A scenic drive along county highways provided an hour's worth of scenery on our way to a new hiking spot on the Ice Age Trail today. Ribbons of unharvested corn alternated with pastures of cows as the roads passed through farm country interspersed with wooded areas. We saw more wildlife along the roads leading to our hiking trail than on the trail itself. Deer, cranes, wild turkey and grouse all made an appearance today.
Upon arriving at Wood Lake County Park in Taylor County, I found the picnic area and bathrooms conveniently located right off the parking area near the beach. I made use of the pit toilets before getting started on the trail and discovered a huge family of ladybugs had set up residence in the toilet paper dispenser, eliciting a tiny scream from me. It's situations like this that make me glad I always bring my own paper!
We could hear distant gunshots echoing across the lake and I was glad Charlie had her red hiking vest as well as her blaze orange on today. I don't take any chance that Charlie will be mistaken for wild game in the forest so every year I purchase a blaze orange neck-warmer or hat (with the tip cut off) that she wears around her neck when we're hiking. It's an easy and affordable way to make your dog visible in the woods during hunting seasons.
We chose to hike a 2.5 mile loop of this segment around spring-fed Wood Lake. The early morning fog had mostly burned off by 11am, but the sky remained cloudy for the first part of our hike with occasional spots of sunshine from time to time.
Thick frost from the previous night had melted, making the leaf-covered forest floor wet and slippery. The damp leaves released their sweet aroma of earthy decay and covered the slick mud beneath them just enough to give my boots some traction on the hilly terrain.
With the dampness comes silence. There was no crunch of leaves from underfoot and no chorus breezing through the leafy canopy. Today there was only the whispering of wind through the bare branches above, occasionally joined by the chirp-squeak of a woodpecker.
The sweet babbling of water flowing over rocks was a welcome sound by the time we reached Wood Creek. Charlie took a break to splash around and search for sticks to play with while I sat and took a few moments to clear my head of unwelcome chatter and negative thoughts. Deep breaths of fresh air, the wind playfully blowing my hair and the calming lull of the water slowly washed away the events of the previous week and I began to feel refreshed and invigorated.
With a clear head, I was ready to continue on and concentrate on the beauty of Wood Lake and the random little trickles of water flowing down the hillsides. Small rock piles made crossing these areas a little easier, although the thick leaf cover on the ground obscured ankle-twisting obstacles of rocks and roots, causing me to slow my step and be more careful. With my eyes watching the ground more often, I noticed tiny white moths flitting about in a frosty stupor, a last hurrah of the season.
White birch trees glowed brightly as the sun finally peeked out of the cloud cover and pockets of blue sky became visible. A series of wooden boardwalks helped traverse the wetland areas around the lake, and my boots echoed a hollow thud on the planks as we marched across. Charlie's toenails clicked ahead as she led the way, anxious to get closer to the water in hopes of going swimming.
Finally arriving back at the beach where we had started, Charlie dipped her paws into the clear, blue waters and went in search of more sticks for me to throw. The wind whipped across the lake causing small waves to lap against the shore. Even so, the water remained clear and sparkly as the sun filtered through, illuminating the sandy bottom below. We even found remnants of turtle eggs on the beach where they had hatched and made their way back to the lake.
The hues of the season have transitioned to shades of brown and the beauty so easily seen in the previous season is harder to find now. With an open mind and clear eyes, though, there is still beauty to be seen if you are patient and look closely. Nature is all around and always, in any season.