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.

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SJF Miscellany

by Carl Strang

There has been a gradual buildup of photos from my monitoring excursions at St. James Farm, and it’s time to empty the bin. Some are pictures of birds.

Ruby-crowned kinglets have been common migrants around the forest edges.

Ruby-crowned kinglets have been common migrants around the forest edges.

A pair of adult red-tailed hawks frequently patrols the sky overhead.

A pair of adult red-tailed hawks frequently patrols the sky.

This juvenile red-tail was tolerated or unnoticed by the residents as it perched near the preserve’s boundary on Sunday.

This juvenile red-tail was tolerated or unnoticed by the residents as it perched near the preserve’s boundary on Sunday.

These young red-tails often are naïve and approachable. This was one of the first photos I took, from just a few yards away. I had to back off to get the entire bird in the frame for the previous photo.

These young red-tails often are naïve and approachable. This was one of the first photos I took, from just a few yards away. I had to back off to get the entire bird in the frame for the previous photo.

Proper awareness in monitoring includes looking in all directions and all size scales.

A small mushroom and moss growing on a fallen log.

A small mushroom and moss growing on a fallen log.

Elsewhere on the same log, a raccoon left a record of its passing. Its five toenails left characteristically spaced scratches when it leaped up to the log. It did not gain purchase here, so either fell back to the ground or otherwise had enough momentum and grip to gain the log.

Elsewhere on the same log, a raccoon left a record of its passing. Its five toenails left characteristically spaced scratches when it leaped up to the log. It did not gain purchase here, so either fell back to the ground or otherwise had enough momentum and grip to gain the log.

Building the story of a preserve also means looking for clues to the landscape’s human history.

These corroding pieces of metal slowly are being engulfed by the continued growth of this tree. They are 30 feet above the ground. At some point I hope to learn the story here.

These corroding pieces of metal slowly are being engulfed by the continued growth of this tree. They are 30 feet above the ground. At some point I hope to learn the story here.

Accumulating experiences of an area’s beauty and blemishes leads to an internal transformation: falling in love with a place.

 

Introduction to Saint James Farm II: Landscape Architecture

by Carl Strang

The green portions of St. James Farm Forest Preserve are not all wildlands. There are extensive grounds, some of which are paddock and events areas from the farm’s equestrian past, and some of which are designed plantings of various sorts. One prominent feature, borrowed from European design, is a scattered array of allees, paired rows of trees of the same species.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

In my preliminary monitoring walks, the pin oak allee area is the only place where I have seen gray squirrels. Elsewhere there have been only fox squirrels so far. The ash allee is history, thanks to the emerald ash borer, but there are several other allees constructed with other tree species.

A variety of exotic woody plants may be found on the grounds. Many of these are concentrated around the former home site.

This magnolia is an example.

This magnolia is an example.

Brooks McCormick’s conservation interests were expressed in ponds and prairie plots at the edges of the grounds.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

There also are significant conifer plantings, which already this fall have attracted pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches down from the north.

 

Introduction to St. James Farm I: Buildings

by Carl Strang

During the first several years of this blog I reported the results of my monitoring activities at Mayslake Forest Preserve. I also took occasional looks back at previous preserve monitoring at Fullersburg Woods and Willowbrook. Those three sites are the ones where my office was located for different segments of my career with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. The idea is to take regular walks through a site and to sketch its ongoing story as comprehensively as the observer’s limitations will allow.

Now that I have retired, I wish to continue the satisfying process of preserve monitoring, and am shifting to St. James Farm Forest Preserve. That site is close to my home, and is a relatively recent and relatively little known addition to the county’s preserves (though it became better understood in late spring 2015 thanks to the Centennial Bioblitz). Finally, this preserve holds the largest block of forest in the western half of the county that has persisted from the early 1800’s to the present day.

