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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 2006

Hit the books

Eight new offerings to round out your winter reading.

Kathryn A. Kahler

© Waldbillig & Besteman
© Waldbillig & Besteman

As you while away these cold winter days waiting for a glimpse of spring, perhaps we can interest you in a book or two. The selection runs the gamut of fare for the bookworm to the casual reader, and from scholar to pre-schooler. There are guides to finding fishing hot spots, rooting out invasive plants, and identifying grasshoppers; a collection of short nature essays; and a couple of historic works on Wisconsin's famous trees and the immortal Mississippi River. There's one for streamlining your outdoor culinary skills, and another to keep your young ones entertained. So pull up a chair, put your feet up, crack a book and spring will be here before you know it.

Wild Moments: Reveling in Nature's Signs, Songs, Cycles, and Curious Creatures, by Ted Williams, Storey Publishing, 189 pages, $22.95.

Wild Moments is a collection of short nature essays, seasoned with humor, folklore and advice, with a good mix of nature lessons for kids. Good therapy for everyday stresses, readers can turn to any page for a quick nature nugget about a broad range of topics from across North America or as close as your back door.

Williams, whose writing is familiar to sports enthusiasts and environmentalists alike, is adept at teaching astounding facts of nature in an entertaining style. He makes no apology for ascribing humanlike qualities to his subjects, like this one of flying squirrels, or "fairydiddles" as he calls them: "It's hard not to wax anthropomorphic about these woodland sprites. They embrace while mating, the male throwing his cape over the female like an Austrian baron...Or they'll chase each other up tree trunks and sail off through the night, chirping and twittering – as if in laughter at those who do not believe in fairydiddles simply because they never see them."

It's evident Williams has spent countless hours introducing his children to delightful creatures as close as their back yard. "Artist in the Garden" describes the fascination of a garden spider spinning an orb web, and "Blood of the Great Bear" weaves Indian lore about the constellation Ursa Major with an activity for discovering how maple leaves change color in the fall.

Williams has a deep love for all things natural and shows no favoritism among the seasons. The anthology is grouped by season, beginning with gentle advice about winter wildlife viewing: "Each time you venture into winter you'll discover something new and improve your looking skills. But if you go out for the express purpose of "viewing" wildlife, you're apt to be disappointed. Wildlife doesn't behave this way. At any season, but especially now, it has a way of presenting itself only when you least expect it and rarely in great quantity."

This promises to be a book of lifetime nature lessons and one you will pick up again and again in your journey through the seasons. Here's one called "Birds on Snowshoes."

The ruffed grouse, whose feather pattern makes it appear to be robed in royal ermine, is the most widespread upland game bird in America, residing in all Canadian provinces and 38 states. It is a creature of secret, forgotten places where aspens march into pastures rank with juniper and hawthorn, where multi-trunked wolf pines stand guard over stone walls and cellar holes, where bittersweet clutches at the gaunt arms of ancient apple trees and, especially, where snow lies heavy in the winter woods.

As the North Pole tilts from the sun, ruffed grouse grow "snowshoes" from all four toes – protrusions that look and feel like hemlock needles. Frequently a bird allows itself to be buried by the first major snowstorm. Later, it will dive directly into soft snow, where it will spend much of the winter, emerging occasionally to stuff its crop with buds.

• • •

Every Root an Anchor: Wisconsin's Famous and Historic Trees, by R. Bruce Allison, The University of Wisconsin Press, 128 pages, $21.95.

There is a story in every tree, and thanks to Madison arborist R. Bruce Allison, the tales behind some of Wisconsin's historic and otherwise remarkable trees have been transformed from memories to written word, preserving them for the next generations of tree-lovers. His compilation of accounts includes stories of magnificent elms that graced city streets across the state until they fell to Dutch elm disease in the 1950s and '60s. Another chapter tells the stories of trees like the Coffin Tree of Rusk County, found to hold the mummified remains of a buckskin-clad man in a coonskin hat, or the Trading Post Oak that stood witness to negotiations between Colonel Henry Dodge and the Winnebago Indians on the shore of Lake Mendota in 1832.

Other accounts document the utility of trees as early signposts, navigation aids and surveyor's markers. Large trees were carved with words or symbols, and young trees were bent into abnormal shapes to designate property lines or to mark a trail. There were trees – like the Hanerville Oak and Prairie du Chien's Black Hawk Tree – whose significance was so revered that roads were detoured around them to save them from cutting.

Some of the featured trees still stand, but many have succumbed to the saw or forces of nature, like the General MacArthur White Pine that once towered 140 feet above the Nicolet National Forest in Forest County. It stood for an estimated 400 years only to be struck by lightning and burn to the ground in 2003.

