Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tyke Hike #27 - Lapham Peak

With a pet emergency forcing a postponement of the latest tyke Hike, I expected a smaller crowd, if any at all. My premonition came true as Embry and I ended up going out alone on a daddy-daughter Tyke Hike. While she was initially  a bit bummed "none of my friends are here," her spirits perked up quickly when I told her we could still explore nature.

With the "planned" hike out the window, I gave her the option of heading to the planned destination for the hike, the prairie, or the forest. She chose the former, exclaiming "I love flowers!" Maybe it was just paternal pride, but I was excited she made that natural connection.  Luckily for me, she made many more connections along the way, confirming my entire purpose of creating the Tyke Hike program for the Ice Age Trail Alliance and developing a nature-based nature kindergarten in my teaching.

Today's post focuses on some of her natural connections.

Why walk on the trail when a "balancing board" is available? I love how she uses boardwalks, benches, stumps, rocks, and more as springboards.

She also feels the need to bop every blaze along the blaze. Some service trails with recognizable tire-created paths intersected the trail. She was able to choose correctly between the "tire trails" and the hiking trails, often using a nearby blaze as her guide.

Another fun thing I have noticed is her ability to figure out the different habitats. As we walked out of a wooded area and walked over a boardwalk covering a wetland area, she announced we were in the swamp. Then, after the boardwalk ended and the prairie emerges, she let me know that as well. Then, on our return trip, she made sure I knew she "loved the forest" as we re-entered the woods.

While every yellow flower she sees is a sunflower, I'm not too worried about her plant identification. She did however the picture above as a hot dog plant. After confirming her creative suggestion, I told her it was a cattail and she let me know every time she saw another one.

Embry loves her animals, so I'm not surprised every time she finds and investigates a "critter hole." Besides there investigations, she loves to identify anything she sees. Today, she found orange and red dragonflies, an assortment of butterflies, a frog, a "chipper" chipmunk, a "red-tummied" robin, and other insects like bees and ants. Her most scientific identification was when she correctly identified a chickadee and even sang "chickadee-dee-dee" to try and get the bird's attention.

However, in my opinion, her crowning achievement is her attention to what I've taught her about "keeping nature in nature." One thing she loves to do is to clear the trail of sticks so that other hikers don't trip. Often, you'll see her grab a stick on the trail and hurl it into the woods, often saying "get back to nature" with the toss. She also recognizes when things don't belong in nature. Today, along the path, she collected three bottle caps and went off trail to retrieve a water bottle she noticed so we could take it home to recycle.

Though I am very proud she shows care and concern for nature, I absolutely love why she does it. As the picture at the top of this post shows, she likes to take advantage of a bench for water and a snack. Today, while relaxing on the bench, she proclaimed, "This is my kingdom. I love my kingdom!"

So do I.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Muir Woods

Though I was bummed I accidentally left my John Muir shirt at home, it didn't take too much time in Muir Woods to forget about my error. The hilly drive through San Francisco bumper to bumper traffic  while crossing bridges and winding around serpentine roads was adventurous, but the sights and sounds of this national monument made all the travel troubles worth it.

When we saw the "Muir Woods parking full" sign on the freeway a few miles from our destination, we knew the woods were crowded. It's always a blessing and a curse when so many people take over nature. While it is great to see people out and about enjoying nature, it sort of takes away from the tranquility and serenity offered by the woods. However, the crowds here were quite respectful and the overall feel of the park was still very natural.

As we ventured into what Embry called the "red woods," the amazing smell first caught our eyes, or noses. So fresh. The amazing collection of trees was impressive from ground level, bit as we took the hillside trail, a trail that took you among the canopy of these towering giants, you got a whole new perspective and appreciation of just how skyscraping these beauties were.

Along the way, small cascading streams guided the way. Huge crayfish scoured the stream in search of lunch. Many trees had "caves" at their bases, perfect for exploring and mugging for the camera. There were also many rocks along the way that our daughter just had to climb and jump off of. One of Enbry's favorite tricks was being able to "squeeze the trees" as she walked between trees along the trail.

When we reached the end of our hikes for the day, we stopped by the gift shop. Besides getting a new shirt for my nature kindergarten wardrobe, I posed with John Muir himself and Embry rode a bear and we enjoyed some natural artwork.

