Life on the Edge

Life on the Edge

The Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve is a crazy quilt of wetlands and uplands but the beauty of the pattern has been hidden beneath a blanket of buckthorn for years.  Last winter we cleared the perimeters of three or four distinct wetland areas in the northeast section of the preserve thus creating more open “edge” habitat — the kind that bluebirds prefer.

This winter we have been opening the woodland along the left side of the trail roughly between signpost #1 and #2 and this past Wednesday we arrived at the wetland across the trail from the marl plant ruins.  The wetland is marked in blue below and the area we cleared is shown in red.

SSTrailMapMarlFactoryWetlandsA couple inches of fresh snow had fallen the day before and temps were in the single digits when I arrived at the Hotel Spring to get some drinking water for the day.

IMG_2157The hoarfrost was spectacular.  Check out this gallery of early morning pics.

This was going to be my last day working at The Springs until Pati and I return from South Africa, and likely the last real winter day of the season, so I was really looking forward to it.  Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig and Chris Mann would be joining me and it promised to be a very productive day.  I tried to arrange the pictures with before and after images side by side for easier comparison (click any photo to open the gallery).  If you subscribe to get these posts via email, you may have noticed some inconsistencies in the way that gallery pictures are delivered: sometimes they come as medium/large images, and at other times they arrive as jumbled thumbnails.  I have reported this issue to the folks at WordPress…  You can double-click any photo embedded in the email to view it full size on the website.  Better yet, visit the website to take full advantage of the gallery feature.

We almost connected the open space on the north side of this wetland with the space we opened coming from the other direction back in January.

Some of you may know Paul Sandgren, the former Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit, Lapham Peak Unit and Glacial Drumlin Trail — East, who was forced to retire last spring.

IMG_1150Yes, Paul is a giant of a man.  He is having a rough go of it with brain cancer.  I got this update from his Caring Bridge from Anne Korman, the new superintendent.

Next step
By Paul Sandgren — 1 hour ago
As of Tuesday, March 1st, Paul now resides at Angel’s Grace Hospice, Cty. P, Oconomowoc,

This was our plan all along…it was just a timing issue and what could not be handled at home any longer.

The MRI on Tuesday at the cancer center confirmed what we suspected.  Paul’s decline in the last two weeks included balance loss confirmed by the tumor growth at the back near the 4th ventricle that inhibits balance and causes nausea.  The mobility loss is from the expansion of the edges of the main tumor extending more into the motor skills area.  The two small tumors near the front also grew and it has spread into the right hemisphere…something we knew would happen eventually.

So no infusion on Tuesday.  No blood thinner shots into the belly.   We stopped the Optune system…so he has some hair fuzz coming back.  We continue with the steroid to keep down inflammation and Keppra to stave off seizures.

Angel’s Grace is beautiful.  Paul, of course, is teasing all the staff–those poor unsuspecting people!!!  Food is great.  We recommend the French toast.

Continue with thoughts and prayers. If you want to do a short visit with him there are no set hours but he may be sleeping.  Even with his eyes closed, he does carry on some conversation.  Of course you want to know the big long.    Dr. Krouwer said weeks, not months.  RN Carol has been amazed at the large support system Paul has and this long length of battle time.  That is by far not what the cancer team sees.

Judy has been having breakfast and supper with Paul and adjusting at home this week.  There are so many emotions ….some are better taken with happy hour.  Oh, and speaking of that….it’s 5:00 somewhere so we are signing off for now so Judy can pack up some snacks and beverages and head back to hospice.

Smile…just imagine Paul’s hair coming back with a little red tint!!

More posts later,  Judy

Thinking of you Paul…


Burn the Scuppernong!

Burn the Scuppernong!

IMG_2706 IMG_2701 IMG_1276

See you at Bluff Creek West on March 12!

Savory Buckthorn

Savory Buckthorn

Could it be that winter is already over?  No more days spent playing in the snow grilling buckthorn over an open fire?  No more slow cooking The Buckthorn Man‘s favorite recipes for Rhamnus cathartica and Frangula alnus beneath the moonlight?  Well, I have savored the season, and every day I get to spend at the Scuppernong Springs.  It pleases my senses while at the same time being morally exemplary.


People often ask me: “What is your secret Buckthorn Man?”  Ok, here it is, my recipe for Savory Buckthorn:

Savory Buckthorn

  • 1 Chainsaw (I prefer the Stihl 361 pro)
  • 3 sharp chains (no safety chains please)
  • Bar Oil (first cold press virgin oil)
  • 2-cycle engine gas mix (mid-grade gas)
  • triclopyr stump poison mixed to taste with marine anti-freeze
  • 1 pair chaps
  • Safety helmet for everyone in the kitchen
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Deerskin gloves
  • Propane tank with “Red Devil” torch
  • Wheelbarrow or sled for transporting gear
  • Extra bar for chainsaw (optional)
  • Splitting wedges (optional)

Pick a spot where the buckthorn is thick and nasty; a place you suspect might look a whole lot better sans the woody weed.  Don protective gear.  Add gas and oil to the chainsaw and test the stump poison sprayer.  Fire up the chainsaw and commence to prepping the buckthorn by cutting it into manageable chunks and poisoning the stumps to taste.  Make a pile with dead buckthorn branches and braze it with the red devil until burning brightly.  Cut, poison, pile, burn and repeat, until all of the buckthorn in sight has been eradicated.  There you have it — Savory Buckthorn!

