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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Conference Time Cont.

Last week I wrote about the first day of the Indiana Master Naturalist Annual Gathering, but there was just too much for one article, so here are Saturday’s events.

Saturday morning started with a bird hike at the Celery Bog Nature Preserve. We saw lots of geese, mallards, coots, shovelers, and several herons as well as a deer walking through the marsh chest deep. Many of us had binoculars, and a spotting scope was set up as well. Inside the Lilly Nature Center we had breakfast and heard about the geological history of the Celery Bog. It was created by glaciers. As they melted, water seeped through crevices that then opened wider and became downward streams that scoured out the land below and deposited gravel and other material that the glaciers carried.  As the glaciers retreated, the area became a lake, which was gradually filled in with sediment and became a marsh. Plant material grew out over the marsh and formed a bog. A hundred years ago Dutch settlers came to the area and since they were experts at reclaiming land from water, they drained the bog and planted celery. That was eventually replaced by grain farming until the 1980s, but because of the water table and the peaty soil, the tiles were often broken by the heavy agricultural equipment, so the land was bought and restored as a wetland. Today it hosts many migratory birds. I thought it was interesting, also, to find out how they determined all this. When it became a nature preserve a 40 ft. long core sample was taken of the soil, cut into thin slices, and then the fossils and plant and animal remains were analyzed and categorized. Using Carbon 14 dating on the organic material, they could ascertain what the properties of each era were.

There was a program on making maple syrup at home, assuming you have sugar maples in your yard. Although I think I’ll let Maple Wood continue to make my authentic maple syrup, one thing I learned from this was why the sap is always boiled outside and not in the kitchen.  The steam can carry sugar and eventually every surface is coated in a sticky, sugary mess.  It takes 35-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, if you’re lucky. Sometimes it takes more.

Our next session was a viewing of Green Fire, a documentary film about the life and ideals of Aldo Leopold, the naturalist who wrote A Sand County Almanac. He also is credited with coining the terms “ecology” and “land ethic.” The title of the film comes from a citation from his book. He was describing shooting a wolf when he was a forester in the Southwest United States in the early part of the last century. “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.




I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” It was an inspiring film and was introduced by the executive director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, who was the keynote speaker for the conference later in the day. 

After the morning activities, we moved to Ross Camp for lunch, a park and conference center run by the Tippecanoe County Park Department. After lunch there were two sets of concurrent sessions that required choosing which ones to attend.  There was “Fruits of Fall” or “Soundscape: the Deep Voice of Nature.” The second session was a choice of “Tracks and Trails” and included a hike or “The Effects of Recreational Disturbance on Karner Blue Butterflies.”

The conclusion was keynote speaker Buddy Huffaker, who guided us through considering what “land” and “ethic,” and then “land ethic” meant to us.  He mentioned that speaking to groups like ours was like preaching to the choir, but that each of us who took this message home spread the message further, and reminded us that there is no music if the choir doesn’t sing.

So, I’m done singing for this week. I hope I conveyed some of the excitement this conference generated among the participants.