Monday, May 18, 2009

A Windows-Down Day

It wasn't a perfect day.

It wasn't a perfect day because I want to have someplace to go if something improves.  I can't find a thing I'd change about this day except to make it slightly longer.

I had a church assignment to speak in a tiny little congregation in Richland Center, Wisconsin.  25 people at our services, and their warmth and love for each other was almost palpable.  When I compare this to Saddleback Church (Inc.)...well, I can't, really.  Most churches are dot orgs.  Saddleback is a dot com. 'Nuf said.

Anyway, driving through southwestern Wisconsin is always a treat, and especially on windows-down-30 mph days when you don't pass tractors or hay wagons.  Hey, why hurry?  You just miss more cool stuff.  Windows down means you smell the sweet scent of barnyards (I think they smell good, your mileage may vary).  You miss the huge lilac bushes planted by farmers a century ago, which hit you in the face with their scent a few moments after passing them, a sort of olfactory whiplash that says "Hey, you missed me!"

The GPS is a treat tool for getting lost because you always know exactly where you are.  This means taking County Road Double O instead of Highway 14.  This means you see horse manure on the road, a sure sign you're in an Amish enclave.  This means you might see one or two other cars but mostly, you see people standing in fields, mending fences, who actually wave to you as you pass.

So we took backroads there and backroads home, but we detoured to Governor Dodge State Park to take a hike on our favorite trail, the White Pine Trail.  Huge old growth pines, not native to Southern Wisconsin were pushed here by a lobe of a glacier and they decided to stay.  Add to that the riot of wildflowers erupting these days and you're bound to have a great walk.

I had misplaced my little camera and my big camera was on loan, so I borrowed my son's little point-and-shoot and it takes decent pictures.  Here are some of the wildflowers we spotted, by no means a complete inventory of what we were privileged to see yesterday.


Wood anenomes (Anenome quinquefolia) are always lovely, but small and easy to overlook.  They look like a strawberry blossom, and can grow in huge patches, but today I just saw solitary flowers.

May Apples (Podophyllum peltatum) are from the same family as some of the more poisonous plants (it's also locally called Mandrake).  It's related to purple cohosh, which some indiginous folks used for female troubles.  Apparently some still do.  Nature's pharmacy, no?

I like Hepatica, but I always seem to miss their extremely ephemeral flowers. The good news is that like Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), the leaves are as interesting as the flower.  This is Hepatica acutiloba.  Lovely, subtle leaves, no?

Bellwort (Uvularia grandifloria).  Check out that perfoliate leaf.  I love that.  I have no idea what the adaptive quality of having a leaf surround a stem, or to have a stem grow through a leaf (to each his own), but it makes it easy to identify.

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) are blooming and we found a few solitary plants as well as a large patch.  According to my friend Megan, the north woods trillium are so thick it "looks like a Kleenex factory blew up."  Trenchant metaphor, sis.

Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) are also called "Cowslips."  I don't know the etymology of that.  Maybe cows like 'em.  They're in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)* so they're technically not marigolds at all.

I saw lots of other cool plants and even a really lovely bird (a Scarlet Tanager, which Eagle Eye spotted sitting on a rotten log).  Good catch, Ian.

It's amazing to live in a place of such beauty, such diversity, such richness.  Some of you know I grew up in Southern California, which is essentially a desert if it weren't for sprinklers and irrigation.  Sure, the flora and fauna of So Cal has its beauty...a whole hillside covered with California Golden Poppies is breathtaking.  But the variety, for the most part, isn't there.  Monocultures are unhealthy at best and ugly at worst.  So coming to Wisconsin 25 years ago was a spiritual thing for me.  Not only is there an embarrassment of riches in the diversity of the plant life, you multiply that diversity by a factor of four, as each season has its differences.  Spring ephemerals are just need to take time to look right now or else you miss it for another year.

The good news: there's always next year.

Respectfully submitted,


*I spelled Ranunculaceae without looking. I am justifiably proud of my official botany geek status. :-)

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