Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oak Openinigs Backpacking Opens Lives

"I have a problem, I never put up a tent before," confessed Darlene, age 56, on the other end of the line. I assured her that's what the weekend adventure was for -- beginners. Another caller asked, "What do we do if it rains while we are hiking?" My one word response "walk" hung in silence until this 47 year old decided she would check the weather again and call me back.
These were some of the concerns the women brought with them when we gathered Saturday morning, October 20, at Oak Openings Preserve ( to stage our two-day backpacking trip.
Eight of us, ages 12 to 57, met at the park and after a discussion about opportunities in backpacking, hostelling travel (the weekend was co-sponsored by Hostelling International,, using Metropark trails for fitness and pleasure, safety, and the weekend's itinerary, we were fitted with gear. Two hours later, our packs fully equipped with tents, sleeping bags, pads, food, mess-kit, stove, first-aid and other supplies, we excitedly hit the trail fully self-contained. A short two-day trip meant we were only carrying 25 to 30 pounds each, but we did have longer average daily distances than what most beginners would attempt, 8 to 9 miles instead of 5 to 7 miles. This allowed us to complete the entire historic 17-mile scout trail plus an additional leg to our remote camping spot.
So how did it go? The mileage went fast the first day as we talked while we walked in order to learn about our new friends. After lunch at Evergreen Lake, the kids and one of the moms were climbing trees....a good indication that there was easily enough reserve to get to camp and set-up tents before dark. After pitching the four two-man tents in the pines, we built a cook fire. Burritos packed with black beans, rice, cheese and fresh cilantro were accented by candlelight for dinner and the campfire toasted our sticky dessert perfectly, enticing us to eat
"s'more". What was most eerie.....the coyote-like call in the nearby woods, the scary story, or the noise back by the outhouse?
There was less talking on Sunday and more focus on completing mileage. We took breaks while LaRae, a naturalist, spoke about the unique features and habitat of the globally-rare Oak Openings. Lunch put hikers flat out on the grass with bare-feet perched over backpacks. But no complaints! I'm proud of you ladies!
Everyone finished in great shape with a potpourri of memorable experiences:
Emma talked her mom, Barb, into sleeping without the fly over the tent so they could view the stars; McKinzie liked the gnome-home deep in the pines; Stephanie had the strength to carry extra gear for others; Darlene slept in a tent and sleeping bag for the first time; Mary still had enough energy to attend swim practice Sunday night; LaRae enhanced everyone's experience with her knowledge of the Oak Opening Preserve; and Cheryl? Well, I had another delightful chance to see women accomplish something they had never done before, and find themselves living simply and closely with the land. Oh, by the way, can you believe one of these ladies had never roasted marshmallows over an open-fire? Ah, the simple life!
Group photo around sign (left to right):
Darlene Dunn, Barb Cubbon-Beale, Emma Beale,
Mary Ensman, Stephanie Micham,
McKinzie Smith, LaRae Sprow, Cheryl McCormick

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Frog Town

Lately I have been doing a lot of work helping home owners close their water gardens for the winter. The plants have to be cut back, debris cleaned off the bottom or drained completely, the filter and pump cleaned and stored properly, and the water garden covered with a net if there are a lot of deciduous trees nearby. This can be a mucky job and I guess that is one reason why people hire me. But I have been enjoying the work. The owners often help or visit with me while I work; sharing their lives, their gardens, and sometimes their homes and home-made cookies! But even if nobody is around I always have company.
Frogs. I can't believe the numbers. They don't seem too worried about me invading their habitat, and once they get accustomed to me will even come closer and watch me work. They are usually green frogs (rana clamitans melanota) but on occasion, if there is a nearby farm pond, I will find bullfrogs (rana catesbeiana). Last week there were 3 bullfrogs nearly the length of my boot in one pond, but I didn't have my camera with me to show you. The easiest way to distinuish between a green frog and a bullfrog, besides a bullfrog being nearly twice the size of a green frog (up to 6 in. compared to 2 1/4 - 3 1/2 in.), the green frog has two pronounced ridges down the length of its back. The green frog will utter a short, high pitched cry when it is disturbed and jumps. When I entered that pond last week with the bullfrogs, they stayed put and looked like baby alligator heads mixed in the lily pads and rocks.
The pond owners are delighted to have frogs in their backyard habitat. They usually have fish which they have purchased but none of owners have intentionally put tadpoles or frogs in their water gardens. So where do all the frogs come from? Well, Toledo isn't called Frog Town for nothin'! Toledo is in Northwest Ohio, site of the Great Black Swamp. This is a glacially-caused wetland, which has been drained and mostly converted to farm land in the last 120 years. There are still some natural swamps, marshes and creeks, plus miles of man-made drainage ditches and hundreds of farm, recreational, and drainage ponds. These all provide habitat for frogs and nearly every backyard is within 1/2 mile of one of these. Those rainy days and nights help the frogs migrate through wet lawns. Also, frog eggs may have been deposited by birds which visit the water gardens or attached to plants which the home owner purchased and placed in their water garden. The only complaint I ever hear about the frogs is that it sometimes is too noisy to sleep with so many frogs calling on warm spring nights. Wouldn't you enjoy staying awake for that symphony? I bet water gardeners in drought-ridden States would.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Chicago Marathon was Hot!

