Sunday, October 4, 2009

Catch-up with Beginners

Finally, I am making the intent to blog today after many months and many ideas. I will catch-up if only to honor the 6 women who backpacked with me and my co-guide, LaRae, last weekend at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark west of Toledo, Ohio. Let me introduce this awesome group:

Marita Deitering and Nancy Moriarty

Marge McClellan and Linda Wetzel

Lin Snare and Joyce Rusch

Before they got to "rest" in those tents you see in the above photographs, they had to walk 9 miles with all the gear Saturday. Elsa, a volunteer who joined us Saturday, is pictured 3rd from left.

Marge, Nancy, and Linda are well rested after Saturday's lunch. They proudly wear their Swan Creek Daybreakers t-shirts with the logo of their walking group.

Linda and Marita are checking our progress on the 17 mile loop.

We had great weather, but foul weather would not have deterred this hearty group of beginner backpackers. Five of the six backpackers walk 6 miles starting before 7 a.m. several days each week; all year, all rains, snows, ice, winds, pre-sunrise moonsets, but all the time with one zesty attitude.

After dinner Saturday, we cook s'mores for dessert. Doesn't the moon fit right in like a roasted marshmallow?

Sunday lunch is a picnic, literally, with this group which you can see is sitting up. On previous trips, many of the participants are flat out on the grass.

OK, OK, so one of them is lying down. Let's give Nancy a break. She is 74 years old. She fell backwards with the weight of her pack while resting on a log!

We completed the 17 mile, 2 day walk in fewer hours than any of the groups I have led on the same trail. Their daily walking and camaraderie makes a huge difference in the quality of their lives. Two of the ladies who started walking less than 2 years ago with the Swan Creek Day Breakers have cut their cholesterol levels in half and brought their blood pressure into normal range. What a drug this nature stuff is!

I love the way they love their walks in nature. What impresses me most about this group though, is that they are older than me, that is they are in their 60's and 70's. Nor have I ever led another group where everyone commented in the morning that they slept well on the ground with the 1/4 inch thick foam core mats. I shouldn't admit this, but they had a wood fire going and hot coffee ready Sunday morning before LaRae and I even woke up.

These daybreakers are early but worth catching up with. They welcome new walkers. You will find them walking from 7 to 8:30 a.m. every morning on the longest, main trail at Swan Creek Metropark. Dare ya to catch-up with them, then join us next year on the Oak Openings trail!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Florida Master Naturalist Class

Florida Master Naturalist Classroom (above) and Field (below)

It was delightful to spend 5 Wednesdays and 5 Sundays with a naturalist guide, several presenters, and 14 outdoor-loving Floridians. We kayaked, tromped, researched, and traveled to preserves, rivers, marshes, swamps, and lakes. I completed one of three segments which are offered through the University of Florida, wetlands. For my final project another student and I, with the help of a volunteer videographer, put together a video kayak tour of the lake at the Savannah Preserve State Park. This will be available for viewing at the nature center in the State Park and possibly on the Florida State Parks website. My intent is to complete the other two segments of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, coastal and uplands.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Growing Like Asparagus

Winter has passed and spring has sprung. Well, actually I am still watching it spring. I read today in a botanical magazine that asparagus can grow 10 inches in a day. Wouldn't that be a fascinating experience, to spend a whole day as witness to a single plant's 10-inch lengthening? I want to set up my life so that I would stay put outdoors in one spot for 21 days from the 1st of May. Being. Asparagus!

My "being" has been enriched by many wonderful things in life the last few months, but not in one spot. Simplified, January I spotted myself in southeast Florida where I completed a Florida Master Naturalist Program on wetlands. In February I used the knowledge gained through the coursework to lead nature walks on the other side of Florida at Cayo Costa State Park. March was punctuated with a kayak trip in north Florida on the Suwanee River where I happened to find myself floating in the 500 year flood, or maybe it was just a 100 year flood. Whatever, it was a hell of a lot of rain! These showers gave way to April and May, and the joys and challenges of water gardening in Ohio.

Like the asparagus, I have grown substantially this year, but it's not easy to be. Asparame!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Alligators and Freaks

I've been seeing a lot of alligators lately, and most of them from my kayak here in Florida. You can find these reptiles, survivors of the dinosaur age, in freshwater marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes (almost anywhere you could put in a kayak or beg to swim in hot weather). Being cold blooded, alligators save energy not having to heat themselves internally. Consequently, they don't need to eat so often but do like to bask in the sun to warm up. These long bodied crocodilians (Florida also has crocodiles which prefer the more salty waters and milder weather of south Florida) move well in both water and on land; the front feet give them firm footing on land and the rear feet, which have more webbing, help propel them through water.

