Posts Tagged With: viroqua

Biking through a Wisconsin Winter

Ready to Bike!

Ready to Bike! [Side Note: I have now cleaned this mirror]

Thinking about doing some below freezing bike commuting?  First of, you are not crazy and if you are prepared then you will be fine so don’t talk yourself out of it before you even start!

Biking to work this morning, I excitedly noted the temperature as I passed the hardware store’s large blinking sign– 9 degrees Fahrenheit   Sometimes you have to just give yourself a pat on the back and biking when it is 9 degrees outside definitely warrants some back patting! It didn’t even feel that cold but I am sure that is because I was just so excited to be back on my bike!  For the past couple of weeks we have been getting pretty regular snow here.  Snow combined with lots of temperature variation has made the roads an absolute mess. After one scary situation with a car (I’m fine, Mom! Don’t freak out!) my trusty bicycle was sentenced to the garage for a while and instead I took to walking everywhere.  I’m not afraid of the cold.  In fact, I find that I thrive in these long winters!  I could never live somewhere tropical.  Besides, all my jobs are within a mile and a half of my house so it’s not like I have to go super far anyway.  The roads have cleared nicely now and yesterday was my first day back on my bike.  It felt great to be moving fast again!

The most important thing to remember when winter biking is to have as much skin covered as possible.

If you are particularly sensitive to cold then I suggest getting something to cover your face.  [Make sure not to obstruct your vision!] On the days I have biked with a subzero wind chill I am usually find just wrapping a scarf around over my mouth and nose. Never under estimate or forget about windchill.  If it feels cold when you stick your hand out the car window on a hot summer day then just imagine how cold it feels to have your whole body against that wind when it is freezing out!  COLD!

It’s also important that your ears are covered.  A beanie under a helmet can often times be good enough but wearing a special ear covering headband under my hat under my helmet is de-luxe.

Gloves are imperative for winter riding.  I wear fleece mittens that are convertible to fingerless gloves.

As far as the rest of your clothing goes I think that really depends on how far you are going and the terrain you will be going over.  My ride to work is pretty evenly split between uphill and downhill with a long down hill at the end.  I follow the same ethic I do for backpacking which is start cold.  I find that if I start biking in my fleece and down jacket then I will be sweating bullets by the time I get to work.  Today I simply wore my work clothes (jeans and a flannel shirt) with a heavy fleece and scarf over top. If I am going for a longer ride then I add a wind proof layer on both top and bottom like a wind breaker or rain jacket.  Several days I chose to where a long sleeve with a fleece vest and my down jacket.

It’s really up to you and it takes a while to learn your preferences.  I am a big supporter of working with what you have instead of buying new fancy stuff. “Cotton Kills,” we outdoor educators always say so if you can try and have synthetic or woolen layers closest to your skin!

Lastly, REMEMBER TO ALWAYS BE SAFE!  Wear a properly fitting helmet, bright clothes at night, and make use of lights and reflectors during dawn, dusk, and night hours.

Biking during the winter is extremely rewarding and super fun.  I was really nervous at first because I don’t have a fancy bike or fancy tires but it has truly been a great winter of biking.  I’ve pushed my limits and my comfort zone and have had a blast!

Happy Biking!

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A CaCAWphony of Crows

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(Click to enlarge then zoom in!)

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Do you see them?  No, your computer screen is not dirty– those are birds!  Crows to be exact!  As I walked home from work at the middle school last night I witnessed this large and beautiful murder of crows flying over head.  And the noise?  It was a caCAWphony.

Anyone who has known me for a long period of time knows crows are my favorite animal.  I have loved them ever since high school when I was lucky to study them in depth.  A mentor of mine took me under his wing (eh ehh…) and let me help with crow studies both through his class at my HS and his class at Boston College.  It was such an exciting and formative experience for me.  Thanks to Dr. Auger, if you are out there! Ever since then I have been enamored with them.  They are beautiful, intelligent, and resilient beings.  Crows form bonds with one another, make and use tools, and learn to recognize people.  The crows outside in my parent’s neighborhood on Cape Cod got so accustomed to me throwing peanuts out to them in high school (which they were able to shell on their own!) that they would fly to our roof when they saw me walking home from school.  Many cultures have superstitions or omens surrounding crows, most of which are negative, but when I hear or see crows I take it as a call to consciousness.  When crows are near me it brings me back to myself and helps me put thoughts into perspective.  I looked for them again today as I was walking home but there were none to be seen and that just makes it all the more magical.

