A few weeks ago I spent a Saturday morning getting fresh (chilly) air and dirty hands at Barneveld Prairie.
The Nature Conservancy held a volunteer work party there on the parcel of land known as the Muehllehner Addition on May 14 to collect invasive garlic mustard. So now I know that the “pretty” white flowering plant that randomly popped up earlier this spring along our home’s property line is actually problematic.
This work party was similar to the “rock picking parties” my siblings, neighbors and I had growing up on our farm fields: the task was tedious but the company made it worthwhile.
And although there wasn’t the promise of lemonade and spare change from our parents after we finished, longtime volunteers Jim L., Shelly A. and Jeff M. promised me and fellow newbie Krysta K. a free meal at a local establishment afterwards to thank us, get to know each other better and perhaps persuade us to help out another time. The gesture (a tradition) wasn’t necessary but definitely appreciated, especially since I originally set out just to tag along and take pictures.
There was no shortage of subjects, including migratory birds and spring ephemeral wildflowers, but I put my camera down and gloves on every so often to help – though I’m not sure I earned my fish sandwich.
Pulling garlic mustard was surprisingly satisfying. Recent rainfall made the soil loosen its grip on the roots, and the fragrant plant often came up with just a gentle tug at the base.
Have I mentioned how beautiful the land is? Well, just take a look.
We had pleasant conversations while walking through the wooded area, and Jim shared a story about a time when a baby flying squirrel decided to climb him instead of a tree. My audible “aww” for animals must have stuck with him, because a few minutes later he warned that I might want to avoid a certain area along the recently mowed path where he found a dead fawn.
Such is the fragility of life.
The mower did spare something, though. A few wild orchid plants were short enough to have missed the blades.
While the others hauled some of the heavy bags of garlic mustard back to the vehicles and grabbed the water and snacks, I wandered around in the quiet woods. I never heard it, but I saw a palm warbler flit by me and hop along a log.
After the bird flew away, I turned and saw these trees leaning east on the hill. The black and white version of the photo now seems slightly eerie to me, but in that moment all I felt was a calm sense of wonder.
Barneveld Prairie is just a half hour drive west of Madison, so stop by to immerse yourself in nature. I guarantee you’ll feel recharged.
To view more photos from the work party on Flickr, click here, or look below to see some of the wildflowers and plants we found on our walk.