It looks like I am getting too close, but in many cases the rivers are very narrow. The alligators rest like statues, not moving one bit while we float by. But I have seen them bolt like lighting from the bank when startled, always retreating into the safety of the water. They are not interested in eating me. There have been few fatal attacks. This is amazing considering how closely the two species live together in modern Florida. Alligators prefer to feed on fish, turtles, snakes, wading birds, raccoons, and our pets, which are just another small mammal to an alligator.

Here is an 8 footer on the shore. Notice the red and blue in the foreground. I am in my red kayak and my Ohio friend Emil is in the blue kayak. This is the first time Emil has ever been in a kayak (I won't give his age but will say that he is drawing social security) and this is the first alligator he has ever seen. Emil is raving about how he never imagined Florida to have any wild, natural areas remaining. This is precisely why I want to introduce him to one of many natural areas I've had the pleasure of exploring here in southeast Florida, the Luxahatchee River.

OOOPPS! Emil flips the kayak on the next bend. What is so cool is that Emil is cool (more than soaked in cold water). He doesn't freak out. I guess that the American alligator doesn't stack up to the communist whom young Emil, his mother, father, and sister escaped by foot one dark, Hungarian night in 1956.

Alligators are docile. If left alone, like other reptiles such as snakes and turtles, they will retreat to a more isolated place if they feel threatened. The exception though is a female alligator with her babies. She guards the eggs she lays in a nest and then protects the live ones for nearly 2 years. Even with this vigilant protector, few alligators will make it through the 1st year. In the photo above, a mother floats near 2 of her young. The little ones are camouflaged by reeds in the bottom left quadrant of the photo. I am standing on a road shooting into a ditch for this photo.

Knowing what I do about alligators and having seen dozens by now from my kayak, doesn't mean that it is any less exhilarating to see one in its natural habitat.
Look at my foot in this photograph. My toes are freaking out! Unlike Emil, my feet have never had to help me escape from the above-mentioned, freaky, non-reptilian specie.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Liquidation: Mind Over Matter

Pour it on. It is winter and Toledo just had a near record amount of snow fall for the month of January. I just missed 31 days of potential cross-country skiing. BoooooHooooo.

I've liquidated......been playing barefoot in the frothy sea foam of southern Florida. Gotta make the most of it!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Perseverance & Productivity

You're not big on New Year's Resolutions? Me either. At least I didn't think so until I picked up a piece of scrap paper this morning. I had scratched two words on it last evening, New Year's Eve. Perseverance and Productivity.

It wasn't my idea but a friend told me to write down those words, that they are the words for the new year. I couldn't follow her explanation about energy and optimism but I have seen my friend settle into a peaceful domain of joy after years of study and intention. Since I admire these changes in her, I did as she asked. Now this morning, New Years Day, I wonder what to do with this scrappy piece of paper, printed in red ink with two words that I have tossed around year after year.

Hoping (aren't we all hoping for 2009?) that there may be some truth to what my friend is suggesting and to help me remember these two particular words, I challenged myself to tag the words with things that speak of perseverance and productivity. How can I see and remember perseverance and productivity?.

Two of my favorite framed prints have surrounded me for decades with memories of travel and an appreciation for art worldwide. Today they spell out perseverance and productivity, as if I am seeing these prints in a new light.

The first one is an 8 x 10 inch print that I found in an antique shop in Sweden many years ago. I was raising young children at the time and perhaps that is why it grabbed me. Besides, I am convinced that snow and cross-country skiing are the perfect match for winter fun.

I have always appreciated the simplicity of the lines in this print and how it can still convey strength, confidence, determination, and outdoor fun.

The little one goes with the flow, with no doubts about learning how to ski. The bigger one gently guides the younger one.

Both the little one and the big one are determined. This is perseverance.

This is a much larger piece, 20 x 36 inches. It was printed by Leighton T. Rute (sp?) in Berlin in 1891. I found it in 1980 while I was staying in a budget hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was in a closet where the owner of the hotel allowed me to store some things. He sold it to me for $5. It has been hanging in my home ever since.

I have always enjoyed the quietness of this print. It is titled "Solitude." I appreciate the detail and subdued tones. It is loamy and luxuriant. She is mellow, allowing herself to be.

This woman, wrapped in a lovely gown, is sitting outdoors, apparently not worried about getting dirty. She dangles her bare feet, pondering. There is a connection between the woman and the natural world. She is alone, and she is not alone. She is with herself.
I am sure this print spells productivity.

I told you I wasn't interested in new year's resolutions. Now that I have committed perseverance and productivity to memory, I wonder if I haven't started out the new year with a lie. The 1st word listed under perseverance in my dictionary is resolution!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Slant on Birches

Birches can put you off-course if you take the time to contemplate how they...........

.......Stand in a Crowd
Crowd a Stand ...............

.....can be the Center of Attention
become the Attention Off-Center.......

........Deceive, On an angle and up-side-down
Receive, Up-close and personal.........

.......Color the Accent
Accent the Color.........

.........Darken the Light
Lighten the Dark.........

No matter the season or the angle, it is difficult to ignore a birch.