It’s the day before Christmas and my dad and I took advantage of some mutual free time to go for a short hike at Lodi Marsh State Natural Area. We were hoping to see some of the cooler winter birds… a Northern Shrike or a Rough-legged Hawk, but we came away with a small species list of more familiar birds:
1. White-breasted Nuthatch
2. Belted Kingfisher
3. American Crow
5. Blue Jay
Okay, so we don’t have as many kingfishers in the winter so that was cool, but we mostly ended up admiring the oaks and hickories and walking down to the springs. Seeing water flowing out of the hillside was my early Christmas present. It’s also the subject of the first video I took for this blog. The link is here. Enjoy!
For me, a good hike is a necessity, something only outranked in priority by eating, sleeping, and the like. I woke up on Wednesday morning itching to go out. This was after three days at work wishing I was on a trail somewhere, hearing chickadees and snaking between trees. I woke up feeling too responsible for that. No, if I were to get a nature fix, it would have to be low-key and local. Maybe some backyard birding.
By the time eleven o’clock rolled around, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I would have to put on my boots and head out in the car. The pine barrens were calling to me.
The Gotham Jack Pine Barrens is a small State Natural Area in southeast Richland County, sandwiched between the unincorporated town of Gotham and the Wisconsin River. After parking at the end of a dirt road, I took a couple ATV trails down to the shore. The wind greeted me with a smack in the face. I’d worked up some heat already but the wide river is like an open plain that gathers wind. The landscape by the river is amazing- open and sandy, with stunted plants- but I didn’t linger as long as I would have in the warmer months. I stayed long enough to watch a murder of crows hop islands lackadaisically, a bald eagle land in a tree on the opposite shore, and small patches of ice float down a river that reminded me it’s bigger, older, and holds more secrets than I will ever understand.
Once I got sick of the wind I got into exploration mode and headed back toward the shelter of the trees. As the name of the SNA implies, jack pines abound! I love them. Not as big and grand as red and white pines, but they have a tendency to live in the places I’m drawn to. Our common ground is love for sandy soil. It’s not a difficult hike, but the lack of trails brings out the kid in me. I took some of my route from a previous trip, but did not copy it perfectly. Novelty is the name of the game in the barrens.
Sometimes nature invites me to linger in a certain location. On Wednesday I stayed with a jack pine, examining its body. I held its needles in my hand and got to know the shape of its cones. I had seen these trees many times before but never stopped to examine their limbs up close. I don’t know how much time I spent with that particular tree, but it was distinctive and rather squat, and I think I will be able to recognize it on return trips.
I walked on, noting the changes in landscape as I went. Some spots were more open, others had less space between trees. Sometimes the sand poked through, other times there was too much ground cover to see it. The land undulated slightly, a testament to wind that shaped this sandy soil.
I was not eager to get back to my car. I took a meandering route and ended up near the shore again. It was only then that I reconnected with the access trails and made my way back. Nature had given me the hike I needed.