If you haven't heard and have any interest in marathons, you will hear that today's 26.2 mile race in Chicago was one that broke many records, but they weren't time related. It was a record breaking scorcher of 87 degrees and high humidity. Runners were begging for water and walking as early as 5 miles into the race. I saw many leave the course in Lincoln Park to stand in line at a public drinking fountain, and others left the course for a few splashes to wet their heads at an ornamental fountain and they still had 21 miles to go. It was tough day for the 45,000 runners and not so easy either for the 1.5 million spectators on the sunny sidelines. I rode bicycle along most of the course but was stalled often due to the crowd and never connected with Livia, my daughter, until she was finished.
Livia crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 8 minutes, a very respectable time in the best of conditions, but she really wanted to break 4 hours. In the last mile of her run, she heard the police tell the runners to walk, that it was just a fun run. Livia couldn't understand why in hell they would call this run fun, and determined to complete it with the gumption she had given it the previous 25 miles, ignored their plea to walk. She didn't realize that the race had been canceled due to so many emergency calls and lack of water on the course. They diverted slower runners through a huge short-cut and Livia couldn't figure out why so many runners were coming in to the finish line from the opposite direction. It got very confusing; runners were collapsing left and right. One of Livia's friends who was watching the race near mile 21, caught a woman who collapsed in his arms and observed 4 others fall nearby. I honestly didn't see anybody collapse but I was near the front of the group where perhaps the runners were better trained and had access to more water to drink and pour over themselves. I stopped twice while riding my bicycle to help give water to runners which was hurriedly made available with hoses running out of local restaurants. The runners looked like they had been roaming the desert for days, and I couldn't believe that nearly every one of them thanked us.
I want to catch the news soon to get the details. All in all, I think it was a great event, with thousands of volunteers, cheering crowds, polite and friendly spectators, an unbelievable force of determined athletes, in a remarkable city along the shore of Lake Michigan. I hope the news doesn't mar my appreciation of this record-breaking marathon, a hot one for sure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

17 Mile Hike

What a day! Five women, ages 26 to 63, completed the 17 mile scout trail at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Toledo, and one woman walked 8 miles.
The pace was steady, but the rain was steadier. It was hard to talk over the rain sometimes, but there was a lot of conversation and laughter which helped the miles roll. The exception was the last 2 miles in which each of us seemed to be holding our whines about tired legs, wet bodies, and general weariness to ourselves. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" prevailed.
The trees didn't offer much color on this first day of October, but we couldn't overlook the color of the fungus which Karolina posed next to.
We all finished strong, cheers and high-fives extended (and one low-dive from Patty!), completing early enough in the day (2:40 pm) and with enough energy to enjoy the afternoon at home in the SUN! Karolina (from Poland) and Jenny (from Ireland) were not planning on missing their Latin dance lesson in the evening. I'd say they were cramming a lot of culture into one day....spending 6 hours during the day walking 17 miles with a group of wild American women in the forests, floodplains, and prairies of the globally-rare Oak Openings region, and moving to a different rhythm in the evening dancing with Latino friends to the rumba, samba and salsa. Isn't life refreshing when we step out!
Congratulations (in order of descending age!) to Judy, Patty, Mary, Karolina, and Jenny.....I sure enjoyed spending the day with women who demonstrate Out is In! and Fitness is Fun!