Friday, September 26, 2014

A Natural Refresher

After a long week in the classroom, fatigue sets in. Twenty-four kindergarten friends can certainly take a lot out of a person. They are adorable and amazing to work with and I am lucky to be so blessed, but they are also exhausting. I was tired after running the mini-marathon last week. That tired paled in comparison to kicking off a week of assessments, the beginning of literacy stations, assessments, writing workshop, and did I mention assessments?

What is a tired teacher to do? How can I get re-charged with a night of "daddy-duty" staring me in the face?  Simple solution. Take a hike.

I love hiking anytime, though venturing out in autumn is definitely my favorite. The colors superb. The smells refreshing. The chill in the air invigorating.

Another aspect that makes fall hiking even more memorable for me is the chance to spend time with my very mobile toddler. I may have spoiled her by taking out on many, many hikes over the summer. Especially since she now occasionally fights me tooth and nail when I try packing her into the hiking carrier. She wants to explore freely, without the constraints of being carried. I don't blame her. Nature is an amazing thing and there's no better way to experience it than by taking it in in it's purest form. Seeing her rustle up leaves for the first time, watching her stop to hear the call of a bird, and hearing her adorable "ooh" when she feels the trunk of a tree. . .  ..all priceless.

On this brisk Friday evening, we enjoyed a quick two-mile haunt through Pike Lake. Though she hoofed it mostly on her own, her occasional request to be picked up was certainly well-received by a father slowly seeing his daughter grow so quickly and occasionally missing the helplessness of her younger moments. Kicking off on the blue trail, we connected to the astronomy trail before cutting across to the path that leads to the tower on Powder Hill. Once there, it was amazing to take in the spectacular seasonal color change.

Greeting every person and four-legged friend along the way, my daughter seemed so happy among the trees. Enamored with the trees, she let out  a thrilled squeal when she came across something new and exciting. From a large rock to a tiny acorn, everything intrigued her. Every twist and turn in the trail offered a new opportunity, a new experience, a new perspective.

I know I have plenty of time to enjoy each new adventure with my daughter. I am grateful to have the opportunity to do so. I am learning a lot each time I head out to a state park, nature center, or trailhead. I am growing in my zest for life and my fascination with the splendor of the natural world. Still though, I must cherish these times and encourage others to do the same.

So, get out there. Do whatever it is that refreshes you. Live it. Share it. And use the refreshing revival it provides to make tomorrow a better day.

I feel ready for Monday already. Re-charged and refreshed, just hoping to inspire my kindergartners to learn and grow from their experiences in the same way I am.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lions Den Gorge

Lions Den Gorge is a hidden gem in the Ozaukee Park System, though I think it is getting less and less hidden every time I visit. Though it has a variety of trails, one main trail leads visitors down steep lake embankments via wooden boardwalks right tot he shores opf lake Michigan. The park is dog-friendly and offers a variety of habitats, including forests, marshlands, and of course. . .the beach.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lapham Peak

When I rolled out of bed this morning, noticed the soggy ground and eye-balled the threatening clouds looming in the distance, I wondered if the scheduled hike would actually even take place. As we packed up and headed out, the rains picked up and so too did my worries about whether taking my toddler out to the woods was the best option. However, as soon as we approached the park, the weather cleared, the sun peeked through, and all was well with the world.

Today, my family and I were also able to bring a long some friends relatively new to hiking the Ice Age Trail. While I love hiking on my own and enjoying the serenity and tranquility the woods can bring, enjoying the beauty of the trails with my family and close friends is something I treasure and look forward to doing more regularly in the future.
I always stop to hug one of my favorite trees.

Starting at one end of Lapham Peak, our hike leader Russ took all 9 hikers and one 4-legged friend  through some steep and rocky sections while stopping to give us personalized experiences from his own work with the trail. Kevin, another wonderful volunteer, handled sweeper duties, but also served as an informative source about trail maintenance. From learning about the tin can that hikers once used to catch a sip from a kettle-fed spring to learning about illegal loggers and stories about the now abandoned boys school, what I call "history hiking" is always something this history geek and outdoors enthusiast can appreciate.

We stopped to discuss other topics like fungi, prairie plants, outwash plains, and the upcoming plans to re-route some of the trail that water erosion has damaged. My wife, a botany and bird fan, also helped us all learn about bird calls and plant identification, including fungi and lichens.

