Blitzkrieg and Branhagen

The weekend of Sept. 20-21 had at least two good events. One was the World War II re-enactment at Midway Village. The other was a presentation given about planting native plants by former Rockford resident Alan Branhagen. Branhagen is horticultural director of the renowned arboretum Powell Gardens of Kansas City, Mo. I’m starting with the World War II re-enactment I attended and attend almost every year. This year, the weather was exceptional; thus, the Midway Village forest was not muddy for the troops that camp there for two days and nights. The dry forest floor also meant fewer problems for the tanks, other war vehicles and my wheelchair. Once I reached my fill of war vehicles, I headed for the German troop encampments, where I listened for old men speaking English with a German accent. These guys usually have a small crowd of German re-enactment soldiers listening to them intently. These older guys are real German soldiers who fought against the Allied soldiers in World War II. This year, there were a couple of old German soldiers, but I will never forget the year an SS soldier was there telling war stories and talking old German politics. The SS soldier looked older than the hackberry tree stump he sat on, and he could speak very little English. In fact, a re-enactment soldier who spoke German had to interpret for him. The ex-SS soldier talked a lot about Himmler, who was commander of the SS, and he declared that The Third Reich and Himmler were pure evil. I took his picture, and he looked at me wearily. Alan Branhagen of Powell Gardens was resource development director of the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District for nine years. He is arguably the closest thing to Aldo Leopold, with the exception of George Fell, who never lived in Rockford. Alan spoke to a large audience at Klehm Arboretum on Sept. 20. The lecture, titled “Grow Native,” was about growing native Illinois plants in your landscape. Alan showed slides of more than 150 species of plants all native to Illinois. The species are representative of shade trees, shrubs, woody vines, woodland perennials, wetland perennials, prairie/full sun perennials, ground covers, biennials and annuals. Alan stressed that our landscapes are in trouble from “evil” alien plants, thoughtless sterile landscaping and careless tree replacement, to name a few. “Native plants are beautiful, they grow best here, and provide a tremendous amount of food and cover for wildlife,” said Branhagen. He singled out the oak tree species that are native to our area and told us how they provide food for insects and birds in the spring during flowering and leaf budding. “Oak trees in our county provide more food and cover for wildlife than all the other county tree species combined,” said Branhagen. He showed a slide of a huge bur oak tree that made many “oooh” and “aaahh.” He then talked about the huge bur oak tree that once existed in what’s now the East State Logli’s parking lot. No one to this day knows why the store didn’t save the tree. Alan’s slide of a hackberry tree drew my attention, not because a hackberry stump served as a seat for an old SS soldier, but for another reason. Meanwhile, back to the World War II re-enactment. I watched with glee during the ending of the last battle as the Allied soldiers closed in on a group of German soldiers. Boy, I love WWII, but I love native plants too, and there were two apples in my eye during the battle. One apple was the re-enactment; the other was the brilliant native goldenrod plants aplenty in the field the “soldiers” were acting in. The goldenrods would not melt into the background or foreground; they stayed in the center of my vision and soul right next to the soldiers. Then a pyro bomb exploded with too much pyro, and a field fire began to burn. I yelled out, “Prairie fire!” as Allied soldiers including Russian sniper women joined forces momentarily with the enemy Germans to stomp out the fire. Boy, Euro-Americans sure like to suppress prairie fires. So we got fake Allied soldiers and fake Nazi soldiers putting out a prairie fire, and there I sat, a nature Nazi who loves native plants, who would like to see the battle-caused prairie fire burn a lot longer. I’d like to thank Alan Branhagen for speaking at Klehm Arboretum. And thank you, Alan, for finding those hackberry trees on the property that will hopefully become my new home. May only nature Nazis sit on those very hackberry tree stumps, that is, if they ever have to be cut down, 100 years from now. Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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