1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Wetland on Its Knees

"I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of these beings, and the ranks and relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night."
(Epigraph to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Adapted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Thomas Burnet's Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692).

A visit to the Cache River yesterday with hubby left some deep impressions on me. I was struck not only by the beauty of the place (a swamp?) but also by its fragile existence, its importance in keeping the environment healthy, and its unfathomable mysteries.

Though this national treasure was in danger of disappearing forever, various government entities and nature enthusiasts have worked together to purchase farmland and let it return to its natural state. The Cache River was once a meandering waterway that provided a home for countless species of plants and animals and acted as a natural sponge, sopping up flood water in the floodplain of the Ohio River. When people began to settle in this area, they found the soil rich with promise for crops and forage for their livestock. The huge oaks and cypress trees which once covered much of the area were chopped down and hauled away for building towns and cities near and far. To make it easier for the wood to be shipped down the Ohio River, a channel was cut from the Cache to the Ohio. Draining the swamp seemed like a sensible idea to the farmers and lumber companies, and "progress" was the mantra of the day.

We took to the trails at Heron Pond to view the swamp firsthand but not before stopping at the impressive Wetlands Center for a little background information. The park ranger in charge of the operation showed us a short film about the area's history and plans for the future. After the film, I asked her something that I've been curious about for quite some time: What purpose do cypress knees serve, other than calling to mind those mythical creatures known as gnomes? She responded that "no one really knows for sure" and that various theories have been devised but none have been proven conclusive. One theory is that the knees provide stability in the trees' somewhat unstable watery environment. Another theory is that they allow the trees' underwater roots to access more oxygen. A little investigation by me online turned up an interesting but still inconclusive article by Christopher H. Briand, "Cypress Knees: An Enduring Enigma." Briand admits that "after nearly 200 years of speculation and research, the function or functions of the knees of cypresses remain unclear. Darwin referred to the origin of the flowering plants as an 'abominable mystery'; it appears that the function of cypress knees is another. The truth may be that cypress knees evolved in response to past environmental pressures that no longer exist, in which case their function may be lost in the depth of time."

In other words, the discovery of their purpose is still around the bend, submerged in the curious mind of some unknown child. It's just waiting to be picked up and put to good use for solving some problem like cancer or maybe providing some insight into the real causes of global climate change.

As hubby and I strolled along the trail to Heron Pond, we encountered a young couple with an energetic child in tow. We observed him hacking away mercilessly at the trunk of a small tree growing next to the trail. His father was recording the "cute" behavior on a DVR and laughing as the tyke imitated the actions of a lumberjack from the past or maybe those of a modern firefighter in California cutting a fireline (something he had obviously seen in a movie or on an evening news broadcast). I held my tongue until we were out of earshot and then railed loudly to hubby against the lax attitudes of parents today. Instead of recording his son's antics, that young father should have been gently dissuading him and using the moment to teach him a valuable lesson about taking care of nature. Don't get me wrong. I applaud the parents' attempt to immerse the youngster in the midst of an environment in peril. I think this kind of parental effort is sorely lacking today. Most parents would rather recline in air-conditioned comfort while their youngsters sit enthralled in front of the movie screen, getting their life-lessons from Hollywood. Still, I wish that young father had told his son that striking the tree bark could damage the tree's "skin" and perhaps make it sick and unable to grow big and tall like the trees all around it. If parents today don't act as a bridge to the next generation, leading them to love the world they live in, our world is indeed "doomed to destruction," as the media are so fond of insisting.


  1. A very interesting post! It's hard to imagine a scene pictured in the first photo existing in Illinois.

    My ancestors had to drain the swampy ground they bought over 100 years ago to be able to farm it. At that time people didn't think so much about preservation of our resources; they seemed endless. I now cringe, though, when I see another large tract of farmland sold to developers who will turn it into yet another strip mall area or subdivision.
    Sorry; I'm not disagreeing with you, just thinking about how times change.
    I am totally with you about parents today, though!

  2. What a lovely post, Walk2Write - this looks like a cool place to visit.

    It's been years since I saw it, but the reproduction of an IL cypress swamp at at Brookfield Zoo gave an idea of what they once were like. I've always loved Bald Cypresses and have seen some beauties along streams down here.

    There was a cattail and muskrat swamp near my childhood home that was drained when I was young. Since it was right in the middle of a residential area, the chance to eliminate a mosquito breeding area and resident water moccasins was attractive to nearby residents.
    Sometimes we want nature to be accessible, but not right next door;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Rose, I hope you don't think I'm down on farmers or anybody else. I'm just as guilty as anybody else in this world of consuming natural resources and contributing my own bit of pollution (trash, car emissions, etc.). I was just awestruck by the near extinction of such a rare and beautiful place and wanted to share some of what I saw and felt about what I saw. By the way, I like movies too. I just wish more people would take their kids outdoors, go hiking, learn (or re-learn) with their kids about nature, and talk with them about the importance of taking care of it.

    Annie, I'm with you about not wanting nature too close for comfort. I don't like poison ivy, mosquitoes, spiders, you name it! If it bites or stings, I try to avoid it. Still, I love to be outside, breathe fresh air, and walk as much as possible. It keeps me out of trouble, like posting things that make people feel uncomfortable. ;>)

  4. Lovely pictures and thought-provoking post. You're talking about what Richard Louve calls Nature Deficit Disorder. Check out his book,
    The Last Child in the Woods ( Most of us who garden today, even if it's just a tomato plant on our balcony, learned from our parents. You're right that today, parents don't cultivate their kids' sense of wonder about nature. If we all were like those parents your encountered, pretty soon nobody will be left to wonder about cypress trees knees.

  5. Thanks for the compliment and tip about the book. It sounds intriguing and so does the Kindle device I saw advertised on Amazon, on which Louv's book can be read. I'm a bit slow in keeping up with all of the electronic gadgets now available. I have so many books, there is not enough shelf space in my bookcases for all of them. The new device might be the solution to that dilemma and might save a few trees too.

  6. I agree with you whole heartedly. Children of today are not taught about nature & how to take care of it. Sadly if things continue as they are we won't have much nature to worry about. I'm trying to teach my Great, Grandchildren about such things. My 5 yr. old GGS planted, took care of & harvested his own corn. They have learned that carrots come out of the ground. Such simple things as these most kids don't know. They need guidance, someone to teach them.

  7. Lola, I am so glad you are teaching your GGS not only about sustainable living by gardening (a skill he may need just to survive in this troubled world) but also respect for what the older generation has to offer the younger one. That respect is something Western culture has strangled and almost killed off by perpetuating an insatiable lust for youth.

  8. I loved this post esp. the first picture! Those cypress trees are amazingly beautiful

  9. Thanks, ILP. I think it's amazing that this type of swamp even exists in Illinois, but I'm glad it does. And thanks to the efforts of some determined people, it's making a comeback so future generations can enjoy it and benefit from its function in nature.