Places of 2016

It’s that time of year again—the time in late December when I get cozy in our warm house, watch the snow fall, and think about the new year. It’s also time for my annual summary of the places I’ve been this year. This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve summarized my travels, and I like how it pulls everything into a single place.

Work Travel

Work always takes me to new and interesting places, but this year was a bit different and I traveled less than I have in past years. During the first part of the year, I deliberately avoided travel so that I could spend time writing and get a few big reports published (BTW, it worked!). Then at about the time that I was about to start ramping my travel back up, Sexy broke his ankle and I cancelled a few trips.

Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks
Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks

Madison (March & November): This year I went to Madison twice. I made the trip down in early March to facilitate a meeting that I helped organize. In November I was able to attend the Society of American Foresters National Convention; that meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. The meetings was very busy, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to get outside and explore. Luckily downtown Madison is so walkable that I was able to stretch my legs (and get some good food too!).

New Brunswick, Canada (March): I was invited to participate in a meeting on climate change adaptation for foresters in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Again, I was mostly stuck inside during the meeting, but I learned a lot about the forests in this corner of the world.

Massachusetts (March): I finished up a busy month of travel in March with a great trip to the area around Sturbridge, Massachusetts. At the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, I got to spend one day checking out an adaptation demonstration site and then the next day we had a field tour in the woods with about 20 foresters and natural resource managers. The weather was gorgeous and springlike, which gave me a nice break from the snow that was still on the ground back home.

Some critter's hemlock home.
Some critter’s hemlock home

Wisconsin (April): I made a super-quick trip down to the College of Menominee Nation in April. On the drive back, I stopped at a National Forest trail head to stretch my legs.

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A trail on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Northern Vermont and New Hampshire (August): I cancelled some work travel planned for June and July, so it was August before I got to head back east. This may have been my favorite trip this year; it was certainly the most exciting from the perspective of getting out in the woods. In involved flying in to Burlington, Vermont, and driving three hours east to the Maine border and staying in a remote camp with interesting scientists and good beer. The highlight of this trip, swimming in a deep pool on a picturesque river with two friends, was one of my favorite moments of the entire year.

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Northern New Hampshire

New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts (September): Since my travel time was limited this year, I crammed as much as possible into this one trip. After arriving in Burlington, I took a car ferry over to New York; in an unbelievable coincidence, Sexy was on a car ferry in Michigan at the exact same time, also for a work trip! I spend a day learning about the Adirondacks. Then, I met up with a co-worker and visited a few partners in Vermont and bordering Massachusetts. This was the first time in nearly 10 years that I got to go in the woods on three consecutive days, and it was great. After all that, I attended a conference and gave a presentation. What a trip!

Northern Michigan (October): I made a quick trip to give talks at the Michigan Society of American Foresters meeting and a meeting of some Department of Natural Resources foresters. After being stuck inside and stuck in a car, I planned to find a spring along my travel route to get some fresh water and stretch my legs; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it.

Minneapolis (October): This trip was to go to the National Land Trust Rally where I helped lead two workshops. It was an amazing meeting with great people and energy. Since I’m getting more involved with the local Keweenaw Land Trust, I was also on the prowl for good ideas to bring back home!

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Between Minneapolis and Madison

Madison (November): I got to go to Madison twice! In the fall, I attended the Society of American Foresters National Convention this fall. That meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. I ♥ foresters!

Texas and New Mexico (November): This trip involved flying into El Paso, Texas, for a work meeting about an hour away in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travel snags on the way where meant that my coworkers and I arrived in the dark, and I wasn’t able really take in the scenery until it was time to drive back to the airport. But we did eat lunch outside in a courtyard where rosemary was used as a landscape plant and made the entire area smell wonderful.

Vacations

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation outside the Lake States, but this year I hardly went anywhere at all!

Northern Lower Michigan (February, July, and December): We took a few trips Downstate this year to visit Sexy’s family. We got to meet our new niece in February, and I finally participated in two important family traditions: making Polish sausage and the winter bonfire on Hamlin Lake. That trip was tacked on to some work travel for Sexy. My plan was to go cross country skiing and write while he worked, but I came down with the flu instead. Our July trip was also different than expected, since we were limited in what we could do with Sexy’s broken ankle, but I still biked to Lake Michigan and went for a swim. Our December trip was also short, but we spent two mornings outside stacking split wood for his family to burn during the winter.

Family bonfire
Family bonfire

Western Upper Peninsula (May, July, and October): One Friday night in May, I realized that I didn’t have any plans and decided to join Sexy and his friends at a cabin on Huron Bay. But instead of staying in the cabin, I spent the night bundled up in my new hammock. For my birthday in July, I made a small getaway and biked to the Porcupine Mountains. Sara and I camped on the shore of Lake Superior. In October, Sexy and I spent a weekend in Copper Harbor. I raced in two cyclocross events, and we hiked to the top of Lookout Mountain.

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Camping on Lake Superior

Northern Minnesota (June): Sara and I did the canoe triathlon again this year, which I always look forward to. We’re already planning to do it again next June.