Today I begin reporting on St. James Farm by highlighting some of the architecture that has made it an attractive site for events and for public visitation. St. James Farm originally was acquired in 1920 by Chauncey and Marion McCormick, whose family co-founded International Harvester. Their interests included equestrian and dairy operations. Their son Brooks continued and expanded the equestrian facilities and events, especially after he retired. He also was interested in conservation, and in 2000 he sold the property to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County but retained the right to live there until his death. The District took possession in 2007 and gradually has been converting the site to make it amenable to year-round public use. A photo gallery follows.

Stables and a magnificent horse sculpture immediately draw the eye from the viewpoint of the parking lot.

Stables and a magnificent horse sculpture immediately draw the eye from the viewpoint of the parking lot.

The stables and farm buildings form an impressive array.

The stables and farm buildings form an impressive array.

Artifacts from International Harvester’s history were transported to the farm and are preserved there.

Artifacts from International Harvester’s history were transported to the farm and are preserved there.

Beautiful details reward a close study of the buildings.

Beautiful details reward a close study of the buildings.

This dolphin fountain is part of an area that once was a center for equestrian events.

This dolphin fountain is part of an area that once was a center for equestrian events.

Brooks McCormick stipulated that his house be torn down before the District opened the farm to the public, and further forbade staff to take photographs of it. I saw the building before it was demolished, and frankly it was not much to look at. This gate remains at the house’s former location.

Brooks McCormick stipulated that his house be torn down before the District opened the farm to the public, and further forbade staff to take photographs of it. I saw the building before it was demolished, and frankly it was not much to look at. This gate remains at the house’s former location.

The horse and hound cemetery respectfully is preserved.

The horse and hound cemetery respectfully is preserved.

This caboose is an incongruous presence, testimony to a wealthy collector’s interests.

This caboose is an incongruous presence, testimony to a wealthy collector’s interests.

The landscape architecture of the grounds, and the wilder portions of the preserve, will be subjects of the next posts.

 

Connor Prairie Bioblitz

by Carl Strang

Each year a bioblitz takes place somewhere in the state of Indiana. Last year I participated for the first time when the Kankakee Sands nature preserve was the location. This year it was at Connor Prairie, a historic interpretive park just north of Indianapolis.

Entrance to Connor Prairie Visitor Center

Entrance to Connor Prairie Visitor Center

It wasn’t all bioblitz. The usual history interpretation was taking place over the weekend.

The barn in the Connor homestead

The barn in the Connor homestead

A tethered balloon ride, providing an elevated overview of the area, is billed as a 19th Century attraction.

A tethered balloon ride, providing an elevated overview of the area, is billed as a 19th Century attraction.

The park invested considerable support for the bioblitz, a 24-hour hunt for as many species as participating scientists could find on the property.

Connor Prairie volunteers provided a wide range of bioblitz related activities.

Connor Prairie volunteers provided a wide range of bioblitz related activities.

Outside exhibitors added enriching educational experiences.

 Introducing children to the world of biodiversity is an important part of a public bioblitz.

Introducing children to the world of biodiversity is an important part of a public bioblitz.

The scientists also were interested in teaching.

A presentation on bats by scientists from Ball State University

A presentation on bats by scientists from Ball State University

Scientists were encouraged to do their work where people could look over their shoulders.

Purdue University entomologists identify beetles. Participating scientists enjoyed sharing their finds with interested members of the public.

Purdue University entomologists identify beetles. Participating scientists enjoyed sharing their finds with interested members of the public.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of what I found at Connor Prairie.

Literature Review: Human Paleontology

by Carl Strang

This last post on the scientific literature from 2012 includes notes from studies that spanned the time range of human evolution and geographic expansion. The review begins 4 million years ago with Australopithecus anamensis in Africa, and ends a little over 10,000 years ago in Ohio.

Estebaranz, Ferran, et al. Buccal dental microwear analyses support greater specialization in consumption of hard foodstuffs for Australopithecus anamensis. Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 2012; 90: 1-24 DOI: 10.4436/jass.90006 As described in a ScienceDaily article. Microwear of molars is consistent with a diet of seeds, tubers and leaves for Australopithecus anamensis. This contrasts with the fruit-heavy diets of both the ancestor of anamensis (Ardepithecus ramidus) and its descendant Australopithecus afarensis.

