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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: April 22, 2020

The Story In the Snow

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

The "April Fool" snow that arrived last week in Central Wisconsin was plenty deep enough to making walking difficult, but nothing was going to keep me away from the woods trails on the morning dog walk. Deep snow had forced me onto the road most of the winter, and I crave the change of scenery as badly as the dogs crave fresh smells.

A day or two of sunshine left brown halos of exposed ground around big tree trunks. The tracks of a solitary turkey in the snow showed it had meandered from halo to halo, scratching up leaves and dirt searching for food. Something with a long, thin tail dragging behind it had gone from a stagnant pond of water below Hank Lake up the steep embankment and to the edge of the water, where it disappeared. Likely a muskrat " the tracks were obscured by some melting and some later snow, but that tail track was telling. I think of this as "The tale of the tail."

Persistent calls from owls continue during daylight hours now - probably a nesting pair. I found pieces of a strange eggshell in the woods a couple of weeks ago, white or cream color and too large for a song bird. I suspect it was the remnants of an owlet hatch removed from the nest by a parent bird; and I am hoping I am right.

The woods are clean - free of the virus making our lives miserable and taking lives by the thousands. I take great care to avoid touching anything away from my home, but here in the woods I'm free to remove one mitten and feel the deep soft velvet of a moss blanket draping a fallen tree trunk. I can run my bare hand down the tangled curls of bark hanging from a yellow birch with no fear of getting sick. It is a revelation, to think that fearlessly touching something with bare hands and then not immediately washing has become a treat.

Sticking out of the snow are the tips of wild leeks, also called wild onion and ramps. The snow has not discouraged them whatsoever; they are as vibrantly green and upright as ever. These plants are the first green seen in our woods every spring. You would think every herbivore around would attack them; but deer tracks in the snow pass through them without stopping; and our dogs, who love eating spring grass pay them no heed either.

The scientific name of this plant is Allium Tricoccum. The plants are very high in vitamin C, and early settlers hunted them for their fresh and restorative taste after long winters without fresh foods. According to the Master Gardener on line program, wild leeks are considered a delicacy and are sometimes sold at farmer's markets and featured in dishes in upscale restaurants. They have a strong garlic-like odor (I can testify to that!) and, the Gardeners say, a sweet oniony taste. I'll never discover the taste for myself since my body does not tolerate garlic, so the smell alone is a deterrent for me. There are some look-alike plants, so be sure you know what you are picking if you decide to try these yourself.

After reading accounts of how delicious these plants can be raw, cooked, pickled and in a Bloody Mary (yes it actually said that,) I got more curious as to why our local wildlife seems to shun them. A source I looked at said most animals including domestic dogs and cats dislike strong onion and garlic flavors and scents. This then is the plant's chemical defense against being eaten by anything ... except humans. That defense protects its early spring appearance, when there is plenty of sun available before the woods leaf out, shade it and make it dormant again. Without its pungent odor, as the first fresh green it would probably be eaten to the ground immediately.

Tracks show a raccoon passed this way recently. I think I know this one, we've seen it on a trail camera, and it is exceptionally large. It was tracking arrow straight in one direction. The raccoon is on a trip to a destination. The dogs and I are meandering, stopping so I can look and feel, or they can sniff. I am enjoying my freedom from worry about virus contamination. There is no need for us to rush. The woods are a safe haven now.

Today, April 22nd, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day is part of the legacy of the environmental awakening of the late 60's and early 70's, and one of our own, Senator Gaylord Nelson, born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, was responsible for the global call to action to protect our planet. Under his leadership, public opinion was solidly behind a bold political agenda to solve environmental problems. Filthy rivers were cleaned up, and controls placed on toxins being dumped onto the land and into our air. No doubt this year Earth Day will be overshadowed by the pandemic. But Senator Gaylord's daughter, Tia, who has followed in his footsteps and tends his legacy, reminds us of one of the great Senator's quotes. "Let us remember that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around." Here in the United States, in a time of relentless attacks on environmental regulations just when they are most needed, I can only wish for another Wisconsin leader like him.

Song stuck in my head - "Angel from Montgomery," written by the immensely talented John Prine, who died from Covid-19 last week. His own version of the song is good, but my favorite is Bonnie Raitt's version, because her female bluesy voice is perfectly suited to the lyrics.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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