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Walking through the Park on a Snowy Afternoon

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Watercolor Whimsy

This morning I woke up at 7:30 and went for a long walk around town.  I put out a friend’s recycling, got a mocha at the co-op, ran a couple errands, talked to several people who were out shoveling about how warm 15 degrees feels after the bitter cold we’ve been having, and made it back to my house around 9.  After a delicious breakfast and catching up on the news I decided to get artsy.  Thus, Beatrice XIV was born.  In my free time over the last couple months I have been practicing drawing and using watercolors.  While I am not very good (yet) at drawing things that are in front of me or drawing from pictures, I think the things that come out of my imagination are pretty fun.  It is noon and I feel like I have been incredibly productive today.  Being busy really works for me.  Now that I am working 3 jobs, I find that I am making much better use of my free time.  Time for lunch, more errands, work, and a meeting. Huzzah!

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Farmsitting with a Wintry Mix!

The weather today has been bizarre! We’ve had snow, ice, sleet, rain, sun, and every combination in between. The noise you hear in the video is actually the snow and ice hitting the ground and trees because it was so loud! While walking down for evening chores I noticed the snow and ice had hardened quickly enough that I wasn’t even making footprints as I walked! I am thankful for this beautiful valley, dogs that like to snuggle, and woodheat– I love being out here! Yay farmsitting!

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Memories of My Future

On the loose

Last night I went and saw Mark Shephard talk about his new book Restoration Agriculture.  Mark is a Driftless Area permaculture guru.  The book deals with how one can mimic the native environment and biome to create an agricultural system that is high in calories and nutritional content per acre and is an ecosystem in itself rather than a lack of one.  I haven’t read the book yet but I definitely plan to once I finish the 4 (yes 4) books I am currently reading.   Mark’s farm is well known in the area for his hazelnut operation and the hard apple cider he makes.  He’s also well known for his hilarious band Synister Dane, being friendly and jovial, and taking on several interns each year.  I loved his talk and afterwards my mind was really spinning with dreams for the future.

I am an educator at heart.  It is what I am good at and what I am passionate about.  I am also deeply connected to the earth. I dream of forming a relationship with a piece of land and sharing it with others.  What that means is still unclear to me.  Will I someday own land and operate an environmental, outdoor, and farming education center out of it?  Would that land be mine or would I own it cooperatively? Will I find an educational community that I can make my home and educate from there?  Will I simply live close to the land like I dream and keep education as my day job working at a school or park or writing curriculum? I have worked with summer camps, outdoor education programs, public schools, a semester program, an alternative high school, and others and I have loved them all.  Even the experiences that were less than ideal at the time taught me valuable lessons about my values, strengths, and desires.  Where I am in life right now there is much uncertainty.  Where will I be a year from now?  Where will I be six months from now? Who will I be with and what will I be doing?

When I imagine my future I see images behind my eyes like vivid memories I have yet to live.  I am leading hikes in the rain and discussing vernal ponds. I am shelling beans into a bucket as the sunsets. I am chopping wood for future fires and looking up to watch others neatly stack it to season. I am singing songs round a campfire.  I am harvesting tomatoes with a baby on my hip.  I am skiing through snowy fields in the bright sun. I see fresh baked bread, a pantry full of canned goods, teenagers in waiters ready for adventure, and little kids with fairy wings and nature journals. I see a room of ecology supplies that always smells faintly of mildew in the best possible way.  I see children overturning rocks in the stream looking for salamanders and frogs.   I see my feet hanging from a handbuilt tree house as I read and sip on a tea of wild mint and nettles.  My journal is filled with drawings of encounters with wild animals and new plants. My hands are rough from hard work.  My schedule is busy, challenging, and always changing.  And best of all,  I am happy.

As I walked home from Mark’s talk last night  I decided it is time to embrace the uncertainties in my life.  I  don’t know what the future holds for me.  No one does. My professor Marty at Warren Wilson always to said, “Start small, go slow, but go.”  You can’t sit around and expect your dreams come to you if you don’t work towards them.  With that I am going for a walk and see what this rainy, freezing day has to teach me.

