Headwaters Adventure Race!

What better way to enjoy the outdoors?  Run, Bike and Canoe to the finish line with the Portage Park District.  The race begins at 8 am on July 9, 2011 at Buchert Memorial Park, East High Street, Mantua Village, OH 44255.

This event is a fun way to support the Portage Park District, get some great exercise, experience Nature, and have loads of fun at the same time.  For more information, check out the web page at http://www.portageparkdistrict.org/

 

Nature is Irresistible

Today I unexpectedly found a very important tie-in between one of my favorite blogs (Zen Habits, which is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of life) and neoNaturalist.com’s mission of connecting people to Nature.

The premise of the Zen Habits post  How to Be Irresistible at Any Age is that in order to be irresistible, you must express and live your own authentic character.  And guess what?

The first tip for living authentically is to learn from Nature.  Its great advice since people and Nature are so inimately intertwined.  The other six items are also activities that can be learned from studying and reflecting on Nature.

Here is a quote from the Zen Habits post by guest blogger Christopher Foster of The Happy Seeker:

“If you want to be irresistible, what better place to start than studying nature? Nature doesn’t seem to find it hard to be irresistible. Whether nature is being a daffodil, a tree, a hurricane, or the roar in a lion’s throat, it simply IS irresistible.”

Nature is irresistible, and so are you.  Read the post here:   How to Be Irresistible at Any Age. Then, get outside and explore Nature!

 

 

Things we learn from Nature

Sunrise over a sharon conglomerate outcropping

Every day is bright and sunny when we look beyond the clouds.

Walking through a long grass meadow one morning this week, I was amazed at the brilliant colors of the plants and animals in the morning light.  Equally amazing were the crisp and clear sounds of the birds all around.  All the world, at that moment, was right.

Soon afterward, I returned to the house, energized about life.  Then, my own reality overtook that dose of ultimate reality I had just experienced.  Couldn’t find a matched pair of socks.  Bit into my fried egg sandwich and got covered in runny yolk.  Started to floss my teeth and realized there was only about 3 inches of floss left in the roll.    All very petty complaints, I know.
None of these experiences  meant anything in the grand scheme of things.  But in that moment, when I knew the rest of my day would be filled with meetings, phone calls, deadlines and the pressures of working to save nature one peice of land at a time,  these little things really got the best of me and zapped my energy.
I went from flying with the eagles to feeling like I had been knocked flat in a matter of minutes.  Then, I remembered once again that there was a much bigger reality in Nature.  These meaningless things couldn’t harm my soul nor could they dampen my spirits for more than a moment.  Right outside the real world kept on going regardless of my little woes.
Whenever little or big things block our paths, Nature usually has a lesson we can use to brighten things up and move on.  Here are a few of my favorites.
  1. There are some things in life we can’t control
  2. Ever stand in a forest during heavy winds? The groan of tree trunks straining against the winds is awesome.  The cracking of large branches and the sharp sounds of limbs breaking as a falling tree hits them is terrifying when you hear it up close.  Leaves are torn from the trees.  Animals take cover.  There is nothing a human can do except take cover and wait it out.  None of us would be stupid enough to grab the trunk of a windthrown tree and try to hold it up.  It can’t be done.

    Why is it then that we think we can control everything in our own lives? We need to use our brains and realize that sometimes, all we can do is wait out the storm and then enjoy the calm aftermath.  And that is okay.

  3. Everything is part of a cycle
  4. We have four seasons. They go on in about the same pattern year after year, lifetime after lifetime.  We know that spring wildflowers emerge after the cold of winter has passed. We know that the cool and wet rains will give way to warm and dry days of summer. We know that the leaves will turn and birds will fly south in fall as the natural world goes dormant in preparation for winter.  We know it will all start again in spring.  We know this without question.

    Water flows in a cycle as well.  Evaporation forms clouds.  Clouds rain down on the land.  Rainwater soaks in or runs off into streams which lead to rivers that ultimately flow back to the ocean.  Some of the water evaporates and goes through the cycle again.

    Creatures are born, consume other creatures or plants, die, and become nutrients for yet more life.  Nothing in Nature is wasted because everything is cyclical.

    Think about that and seek out ways to apply it in your own life.

  5. Even small things are important
  6. Sometimes I go to the forest for solitude.  The trees are huge silent companions.  They stand like giant wise beings simply keeping their own counsel and living after their own Nature.  But, sit long enough in a forest and you will realize that even when you are alone with these giants, active animal life surrounds you and life is small.  The leaf litter is alive with bugs and worms and all forms of life.  The huge trees are covered with birds and bugs.  Bees and other insects fly by.  The seemingly significant trees are really just the backdrop for real life in the forest.

