Diario del proyecto Casual Woodland Garden

29 de enero de 2023

Sophisticated Measurements

When my kids were younger we were visiting my parents when we realized an opossum had been hit by a car in front of their house. The opossum had been laying in the ditch for a few days before they noticed it. They had a nice sized yard and still lived in my childhood home, but the yard only got used when the grandkids were there. And that was less often than I would have liked because their house was a couple counties away.

I took a bucket and a pair of pliers out to clean up the opossum. My daughter insisted on going with me. I used the pliers to grab the opossum by the tail and slowly lifted it up. As I lifted it, the body rotated around and we realized that it was a mother with babies still in the pouch. My daughter was incredulous. We looked carefully at the babies. Most of them were already dead. She demanded that we try to save those that weren’t. I told her to carefully pick out the two that were still alive and also looked the strongest. Some of those that weren’t yet dead looked so gaunt that I doubted our ability to save them. She picked the two strongest ones and named them “Surge” and “Sarge”. This is how I came to transporting opossums across county lines.

I have no idea on the legality of transporting opossums across county lines. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure on the legality of transporting opossums with-IN county lines. What I am aware of is how intimate first hand experiences in the outdoors can shape your entire life. I learned this fundamental truth by being raised in a family of men who loved the outdoors. My two grandfathers, my Uncles, my Dad, and all the neighborhood Dads all seemed to be interested in hunting and fishing.

When I was young and wanted to save some animal I had dragged home, some of these men helped deliberate over whether or not it was doing right by the animal to try to keep it. And help it. This generally involved a sophisticated measurement they like to call a Kentucky windage. I never could figure out exactly what the measurement was. Every time they talked about it they licked one finger and stuck it up in the air, staring carefully at the finger. Then looking back at me. And then back at the finger. Then me. Then finger. And so on. I had come to believe this measurement was more about them trying to understand how sincere I was about keeping the animal, than about the sophisticated measurement.

What was crystal clear then and now is how I felt when the answer was “yes”. I’m not sure that every individual animal that I brought home benefited from my care. I am sure that each of these species has benefited from my care for the outdoors that resulted from my imperfect care for the individual animals as a child. I believe the hunters in my life understood that care for a species as a whole was different from care for an individual within that species. They still only allowed me to keep the individuals when they felt it wouldn’t end with sadness. I’ll never know if their concern was over the sadness they knew I’d feel, or the sadness they’d feel in the event that the animal died. But I do believe they were considering all of this while conducting the sophisticated measurement.

And so I had come full circle. We were raising opossums.

Now in my case, as a well educated adult male who had been raised within a culture of hunting and fishing, part of the sophisticated measurement was about the perception of the species. How are opossums perceived by humans? Do we love them like cuddly bunnies? I believe my daughter now does. I bet she’ll think of them differently having had this first hand childhood experience. How might that make her feel as an adult about preserving space for that species as a whole? All the hunters and fishermen from my childhood went on and on about preserving space for bass, turkey, deer, morels, and so on. I understand why. They loved them. And they taught me to.

But how does one love deer as a species while harvesting individual deer for the dinner plate? This happened 196,988 times in Ohio in 2022. Every year the ODNR publishes the number of deer harvested here. Imagine what an extra 196,000 deer would do to the habitat that supports the species if the hunters weren’t filling the void left by the loss of other apex predators. These extra deer wouldn’t eat garlic mustard or lesser celandine but they love trillium. Also, what would the hunters eat?

If these deer weren’t harvested, would the hunters all eat salad? Or would they require an extra 196,000 head of cattle? How many additional acres of sod would be required to support an extra 196,000 head of cattle? And how many deer would the sod displace. I am thankful for the love these hunters showed me and for their love of the outdoors as a whole. Those with sophisticated measurements focus on the whole environment, not a single instance of a species within that environment.

