Monday, April 29, 2013


Charlie came upon a snake sunning itself on the blacktop path tonight. This isn't the first snake she's seen, but she showed more curiosity toward it than she has in the past. Don't worry - they're completely harmless (garter snake).

The Wisconsin River is still high, making pretty swirls in the water as it flows past quickly. Charlie wasn't much in the mood for swimming tonight; just wanted to play with the grass and twigs submerged along the shore. And of course, the bouncy ball...

Such a sweetheart.

A Simple Wish

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rib Mountain State Park

I went to look at a house for sale today - possibly wishful thinking - and decided to head up to Rib Mountain State Park since we were in the neighborhood. Tons of people were walking up the pedestrian trail along the road to the top - some with strollers, some with dogs, all of them with smiles! It's so nice to be out enjoying the warm weather finally!

You might be disappointed to find that I did not take any pictures of our hike today; I know I am. I had the camera along, but there was still ice and snow on much of the trail system, combined with the rocky terrain and having to keep Charlie on a leash, there was no way I could take pictures. Charlie was off-leash for quite a bit of our hike because it was just too difficult for me to hold the leash while trying not to slip or fall. But there were also parts of the trail where I was totally grateful I had the leash to hold onto and a dog strong enough to help pull me up! We had a great time and can't wait to go back when the snow is truly gone.

Charlie was surprisingly well-behaved staying on-leash which leads me to believe she is finally out of her bratty "teenage" puppy years and has become a well-behaved best friend. Looking forward to many more happy hikes this summer!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hike, Interrupted

I got my first bug-splat of the season on the Jeep windshield while on our way to Big Eau Pleine Park for our morning hike...  guess that means it's finally spring! I decided to bring along my mom's overweight chihuahua, Peanut... which ultimately turned out to be a bad idea.

Still working on learning camera settings!
Peanut was already tired out by the time we got there because she excitedly whined and paced during the entire 25-minute drive. Whatever energy she had left, she used up in the first 5 minutes of racing around the parking lot, and she basically dragged ass the rest of the hike. The trails were in great shape and I was really looking forward to a good, long hike. Migrating birds were in full song along the marshes, there was a warm breeze blowing, and the sun was shining through partly cloudy skies.

Charlie, as always, made the best of her time and gleefully raced through the woods, bounced along the path, chased geese, went swimming and played a game of fetch all by herself. I'm so grateful that all our hikes keep her in shape so she can enjoy the most of the outdoors!

I alternated carrying Peanut and letting her walk on her own and we took a couple breaks to get a drink of water, yet I knew we were not going to be able to go too far. About a half-mile into our hike, I turned around to see she had decided to head back to the parking lot! There she was wandering down the path all by herself. I guess she'd had enough; I should have known better.

Peanut heading back.

Late afternoon, Charlie and I decided to go explore Dells of the Eau Claire Park - this time, just the two of us. However, the trails were still covered in ice and snow despite the warm temps over the past few days. Wearing just tennis shoes and capri pants, I was up to my ankles in snow. Needless to say, we didn't get far - again.

Alas, with the warm weather returns tick season. I found one crawling on the couch where I had just napped an hour earlier. I took Charlie into the backyard, brushed her and then applied her tick medicine. Tomorrow's another day and hopefully we'll have better luck on the trails. In the meantime, I'm feeling "ghost itches" everywhere from tick paranoia! Ugh, I hate those buggers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Thaw Flood: Picnic Island Park

Since the dam in downtown Wausau is wide open, we headed over to Picnic Island Park this evening to see how the spring thaw is affecting the Wisconsin River.

Charlie nearly gave me a heart attack when she decided to go swimming in the swirling, churning water! The current was strong enough to cause waves crashing on one side of the island! Luckily she's a strong swimmer and stayed close to shore, but I decided to move our game of fetch a little further inland so she wouldn't be tempted to try again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wisconsin River Forest Unit

I'm going to dub this our "Spooky Carcass Hike." (WARNING: Graphic images below)

I was really looking forward to checking out this new hiking trail I researched late last week because it's only 8 miles North of Wausau's East side and follows along a portion of the Wisconsin River - water frontage is always a plus when you're hiking with a part-Lab dog!

