Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Day of Release

The Christmas rush is over. The season of celebration and light is ending and the long dark days of winter are settling in. It's a time of peaceful reflection. And a time to release.

Wolf prints (large one in the middle)

Charlie and I spent the early afternoon hours today exploring a favorite trail. With Charlie off on a mission to find the perfect stick, I had time to take slow steps and let my eyes feast on this new landscape before me.

An open canvas of shapes illuminated by a light dusting of snow brought forth trees, branches, rocks and riverbanks not seen before.

My mind wandered through the moments of this past year as my boots slowly left tracks through the snow on the trail. Times of sadness, times of joy and times of knowing that all is right in the world.

And at this very moment, I feel content with everything in my life and there is a slow release of tension from my neck and shoulders as I let that thought sink in.

Everything is right with my world and I am at peace.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice (or the last day of fall)

Oh, fall. My favorite season of the year. Normally I would go on about how much I'll miss you, but this year it feels like you're still here.

Charlie and I took a long walk tonight and enjoyed the unseasonably warm El Nino temps. Low-lying clouds obscured the moon, which will be full in a few days, leaving the air moist and humid. Christmas lights on houses seem almost absurd without snow.

I'm still happily wearing my hiking boots. My winter boots haven't even been worn yet. The sidewalks are blissfully dry and free of ice and snow. I can walk at a quick pace without worrying about slipping or falling.

Gloves are left in my pocket and I wear a light scarf wrapped around my neck to keep the chill away. My jacket is unzipped and open. I love the feel of the cool breeze on the exposed skin below my scarf and above my shirt's neckline. It's like winter's version of skinny-dipping.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Falling for Wisconsin's Waterfalls

Potato River Upper Falls

At the beginning of this year, I set out a goal to visit as many of Wisconsin's waterfalls as possible. Somehow life always gets in the way of accomplishing a goal, though. I got a little sidetracked when I decided to pursue finding love instead of waterfalls.

I joined the throngs of people trying their luck at internet dating and after almost a year that included one failed attempt at a long-distance relationship and several first dates, I realized 3 things:

1.  Internet dating is very time-consuming.
2.  Most of the people I was interested in lived too far from me.
3.  Internet dating is not for me.

So after investing tons of time and energy into something that wasn't working, and realizing I had wasted all of my summer and the better part of fall, I gave up.

It's funny though... as soon as you give up and quit trying so hard, things just naturally happen. And that's when I met D. Not online, but in real life.

And I guess for someone like me, so into nature and everything natural, it was fitting that I would find someone naturally rather than trying so hard.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a trip up to Northern Wisconsin. D. remembered that I had mentioned something about wanting to visit Wisconsin's waterfalls and being the thoughtful and sweet person that he is, he offered to spend the weekend showing me a handful of them.

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls State Park

I can't even begin to describe how powerful it is to be in the presence of such magnificence. The photos and videos DO NOT do these masterpieces justice. You have to be there in person. You need to feel the vibration of the water thundering down steep drops, to touch the rocks that were pushed up through the ground with such force that their striations are vertical rather than horizontal... but most of all you need to feel the gentle swirl of the mist.

There's a phenomenon surrounding waterfalls where the force of the water molecules crashing together produces negative ions, which are natural mood-boosters. There have been many studies proving that being near waterfalls is as effective as anti-depressants.

So you can imagine that spending a weekend with a really wonderful person in the presence of all these negative ions could produce some pretty intense happiness. Yeah, I was pretty blissed out... and I'm still riding that bliss wave.

As we ascended the steep embankment from the trail of the last waterfall of the weekend, I gazed down at my dirt-crusted jeans and held up both hands to show D. how much mud and clay I had stuck to my palms and under my fingernails. I commented that I've never looked like this after a date before. He quickly replied that I haven't been dating the right people. What a sweetheart.

VIDEO-Potato River Upper Falls (best viewed in Chrome):

Nothing ever works out the way you think it will, but everything always works out. So after almost a year of failed online dating attempts and wasted time that should have been spent exploring my beautiful state, I finally got to see some of Wisconsin's best waterfalls while falling in love.

Superior Falls

Superior Falls... that's Lake Superior off in the distance (but hard to see).

By the way, Charlie gives her full approval of D. even though she didn't get to come along on this particular adventure. The steep terrain combined with fast-moving current was not a good combination for Charlie's activity level so I opted to leave her home. As always, safety first. Remember to make sure that your pet can handle the type of adventure you take them on and be prepared for everything!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Driftless Region + Governor Dodge State Park

I love all of Wisconsin... its lakes, rivers, forests, prairies, and bluffs. But I hold a special place in my heart for the Driftless Region.

