The Cannon River passing through the Lower Arboretum, with oak savanna along the right (east) bank.
Of course, once I started walking in the Lower Arboretum, I had no wish to be anywhere else. It was a beautiful afternoon. The river was running high and fast, and the trees were full of yellow-rumped warblers. Hawks circled overhead—what species, I don't know, since my feeble powers of bird identification don't extend to the underside of hawks. Twice I scared up a great blue heron on the bank of the river as I passed. Song sparrows chorused from the reeds around Kettle Hole Marsh. And everywhere, there were wildflowers blooming.
The stonecutter got it wrong: it was Harvey E. Stork.
In some parts of the Lower Arboretum, the wildflowers are growing wild where they must have grown a century and a half ago. In the Upper Arboretum, in the woods behind Bell Field, both the woods and the wildflowers where transplanted there in the 1920s by Prof. Harvey Stork and D. Blake Stewart ("Stewsie"), the legendary college superintendent of grounds. Stork and Stewsie, who established the Arboretum, wanted to create on campus a small area of maple-basswood forest, like the Big Woods that once stretched out on the west side of Northfield. But Carleton stood on prairie. So Stork and Stewsie invented a forest.
Non-native scilla siberica blooming at the entrance to the Lower Arboretum.
In the 1920s, many local farmers were making the transition from wood stoves to coal-burning furnaces. One important consequence of this was that the farmers no longer needed extensive woodlots to provide themselves with heating fuel. Unproductive woodlots could be cut down and converted to productive agricultural land. Getting wind of this development, Stewsie went out in his old truck and asked area farmers if he could dig up the wildflowers in their doomed woodlots and transplant them on the Carleton campus, in the newly-created woods.
Here is a gallery of native spring wildflowers blooming in the Cowling Arboretum on Tuesday, April 29, 2008:
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