Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Exploring by Bike July 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — backyardsafari @ 9:22 pm
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Today started out as just one of those days–I felt listless and irritable about meaningless things. I spent a long time on the phone with tech help, and spent some of that time yelling at the robot operator. I would never ever do that to a real person just doing their job, so the poor automated message guy bore the brunt of my anger, repeatedly telling me he didn’t understand what I was telling him, as I replied with loud variations of connect-me-to-a-real-person-i-don’t-care-about-serial-numbers.

As the light started to change from the regular daylight to that golden evening glow I decided to dust myself off and go out for a bike ride. There is a path a friend and I talked about going on and I thought I’d better find out if my out-of-bike-shape self could actually even make it before I shamed myself in front of someone else.

It was a nice ride–my legs really are out of shape for pushing the bike along but the evening was cool, the light beautiful, and the wind streaming in my face.  I rode as far as the downhill slopes would take me and then took a break to investigate a wetland area beside the road that I always see while driving but never up close.

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I’ve been noticing a lot of these wetlands along highways recently—I assume someone is planting them as an efficient natural way to slow runoff from the roads and collect water during rainstorms, but I’d love to know who! Do lots of companies do this kind of thing or is there some kind of state run movement?

To emphasize just how much you can find nature even in the middle of a city, suburb, or road, I took a picture of my bike from the other side to show you:

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I couldn’t make it back up the hill without stopping, so I used the break to get a closer look at the colorful wildflowers next to the path. In the past I would have felt self-conscious having the drivers see me pushing my bike or dawdling in the weeds, but I’ve gotten better at not worrying what people passing by think of me.

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I always think of the phrase “a riot of flowers” when I see them growing all together like this. I just can’t think of a more perfect expression for their bold, unapologetic nature and strewn positions, like they are spilling out across the earth.

I zoomed in on this milkweed flower and was surprised to find a bee visiting, moving deftly between the petals. I tried out the zoom on my phone camera, but it isn’t as focused as I had hoped.

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Hidden off among some bushes were these tasty jewels, ripening in the fading sun. I decided to leave them for the birds, as my many classes teaching kids about runoff made me too paranoid about what may be washing down from the golf course next door. They sure do look good, though!

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It seems like I have to learn the same lesson over and over that I won’t have any ideas to blog about if I don’t go outside. I somehow convince myself it is the other way around–that some great idea will inspire me to head out the door, but it is almost never the case. It is only once I am there that I notice all of the great things around me and come home bursting with thoughts to get down in writing.

It was really fun to explore the neighborhood by bike, especially from the safety of the bike path. In an ironic twist, I almost got hit by a car on this trip, when I spent 99% of the time away from roads. I was waiting at a cross walk, following all the rules, pushing the walk button and waiting for the sign. I have flashy lights and also there was still full light to see by–not just that dusky light that makes everything blur together. Luckily (?) I am too paranoid to trust other people to notice me, so I watched the other cars through the corner of my eye as I started across. I noticed that 3 rows of cars were moving forward, when only 2 should have as the one waited for me before turning left and quickly realized he didn’t see me at all. I screeched to a halt midway through the road as a big rusty truck made his way through. The driver saw me then and apologized out the window with a “my fault.” I do think he meant it and that it had probably scared the crap out of him, so I just continued on my way.

There seems to be some debate among the biking community about wearing helmets–I don’t understand it enough to really comment on it now, but this is a good example of why I will always always always wear one–not to mention the fear of smearing myself on something completely of my own accord. I can too vividly imagine my family members lamenting ‘why didn’t she just wear a helmet’ and how horrible it would be for them, and I don’t really trust other people or myself to not mess up.

I read recently that crossing at cross walks can sometimes be more dangerous than crossing in the road, because if you are right in the middle of the road cars have to see you, while they might not always at a cross walk. Even though I was on a bike path at the time this is something I will have to keep in mind and explore more in the future.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to have this post take such dire turns! Don’t worry Momma, I promise I am careful :).

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Anyway, I made my way home safely, enjoying the air sliding by me.  Despite the drama near the end, I had a wonderful time getting out in my neighborhood and seeing it from a new angle. I could go a lot farther than I can just by walking, and while also getting to see things up close that I otherwise have only seen from the car. I also got to see a number of groundhogs and rabbits that I wasn’t fast enough to catch on film.

I will be interested to see how the journey to travel by bike continues, and what happens next!

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(Note: I know this picture is sideways–I kind of like it this way!)

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Do any of you dear readers explore by bike? Are you at all comfortable riding on the roads and if so, how did you get there? Do you prefer to see the natural world by wheel or by foot? Feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

I hope everyone can spend some time exploring their neighborhood this weekend. As I learned again today, you just can’t imagine what you might find until you’re out there! As always, I’ll see you out there.

 

Once More with Feeling March 7, 2011

Yesterday, a gentle rain fell over central Pennsylvania, saturating the struggling earth and melting away the last remnants of ice clinging along the roads.  It was that good kind of rain, the kind I imagine makes the earth sigh and open its arms. I thought about how soon my husband and I will play catch in the yard. I picked out clothes for a “30 for 30 challenge” I started today, including flip-flops, capris pants, and two dresses. Spring was coming and I was ready.

In the late afternoon I sat watching the rain out the window when suddenly, shockingly, it turned into snow right before my eyes. The snow got heavier and heavier, swirling around in a miniature blizzard just outside the glass. It snowed for the rest of the evening and through the night, leaving us buried in a winter wonderland that rivals anything we had in December or January.

