- a turkey nest, and remnant patches from the original plantlife- old oak and beech trees, marsh marigolds, skunk cabbage, choke cherries, elderberries, wild leeks- that I had not seen before.  Am I smart enough to help them survive and prosper?  I don’t know, but will try as best as I am able.  And as I looked at surviving trees planted in previous years, I felt myself being restored as well.

As I look out the window to a ragged old spruce tree I see a small parade of spring migrants- an oriole, palm warbler, white-crowned sparrow and realize that their presence here constitutes the profit for my work.  Their survival, or even temporary use of my land is sufficient pay.  I know I owe it to them.

 photos- newly found marsh marigolds and a wild turkey nest by Jim Knickelbine

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