And what of the fishermen? Like the ones harvesting Crappie out of East Fork? Would they all eat salad if they weren’t harvesting Crappie? Or would they eat Chilean Sea Bass shipped in from South America? Commercial fishing is depleting the population of Chilean Sea Bass but Crappie at East Fork are doing just fine. I bet these fishermen, because they love fish, are aware of the former common name of the Chilean Sea Bass. It was the Patagonian Toothfish right up until an enterprising fisherman renamed it and created an international market. These local fishermen aren’t fooled by a name change. They’re harvesting the local Crappie. And because they’re harvesting Crappie, the Patagonian Toothfish is facing a little less pressure than it otherwise would.

Now the thing about raising opossums that I hadn’t considered carefully during my measurement was their need for a mother. It didn’t occur to me that my daughter, having an intimate first hand experience with these animals, would come to think of herself as their mother. But that’s exactly what happened. She began teaching these two exactly what it meant to be a grown up opossum. Like how to climb, or walk in the woods.

The thing she wasn’t satisfied with, as their mother, was their living situation. She didn’t feel that Opossums were meant to live on a screened porch. She felt they should live with her in a tree. Luckily I had learned from the hunters that I should always own a rudimentary set of tools and have some idea how to use them. We already had a treehouse we built together that she could sleep in. We just needed to build a small enclosure for the babies and secure it to the treehouse. Then the opossums could sleep in the tree with their new mother while being protected from owls.

I believe my daughter understands the unbelievable privilege that has been extended to her by me and the hunters. She’ll insist that all future children and all future opossums have the privilege of living together in the trees.

A few weeks passed and it was clear the opossums were going to make it. The problem was, we had a family trip planned and this presented a difficult dilemma. Transport the opossums across state lines and care for them while on our trip? It seemed insincere to express to Marriott a claim of emotional support opossums. I also felt that Sydney had experienced what I had hoped she’d experience during my sophisticated measurement. It was time to find them a more permanent home. One where they could be reintroduced into the wild by credentialed and trained professionals.

I decided it would be best to reintroduce the opossums within their birth county. So I called a couple different places and made arrangements to drive them up when I found a willing recipient. We drove up on a Friday, Sydney and I in the front seats, and the opossums sitting in their opossum transport mechanism balanced between Sydney’s legs on the floor in front of the passenger seat. We went straight to the rescue facility with plans of spending the rest of the weekend at my parents house.

Sydney hoisted the opossum transport mechanism over her head and up onto the opossum desk. The desk was long and rectangular and the height of a cafe’ table. It gave the room and the young man behind the opossum desk the look of an expert technician. “Is that an Utz cheese ball canister?”, the man asked.

“Opossum transport mechanism”. Sydney answered the question with direct and self-assured confidence that reminded me of the hunters. The hunters I remember would have chuckled at the novel way in which we were re-using the canister. It’s one of the things I enjoy looking back on when I re-watch the first video. It’s in a few frames and can be seen below and to the right of where I was sitting while cleaning opossums.

The young man behind the desk asked, “Where are these guys from”? “Cincinnati”! Sydney couldn’t contain herself. Beaming with pride… “Their names are Surge and Sarge”. The young man explained that we should’ve been told on the phone that they only accept rescues from within the county. Our eyes met for an instant. I explained that the opossums were from this county but we had transported them to Cincinnati for a period of time before finding them this home at the shelter in the birth county. His eyebrow arched a bit and he quickly punched some notes into a computer and told us that the opossums were now numbers 512 and 513. We could call back to check upon their status using the numbers rather than the names. But warning us that sometimes there are problems with the reintroduction process. “You won’t have any trouble. They’re much stronger than when we got ‘em.“ Sydney again with confidence and directness of tone.

We said our goodbyes to Surge and Sarge, left the opossum desk, and headed back out to the car. But as we walked across the parking lot, Sydney asked off-hand and while staring into the distance… “what was with that guy”? I told her that he couldn’t possibly be expected to know all the things that we both know. He had never been a father or a mother. Like I had been with Sydney and Sydney had been with the opossums. We couldn’t expect him to know about the sophisticated measurement. And then she asked what I hoped she would… “What sophisticated measurement”?

