Sunday, September 13, 2009

Take a hike!

SA1 This afternoon Ken and I went hiking--no, not the Appalachian Trail!--at a place called Swamp Angel Nature Preserve.

Swamp Angel is located near Kendallville, Indiana, about an hour and a half southeast of us. It was a nice drive through farm and Amish country, and I told Ken that I was having a childhood flashback. I remember just driving around with my folks when I was a kid, enjoying the sights, usually stopping to visit a relative at some point. Seeing all the farmhouses and fields of corn, soybeans, and sorghum reminded me so much of those drives! Some of my relatives had farms, and often had barns built by my Grandpa. Even the houses were a reminder...white siding, two story, a porch (often with a porch swing), a clothesline in the back yard, big trees, a grain was a powerful feeling of nostalgia with some very sweet memories.

As supporters of the Nature Conservancy, Ken got an email a couple of weeks ago asking if we wanted to join in a guided hike, and we thought it sounded like fun. Come to find out, I'm really glad we did it, because Swamp Angel isn't open to the public due to the sensitivity of its plants and ecosystem. They don't even publish the address of the place, and only send out directions when people like us accept these invitations.

Island with oaks We had an interesting group, led by our guide, Beth. She's not much bigger than me, but she is a land steward of five or six Conservancy preserves, doing much of the work herself! One of the cool things about the Nature Conservancy is that they manage the land, and sometimes that isn't the equivalent of preservation. Well, in the long term it is, but they do planned burns because areas like this are managed by fires, which kills off the growth that isn't conducive to the continuation of the high ground oak portions or to the fens. They also go in and remove non-native, invasive species, which can quickly choke out native, desirable growth. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Swamp Angel is named after a character in the Gene Stratton Porter story "Freckles." Porter was an Indiana native and had a home near the preserve. She was a feminist, naturalist, photographer, and writer, publishing in the early 1900's. One of our fellow hikers was a big fan of Porter, and was able to tell us a lot of information about her, and that was great, because I know very little about her. (I know of her most famous work, A Girl of the Limberlost, but have never read it.)

Pitcher plants Another hiker was Scott the Botanist, and how lucky to have a botanist along on a nature hike! He had his observation journal along with him, as well as a field guide, and was able to tell us names of various plants and other information that even Beth the Guide didn't know. One of the coolest things was getting to see a pitcher plant! I've only seen pictures of them, and have never seen one in the wild. It is a carnivorous plant, collecting dew and rain water in its pitcher-shaped leaves. Insects fall down into the water, and can't climb back out; the plant digests the insects and uses them for nutrients. Isn't nature awesome?!

Me? I just had questions. What is the difference between a fen and a swamp? Why cut down maples and cherry trees? I wasn't seeing a lot of they not hang out in the fen, or were we disturbing them?

1. The botanist explained the difference between a fen and a swamp. A true swamp is forested, with stands of trees and deeper water fed by fresh or salt water inundations. (Think New Orleans' swamps.) Beth the Guide explained that a fen is fed by groundwater, and the water pH is neutral to alkaline due to minerals, with plants that thrive in such a pH. Some further research when I got home shows that bogs are similar to fens, but have acidic water; marshes are wetlands that have grasses and soft-stemmed plants rather than woody plants. All are types of wetlands, and it would seem that our wetlands at Nutwood are marsh. Which is good, because that's what I've always called it!

2. Even though maples and cherry trees are native to our area, they sort of take over and compete with the undergrowth. The high areas of this preserve, which was formed by glaciers, are populated with tall oaks, and need to be fairly open, without a lot of other trees choking out the undergrowth. It's about 95 acres of high areas with oaks, and low-lying wetlands of fens with wildflowers and grasses (and poison sumac...yikes!), and smallish lakes.

3. Since it was mid-day, Beth the Guide said that the birds would be pretty quiet. In the fen, she sees sandhill cranes, and quite a few ducks. I saw a couple of perching birds in the oaks, but couldn't get a close enough look to see what they were.

