(or, Why Bucky Ought To Be a Chipmunk)
Anyone who has ever visited my flower fields at Vermont Valley Community Farm or drove the country roads of that area, cannot help but be charmed by the beauty of the steep green hills, the lush narrow valleys and meandering streams. Towering bluffs, rugged rock outcrops and deep, black ancient soils characterize this very special part of Wisconsin known as the Driftless Area.
Well-anchored though we may be, and not about to drift off anywhere, that’s not how the word is used in geology. Drift is the deep layer of soil, sand, gravel and boulders under which all of the rest of Wisconsin is buried, an unsolicited gift of the glaciers grinding their way south from Canada, leveling the landscape along the way, taking the hills, soils and vegetation with them, and forcing all of the wildlife to flee their frozen homes. Walking the Ice Age Trail through the center of the state, I’ve often rested a while on huge granite boulders swept down from Ontario and unceremoniously dropped a thousand miles from home as the weather warmed and the ice retreated.
You’ll find no glacial erratics here, as these orphaned chunks of the earth are known. Except for the occasional meteorite, our rocks are all homegrown. And here too, it’s thought, is the source for the all of the plant communities that re-vegetated the state when the glaciers disappeared. How they spread back up north is some matter of speculation, but I’ll bet a lot of the credit for replanting the state has to go to those cheeky little critters known as chipmunks.
Although we were never ice-covered here, the glaciers extended well beyond this place on all sides creating, in effect, a very cold green island in a sea of ice. Until very recently, it was thought that no mammals survived this far north. But DNA testing has now proven that, like all true Wisconsin natives since, a little chilly weather was no reason for our plucky little chipmunks to pack their bags and head for warmer places. This place suited them just fine, thank you, and they stayed put. A nice coat of fur back then, like a good hoodie nowadays, is all that any really hardy creature needs – maybe zipped up part way if it gets extra cold.
What brought such hardy humans here is another matter for speculation. All of those Scandinavians who came certainly seemed to be drawn here by forces far more persuasive than common sense. I’d like to think it had a lot to do with the kind of thinking emerging in their part of the world at the time, from otherwise respectable scientists like Olaf Rudbeck, in whose honor the brown-eyed-susans you’ll see on our truck today were named. Plant taxonomist, Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University, discoverer of the human lymphatic system, he was also a serious proponent of his thesis that the paradise of scripture was located somewhere in far northern Sweden (Google this guy for a wild ride through the world of hollow-earth theories, lost continents and UFOs).
Garrison Kiellor claims Germans settled here by accident, thinking they were somewhere else, but could never admit their mistake. Perhaps our Norwegians and Swedes were searching for paradise. If hell is all fire and brimstone, how much closer to heaven can you get than a green island in a sea of ice?
Joe Schmitt August 2015