Nothing refreshes me, body, soul and spirit, like being outside in the woods and marshes. I had a good dose of nature today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
The sky was full of dark purple clouds that cast deep shadows over the landscape.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’…
Time has gone by minute by minute, and our vacation is almost over – something to be looked back upon. As usual, it never seems right to be leaving part of my family anywhere, anytime. Julie and the dog had not yet left when we drove away from the motel.
Yesterday was by far the highlight day of our trip. Julie had to leave Tess the dog at the motel with Dennis the husband while we did our day hikes. Dogs are not allowed on most of the trails in the park. Husbands are allowed, but only if they want to go. Dennis is still not up to hiking and has had an uncertain time with his blood pressure and medicine side effects.
We chose to go to Grotto Falls first, knowing that it would only get busier as the day progressed. It is a shorter hike and close to Gatlinburg so many people are taking it. We did the 1.3 mile uphill climb, taking pictures along the way. The woods was beautiful, as was the river. The falls itself is known for the path that goes under the waterfall. Being there, with that wall of rushing water between me and the world was quite cool, literally. Natural air conditioning courtesy of the turbulence of air and water and shade. It’s a unique and beautiful experience. People of all ages were standing around on the rocks, nervously watching their children trying to get close to the water, taking pictures, drinking in the aura of the place.
We took our own pictures, went a short way up the trail on the other side of the river and then headed back the way we had come. Mount LeConte was more than six miles away up the trail and not on our list for the day.
The Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a one way motor loop up to Grotto Falls and was a great way to see the forest and several more creeks. Going back down through the woods was fun but the best part was at the end, nearly into Gatlinsburg, when the line of cars we were in slowed and stopped. People were out on the road taking pictures of something, which turned out to be a bear. A few seconds later another bear, on the other side of the road, came nearly up to our car. I think it was a mama and cub that got separated. The mama looked a bit confused and didn’t want to cross with all of us in the way. I hope they got reunited. WE SAW A BEAR! Unexpected bonus. I’m glad we were in the car.
Our second hike was a loop starting with the Little River Trail, to the Cucumber Gap Trail and ending with the Jakes Creek Trail. We parked and headed upward along one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve had the privilege to see. It was full of rocks, some as big as a small house, and the rapids and pools were everywhere a wonder. This trail was a road in an earlier age when wealthy families from the cities came up to cool off in their summer lodges. The Park Service has since bought the properties and is taking the old buildings down, leaving only the chimneys and fireplaces that look like monuments along the road.
The Cucumber Gap Trail was smaller and more typical of Smoky Mountain hiking trails. It was on this stretch that we noticed the weather was changing. It was getting darker. Then it was thundering and lightning. And then, of course, it was raining. At first the canopy kept us from getting too wet, but the trail was heading upward still. The canopy was thinning out and providing less shelter. I thought of all the places I wouldn’t want to be in a lightning storm. Sure enough, on top of a mountain with my feet in a puddle was one of them.
These trails are for people when they’re dry, and for water when it’s raining. They become little rivers with slick, muddy bottoms. At times we could walk on the bank above or below the trail (in the poison ivy) and other times there was no option but to get our boots soaked. I was so thankful for my new trekking pole. It was a lifesaver. We stopped taking pictures and wrapped our phones in plastic. You are being spared seeing us looking like drowned rats.
This was a near six mile hike and we decided to say that at least three of those miles were in the rain. We actually enjoyed it, realizing that it was an experience we might easily have missed, since we never would have started out in the rain. The wetness, the uncertainty of the storm, the added difficulty of the trail was just enough of a “rush” to make it memorable. I loved it. Towards the end, as we were searching for the parking lot and our car, we were getting a bit hypothermic. The temperature was down to 67 degrees and we had been wet for quite a while. Now I have a “hiking in the rain story” with each of my daughters. Thankfully this time it wasn’t 32 degrees, and we weren’t camping.
The day ended well with hot showers, dry clothes, and a top notch dining experience at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. What can I say? It has been a great trip, hotel expense courtesy of BlueGreen vacations. I’m writing in the Knoxville Airport, where our flight on Allegiant has been delayed 3 hours. That’s about the only inconvenience we’ve had to endure. And no, we didn’t buy a timeshare, just sayin’…
Tomorrow the husband and I are getting on an early flight to Knoxville for a short vacation. Never mind that we have never taken vacations before – we’ll learn how to do it. Never mind that we’re only doing this because it’s a time share sales pitch and we have to resist listen to a two hour hard sell. We get three nights, four days in the Smoky Mountains! Sweet.
Our time away from home has always consisted of trips to see family, business trips, and solo trips where one of us stayed home. We have gone out to dinner a number of times, does that count? Part of our problem has been that it is hard work to plan and take a vacation. It is harder work than just staying home and going to work as usual. And it is costlier than staying home, for the most part. Watching TV away from home can easily costs $100 a night whereas at home, the same amount pays for a whole month! Enough of that, we’re going.
Our destination is close to Gatlinburg, the “gateway to the Smokies”, which sounds lovely to me. I want to wander the quaint streets with occasional glances at the nearby views of mountains and streams. I want to ride the cable tram over the valley. I want to be a tourist!
One of the days I am promising myself a hike to a waterfall. I have looked at the maps and there are so many trails to choose from I’m going to have a hard time picking just one. Daughter Julia hopes to truck over from North Carolina to hike with me. My new trekking pole doesn’t quite fit in the suitcase we’re taking but the husband is going to find it “necessary” for his stability in the airport, so it’s going.
A late breakfast tomorrow in Gatlinburg. It will be wonderful! The only thing that could ruin it would be if we came back owning a time-share. Just sayin’ … (and prayin’…).