Conservation and Environmentalism have to be driven by something. A pretty good thing for them to be driven by, is ten thousand years of evolutionary yearning and an unyielding need among men to provide.. That, and sometimes we'll let it be driven by cuddly opossums. Sometimes.

“Howard”, the Duck. circa 1985. Thanks Dad, Doug, Denver, Paul, Gary, Jerry, Joe, Butch, and Bob...

Posted on 29 de enero de 2023 by stockslager stockslager | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

03 de enero de 2023


Many people make trips to far flung places. I am one of these people. I like going to these places to find the things. Sometimes it’s things that I remember from childhood. Things I found there when I was little. I go back to see if I can find the things again. Strange things. Things that don’t exist where I live but only exist in far flung places.

But does all this attention and travel help the things? The things have no choice. They’re just sitting there. Being things. I am choosing to visit the things, they aren’t choosing to visit me. But why am I choosing to visit the things?

I perceive that the things where I live are different from the things I visit. The things where I live exist in an unorganized state. Many things from far flung places have been added in with the things where I live. There have been so many things from far flung places added in with my things that some people here search for the original things. The original things that existed here before all the things added in. Sometimes, when they find one of these original things, they take a picture for all to see. They show people the picture and say… “Look at this thing! I have found a thing! We must protect the area around this thing.”. Passers by pause for a moment to consider the thing. And then someone exclaims “I remember that thing! There used to be many of those things. I have traveled to a far flung place that still has many of those things. This thing you have found is common in this far flung place. If you really love this thing, you should travel there as I have done. You will see many of those things. Perhaps you could even move there and live among the things.”

Such is the problem of the individual thing. As long as it is common somewhere, people will travel to it to reassure themselves that it still exists in abundance. Although they may want to preserve more space for the thing where they live, it’s too easy for others to reassure them that the thing is doing fine somewhere else. When they pick up and move to be with the thing, they reduce the ecologically pure areas where the thing is abundant.

Posted on 03 de enero de 2023 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de diciembre de 2022

Solomon's Seal of Approval

This colony of Maianthemum Racemosum (False Solomon’s Seal) is my biggest success story since the start of the woodland restoration. It was just a few scraggly plants before removing the honeysuckle. There is now a large colony, varying in density, across the entire ¾ of an acre.

The colony started expanding with the initial removal of honeysuckle. It really took off when I started pulling garlic mustard. It surprised me so much that I looked around on google scholar for an explanation. And… there is one. ... https://bsapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3732/ajb.0800184

The study provides some evidence that garlic mustard can inhibit mycorrhizal colonization of Maianthemum roots, thereby inhibiting growth. I had fumbled around long enough to find something that encouraged this plant. What I did is the opposite of real science. Only looking for science after I observed something that had already happened. I had no controls in place to allow me to infer anything. But it didn't matter. Seeing the Maianthemum expand while I forced the honeysuckle and garlic mustard colonies to contract was enough for me.

One of the questions during any restoration is… What, if anything, should be reestablished following invasive removals? This anecdotal evidence suggests that Mainthemum is a good candidate when a tree canopy exists but the honeysuckle understory has been removed. This is especially true when garlic mustard is managed after the honeysuckle removal. The tree canopy provides dappled shade but there is still plenty of sunlight for the Mainthemum. Without the garlic mustard, it has a chance to thrive.

It also suggests that targeted restorations can begin where a struggling colony of Maianthemum exists. Honeysuckle and garlic mustard immediately next to the struggling colony could be removed first. As the False Solomon's seal expands, so too does the restoration. Working outward with invasive removals as the desirable colony expands.