Fen and lake I take it back...I did have one answer to give. A fellow hiker asked an off-topic question about whether the Conservancy has found the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which was sighted in Arkansas a couple of years ago, after having been thought to be extinct for 50 years or so. It was a very exciting sighting, and caused quite a stir in environmentalist circles! (Trust was really cool.) It was also controversial, with some saying that it wasn't an Ivory-Billed but a Pileated (like we have here), and I was able to say that as far as I know, they've never found confirmation of the sighting. No further sightings, no nest, no nothing.

But mostly I just listened!

It was a very enjoyable two hours (and an enjoyable three of driving). I am in constant awe of the variety of habitats and ecosystems that exist, throughout the world, our country, and even here in our own state. I'm fascinated by the way everything interacts, whether it's antagonistic or synergistic. If I were starting my career over again (and I'm glad I'm not), I might consider some sort of career in this field. Environmental engineering, field biologist, botanist, forest ranger...? I really do find it all fascinating, and I applaud the Nature Conservancy for their thoughtful, scientific approach to land stewardship, as well as their allowing some of us to visit places we'd otherwise not get to visit. It was a true treat, and our natural resources and the beauty and uniqueness of our ecology is something to be treasured and nurtured.


Go to Ken's blog for a very nice slideshow of our trip!

Fen from island


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun. The pictures were great, too.

  2. I love hiking and nature preserves..sounds like you all had a good time :)

  3. I have been a contributor since 1984, and it is without a doubt my favorite charity (that is why they are in our Wills :o). It was fun and informative - what a great afternoon.

  4. Hi Beth,
    Looks like a nice day (and I enjoyed Ken's slideshow). I hope you both steered clear of the poison sumac!

  5. What a nice day!

    I'm a big fan of the Nature Conservancy myself. I got involved because they care for my "favorite place on Earth", the Tall Grass Prairie in northern Oklahoma. It's an amazing organization with an amazing mission.

  6. How cool to see a pitcher plant. I didn't even know we had any growing in this area. I've wanted to start a kind of collection of carnivorous plants. There are some really neat looking ones out there. (also quite a few creepy ones... I'd love to have some creepy flesh eating plants!)

  7. lovely entry. You made us feel as if we were with you and we all learned something as we read. We have a "bog" area near here that somewhat resembles the place you went. It is all so interesting to go out and see and feel nature.

  8. I agree with Sherry. This is the kind of thing I would love to have gone on, and I remember doing 'stuff' like that with AKA here in Michigan. Will miss the changing of the colors this year ... anywho, glad y'all had such a nice day!

  9. Very interesting! I didn't know the differences between those in #1 either! Thank you, Beth!

    be well...

  10. The hike sounds like heaven Beth. Glad you had such a good time.

  11. Dear Beth,
    Thank you for this interesting post! I love Nature Conservancy as you two do!They do great work ,and my teen wants to do this work! that and work with animals to conserve them!
    I would like to post something about how nuclear power plants can provide a lot of energy and the waste can be used or put away so it will not harm us...hopefully if I do can you guys comment?

  12. Dear Beth,
    Patrick Swayze has passed away..I will write something about him... please comment!

  13. I would have been thrilled to see a wild Pitcher Plant, I had one for many years but sadly it died. The hike sounds fabulous and something I would love to participate in. Sounds like a good group to be with as well - that doesn't always happen. Glad you had such a great time, I learned alot reading your entry!

  14. Wow, Beth, you really tell a great story here. I love all your descriptions and information. I wish I had such a place to visit. I have been a Nature Conservancy member in the past. There is a tiny patch of forest and wetlands here, but, believe it or not, they even have areas of New York City that they take care of.


  15. Hi Beth. This is Scott (the botanist). I really enjoyed your write up on the trip... very thorough. I was working on my own blog post on the trip to Swamp Angel and came across your (and Ken's) blog(s). If you're interested in seeing my post, visit I probably won't have it done for a day or so.



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