On a gloomy late-fall afternoon in 2020, I set out from my home in Minnesota's Twin Cities and drove about an hour and a half northeast to Crex Meadows, a wildlife preserve just across the St. Croix River in western Wisconsin. I was on a mission to get photos for a project I was working on for one of my graduate classes, which explored a subdiscipline of geography called the geohumanities. The geohumanities focus on the intersection between geography and the arts. So, for my project, I wanted to put my then-budding photography skills to the test by capturing and writing about places where human and natural ecologies intertwine. Crex Meadows was a perfect location for the project because of its unique landscape and because it's an interesting example of a place where human intervention dominates a seemingly natural landscape.
One of several large patches of "sand barrens" habitat strewn across northwestern Wisconsin and east-central Minnesota, Crex Meadows houses 30,000 acres of prairie and wetland habitat sustained by an intricate system of artificial dikes, levees, and pumps. These features are part of an effort to reverse the damage wrought by European settlers who, in the late 1800s, drained Crex's wetlands in an attempt to make its lands farmable. After Crex's soils proved to be too sandy for agriculture and decades of attempts to drain and farm the land failed, the State of Wisconsin purchased Crex in 1946. Shortly after that, it began the effort to engineer the new preserve back to something resembling its original state.
I initially expected to leave Crex with a bounty of photos of sandhill cranes, who use Crex and its restored marshes and bogs as a rest stop on their fall journey south from northern Canada's boreal forests. Upon my arrival at the preserve, however, I quickly found myself drawn to the cedars and oaks whose vibrant yellows and deep reds contrasted magnificently with the austere November landscape. If you find yourself in the St. Croix region of Minnesota or Wisconsin around this time of year, I highly recommend making the trip to see Crex. Suppose the cranes aren't enough of a draw; at least stop by for the colors.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor