Ah — the Wild Things Again

I wrote a posting, maybe a year ago, about the presence of wild things in our urban neighborhood — a deer in the yard next door, turkey vultures roosting in the big spruce tree in our neighbor’s back yard on their way north in the spring, a fox making the circuit in our back yard one morning at breakfast time.  Our neighborhood blog includes sightings of coyotes, opossums, and raccoons by others in the area.  There is something life giving about having wild creatures right here in our daily lives. Such sightings are often moments of gentle excitement and pleasure for us (apart from the opossum, which is not a thing of beauty by any stretch of the imagination).

Well, here is another kind of wild thing.

Corydalis ochroleuca

This little beauty planted itself in the depths of one of our window wells — a spot with very little exposed soil and little or no direct sunlight.  I noticed the flower and photographed it through a window in our basement (that’s the window sill on the bottom of the picture),

There is something very cheerful about this wayward plant.  We have some Corydalis planted by design in our backyard garden, but this little lady wanted to pick her own site, overcoming hardships of marginal soil and light to take root at the bottom of a window well.  A sign of an adventurous spirit and escape from the planned boundaries of the garden.  I felt a surge of “gentle excitement and pleasure” upon discovering it, and I have been daily finding enjoyment in its presence since.  A small example of the beauty that we can find in our everyday lives.  .

On the Road Again

I have been traveling U.S. Highway 12 between Baraboo and Madison, Wisconsin, my whole life — literally.  I was born at University Hospitals in Madison and had my first ride home to Baraboo when I was 2 weeks old.  As a child, we came to Madison in my earliest years to appointments with the pediatrician, the eye clinic, and the orthodontist.  Every year, before school started in the fall, we came to shop for new school clothes in the many stores around the Capitol Square. Once in a while we drove to Madison to attend concerts.  (I remember on one occasion, probably when I was 8 or 10 years old, my sister and I came with our parents to hear the world-renowned pianist Artur Rubinstein perform in the Memorial Union Theater. Eleanor and I “split” one ticket —  she attended the first half of the program and I attended after the intermission.   At the time, I worried some about whether or not we were “breaking the law”!)

And so I came to know the 42 miles between Baraboo and Madison well — the contours of the land, the small towns, the farms, the rivers, the bridges, the special points of interest.  Now, in my adult years, I realize that this highway offers much more than a way to get from Baraboo to Madison. The highway is, in fact, a living historical record of places, events and changes that have been an integral part of the region and of my life across these years. The countryside along U.S. Highway 12 offers at least four layers of historical significance to me:

  • Deep geological time including some of the earth’s oldest exposed rock formations, known to and studied by geologists from around the globe;
  • Native American history including the tensions that came with European settlers;
  • The conversion during World War II of some of the most fertile, privately owned farmland in the state into the U.S.Badger Army Ammunition Works during WWII.  At the time, this plant was one of the largest in the country, with operations that continued during the Korean War and, even to some extent, the Vietnam War; and
  • My own personal memories of places and events associated with Highway 12.

I will describe the first of these — geological time — in this posting.  The other three will come in the next blog.

DEEP GEOLOGICAL TIME

How can I capture the essence of the Baraboo Hills in a few paragraphs?  The Hills comprise about 200 square miles of land, with north, south, east and west ranges forming a sort of oval or elliptical shape. The range is clearly visible in satellite imagery. The town of Baraboo is located within the valley that lies between the high ranges.

The Baraboo range has been referred to as a geologist’s “mecca”, one of the world’s “remaining outstanding ecosystems,” and the “remnant of an ancient quartzite mountain range.”  Ancient — as in really, really old.  U.S.Highway 12 makes its way south through the Baraboo Hills as it heads from Baraboo to Madison.

