Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Prairie landscapes and homemade pie

Andy Asell packed an astonishing amount of information about Lucas County's historic landscape, its plants and critters, into a lively presentation Monday night during the Lucas County Historical Society's annual meeting --- so much, in fact, I couldn't even begin to report upon it. You just should have been there.

A 1992 graduate of Chariton High School, Andy works as a geographic information systems analyst for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and is a reservoir of knowledge about the tallgrass prairie, woodland and savanna landscape that greeted pioneers when they started arriving here in 1846.

I had never fully appreciated before hearing Andy speak, for example, the fact that savannas --- where trees are spaced so that their canopy is not closed, allowing grasses and other plants to flourish underneath --- were such prominent features on Lucas County's land 170 years ago. Or that my old favorite bur oaks, which evolved with fire and therefore are highly resistant to it, withstood thousands of years of prairie fires to become the dominant tree in that savanna landscape.

Andy used a series of maps to illustrate signification portions of his presentation, including this one (slightly out of focus because it was shot on-screen) that shows how field surveyors perceived the landscape in 1847, patterns still evident today. Those surveyors were not necessarily familiar with Iowa landscape, however, so the standards they applied to it varied --- but you can get the idea under the modern overlay of roads, towns, cemeteries and other features. Green represents timber, brown transitional areas, the occasional red spot cultivated fields --- and the rest open prairie and savanna.

I may lift a couple of his other maps later from the PowerPoint part of his presentation, downloaded on the museum laptop, for use here another time --- we'll see.

Here's a shot of part of Monday evening's audience. Please note Frank Mitchell in the dark sweater at left in the foreground. Frank is a veteran LCHS board member who decided to retire this year and earned a highly deserved round of applause for his many years of service. He has been a prime mover in our grant-writing efforts over the years, took charge of many aspects of our multi-year project to ensure the stability of Puckerbrush School for another century, lined up an incredible series of speakers for previous annual meetings and in general worked to keep the LCHS board on the straight and narrow --- we do stray now and then. We're going to miss him.

It was great, however, to welcome to the board Kylie Dittmer and Nash Cox. It seems obvious now that I should have taken a photo of these two last night, but will have to do that later. I love to run my mouth and the annual meeting is an excellent opportunity to do that. But when the mouth is running the part of my brain that says "take a photo of this" is disengaged.

Returned to the board for additional three-year terms were Ilene Church, Char Asell (Andy's mother), Jerry Pierschbacher, Adam Bahr and Lucinda Burkhalter. Current officers were given another year to serve as well: Frank D. Myers, president; Adam Bahr, vice-president; Steve Laing, treasurer; and Lucinda Burkhalter, secretary.

I also promised myself before the meeting that this year I was going to take a photo or two of the amazing variety of homemade pies that awaited guests after the meeting closed --- board members and staffers provide these pies. And then I got so busy stuffing pie into my mouth, I forgot. Maybe next year.

And thanks again this year to Skylar Hobbs and staff and the Lucas County Conservation Board for opening Pin Oak Lodge to our annual meeting. It's a great venue --- and entertains me by providing the opportunity to photograph guest speakers with wild critters ready to pounce in the background, just in case they get too long-winded.

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