September 15, 2023 at 5:50 a.m.

Fish Like a GIRL

Master Naturalist training is complete, but I’m just getting started
Licia Johnson found many mushrooms during Master Naturalist training, which she used to teach students more about fungi. (Photo by Beckie Gaskill/Lakeland Times)
Licia Johnson found many mushrooms during Master Naturalist training, which she used to teach students more about fungi. (Photo by Beckie Gaskill/Lakeland Times)

There is a saying that goes something like “you don’t know what you don’t know.” That’s what is interesting about learning in general. As soon as a person starts to learn about a particular topic, they realize there is so much  they had no idea they did not know.

That was the way I felt for the last three weeks taking the Master Naturalist training. I did surprise myself by properly identifying the aquatic species of plants we were given to ID one day during the training, but other than that, I realized how much more there was out there to learn, in all facets of the outdoors. 

I can tell a birch from a balsam, but even in tree identification, subtle differences in cherries, for instance, were something to which I had not dedicated much time or thought. 

Also, when it comes to geology of the area where we live, I think I left a lot of that back in school, which, as most of you know, was more than a hot minute ago. When a person really thinks about it, it is incredible that a rock found along a typical hiking path in the Northwoods may be a billion years old. 

It is mind-boggling. 

Along the trails while we walked, several of us handed Mike Porter a random rock we thought was “cool,” and he could identify not only what type of rock it was, but how old it was, where it came from and how it got to its current location. Porter is a Master Naturalist and geologist. Tom Fritz was another geologist from whom we learned enough that many of us were glad we had the next day off from class to simply sit and try to absorb and process all of the information he shared. Igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks were terms I had not heard in years.

We hiked along an esker with Fritz. I know I have encountered these land forms before, likely many times before, but I never knew what they were or how they were formed. 

In my mind they were just “hills” that snaked through the woods. I suppose I had never even thought about how they were formed before. 

Here is the definition of an esker from our training binder:

“A ridge, commonly sinuous in pattern, composed of sand and gravel that was deposited by a stream that flowed in an ice-walled channel beneath a glacier.”

Fritz asked us to think about a snow bank or ice sheet we may have seen in the winter that had water flowing out from underneath it. That was something small enough and familiar enough that we could wrap our minds around it. We then extrapolated that out to the mound on which we were standing as he explained it to us. As I looked along the esker, I could not help but look up to imagine how large of an ice flow had once been in the very place where I was standing. It was another mind-blowing moment.

Truly, there was so much packed into the three weeks of training that it would be impossible to discuss it all here. 

It had been decades since I had walked out onto a bog. I remember being in fourth grade at Pine Lake Grade School and Tom Doyle taking us out onto a bog one day. That was the first time I had experienced that floating feeling of walking along on a bog and, I can say, it was when I first fell in love with bogs and swamps and fens and all things wetlands. Susan Knight and Carol Warden took us out on the Crystal Lake Bog during the second week of our training. We got to not only explore the bog, but we also learned more about everything connected to the bog. We extracted the “lunch” of some pitcher plants and found mosquito larva as the main contents of what was inside of those carnivorous bog-dwellers. 

This was another great experience that I know none of us will soon forget.

Another thing that struck me throughout the training was the caliber of researchers and other knowledge-filled professionals we have right here in the Northwoods. I am sure most people who are reading this column are familiar with another Northwoods outdoors columnist,  John Bates. While John and I have had a working relationship for the last eight years since I started here at the Times, we both marveled at the idea that we have never actually met in person. 

We spent an afternoon hiking and learning all about the land near his home as well as the Powell Marsh. He and I even chatted about hunting and the deer populations locally. While John is not a hunter himself, we did have some of the same ideas and observations as far as the deer herd goes. I thought that brought about another learning point, and that is that user groups can see eye to eye on things, even if their use of a particular resource may be different. 

In the case of deer, John may like them more for the aesthetics and I may see them as quite tasty first and foremost, but we can still agree on the areas where deer cause problems (such as over-browsing and car crashes) and areas where deer have problems (such as in old growth areas with little browse for the deer and areas with heavy predation). I think that was a takeaway for the entire group, which was neat and somewhat unexpected.

All of our instructors for the course, Porter, Fitz, Knight, Warden Collen Matula, Bruce Bacon, Joe Panci and Bart Kotarba, were all so knowledgeable and more than willing to answer all of our 1,000 questions. Licia Johnson, Hannah Gargrave and Jenna Richardson from the North Lakeland Discovery Center, who hosted and compiled the training I took, were also very knowledgeable and made the training fun and entertaining.

Each of them had their own special favorite species and would continually be overturning logs and digging around in the leaf duff to uncover cool creatures and pointing out different mushrooms as we walked along the trails. 

A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of this training, I was wondering, “Can I do this?” If there is anyone else out there who may feel like they may not “know enough” or be “smart enough” or any other of the 85 doubts that could run through a person’s head, I encourage anyone to just get involved in the program next year. Go and explore and have fun. Then take what was learned and pass that on to others. That’s what it is about. Finding and exploring a person’s passions. It is eye-opening.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].


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