Posts Tagged With: winter

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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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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A Dam Good Day… for Beaver Dams

Today was the Kickapoo Valley Reserve‘s Winter Festival in La Farge.
While I didn’t make it for any of the morning activities (flint knapping, dog sledding, ice cave hike, live raptor talk, and more!) I did get to go on a brilliant hike with Chuck Hatfield and learn about beavers–  I absolutely loved it!!!

[ Click the first picture then go through the slide show if you want to read the captions or see bigger versions of the images!]

I learned quite a bit about beavers in college but it was nice to get a refresher and actually see some dams and lodges!  Coincidentally I also read about beavers last night in Wintering by Diana Kappel-Smith.  She made some interesting notes about them, my favorite being that even when it is below freezing outside, it is still cozy inside of a beaver’s lodge thanks to all the warm bodies in there.  Chuck told us that beavers don’t leave home until 2 sometimes 3 years old meaning that at any given time there could be upwards of 10 beavers living in a lodge! Something else that I find fascinating about beavers that wasn’t touched on today is that the have a special gland inside their body that pumps super acidic juices into the beavers stomach so that they can process all the cellulose.  Wood is made of cellulose which is undigestable to most except for mushrooms and apparently beavers!  Other things that eat diets high in cellulose like ruminants actually have micro-organisms inside their bodies that help them break it down.  The beaver just gets cooler and cooler!  My last fun beaver fact, that I just learned through the wonders of the internet, is that beavers exude a substance called castoreum for marking territory that was often used in medicines.  Turns out that since beavers favor willow that this exudant is actually high in salicylic acid (aka aspirin) which explains its medicinal effects!  Fascinating!  Thanks Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Chuck Hatfield for putting on such a fun and thought provoking hike!

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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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Sunday Funday

Every Sunday in Annie world is Sunday Funday– a day for doing something special for yourself.  For this Sunday Funday we decided to go up to La Crosse for some hiking and coffee shop time. La Crosse is snuggled between the Mississippi River and these beautiful, towering bluffs.  The hiking trails, obviously, are located either near the river or up on the bluffs.  For our first La Crosse hiking adventure we decided to try the bluffs.  Before hiking, however, we stopped at Grandad bluff.  From the top we could see all of La Crosse and the Mississippi!  We even had the good fortune to have a train go through town while we were up there so La Crosse looked like a tiny train set!

After Grandad Bluff we headed over towards the Hixon Forest Trails where we went on some long windy hikes on the Human Powered Trails.  There was no one else out there so we got to enjoy it at our own pace. The best part was playing Nature Detective.
Who’s poop is this? [Definitely deer. There are tracks everywhere]
Who dug these little holes? [Probably squirrels]
Why? [Digging out their winter nut caches!]
Why are these so many berries over here but not over there? [Birds eat the berries then sit on the powerlines and poop out the seeds!]
Why are all the tree pointed in this direction? [That hill over there cuts off most of their daily sunshine so they have to crane this way for late day light!]

We hiked for a few miles and then after getting sufficiently turned around we found a trail that lead us back to the parking lot.  These trails and the land they are on is very cool because it is home to a prairie restoration project. The Driftless region used to be mainly oak savanna and prairie and prairie restoration projects are popping up all over the place.  I definitely plan on going back there in the Spring.

Before reaching the trailhead we stopped to take some cheesy perspective pictures.  In the parking lot there is a NOAA doppler station. The instrument used for doppler radar looks like a giant volleyball sitting atop a metal stand. When you are near it you can hear it hum.  My brother and I were weather nerds when we were kids– okay just plain nerds– and read all these junior meteorologist books. We loved our barometer and would always predict the upcoming weather.  We would have loved this giant volley ball station as children!

Post hiking we descended the bluff into town and read for a while at Jule’s Coffee Shop.  Jamie is currently reading the Harry Potter series (which he originally started to appease me and has since gotten really into) and I am reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  We read for a hour or two, ate some dinner, and then headed home.

All and all it was a fabulous day and a Sunday Funday success!

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Super Scrabble and Squirrel House

Big adventures today so I’ll write a big post later this week.  Until then, enjoy these photos of recent excitements. 

Super Scrabble!  It’s like normal Scrabble but with more letter tiles and more spaces to play!

Squirrel House!  The squirrels have been very active lately and it’s fun to watch them hop around the yard.  I have noticed that they tend to use the same tracks over and over again.  Our back yard looks like a maze of trails but in the front yard all roads lead to the maple.

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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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Photos and Ice Cream!

In the News:

Remember last winter when I posted about making snow ice cream?  Well compare my blog post (from January) to this post on NPR.org  today and I think you will be amused like I am– the pictures are practically the same!  Different recipes but same general idea.

The verdict is out: Snow ice cream is awesome and best eaten out of glasses with blue rims!

Photos of Draco and Solstice fun:

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