Another Marsh Adventure
Larry and I set out to traverse another section of the marsh. As we were driving along, I got a good view of the snow laden prairie. It was fascinating to see the prairie in winter; I look forward to seeing it in the spring and height of summer with the vibrant colors and herp activity. We drove past the little pond tucked into the dunes and surrounded by a row of trees. We parked the truck in the informal parking area, and got out to start our adventure. The prairie dunes rolled into wooded area and the elevation dropped several feet into the flood plain. Before the drop were rows of corn planted as food for the wildlife, mainly deer and turkeys. Larry explained the land had to be farmed first before it can be restored to prairie, I believe it is because of weed species. We passed the corn and descended a few feet on to a small a stream like channel, walked across it, then through bulrushes and tall, very straight trees. We stepped out on a bigger channel.
This channel is a tributary of the Zumbro River. Immediately, Larry called my attention to the difference in elevation along the edge of the channel. Where it rises, the trees play a role in this elevation change because soil builds up along the roots. We followed along this channel for a ways.
We left the highway behind, followed a dirt road for a ways. Then left the truck and walked many yards, and yet looking out over the marsh, the rim of trees on the edge before the highway is still a long way off. It’s amazing how big, how vast the area is when you get off the road, out of the truck and walk. Wander around for an hour and forty minutes and barely cover a tiny section. It is incredible. You get down on to the marsh, wonder at the fact you are standing on water, if it wasn’t frozen you’d be up to your waist in muck.
Sometimes we walked along in silent companionship, no need for talking unless Larry was explaining something to me. The elevated area seemed a tangle mass of vegetation, some areas it was small rimmed by trees, other places it stretched far out. Larry pointed out a spot that had been farmed; I couldn’t believe someone would try to farm here.
Larry agreed, “It has lots of character.”
There were many deer, raccoon, and otter tracks, and a few weasel, mink and mice tracks. We came to a spot under a large tree that had recently been open water; the creatures seemed to have flocked to it given the plethora of prints.
We came to a more open spot on our right, to our left was wooded; here we saw evidence of beaver activity. Larry said, “Beavers logged this area heavily.” Several trees were chewed on. After a little while we came to a beaver lodge, Larry guessed it was probably a single one, since there wasn’t much food stockpiled.
We had veered off the main channel a little bit to view the beaver lodge. Then we went back on to the main channel, still following various animal tracks. We veered off the main channel again a little further down to check out a large muskrat lodge. It wasn’t far from here we saw some open water to the right of us. Shortly, we walked back to the main channel. Larry looked closely at some deer tracks, noticing blood in them. He shared the observation with me, explaining it could have cut itself on broken ice. We continued walking along the channel; soaking in the landscape.
After awhile Larry paused, grabbed his binoculars, and looked at a rough – legged hawk. I was amazed he had noticed it was in the tree before raising the binoculars. It was so far away it just looked like part of the tree. He handed the binoculars to me so I could take a look at the hawk. It was brown and white, speckled, Larry said, “it looks dirty.” It sat perfectly still, statue-like. At first I had no clue where I should be looking, I swept the trees in the distance, back and forth until finally I saw a blob in a tree. Slowly I made out that it was a hawk. It was incredible Larry knew it was there.
The channel weaved across the landscape. Larry talked about water level changing when it’s a dry or wet year. A couple years ago it was so dry the channel we were walking was merely a trickle, thick with vegetation. We went around a bend of sorts (more than one). There were lots of raccoon and deer activity. Before long, we left the big swath of the channel, going left (east) onto slightly higher ground with more trees. We walked over a fallen dead tree, it was beautiful. Every tree we passed, I wanted to hug or at least touch. We stepped over and on logs and branches. Our feet crunched the snow, legs rustled past bulrushes as we walked.
I walked in Larry’s footsteps most the time to avoid breaking my own trail, sometimes I felt like I was stumbling, exhausted. We walked around in this light wooded area for awhile heading east for a ways, then going north. A beautiful dead snag, riddled with holes stood alongside our trail.
We passed a spot were the trees seemed evenly spaced, the trunks were very straight. Pausing at this stand, we marveled at these trees, each of us touching those perfect trunks. Larry said seventy percent of this is ash, established in a dryer year. He worried about what will happen with the emerald ash borer. He speculated that it may have already arrived. There was sadness in his voice, perhaps even resignation that the borer would arrive and would destroy these beautiful and important trees. What would happen to this ecosystem without seventy percent of these trees? He hoped somehow this place would remain free of the destructive, invasive ash borer. I continued to marvel at these trees, touching each as I walked by.
We stepped up onto a dead log that was being engulfed by the earth, decaying and slowly being taken over by vegetation that will continue to break it down. Until Larry pointed it out, I hadn’t noticed it was a log.
We started getting into thicker, thornier stuff, which poked right through my glove. Larry marveled at how buckthorn could grow anywhere. We had to push aside brush and brambles, they clattered and scraped against my coat. We started to climb up a hill and came past a line of oaks onto the prairie. As we climbed up past the oaks, Larry said, “We left the floodplain.” Larry mentioned they should burn further down past the line of trees, the trees are starting to creep on to the prairie, creating a dark horizon, which confuses baby turtles. We walked along the edge, heading north back to the truck.
It was wonderful to walk the marsh with Larry, his valuable insights into what we were observing. It was a learning experience, I was learning to interpret what I was observing, yet retain my awe and wonder of this place. I was discovering firsthand the beauty of the marsh, the intricate inner workings and relationships that keep this ecosystem alive and vibrant.