Saturday, April 27, 2013

Recapturing Memories at Rocky Arbor

It appears to be spring 2013 in southern Wisconsin…finally.  The northern counties have had particularly more than their share of extended winter weather this year.  Whichever side of the “global warming/global climate change” debate you are on; this has been a strange year so far.  Bird watching has been a bit off the mark as well.  It seems as though they (the migrants) have decided to err on the side of caution and not venture northward as fast as last year.  Granted, last spring was unusually early and warm already in late March into April; however this spring’s journey has been especially retarded.  (Oh, and I can safely use that word in that context…no worries mon)

That brings me to the subject of this edition of the Birdstud’s Birdchat; Rocky Arbor State Park.  I recently had the good fortune to be able to visit after a long day of Safety seminar attendance while in the Wisconsin Dells area.  I had camped there with the family years ago and remember being especially taken with its uniquely beautiful driftless (1) geography.  The last time Barbara and I had driven past the park’s entrance in late fall of 2011 (while camping at Mirror Lake) the gate had been locked for the season.  Unable to return again until spring of 2013; I was eager to explore it once more.  It was again seasonally locked, but I had more time and was undeterred as I had specifically packed my birding boots and gear for the trip.

I parked the WPT at the gated entrance and suited up; geeky birding vest, twin binoculars (far and close-up), fanny pack with ID books, insect repellent towlettes, and cliff bars, and digital camera.  Yes, I admit I love to “play the part.”  It is not unlike many other sports or hobbies which lend themselves to a bit of (some might argue) over the top costumery.  I like it, it makes me happy, and so I do it routinely as a way to transition from real life to intrepid citizen explorer.  So, feeling a little like Clark (of notable Lewis & __ fame) I walked to the unmarked trail entrance of the “bluff” path I recalled from my initial visit.  Why “Clark” you might ask?  Well perhaps it’s because the poor fellow always seems to take second position in any discussion of discovery, so I can empathize with any guy in the shadows making the boss look good.  You can identify right?

The afternoon air was crisp and refreshingly invigorating.  Sunlight struggled to break free of the smothering cloud cover that had gripped the area for the entire day. Snow patches were still to be encountered atop last year’s fallen leaf litter.  Icy ponds of water existed in the cold lowness of the valley as I walked quietly along the ridge of broken rock.  Familiar Black-capped chickadee sounds filtered down from the evergreens, and a pair of Mallards crept noiselessly around a strangely isolated rock-island, to avoid being seen by this sudden interloper.  I spotted a Black phoebe as it sat on a single dead twig and heard the musically jumbled notes of a Song sparrow as it sang.  My attention was drawn uphill, past various tenaciously growing cliff-side cedars to a squabbling group of Blue jays that had decided to flush a large Great-horned owl from their neighborhood.  The owl begrudgingly took flight from a branch, only to alight a short distance away.  The jays undeterred; made their message of unwanted company clear as the owl soundlessly departed from my line of sight.

Isn’t it so true that no image captured by man with machines can ever adequately capture the grandeur of natural wonder?  Things look smaller, less impactful and far more underwhelming; but we take them anyway.  Some novices even use their flash attachment for unknown reasons in hopes of that perfect shot.  It matters not, but we try…attempting to “save” moments of joy for later.   I too am no stranger to this frustrating human trait.  The sheer beauty of God-made landscapes such as this always causes me to take far too many indescribable photos.  I tell myself that maybe this time the images I have archived will inspire another viewer to feel and experience the awesome wonder of my first-hand encounters; bringing the moments I captured to life.  Alas…the boundless joy is only ever truly my own to relive as I again click through the countless digital files - but that is more than enough, is it not?

Rocky Arbor State Park is a truly hidden gem of the Wisconsin Park system.  A stone’s throw from the frenetic hyperactivity of the tourist kingdom created in the Wisconsin Dells; it offers a unique opportunity for a family to economically lodge within a short distance from the far more expensive resorts and hotels.  I am a fan of keeping the costs of vacationing within reach of a manageable monthly credit card payment.  Camping (and sleeping) there makes it possible to spend a bit more money on another go-cart ride, or slice of pizza for the kiddies while in crazy-town.  The only drawback to my ears is that (unfortunately) the I-94 freeway is a little too close to the park to provide the quiet that one most closely associates with woodsy relaxation.  I’m from the city and live next to the freeway, so I can “tune” it out for the most part, however it is distracting for most people attempting to experience silence.  Hell, my stupid tinnitus is more than enough to distract me, so I’m one to talk…it’s just a fact you ought to consider regarding this little slice of heaven, that constant traffic noise is a real part of its charming motif.

My much-needed, soul-revitalizing bird walk ended around 7:30 PM as I believe I successfully traversed the entire abandoned park in search of all avian life forms.  I even made a mental note of my favorite campsite’s number for future reference; intending to surf Reserve America’s handy website for a time when it would specifically become available.  I backtracked the winding paved park road and picked up another 15 species including some unexpected FOYs before arriving back where I had parked the truck.  The air had grown noticeably cooler and I was thinking pizza and cold beer as I drove back to the sleepy Dells area.  

Yes Virginia, Rocky Arbor State Park was exactly how I had remembered it; uniquely beautiful.   Now won’t that be a personal joy to fondly recall at some later date?  So where did I put those digital files again?

(1)    Driftless —a mixture of rocks and gravel, boulders and residue that’s normally left behind by retreating glaciers.