The only plant that rebounded as aggressively as Mainthemum was White Snakeroot. I’d be perfectly happy with White Snakeroot dominating the herbaceous layer, but my backyard is in a very residential neighborhood. The False Solomon’s Seal is pretty enough to appear intentional. Neighbors are less apt to arch an eyebrow. Distant future owners of my backyard are less likely to rip it out and plant grass.

The web of life for each plant is also worth considering. White Snakeroot is EXTREMELY common in my region. False Solomon’s Seal, somewhat less so. Any downstream insects and animals relying on White Snakeroot will have plenty available. The insects and animals relying on False Solomon’s Seal will be thankful for my work.

Posted on 21 de diciembre de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

08 de diciembre de 2022

Wild Humans

Some of the ways I've tried to include humans in my ecologically restored woods. I think about what happens when I'm gone or decide to sell. What will make future owners decide to carry the restoration work forward or at least preserve the woods?

Woodland restoration observation platform (aka treehouse). Built on a black locust stump.

Lately I've been using black locust logs to line my trails. They don't rot, which gives time for moss to form on the logs... I like the texture and feel of the moss. I use eastern red cedar chips on my trails. Eastern red is a common regional native and the chips are fragrant and rot resistant.

Black locust wall. Built with the upper 3/4 of the same tree that the treehouse is built on.

The wall, pictured above, allowed me to level out a small area for a fire pit below the tree house...

Decorative rock walls using "free" craigslist fieldstone transported down the hill in a wheelbarrow. Part of the goal was to see what one person could accomplish with free materials and working in the margins over a long period of time.

Made a rope swing during honeysuckle removal. Tied a fishing line to a baseball and threw it over the highest strong branch I could find. Then pulled a bigger string over the same branch using the fishing line. And finally pulled the heavy rope over the branch with the string. The trick is to leave the heavy rope twice as long as you need it and tie a loop in one end to pull the other end of the rope through the loop from the ground (so you don't have to climb the tree). It is very hard to find a "professional" to build you a rope swing. If you paddle the Little Miami they exist all up and down its banks. Built by all sorts of people with varying degrees of skill. Some of them are completely unsafe. But you can't deny their charm.

I openly admit that each of my projects to entice humans has had a negative impact ecologically. I tell myself that I'm on the positive side of the ledger having given back via invasive removals while taking the space for the rock walls, trails, and fire-pit. If an added bonus is that future owners are more able to appreciate (and keep) the natural space, the loss of what would have been additional ecologically pure areas will have been worth it.

Posted on 08 de diciembre de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

08 de julio de 2022

Butterfly Nose

There are no pictures of butterflies on my own nose. It’s not because it never happened but it’s been a great many years since it did. But because it once did, I feel compelled on occasion, to insist that the butterflies sit on my own kids’ noses. In order for butterflies to sit on my own kids’ noses there must be butterflies here to do the sitting.

Where to find butterflies to do the sitting?
I could drive to the countryside where the butterflies live. I’d be less of a man if I did.

How to attract butterflies to do the sitting?
I could drive to the countryside to take what they eat. I’d be less of a man if I did.

How to grow what it is that butterflies eat?
I could drive to the countryside to take some seed. I’d be less of a man if I did.

How to attract birds to deposit the seed?
I could drive to the countryside to take some trees. I’d be less of a man if I did.

How to grow trees without depositing seed?
I could stop mowing the lawn to let the trees grow. I’d be more of a man if I did.

But what would the neighbors think if I stopped mowing the lawn?
I could show them this picture of a butterfly nose.

Posted on 08 de julio de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

18 de junio de 2022



It’s worth clarifying why I want to completely extirpate honeysuckle from my woods. It’s mostly because I’ll be unsuccessful at it. This is an odd thing to say, but it’s very true. Every year I pull around 100 honeysuckle seedlings while pulling garlic mustard. Even though I pull these seedlings, I know I’ll never win. My woods on two sides are completely bordered by honeysuckle and I kinda like it that way. I like it because even if it wasn’t bordered by honeysuckle it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter because taking an even higher birds-eye view, my township has 18,000 acres where most of the remaining woods have increasingly dense populations of honeysuckle.