As we approached the tower, the rain returned, creating a perfect opportunity for a quick pit stop. As many of the group underwent wardrobe changes, a history lesson on Increase Lapham commenced before heading down the 100+ steps and traversing through Lapham Peak's beautiful forests.

Though initially gloomy, the weather held the temperatures cool and comfortable for the duration of our journey. My friends all had fun, learned lots, and expressed interest in joining us again soon. I know I look forward to it, and I am pretty sure my daughter does too.
***Special thanks to IATA Volunteer Kevin Kuhlmann for some of the pictures from today's hike.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Homestead Hollow

Lapham Peak is an absolutely gorgeous state park. There are many different trails, a tower with an amazing view, and wildlife galore. I try and visit as much as possible. One of my favorite spots to enjoy, especially with having a toddler, is the paved and very stroller-friendly loop at Homestead Hollow. Whether I take the stroller along or have my baby girl waddle along, this is a short but scenic look at the park which takes guests through some meadows and forested areas.

Another reason for my frequent visit to the park is my monthly meeting for the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail meeting. Tonight was no exception,. Being on daddy duty, we came early to take a stroll at Homestead Hollow. Though we didn't make it too far into the trail before turning back around, I am consistently enamored with how nature is so intriguing to my daughter. She loves to stop and smell the flowers, grab and feel the low branches, and hear the chirping of the birds and the bugs. Her reactions to new experiences is priceless, especially now that she is verbalizing constantly. Being close to sunset tonight, the views were spectacular and the trails were populated more than what I usually experience.The falling sun also helped illuminate the changing colors of the annual transition into autumn, quite possibly the best time of the year.

After our brief hike, it was time for our monthly meeting where many hiking and nature enthusiasts gather to find out the ins and outs of our chapter and the Ice Age Trail in general. Though she can be a handful, I believe my daughter has behaved quite well at the meetings she has had to attend. She really made her rounds tonight, greeting everyone (many times in some cases), taking laps around the room, and fidgeting with her newest toy, her name tag, as she was allowed to become an honorary member tonight.

I know she doesn't realize it now, but it truly melts my heart to see her in action, whether it be on the trails or in the meetings supporting the trails. I can only imagine what nature intends for us in the future.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tyke Hike #4 - Waterville Prairie

The next time a Tyke Hike makes its way through the Waterville Prairie, I'll be sure to try and promote it as an adventure ride.  Watch the short video to find out why!

Prairie restoration expert Marlin Johnson led nine hikers through much more than the prairie on this chilly and clear September evening. A very friendly feline also joined up for a good portion of the adventure. Before trekking through the over nine-feet tall grasses, we stopped at his chicken coop for a lesson on composting toilets and the history of outhouses. The children were especially intrigued.

On to the prairie!

Marlin is a fountain of information about the history of pioneers and prairies in Wisconsin and the 98 acre parcel of land he tends to each and every day.  This entry cannot and will not do him justice, but he shared with us types of prairie plants, specific information about each plant, a historical perspective on uses of this plant, and some regular old fun facts. For example, the tallest grass we encountered was known as a turkey foot based on its appearance. The compass plant has leaves which directly point north and south, regardless of when and where they are planted. Native Americans believed the plant called rattlesnake master kept snakes away from their lands. This was just the tip of the iceberg of all the information we heard. Besides learning about birch trees, quaking aspens, wild indigo, goldenrod, and cockleburrs to name just a few, we also enjoyed some ripe, but tart wild grapes and some very refreshing mint leaves.

Our hike also took us to other areas around the prairie including the spring-fed Scuppernong Creek, a beautifully spooky oak known as the Halloween Tree, and an active kiln. On our journey, we crossed a bridge that cuts right through a  frog and toad haven in springtime, searched a forest filled with fungi, figured out how many adults it would take to measure the circumference of a large tree, and observed an area Marlin is currently restoring as part of a 2-3 year process  that includes planned burnings, consistent weeding, and lots of volunteers. Please let me know if you are interested in helping out.
Ever been in a kiln before?

The cold chill of this early autumn air couldn't freeze out the fun of learning about, sampling, and even taking home parts of a phenomenal prairie.  I certainly see future Tyke Hike visits.

Life and death on the prairie
My daughter is getting less and less photogenic at times. :)