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Nature + Magic + Science = Environmental Education

The other day my friends Jon, Alee, and I went on a moonlit cross country skiing adventure at Sidie Hollow Park.  The bank in town said it was 11°F outside but at Sidie Hollow, by the lake, it was most certainly colder. As we skied the trail alongside the lake,  it was easy to feel like we were out in the deep wilderness.  Rarely do I feel that way since moving to SW Wisconsin, a place with very little public land for hiking, so I was taking it all in.  I was struck by how incredibly bright it was outside with the near full moon and layer of snow on the ground.  Thanks to the wind during the recent blizzard there was no snow on the lake which made it look eery and still.  As we rounded the first bend in the lake I was introduced to the phenomenon of lake singing and, for lack of better words right now, my mind was absolutely freaking blown.  Seriously.

The first noises we heard were like a low humming.  Never having heard such a thing before, I think I just tuned it out and didn’t give it much though.  But Nature didn’t want me to tune this fantastic sound out and the next sounds were LOUD and startling.  The only way I can describe it is like a low humpback whale song combined with loud vibrations and cracking noises.  We continued skiing around the lake, stopping every once in a while to warm our hands and take in the beauty and stillness of the night. At one point when we had stopped to listen to the noises, one was so loud that we all jumped.  A crack or shift in the ice happened directly in the front of us while we were watching.  I could feel the vibrations in my body.  A dozen owls hooted in the distance as if responding to the ice.  Alee made a joke that in Wisconsin we stand around and listen to the lake freeze.  We all laughed because we knew there would be no way to ever explain this phenomenon to anyone who had never experienced it.  It was seriously one of the most fascinating and magical things I have ever experienced.

Upon hearing the noises I was first met with wonder and awe.   It was absolutely magical and completely mysterious.  My next thoughts turned to science– why is this happening?  Did it have to do with expansion?  Water is less dense as a solid so maybe it has to do with that.  Or maybe it has to do with the low temperature outside. Does the lack of snow cover on the lake make then louder?  It amazed me how quick my mind went from magic to science and in a way it bothered me.  Am I unable to see the magic in nature now? Has science ruined me?  Of course not!  It is my background in science and my love of the outdoors that made this all the more exciting the me!  Of course the noises were absolutely mind blowing but knowing how nature does it is also mind blowing.  This is why I love outdoor and environmental education!  Because it’s all about teaching folks to see magic in the outdoors! It’s about facilitating an experience that inspires wonder and awe and encouraging them to ask meaningful and insightful questions.  It’s about encouraging curiosity about nature and the world around us.   I would argue that environmental education can’t exist without both magic and science in some combination.

So why is it that the ice sings on a frozen lake?  The answer has been harder to find than I expected and many of the answers are actually just theoretical.  It could be changes in atmospheric pressure or temperature fluctuations.  It might have to do with the moon. Whatever scientific answer is it will not change this one fact to me:  skiing under a full moon and listening to the lake sing was absolutely magical.

If you are interested in learning more Dispersion of Sound Waves in Ice Sheets by Andreas Bick has great information as well as links and sound recordings.  The best way to learn more is to get outside and experience it for yourself if you can.  It will definitely be worth braving the cold!

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Where are all the snow children?

From playing in the snow we so desperately wanted to celebrating Winter Solstice in our own way, the last few days have been a really special time for Jamie and me.  On Thursday we spent most of the day either outside in the snow (hiking, sledding, playing) or inside enjoying eachothers company.  Yesterday we had an unplugged day with no computers, radio, or other things until after sunset so we could fully enjoy the shortest day of the year.  We went hiking at Hubbard Hills, gathered fallen branches and pine cones from around town to decorate our house, played several games of Scrabble, and exchanged gifts by candle light as the sun was setting.  Last night we had friends over for more Scrabble, beer, pickled green beans and carrots, potato soup, and brownies.  We wanted to have a party but when only two people showed up it ended up being exactly what we wanted all along.

These last two days have really gotten me thinking about our connection to the seasons and nature.  Taking note of the moon cycles, changing of seasons, and changing of the light is something I make a point of paying attention to– and something I know a lot of people take for granted.  Winter storm Draco brought Viroqua a beautiful snow cover and while walking around town through the snow on a beautiful sunny day, I couldn’t help but notice how few other people were out there enjoying it.  On Thursday we went to the park for sledding and there was about a dozen or so kids and their adults there having a blast but I still feel like there should have been more.  Where is everyone on these days?  Are they inside reading and playing Scrabble or are they sitting in front of the TV, zoning out.  My guess would be the latter.

