Archive for March, 2010

Audio challenge of the week (#10)

March 30, 2010

Stroll through the UW arboretum‘s Curtis prairie on an early spring evening right before darkness falls, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the male of this bird species making these distinctive sounds as he performs his spectacular mate-attracting acrobatics. What is the name of this bird? Answers are due by next Monday (how to play the challenge).

Margaret's council ringWheeler council ring is the answer to last week’s challenge. Jens Jensen designed it to memorialize Kenneth Jensen Wheeler, his grandson, who died in 1935 just before his graduation from the UW. For Jensen, the council ring had deep meaning, symbolizing equality and democracy and having Danish and American Indian roots. Read Jensen’s statement on the plaque of another council ring near the arboretum visitor center.

Madison has more Jens Jensen connections, including Glenwood Children’s Park and a council ring on the UW campus. Not only is Jensen’s legacy of harmonious landscaping still alive, a PBS documentary is in progress.

An ancient voice

March 26, 2010

sandhill crane

The sound of sandhill cranes calling from skyward as they return to their summer nesting grounds is one of my favorite signs of spring. I usually hear sandhills well before I glimpse them high in flight, and sometimes I never see them at all. Once perilously close to extinction in the lower 48, the sandhill crane has made an impressive comeback and is now relatively common. Cranes use wetlands for nesting and agricultural land for foraging (Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation is a good place to learn more).

And there’s something about their call that stirs the imagination: haunting and ancient at the same time, it’s a southern Wisconsin version of the Northwoods call of the loon. Both species have been around for a very long time, with the sandhill representing one of the oldest surviving bird species, unchanged for at least several million years. It’s as if that ancient lineage can still be heard in their voice.

Aldo Leopold wrote powerfully of cranes in A Sand County Almanac essay called Marshland Elegy:

“When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia…”

Photo challenge of the week (#9)

March 23, 2010

photo of week 9This week’s challenge presents two photos from the same tucked-away landmark. The photo at left (click to enlarge) shows where the plaque is. Another clue: the designer of this 1938 limestone memorial also designed Madison’s Glenwood Children’s Park. Worthy of a story in his own right, he was born on a large farm in Denmark, served in the Prussian Imperial Guard, immigrated to America when his family disapproved of him marrying someone (they felt) beneath their class, worked as street sweeper for the Chicago parks district—and then became a renowned landscape architect. What is this rock feature? Answers are due by next Monday (how to play the challenge).

photo of week 9aListen below to audio from the same location. Singing cardinals don’t give away the answer, but the sound of gently flowing water is suggestive!

Our previous photo challenge asked for the location of this effigy mound group (mounds in gray, including the block-long bird, no longer exist). The two remaining mounds overlook Lake Monona in Hudson Park, near Harry Whitehorse’s now-bronze Effigy Tree sculpture.

Lake Mendota ice hike

March 19, 2010

It’s hard to imagine now that spring is in the air, but just a couple short weeks ago, Lake Mendota—and the other Madison lakes—felt like frozen arctic tundra. We can attest to this firsthand, as we took a lovely hike on the ice around Picnic Point and Frautschi Point. We were struck by the sense of vastness and solitude we encountered right in the middle of the city, and wondered how many Madisonians have had the chance to experience this wide and transitory landscape.

Sharon Barbour, winter trekker extraordinaire and friend of Unseen Madison, joined us as we stumbled upon a few of Mendota’s hidden treasures. Here Sharon talks—of her own free will, we swear—about the hike and our sterling qualities.

Photo challenge of the week (#8)

March 16, 2010

photo of week 8This Madison neighborhood is kind to its remaining effigy mounds. The small lakefront park here has two mounds, a bear and unknown effigy (sometimes labeled a lynx). Madison’s dense and extensive mound groups are now miniaturized. Before the city expanded, this pair was part of a larger group, including a nearly 600-foot bird effigy. Note the blackened mound from a recent burn stimulating prairie plants. Where is this effigy mound? Answers are due by next Monday (how to play photo challenge).

In effigy mound news, hear former state archaeologist Bob Birmingham talk about his new book on Madison mounds at 2 p.m. on March 21 at the Dean House, home of the Blooming Grove historical society,

The last photo challenge asked how Machinery Row got its name. Located in a rich farm region, Madison became a distribution center for farm equipment. So “Machinery” refers to farm implements, and “Row” to two blocks of farm businesses on Williamson Street, also called Implement Row. See photos of Implement Row in 1918 and 1936. Across the street stood the railroad depot.

Photo challenge of the week (#7)

March 8, 2010

photo of week 7 Most Madisonians, especially cyclists and fine diners, know Machinery Row. In the spirit of recalling original meanings, we offer this challenge: what machinery (it’s not bicycles) does Machinery Row refer to? Why a row? In other words, why is this building called Machinery Row? Send an answer by next Monday (how to play photo challenge).

Last week’s photo challenge asked for the name of the UW arboretum‘s massive (and sadly, dead) white oak at the western edge of Curtis Prairie. In 1963, the Jackson Oak (PDF) was named to honor Joe Jackson, also known as Col. Jackson (he’d been a lieutenant colonel in World War I). It would be hard to overestimate Jackson’s impact on the arboretum. In the early decades Jackson was everywhere: negotiating for land, desperately raising money to meet deadlines, promoting the arboretum to citizens and regents. What else can we name after him?

Photo challenge of the week (#6)

March 1, 2010

photo of week 6The photo (click to enlarge) shows the best-known tree in Madison—not that there’s a lot of competition. That title won’t last forever, as this white oak died in the late 1990s at almost 200 years old. For now it stands strong in the UW arboretum, providing habitat for birds, insects, and bats. A red-tailed hawk often perches on the open-grown limbs. In 1930 it stood by itself in a large field (look below woods in upper left quarter of photo, along curving white road). What is the name of this tree? Send your answer by next Monday (how to play photo challenge).

Now to last week’s challenge. Sid Boyum’s Blue Dragon Urn is on Atwood Ave., next to the Capital City trail (here, to be more precise). Boyum’s public sculptures can be seen around the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood.