Saturday, February 13, 2010

everyplace adventure

for a few years, i lived in west-central Kansas, on the corner of the high plains. it's not for everybody. some people just gotta have their trees, but there's nothing like being able to see for miles and miles. in fact, relatives who come up to visit us where we are now, when asked, how was the trip, reply 'wasn't able to see anything, too many trees in the way!' so it's all a matter of perspective. i really like being on a little bit of a high point and being able to see 20 miles or so in every direction, especially in places where it's not a human-dominated landscape.

one of my everyday adventures there, and one i did in other places, was creek skating. back then we had more reliable winters and it was generally possible to get several weeks of creek skating in. a creek ran through campus and through a city park. it was possible to skate about a mile of the creek. it was shallow and narrow enough that there was never any danger of more than getting my feet wet if the ice was a bit thin in spots (BE CAREFUL CREEK SKATING!!)

in the warmer seasons, the park made a great place to bike through the few trees and over the creek bank (do so carefully so you don't cause erosion). the point is that even in places not generally known for such activities, you can still find your everyday/everyplace adventure. you don't have to limit your off road biking to Moab or your skating to the canals of the netherlands.

OK everyone out there in the blog-o-sphere, join in the discussion.


  1. I'm fortunate to live only one mile from work. Whether I walk, ride my bike or drive my truck, the difference in my commute time is only 10 minutes or less.

    Walking is my favorite because it allows me to pay more attention to what's going on around me. Even after more than 20 years of walking to places I've worked in this town, I'm still amazed at the wildlife that goes undetected by most, although I admit that it's difficult to observe wildlife with one hand on the wheel and the other on a cell phone.

    More than half of my route is along a canal that flows through town. The water draws wildlife and it varies by the season. Right now, a few dozen resident mallards that tough it out through our winter soak up sun along the banks. When the nearby river and lake freeze to the point where it is difficult for diving ducks to find food, the goldeneyes and mergansers move into the canal, which doesn't freeze because of the current. This year, because of mild weather, the divers haven't shown up. When the weather warms, the ducks will scatter to breed and will be replaced by gulls and double-crested cormorants.

    Most of what I see on my walks are birds. A few weeks ago, while crossing over one of the canal's bridges, I stopped to try to locate a pileated woodpecker that I heard calling. I couldn't see the woodpecker, but by stopping I did notice the bald eagle flying along main street. It wasn't much higher than the tops of the buildings. Once I walked closer to the edge of the canal to look at some animal tracks and was startled by a snowy owl popping up out of the weedy snowbank just a few feet in front of me. The tracks turned out to be those of two deer that spent the entire winter along the canal. Sometimes I see a fox, but usually I just see its tracks, and later I'll see skunks and a variety of ground-nesting songbirds.

    A walk alone is enough to recharge batteries and improve a person's mood when he gets into the office. A walk punctuated by these observations of wildlife is twice as good.

  2. I grew up in Minnesota, on the Mississippi river, in the enchanting city of Winona. Grandma-Moses picturesque, with bluffs towering above the river valley ( I fondly remember trips up to Sugar Loaf, a huge rock overlooking Lake Winona ( where a long climb up the back of the rock was rewarded by a scary view and a scarier climb back down.

    I got interested in biology in Winona, with every winter as a young student taking me on a new path with local nature and science projects. I learned to titrate lake water for oxygen levels sampled after augering a hole through ice two-feet thick, conducting the tests in the eye-cracking cold from a sled full of glass bottles and acids, then rushing back to the lab before they froze and broke. Many of the projects I helped with amassed volumes of data requiring reduction, and I became fascinated with computers and programming them, which ultimately shaped my career path.

    Winters in Minnesota are 40-below-harsh, and summers hot and humid (the land of 10,000 very moist lakes), but the midwestern climate was all that I knew until I was out of college. After a few years working in Minnesota as a software engineer, I was invited to a several-months project in Lake Arrowhead, California. Man, what a difference a place makes! California is paradise in a bottle. I got interested in biology again, with year-around scuba diving and camping, and free access to University science culture.

    In the intervening decades, our children have grown (our son Keith is now a real biologist) and my wife and I have traveled a bit overseas -- Europe and Asia. I always try to capture some details about the biology of each place we visit, comparing them with Winona.

    Minnesota still has its unique, unduplicatable treasures, and my family and I go back occassionally, scale the bluffs (by car, now), and look out once again over the Mississipi valley. There is one spot I always visit, a secluded grass scallop in the slope well off the road, which has a perfect view of the valley. I remember that same spot from many trips in my youth, and realize that wherever I go, I'll always be from Winona.