When it first started snowing yesterday I was sad about it, but this morning I woke up and the branches were stacked with snow, the sun was bright and reflecting off every surface, and I just wanted to go outside.  I can’t explain it, but my number one rule besides “Try to make yourself go out even if you don’t want to because you will be happy once you get there,” is “If you DO want to go out, go NOW NOW NOW before it is too late!!!”

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I dug my long underwear out of the closet and my winter boots out of the car (Note: Do not keep winter boots in your car! The walk from the house to get them will defeat the whole purpose), and set out to see what I could see.

The air was crisp but not freezing, in the way that it sometimes is when snow keeps everything close and muffled. My boots squeaked and crunched and the sun shone on everything. The snow was stacked high on every surface, and the low bushes and rocks were now just mysterious lumps along the ground.

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I am not a morning person but today was out early enough to enjoy the empty sidewalks before anyone shoveled (sorry, neighbors, for packing the snow down with my boots so it is now impossible to remove!). There weren’t even animal tracks yet, as if the squirrels and birds were as stunned as I had been to see a finally green world erased and white.

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In one spot there was a “wild” overgrown area right off the path. The sun was hitting it directly and it looked really beautiful. Welcoming and magical and quiet. I took a series of photos of it using my iPhone, which is currently the “camera” I use for everything. I am not a professional photographer, and I was amazed when I got home at how much the scene didn’t translate into the photos at all!  I had to laugh to see this three-dimensional wonderland show up as a flat and tangled place.

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I think it would have been better if I had kneeled down to take the picture instead of standing, so you felt like you were on the same level as the plants. To my photographer readers, anything else I could do in the future to capture this kind of busy space more accurately?

I continued on, craning my neck and standing right at the base of trees to get a “squirrel’s eye view” of all of the bright snow on the branches. I like how the snow makes this branch look like a feather from underneath:

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All in all, it was a lovely walk. I came in with red cheeks to the smell of coffee I had started in the coffeepot before I left. I hung my jeans up to dry by the door, and sat in front of my window to watch the world go by and write this post. I am making the effort not to be miserable about this snow for at least a couple more days, but really I didn’t have to work for my happiness this morning. Sometimes the yellow sun is reflecting off the brilliant new snow and what can you do but feel joy that you were there to see it?

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Winter Exploration January 27, 2011

Yesterday I was working out at the school just as the day was ending. The sky was gray and cold and all of the after-school activities were canceled because of the impending snow.  It was just starting to fall as the buses pulled away, and I decided to stay behind and go for an exploration of the woods behind the school building. I changed my fancy work shoes for heavy winter boots, my ruffled button up shirt for some thermal layers, and headed out into the snow.

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There is a special magic in walking when it is still actively snowing. Everything is hushed and tucked in. Snow slowly covers you as you walk, camouflaging you just like the trees and underbrush. You are alone, but you see the tracks of other animals and realize just how much is going on out here when you are not there to see it.  You think about how many animals must cross this path in the summer and you just never know about it.

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I love looking for tracks. A few years ago I helped track a woman lost in a national park, and it is was a very emotional and, truthfully, exciting experience. I was actually sent to follow those tracks because they didn’t think it was her, but wanted to look at every possibility–otherwise they would have sent someone with more (any) experience!  She had accidentally followed a wash instead of the trail, and in the desert they do look pretty similar. The amazing thing was that you could see in her footprints the moment she realized she was lost. You could just feel it, and know that she suddenly looked up and saw something was wrong. We followed her out across the open desert, where she eventually climbed onto some rocks to try to get a look at the surroundings. We had to circle the rocks carefully to see where she had stepped off again. In the end, it got too dark to safely follow her into a maze-like area of sandstone and we had to go back, but the next morning they sent a helicopter down and found her. She was fine, and did a great job staying safe though out the cold desert night. I never met her but I think I will always remember her name and feel like I know her just a little because of following her tiny footprints over the sand beneath a darkening sky.

Anyway, I highly recommend looking for animal tracks any time you are in the snow, sand, or mud. It can be a great way to learn what kind of wildlife is around even if you can’t see it.  If you live in a suburban area with snow, check the base of trees lining the sidewalk–you will often find a whole series of tracks from squirrels going up and down the tree.

I walked along one of the paths through the snow, plodding my own tracks through the deer and squirrels’. I am always amazed in the winter how an area that was once thick, dense, and lush is now transparent. I stepped off the path and walked easily across an area that was full of growth just a few months ago, and finally came out of the forest into a neighboring field.

There is something satisfying about stepping from a covered area into a wide open one, and I stood looking across the yellow corn stubble into the gray mist of the snow storm that had come down while I was walking.

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I decided to head back.  On the way I found this adorable set of tracks–I knew that animals often walk across the tops of fallen logs to avoid walking through deep snow or thick underbrush, and I love the way the tracks outline this tree against the rest of the snow.

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I also saw this great arch/magical doorway to nature (read more here!). I took some pictures of arches in this same forest back in May, and it is almost shocking to me to see the color difference now.

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Taken in May of 2010

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I eventually broke out of the forest and tromped back to my car. I changed out of my winter boots, shook of my hat and gloves, and started to head home.  It turned out the amount of time I spent exploring was the difference between the roads being just-a-little-snowy and treacherously-snowy. I creeped along and came upon an accident almost immediately. Thankfully, the passengers were fine, and mostly embarrassed about how many people were stopping to make sure they were okay.

I was moved by how many people did stop, putting on their flashers and jumping out into the snow to make sure no one was injured and see how they could help. You see a lot of stuff on the news about the state of the world but I believe that deep down most people do care for one another, and they will do what is needed when that time comes.

It was a long, slow drive but I eventually made it home and curled up on the couch inside my apartment. It was warm and dry, but I knew that out there somewhere in the dark forest, the animals were out and moving through their habitat, covering my boot tracks with their own.

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