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.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cycle of Life (warning: graphic images)

About a year ago, Charlie flushed out a beautiful red fox at one of our favorite hiking spots and chased after it for a bit. I was mesmerized by this beautiful creature as it cruised past me without a second glance. It was a graceful and magical creature and I couldn't believe I was seeing it run by so close to me. It was a moment I'll never forget and will always cherish.

Those are the really great things about hiking. Setting off on a trail on any given day and never knowing what you'll see or experience. Magic.

But then there are days like today, where at the very same park in almost the very same spot where we saw that red fox a year ago, we came across the water-logged body of another small red fox.

For all I know, it could be the very same one we saw last year. Charlie and Peanut took a moment to explore this strange creature and then moved on to frolic in the sand and surf and beg for sticks to be thrown.

It was a beautiful sunny blue-sky day, warm enough to only be dressed in a sweater and jeans. So unusual for November. I wanted to soak it all in and save the memory of the warm wind and sun on my cheeks, to be brought out again to re-live on some cold January day in a couple of months when it'll be hard to imagine walking along a beach in the sun.

But the image of that beautiful fox won't leave my mind and I'm afraid it will remain a part of the memory of this beautiful day.

And maybe that's okay. Because that's the cycle of life. That's nature. There's good and bad. Yin and yang. Shadow and light.

That's life.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Friend, Charlie + Feeling Grateful

Car selfie while waiting for our lunch in the drive-thru at Culver's.

It was a pretty chilly day today, only reaching about 40 degrees, so I decided our best hiking spot would be in the woods at Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail. While the leaves are pretty much stripped from the tree branches at this point in the season, the thick woods lining the valley of the Plover River would give us good protection from the wind, and the sparse branches would still let through enough sunlight for a little warmth. 

I always love the part of the trail with the hand-hewn boardwalk. It's so quaint and rustic! Charlie has gotten pretty good at balancing on the boards and rarely falls off now.

She was alert to all the smells of the forest today... taking her time and walking slowly while sniffing along the ground. There must be tons of activity this time of year with the smaller mammals gathering food for winter preparation for hibernation and the deer trying to lay low from the hunter's filling these woods. I acknowledged 2 pickup trucks in the parking lot today (usually there are no other cars in the parking lot) and Charlie seemed pretty skittish around them (she probably smelled blood from deer carcasses - she gets that way around blood and dead things).

I found an interesting "burial" of some kind of skull inside a woodpecker-hollowed hole in a tree with a large feather stuck next to it. I couldn't tell what kind of animal skull it was, but someone thought to honor it in this way. I'm always amazed at the things you'll find while hiking!

The only green remaining in the woods are moss-covered logs and tree trunks along with the occasional fern frond. Otherwise the ground is covered with brown crunchy leaves and sodden mud.

But the wind still whispers through the pine trees and the river continues to babble over glacial rocks and boulders. Charlie perpetually finds joy in chewing up sticks while splashing through the shallow river and stirring up the sandy bottom as she explores the riverbank.

And I'll never get enough of watching her enjoy this peaceful wilderness. People always tell me how lucky Charlie is to have me. And I always agree. But I'm just as lucky to have her. I never would have reached out to explore new areas and find these mystical places without her need for adventure pushing me along. I'll be forever grateful to Charlie for igniting my passion for hiking and enjoying nature. We're very lucky to have each other. Love you girl.