Have You Noticed the Forest Magic?

Winding Pathways borders 110-acre Faulkes Heritage Woods, a primeval woodland that changed dramatically in 40 minutes last August 10, 2020, when a derecho roared through Eastern Nebraska, all of Iowa and into Illinois.

Indian Creek from ridge

A short walk through the woods brought us to Indian Creek.

Prior to the storm, the view from our back deck was of towering oaks, hickories, walnuts, and a few maples. We’d often walk a quarter-mile to Indian Creek under a nearly closed crown of intertwined branches far overhead.

Then a derecho roared through with 140-mile-an-hour winds. (Watch several videos of the storm)

 

 

 

 

When we ventured outside, we found two big trees on our garage and cabin, and most of our own trees prostrated. Our power and Internet were down. Our biggest shock was the woods. Instead of immense giants, we saw trees that had withstood 150 years of wind shattered. Some were uprooted. Many snapped off with their trunks standing like poles. Others were twisted apart by the powerful wind.

It was devastating.  Heartbreaking.  All winter our view was of broken trees………until spring’s warmth worked magic on the woods.

Forests are resilient. For the first April in over a century sunlight reached the forest floor. As it gained strength in May and June it triggered a resurgence of vegetation we’d never seen in the woods before. All were plants that can’t thrive in dense shade.

We were overjoyed to see tree sprouts. Baby oaks, hackberries, ironwood, maple, and basswoods popped up here and there. Soon they were joined by a thick growth of what many would call weeds.  A few are new to us, including oakleaf goosefoot. Some are concerning. The sunshine is encouraging invasive garlic mustard, multiflora rose, and Japanese barberry, but we also spotted something delicious.

Long dormant raspberry and blackberry canes rose from the soil.  We’ll enjoy a great berry harvest next summer and for many following years until new trees gradually shade them to dormancy.

Nature is resilient, and we’re watching a woodland resurrection from our back deck.

Watch a video from 12th Ave. Bridge in Cedar Rapids.

 

Where Will You Find Berries?

We take a walk every day, sometimes through urban and industrial areas. Other days find us on prairie or woodland trails. Everywhere we’re spotting an abundance of summer fruit being devoured by birds, woodchucks, chipmunks, and even deer.

Last August 10 a terrible derecho roared through our area, felling about 70% of mature trees.  It seemed tragic but a year later vegetation has responded with enthusiasm in former shady places now sunlit. These include berries. Brambles Newly sunny woods are filled with first-year black raspberry and blackberry canes. Next year there’ll be an abundance of berries. These are delicious food for people and wildlife. We like them fresh.

Here are few other species of berries.  Some are human edibles. Others leave for the birds.

Munching

child eating berries

The sweet, but bland mulberries are children’s favorite.

Mulberries:   These deliciously sweet, but bland, fruits have a long bearing season that’s mostly in June but lingers well into July. Robins just love them. So do many other birds……and children.  Mulberries are a delicious underused human food. One of our favorite dishes is rhubarb mulberry pie.

Cherries:  Many birds love domestic cherries. Our trees were almost ready to pick when a family of raccoons did the picking for us. No cherry pies this year. Wild black cherries are common. They’re edible to humans but are small, have a big pit, and are usually bitter. They’re hardly worth the effort to pick and process so we leave them for the birds to enjoy.

 

 

Leave These for the Wildlife

Chokecherries:  They ripen in late June and into July. These pucker up any human trying to eat them, but birds love snacking on them.

Elderberries:  These shrubs love trail and roadside sun and produce bunches of berries in late summer and into fall. Some people go to the trouble of making wine or jam from them but we leave them for the birds to enjoy.

Poison Ivy: Another berry to leave to the birds is poison ivy. This favorite of birds is how the plant spreads when the birds drop seeds. Leaves of three? Let them be!

Dogwoods:   These berries aren’t human food but make delicious bird chow. They ripen late and stay on the shrub through winter.  Want to find bluebirds or robins on a cold January day?  Find a patch of dogwoods that still have frozen berries clinging to them.