Green, David J., and Zeresenay Alemseged. 2012. Australopithecus afarensis scapular ontogeny, function, and the role of climbing in human evolution. Science 338: 514-517. For the first time, shoulder blades of this species have been studied. Their similarity to those of apes (both in structure and in the fact that those of young are similar to those of adults) suggests that this upright walking species still was adapted for tree climbing as well.

Human use of fire may go back a million years.

Human use of fire may go back a million years.

Berna, Francesco, et al. Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1117620109 They found evidence of cultural use of fire dated 1 million years ago, 300,000 years earlier than the previous evidence. This was the time of Homo erectus.

Wilkins, Jayne, Benjamin J. Schoville, Kyle S. Brown, and Michael Chazan. 2012. Evidence for early hafted hunting technology. Science 338:942-946. They found spear points in South Africa from 500,000 years ago, the time of Homo heidelbergensis, the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. This indicates that the spears used by both had a common cultural origin. The previous known oldest spears were at 300,000 years ago.

Mathias RA, Fu W, Akey JM, Ainsworth HC, Torgerson DG, et al. (2012) Adaptive Evolution of the FADS Gene Cluster within Africa. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44926. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044926 They looked at genes which make possible the conversion of medium-length fatty acids from plants into longer-chain fatty acids essential for human brain function. Variation in human populations and in relation to chimpanzees points to the fixation of these gene variations around 85,000 years ago. This coincides with the time when humans began to expand through Africa away from limited coastal areas, where they had remained for the first 100,000 years of the species’ existence. The authors suggest that prior to this mutational event, humans needed fish and aquatic invertebrates to provide these fatty acids, but afterwards could live in a broader range of environments by including plants in the diet that provided the precursors for the brain chemicals. A ScienceDaily article describing this study points out that African Americans as well as Africans, who have the highest functionality of these genes, more often suffer the side effects of hypertension, coronary artery disease, and other consequences of too-efficient use of vegetable oils in cooking.

Finlayson, C., et al. (2012) Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45927. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045927 They studied remains in a number of caves and other Neanderthal sites over a long span of time, and found evidence that Neanderthals commonly and deliberately, removed corvid and raptor flight feathers, apparently for use in symbolic adornment.

Rule, Susan, et al. 2012. The aftermath of megafaunal extinction: ecosystem transformation in Pleistocene Australia. Science 335:1483-1486. They used charcoal as an indicator of human activity, a fungal dung spore for megafauna, and also looked at changes in plant communities as indicated by pollen in core samples over a time span from 130,000 to 24,000 years ago. They conclude that human hunting was responsible for Australian megafauna extinctions (at least 20 genera of marsupials, monotremes, birds and reptiles). They then argue that the timing of vegetation changes points to the loss of megafauna leading to an increase in grasses and other fine fuels, so that resulting wildfires promoted a vegetation change in the region around the cored swamp in northeast Australia, from a mixed rainforest to a desert shrub-grass ecosystem.

Human use of fire may go back a million years.

Reconstructed ground sloth

Brian G. Redmond, H Gregory McDonald, Haskel J. Greenfield, Matthew L. Burr. New evidence for Late Pleistocene human exploitation of Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) from northern Ohio, USA. World Archaeology, 2012; 44 (1): 75 DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2012.647576 A fossil thigh bone shows saw marks from stone tools were used to filet the muscle, 13,435-13,738 years ago.

Lessons from Travels: The Mound Builders

by Carl Strang

There was a time when I thought of the North American landscape in an ideal sense, wanting my ecological studies to delve into the interactions of organisms and their history without any messy intrusions of human influence. Certainly my experiences as a graduate student in the Alaskan wilderness supported that point of view. As I spent more time in the field and continued to observe, and think, I gradually came to the realization that this ideal vanished thousands of years ago as humans filled the continent and influenced it strongly. That understanding became more concrete as I visited earthworks created by Native American civilizations. My first such encounter was Serpent Mound in Ohio.

