Winter is so great…

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Today I found out who (not a bird) had discovered the bird feeder. He comes from somewhere via an under-the-snow tunnel to the area beneath the feeder where the birds have tossed out a lot of sunflower seeds. I think he got tired of hunting in the snow and decided to go for the source. It was fun to watch him hang upside down by his back feet while chewing. He looked skinny.

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Following the drifted trail, which at this point I can still see.

The snow is really deep out there in the untrodden places. I decided to take a snowshoe walk today because it was relatively warm, with a clear blue sky and sunshine. It was odd at five o’clock to still have plenty of daylight, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and thanks to spring which is just around the corner, I’m sure.

I so, so, so wish I could have had a video of this excursion to cheer me someday when I’m living in the nursing home.

I set out following a drifted trail that had been packed down by several previous walks, but it disappeared rather quickly. The last snow and the accompanying wind had drifted it over and there was nothing except innocent looking whiteness to indicate where I should walk. The field was wide, the trail was narrow. I lost it completely.

At the point in my walk where I was as far from the house as I was going to go, it started getting frustrating. Every step was putting me in snow up to my knees, in spite of having snowshoes on. I had to pick my feet up high and with the weight of the shoes and the snow clinging to them – kind of like working out with weights on your ankles. I started looking for the beeline back to a plowed area, but it looked equally far in all directions.

Then I started experiencing unsteadiness. The snow was giving way unevenly and my shoe would tip to one side or the other, or go toe-down so steeply that it would throw me off balance. This is how I ended up in a rather deep, soft hole with my face in the snow and my feet up higher than my body. Pushing one’s self up does not work well when you can’t find a “bottom” to push against. My arms sank in even deeper than my legs. Did I mention that the snow is really deep now?

Luckily, there were no hungry carnivores chasing me. Actually, I saw no animal tracks at all today proving that the other animals were smarter than I was and either found a path or stayed put. If you’ve never had to get yourself up from this kind of position, you have no idea of how difficult the logistics are. I tried several different tactics before finding one that worked, and once up, I made sure not to fall again. I did a lot of stopping and measuring the distance with my eyes… closer that way? No? Maybe this way? Maybe it’s time to call my brother for that snowmobile ride he’s been promising me? No, too embarrassing.

It felt ridiculous to be talking myself down from pseudo-panic when I was within sight of a dozen houses. I knew it was just a matter of trudging on until I could climb the last snowbank and get on a road, which I finally did.

I would have paid someone to give me a workout like that, and it was free! This is me, convincing myself that winter is so great. Yeah, so great, I love winter. No more walks like that, just sayin’…

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Isn’t it pretty out here? And this is not even where the snow was REALLY deep.

Evening Walk

Today I spent a lot of time sitting in the car, sitting in waiting rooms, sitting… and trying not to fall asleep. When there were a few free minutes at home before dinner, I had to get out and stretch with a walk.

This world is such a beautiful place, and if you don’t have places that bring that fact home to you, you need to find some NOW.

You can come to my place. This is how it looks at sunset on a fairly warm (34 degrees F.) winter afternoon. Enjoy.

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The Lodge

Nothing refreshes me, body, soul and spirit, like being outside in the woods and marshes. I had a good dose of nature today.

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I have a fascination with the beavers here on our wetlands. (I feel like I’ve said this before, at least once.) Today I was dressed well enough and had no time constraints so I went off the track into the woods to make my way to the beaver lodge – not that beavers live in the woods, but the wetlands are complicated. The water flows into ponds that have fingers of marsh that spread out into all the low places in the woods. I could see the beaver lodge from the path but to go directly to it would mean crossing a bit of ice with occasional open spots. I like to stick to the wooded areas around the edges.

 

The path, and I was surprised to see that it was an obvious trail, led through the most awesomely beautiful snowy wonderland. There were a lot of animal tracks, but a person with their dog had left prints as well. It’s kind of special when I get to go someplace that I know not many people have gone. I could hardly stop taking pictures.

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Ice, followed by snow, piled high on every little twig and branch.

