by Winding Pathways | Mar 9, 2023 | Foraging, Geology/Weather, Maple Syruping
A slice of history.
Scars in a tree at the Indian Creek Nature Center reveal maple syruping history.
Back in 1979 Rich Patterson and volunteers approached a husky Box Elder tree, armed with a drill, spile, and buckets. It was early March. Nights were cold and frosty, followed by warm sunny days. Syrupin’ weather.
Oozing Out the Sap
As soon as the drill’s bit cut through the tree’s bark, clear watery sap oozed out.
Rich gently tapped in a metal spile and hung a bucket under it. By day’s end, two gallons of clear sap nearly filled the pail ready to be boiled into syrup.
The spile angles slightly downward.
Visitors and plastic bag on tree
If not overdone tapping just harvests a small percentage of a tree’s sap. It’s sort of like a person giving blood. Taking a little does no harm. Healthy trees quickly create a scab over the tap hole, somewhat like a human body heals a scratch. As the tree grows and its trunk diameter swells, wood forms over the old tap hole. It’s fine to tap that tree again next year, the year after, and every following year.
Syruping season ends when night temperatures don’t drop below freezing. That’s when spiles are pulled, leaving the hole for the tree to heal.
Aging Out of Production
That’s what happened to the Nature Center’s tree. Box Elders are true maples capable of producing sap for quality syrup, but they are short-lived. An 80-year-old Box Elder is, well, elder and near life’s end. After being tapped for 40 years in a row the Nature Center’s box elder reached the end of its days converting solar energy into sugar. After its death staff felled it, revealing at least 30 tap scars. The oldest ones are closest to the center of the tree’s trunk.
Syruping is a fun late winter activity. To learn more visit the Indian Creek Nature Center during syruping season. It holds a fun Maple Syrup Festival in late March each year. For details check out Indian Creek Nature Center’s website.
Thanks, box elder for sharing some of your sap all these years.
Tasting sap from a sumac spile
Syrupin’ time is upon us!
by Marion Patterson | Jun 2, 2022 | Chickens, Garden/Yard, Geology/Weather, Hoover's Hatchery, Preparedness, Reflections/Profiles, Travel/Columns
Coming up to a year from the last post on the features we wrote for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, here is an updated list for the second half of 2021 and the first half (almost) of 2022. These features are in addition to our regular work with Hoover’s Hatchery blogs and FB Live and our own blogs for Winding Pathways.
May 8, 2022. Splish Splash! Whitewater Kayaking in Iowa. (No link to date)
April 22, 2022. Finding America On Roadways East.
April 13, 2022. Muscle Over motor When Boating.
March 21, 2022. Rockhounding.
January 30, 2022. Backpacking Bonus. (8B of GZ. No link to date) Available Green Gazette.
January 24, 2022. Distinctive Religious Structures.
January 16, 2022. Hiking Wild Areas. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette.
December, 2021. Country Schools. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette
November 15, 2021. Making a (Mini) Pitch for Soccer.
October 6, 2021. A visit with Midwest’s Pioneering Authors.
September 8, 2021. Taking a Slow Boat to Cassville.
September 6, 2021. Camping in Iowa’s Trout Country & Decorah’s Celebrities.
August 4, 2021. Parking While Headed East. And Solar Panels at Peoples.
by Winding Pathways | Feb 17, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Geology/Weather, Reflections/Profiles
New England’s Nor’easter January 29-20, 2022
by Susan Fellows, guest blogger
What is a Nor-easter?
Dover, NH, 4:00 a.m. Temperature 5 degrees. The wind chill is probably close to -10 degrees. Wind gusts 40-45 mph throughout the day. What is a blizzard? Wind gusts more than 35 mph. Snow blowing and drifting. Visibility less than 1/4 mile. All more than three hours. We grew up with blizzards, know them well, and call them Nor’easters.
