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Contemplating Interactions Feeds the Imagination

A vinery and a ginseng grower sing from the same hymnal more than most combinations of seemingly unrelated professions.
There are many unexplained factors why particular wines are unique to a famous plot. And true, too, is the mystic of ginseng roots.
Sages of these professions talk of identifying regions of origin from the smallest of samples. They speak of the plot’s terroir adding to the final substance, or the growth of the beginning plant, sometimes even using the term terroir to help explain why ginseng grows here (Marathon County) or there (wild in Vernon County) better than most other places.
Buffalo County has long been known for large-antlered white-tailed deer with a combination of soil and minerals contributing and spilling south to parts of Trempealeau County, too.

What contributes to the flavor of venison? Why do some deer hunters come from Alaska to hunt and savor this meat?


While we may never understand all the factors, and there are likely many, contributing to a wine’s elegance or a root’s smack, it shouldn’t keep us from trying. And it should encourage thinking beyond the plant, the fungus or the animal itself when encounters occur.
Some scientists are criticized for studying a species to extinction without looking for wider interactions.
We are more familiar with taking a tiny segment of our Driftless Region and talking it to death, or otherwise slicing and dicing it until mere molecules remain.
But every now and then it is fun, fascinating and fruitful to go the other way, to see a part of ecosystems we live in and to imagine the subject’s web, its connections and how those connections, even a single one, might collapse the entire web, make the wine different or the ginseng tea less potent or the reverse.
Rural newspaper retrieval of a half mile during a dark winter morning can be more than a walk in the dark, sometimes aided with a flashlight just in case we want to identify a predator before it leaps.

It is fun, fascinating and fruitful to see a part of ecosystems we live in and to imagine the subject’s web, its connections, and how those connections might collapse the entire web, make the wine different or the ginseng tea less potent or the reverse.


That leap is not likely, even though bears, bobcats and a wolf or two, or even a deranged November cervid is out and about checking pheromones.
Before leaving a concrete walkway and stepping onto a limestone gravel driveway, my light caught the eyes of a field mouse. This time a camera strap was not tugging on my neck, so I stood there, forgetting that my phone camera was under a couple layers of shirts, a sweater and other wrappings.
Would the mouse remain if I turned back a few steps and retrieved the camera, maximized the ISO to 16000, and held the light in my mouth to help? I had to try. But while deciding and forgetting the other camera, I studied the mouse, who had an acorn half the size of its head in its jaws.
What a neat photograph. What would I see if I studied the aforementioned imaginary? How could a small rodent carry and hold a red oak fruit that large? Where was it going? Where did it come from?

What contributes to the morel fungi’s unique flavor?


I lost the chance, however, to place that mouse image on a computer and dream backward and forward into its web.
Going back through the fruit’s formation, the tree, the flower, the roots, leaves and sunlight took but a moment. Moving forward, too, was simple. The oak seed’s oil and protein would feed the mouse for how many days? Or would the mouse be killed by one of my traps, leaving the fruit to decompose in the jaws of bacterial or fungal molecules?
The mouse was gone and no amount of flashlight sweeping across the snow revealed its destination or its demise. A nearby mouse trap was still loaded for game.
Closer to the newspaper tube, several deer continued their breakfast in the dark, dark to me but probably not so much to them.
Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer are a weighty animal in our Driftless Region. But maybe no more than a field mouse, 17-year locust, wood tick or thousands of bacteria, fungi, algae, botanicals and animals. Add to that some abiotic factors, darkness, wind, air, frozen soil with minerals locked within and fog.

What ran through Aldo Leopold’s mind when he saw a black-capped chickadee on his splitting wedge?


Like wolves, bears, crows and multiflora roses, our deer are loved by some and hated by others. Does our management attempt significantly alter how the mouse lives or vice versa by what we do to a deer?
Does that mean the Alaskans who came here recently to hunt may turn up their noses while eating a Wisconsin campfire venison burger?
Who knows how far-reaching the feared, ignored, refuted and denied chronic wasting disease will reach its chemical jaws into the Driftless ecosystem?
Regardless of how we slice and dice this cervid species, we should not remain in a darkness. We should take other roads on these walks of life contemplating the acorn that the mouse discarded, the deer ate and the embryo within the acorn that didn’t become a red oak tree.
Each of these transformations in the web of acorns, fungi, mice and deer are in some way involved in the terroir that feeds our imagination or tells our brain the ginseng tea came from Sauk County not Houston County in Minnesota.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at sivadjam@mhtc.net or (608) 924-1112

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