 

We’ve had some storms in the last few year which have taken down a lot of trees. In addition to that the high water levels have killed trees, and the beaver have chewed a few down too. The woods look like they’ve a rough time of it, but even that has a beauty, in that life and death are there, entangled with each other. The starkness of winter leaves it all visible.

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Life and death, in close proximity.

 

I found the lodge. I walked out on the ice. I even found a place that looked like it might be an entrance into the watery world below the ice – a dark hole, under a log at the edge of the marsh with open water and lots of animal tracks. Could it be where the beaver come and go? I was looking for tracks that might look like a beaver tail was dragging behind, but I couldn’t say for sure that I saw any.

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The lodge – easily as tall as I am.
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and the nearby hole into open water, that has obviously been well investigated by animals.

 

The lodge is quite a large structure, a mound that can be seen from quite a distance away. On the way there I crawled into the fort built by the survivalists in the burn pile. There was snow in the entrance but further in it was dry and cozy looking. I imagine it could look a little like that in the beaver lodge.  I hope they are in there, safe and warm.

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Beaver tracks? I don’t know… probably not.

Winter is awfully long here. I don’t know what beavers do in the winter, but it’s probably eating and sleeping for the most part. I hope they don’t get bored…

 

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River Fascination

I am becoming more and more fascinated by a river that has been almost in my backyard without my paying much attention to it. The Mississippi. Most people don’t think of the state of Wisconsin when they consider the “mighty Mississipp” but they should. A good deal of the state’s western border is marked by the Mississippi and the geography it creates is often breathtaking.

Those of us in northern Wisconsin have always had to cross it on our way to the closest major airport in Minneapolis. I grew bit more familiar with it when I was in nursing school years ago, going back and forth from home took me through river cities like Red Wing and Stillwater where beautiful bridges afford views from the car windows. Most recently I’ve enjoyed the land around the river at La Crosse. It’s here that three rivers come together, the Black River, the La Crosse River and the Mississippi. Throw in some 500 foot bluffs, a wide alluvial plain and what early French traders called coulees and you have some pretty interesting terrain.

A few steps up the hill and I am above the roof line of my brother’s house.

My brother lives in Onalaska, which is close to La Crosse. His house is on the assent to one of the bluffs that looks out over the river valley. He and his neighbors all have wicked steep driveways and some of their houses hang on the sides of the hills in a precarious way, but the oak forests and the views are worth it to them.

We stayed at my brother’s house on our last trip and I decided to take a hike up the bluff in the late afternoon. There were still lots of leaves on the trees, but the view through them was good enough to be impressive. This kind of natural beauty is so refreshing to me that I have to share it. Hope you love it too.

First, you have to look at the forest floor. The trail was a bit steep in places and I had to watch my feet, but the leaves were so gorgeous I didn’t mind.

Somehow, trees are born knowing how to make these perfectly lovely shapes over and over every season. Thank you God, for trees.

I tried to get some good shots of the river down below, across the plain, but the trees made it difficult to focus in the distance. It’s a forest up there and it was getting dark.

Yeah, I know, what a mess. 

The sky was full of dark purple clouds that cast deep shadows over the landscape.

Trying to show the incline, lots of downed trees and rock outcroppings on the way.

 

And lots of mossy, green places. I know I said this was fascination with a river, and then had almost no pictures of it at all. But it’s the geography that the river produces that really catches my attention. The bluff was remarkable, even though I didn’t quite reach the top. I decided to turn back to honor the sign that said it was private property and to keep off.

Thanks for walking Wisconsin with me!

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Up North: The First Snow

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The hydrangeas never give up, and they look real good with a dusting of snow.

Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.

Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My  phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.

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Seriously, the air itself takes on a glow when there is this much gold and yellow overhead.
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But it’s the abundance of reds that stand out this year.
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A path to remember – my hiking companions Den, MaryPat and Scruffy.
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I love the color contrast with the remaining green. We came upon this pond in the forest – magical.
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At the lake, a bald eagle did a circle of the shore while we watched.

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Spatter technique – there was a lot of it this year.
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The color is close and touchable. It is easy to feel submersed in it.

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The goodness is everywhere to be seen, even down on the path.