    The immense bulk of living things in the world are small and seemingly insignificant.  They are invisible to us in our daily lives.  Yet they matter in ways we don’t always realize.  Ants, for example, are important in the lifecycle of the large white-flowered trillium.  Without ants, these beautiful wildflowers can’t spread.

    What small things can you observe in your life that might be more important than you first realize?

  7. Diversity is important
  8. The gypsy moth invasion passed through our area in the late 1990’s.  Many oak trees were killed within Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  However, other species of trees were largely unaffected.  Now, the emerald ash borer is causing mortality among ash trees in Ohio.  Maples and oaks and cherries and tulip poplars are doing just fine.
    If our forests were monocultures, either of these individual events or the scores of other stressors out there would have decimated our forests.  However, Nature has inherent  resilience through diversity.  It amazes me how diverse the world is.  There might be 60 or more spring wildflowers in an old growth forest like Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve.  Each of them fills a valuable niche in the ecosystem.  If a disease or predation removes one of the species, another generally is able to fill the spot and keep the system healthy.

    However, when we mow Nature down and replace it with lawns, single species crop fields or other low diversity systems, one disaster can wipe it all away.  Humans and their thoughts and activities are the same way.  If we reject those who are different from us, we weaken the whole fabric of our collective being.  If we all thought and acted the same, we would all be weaker.

The great cycle of life and Nature is in charge, but we all have a role to play in Nature and in life.  We are all important even when we feel powerless, small, or alone.  Even if our teeth are unflossed,  our favorite shirt has egg yolk on it, and our socks are slightly mismatched.  There are many lessons in Nature and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

What lessons have you learned from Nature?

 

6 reasons to hike daily

A small waterfall in Sand Run MetroPark, Summit County, Ohio

Lots of little surprises await you along the trail.

Who doesn’t love a good hike? Fresh air, singing birds, sunshine. What’s not to love? But are you a fair weather hiker? What about the dreary overcast days? What about drizzle and snow and cold? Mud? What fun is that?

There are lots of good reasons to hike in Nature every single day. If you take on the habit of hiking, whether the weather is sun or rain, here’s what you might stand to gain:

 

 

  1. Deepening connection to Nature
  2. People are part of Nature.   We don’t always remember that, but it is undeniably true. Putting your feet on a trail and immersing yourself in your local wilderness will automatically put you into a place of innate comfort.   The more often you visit natural settings, the more you will feel the connection to Nature. Daily hiking will give you a much more holistic view of the world and yourself.  Try it.  Feel it.   You’ll love it. You’ll love you more than you already do.

  3. Friends you’ve never met
  4. When you casually hike, it is most likely to be on a nice day when the benefits are obvious. The people around are more likely to be causal hikers as well. There may be many hikers crowding a popular trail like the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They are probably mostly very nice people you would love to meet and talk with. However, when you hike regardless of weather, rain, snow, cold, warm, you are more likely to meet other people who are devoted to Nature. Beyond this sort of “natural selection,” the trails are less crowded and more relaxed on less attractive days. That provides an easier opportunity for conversation with friends you haven’t met yet.

  5. Better Physical Health
  6. We always hear statistics about how cardiovascular health is improved though exercises such as walking or hiking. It just makes too much sense to ignore this fact. Get outside and get healthy. You’ll lose weight and have more energy.  Your heart will thank you.  Your loved ones will thank you.

  7. More Brainpower
  8. It is impossible to be surrounded by nature for any length of time and not learn something about your environment or yourself. Usually you learn about both on a hike. You might see a wildflower you’ve never seen before. Maybe you will be curious about what trees are around and you will develop an interest in tree identification. Maybe you will see an insect like a walking stick or leaf litter beetle and you will observe it and learn why it happens to be in that particular spot. Maybe you will reflect on Nature and realize why you are in the particular spot you are in life. Over time these reflections will add up and will influence your thinking in other areas of life. A walk in the woods is a serious education.

  9. A regular chance to Recharge and Unwind
  10. Life is always moving at a faster pace in human society. Smart phones, PDA’s, the internet, and other technology keeps us “always on.” There seems to be a prevailing attitude that we must do things better, faster, and in more volume to get ahead in the world. Let me tell you, nothing that is not in accordance with Nature can last long. The Tao Te Ching points out that high winds do not last all day, yet it seems like our society requires us to run faster and faster with fewer and fewer breaks not just all day, but day in and day out. Take a close look at Nature. It keeps going at its own pace regardless of our disdain for all things slow.

