Once Supporting A Farming Lifestyle
Our local state forest was once an active farming area. The many hillsides are now heavily wooded. A few open fields, though slowly becoming over-grown, confirm the location of past productivity.
Long ago, these areas produced crops or were pasture areas for livestock. Rusted livestock watering troughs provide evidence of a lifestyle pre-dating the park’s existence.
Remnant barb-wire fencing still cling to a few trees, their staples now deep into the bark. Moss-covered stone “fences” define borders of past fields.
Without much investigation, one can find rusted old farm equipment, placed in the woods so long ago that trees now grow through their wheels.
Preserving The Land
Fortunately, the farmer believed in the value of their land for many purposes, not the least of which is recreation. Years ago, working with the state, they were able to preserve this property as a state forest for the enjoyment of many.
The Rock Pile
As one hikes through the maple-ash woods, the terrain drops and climbs in this moraine area (thus the name Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest). Kettle lakes accent the woods.
In one area of the hike, the woods give way to an old farm field, now filled with tall grasses and seasonal wildflowers. This field opens to a larger field below. At the base of this hillside field is a pile of rocks.
This is the farmer’s rock pile, collected from many hours of toil in the surrounding fields. Each stone carries the stories of the glacier, the stories of the Native Americans who inhabited this area, and most recently, the story of the farmer. The rocks collectively have recorded history!.
With Nature, Receiving More Than We Seek
Some of the rocks are nicely rounded, others flat on one side or the other, a few more linear. Along with their history lesson, these rocks also willingly demonstrate physics to anyone who wishes to learn.
Such was the case in early October 2017, when we took two grandchildren (5 & 6 years old) on a hike. Although they are both very active in sports and other outdoor activities, a casual hike provided the opportunity to experience what nature had to offer on that October morning without time constraints or lesson plans. To quote John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”
After walking along the lake and learning from the stream, we came upon the rock pile, with all of its lessons in physics. On this morning, though comfortably cool, the sky was blue and sun had just cleared the top of the hill. The sunshine felt good!
The two boys immediately started to play with these stones. Each started piling the rocks, and creating a cairn in their own vision, without any suggestion or interference on our part.
The older one decided his was never going to fall over. It was going to be solid, and it was. His creation was a pyramid shape pile with each rock carefully selected and placed to support the total structure. Arbitrary selection of rocks didn’t work. Great care was taken to bring his vision to fruition.
The younger grandchild went immediately for the largest rock in the pile. That created his base. Like his brother, his next rocks were not selected simply due to proximity to his location. Great thought went into his cairn, and his next rock was a longer, flatter stone.
With a little bit of trial and error, and very careful placement, his cairn creation was one of balance. The flatter stone held the upper four, and each of those had to be similar in weight with its complimentary stone.
Remaining Open To Possibilities
In both cases, what a wonderful physics lesson! Without a book or instructor, the two boys were allowed to learn what the rock pile wanted to teach.
Isn’t it amazing what we can learn, keeping our minds open to what nature has to offer, constantly introducing us to new possibilities?
File ID: PHP_IMG_14332
1Ds Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM
focal length 200mm
ISO 50, 1/250 second, f/2.8
spot metering, manual, Gitzo tripod, 2 second mirror lock-up delay
Pike Lake Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest, Hartford, Wisconsin