There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…

Birkie Trail, Next 6 miles

This is the second weekend that we have put on our hiking shoes and taken to the trail. After a week’s work, we really enjoy a good long walk in the woods. We skipped a shorter section in favor of a longer hike than last week. We will go back and pick it up someday when we have less time.

The trees were still more green than colored. There were only a few brilliant ones, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like autumn.

I was a little obsessed with the fungi, but you’ll see why. Strange stuff.

Enough talk. I just want you to see what I saw.

Makwa Trail, here we come.
First spot of color.
The trail skirts this lake except for here, where it gets a little crazy. This is a single track bike trail.

Moss abounds. Lovely, right?
Time for some fungi.
More fungi.
And more…

And this one!

This little guy, about head high on the trunk of a tree, amazing!
Can you spot the camouflaged picnic table?
One more.
No, one more.
Some trail worker forgot their saw.
I spent a lot of time looking at the path because it was always so lovely.
About mile 6 we left the single track trail and did a mile on the larger ski trail. We (the girls) were getting tired and the ski trail was straighter and smoother.

Wonderful Day

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Every now and then, when I really need a wonderful day, one comes along. Of course, all days, even the worst of them, have something wonderful about them if you have enough energy to look for it. But this day, it was full of back to back niceness, the likes of which I have not seen in a while.

We went to the smallest and earliest of the three church services at Hayward Wesleyan, where we have started to feel at home. It was satisfying, encouraging, and did not make the husband cry (well, maybe a little, but he held it together…). The weather got beautiful so we went for a walk afterward, just the two of us. He felt good today, noticeably good.

Breakfast with the relatives after church. It’s a ritual. We go to Flat Creek Eatery for the fellowship more than the food and it’s always good to spend time with my aunts and uncles and Mom. Smiths, Boones, and lots of coffee.

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We are working on the Hayward Cluster now, soon to go on to Seeley, then Cable.

My brother, who is also a Dennis, his wife and I had planned a hike for the afternoon. By 2:30 we were out in the woods and it was perfectly gorgeous. We have a goal of hiking the complete distance from Hayward to the end of the Birkiebeiner trail near Cable, in sections. This was probably the shortest section, 5.7 miles on my counter, Hatchery Creek Trail to Mosquito Brook. I LOVE BEING IN THE WOODS. Enough said.

This is an  “intermediate difficulty” single track trail. The real difficulty is jumping out of the way when a fat tire bike suddenly appears, going fast!
This was midway. The signs are pointing to them, but those are not their names. 

 

Fungus fans, what do you call these gorgeous things? 
For some hard to figure reason, someone thought this lovely table should be chained and weighted. 
These are wintergreen berries, common on the forest floor “up north”. Tasty.
A “grandfather” of the forest in the piney section of the walk.
Several sturdy shelters have been built along the trails – used mostly as a warming house for winter skiers. 
Mosquito (“Skeeter”) Brook, running high through the forest.

The husband had time for a good rest while we were gone. We got back just in time for a cup of soup before heading off to the next fun thing. Choir.

I didn’t realize how much I have missed music – good, cooperatively produced music. Our community has formed a volunteer choir which has performed a Christmas cantata of some sort for the last 20+ years. This year the director is a … hmm, dynamic might be the word, young woman who is filled with the spirit of worship and loves to do this job. The two hours went so fast! I was impressed and I know I am going to love this time each week. The husband is going to love it too. I can tell. And it will be a great way for us to get to know some people in our new location.

Four fun things in one day has me worried that I may have used up my quota for the week. I’m kidding. There are enough good things “up north” to fill the whole week, I’m sure. And I will be looking for them.

The husband is trying very hard to stick to his keto diet, lose weight and figure out how to regard this Lewy Body Dementia thing. When he is feeling positive, the world seems a bit brighter and lighter in its weightiness. Today he walked and talked much like his old self. We are wanting lots more of this kind of day. Just sayin’, who wouldn’t?

