Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Volo blog.

(First thing to note: It's Texas Independence Day.)

When it comes to natural history, I'm an ignoramus. It isn't that I wouldn't like to know the names, common and Latinate, of all the trees and shrubs and birds and bugs; that I wouldn't care to understand the life cycle of gnats and crickets and pumpkins and yeti; that it wouldn't behoove me to know which wild plants are edible, like Yul Gibbons did. Somehow, that kind of information doesn't stick with me very well. I only remember what I really need to, such as how to identify mosquitoes in the dark -- typically at 4 a.m. on a summer morning -- by their curious buzzing sound.

I've tried my hand at the natural sciences. Dan M., a college roommate of mine, had a copy of one of Mr. Gibbons' books. It might have been Stalking the Wild Asparagus, or maybe his fungus guide Brown and Yeller Kill a Feller, but anyway it inspired us to go out on the streets and especially alleys of Nashville to forage something to eat. We brought home a mess of poke weed, and made a salad. We didn't die, or even feel bad, so in that sense our expedition was successful. But we never did it again -- at least, I never did.

This doesn't keep me from taking walks in the woods, however. When I learned that last weekend was going to be warmish, I immediately took up a map of Illinois with one question in mind: Where can we go on Sunday? It had to be fairly near, cheap, moderately interesting, and most important, someplace new. I found something that met all those criteria: Volo Bog, in Lake County.

From the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Web site: "Volo Bog was first documented by W.G. Waterman of Northwestern Illinois University in 1921. It was originally named the Sayer Bog, after the land's owner, dairy farmer George Sayer. Cyrus Mark, the first director of the Illinois Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, managed a fund-raising campaign that collected $40,000 in donations from school children, groups and individuals for the purchase of the 47.5-acre bog in 1958. The land was deeded to the University of Illinois, which retained ownership until 1970.

"Volo Bog was originally a deep 50-acre lake, with steep banks and poor drainage. Research on pollen grains preserved in the bog indicates that the lake began filling with vegetation approximately 6,000 years ago. A floating mat, consisting primarily of sphagnum moss formed around the outside edges among the cattails and sedges. As these plants died and decomposed, the peat mat thickened, forming a support material for rooted plants. Because of the lack of drainage and the presence of sphagnum moss, the water in the bog became acidic. This limited the types of plants that could survive and thus created the unique plant communities found in the bog.

"Volo Bog is significant in that it exhibits all stages of bog succession. A floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges surrounds an open pool of water in the center of the bog. As substrate material thickens, a shrub community dominated by poison sumac and leatherleaf invades the mat. This is eventually replaced by tamarack forest. Surrounding this forest is a second, more extensive shrub zone which abruptly ends and becomes a marsh/sedge meadow community."

Elsewhere I saw Volo Bog described as the only "quaking" bog in Illinois. I'm still not sure what that means -- no time to look it up -- but it had a cool sound to it, and so off we went. More on that tomorrow.


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