Lesson in Carr Repair or Listening to Your Land

Doomed by deafness

Doomed by deafness

As we fill in our mental map of this 44 acres, we tend toward descriptive names that don’t take too long to say:  High Pines, Windward Spruces, Lloyd’s Lane, Westfallia, the Prairie, the Glade, Turkey Track Trail, Ridgeway.  Most of these names came immediately to mind and stuck like glue.

But one area was first called That Low Spot by the Road.  Last year after the torrential June rains that washed away houses perched by Lake Delton , it became That Land under Water.  For a very short time it was called New Netherlands because of its location below “sea level”.  By last fall it was That Place Where the Trees All Died.

The Windward Spruces just a smidge up the valley and on the cool north side of the slope are thriving.

The Windward Spruces just a smidge up the valley and on the cool north side of the slope are thriving.

When that name got shortened to fen, which is a kind of wetland,  I felt sure it would stick. There is something so elemental about one-syllable, three-letter words.  Then Doug discovered it is actually a carr – a shrub carr, to be precise.

a wetland community dominated by tall shrubs.  Shrub carr genrally gets an undeserved bad rap.  Even marshes don’t get drained as often as shrub carrs get “improved”.  They don’t make the cut as natural wonders in human eyes, and that’s our loss.

The previous owners planted all the farm fields (including carr) in trees.  Most of the trees were about three feet tall when we took ownership, and those thousands of bright-eyed toddler trees stretching their new branches joyously skyward was a large part of the appeal of this place.  If you have read Lord of the Rings (or, sigh, seen the movie), and you loved Treebeard — then you know where I am coming from.

Such proud parents, we watched those rows of spruce grow for four years until they were strapping young fellows taller than us.  Then last summer we watched the spruce in New Netherlands yellow in standing water.  This spring their remaining brown needles rained to the ground.

If that had happened our first year, I would have sat among them and cried while I seriously contemplated taping the needles back on the branches, but I’m learning that you have to listen to the land before you plunk down your plants.  Spruce cannot endure in a carr.

So what does love a brush carr?  According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, tall shrubs such as dogwood, meadowsweet, and various willows.  Well, guess what has been coming up there spontaneously since we stopped mowing – sandbar willows!

Carry on, Sandbar Willows!  Carr repair in progress.

Carry on, Sandbar Willows! Carr repair in progress.

In our first years of ownership, we drove up into the property across the much abused shrub carr.  Had we not moved our access to higher ground two years ago, last summer we would have been parking by the road and wading across the wetland.  Meanwhile, returning willow have begun to blur that old truck trail, creeping in from both sides and shooting up between the tire tracks.  The tire tracks remain too compacted even for those hearty willows just yet.  It’s going to take a while for this carr car scar to heal.

Before white settlement, this area was prairie/savanna as far as the eye could see, and shrub carrs were  moist oases in that landscape.  This little carr endured many years of being plowed and planted in corn and soybeans (probably with minimal success in wet years) and then it bided its time as thousands of spruce twigs cut across it in tidy rows.   Last year, it said, “Enough is enough!”

So, we are listening.  I personally love the soft, green sandbar willows that have been cropping up and spreading out, and so might Rusty Blackbirds, Willow Flycatchers, Wood Turtles, Four-toed Salamanders and Eastern Red Bats.  The list goes on, and so will our carr.

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