We headed North on County Hwy W and almost missed the turn onto Pine Bluff Rd. The dirt/gravel drive into the parking area was pot-holed and half covered in ice and snow, but still passable without needing four-wheel-drive. As I pulled off the road to park, I noticed tufts of gray fur blowing around: an ominous sign. I let Charlie jump out as I loaded up the backpack with hiking essentials and when I turned around to see where she was, I found her sniffing a deer carcass!

Charlie was obviously worried about what she had found and continued being hesitant and skittish. Upon further investigation, there were several carcasses that had been dumped in and around the parking lot area, as well as unidentifiable animal body parts strewn across the entire parking area - probably scavenged by local wildlife. The smell of death was noticeable.

It appeared that the body parts were only around the parking area, so we continued down to the path. I don't know if it's because of what we saw at the head of the trail, but the entire hike was creeping me out. The caw of the crows made my spine tingle and every snap of a twig sent me twirling around to see who was there. I was spooked.

Charlie, however, had shaken off what we had found and was ready to go! She was very excited to be scouting new territory and took off ahead of me. I kept calling her to "COME!" because I didn't want her getting too far ahead; I wasn't sure what (or who) we were going to find. I think she was getting a bit frustrated with me though.

The terrain is very uneven and I was having a hard time watching my footing, holding onto my camera and keeping an eye on Charlie all at the same time. I tripped and slipped quite a few times, but luckily didn't fall. The constant hum of the traffic on nearby Hwy 51 was annoying and I kept hearing occasional gunshots - possibly from the nearby quarry?

The Wisconsin River is always high this time of year from the snow-melt, and this lowland area is obviously in part of the river's flood zone. Charlie got herself stuck in some ice-crusted mud and slopped around for a bit before being able to extract herself. She looked a little surprised at the feeling of being *stuck.*

She was having a wonderful time romping through the snow-and-leaf-strewn path, leaping over logs and sloshing around in the icy water; completely unaware of how spooked I still was. We came across some other "dead things" along the path... scattering of bird feathers, breastbone of something, smooshy black pile of something, and I couldn't shake the feeling of death all around me.

We arrived at the end of the trail sooner than I had thought we would. It wasn't the "actual" end of the trail, but the flooding had crept up enough to cover a wide swath of land and was impassable for now. We turned back and retraced our steps to the parking lot... which was a good thing because the snow was starting to come down pretty good by then.

We'll plan on checking out the other loop of trail when the snow melts a little more. That section of trail looked too snow-covered and there were no footprints to follow. Maybe the deer will be a bit more decomposed (or removed) by the time we return.

Happy Hiking!

Greenhouse Therapy: Down To Earth

Sticking with the theory, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," I decided to combat the winter blues with a visit to our favorite local greenhouse on this dreary Sunday morning.

It's chilly, damp and snowing again this morning, but we were greeted with the smell of damp earth and sweet petunias as we entered the greenhouse at Down To Earth Greenhouse in Wausau. If you're looking for a place to uplift your spirits and reconnect with gardening, this is the place for you! When they say "Welcome to paradise in Wisconsin," they're not kidding. I'll let the following pictures speak for themselves.

My hair frizzed out from the humidity inside the greenhouses and I had sweat dripping down my back... a welcome feeling when you emerge into wind and snow. Charlie was patiently waiting for me in the Jeep. Such a sweetheart. We'll be off for a hike this afternoon, braving the weather again. But seriously, if the winter blues are hitting you hard, head to your local greenhouse and be revitalized - it really works!

Click here to view the full photo tour on Flickr. (The faerie gardens were my favorite). Enjoy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Month of April Fools

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
That was the theory I decided to go with today. Instead of letting the lingering winter weather prevent me from getting out and enjoying the outdoors, I'd just make the best of it. The weather today has been really weird though. It goes from sunny blue skies to full-on white-out snowstorm and 50 mile an hour winds the next. Highly unpredictable. We also had our statewide tornado drill today... although I can't imagine anyone even thinking about tornadoes when we're still dealing with snowstorms.
(And just so you can fully appreciate today's weather fluctuations, I want to point out that all the pictures taken for this post were within a single 45-minute hike from 5:00pm to 5:45pm).

It's Friday night and I wanted Charlie to be good and tired so we could "veg" out and watch a movie on the couch. We headed up to the East High athletic fields and I figured we'd wander down to the Sylvan Hill Park trails if they weren't too muddy and hopefully get a long hike in the woods. As soon as we got to the fields the wind whipped up and the snow started blowing and I was immediately frozen!

