It took me a lifetime to realize what I'd been longing for. As a child, a young adult, and a grown woman, I longed for something. I can remember stepping outside at night, on some warm, breezy, summer evening, and feeling a longing, a sadness even, stirring inside me. In my teenage years I thought I was yearning for love. Teenage angst and all.
But now, decades later, I realize that what I have been yearning for all along has been a connection to nature. Near as my backyard, a neighborhood park, the local nature preserve, the view from a Lake Michigan pier, the sound of a Robin singing at dawn, and again at dusk.
Waxing nostalgic, I recall childhood days spent at my grandparents cabin near Amery, Wisconsin. We would fish from the dock or go out in the fishing boat with my dad. We'd swim in the lake, or go for a walk down the dirt road and wander in the woods. We slept on the enclosed front porch of the cabin and would wake to a view of the lake. To the sounds of American Robins singing in the trees. That glorious early morning wake up song.
To this day the song of a Robin is an all-time favorite. No matter where I am, in the city or in the woods, the Robin sings and I listen.
This is not to say that I have ignored nature until now. On the contrary, I have traveled to many parts of the United States and marveled at the glorious landscapes. The mountains, deserts, rivers, streams, woodlands and swamps. I have camped in the mountains of New Mexico, and hiked in the Badlands of South Dakota. Reveling in the beauty of these places. But still, the longing.
I fell in love. Got married. Still the longing. We have pet birds. Many of them. It makes it a challenge to travel far from home. We started backyard birding. I was amazed at how many different wild birds show up in our urban backyard. Amazing. I wanted more. I discovered that our local city parks have birds. All different kinds of them. During migration season even more. More amazement. The exploring began in earnest, every weekend, and any day off, different parks and preserves, in search of birds.
But then, some days, you don't see many birds. And I began to notice other things. The color of the leaves on the trees. The different shades of blue in the sky. The sound of a river flowing. The buzz of a bumblebee on a flower, the vibrant colors of flowers in bloom, or the textures and shades of decaying plants and leaves in the autumn and winter. I began to notice that each season had more beauty than I'd realized before. It's not that I was blind. I just didn't get it. My perspective changed. My view through the lens changed. And the longing was finally identified.
I didn't have to travel across country to appreciate nature. To connect with nature. Nature's beauty is right here. It doesn't mean I won't travel. That there aren't other places I want to see. Adventures to seek. But I've learned an important lesson. Like Dorothy, I needed to go home again. The power had been with me all along. I traded ruby slippers for well worn hiking shoes, opened my eyes, and took a deep breath of the Wisconsin around me. There's no place like home.
Not every park or preserve is blessed with miles of hiking trails or sandy beaches. But every bit of green space is beautiful and bountiful in its own way. There are times when I want a varied adventure in my day trips. Or maybe I don't have a full day to spend. These are the days I double up on smaller preserves and parks. I look for two parks within a defined location, and get outside and explore. Here are a few of my favorite combos.
Trinity Creek Wetland Habitat and Grasslyn Nature Preserve
Trinity Creek and Grasslyn are two of my most recent discoveries. Just minutes from each other in Mequon, they are not large in stature, but they both have plenty to offer. I would start with Trinity Creek, as there's a bit more area to cover, and finish with a stroll through Grasslyn, and a bit of relaxation and contemplation on one of the benches along the trail. These are two "Treasures of OZ", and it's easy to see why.
Lulu Lake Preserve and Crooked Creek Preserve
Lulu Lake and Crooked Creek are within minutes of each other in the East Troy area. Both preserves are managed by The Nature Conservancy. Of the two, Lulu Lake is the easiest hike. So, I would start there, then move on to Crooked Creek. Both are great spots for bird watching. Crooked Creek can be muddy after a rain, but the trails are nicely marked, and the hills are a good workout. Both offer respite from a busy world.
Mauthe Lake State Recreation Area and Spruce Lake Bog
Mauthe Lake is perfect for a weekend getaway. Just over an hour from Milwaukee, you can immerse yourself in nature - hiking trails, beach, picnics, and camping. If you're spending time at Mauthe Lake, carve out an hour for a trip over to Spruce Lake Bog. It's a nice easy boardwalk trail bathed in green. Wildflowers, ferns, the sound of birds. About 15 minutes from Mauthe Lake, it's an easy side trip. And worth the effort.
Glacier Hills County Park and Bobrowitz Sculpture Garden
Bordering Friess Lake, Glacier Hills County Park encompass 140 acres of glacial formations, forest, wetlands, hiking trails, and a beach for swimming. A perfect place for a summer picnic, and a day of hiking, bird watching, and swimming. When you're done here, take a short drive to Bobrowitz Sculpture Garden for something a little different. Works of art displayed in a nature setting. This outdoor art gallery (all art created by Paul Bobrowitz) is brimming with creativity and whimsy (and all pieces are for sale). A visit to the sculpture garden is free, but donations are accepted.
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.