Winter Food

winter cranberries on stems

Waxwings flock to winter berries.

Highbush Cranberries: Look from late July on as they ripen in mid to late summer. A wildlife favorite, birds and chipmunks forage happily in the shrubs. Some berries linger into winter and often wintering waxwings greedily forage on the berries. Deer come by and munch both the leaves and berries.

 

 

 

When we set off on a summer walk, we stuff a bag or two into our pockets. Then, if we discover a blackberry patch, we’ve got a way to carry a few handfuls home.

Busy Pandemic Year+ for Winding Pathways

For the past fifteen months Winding Pathways has been busy with writing features for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and blogs for Hoover’s Hatchery and FB Live monthly events.  Catch up with our stories in The Cedar Rapids Gazette online.

Hoover’s Hatchery. Click on Flock Journey to read a variety of stories about all things chickens and other poultry. Or News From the Coop blogs.

Here is a list of the more recent features. Just click on the link and read away!

June 13, 2021. Alaska Recreation.

May 22, 2021. Museums of Quad Cities Area. https://www.thegazette.com/recreation/the-many-museums-of-the-quad-cities/

April 18, 2021. Finding Amelia. https://www.thegazette.com/recreation/an-unexpected-search-for-amelia-earhart/

April 11, 2021. Mississippi river Museum and Dubuque

March 25 , 2021 Cedar Falls_Waterloo. Memorable Museums

March 12, 2021. Time Travel. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/time-traveling-in-iowa-20210312

March 3, 2021 Entering the Battery Age (column)

February 19, 2021. Franconia Sculpture Park. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/recreation/art-walk-in-a-park-20210219

February 2, 2021. Sprint Cars. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/auto-racing/a-sprint-car-education-20210202

January 14, 2021. Embrace the Outdoors. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/embracing-x2014-and-enjoying-x2014-the-cold-outdoors-20210114

*****

December 20, 2020. Walking Cemeteries. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-peaceful-outdoor-walking-option-20201221

December 14, 2020 Iowa Meat Lockers: https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-meaty-adventure-20201214

Nov 11, 2020 Iowa’s Inland Seas. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/enjoying-iowas-inland-seas-20201111

Oct 11, 2020. Barn Quilts. https://www.thegazette.com/article/barn-quilts-offer-brighten-up-the-countryside/

Sept 27, 2020: New Life to dead Trees.  https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/dead-trees-give-life-20200927

September 20, 2020: Walk Outside Safely. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/get-outside-and-walk-but-stay-safe-20200920

September 9, 2020: Rebirth Amid the Rubble https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/a-rebirth-among-the-rubble-of-trees-20200906

August 22, 2020: Iowa’s National Parks. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/iowa-national-parks-guide-effigy-hoover-20200822

July 27, 2020: County Parks. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/take-advantage-of-iowas-county-gems-20200727

July 11, 2020: Tenting. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/why-rv-live-isnt-for-these-senior-tent-campers-20200711

June 26, 2020: Bear Sightings in Iowa: https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/outdoors/why-rv-live-isnt-for-these-senior-tent-campers-20200711

April 12, 2020” Walk on Wilder side. https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/recreation/take-a-walk-on-the-wilder-side-20200412

 

The Reptile Adventures of a Suburban Gardener

Guest Blog by Leslie Wright

Garden snake hunting for a meal.

Garter snakes like cool, shady places to wait for a meal.

Just over a year and a half ago, we moved from a home with a suburban postage-stamp-sized yard with little wildlife into a home with a large yard that backs up to a sizable park. Each season we have discovered something new about our new urban “wilderness”. Last spring it was how to identify (and avoid) poison ivy. This spring the theme seems to be reptiles! Earlier this spring I became acquainted with our resident garter snake. Most often it spent time in our vegetable garden but occasionally sunned itself near where I was working in the yard. Though I am not comfortable around snakes I was glad to see him/her – to me a symbol of more abundant life.