I hoped once we made our way down the slick embankment to the woods below the fields that it would ease up a bit. By this time, my shoes were already soaked in mud and the cuffs of my pants were filled with snow; I had definitely worn the wrong shoes today. I was so wishing for my boots, but wanted to keep going. I just gave in and decided that my feet were going to be wet and cold by the end of the walk but that it would make snuggling on the couch all the more earned.

A few minutes later we were safely within the shelter of the trees which made a nice wind-block. The tops of the trees were twisting and bending in the wind and making eerie noises as they rubbed together. It's funny how as soon as we get in the woods, Charlie fully realizes that "we're on a hike" and she totally lets loose - no restraint whatsoever! She took off so fast, leaping over logs and raced down the path.

She chewed happily on sticks and scooped up snow in her mouth when she got thirsty. The smile that lit up her face made it all worthwhile! As we descended down the hill, I began losing my footing a bit. The intermittent snow throughout the day had coated the slick ice on the path, giving it some grip, but as the hill got steeper, the snow only covered the hidden danger beneath. I really regretted my shoe choice again. I started keeping to the side of the path and stepping in the ice-crusted snowbanks to make sure I had good footing. I ended up zig-zagging from one side to the next, hugging trees as I went.

I haven't fallen all winter. Until today. And you know what? It hurts. There's that split second when you know you're falling and there's nothing you can do about it. *Luckily* I landed on the soft, fleshy part of the backside of my left thigh, just below my butt. The bad part was that I landed on a tree root.

Scene of the accident.

I think you can even see my butt-print in the photo above. I yelled out involuntarily and Charlie actually stopped her frolicking and ran over to check on me. I was surprised because she could usually care less about me when we're hiking, but she must have heard the pain in my voice. Sweet doggie. All I wanted to do was curl up at this point... but we still needed to get back to the top of the hill.
Me and Charlie on our way back up the hill - post accident.
Onward we went... taking tiny baby steps and keeping to the deep snow off the path. My feet were frozen and wet, my leg hurt and I was still a little shaken up. Next thing I know, Charlie whacks me in the back of the leg with half a log as she sprinted up the path ahead of me - THE SAME LEG! AHHHHG!

I was so happy to get back to the Jeep and finally home. I wanted to check out how bad my leg was bruised, but also afraid to look. There's a big purplish-red bump about the size of my fist and it hurts to sit with any weight on the left side. Looks like I'll be vegging on my right side tonight.

It's snowing and blowing outside the window again, making the wind chimes play their song. Charlie is napping peacefully on her dog bed and I'm going to make myself a big plate of spaghetti and pop in that DVD.

I honestly can't say for sure, but after tonight I really don't feel like hiking again until winter releases us from this torture. We'll see how I feel in the morning...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Errand Walk: Marathon Park

I noticed splotches of sun behind the blinds in my bedroom as I awoke this morning. I immediately raised the blinds and crawled back into bed so I could watch the sun rise in warm comfort while snuggling with Charlie. It was short-lived... the sun was blotted out by clouds soon after rising. I got up, made coffee and hooked Charlie to her leash so we could get a quick walk in. We headed down to the River Edge Parkway to enjoy the sounds of the marsh birds now that the river is open and flowing. It was peaceful, but chilly and windy. The snowstorm with the winter weather advisory attached to it was on its way here.

I decided we'd better run errands right away before the weather turned ugly. So after breakfast, we headed over to Kohl's to pay my charge bill from the last shopping trip and check out new spring arrivals. Shopping for shoes and clothing for spring seems like wishful thinking at this point, but what the hell.

Since the nasty weather hadn't arrived yet, we stopped at Marathon Park on our way to the grocery store to take a quick walk through the towering pines. This park is obviously used by A LOT of dog-walking people because Charlie had to stop and sniff every tree. And there are a lot of trees! A few other people were also walking dogs - presumably trying to beat the weather as well.

*(Side Note: don't let the promise of a "dog exercise area" lure you to this park just for that - it's a joke and no one uses it. Just use the paved paths like everyone else and keep your dog on-leash).

On the opposite end of the park we found a 50-foot pine tree had broken off near its base and crashed into some other trees... quite a mess! I wish I'd had my camera along to take some photos of that. Luckily it didn't land on the nearby playground equipment. This is a great park to walk in the summer because the constant shade keeps it a few degrees cooler. Plus the paved pathways loop around so you can keep walking and walking without ever having to cross streets or wait for stoplights. The sweet smell of pine is worth putting up with the constant drone of traffic that surrounds the park. I always wonder why anyone would want to camp in this park... camping just isn't right when you can hear cars and people all around you!