Myakka, strange name, great place

Myakka State Park

Years ago when I was a teenager my family would take winter trips to Florida. All seven of us would travel in a pick-up camper which made it prime bonding time. I think we usually stayed about two weeks, about as long as we could stand to bond, and in that time, we would park in private and state parks along the way. Myakka was often one of the northern-most state parks we would visit in our search for sunshine and beaches. The Myakka River is one of the national wild, scenic rivers and a small weir widens the waterway out into Myakka Lake.

Two of the memorable things about Myakka that are still going on today are the tram ride to look for wildlife and the airboat ride, also to look for wildlife. I’ve done both. We were always successful seeing the “a” animals, armadillos and alligators, but there are also occasional deer and lots and lots of birds.

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Me and three old trees

This park is always pretty busy in the winter when the weather is cool and conducive to camping and hiking. There are over 39 miles of trail in this park. I’ve hiked there once and you also get a good idea what Florida’s pine flats are like. As the name suggests, very flat, lots of pines and palmetto. The park does a good job of controlled burns and maintenance of the trails.

I mentioned in another post that in the 30 years we’ve lived here, the husband had not been to this park at all. People would visit us and I would take them to Myakka but Dennis would be working. That has been remedied, and none too soon. On the Friday before Memorial Day we visited the park with our good friends who go there quite often. This weekday was a good time to beat the crowds, although there were quite a few there by noon when we left. This was also an unusual time since we had just started having seasonal rains and the river and lake were FULL. Some campsites were underwater and the water level was way above the tree line.

 

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Chef at work

My friends usually take breakfast or a snack to a picnic table close to the lake, but this table had been removed so we chose one of the pavilions for our breakfast spot. I had no idea this was going to be such a feast, but my friend is an excellent host and planner so all the bases were covered. Her husband was soon cooking bacon and eggs over a charcoal fire while the three of us sat watching him with our coffee and homemade biscuits. The picnic area is well appointed and close to parking and restrooms.

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Hostess and the husband, holding down the table

While there we watched people arriving for the airboat tour, the first one starting at 10 a.m. We could see the new gift shop and boat dock from our picnic table. I made a quick trip up there (it’s on stilts for obvious reasons) to look for a hiking medallion which I had never gotten before and they had them, along with tons of other interesting stuff. The airboats claim to be the largest of their kind in the world and they do hold a lot of people. The tours are guided by knowledgeable park staff – I have always come away knowing more about the lake and ecosystem.

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Great shop for souvenirs but you have to walk up the steps to get there. Tables beneath in the shade. (There may be wheelchair access but I didn’t see it.)
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The big fan in the back powers the boat so it can get in very shallow places (where the alligators are…)

This park has rustic, old log cabins for rent as well as various types of campsites. The cabins have been refurbished and are very comfortable. You have to rent them well ahead of time because they are very popular.

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part of the boardwalk into the marsh

This park is great for birdwatching and we saw a lot of high tech cameras and tripods being lugged around. There is a long boardwalk out into the marsh, and also a canopy walk high in the trees. We went to the end of the boardwalk, but the water was so high that there were few birds to be seen. It was getting hot and the husband was getting tired so we didn’t go up in the canopy this time.

We rode through the park from the south entrance to the north entrance on this visit. The north entrance is not always open – you can always drive out but can’t always come in – so visitors need to check the schedule. It’s safest to enter via the south. Lots of large oaks shading the road, lots of water views, opportunity for kayaking, canoeing, fishing – it’s a great place to get a feel for central Florida waterways. Pack some food. Go there. Enjoy.

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My hiking staff with medallions . The dark one with the alligator is from Myakka.

Battling Winter, post #3

A Walk in the Woods

When you can’t ski, you walk. There are trails for every kind of travel in the snow including snowmobile and fat tire bikes. It’s the biking that I don’t get. Riding a two wheel bike fast on a narrow trail through a forest of trees, rocks and other natural hazards? Why not just relax by walking blind folded through a mine field – same difference. But winter hiking is good.

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The straight rows of pine provide an easy trail for Mary Pat, Dennis and Scruffy. I’m last in line, taking pictures and catching up.

There are trails very close to the family farm and my brother and his wife go hiking there a lot. After a day of work, when they need some exercise, they dress up, take Scruffy their dog, and walk the loop by Hospital Lake. Part of the trail goes through a planted pine forest, along the edge of the lake and returns to the parking lot. It’s just the right length so Scruffy doesn’t freeze his feet. (Isn’t it weird how some animals can stand on snow and ice and not get frostbite?)