It is difficult to have a proper perspective from ground level. The shape is a winding narrow mound with a mouth-like extension at one end embracing a separate oval shape.

It is difficult to have a proper perspective from ground level. The shape is a winding narrow mound with a mouth-like extension at one end embracing a separate oval shape.

The whole has been compared to a snake, with the oval either representing its head or perhaps an egg the snake is about to swallow. My own interpretation is much different. It reminds me of an ovary and oviduct with its expanded, embracing end, and thus has fertility symbology.

In 2005 I made a couple trips that included a number of stops at other mound-builder sites. Mound City in Ohio was the first stop.

This site has been studied and preserved, as part of the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, with interpretive amenities for the public.

This site has been studied and preserved, as part of the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, with interpretive amenities for the public.

The Hopewell culture flourished around the first 400 years A.D. during the Woodland Period, a transitional time when people with a hunting gathering culture increasingly were including agriculture in their economy.

A defining boundary ring a few feet high contains various sizes and shapes of mounds.

A defining boundary ring a few feet high contains various sizes and shapes of mounds.

Sophisticated works of art, many of them based on animal forms, have been found in Hopewell sites.

Excavation of a mound revealed that it had been constructed over a charnel house (the walls indicated by the posts), which had been burned along with the accumulated human remains it had housed.

Excavation of a mound revealed that it had been constructed over a charnel house (the walls indicated by the posts), which had been burned along with the accumulated human remains it had housed.

Already it becomes clear that mounds had more than one function in these societies. The greatest mounds are in Illinois, at Cahokia.

This photo does not do justice to the largest mound at Cahokia, though the car, telephone poles and human figure silhouettes give some sense of its size.

This photo does not do justice to the largest mound at Cahokia, though the car, telephone poles and human figure silhouettes give some sense of its size.

Cahokia was the greatest center of the Mississippian Culture, which followed the Hopewell times and lasted until drought forced a decline beginning around 1400 A.D.

The view from the top of that high mound shows that its lesser neighbors were themselves substantial.

The view from the top of that high mound shows that its lesser neighbors were themselves substantial.

The Mississippian economy was strongly dependent upon agriculture.

This reconstructed ring of poles, nicknamed Woodhenge, apparently was a ceremonial observatory.

This reconstructed ring of poles, nicknamed Woodhenge, apparently was a ceremonial observatory.

The population around Cahokia was huge, a city by any definition, and it all was built and collapsed before Europeans or Americans arrived on the scene. The huge mounds were built basketload by basketload of excavated earth.

These mounds were of a third type, having buildings constructed on top of them. Moundville, in Alabama, is a site where one of the mounds has a reconstructed building on top.

Moundville was part of the Mississippian culture, and so was connected to Cahokia.

Moundville was part of the Mississippian culture, and so was connected to Cahokia.

Continuing south, I made a stop at Poverty Point in Louisiana. This Archaic Period town was much earlier than the sites described above, and in 1500 B.C. was the largest settlement in North America.

The trees give some sense of scale to this Poverty Point mound.

The trees give some sense of scale to this Poverty Point mound.

Emerald Mound is an impressive single construct in Mississippi. It was active later than Cahokia, but was still an expression of the Mississippian culture.

The climbing people show this moundlet was of good size.

The climbing people show this moundlet was of good size.

Here is that moundlet from the other end of a plain.

Here is that moundlet from the other end of a plain.

That plain is revealed to be the top of Emerald Mound, which qualifies as “enormous.” It is second in size only to the largest of the Cahokia mounds.

That plain is revealed to be the top of Emerald Mound, which qualifies as “enormous.” It is second in size only to the largest of the Cahokia mounds.

By the time Europeans came along, there was only a diminished remnant of the Mississippian culture, the Natchez people. Their mounds were much less impressive.