Central Minnesota and Wisconsin (November): I took a vacation between work trips to Minneapolis and Madison. I explored areas that I’d never been to, even though I grew up not far away. As I drove from Minneapolis to my parents’ house, I wished that I had more time to see everything along the way. I stopped at a nature center along the Mississippi River and talked to two old men who were out birding. When I was visiting my parents, my brother and I spent a morning driving around Amish country; we bought string cheese from the cheese factory and a pineapple from the grocery store (because why not?!).

Upstream from where I grew up
Upstream from where I grew up

Home and Nearby

Because I didn’t travel as much this year, I spent a lot more time locally—so much so that I hardly know where to begin talking about all of it. But then a movie line rings in my ears that says, “When you don’t know where to start, start at the beginning.”

Winter is always a good time to stay at home, and so I played hermit. I didn’t ski as much last winter as in previous years, but the skiing that I did to was generally in the woods near our house. Sara and I met up to ski at Courtney Lake; we ended up and the rustically-spectacular Rousseau Bar. I also spent a considerable amount of time moving snow because, well, it’s the Keweenaw.

Courtney Lake ski trail (it's never too far to the Rousseau Bar...)
Courtney Lake ski trail (It’s never too far to the Rousseau Bar…)

As the snow melted, we celebrated with neighbors by making maple syrup. As soon as the weather warmed up, I started biking to work and training for the canoe triathlon. Sara and I met up one morning in May to canoe on Otter Lake, and it was so foggy that we were barely able to see the shore from the water. Sexy and I took a day trip to Copper Harbor in the spring to ride bikes, which I always love.

Canoeing in the fog
Canoeing in the fog

Gardening also took up a tremendous amount of time during the winter and spring. During the winter, I took the Master Gardener class and made raised beds for the elderly as one of my projects. I did a lot more garden planning than in previous years. As the weather warmed, I spent long days working in the gardens, planting berries and vegetables with mixed success.

Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project
Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project

I spent a lot of time this summer hanging out on the porch since Sexy was on crutches. We did, however, go to our little town’s first (annual?) 4th of July parade and kayak on the lake.

We bought a some land and a cottage near the end of summer, which was the major highlight of the year. We spent every weekend there into the fall, cleaning out old clutter, rearranging things, and exploring the property. We had a big party there on Labor Day weekend, which involved a 9-mile river paddle down the river with friends and catching frogs with kids. I spent a night sleeping in my hammock by the lake (and didn’t die).  We lived there for a week in the fall—at least until we used the electric stove and filled the entire cabin with the most awful-smelling smoke because mice had found their way into the insulation (so gross!). As fall has transitioned to winter I started taking down some trees so that we can better wildlife habitat next year and explored the property on snowshoes.

View from the cottage
Near the cottage

Those are some highlights from 2016.

Happy New Year!

Meandering Rivers and Roads

I went home to visit my family in south central Wisconsin last week, but this time it was a bit different because I was coming from Minneapolis. Despite growing up just four hours from the city, and it being one of the closest cities to my current home in the U.P., I’d only been to Downtown Minneapolis once before: for a National Honor Society field trip in high school.

When my work in the city was done, I started to head home. The original plan was to go home directly via the freeways and arrive in about 4 hours. But I thought that it would be a good idea to find a spring and load up on artesian water before heading to the sandy farmlands of central Wisconsin. Instead of staying on the freeway, I headed south along the Mississippi River.

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In the small town of Prescott, Wisconsin, I stopped at a park that overlooked the merging of the substantial St. Croix River into the even bigger Mississippi. A train traveled north on the tracks located at the bottom of the bluff, and I talked with two nice old men who were out watching birds at a small nature center.

I continued my trip along the river. The spring didn’t pan out; it was on heavily-signed private property and inaccessible. But by that point I was captivated by the oak bluffs and river views along the road. I continued south along the Mississippi on the Minnesota side until I was close to the crossing in La Crosse, Wisconsin, adding at least one hour onto my trip by taking slow roads and making a few stops.

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When it was about time to turn east into Wisconsin and leave the Mississippi River, I turned west and drove a few extra miles to Great River Bluffs State Park. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time left to reach my parents’ house before dark and so I couldn’t linger as much as I wanted to.

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I wished that I’d planned my day better so that I’d been able to spend more time along the Mississippi, and in Wisconsin too. I finally headed east to Wisconsin, driving down from the river bluff forests into rolling farmlands. I also wished that I’d read the appropriate sections of Wisconsin’s Ecological Landscapes so that I’d had a better sense of what I was driving through and could appreciate it more. Regardless, I enjoyed seeing new places and extending my mental map of the landscape a little farther westward.

That wasn’t my only meandering trip. After spending a few days in my hometown, I had to drive south to Madison. Again, my original plan to take the most efficient highways and freeways was tossed aside when I realized that I could wander through some new places. I took the county roads south, winding through the Amish country that I had visited the previous day with my brother.

I stopped at a bridge that crossed the Fox River. I grew up on the Fox River, but much father downstream where the river is 100 yards wide and an eerie opaque green color from flowing through miles of farmland. Here near the head waters it was just a small creek, flowing through mostly woods and marsh. I had not thought much about the Fox River upstream of where I lived, only it’s northeasterly path downstream to the paper mills and factories stretching from Appleton to Green Bay.