One of the first obvious signs of the Hills is a rather sharp curve in the highway, just four miles south of Baraboo, a curve that cuts through an enormous stone outcropping of quartzite called “Point of Rocks.”  This prominent outcropping of quartzite is very important to geologists because it has the best exposure known of sedimentary features — features that help tell the tale of the earth’s development over an estimated 2,800 million years.  The Baraboo rocks date from an estimated 1,650 million years ago.  The many features of the outcropping were studied by a University of Wisconsin geology professor in the late 19th century and were used to describe the various phases and layers of the planet’s topographical formation.  Features such as cross bedding, soft-sediment deformation, stratification, and ripple marks were observed and identified at that time by Professor Van Hise, and his methods and findings laid the groundwork for structural geology theory and practice today.

Point of Rocks along Hwy.12, with geology students. Photo by Dr. Diane Kiesel of the UW Baraboo Center.

Can you see the “syncline” of the quartzite?  The rock is inclined 25 degrees to the north, i.e. the layered rocks are downbending toward the north.  Exactly what causes such deformations is unclear.

After completing the sharp curve around the Point of Rocks, the highway immediately begins to ascend the east range of the Baraboo Hills, traveling up and over and then down, down onto an outwash plain. The outwash plain consists of deposits left behind by the rivers that drained the last Wisconsin glacier some 90,000 years ago.  Off to the east can be seen the low ridge of the Johnstown Moraine,also known as the terminal moraine, an accumulation of sediment along the margins of the Green Bay Lobe of last glacier.  Off to the west can be seen the hills of the Driftless Area, a term used to identify areas in the Midwestern United States that were not covered by the Ice Age glaciers.  The highway, in effect, crosses over the outwash plain between these two geological features — the Johnstown Moraine to the east and the Driftless Area to the west.

In recent years, now with at least rudimentary understandings of the geology of the Baraboo Hills,see the Hills and ridges and plains and quartzite along the highway with very different eyes.  The deep geological time exposed in these rocks feels like a visible sign of creation.  And my “respect” for all rocks in the world has increased a thousand fold.

Dott, R.H. Jr, & Attig, J.W.. (2004).  Roadside Geology of Wisconsin. Mountain Press Publishing Company:  Missoula, Montana.

Kruse, H. (n.d.).  Natural Areas in the Baraboo Hills.  Published in cooperation with Goblin Fern Press, http://www.goblinfernpress.com

Lange, K.I. (2014).  Song of Place:  A Natural History of the Baraboo Hills.  Ballindalloch Press:  Baraboo, WI.

Google:  Devil’s Lake State Park Baraboo Hills Wisconsin for spectacular views of the quartzite rocks on the bluffs around the lake.

(To Be Continued)

The Woman at the Stoplight

I did something a few weeks ago that I have never done before.

We have a phenomenon in Madison that the city officials are trying to disallow.  There are certain intersections in the city that are often frequented by people who are asking for money.  The panhandling occurs as cars are stopped for a red light.

The person who is doing the panhandling — man or woman — usually looks rather “rough.”  A few belongings are seen nearby.  He or she is holding up a hand printed cardboard sign asking for money and perhaps indicating something about their difficult circumstances (e.g., lost a job, can’t find work, homeless).

panhandler sign.jpg

I have never seen a panhandler being aggressive toward a driver.  They seem to stand silently in place in the median, letting their personal appearance and handmade sign speak for them.

One time, at one such intersection, I saw the driver in the car ahead of me roll down his window, stick his arm out, and hand the man a bill.  That was the first time I had actually seen a driver do that — hand money over to the person in the median.

So what I did a few weeks ago was exactly that.  I was stopped at a red light, and a woman was standing in the median right next to my car — belongings located at her feet, looking rough, holding her sign.  I scrambled to get a $5 bill out of my wallet, rolled down the window, and called out to her.  She took the money, looked me in the eye and said “God bless you, God bless you.”

Now, I don’t know what she’ll use the money for, I don’t know what her circumstances are, I don’t know if she ekes out a few dollars a day from her panhandling or (as some claim) hundreds of dollars a day.  But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone standing out there, with their downtrodden and impoverished circumstances for everyone to see, unless they are genuinely desperate.  In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. Other thoughts?