Saturday, April 12, 2014

Update: How to grow an arboretum.

It's been a while since I've visited the Rotary Centennial Arboretum. Since Autumn to be precise. Well, spring is here--at last! And among other things that means people are out again at the Arboretum, adding new plants, mulching and doing all the other things needed to make the still largely empty land come alive.

How do you grow an arboretum? Well, if your arboretum is on land reclaimed from a brownfield of broken bricks, you look among the piles for newly staked seedlings. Here is what I found when I visited yesterday.

Joel, an Urban Ecology Center staffer.

Similar activity was taking place farther downstream along the Milwaukee River where the River Revitalization Foundation is beautifying its recently acquired property near North Avenue. I arrived shortly after burlap was laid down over the cleared and reseeded slope.

Tanya, an RRF staffer.

To view previous installments showing progress on the Arboretum:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Should the fate our natural resources be up to hunters and trappers?


Wisconsin Conservation Congress meets next Monday

Let me say at the outset that I am not and never have been opposed to hunting. Deer hunting, that is. In a well-regulated manner and in proper locations.

In recent years the State of Wisconsin, influenced heavily by hunters and trappers, has expanded the types of hunting and trapping allowed, the locations and times these activities can take place, and the age at which young people can participate, among many other things. To give just one example, although the population is still tenuous, as soon as the Gray Wolf was delisted as an endangered species a proposal to allow hunting was passed. 

The fate of Wisconsin’s natural resources is indeed left up to hunters and trappers, for the most part. This is because hunters and trappers make up the overwhelming majority of participants in the annual Conservation Congress, which is the most influential public hearing on DNR policies and regulations.

DNR policies affect everyone who enjoys the natural resources of Wisconsin: hikers, birders, canoeists, kayakers, skiers, etc. The hunters and trappers are always well represented at the Conservation Congress and they have a right to be there. But other voices need to be heard as well.

How about yours?

I plan to be there, but it will take a lot of voices to balance those who represent hunting and fishing interests.

Please attend:
Wisconsin Conservation Congress

Monday, April 14, 2014 @ 7:00 p.m.

Nathan Hale High School Auditorium, 11601 W Lincoln Avenue, West Allis

(This location is for residents of Milwaukee County. If you live in another county, please attend the appropriate meeting: DNR spring hearings locations.

Among the questions on this year’s ballot are the following:

·      Question #48: Do you support legislation to allow hunters to enter private property without asking permission, to follow their packs of dogs?
·      # 36: Do you support the legislature authorizing the DNR to start a tundra swan hunt?
·      # 35: Do you support the legislature authorizing the DNR to kill our 75 rare white deer statewide?
·      # 45: Do you support the DNR dropping any hour restrictions for trapping statewide in state parks and all publicly purchased lands, so trappers can be out trapping all night?
·      # 43: Children of any age can trap.  Do you support the DNR making it easier for children of any age to trap by allowing them to trap mentored by an adult present, since they are not old enough to understand or attend a trapping course?

Thank you to Patricia Randolph, who blogs at Madravenspeak, for the above information.

I encourage you to read the fair and balanced article about the upcoming Conservation  Congress from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Have your say on state's natural resources.”

Monday, April 7, 2014

“Mingle for Monarchs” at Sugar Maple

The Friends of the Monarch Trail invite you to a FREE event:
“Mingle for Monarchs” at Sugar Maple

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
441 E. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee, WI

Enjoy an evening with fellow supporters of the Monarch Trail for free appetizers, a cash bar and awesome silent auction items including:

~For Foodies~

Restaurant certificates to:
Café Manna, Pizza Shuttle, Le Reve, Blue’s Egg, Maxie’s, Centro Café, Milwaukee Food Tours, beverages from Horny Goat Hideaway, Sprecher, Great Lakes Distillery, and more!

~For those that appreciate nature or getting your hands in the dirt~
Gift basket from the Wild Ones, high class European garden tools, plants, Amish Craftsmen Guild Swallowtail Butterfly folding cabana reclining chair and certificates from Prairie Nursery and Fruit of the Bloom!

Other Silent Auction items:
Artwork and books from local artists, a dulcimer, Butterfly T-Shirts, Cream City Soap Co., tickets to: Milw. County Zoo, Discovery World, Milw. Admirals, Waukesha Skating, Landmark Theatre, Milw. Rep, and tours to: Sprecher, Great Lakes Distillery, and the Harley Davidson Museum!

The Friends are going to restore every area on the trail we possibly can to help bring back the monarchs!  This will take resources to purchase plants as well as outreach and education for people who want to join in our effort.
Please share this invite and bring family, friends, co-workers and all Monarch Butterfly fans to come out to enjoy a fun evening of “Mingling for the Monarch Butterfly!”

We NEED you there to make this a fun & successful event!
Thank you!

To download an event poster and for more information, please visit

Sneak preview: the silent auction includes a framed print of this sunset I shot at the Monarch Trail on the County Grounds.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Photo Phenology

Phenology refers to the observation of seasonal plant and animal life cycles. Aldo Leopold was a habitual phenologist. Substantial portions of his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, are devoted to such observations. Photography, of course, can serve the phenologist well with its ability to record the visible world with indiscriminate accuracy—as long as you know where to point the camera!