We have made modest progress this winter at The Springs, working on the left side of the trail clearing buckthorn in the area marked in red below.

SSTrailMapWinter2015-2016On February 18th, I was joined in the “kitchen” by world renowned chef: Andre Buchtá.  Nobody piles buckthorn on a fire like Andre!  Below are some before and after shots documenting our efforts.  I’m trying something new here by juxtaposing the before and after views side by side for easier comparison (click any photo to open the gallery).

At dusk, as I tended the fire carefully turning the buckthorn logs until they were done just right, I heard the familiar sound of a sand hill crane and looked up to see the adventurous bird languidly floating overhead.

I took some time off to attend to things on the home front, but the pangs of hunger eventually became so strong that I had to return to The Springs to cook another batch of Savory BuckthornAndre again was my right hand, piling brush and tending the fires.


I hope to get out to the woods a couple more times to whip up a batch of Rhamnus cathartica or Frangula alnus before Pati and I head off to Johannesburg South Africa.

See you at The Springs!

p.s. Join me and the Southern Kettle Moraine State Natural Areas Volunteers on March 12 at Bluff Creek West, where we try my new recipe for “Baked Buckthorn”!

And thanks to Ben and Karen Johnson for spicing things up at The Springs by installing two homemade duck houses along the marl pit canal!

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Time was running out at The Marsh.  Since I punted back in 2011, the Buckthorn’s offense had rallied back to take the lead and we were stymied by their impenetrable defense.  Ice Age Trail Alliance coach, Kevin Thusius, got the call from the booth: offensive coordinator, Village Administrator Dave Cox, said the only hope to save The Buckthorn Man’s efforts was a “Hail Mary” pass.  Kevin looked to the bench for the DNR’s special teams players Don Dane and Mike Spaight, who hadn’t seen action in the game since last March.

Don, the wily veteran, called timeout.  He suggested we rent an ASV machine, mount a DNR forestry mower head on it, and then throw it to Mike, waiting upland in the end zone.

As the last seconds ticked off the clock, I snapped the ball to Don and blocked the rushing buckthorn, holding them off just long enough for him to get the pass in the air.  Mike, surrounded by a thorny thicket, caught the ball and mowed the defenders down as he cleared a path into the end zone.


Here is a look at the field before the big play.  Note that you can open the gallery and see the pictures full-size by clicking on any of them, or, you can hover your mouse over a picture to read the narrative in the description.

I was working at the Scuppernong Springs this past Monday when Don called to say that he had lined up the ASV machine and they would be ready to start the next day.  We had just enough funds left in the kitty, contributed by the Village of Hartland, and we had made the decision that its best use would be forestry mowing; that was a good call, as you can see by the amazing and outstanding work that Don and Mike accomplished.  But our dance in the end zone will be merely a gaudy display if we don’t get more funding to treat the cut stubs.  We are debating whether to do a basal bark treatment before they get covered with snow, Don’s recommendation, or, wait until the cut stumps bush out in the late spring to treat them with foliar herbicide spray.  In either case, we don’t have any money right now.   We’ll get flagged with a penalty, and the touchdown will be called back, if we don’t come up with something.  Here is a map showing the area they mowed in blue, followed by an “after” gallery displaying the results.


Long time followers of The Buckthorn Man were probably stunned when they read this statement at the bottom of the presentation I made to the Village of Hartland Board on January 25:

The preservation, restoration and protection of the primary environmental corridor in the Village of Hartland is too vitally important to leave in the hands of ad hoc groups of volunteers, especially when considering that the Village is one of the primary land owners in the corridor.

Yup, this is coming from the same pen that wrote a post called Freedom that includes this gem:

Our Political “law” is nothing but the arbitrary WILL OF MEN and WOMEN. Government exists to direct and control our minds; the “State” is a figment of our collective imaginations.

On one hand, I’m challenging the legitimacy of the government’s claim of “authority”, and on the other, I’m asking the Village of Hartland — the powers that be, who “speak the law (exert jurisdiction)”, in these parts — to step up and take leadership.  You can rightly question the sanity of The Buckthorn Man: is he schizophrenic, or just pragmatic?

I’m still trying to sort out the meaning of Village Board President David Lamerand’s response to my presentation and I have confidence that the Village will act in good faith to address the concerns I have raised.  You can listen to an audio of my presentation to the Village Board on January 25, here, beginning at the 5:55 mark.  Thanks to the Village Clerk, Darlene Igl, for providing the audio.

It has been an exceptionally benign winter so far, perfect in every way for cutting and burning buckthorn in the forest.  On Thursday, January 28, I was joined at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA by Andy Buchta and Ben Johnson.  We had a flawless day continuing to open up the views to Ottawa Lake from Hwy 67 and the SkyDance Pet Lodge parking lot.