This is Temple Mound, at the Natchez Grand Village.

This is Temple Mound, at the Natchez Grand Village.

All of this serves as a cautionary reminder that the North American continent cannot be regarded as undisturbed in its ecology. It has a human history, beginning with the killing off of the megafauna, which began influencing things long before the landscape settled out of its glacial disturbance.

Literature Review: The Aleut Story

by Carl Strang

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I got to spend some time in the Aleutian Islands as a graduate student. I heard a few things about the Aleut people at the time, but a news review in Science last year provided the opportunity to learn more about this interesting chapter in the human story of our continent.

Balter, Michael. 2012. The peopling of the Aleutians. Science 335:158-161. This article reviewed recent and current research into Aleut archeology. Archeologists have found that the Aleuts spread into the islands from the Alaska Peninsula rather than from Siberia, and they did so in two waves. The Paleo-Aleuts had skeletal features with some European influence, a simpler social structure (for instance, houses had only one room), and a simpler economy (they ate mainly fish, seabirds and sea otters). They reached Adak Island in the middle of the chain by 7000 years ago (glacial remnants made living in the Aleutians impossible until 9000 years ago), and the western islands around 3500 years ago.

The Aleutian Islands have some dramatic scenery.

The Neo-Aleuts began to arrive 1000 years ago, and blended with rather than replaced the Paleo-Aleuts, with today’s people showing a ratio of about 2/3 to 1/3 Neo-Aleut to Paleo-Aleut genetics. The Neo-Aleuts brought innovations of multi-room houses, and preyed on larger sea mammals including seals, sea lions and Steller’s sea cows. The population was estimated at 16,000 in 1740, but Russian enslavement for fur harvesting knocked them down to about 1600. They increased after American acquisition of Alaska, but were removed from the Aleutians during WWII as it appeared that the war would endanger them. The naval base on Adak closed in the late 1990’s, some Aleuts have moved back there and to other islands in the chain, and culturally they have conserved some of the distinctions of different island populations despite the mixing imposed by the Russians.

The returning people found a mix of resources and wreckage left behind from the military chapter of Aleutian history.

Aleuts are closer to Siberians than to Yupiks (the nearest “Eskimos”) genetically, apparently having crossed the Bering Sea independently and remaining culturally distinct through their spread into the Aleutians. Though their facility with sea travel has been cited by some as evidence for a coastal spread southward of Native Americans in glacial times, others point out that the Aleuts came along much later.

Lessons from Travels: Mayan Civilization

by Carl Strang

As I recall from elementary school history class many decades ago, we were given the impression that Europeans brought civilization to the New World. That may be true if “civilization” is equated with European culture (i.e., circular reasoning). Today I look at such things biologically, and long have regarded civilization as the evolution of any culture that creates the illusion of division between people and nature. In general that means the construction of an architecturally elaborated space in a part of the landscape that has been cleared of its wild vegetation. It also depends upon the previous establishment of agriculture (artificial selection of certain wild plants and animals to the point where they are domesticated), which allows people so to concentrate their populations. By that definition, there were many civilizations in North, Central and South America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Today I want to focus on vestiges of ancient Mayan civilization I saw in Central America.

This is the view from a tall Mayan building at Tikal, in Guatemala. Today the surrounding space is filled with forest. If it looks familiar, it may be because this spectacular scene was included in one of the Star Wars movies.

Over the years, many Mayan towns and cities have been discovered buried in the vegetation.

This building was uncovered at a smaller site in Belize.

By measures of architecture, agriculture, the technology required to shape and move masses of stone, and the social organization needed to accomplish these things, Mayans were thoroughly civilized.

This building alone, one of several enormous structures at Tikal, is a wonder. The climb those people are making is very steep and up huge steps clearly designed to inspire awe.

They had written language and mathematics as well.

Mayan writing, designed to last.