Allison's book is well illustrated with 89 historical photos that help the reader grasp the enormity of these massive trees. The book concludes with "Trees in Literature, Art and Folklore" and "Arborphiles," a chapter on some of Wisconsin's most famous "lovers of trees." "Rudy Lange: Delavan Tree Surgeon," is an especially colorful account of a naturalist who lived a life of adventure and whose "cremated remains were incorporated in the soil at the base of his favorite tree, an Adams flowering crabapple."

• • •

The One Pan Gourmet, by Don Jacobson, Ragged Mountain Press/McGraw-Hill, 167 pages, $13.95.

Imagine hiking and backpacking for a weekend in a wilderness area. There's no car in which to pack a multiburner stove or a multitude of pots, pans and other equipment. Now imagine setting up camp along the trail and enjoying a menu like this: Eggs a la Goldenrod or Soy Sauce Steak Sunrise for breakfast, Fast Pea Soup for lunch, and Calcutta Chicken and Indian Pudding for dinner. Jacobson maintains that hiking and enjoying fresh-cooked meals don't have to be mutually exclusive and has written the book to prove it.

A key to Jacobson's philosophy is that you must first decide which cooking utensil to bring along – a frying pan, a pot or an oven – then base your meals around that utensil. Careful menu planning, choosing the most lightweight and efficient equipment, and proper packing will ensure that you won't break your back on the trail.

Jacobson's 40 years of experience provide the reader with a wealth of tips for selecting pots, pans and camp stoves; making a one-pan oven; purifying and filtering water; properly packing a backpack; planning a menu; and hanging a bear bag. All 175 recipes – categorized by whether they're cooked in frying pan, pot or oven – are field tested by scouts and other outdoor enthusiasts. His culinary and nutritional advice is useful and includes vegetarian and low-fat options.

"I believe the time you spend in camp," says Jacobson, "should be just as rewarding as the time spent walking."

• • •

Immortal River: The Upper Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Times, by Calvin R. Fremling, The University of Wisconsin Press, 472 pages, $29.95 (paper) or $70 (cloth).

Calvin Fremling, in the "labor of his life," has produced a comprehensive, authoritative book about the world's third longest river that drains about 40 percent of the contiguous United States. It covers the river from its geological beginnings hundreds of millions of years ago to the more recent 300 years of exploration and exploitation.

One of the book's five parts, "Caging the Giant," relates the days of the steamboat era, railways, and subsequent laws creating and maintaining navigational channels, wing dams and the extensive system of locks and dams we see today. "The Glory Years" starting in the mid 1920s, resulted from creating the Nine-Foot Channel and the passing of the river landscape from private to public hands. River bottomlands were purchased from St. Louis to St. Paul making the once hard-working river a paradise for conservationists and recreationists.

The section on "Ecological Relationships" explores the long-term consequences of channelization and related projects. Fremling details the decline of the river's biological productivity since its peak in the early 1960s, pointing to increased turbidity caused by more river traffic, growing danger of hazardous spills, an elevated water table, eutrophication, barriers to fish migration, and recreational overuse.

In an epilogue, Fremling eloquently addresses "The River Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," and the conundrum that although "the river is cleaner, safer, and more inviting...there are serious problems" that must be addressed about the river's future.

This book defies summarization; there is simply no fluff. The author's expertise in geology, history, biology and economy is interspersed with more philosophical discussions of fishing and the people he fondly calls "river rats...who have the river in their blood and whose lives are shaped by the decisions and actions of river managers. They include a knowledgeable but not necessarily scientific group of bird-watchers, sport anglers, commercial fishers, hunters, trappers, hikers, boaters, and river-watchers who would rather live along the Mississippi River than anywhere else."

• • •

Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: An illustrated guide to their identification and control, by Elizabeth J. Czarapata, The University of Wisconsin Press, 228 pages, $26.95 (paper) or $60 (cloth).

This is a comprehensive, practical guide to learning how to control the spread of exotic plants on private or public property. The book classifies invasives by varying degree of threat or potential threat, their growth form (e.g., tree, grass or aquatic), the habitat they invade, their range and how they are most effectively controlled. What sets this book apart from others is the wealth of quality photos that show plants in different life stages, and also point out their identifying characteristics.

Buckthorn, for example, is shown growing alone and in a cultivated hedge; with and without leaves; as a seedling and in varying stages of leafy growth. Photos show the bark of young twigs with white spots, how those spots change to elongated lenticels with age, and how the bark becomes rough with age. Other images illustrate how the berries grow and the appearance of the terminal bud to aid in winter identification.

The late author developed the guide as part of her own volunteer efforts to help eradicate invasives. A schoolteacher without a botanical background, she discovered the need for good photos to identify plants and began an extensive photo collection of her own. All but a few of the photos in the book are hers.