On Friday, January 29, I was joined by a new volunteer, Jeff Saatkamp, a member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance at the Hartland Marsh.  I brush cut buckthorn saplings on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy property and Jeff and I poisoned the cut stubs.  Thanks Jeff!  I’m looking forward to working with you again at The Marsh.   As a bonus, Cheryl White the new executive director of the Waukesha County Land Conservancy, stopped out to visit and we had a marvelous time exploring the property.  Cheryl brings a wealth of experience and skill to the job and I’m looking forward to working with her

On Monday, February 1, I was joined at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail by Andy Buchta and Lindsay Knudsvig in the morning, and Ben Johnson later in the day.  Thank you all for volunteering your time and energy to restoring our Kettle Moraine treasure!

Later that evening, around 6:30pm, as Ben and I were tending the fires, I happened to be looking to the east through spreading oak branches at Orion’s belt in the sky.  Just then a bright light emerged and I called out to Ben, “Look!” and we both watched the meteor expand into a huge white ball before it disappeared at the horizon.

I’m looking forward to joining my friends at another State Natural Area Workday at the Whitewater Oak Opening on February 13.

See you at The Springs!

Buckthorn Resolution

After a long hiatus, The Buckthorn Man has returned, chainsaw in hand, to The Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  The winter of 2014-2015 was one of relentless attack on the bane of the Kettle Moraine and by the time I quit cutting there on April 1, 2015 my reservoir of aggressive energy was exhausted.  I took solace in the Alchemy At The Springs wrought with Stihl and Sweat: “Out of Darkness, into Light”.  There is light at the end of the buckthorn tunnel at The Springs and, with a little help from my friends, we will resolve the dissonance of buckthorn into the consonance of prairie, woodland and meadow.

The Buckthorn Man recorded this video on new year’s eve while standing on the west end of the buckthorn alley.

Therein I sketched out a plan for this winter’s cutting season describing burning snow covered brush piles and shining a light into the darkness of the buckthorn thicket.  A resolution is the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones — the act of answering or determining — and I think I have an excellent approach to cutting buckthorn this year.  We are going to focus on the area outlined in yellow on the map below.  This is the last upland area within the loop trail that is still covered by a buckthorn thicket and I don’t think more than a handful of people have threaded their way through it recent years.

SSTrailMapWinter2016The areas in red above mark the three locations where we cut buckthorn in the last week.  The blue circle indicates a large wetland area that is relatively open.  I am going to focus on clearing the area within the yellow circle this winter and just see how far we can get.  Each workday will consist of: picking a central location among the buckthorn to start a fire, digging a hole in the snow, cutting and collecting standing dead buckthorn, lighting a fire, and finally, feeding the fire with the surrounding freshly cut buckthorn.  This is the approach that The Friends of Lapham Peak (and many others) use and I have found it to be very efficient and effective.   So, if you are looking for something different to do on a cold winter day, watch my Upcoming Volunteer Events calendar feed on the Home page, or, better yet, subscribe to my volunteer workday events calendar via the Volunteer page, and meet me at The Springs or any of the other excellent places where I volunteer.

On new year’s eve day Andy Buchta joined me and we had a fine day cutting and burning in the topmost area marked in red on the map above.  Thanks Andy!

On Sunday, January 3, I returned to work in the area marked in red on the right on the map above.  During our recent workday with the Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group on the Scuppernong River, DNR Fisheries Biologist Ben Heussner suggested we return to the area when there was snow cover and transport brush piles over to the river to use to backfill behind the biologs we installed.  That is what The Buckthorn Man is discussing in this video.

I realized then that my original plan to burn all the brush piles there was no good, instead, we should make new piles and burn fresh buckthorn.  It’s hard to believe that a liar like The Buckthorn Man could have any friends, so I was a little surprised, and it warmed my heart, when Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig, Ben Johnson, Joe Winn and Chris Mann showed up to help me.  We had a great time, got a hell-of-a-lot of buckthorn cut, and revealed 5 or 6 large burr oaks and a cluster of 4 huge black oaks that you can see in the background of the group shot below.

Clearing buckthorn to expose an oak tree is what it’s all about for me.  We got to do it again on Tuesday, January 5 when Andy Buchta joined me in the third area marked in red on the lower left of the map above.  I scoped out the worksite and identified three spots to make fires and we got after it.

The weather reports on the nightly new have been sounding the alarm that “bitter cold” temperatures are coming — be very afraid.  Nevertheless, I did appreciate the bright sun and comfortably warm conditions on Tuesday while cutting some monster buckthorn trees.  The highlight of the day was uncovering 3 relatively young burr oaks.

I’m looking forward to joining my friends Zach, Ginny and Jared on Saturday, January 9, at Bluff Creek East to continue clearing buckthorn from around the springs that form the headwaters of the creek.


Join me at the Village of Hartland Board meeting at 7:00pm on January, 25 at 210 Cottonwood Ave. in Hartland, where we will be discussing the The Village of Hartland Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035 (See the Hartland Marsh project page for more details).

Dave and Jeff hard at work at the Hartland Marsh

Dave and Jeff hard at work at the Hartland Marsh

See you at The Creek!