In the after school program for middle schools where I work we recently had the kids make Keynote presentations about themselves to present to the class. We gave them free reign to put whatever they wanted on it.  Almost every kid talked about music videos they like, songs they listen to, video games they play, and tv shows they watch.  On their “Things I like” page no one mentioned hiking or play outside or making snowmen or anything of the sort.   I think part of the reason is because it is way cooler to say you like “Gangam style” than it is to say you like building fairy houses but how much of it is because the kids spend most of their time indoors?

If you walk past Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School in Viroqua on almost school day whether it is raining or snowing or perfectly sunny, you will see kids outside playing and having an absolute blast.  The importance of being outside and playing trumps the fear that they could get a cold or get hurt. They are taught to dress for the weather. If you pass by the public school when it is raining or super cold out then you would think school must have been canceled that day because it is deserted outside. What does this teach children? What doesn’t it teach children?

I don’t have answers to these questions right now.  All I have are my observations and opinions.  My gut tells me that the teachers in the Waldorf school are doing something right here though.  I strongly believe when it snows there should be kids outside playing in it.  We should be teaching children to notice the changing of the light and encouraging imaginative play.  And adults should be out there too.  Get outside if you can or at least take note of when the sun rises and sets each day if you can’t actually get out there.  Keep the heat in your house lower than you normal and simply wear more clothes because it’s winter and unless you live in Texas you don’t need to be wearing a tank top this time of year.  Take 10 minutes with which you would be distracting yourself on the computer and look out the window instead. Watch what the squirrels are doing. Notice what types of birds are around, what ones aren’t.  And if you are up for an added challenge, try to only eat things that are in season.  Strawberries in December is ridiculous unless you live someone that grows them that time of year.

The world didn’t end yesterday which means there is still plenty of time to get the know the earth if you aren’t friends already!

Now stop reading blogs and go play outside!

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A Place Just for Me

Around the corner and down a hill from my house, is a fabulous tract of woods on the edge of town called Hubbard Hills.  The woods are owned (as much as any woods are owned) by a family on the street who have built many trails through the land and allow people to use them for recreational purposes.  It’s a really spectacular place and is beautiful in all seasons.  On one of those trails, at a specific spot, is my super secret special place I like to go to ponder life, work through things, and just be with nature.  It is a place just for me.  It is so secret that this is the first time I have ever mentioned it to anyone. That’s right interwebs, I’m telling the whole world before I ever say it out loud.

Today is a very special day.  It is the 3 year anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the day I stopped religiously editing my grad school application and finally put it in the mail, it is the day I had my first snow day off from work, and the day I almost got shot at my sit spot!  To celebrate and reflect on my accomplishments, adventures, and misadventures over the past 3 years I decided to go on a hike through the snowy woods to my sit spot.  I hiked and I hiked through the magical woods.  It was peaceful and beautiful. I saw fun little tracks in the snow and followed them around for a while. Eventually I came to beloved sit spot.  I’ve been going to this spot since June and this is the first time I have ever been there in snow.  I took out a plastic bag for a seat and settled in for a while.  The trees I have grown so used to gazing upon looked extra enchanting with inches covered in snow on them.  I thought for a while about all that has happened and made some wishes for the next three years. Then the magic exploded.

BANG! BANG!  Gun shots. I’ve been there so many times and never encountered anyone that it never even occurred to me that it would be a great place to go hunting.  How silly of me.  I live in Wisconsin and it’s hunting season! My first instinct for some reason was the jump up and scream , “PERSON! I’M A PERSON!”  Seriously, Annie? I got no response, heard no snow crunching near me, and saw no other footsteps so most likely the person wasn’t even near me but I said good bye to my spot anyway and left immediately.

Next time I go out there, I will remember to wear orange.

[Note: None of these pictures are off my sit spot but simply from my walk around my neighborhood.  I refuse to take any pictures there because it is my sacred ground.]

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Snow in Viroqua!

Jamie and I woke up at 4am to see the snow as it started falling. At a much more reasonable hour we went to the co-op for hot drinks and snacks.  Viroqua is beautiful in the snow!

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