Monday, September 24, 2012

Ciha Fen

Billows of chalky dust kicked up through the early morning sunlight, as several cars (including mine) made their way down the loose-graveled country road. On Saturday, September 22, the first day of autumn this year, we were all heading toward an appropriate place to mark an equinox, the dedication of the Ciha Fen Preserve in rural Johnson County, Iowa.

This new conservation site is 80 acres of sand prairie, wetland and oak savannah, the Ciha Fen being the Crown Jewel. Ciha is the name of the family who most recently owned the land. A fen (an Old English word meaning mud or muck) is a rare and special wetland feature created by the actions of ancient winds, ice and rocks that carved, grinded and fashioned our part of the Midwest millennia ago.  When moving underground water bubbles up through the dense sandy matrix left by glaciers, large floating vegetative sponges of wonder are formed and a fen is born.

An incredible array of animal and plant life live here, cool critters I ache to illustrate. Blanding’s Turtle (“Looks like a ‘gater in the water” said one biologist), the (non-venomous) eastern hognose snake (with little upturned snouts for digging in sandy soil) and six-lined race runners (seeking out rooms in rotten log hotels)- have all been noted. Magnificent, fragile plants are also present in their season- Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses orchid, rice button aster, fringed puccoon and mousetail plant. The fen is fringed by a fantastic mixed canopy of white and black oak and a sand “short grass” prairie beyond. Invasives linger and alas, prosper too. A team of conservationists are making efforts to thwart them.

Friend and colleague, author/geologist Jean Prior Sandrock wrote wonderfully clear interpretation of the rather complex water chemistry that makes up the Ciha Fen. Her text is on the permanent marker installed at the site.

This place is about time. The time it took for the fen to form. The time it takes for a white oak acorn become a 40 foot high tree. The time involved in the human effort to change the land. The time we now set aside to conserve and appreciate this pristine rarity of nature.

Thank you to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Johnson County Conservation Board in helping to make the Ciha Fen accessible to us. Please visit with a soft step and reverent eye; the fen will give back a deep sense of well-being and belonging.

And I hope I have TIME to create some illustrations inspired from the place! Meanwhile, here are some photos of the place.

The Ciha Fen of Johnson County, with authenic September Blue sky above. 

Friend Jackie takes in the program with the crowd

Each acorn is a thought...

Dappled light and ancient oaks


Linzee said...

Thanks, Claudia, for posting this. I hadn't heard about the Ciha Fen, and now can't wait to visit, as well as to see what you illustrate based on your visits!

Claudia said...

And back at ya- thanks for your Etsy post on Grotto(e?)s! I read it just yesterday and told Dan we should go to Dickeyville when his parents visit next month! Cheers!

Blog Archive