Except for the widely crowned oak trees that were scattered throughout our timber when Bill and I purchased Timberhill, it didn’t differ much from most Iowa woodlands. Overstocked with pole timber and invaded by eastern red cedar and multiflora rose the land had been heavily grazed and left to fallow. We wanted to improve the land but had no idea how to go about it. It was with the guidance of many knowledgeable people that we learned how to restore the oak savanna habitat. We learned that we had to cut down trees to improve the woodland. Working through 10 to 15 acres at a time our district forester guided us through timber stand improvement. We learned that our land was a degraded oak savanna and that frequent prescribed fire would restore the understory plants and control woody invasives. On many field trips organized by the Iowa Native Plant Society and Iowa Prairie Network we learned about Iowa’s native plants and habitats.
But our most important lesson was from Nature: that given time, patience and minimal interference she prevails. To quote English writer Richard Mabey,
“For it is nature’s fight back which is such an inspiration, her dogged and inventive survival in the face of all that we deal out. It is this survival story, and what it means for us that is the subject of this book.” (The Unofficial Countryside. 1973. 2010.)
Watching the natural springs return, seeing clumps of ladyslipper orchids bloom again in the restored woodland, observing remnant wetlands expand exponentially each year, and collecting ectomycorrhizal fungi never before recorded in Iowa-all are evidence of nature’s recuperative powers. I don’t understand how it happens but I could see and record the results. My book Timberhill: Chronicle of a Restoration is that record.
The book is self published on CreateSpace and available through Amazon.
There will be no regular post on May 20. The next post will be on June 3.