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Not far down the road, I was given another reminder of the Fox River, as I passed the location where Marquette, the Jesuit priest, portaged the short distance from the Fox to the Wisconsin River, before continuing on to the Mississippi. I’d been to this spot and to the nearby historical buildings during a field trip in fourth grade, but I don’t remember much from that. If we were taught the river’s looping upstream course in school, I remember none of it. From this point, I passed into the Wisconsin River watershed and into a different landscape of large, flat farm fields on soils more suited to agricultural production. And then into Madison.

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I’m always struck by how much I love the landscape where I grew up. I don’t think I could live there ever again; I feel too crowded by people and roads and private land when I visit. But I love to visit, and see the place where I grew up with fresh eyes. I love the small, rolling hills and the marshes and the oak forests (although not the buckthorn that has taken over the understory). I picked a part of the U.P. that has some of these characteristics to be my home now; I just hope that I can learn the characteristics of this place without having to move away.

Getting to Know the Adirondacks

I only had a quick trip to the Adirondacks, so I had to make the most of my time. To see the forests, I did a turbo hike up Ampersand Mountain in the afternoon. The hike started out easy, with the flat trail cutting through northern hardwood forest. It was fairly familiar forest—mostly maple, hemlock, and birch growing on shallow, sandy soils—but not exactly what we have back home. There was also hobblebush (a viburnum) and American beech, two plants we don’t have in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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The trail was nice and mellow for about a mile, but it was also gradually getting a steeper as I went. Eventually the trail became much steeper until it was eventually a staircase made of stones.  Continue reading “Getting to Know the Adirondacks”

Last Week’s Travels: Northern New Hampshire

I haven’t had too much time to write the past few weeks, so this is just a quick post to hit some highlights of my travel last week. I flew to Burlington, VT, for work and then traveled with a few colleagues to a meeting at a rustic location extreme northeast corner of New Hampshire.

The road into our meeting location.
The road into our meeting location.

I hadn’t been to this part of the Northeast yet, so I was excited to see it. I was also excited to spend some time in New England forests during the growing season, as most my trips seem to take place in late fall or early spring once the leaves are off.

The landscape.
The landscape.

We were split across two cabins. One had solar electricity and running water in the sink, but still had an outhouse. We had our meeting in that cabin, but slept in one of the older cabins. It didn’t have electricity—it had gas lights. Continue reading “Last Week’s Travels: Northern New Hampshire”

Places of 2015

For the third year in a row, I thought it would be good to summarize the highlights of my travels over the past year. I find it really helpful to have these summaries to help me remember all of the places I went in a single year (see 2013 and 2014 posts).

Work Travel

Most of my travel is for work, which allows me to see so many cool places. This was the second year that my work focused largely in New England, which you’ll definitely see reflected in the list of places I went. Continue reading “Places of 2015”

Long Walk

Last week I was in Vermont and had the opportunity to check out Shelburne Farms, and impressive historic estate that’s now an educational center for farming. Being early December, much of the place was closed for the winter, including the historic home (truly a mansion!), the barns, and the Children’s Farmyard with actual animals.

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The historic home from a distance, on the shore of Lake Champlain.

The trails and property were open, however. Stepping outside of the Welcome Center at the property’s old Gate House and looking at the map, a woman approached and asked, “Do you know where you want to go? I come here all the time.” Continue reading “Long Walk”

Layover

If I were to pick out one photo to sum up this past week, this would be it:

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I took this photo in Downtown Chicago at the beginning of this week. There was a big snowstorm last weekend that grounded all flights into O’Hare and left me sitting in the Boston airport for 4 extra hours. We eventually did get to the airport once the weather cleared, but I missed my connecting flight and was stuck in Chicago for an extra day.

In the photo, ice hangs on a crabapple tree after the storm. There were a number of trees outside of The Art Institute of Chicago drapped in icicle, which made a very seasonal scene. And it was appropriate: even after returning home, it’s been a cold and icy November week. Continue reading “Layover”

Ready or Not, It’s Fall

The past few weeks have flown by a bit unexpectedly. At the beginning of the month, I thought that things would be calmer since we didn’t seem to have many impending commitments. But things really filled in and, when combined with progressively shorter days, it’s been surprisingly busy.

I did manage to keep up on my intention to get outside for at least a half hour every day. I only missed 2 of the 21 days. One of those days was they day that drove back from Lower Michigan—a 9-hour trip—and when we returned, I only spent a little time in my garden picking veggies before going inside to stew 10 pounds of tomatoes. The other day that I didn’t go out happened when I went out for dinner and a presentation after work and it slipped my mind.

But it’s been good overall. And I especially love the character of the sunlight this time of year. It’s lower in the sky and it’s more golden at dusk, making everything have this wonderful contrast of gold highlights and dark shadows. The leaves, which are only beginning to change color, will amplify this affect in a week or two when all the reds and oranges kick into full force.

Rather than detail everything from the past three weeks, here are few highlights from the past 3 weekends. Continue reading “Ready or Not, It’s Fall”