Besides photos of each of the featured plants, the guide includes narrative descriptions of habitat, leaves, seeds, taproot, height, flowers, stem and similar species. A chapter on control techniques encourages the use of "integrated vegetation management," or a combination of two or more control techniques. They include manual techniques (hand-pulling, digging, flooding, mulching and burning), mechanical techniques (pulling, cutting, girdling, tilling, mowing and chopping), chemical and biological controls.

Other important features come from contributors such as Ken Solis who authored a section on "Convincing the Skeptics" that removal of invaders is worthwhile; and Dave Egan, Steve Glass and Evelyn Howell, who contributed advice on restoring native vegetation to sites that have been cleared of invasives. Czarapata concludes with outreach and community action advice to encourage civic groups, scouts or local conservation organizations to get involved in restoration efforts.

• • •

Guide to the Grasshoppers of Wisconsin, by Kathryn Kirk and Charles R. Bomar, Bureau of Integrated Science Services (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources), 154 pages, Free.

This all-inclusive guide fills the void in information on Wisconsin hoppers that bound into your fields, pathways or are occasionally clutched in little hands. This book is a useful tool to learn how to distinguish among slantfaced, spurthroated and bandwinged grasshoppers. The three identification keys, one for each group, are complemented by anatomical illustrations, color plates and species accounts to aid in identification. The guide describes 70 species of Acrididae, the grasshopper family collected in Wisconsin since 1881, half of them as part of DNR's Prairie Invertebrate Study from 1994 to 2002.

Each entry describes the insect, range (from North to South America), Wisconsin distribution, status ranking (such as imperiled, rare or secure), habitat description and a discussion of the specimens that were examined from the various collections. Color photos are included for about half of the species.

Kathryn Kirk is a conservation biologist and terrestrial ecologist for DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources and Charles Bomar is an insect ecologist and professor of biology at UW-Stout. To obtain a free copy please contact Martin Griffin of DNR's Integrated Sciences Services Bureau at (608) 266-0842. For information about ordering online or downloading, go to Guide to the Grasshoppers of Wisconsin.

• • •

Lost in the Woods, by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick, Carl R. Sams II Photography, Inc., 48 pages, $19.95 (hardcover).

Here's a book for parents or grandparents looking for an engaging tale that teaches an important wildlife message. Written at four- to eight-year-old reading level, it tells the story of a newborn fawn seemingly lost in the woods and fellow woodland creatures' concern for his fate. The lesson? Wildlife young found alone in the woods are best left alone because their mothers are likely nearby and will return to care for them. The fawn's mother left him alone so her scent wouldn't alert predators to his presence.

The story can help develop the young reader's sense of observation and appreciation of wildlife's camouflage. When the story ends, readers are urged to turn back through the pages to find the other forest creatures hidden within the photos.

Wildlife photography team Carl Sams and Jean Stoick have collaborated on several children's products, including a companion book Stranger in the Woods, a fun story about forest creatures' reactions to finding a snowman in their midst.

• • •

Net Results: Great Fishing Spots in Southern Wisconsin, by Bob Riepenhoff, University of Wisconsin Press, 239 pages, $19.95.

Bob Riepenhoff, outdoor editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, compiled 44 of his "Riepenhoff on Local Lakes" columns in this practical fishing guide. It covers 55 lakes, all within a few hours' drive of Milwaukee. Each lake is categorized by the type of fish it's most noted for – bass, walleye, panfish, trout, northern pike or musky. Accompanying each lake description is a contour map showing boat landings, and a list of the fish species present. Riepenhoff's son, John, supplied the fine fish drawings that preface each chapter.

If it's bass fishing you're seeking, Riepenhoff's guide covers the gamut of lakes from 932-acre Big Cedar Lake to 102-acre Lake Five, both located in Washington County. Big Cedar Lake is reportedly one of the best bass lakes in southeast Wisconsin, "an action lake known for trophies." Lake Five on the other hand, is "a quiet little lake where you can rent a boat, row all the way around in a few hours and catch bluegills, largemouth bass and maybe even a northern pike." Similar varieties of lake size and accessibility are covered for each species.

For each write-up, Riepenhoff relates the successes of his fishing buddy du jour and there are plenty of big-fish photos to whet readers' appetites.

Lake descriptions typically include comments from DNR fish managers about size structures, population characteristics, rationale for restrictive or special regulations, recent fish surveys and plans for habitat management. Riepenhoff advises readers of recent stocking efforts, the availability of boat rentals and the opportunity for shore fishing. Tips for what baits and lures produce the best results round out each write-up. It's a good guide for novice and experienced anglers to maximize their fishing enjoyment.

Kathryn A. Kahler, Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine's circulation and promotions manager, writes from Madison.