Recent research suggests that the drought which ended this civilization may not have been extreme. All it took was a reduction in summer rainstorms so that the reservoirs dried out. The intensive agriculture needed to support so many people in cities collapsed. Over time, a vast region that had been cleared for civilization was reclaimed by the forest. At least there were remnants of forest sufficient to do the reclaiming.

Do I need to state the lesson plainly? These people did not have an inferior or faulty civilization. In every significant respect it was the equivalent of ours. They no doubt assumed, as we do, that the Universe supported them and their way of living, and it would go on forever (or at least until 2012, small joke there). Their huge concentrated population was balanced upon the climatic conditions that supported their technology. As we can see, that balance was easily upset. They had removed their forests, which in part set up the drought, the climate change, which defeated them. Their descendants survived because they could fall back on an earlier, more dispersed way of living, and they had not completely trashed their soil and landscape. Their population was in the tens of thousands, rather than billions.

Some of the Lessons from Travels are chilling.

Lessons from Travels: Uluru and Kata Tjuta

by Carl Strang

This is an iconic Australian scene:

Uluru, known to the English language as “Ayer’s Rock,” as though a single person’s name could contain such a wonder.

Uluru is the Australian umbilicus, occurring as it does in the continent’s center. It is renowned geologically because it is a single, huge undivided mass of stone.

As in the distant perspective of the top photo, this view from an intermediate distance likewise gives an impression of uniformity.

If you take half a day to walk around the thing, experiencing its silences and sounds, its textures and variety, you lose any sense of simplicity you may have held after reading about Uluru.

For one thing, there are cave-like indentations.

Erosion has exposed and perhaps augmented Uluru’s internal texture.

Legend likens this shape to a frog.

Oddest and most unexpected, up close the rock seems to have a scaly skin.

The flakes are each a few inches across.

Uluru is amazing, awe inspiring, well worth savoring. No wonder it has significance in Aboriginal spiritual tradition. That tradition is as differentiated as the rock itself. Some parts of the rock’s proximity are forbidden to Aboriginal women, some parts to the men. Some parts are so sacred that photography is forbidden. I did not even try to photograph the signs that mark such areas, out of respect for that wish as much as for its legal codification.

But here is what impressed me most. Uluru is known all over the world. Local tradition holds it as sacred. But, back when the Australian government was being what passed for conciliatory at a certain stage of its history, it gave the local Aboriginals a choice. They had two traditional sites in that area which were sacred to them. One they could keep almost exclusively to themselves, with highly limited and restricted access for outsiders. The other site they must open to tourism. They elected to open Uluru. This means that to them, the other site is more special, more sacred. My tour group walked the short trail that provides limited exposure to that other site. It is called Kata Tjuta, but I think of it in the English translation of that name: the Many Heads.

Like Uluru, the scope of Kata Tjuta requires a perspective from miles away.

The diversity of shapes is here more complex than at Uluru.

The iron oxide red of the stone’s surface contrasts amazingly with the sky and vegetation.

As at Uluru, one’s sense of the place alters as one gets closer.

Light and shadow, sky and cloud, plants and rock, all fit together in a way that seems more intuitive than conceptual.

There is a perfection in each scene, each view. One measure of this is that I have done less photo cropping for this post than I believe I have done for any other to date.

At some point the rocks’ texture begins to become evident.

All of this in a trail loop that covered only a tiny portion of the Kata Tjuta site.

At each turn the view changes impressively.

Most of the posts in this Travels series throw perspective on our own northeast Illinois landscape through some contrast in ecology, biology or geology. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are so removed from our local experience that even “contrast” seems inadequate to express the difference. I can think of one connection worth mentioning, though. Like the Aboriginals, Native Americans found The Sacred in the local landscape during their thousands of years of tenure here. Their traditions include stories that connect them to the animals, plants and physical features of their surroundings. Our European-derived culture has lost that sense of the sacred in its commodification of the land. Perhaps the lesson from this travel episode is to find a connection to every place that expresses a deep level of personal, community and cultural value and significance.

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