Notes from the Northwoods – Week 1: Edible Invasives

by Aisha Liebenow
Northern Wisconsin, or the ‘Northwoods’, is known as a beautiful summer vacation spot with thousands of clear, pristine lakes. Every year, tourists fill restaurants for fish fries, buy homemade salt water taffy at local shops, and partake in all sorts of other outdoor activities, from hiking to fishing to paddling. But there are other inhabitants in this beloved ‘home away from home’ – the brave and devoted researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Trout Lake Station.
sunny lakeThis summer I will be exploring the role of Trout Lake Station in its work to help understand, preserve and maintain our inland waters and ecological systems. Each week look for new posts on this summer’s projects, the people behind the science, and my own personal experiences here as an undergraduate student working at the station.

Aisha Liebenow and Rusty
Undergraduate Summer Outreach Intern, Aisha Liebenow, holds up her first rusty crayfish catch of the day. Photo: A. Hinterthuer

My name is Aisha Liebenow and I am a soon-to-be senior at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I am majoring in Life Sciences Communication (LSC) and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. I originally hail from DeForest, WI, but consider myself a true Madisonian at heart. Maybe this summer will change my mind…
June 3, 2013 – First week at the station
Station cabins along the lake-shore house the graduate and undergraduate researchers for the summer. Photo: A. Liebenow

After packing clothes for any and every possible situation, stocking up on food at Woodman’s grocery store, and taking a four-hour drive to the middle of nowhere (closest itty-bitty town is Boulder Junction), I had finally arrived at my destination – Trout Lake Station (TLS).
The pristine, mirror-like Trout Lake welcomed me to my new home (as well as a spider and a couple of mosquitoes) as I went to put away my things.
The allure and clarity of Trout Lake is definitely something to emphasize. Although on my first boat ride, I learned that there are dangerous winding paths of rock beds and sand bars just below the surface, somehow the danger just added to its beauty.
On my very first Monday morning, I was able to jump right into the action, tagging along with graduate student Lindsey Sargent as she headed out to collect rusty crayfish. I literally ‘got my feet wet’ and experienced what it feels like to be out in the field or, in this case, “in the lake.” After getting past the ominous pincers of this pest, I was finally able to pick a rusty up and realize that they are actually sort of cute, if you don’t mind invasive species.
cooked crayfish
Rusty crayfish that have lost their colored shell to a simple red hue after being cooked. Photo: A. Liebenow

But, by Wednesday, this abnormal attraction was put aside in favor of a delicious sampling of a rusty crayfish boil at our Trout Lake potluck. It was difficult to crack open their strong claws, but once you got to its white meat, their buttery flavor was oddly satisfying. I personally wouldn’t quite call them the ‘Lobster of the North’, but it left me curious enough to try it again if an opportunity presents itself.
The rest of the week was filled with getting to know names of faculty, graduate students and other undergraduate summer employees, as well as their corresponding research projects. I also started setting goals for myself as I help promote the amazing research happening on station.
The people here at TLS are so dedicated in what they do, and the research here is truly amazing! From looking at impacts of invasive plants and fish, to exploring interactions between aquatic insects and birds, the list goes on and on. And it’s all happening right here, in the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin. And there is so much more for me to learn and share.
There is one thing, though, that I already know from my first week with the CFL –  while we might work hard each week to improve and build on our scientific knowledge of Wisconsin waters, we also know how to play hard! That, and I might just have to work on my volleyball game…
volleyball     After our weekly seminar, everyone came over to Juday house for a potluck dinner and some volleyball. Photo: A. Liebenow
After our weekly seminar, everyone came over to Juday house for a potluck dinner and some volleyball. Photo: A. Liebenow

These are the first-hand ‘Notes from the Northwoods’, as UW – Madison undergraduate student, Aisha Liebenow, dives into the world of science, ecology, and aquatic systems up north. Follow her summer of pure Northwoods immersion at the UW Center for Limnology’s Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, WI.