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An eye catching little ornament on a tree that seriously needs something.

There are a lot of outdoorsy people in this area so the trail is well traveled. In a bow to the season, someone (or maybe more than one person) has begun decorating trees along the way. It’s fun to find the variety of ornaments, although I felt really sorry about the Teddy Bear. It looked more like he was being tortured.

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After a walk, I might have cold feet, cold fingers, nose and cheeks but there is a core warmth that is sustaining. Breathing all that cold air makes me feel … healthy, I guess.  As I climb back in the car and the heat kicks in, there is such a feeling of calm and peace and “put me to sleep right now”.

Because it gets dark so early, these walks often coincide with the most beautiful sunsets. Really, I could not stop taking pictures because it was changing every minute or so and I wanted to capture it.

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A New Thing to Do

I think it is good to do something new, every once in a while, if you can find something. Finding something new to do is not always easy, but it really helps to  hang out with someone younger. Someone who does things that you didn’t know about.

Now this could be an introduction to several things, but what I’m actually referring to is geo-caching.

It’s an odd sport, but I saw it in action the last couple of days and I think it has a certain charm. For me, at least, it attracts me in the same way as doing jig saw puzzles, playing Microsoft solitaire challenges, or hunting down sea shells at the beach. It calls for a focus, a dedication to the hunt, and possible putting up with some inconvenience.

We were walking in the forest, on a treacherous unpaved path with tree roots and rocks grabbing at our shoes as we climbed steep embankments. Julia, as usual, was paying no attention to the path but was fixated on her phone. She said we were near a geo-cache and she was going into the woods to find it. She handed me the dog’s leash, and the dog and went off the path and disappeared into the brush. The wait was rather long. I was developing a story plot in my mind about a girl finding a cache (whatever that was) and falling into an alternate universe as she grabbed it, never to be seen again. A man and woman came by on the path and as I felt awkward standing there doing nothing, I explained what I was waiting for – a person who had gone looking for a metal box hidden out there somewhere.

I finally heard a shout, which sounded excited, and I attributed it to a successful find. But there was still a long wait before she was seen or heard returning. It is customary to open the box when it is found and leave a record on a small notebook, or leave an object as proof of your presence. As with much of today’s fun, an app on a mobile phone is responsible for announcing the nearness of a geo-cache and guiding the way to it, within a small margin of error.

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Yes, we are never free from our phones, even out in the forest it seems.

Today we went hiking again. Wanting to see how easily this sport could be called up, I asked if there were any geo-caches in the area and Julie turned on her app to find out. There were several, and they were not too far away. The hunt was on.

It took us 30 minutes to find the first one after we reached the area. We are in a forest downed trees, brambles, ravines and all sorts of natural obstacles strewn about. The forest floor is covered with leaves and debris. The clue given to us, as I remember it, was to look on the downhill side of the path for a fallen log, with some parallel sticks on its uphill side. We also had a picture of a little boy holding the box by the log. It’s a forest. There are fallen logs everywhere, parallel sticks are not scarce either. As I said, it took us 30 minutes. Julie found it. She was quite pleased because this improved her record, having now found more caches than the ones she had tried to find and missed.

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Find a log with some sticks by it. Sure, no problem.

A mile or so later we were following another clue – find the cache not more than 50 feet from the path, on a fence line between a pine and a hardwood. I saw the fence line first. That was my only contribution. Julie found this one too and our only disappointment was not finding a pen in the box so we could record our presence. We took a picture instead – at least we know we were there.

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One of Julie’s finds – the one by the log obviously.

We finished the hike discussing where we could hide our own geo-caches, and how we would carry pens with us next time – enough of them so we could leave one in the box if necessary. I would dearly love to get rid of some of the many pens I have accumulated and this would be a fun way to do it. My only problem is that my phone’s storage space is full of apps I don’t use and can’t get rid of (thank you Verizon) so I have no room for the geo-caching app. I may have to get a new phone, just sayin’…