How the Adventure Began

Thursday, May 6th seemed like any other lovely spring day. I took myself outside to walk around the gardens and see what was coming up. I walked around to the front of the house to check on hydrangeas I had planted last spring. I had wrapped them in bird netting last year thinking to keep deer from nibbling the tender shoots. To my dismay, I discovered that our resident garter snake had become entangled in the netting, and even worse a much larger snake had also found its way into netting nearby. To my uneducated eyes, this snake looked like a small rattlesnake with a brownish diamond pattern. I was almost relieved that it appeared to be dead. But I knew I needed to rescue my garter snake friend.  I was afraid to do this myself – afraid of getting bitten mostly.

So, I started to call and text everyone I could think of to rescue this snake – and me! My husband who was in a meeting, the nature center, DNR. But, alas, I soon figured out I was going to have to tackle this myself if I wanted the snake to survive. So off to Google I went.

Google To The Rescue!

The snakes had netting in their mouths and wrapped around their bodies, multiple times. Google informed me I would need to gently restrain the snake and use nail scissors to cut it free. So, I put on gardening gloves, found a stick with a small fork to hold the snake’s head, and armed myself with nail scissors. Probably more to calm myself, I talked to my little friend while I cut away the netting. Success! After I freed the garter snake I went inside for a moment.

Rounds Two and Three

When I came back out – no lie – he/she had found its way into another piece of netting. So, round two – gloves, stick, and scissors. It was clear I needed to remove every shred of that darn bird netting to make sure it would not harm any other creatures. As I was clearing away the netting, I discovered the second snake was in fact alive. Now I had to save it, too! So round three – gloves, stick, and scissors, and the second snake was free. I later learned this is a fox snake.

All Is Well That Ends Well

I haven’t seen them since but I surely hope they are safe, well, and still visiting our yard.

What Happened to Mallory Mallard and her ducklings?

Report from the Montessori School duck hatch:  To review, the school saw a mallard sitting on an urban planter box.  So, the staff and children made a project of watching the duck, noting its behavior, drawing pictures, and journaling about this experience. When the ducklings hatched the children, parents and staff followed the mother duck and ducklings on their way to new adventures.

Mother Mallard on Urban Flowerbox

The Montessori children watched as the mallard duck sat on and hatched eggs

“The ducklings hatched last Sunday. On Monday, all 11 made it out of the planter and to the river.  It was a bit traumatic.  10 fell into the storm drain and were brought out with a bug net by a parent.”

Some resources and thoughts:

The Wildlife Center of Virginia

Reconnect With Nature

Ducks Unlimited

New Oak Signals Hope

May’s first few weeks are the most delightful time to be outdoors.  Warm days combine with the delicious scent of spring.   It’s the peak time for birds that wintered far to the south to either settle in to nest or briefly rest and eat before winging further north. Their songs fill the air.

Early May awakens plants, and in early May Rich discovered a treasure.  It was an oak sprout that seemed to have “hope” written all over its new soft green leaves.

oak seedling next to fallen log

The seedling radiated hope.

Winding Pathways adjoins Faulkes Heritage Woods, an area of sloping land bordered by homes on the south and Indian Creek to the north.   Last August 10th a derecho bearing 140 miles an hour wind tore through Iowa.  Neither Winding Pathways nor Faulkes Woods was spared. Trees, many of them enormous, either snapped off or uprooted, leaving a scene many called “devastation.”

At first, that seemed like an apt description, and the woods looked ravaged all winter.   Rebirth comes with spring. While sitting on a fallen log Rich looked down to see a tiny white oak sprout.  It just seemed to say, “Hi, here I am ready to grow.”

Oaks thrive on sunshine, and with big trees now felled on the ground, light floods the soil to energize the leaves of the baby oak and other seedlings. Gradually the old tree will decompose.  Its wood will add nutrients to the soil to be appreciated by the youngsters.

Nature has amazing resiliency.  One just needs to look to see it.