Exploring the Interior

by Carl Strang

Now that the leaves are down from the trees and shrubs, I have been exploring the areas between the forest trails at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. Those areas are large enough that I cannot cover the forest adequately from the trails. I have found deer runs and old equestrian paths that will provide sufficient access for routine monitoring. Along the way I have found some interesting places. One foggy day I zig-zagged my way through part of the western forest.

This area has been cleared of invasive honeysuckles and other shrubs. Part of it is young second growth with a few clearings where perennial herbaceous plants are growing.

This area has been cleared of invasive honeysuckles and other shrubs. Part of it is young second growth with a few clearings where perennial herbaceous plants are growing.

Elsewhere there are old trees, many of them red oaks.

Elsewhere there are old trees, many of them red oaks.

Among the occasional boulders was this outwash-rounded fossiliferous one.

Among the occasional boulders was this outwash-rounded fossiliferous one.

The chunk of local Silurian dolomite appears to have been a spot on the ocean floor, adjacent to a reef, where there was a crinoid colony.

The chunk of local Silurian dolomite appears to have been a spot on the ocean floor, adjacent to a reef, where there was a crinoid colony.

A morainal depression held a huge fallen red oak.

A morainal depression held a huge fallen red oak.

The tree had lost the grip of most of its roots in the soil.

The last roots that were holding the tree up still show the relatively fresh color where they fractured.

The last roots that were holding the tree up still show the relatively fresh color where they fractured.

The orientation of the trunk relative to those broken roots suggests that a very strong wind from the west was the culprit.

 The oak didn’t go down alone. Broken stems reveal the trees it took out on either side. The force of the fall split the oak’s stem lengthwise.

The oak didn’t go down alone. Broken stems reveal the trees it took out on either side. The force of the fall split the oak’s stem lengthwise.

Each day in this exploration has brought its own delights.

Here, a beautiful moss colony became established on an old burn scar.

Here, a beautiful moss colony became established on an old burn scar.

One day when I was the preserve’s only human visitor, I saw one of St. James Farm’s coyotes. The fat belly and good coat indicate that this animal is a successful hunter.

One day when I was the preserve’s only human visitor, I saw one of St. James Farm’s coyotes. The fat belly and good coat indicate that this animal is a successful hunter.

So now the stage is set for routine coverage of St. James Farm’s ongoing natural history story.

 

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SJFNHS: Slipping into December

by Carl Strang

St. James Farm Forest Preserve has become quieter in recent weeks.

Most migrants, including this swamp sparrow, have moved on south.

Most migrants, including this swamp sparrow, have moved on south.

The frantic rutting season is winding down as does begin to gestate their new embryo fawns.

This young buck has lost any neck swelling he may have had when pumped up by hormones.

This young buck has lost any neck swelling he may have had when pumped up by hormones.

Grazing has his full attention now, though I see that he is about to bite off something with a broader leaf, so “forbsing” would be a more correct term here.

Grazing has his full attention now, though I see that he is about to bite off something with a broader leaf, so “forbsing” would be a more correct term here.

Visibility has increased greatly in the forest after a four-day period in which the honeysuckles and buckthorns dropped nearly all their leaves at the end of November. I have begun to take advantage of this and explore the areas between the trails.

One discovery was this old concrete foundation of a small building close to the preserve’s Winfield Road boundary.

One discovery was this old concrete foundation of a small building close to the preserve’s Winfield Road boundary.

Adjacent to that foundation is an unnaturally steep, eroding slope. It probably was created during the construction or widening of Winfield Road, cutting into the morainal hill.

Adjacent to that foundation is an unnaturally steep, eroding slope. It probably was created during the construction or widening of Winfield Road, cutting into the morainal hill.

As is the case around most former building sites on the preserve, this one is surrounded by a patch of goutweed, an undesirable invasive plant.

As is the case around most former building sites on the preserve, this one is surrounded by a patch of goutweed, an undesirable invasive plant.

I am looking forward to further off-trail exploration as my natural history survey of this preserve continues.

Experiment on Self: Update

by Carl Strang

A few years have passed since I last reported on my experimental return to running as my primary exercise. Increasing stiffness and pain in my early 50’s had forced me to switch from running to bicycling for a few years. Running had been a part of my identity, however, and I missed it badly. Then I read about barefoot running. What appealed was not the barefoot part, but the reduced-impact running style: shorter strides, quicker cadence, and a forefoot to midfoot plant rather than the jarring heel plant with every step that I had been taught in my youth was the proper way to run. At age 59 I gave it a try. I have been running ever since, except for a few episodes of frustrating injuries, none of them caused by running, which nevertheless forced me to take time off and start over again after healing was complete. Those incidents helped, in that they sent me to physical therapists whose core exercises and stretches have made me stronger and helped me avoid running injuries.

So, now at age 64, I continue to enjoy running. Yes, joy is a part of it. In my ideal world everyone is an athlete, finding a form of exercise that is enjoyable to them (that would be running only for some). Running feels the same as it did in my early 20’s, thanks to the injury-avoiding measures outlined above. I’m slower, in part because I respect the limitations of an aging skeletal-muscular system and train at half the weekly mileage I put in when marathoning in my 20’s, and in part because the body’s ability to absorb, transport and process oxygen diminishes significantly with age.

Up to half a dozen times a year I enter races in the 5k to half-marathon range. Races are exciting, provide goals that focus training, immerse participants among other runners, feed the undying desire to compete, and provide standard measures of progress (or, in an older runner, gauge the inevitable slow decline in speed). Thankfully, most races acknowledge that decline with age-class categories that allow one to compare results with peers of age and gender. Also, there are on-line calculators that compute one’s young-age equivalent time when age and gender are entered. Perhaps it seems strange that someone my age would think of himself as an athlete, but I am grateful for all of this support, and happy to contribute to the worthy causes of race sponsors with my entry fees. I am a happy runner again.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

Me at some mid-race point during the recent half-marathon at Moraine Hills State Park.

 

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