    The pace of ants climbing on tree trunks has not increased. The number of wingbeats per minute for a ruby throated hummingbird has not increased. They go on living as Nature or God intended.

    Water flows no faster in a natural stream than it did a century ago. A leaf falling from the top of an oak does not reach the ground any faster in these hectic times. Why would people be any different?

    We aren’t. An unnatural pace cannot be sustained. Whatever is contrary to Nature will not endure. That is a universal law that we cannot ignore. Use some of your finite time each day to observe the infinite Nature while hiking and maybe, just maybe, it will allow you to unwind, relax, and attune your body and mind to the natural pace of life once more.

  11. Unpredictable Fun!
  12. If you go to a gym or walk on a track, or swim in a pool, you will get plenty of exercise. Walk on a treadmill, ride your stationary bike. Good exercise, certainly. Nothing wrong with that. Except there is no real excitement to it. Get outside and Hike! You never know what is around each bend in the trail. You might have to straddle a mud hole, dodge a falling branch or evade a snake on the trail. On the more pleasant side, you might see a vibrant bird, hear the haunting tune of the woodthrush in the woods, be entertained by the chattering chipmunks, stumble upon a sleeping fawn, or be dazzled with the intricate flower of an orchid along the trail. Every trail is different every day. There is always something new to see. Animal tracks, scat, newly pecked holes of a yellow-bellied sapsucker in a straight line across a tree trunk.

There is no better way to know yourself and Nature than by hiking every day through all the seasons. I know of no better way to improve your life and your health. Make the time and your life will shine. Now Get Outside and Enjoy! Here are some ideas for great hikes in Ohio.

 

Beavers construct ideal habitats for bats

“Forest that was both flooded and subjected to beaver logging supported the highest bat activity”- via BBC – Earth News – European beavers construct ideal habitats for bats.

A swimming beaver by naturalist William Hudson

A swimming beaver by naturalist William Hudson

In a paper published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, it is shown that reintroduction of beaver is associated with significantly higher amounts of bat activity. Pretty interesting fact. It makes sense.

What is most interesting about this to me is the concept that if you modify one part of a system, other parts are also impacted. Sometimes this is intentional, like in the case of thinning cuts designed to increase timber production. other times this can be an unintentional side effect, like using DDT then finding out that it harms the reproduction of Eagles.

The cascading effects of our activities are far-reaching and difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. When beaver were over-harvested and eliminated from our area, did that also create a dip in the bat population over time? Does a decrease in bat activity change the population of flying insects? Probably.

What do the now more numerous bugs eat? What impacts flow from that? How do we know?

Think about your everyday activities and what they may impact. Go outside and observe Nature. Think about why a plant or animal is in the place where you observe it. There is usually a reason. Things are not random in Nature. There is an underling logic to the apparent chaos. It is just so complicated it is hard to ferret out the exact connections.

Just because it is hard to see the connections does not mean they don’t exist. Think about it, observe Nature, and think about it some more.

 

Winter Tracking Practice

January is a great time of year to brush up on the Daniel Boone-esque skill of tracking animals. Better yet, it is a great time to expose your children to the wonders of Nature-sleuthing. The white snow picks up every trace of passing mammals. A little detective work might lead you to a great discovery. Go out to the backyard or a local park and see if you can tell who has been there, where they went, and perhaps even why and how quickly they were moving.

Studying the signs of animals in snow can be translated into a summertime activity as well. But, why wait until then? Check out these resources on tracking, then either get outside on your own, or attend an event like the one detailed below.

Read more about following animal tracks in winter at neoNaturalist.com.

Get some on the ground experience by attending the following Western Reserve Land Conservancy event: KIDS IN THE SNOW.

The event will be held on Sunday, January 23, 2011 from 0:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m. (The following isA copied from the Western Reserve Land Conservancy Web Page)

Wear your hats, mittens and boots and bundle up for a fun wintertime gathering with Western Reserve Land Conservancy. Children, parents and grandparents can learn about wild life tracks and tracking in the winter landscape. Discover the snow stories of our furry friends. Then warm up with cookies and hot chocolate in the Great Blue Heron Lodge! Feel free to bring a lunch to enjoy as you warm up in the lodge after the hike.
In the event of no snow, we will have an indoor presentation with a power point, and animal examples.

Directions
The Rookery (Geauga County Park)
10110 Cedar Road, Munson Township, Ohio

Geauga Park District’s Rookery Park