The Menomonee Valley Branch of the Urban Ecology Center has undertaken a long-term project that it calls Photo Phenology. The idea was inspired by the proximity of the Center to newly rehabilitated parklands in the Menomonee Valley. Stormwater Park, 3 Bridges Park, and the Hank Aaron State Trail are all a short walk from their back door. 

tracks in the mud
Once a month, on the fourth Saturday, a team equipped with UEC point-and-shoot cameras goes out on a regular route to record the changes that are happening with the seasons. Last Saturday I accompanied UEC staff members Lainet and Michael on their rounds. They explained that certain vantage places are repeated each time to establish consistent points of reference. They capture several views of the river and the broad landscape. They also keep their eyes open for small details and ephemeral changes, such as animal tracks, blossoming flowers, etc.

We chose Stormwater Park, an undulating strip of swales and ponds under the 35th Street Viaduct that functions as a passive runoff treatment area for the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center. Because this was the first outing since the snow melted away (finally!), we observed a greater than usual accumulation of trash. Another UEC program called Volunteer Park Rangers is devoted to clean up and maintenance of the parks.

Here are some of the things we saw on our phenological excursion. Leopold, indefatigable phenologist as he was, knew its limitations as well. He cautions us not to read too much into surface appearances: “It is fortunate, perhaps, that no matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all of the salient facts about any one of them.”



invasive teasel

Stormwater Park



layered landscape


Valley Passage
out in front

This post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency. For more information about the residency and links to previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A reflection upon visiting Muir Woods

Outside the entrance to Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco near the California coast, John Muir is quoted: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.”

The same quote is repeated on a sign at the beginning of a section of the park known as Cathedral Grove. The rest of the sign reads as follows:

Cathedral Grove was set aside as a quiet refuge to protect its natural soundscape in an increasingly noisy world.

The soundscape is vital to animals for hunting and foraging, courtship and mating, nurturing young, and avoiding predators.

By walking quietly, we experience the natural sounds of a living, ancient forest. We hope you enjoy the beauty of Muir Woods through both sight and sound.

At both ends of the grove signposts announce your arrival in this specially set aside section of the park and add: “Enter quietly.”

I did enjoy the beauty of the woods, but I had to wonder: if the soundscape is vital to animals for all those good reasons, why limit the request for silence to this one grove? And why single out this particular grove with the name "Cathedral Grove," as if only part of the forest is sacred?

I noticed that people did tend to hush as they passed by the signs. At least for a while. On this glorious first warm day of spring—and a Sunday to boot, I shared the redwoods with what seemed to be thousands of other people. A sign, no doubt, of the value we place on these natural wonders. But I didn’t hear too many animals while I was there. I also had to wonder what Muir would have said were he present to witness what has been done in his name.

Here’s another quote from Muir that I did not read anywhere in Muir Woods National Monument:

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed—chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. ... It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods—trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools—only Uncle Sam can do that.”

I wonder.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Construction Season: Reframing the Menomonee Valley.

It snowed again overnight. Just east of the 35th Street Viaduct in the Menomonee Valley there is a vacant lot below the curve in Canal Street. This morning the surface of the lot looked as if a sheet had been spread over it with military precision. Or perhaps not so much a sheet as another of those blank canvases that has made the Valley what it is today. Welcome to the new American landscape.

This canvas was primed and ready to paint.

By mid-day a team of caterpillar shovels and bulldozers had clanked their way back and forth across this canvas like so many gargantuan paintbrushes. The brilliant white snow now framed a dark rectangle of exposed earth, like a somberly hued Rothko abstraction. The plans for the site, however, like so much that is happening in the Valley, are far from abstract. They also exemplify the hopeful new attitude that, if it prevails against the winds of pessimism brought on by multiple contemporary crises, has the power to alter human destiny.

That’s a lot to ask of a small, local company that packages tea.

The rest of this story and additional photos are posted on my other blog: Arts Without Borders


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Potholes close Menomonee River Parkway

Everyone complains about the potholes these days--with good reason! The unusually severe conditions this winter have combined with years of increasing government austerity (thanks to anti-tax political attitudes) to leave many roads in deplorable shape. Driving has become a little like what we saw in the slalom events at the recent Olympics. Only far slower (if you care about your car.)

However, if you've tried to drive on the heavily traveled section of the Menomonee River Parkway between North Avenue and the Village of Wauwatosa in the past week you've noticed that a section is completely closed. If you haven't already heard, the closure is due to the potholes, which extend in several spots clear across the width of the roadway. As you can see in this example.

The closure isn't absolute. I've seen cars slip around the barricades on several occasions. In fact, there are residential driveways that must remain accessible in that stretch. Even so, I was surprised by the appearance of this Arctic Ice truck, which clearly had no business on the parkway even if it had not been closed. Trucking is not allowed on Menomonee River Parkway. The parkway was bad anyway--has been for years--and the plowing is largely to blame for the extent of the damage, I'm sure. But scofflaw truckers can't be a good sign.

To read more about the parkway pothole problem in Wauwatosa NOW, go to "Menomonee Parkway a victim of potholes, crumbling pavement."