You might say my woods is an island in the middle of a honeysuckle sea providing its islanders with time to evolve and learn to live within the sea of honeysuckle. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll continue thinking in terms of removing all of it from my woods. It’ll be obvious when I can stop targeting honeysuckle so aggressively. That time will come when my islanders become more successful at moving off the island.

This is why I like it that my woods are bordered on two sides by honeysuckle. I like it because it allows me to see if any of my islanders are successful at invading the turf on the other side of the line. Can any of my islanders survive in the honeysuckle sea?

The Sea

My woods is a secret garden of comparative ecological purity within a sea of honeysuckle. The sea is a foreboding place with no rules and no order. There is no collection policy or extraction policy in honeysuckle sea. I am reliant on a few brave souls willing to plunge into the sea. Willing to leap head first into a tangle of branches armed only with iphones to document their observations.

Urgent dispatches are received telling of foreign plant communities aggressively expanding within the honeysuckle sea. Other dispatches tell of small colonies of remnant North American plants stretching back to the furthest reaches of the Holocene epoch. Some of them crawling with creatures clinging to these local plants for their own survival.

These remnant North American plant communities have defied the odds. Clinging to life amidst the Columbian Exchange and Great Acceleration. Likely in this same area prior to first European contact and long before that. Encouraging their survival is like reaching back into the Holocene, gathering them up, and handing them off into the Anthropocene.

This, more than anything, is what I’m trying to do on my island. It’s impossible, after working at this goal all these years to know what I’ve achieved. Even when my team finds one of my local islander species inside the honeysuckle sea there is no way of knowing if the parent plants are my islanders. It could be its own remnant population or a new population born of parents from a different ecological island. Perhaps the important thing is that I’ve done nothing to hurt their existence within the sea.

My team never gathers them up. Only documents their existence. It would be cruel to gather these plants that have won this evolutionary lottery. Existing with the correct geography and genetics to resist the endless advance of the sea. Pulling them up and bringing them to my island would deny them the chance to expand in the specific place that has allowed their specific genetics to resist the sea.

My islanders and our collection policy won’t allow it. Instead, we seek out similar communities that cannot survive. Remnant North American plant colonies with local genotypes that are threatened by road expansions or housing developments. Plants that can be gathered up and brought to my island because their specific place will no longer exist for their specific genetics to reside within.

The Island

It’s leafy green and serene on ecological island. Twenty three species of trees are endemic to the island. Three additional tree species have been collected and added in. The trees are of varying sizes and shape and boast a varied assortment of leaves. The understory, while still recovering, hosts colonies of buckeye, sassafras, pawpaw, and northern spicebush. The herbaceous layer holds a dazzling array of 41 endemic species with 30 more North American locals collected and added in.

The islanders benefit from an extraction policy that calls for the ultimate extirpation of honeysuckle, euonymus, celandine, garlic mustard, tree of heaven, and english ivy. Other less troublesome specimens from outside North America are held in check. The island’s simple extraction policy has allowed each of its North American plant colonies to slowly expand for the past 15 years.

Carefully maintained trails direct visitors away from the islanders. Plant stands with potted annuals adorn trails and add splashes of color to the shades of green. Garden walls challenge deer and provide texture and interest. Two small social areas are anchored by a fire-pit and trampoline and allow humans to entertain themselves while enjoying the space. If the island is kept pleasant enough to both humans and islanders, other islands are apt to emerge from the sea.