Car selfies are becoming a habit for us. 
Charlie and I happened to be back in the Dodgeville area this weekend and since the weather was crazy, unseasonably warm - we're talking 60 degrees on December 13th - we made a trip over to Governor Dodge State Park for a visit.

The drizzly rain didn't dampen our spirits as we breathed in the warm, humid air and revisited some old favorite trails. Stephens' Falls was scenic as always, the recent rain making for some nice trickling waterfalls and streams full of bright green watercress.

The damage from tornadoes of recent years evident in the multitude of fallen and broken trees was sad, but it was nice to see that previously closed trails are now open again.

As we drove around the park, I found some new places to check out too. Which is to be expected in one of Wisconsin's largest state parks, with over 5,300 acres to explore. I sometimes wish I lived closer so I could spend more time exploring all that this park has to offer.

I hope you enjoy the photos and videos of Rock Shelter...


Friday, November 27, 2015

Opt Outside

Today is "Black Friday" when everyone is supposed to stand in line overnight at the big box stores and score awesome deals on Christmas shopping.

I don't do this. I've never done this. I don't plan to ever do this.

If I happen to have a day off work - a weekend, a holiday, a random day - we go outside. Specifically, hiking.

Nice thing to have in your pocket while hiking!

So when I heard about the #OptOutside movement this year where a few big box stores weren't going to open for Black Friday and were actually encouraging people to go outside instead, I was super excited!

I don't get up on a soap box very often, but I really think people would be happier if they didn't let the consumerism of the holidays hit them so hard, and instead get outside and enjoy nature, show appreciation for the people in their lives and be grateful for what they have.

Anyway, that's what we did today. Yesterday started off with fog and then rained the rest of the day, so we didn't get a chance to be outside... and I'm assuming that most of the hunters also stayed inside. Since hunting season is still in full swing and a lot of hunters would be in the woods today making up lost time from yesterday's weather, we chose to hike along the Grandfather Falls Segment of the Ice Age Trail since I can't imagine many hunters using this tiny strip of hiking trail nestled between Hwy 107 and the Wisconsin River.

I was right - no one was out today. It was only 25 degrees and there was a very light dusting of snow on the ground; ours were the first footprints to make their mark along the trail.

The water tubes were still shooting spouts of water into the air, but there were frozen spots now that the temps have dropped. The trail was crusted over with water that had blown across the field during high winds and vegetation was coated in thick layers of ice, making for some interesting sculptures.

A peacefulness settled over me as I entered the woods, sheltered from the cold winds of the open field. I took off my hood and listened to the roar of the river over the falls off to my left. I slowly picked my way through the giant boulders that make up the trail and let myself be absorbed by the trees.

It's impossible to capture the beauty of this trail in photos... I know some of these look like anyplace else. And at this time of year, when the underbrush has died, there is not as much "greenery" to make for spectacular photos.

But I assure you that these woods are still magical. I marvel at the way tree roots weave and wrap themselves over rocks and boulders, hanging on with all their might. The forest floor is green with mosses and lichen, clinging to the shady side of all the rocks. Pine trees are dusted with the first snow and the light reflecting off them makes the forest glow a little.

Everything is quiet except for the river.

I absentmindedly touch each tree trunk as I pass by it, memorizing the feel of the bark and moss. And even though these trees are entering a dormant period, I'm still able to absorb their energy.

I sit with my back against giant rock outcroppings, marveling at the layers of striations and thinking about how old they are. The softness of moss and lichens contrasts with the cold, hardness of the rocks, and I absorb the energy from these as well.

After 90 minutes of hiking, I emerged back into the parking area with cold legs and a warm heart. It was a good day to be outside.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hunter's Opening Weekend + Finding Safe Hikes

I almost opted NOT to hike this weekend since many of our favorite trails are within public hunting grounds and this weekend was opening weekend for gun-deer season.

But then I remembered the Eau Claire River Trail is off-limits to hunting and we haven't been there in forever! Off we went. Charlie was pretty excited. Luckily the Packer game was on at the same time we were there and we only ran into two other people using the trail. That allowed me to have Charlie off-leash for most of the time chasing her chuck-it ball.

I'm ready! Throw the ball!

I said throw the darn ball!
I'm ready again! Come on, throw it!

I can't get enough of this... throw it again?
I like playing fetch. Happy dog.

The sun made its second appearance for the day while we were out, peeking out below the clouds that flurried on us for most of the morning and early afternoon. It was blissfully quiet and peaceful along the trail. Interestingly, the slush/snow/ice mixture that had just begun to form along the shores of the river was floating downstream making a swooshing sound as they ran into each other and bumped along the logs and trees on the shore.

Soon the river will be frozen and silent. Winter is almost upon us.