Muir Woods was a beautiful and popular place I look forward to returning to and exploring again someday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tyke Hike #26 - Pike Lake

With potential severe weather predicted and temperatures nearing 90 degrees, it was a close call to cancel tonight's Tyke Hike. I am grateful the radar lightened up a bit and the breeze picked up as I made the final call.  I'm glad the hike went on. Thirteen exciting and entertaining hikers headed out to Washington County to enjoy the Ice Age Trail in Pike Lake.

With my daughter as the self-appointed hike leader, we headed out to the forest, checking out some insects and wildflowers along the way. Narrowly avoiding a fresh pile of scat, we debated if the pungent pile came from a dog, dinosaur, or one of those Pokemon scurrying around.

We discussed the impact of forests on our state's history, chatted about Paul Bunyan, and even talked about going back to school, especially since the desks where we sit, tables where we work, pencils we write with, and paper we write on are all connected to the forest.

The kids searched through the forest floor for acorns, fungi, leaves, and roots. We even caught an eastern green tree frog. Before we headed back, we read The Tree, by Dana Lyons and brainstormed why and how we can take care of the forests. Being a teacher, the educator inside me had to quiz them so we learned about and identified coniferous and deciduous trees.

No matter how many hikers come to these hikes, it is always enjoyable to meet with new kids and refresh with returners. Tonight's group was energetic and entertaining. They were also eager to share their ideas and thoughts about forests and nature in general. Just as we discussed the future of the forest, with children like these, the future is in good hands.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Weekend Explorations

In my family, weekends in Wisconsin mean time outdoors.When we have the opportunity, exploring new territory is always preferred. We took advantage of a free weekend and headed out for new outdoor adventures.

Our first stop was at Buckhorn State Park.  While the mosquitoes made it miserable at times, we did enjoy the barrens, a unique and sandy landform connected directly to glaciation. We also worked through the pesty skeeters to do some geocaching provided by the park.

Though the hike was cut short, we did see some sandhill cranes emerge and take off before heading to the beach to make sandcastles.

The next day, we headed to the quaint Natural Bridges State Park. It was beautiful! As she usually did, Embry took the lead.

We were also able to take in the very popular Pewit's Nest natural area.  Though this watering hole has become a hot spot and unfortunately, it is sometimes a bit overcrowded and loud, the fellow visitors were pleasant and it seemed like most people were respectful of taking care of the land, unlike our last visit.

In our last day, we unplugged from the camera and spent even more time enjoying the outdoors with a hike through the Ronzos Meadows portion of the Ice Age Trail in Devil's Lake State Park. On our way back home, we did a drive through Aztalan State Park because a certain toddler was in sleepyville. I had never been there before, but will most definitely be making a return visit.

Just another wonderful Wisconsin weekend!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Forest Kindergarten Documentary

Enjoy a look at the first year of my forest kindergarten program.


When we walked into the visitor center at this mall but unique national park, Embry saw an owl and hooted away. When the ranger on duty responded with a louder and much more natural-sounding hoot, the toddler was silenced. I may have learned a new trick to get her chattiness resolved. :)

As with any visit to a state or national park, our family loves exploring the visitor center, planning the trek, and checking out the gift shop goodies. With my forest kindergarten wardrobe in mind, I picked up my first official forest kindergarten attire, a shirt with "Lessons form a Tree" as the topic. We also "walked into a tree" and watched an engaging film on the park's history and current status. Then, it was off to the forest.

On the way, we encountered a mosquito meter on the wall, something I'd love to see at some of the Badger State's  parks. Luckily for us, this day was just about as mosquito free as can be,

Before we even hit the official trail, we stopped to check put the anoles and salamanders that ran rampant around the bases of trees and ground. Embry was ready to take her official spot as hike leader so our wildlife-watching came to a quick close and we headed out an a trail through the Congaree.The silencing of the toddler didn't last very long as she started singing and singing and singing some more throughout the hike.

In a forest full of beautiful trees like cypress, tupelos, and lollybob pines, we were too busy enjoying and trying to figure out the "trees knees" protruding from the ground. However, it appears we weren't the only ones as both the video and the ranger from the visitors center mentioned the purpose and reasoning for these root structures are still debated among scientists. Regardless, Embry enjoyed comparing her knee to the trees knees.

As is a forest tradition, we found one of the larger trees we could find and took a snapshot. Another more unusual event that seems to happen with every national park excursion continued as we ran into fellow Wisconsinites, this time hailing from both Mequon and Mukwonago. Our most exciting encounter came for a pretty sizable owl we were able to spot and observe near the top of the tree canopy.

And although our hike leader was fearless and as independent as possible, she still needed and requested to help bop the blazes along the way.