As the crops are harvested in the fall, the land’s forms become more clear. Gentle swells and swales that were obscured by corn are suddenly prominent. If one takes the time to learn the language of the land forms, the land has a lot to teach.
Most of McHenry County lay under a half mile of ice just 16,000 years ago. That may sound like a long time ago, but to a geologist, 16,000 years might as well be yesterday.
Imagine a wall of ice over 500 meters thick moving slowly across the landscape. Everything in the path of the glacier was crushed, and anything that could be moved was pushed along by the ice. Trees were pulverized. Jagged boulders were rubbed smooth.
Looking at the land today, the remnants of the immense force exerted by the glacier can be seen all around. Here’s a description of some of the more common elements of the county’s glacial heritage that you are likely to see.
Erratics. This term describes any rocks that were transported by a glacier from one place to another. In our area, any rock is likely an erratic, as there isn’t exposed bedrock nearby.
Esker. This refers to a long, thin, snake-like hill of sand and gravel that was likely formed by a stream that carried rocks and sediment within a glacier. I know of one esker in McHenry County, although I am sure there are others. Sadly, it is likely that local eskers were removed as part of gravel mining operations. Eskers are treeless and very well-drained, providing ideal habitat for a unique assortment of grasses and wildflowers that are adapted well to perpetual drought conditions. The photo was taken on an esker northeast of Hebron. The reddish grass is little blue stem, and you can see how it covers the top of the hill. Where the grass ends, the land slopes sharply away.
Kettle. This is a depression in the landscape that was caused when a chunk of ice broke off from a retreating glacier. Glacial “outwash” (debris) then covered the ice chunk, and once the ice melted, a depression was left behind. Some kettles are lakes, as they hold water throughout the year. Others lie atop deep sand and gravel deposits, providing rapid infiltration of any rain or snowmelt. The latter are found throughout McHenry County. There are several kettles visible from Fleming Road and also in the Sanctuary of Bull Valley. The photo on the right is of a kettle off of Fleming Road in Bull Valley.
Kame. A kame is a small hill of sand and gravel left behind by a retreating glacier. Glacial Park in Ringwood has outstanding examples of kames. Like their cousin the esker, kames are very well drained, typically tree-less and provide habitat to a unique community of plants and insects. Kames come in all sizes, and are typically conical in shape. Many of the local kames were removed years ago for their sand and gravel.
Moraine. In its simplest sense, a moraine is a big pile of trash left behind by a glacier. As the glacier receded, all of the debris it pushed ahead of it was left behind in a heap that geologists call a moraine. Marengo Ridge just east of Route 23 in western McHenry County is a moraine that marks the western extent of the Wisconsin glacier.
Outwash Plain. Glaciers contain large amounts of silt and sediment, picked up as they scour the underlying land when they move slowly downhill. As the glacier melts, these materials are carried away and deposited in a broad area called the “outwash” plain. The Big Foot prairie area west of Harvard is an outwash plain that was formed as silt-laden melt waters flowed off the Wisconsin glacier.
So, next time you’re out for a drive, try reading the landscape. It’s a very well written old story. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Okay, someone has to say it, and it might as well be me. The average temperature on the planet is rising. It has been for some time. Sea levels are rising. Weather patterns are less predictable. Violent storm events are becoming the norm.
In the United States for the month of June, there were over 2,000 record-setting high temperature events. A drought covers much of the country. Sure, the US has had droughts before, and heat waves, and out-of-control wildfires, but never of this magnitude, never so widespread and never so relentlessly. Statistically, the odds of a year like this happening by chance are on the order of one billion to one.
For most people, this is not news, but one would not know that from listening to the mainstream media and politicians in this country. The refusal to take action – or to even acknowledge that warming is happening in some quarters – will cost millions of people their lives, livelihoods and/or homes.
There is a deep irony afoot in the world today. The people who have the least impact on the planet will be most affected by global warming. These people are also the poorest and most vulnerable. And that makes me sad.
Low-lying, Pacific island nations will disappear as oceans rise. Parts of Bangladesh have already disappeared under rising water levels. Countries like Bolivia that depend on melt water from mountain glaciers will lose their water supplies as the glaciers disappear.
Many of the poorest nations on the planet have populations where a majority is descended from indigenous cultures. In the Indigenous view, Mother Earth is neither an inert object nor the source of resources but a home with which humans are related. How very sad and ironic it is that these countries will be most affected by the changes – and are least able to do anything to mitigate the effects.
Bolivia, where 66% of the population is descended from indigenous people, is feeling the effects of a warming planet as the glaciers in the Andes melt. The glaciers are the primary source of water in the country. The seasonal glacial melt waters feed streams and rivers, providing fresh, clean water for Bolivians. During the winters, snowfall rebuilds the glaciers.
But what happens as the glaciers shrink, as they are? And what will happen when the glaciers disappear altogether?
Glaciers release water slowly, and the water tends to be cool and clean. Rain water tends to be more “flashy” with more forceful, shorter duration flows that have a greater erosive impact on the land. Rain events are also more unpredictable than water from snow melt.
Bolivia and other poor nations have spoken up at United Nations’ Climate Change meetings, in the hopes of persuading wealthy nations to take significant steps to minimize the human contributions to warming. Poor nations have asked the wealthy nations to compensate them financially for the impacts of rising waters, melting glaciers, desertification and increased rainfall. They have begged for assistance with mass relocation efforts as low-lying areas are inundated. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
In 2010, representatives from many of these nations gathered in Bolivia for a Summit which resulted in a resolution asking the United Nations to recognize the rights of Mother Nature as being equivalent to those of humans.
Then, in early 2011, the nation of Bolivia adopted a set of laws that gives nature rights equal to those of man. The law established 11 new rights for nature, including: the right to life and to exist, the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration, the right to pure water and clean air, the right not to be polluted, and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
The laws are derived from an Andean spiritual worldview, in which all organisms, humans included, are of equal importance to earth’s well-being. Seems to me those early people – people who some consider primitive or unsophisticated – were pretty smart.
Believing that the vast biodiversity in nature has a right to exist without being polluted, genetically altered or destroyed sounds quite sensible to me.
It may be safe to say that "scenic" is in the eye of the beholder. One person's scenic drive may be tedious to another who just wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and is annoyed by the hills, slower speed limits, curves and trees close to the road.
I love driving through the county's gently rolling farm fields, but know people who think this area is too flat and the farm fields are b o r i n g.
Whether one likes scenic vistas of farmfields, or curvy, hilly routes that cross through examples of the county's glacial remants (moraines, kettles, kames and outwash plains), there are many scenic driving experiences to be had in McHenry County.
For example, I think most any road through Bull Valley is scenic, with their windey turns and hills, plus the trees overhanging the road and the farm fields stretching across the rolling hills.