The description above is what I saw outside my living room window all day on January 29, 2022, in excess of eight hours. There is a large green space next to my apartment building with a stand of pine trees at the far end, where there is no snow. An area just outside my apartment going out about 20-30 feet where the wind blew the snow off all day long made it look like we had only a dusting of snow. Beyond that, snow accumulated up to 1″-2″ per hour for several hours. Most of the day, I could not see the trees which are less than a 1/4 mile away.
Strong winds swept some areas bare of snow.
The building blocked the wind.
Following the Progress of the Storm
The well-predicted storm made its way up the coast from South Carolina, past Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York to New England. Snowfall reported in Bridgewater, MA, totaled 32″! Out at Wellfleet on the south side of Cape Cod, wind gusts reached 82 mph. Fortunately, in Dover, NH, we weren’t hit with as much snow and wind gusts were in the 40 mph range. Most of the day and into the evening I watched snow blowing horizontally past the windows. Whiteout! An all-day blizzard.
Opening the door was difficult
7:30 p.m. I decided to get my mail if there was any. True to the USPO motto, through rain, wind, snow, and dark of night the Post Office did deliver the mail! Getting out my door was difficult as the snow had accumulated to about three feet. So, it was hard to open the door. Along the sidewall of the building I trudged. Not as much snow there. But, once I reached the lobby door, I had to get to the security post to swipe my key fob to open that door. Snow spilled into my boots and I had to shove the door open about a foot to squeeze through. After picking up my mail, I made my way back to my apartment.
Manager & Snow Crews Respond to Safety Concern
The snowfall seemed to be easing up but it was hard to tell as the wind still picked up and carried snow horizontally past my window. Remembering that some Eastern big cities had had fires in apartments recently, I was concerned with conditions by the exit doors. So, I called the answering service of the apartment complex. Shortly our maintenance supervisor returned my call. I explained the situation and my concern that in case of an emergency requiring evacuation of the building the other residents might not be able to get safely out. He replied that the snow removal team would return the next morning. After some discussion, with the supervisor being unrelenting with his statement that the team would be back in the morning, I simply asked who would be liable if an evacuation were needed and people could not safely get out. Then, I hung up.
Soon after the property manager called, respected the fact that I was observing the conditions and he wasn’t. He called the supervisor of the snow removal team. Within the hour they arrived! I was relieved!
Sunday, January 30, 2022. The day dawned bright and beautiful! What a change from not being able to see because of the blizzard! People were out with their pets and children enjoying the light, fluffy snow. The snow removal team cleared the overflow lots and residents moved their cars so the parking log could be properly cleared. Gigantic piles of snow were all over the place and sidewalks, doorways, and cars cleared of the eight inches of reported snow. One town, right on the ocean about 12 miles away, got the state’s grand total of 13.5″. The wind, she kept on blowing and the temperatures were bitterly, brutally cold.
People moved their cars to help with snow removal.
The doorways are cleared of snow.
The snow removal team quickly cleared snow.
The next day, in appreciation, I called the supervisor to thank the crews for coming out in the storm and making sure residents were safe.
Prior to the storm, everyone had been told to stay off the roads, which they did. All-day Saturday, I had watched a storm tracker show from a Boston station. Indeed except for plows and utility crews restoring power, the roadways were clear of vehicles.
I LOVE SNOW and this was quite an event!
by Winding Pathways | Feb 18, 2021 | Birds, Geology/Weather
As we ate breakfast during the deep freeze that descended on February 7th six wild turkeys trudged through the snow from nearby woods and feasted on corn scattered under our bird feeders. It was 20 below zero – genuine 20 below. With the wind chill, the air was even colder.
The turkeys each stood on one leg as they pecked corn. Every once in a while, they alternated legs. One leg was always holding the bird upright while the other was tucked in the bird’s feathers. We wondered how they do this, so we went to our favorite new bird book, David Allen Sibley’s, What It’s Like to Be A Bird. According to him, birds have several adaptations that make it possible.
Here’s what he wrote, “The center of mass on their body is below the knee and a knob on the pelvis prevents the leg from angling any higher. Balancing on one leg requires angling that leg so that the foot is directly below the body, and with the leg essentially locked in position, and the body leaning against the leg, tiny adjustments of the toes are all that’s needed to stay upright.”
We often wonder how ducks and geese keep their legs and feet from freezing when swimming in frigid water or standing on ice. They have a useful adaptation. A bird’s leg is high, muscled, and covered with feathers. What we see that looks like a naked leg is actually a modified ankle, containing bones and tendons yet lacking blood vessels. So, the vascular area remains warm beneath feathers as the bird stands on the ice.
David Allen Sibley
We had the good fortune to chat with David Allen Sibley after he gave a presentation at the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference a few years ago. An astute ornithologist, writer, and artist, his books on bird identification and behavior, and his tree identification book, are always close at hand in our home. We’ve learned much from him.
Birds Need Grit in Winter
Most bird species need to occasionally eat tiny pebbles. These end up in the gizzard, a powerfully muscled pouch, where pebbles act like grindstones reducing hard seeds into a slurry for digestion.
During periods of snow and ice birds have a tough time finding grit, so about once a week we toss grit beneath the feeders. Sand works, but we usually use fine and medium-sized grit sold to help chickens digest their feed. Once the snow melts there’s no need to add grit, as birds easily find plenty of natural tiny pebbles.
Adapted to the cold
by Winding Pathways | Feb 4, 2021 | Geology/Weather
Obsidian on the Move
We have it easy. If we need to carve a roasted turkey, chunk up an apple, whittle a stick, or shave off a beard we just have to buy a knife or razor blade. They’re made in hundreds of shapes and configurations and sold in dozens of stores.
It wasn’t always that easy. A fascinating article about archeology in Yellowstone National Park is in the January/February 2021 issue of SMITHSONIAN Magazine. It gives a glimpse into yesterday.
Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s we were told that, before Columbus, Native Americans lived in primitive tribes that lacked technical sophistication.
The information was downright wrong.
Research Reveals Facts
Looking over Obsidian samples.
Decades of research by archeologists and historians have proved that Native Americans had complex societies and vast ability to live sustainably off the land. The Smithsonian article gives a glimpse of how pre–Columbian North Americans made amazingly effective tools that were carried around the continent on vast trade networks.
Early Americans needed sharp tools to make clothing, butcher game, process plants for food, and make weapons and ornaments. They lacked steel but had one thing almost better than metal – obsidian and other rocks that could be fabricated into outstanding tools. Even today, no steel knife is as sharp as an obsidian blade.
Between Mammoth and Norris in Yellowstone Park is Obsidian Cliff, the source of some of the best obsidian in North America. It had been mined by Native Americans for thousands of years and traded widely. Obsidian artifacts can often be traced to their place of origin and some items made from Yellowstone rock have been found as far away as Hopewell in Ohio.
Origin and Sources of Obsidian
The smaller piece is the back of a point. The larger piece is the broken tip of a point.
Obsidian is formed when molten rock with high silica content cools rapidly, creating a natural glass. It fractures in fascinating patterns with keen edges. A skilled person can craft amazingly sharp and beautiful cutting tools from it.
Obsidian is found on most continents and has been used by people in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. In the United States it’s found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, all western states, but some have been discovered in Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s always an indication of past volcanism.
Obsidian on the Move
It’s fascinating to think how obsidian got from Yellowstone to Ohio. Obviously, someone, or maybe many people in a relay, carried it the 1700 miles to Hopewell. Obsidian was so valuable that it made the trip worthwhile. It proves that Americans long before Columbus were involved in mining, long-distance travel, commerce, and manufacturing.
Winding Pathways is in Iowa. Nearly our entire state has a bedrock of limestone, a sedimentary rock. We lack evidence of volcanoes so no natural occurring obsidian has been found here. However, obsidian wasn’t the only rock used in trade and tool making. Iowa archeologists have discovered tools made from rocks that had been carried long distances.
A volcanic glass, Obsidian occurs in volcanic areas such as the western United States.