Posted on 18 de junio de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

17 de junio de 2022

Colony Expansion

Lately I’ve been leaving some honeysuckle untouched. Not because I want it there, mind you. The 100 year vision for my woods remains honeysuckle free. I’m leaving it because I think it may help some other local colonies expand. There are two honeysuckle plants on either side of the trail in the picture below. They each, at different times of the day (morning and evening) shade a colony of Christmas Fern, Ebony Spleenwort, and Solomon’s Plume. When I started removing honeysuckle, only one scrawny Christmas Fern existed here. I didn't notice any Solomon's Plume or Spleenwort here when I started.

I’m not smart enough to know what increasing sunlight from additional honeysuckle removal would do to this expanding colony. My fear is that removing the honeysuckle too quickly would result in colony contraction rather than colony expansion. At this moment this colony is expanding despite the two honeysuckle plants. So I’m letting this honeysuckle live for now.

I’ve chosen to plant two Northern Spicebush near the two remaining honeysuckle plants. My thinking is that the shade from the Spicebush will make up for the loss of the honeysuckle when I remove them in the future. The only issue is, the Spicebush itself is slow to grow, partially due to the shade of the honeysuckle.

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28 de mayo de 2022

Seedling and Sapling Survey - Area 2

Results from Area 2. Area 2 is everything up hill from the yellow rope in the picture.

Initial Results:
Honey Locust……………: 2 (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Sugar Maple………………: 1 (Acer sacharum)
Tulip Poplar……………: 3 (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Box Elder……………………: 16 (Acer negundo)
PawPaw……………………………: 16 (Acer negundo)
Ash……………………………………: 60 (Fraxinus)
Black Cherry……………: 4 (Prunus serotina)
Hackberry……………………: 5 (Celtis occidentalis)
Eastern Red Cedar: 1 (Juniperis virginiana)
Hickory…………………………: 2 (Carya)
Elm……………………………………: 1 (Ulmus)
Callery Pear……………: 2 (Pyrus calleryana)

Total………………………………: 113

** Where possible, trees were identified to the species level. In some cases (ash, hickory, elm) volunteers were only capable of identification down to the genus.

The most prolific tree in this survey area was the Ash (with 60 occurrences). I'm not sure what to think about this. These appeared to be white ash and they'll all likely succumb to the emerald ash borer. I'm going to let them go for now but if they get big enough to cause problems when they die and fall, I'll have to think more carefully about it. The total of 113 seedlings and saplings brings the running total to 235. Below is a snapshot of Area 2 (everything to the right of the yellow rope)...

Posted on 28 de mayo de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

28 de abril de 2022

Seedling and Sapling Survey

The 2022 tree survey of the first small area is now complete. Each tree that germinated following honeysuckle removal has been tallied.

Initial Results:
Black Locust……………: 4 (Robinia pseudoacia)
Sugar Maple………………: 5 (Acer sacharum)
Tulip Poplar……………: 3 (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Box Elder……………………: 42 (Acer negundo)
Ash……………………………………: 12 (Fraxinus)
Black Cherry……………: 29 (Prunus serotina)
Hackberry……………………: 4 (Celtis occidentalis)
Eastern Redbud………: 1 (Cercis canadensis)
Eastern Red Cedar: 1 (Juniperis virginiana)
Hickory…………………………: 1 (Carya)
Elm……………………………………: 7 (Ulmus)
Callery Pear……………: 13 (Pyrus calleryana)

Total………………………………: 122

** Where possible, trees were identified to the species level. In some cases (ash, hickory, elm) volunteers were only capable of identification down to the genus.

Below is a snapshot of the small area from the initial survey. The density of seedlings and saplings identified by volunteers is compelling. This density of trees will not be sustainable over the long term. Each seedling will compete against neighboring seedlings for access to sunlight and resources. Honeysuckle, garlic mustard and other aggressive plants with little ecological value will continue to be controlled for the duration of the open ended observational study.

The most prolific tree, the box elder (with 42 occurrences), supports 285 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) during their caterpillar stage. The total of 122 trees surprised and delighted volunteers. Freeze pops were enjoyed by all.

Posted on 28 de abril de 2022 by stockslager stockslager | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario