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Pastor's Blog

The Heart of the Cedar Swamp

October 20, 2020


Between the dead end of Wildlife Road and the dead end of Deer Lane is the northern portion of the Navarino Cedar Swamp.  To quote the DNR’s web page about the Cedar Swamp:

Navarino Cedar Swamp supports a diverse northern wet-mesic forest, a rare natural community type for this region. Pockets of the forest are dominated by large diameter northern white cedar whereas others contain a mix of black ash with smaller diameter white cedar. Areas of higher topography contain eastern hemlock and yellow birch. 

Though the web page claims you can access the Cedar Swamp by simply by walking “south/southeast into the site” from the Deer Lane trailhead, both trails heading toward the Cedar Swamp from there are dead ends.  Only one of them appears to get you close to anything remotely resembling a Cedar Swamp.  I also tried accessing the Cedar Swamp by walking west from Wildlife Road, but that trail, too, is a dead end.  Nor do either of those trails have a southbound branch leading into the heart of the Cedar Swamp.

You can’t, in other words, get there from here.

If you could, based on the amount of time I spent trying to just approach its border, it would take a two-hour walk to get to the heart of the Cedar Swamp.

Imagine walking two hours into the woods, only an hour of it on a trail, before finding the heart of the Navarino Cedar Swamp.  That there’s a “rare, natural community” this deep and inaccessible only a half hour drive from Green Bay is remarkable.  Let’s hope our species doesn’t build a strip mall in the middle of it. 

Apparently each spring, the DNR grass-slashers tear the two trails toward the Cedar Swamp I took two Fridays ago.  While the Wild Life Road trail has been mowed this year, the Deer Lane Trail hasn’t been touched for years. It may have just been too wet.  Clumps of willows and witch hazel have begun growing in the middle of the trail.  Like most of the trails out at Navarino, I imagine these trails are logging roads.  Having once been cleared and compacted by logging vehicles, these roads became low spots in the woods that collect water and have now become long strips of swamp in the midst of the woods.  I slogged down the Deer Lane trail this spring, and it was more of river than a road.  Cattails and other shoreline shallows plants had sprouted there, the cattails are now often six and seven feet high.  Only now is the trail dry enough to walk. 

Though someone has apparently been to the heart of the Cedar Swamp to conduct the arboreal census posted on the Swamp’s web page, I doubt too many other people have been there.  Maybe hundreds of years ago it was a place to harvest cedar wood, which is apparently used by people of the First Nations to frame and floor birch bark canoes.  I long to find the heart of the Cedar Swamp, though I lack the orienteering toys and skills to just march into it.  I can imagine, however, snowshoeing into it, which obviously gives me an exit plan.

Two Fridays ago, two of the trail dead ends I followed ended in almost perfectly circular clearings.  There was evidence in these clearings that they had also been made by loggers: several black, sawn stumps molder there still.  I walked the perimeter of each of the clearings to see if trails exited them.  But from these clearings there are no exits.

Beyond the circumference of the clearings are mostly woods, though beyond the woods around the Deer Lane clearing, an even larger clearing beckoned, one, I imagined, like the Sedge Meadow, which is, after all, just south of the Cedar Swamp.  In those clearings, which are about 50 yards across, there are a few trees, less than thirty, and the clearing floor is mostly tall grass that looks like a slightly overgrown lawn.  Which gives the clearings a “civilized” look despite the fact that I had to walk an hour into the wilderness to find them.  They remind me of parks, places where people gather, except that groups of people had never and will never converge there to walk their dogs or to push their strollers or to get their 10,000 steps in or to eat their lunch and read a book before going back to work.  The visual expectation of people gathering in these clearings while knowing this is out of the question, gave rise to a curious feeling about them.  Maybe, I thought, I had stumbled into Eden itself: the lovely garden out of which the errant couple were thrown.  They obviously weren’t there mowing the grass any longer.  And certainly in the summer the mosquitos, deer flies, horseflies, and bees assailing anyone on the paths to Eden could have been serving as cherubim, each with a “sword flaming and turning,” stationed by the Lord at the border of the Garden to keep the miscreants out.

All the miscreants except for me.  I wandered into the midst of the clearing having marked the trail entering the clearing by standing a tall branch there and by noting its direction with my compass.  The wind blew the branch down, as if the wind meant to trap me there, as if the clearing were one of those places people go in folk and fantasy tales and can’t find their way home again.  The branch I stood up to mark the trail had been stacked in a pile of branches and small logs, the appearance of which I had memorized.  My phone battery held long enough so its compass got me there.  And I was able to head home.

In the Deer Lane clearing especially, the floor of the clearing is deeply grooved between the grassy mounds out of which the trees grow.  The mounds, I imagine, are ancestors of the trees who are living there now, ancestors who are feeding the trees who stand there now, trees who are now being stripped their autumnal glory.  The wind was strong two Fridays ago, scattering the red orange leaves of the maples like sparks from a blaze.  The bright yellow leaves of other maples and the beeches were clinging more tenaciously, reluctant to fall.  There were a few oaks with maroon and lavender and leathery brown leaves who keep their leaves as long as they can.

Each season has its beauty.  The trees take their turn in the fall by painting the forest with colors that are beautiful but that are, incongruously, a sign of the end of the lives of the leaves, a sign of the relinquishment of the life-giving production of oxygen for us to breathe and of seeds for creatures to eat, a sign of a dead end.  Soon we’ll see only the bare bones of their branches.  Soon the sky will cover the bones of trees with its snowy shroud. 

There are, however, no dead ends in creation.  The heart of the Cedar Swamp beats still, beyond all the dead-end trails.  The heart of the Cedar Swamp is deep underground and is quickened by the spring sun, so the sap of the cedars’ deciduous cousins can rise and bloom as leaves again.  The cedars in the heart of their swamp, though seldom seen, are ever green. 

Pastor Larry


Posted by Larry Lange