Obsidian has one characteristic that slag generally lacks – a hint of translucence.
Other Sharp Stones
According to Iowa State Archeologist, John Doershuk, there are dozens of varieties of chert that can be sourced to specific areas, knife River (ND) flint, Hixon silicified sandstone, jaspers, chalcedonies, and other rocks that came from distant points but were made into tools found in Iowa. Native people also transported and used copper and shells long before Columbus.
Winding Pathways is on an ancient sand dune high above Indian Creek. We’ve never found a natural rock on our property but love looking for stones when we walk along the Cedar River or other Iowa waterways. We often find chert that’s not been worked into tools but is still an interesting rock, and we keep looking for artifacts.
We know how lucky we are. If we need a new knife to slice a loaf of fresh bread, we don’t need to walk to Yellowstone to gather obsidian but can easily and inexpensively buy a knife at many stores near home.
by Winding Pathways | Dec 17, 2020 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Garden/Yard, Geology/Weather, Nature, Trees
We won’t forget August 10, 2020. On that summer day, Cedar Rapids was hit with 140 miles an hour winds that tore off roofs, felled signs, and toppled at least 65% of the City’s trees. The damage was awesome.
We lost 47 of our 53 big trees at Winding Pathways and spent the next two months cutting up a twisted jumble of trunks and branches. We bucked up what we could for firewood and made huge brush piles on the north end of our property for wildlife habitat. We used chain saws for cutting but muscle power to haul brush and wood.
Nearly all woodland owners suffered similar damage, and most of them immediately began clearing away broken and downed trees. Some used heavy equipment to haul off debris, leaving bare soil in the woods, a perfect seedbed for weeds.
Resetting the Forest
The derecho reset Iowa’s woods. Prior to settlement most of the state was prairie with woodlands typically lining streams and rivers. Frequent wildfires raced through grasslands and never hesitated when they encountered woods. This created a savanna ecotype characterized by scattered fire-resistant big trees, mostly oaks, walnuts, and hickories, with a stunningly diverse array of wildflowers carpeting the ground.
Savanna was an “open” forest. It lacked a shrub understory, and because trees didn’t create a closed leafy canopy sunlight dappled the ground. Perhaps no forest is as beautiful or endangered as savanna.
Iowa’s settlers quickly suppressed fire. Gradually trees closed the canopy, keeping the ground in shade most of the day. Many savanna flowers need some sunlight and declined as a shrub layer, often of exotic invasive woody plants, thrived. Many woods that owners considered healthy were actually degraded by years of fire protection.
The derecho changed it within under an hour. Many trees fell to the ground, but others survived. Woodlands will now have sunlight reach the ground, stimulating both invasive species and long-suppressed native wildflowers.
Planning and Planting
The woods on the east side of our house created nearly a complete canopy, but suddenly they fell. After we cleared away the debris, we did these things:
- Planted a few white and bur oaks in the fall. We’ll plant a few more next spring. All are protected from deer browsing with a stout ring of wire mesh.
- Purchased a diverse mix of savanna wildflowers and a few kinds of grass from Pheasants Forever. Mid-November brought two inches of new snow, and we hustled out to broadcast the seeds on it. It’s called frost planting and works well.
- Discovered some tiny oaks, hackberries, and walnuts amid fallen trees. We marked them and know they’ll grow rapidly next year.
Recovery will be slow. Newly planted trees grow slowly their first few years and savanna and prairie seeds take a few years to establish. We don’t expect to see much change in 2021 but our “new” savanna will eventually be gorgeous and look much like it would have in the early 1800s.
We bought our prairie seed from www.pheasantsforever.org. Our fall-planted trees were ordered from the National Arbor Day Foundation www.arborday.org. Spring planting will be of trees we bought from Chief River Nursery www.chief rivernursery.com.
Trimming damaged trees.
Arbor Day in November
Discovering volunteer seedlings
Rich planting acorns gleaned from an undamaged timber patch
We’ll follow up our planting with occasional prescribed burns to retard invasive plants and invigorate natives.