You’re probably wondering, “In what sorts of subversive activities have David and Sarah been engaged these last couple of weeks?” Well, I can’t spill those secrets here. What I can do is tell you how we filled some our hours.

The week before last, we left Madison a bit early on a Friday and went hiking at Brooklyn Wildlife Area. There must be some good reason why the Wildlife Area is named after the town of Brooklyn, rather than the town of Belleville, but I don’t see it. Belleville is right around the corner. The Town of Brooklyn is reasonably far away. It makes no sense. Sarah and I have even gone so far as to abbreviate the name to “Belleville.” If we talk about going hiking in Belleville, we’re certainly not about to lace up our boots and hit the mean streets of Belleville, the city, but rather the Brooklyn Wildlife Area.

Now that that’s clear, I can write about our most recent trip. For a change, the weather turned crisp and sunny that day. We were both itching to hit the trail and Dalla is always more than willing to go along. We hiked for a while over hill and dale and marshy trail. A new pump has been installed at the confluence of two trails so we sampled the water. I was pleasantly surprised that the water had little to no metallic taste. After drinking from the pump, we gathered some flowers and leaves. We were seeking inspiration from nature to help us decide what colors to paint on the outside of our house. On the way back to the trailhead, we stopped and ate apples from a tree growing near the trail. Dalla likes apples, so she got to sample one, too. By the time we were nearing the trailhead, the sun was sinking below the distant hills, so a wonderful light was cast over everything. It was a great end to a good hike.

If you’re interested, we took a few photos of our hike.

Thursday of last week, I accompanied Sarah to Effigy Mounds National Monument to help her with part of the field work for her Masters thesis. She is attempting to find out the pre-historical fire frequency for the park so that the park’s naturalists can use fire to help return the park’s vegetation to a pre-colonization state. To get this fire data, she pulls mud cores out of a pond at the park, radiocarbon dates the mud in the cores, counts the charcoal and pollen in the cores, and then calculates dates and fire frequency from those numbers. Her previous coring expedition in 2004 failed to get deep enough into the ground to get pre-historical mud; we were going back with more and better equipment to drill deeper into the earth.

Sarah needed to core Founder’s Pond, which is a good-sized pond located inside the Monument. Founder’s Pond can only be reached by two methods:

  1. Put canoes into the Yellow River and paddle downstream for a 1/2 mile or so. Portage the canoes across an isthmus roughly 50 yards wide and covered with stinging nettles that separates the two bodies of water.
  2. Drive an all-terrain vehicle down something that only vaguely fits the definition of “road.” Then, either scramble down a short but steep and slippery slope to reach the water or walk several hundred yards of gently sloping but nettle-infested woods to the pond.

We needed two canoes for the coring work itself, so we needed to use method one. However, we had several hundred pounds of gear and we didn’t want to portage all of that gear. So, six people took the two canoes down the stream and portaged them across the isthmus. The NPS naturalist working with Sarah drove an all-terrain vehicle down the so-called road. We met him at the bottom of the hill on the opposite side of the pond. We then shuttled all the gear down the slippery slope from the road and into the canoes before paddling out on to the ponds.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to work on a pond. The weather was in the upper sixties and lower seventies; there was a periodic gentle breeze; the sun was shining but not oppressive. We didn’t even see any mosquitos until the sun was nearly down and we were packing up to go home.

Sarah had a platform that we used to bridge the two canoes which created something like a pontoon boat. The platform was made out of wood which was clamped to each canoe’s gunwales. The platform also has a hole in its middle that allows the corer to be driven down between the two canoes. I was very skeptical of this arrangement as it seemed likely to cause both boats to swamp. However, the platform was extremely sturdy and stable. At one point, we had five adults on the platform (three men; two women), with four of us straining mightily against the corer in an effort to get it unstuck from a thick, uncooperative clay layer. Nobody had any worries that the platform was going to fail and dump us all in the drink; we were far more worried about how we were going to get that corer out of the clay layer in which it was stuck.

In the end, it was a long, but very productive day. Sarah got the corer something like 25 feet into the ground on this latest expedition. Her first trip only got a bit over six. Just looking at the cores coming out of the ground with the naked eye showed how much there was for her to discover. The ground changed colors and textures several times. As we got the later and deeper cores out of the ground, we started to see more and more shells in the cores. The last core was that tough clay layer which we penetrated only with hard work and the help of a post driver. It took the better part of a half-hour to then get the corer out of the clay layer and back to the surface.

We took some photos of the trip for those interested parties.

Over the weekend, we picked apples at a local pick-your-own apple farm. Between the two of us, we picked somewhere around 28 pounds of apples. I made an apple crisp last night. I’ll probably make another one tomorrow night. We’re eating apples after every meal and the piles don’t seem much smaller. The proverbial doctor will not be visiting our house any time soon. garden_produce We’ve also been struggling to give away some of the produce from our community garden plot. The hot pepper plants we planted absolutely loved the hot summer we had. I’ve given hot peppers away to everyone I know will take them and I still have more than I can eat. I even took them to a local dog park and tried to give them away there. As you can see in the picture to the left, I still have plenty of hot peppers. And, when I get rid of those that are pictured, at least twice as many will be ripe on the plants at our garden.

The drought we had over the course of the summer has slackened a bit in recent weeks. While we are now getting more rain, the temperatures have not relented much. Today, the temperature is 85°(!) with plenty of humidity to thicken the oppressive air. For someone like myself who prefers fall much more than summer, this extended summer weather is particularly galling.