While in the check-out line at the grocery store, I noticed that the snow had just begun and people were huddled and snow-covered as they entered the store. Great. And I still had to stop at the gas station to fill up. Charlie patiently watched me as I loaded the groceries in the back of the Jeep and then again while I filled up the tank at the gas station, huddled as close to the Jeep as possible to keep the snow out of my face. It was really starting to come down.

View from the front porch.

I can't believe it's April 14th and we're still dealing with this shit. Seriously, I've had enough.

Charlie in the backyard - on squirrel duty.

Even Charlie looks a little pissed off about the weather. Oh well, nothing to be done about it except turn the oven on and start baking. I've got ingredients for molasses cookies and lasagna - that should warm up the house nicely!

Happy Something. Grrrr.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Trail Update: Big Eau Pleine

We had to deliver dog treats in Stevens Point today so I decided to reward Charlie for being a good girl in the car all morning by hiking at Big Eau Pleine County Park near Mosinee on our way home. We hadn't been there in awhile... actually I think the last time we were there I was almost in tears from the frustration of hiking through knee-deep snow. That was over two months ago; I figured there had been enough snow-melt this month that the trails would be in better shape.

The trails may have been in better condition, but the road into the park was NOT. Apparently they've decided not to plow the road any longer since "spring has arrived." The icy-slushy ruts were deep and kept pulling the Jeep all over the place. I finally put it in four-wheel-drive just to be on the safe side. It's a long drive in and there's really no place to turn around, so once you enter you have to keep going. We were just about to the boat launch where our favorite trail head is located and there was a tree laying across the road. It had already been driven over a few times and was smashed up a bit, so we proceeded across it slowly. I advise that if you don't have four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive to hold off on visiting this park until ALL the snow melts.

There had been news reports recently that the low water levels and insufficient oxygen in the reservoir over the winter had caused a big fish kill this spring. I was prepared for a massive amount of fish along the shore and braced myself for the fishy smell. But actually, we only saw a few dead fish (Charlie is sniffing one in the photo above) and there was no smell near the trail we were on. That's not to say that conditions might differ on another part of the lake. Because of the dead fish scattered around, there are quite a few scavengers in the area - hawks, eagles, crows... and raccoons.

This raccoon had already started climbing up the tree before Charlie even noticed it. I watched, stunned, as Charlie ran within two feet of it and didn't even see it! It clung to a branch about 50 feet up in the air (I really have no clue how high, but it was high!) waiting for us to pass by.

All the tree branches were covered in a thin layer of ice from our rain/sleet/snow day yesterday and glittered in the sun as the branches swayed in the breeze. I had been admiring the trees along the highway during our road trip earlier this morning and was mesmerized by the sparkle now that I was in amongst them. But we were on the windy side of the lake and as the temperatures warmed, the shards of ice started breaking free from the branches. Tiny grenades of ice were raining down on me every time the wind blew!

There were branches down everywhere, some laying across the trail; winter has not been easy on these woods. Charlie loved it though... plenty of sticks! She could have a part-time job turning sticks and branches into mulch. Hmmm.

The snow on the trails wasn't too deep. In most spots it was only an inch or two of compacted snow/slush. There were a few isolated areas where the snow had drifted and it was over the top of my boots, but also some bare spots where the snow-melt was running down the hill in tiny rivers.

Charlie, being part Lab, can't resist water when she's near it. Never mind that there's still ice on the lake... she had to go swimming. Good thing I always carry towels in the Jeep - a prerequisite for owning a water dog.

We hiked for about an hour today and thoroughly enjoyed the sunshine that made a quick appearance for the first half of the day. The gray clouds of the next snowstorm were just arriving as we returned to the parking lot. Charlie had that pleasant glow of a dog who has run freely in the woods and was thoroughly tired out. We had a quick snack and drink of water before heading home. On our way out of the park, we had to stop twice - once for deer crossing the road and another five miles down the road for some turkeys. It was a great day for wildlife watching!

I can't wait for the rest of this snow to melt so we can log some more miles in the woods and explore new trails. But for now, Charlie is napping peacefully.

Happy Hiking!