The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Local Discoveries

Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well!

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

10 Things to Do Before the “Dog-Days of Summer” Are Over

Dog-Days of Summer:

Why is the hottest part of the season called the “Dog-Days of Summer”? Contrary to popular belief, it was not given this name because dogs respond to the heat by stretching out on cool ground, tongues hanging out, panting. July 3 – August 11 was actually called the dog-days by the Ancient Greeks who believed that when the dog-star Sirius rises with the dawn, it gives extra heat to the Sun’s energy.

Rather than joining the dogs and listlessly lazing by the pool or in an air-conditioned room, here are 10 things to get up and go do before the summer is over:

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Take time for stargazing. Drive somewhere with fewer lights and stare up at the sky. This year the peak of the Perseid Meteor Showers will be on the night of August 12/13, 2018. If they sky is clear, you could see as many as 60-70 “falling stars” streaking across the sky each hour! Adopt this as a new tradition to celebrate the dog-days of summer each year. (Click HERE for more information about the Perseids.)
  2. Spend time near (or in) water. Floating in the river or enjoying the wind and wake of being in a boat are both excellent ways to relax and cool down on a hot summer day. Bonus points for being near a waterfall or a beach with waves! Summer Fun, Dog-Days of Summer, Ohiopyle Park
  3. Go for a walk in the park. Stare at the trees. Feel the breeze on your skin. Notice tiny things around you—insects, wildflowers, textures of rocks or tree trunks. If it is an open area, find creatures and other funny shapes in the moving clouds.
  4. Spend an evening around a campfire. There is something special about relaxing with friends around a crackling fire, watching sparks drift upward. Make s’mores and savor your favorite drink. Share stories or sit in companionable silence as you stare at the flames. Summer Nights

INDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Eliminate unused, worn-out “stuff.” I know, I know, this doesn’t feel like something enjoyable to do. Trust me, letting go of things that no longer serve you well is a great way to usher out the dog-days of summer and get ready for a new season. So dump the piles of paper in the recycling bin, throw bags of worn-out stuff in the trash can, and haul boxes of no-longer-used clothes and kitchen gadgets to the thrift store. Set yourself free!
  2. Put your feet up. Sometimes your pet has the right idea on the sweltering dog-days of summer. Lounge in the hammock, gently rocking in the breeze, while you enjoy your favorite drink. Or go for a leisurely ride on your friend’s pontoon boat, feet propped up, enjoying the wind in your face. Put Your Feet Up, Dog-Days of Summer
  3. Play an old fashioned game. Dig out a well-loved board game from the cupboard. Find the badminton or croquet sets buried in the garage. Make it a cut-throat, competitive tournament if desired. Or spend a few quiet hours introducing the next generation to the non-electronic games you enjoyed as a kid!

BE A LOCAL TOURIST:

  1. Enjoy a sidewalk café. Pretend you are in Europe as you slowly savor every bite of a decadent dessert. Sip your fancy coffee while you listen to snippets of conversations swirl around you from nearby tables. summer treats, dog-days of summer
  2. Explore a local tourist destination. Do an on-line search for “Things to Do” in your area. Finally spend the money to visit the world-class museum in a nearby city. Wander the midway at a local fair. Buy a treasure for your living room at the annual craft show. Enjoy the entertainment at a cultural festival.
  3. See a live show or attend a sports event. Whether amateur or professional, there are certainly opportunities for being entertained outdoors during the dog-days of summer. In our area, we can enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, weekly outdoor concerts and summer theater productions. There are baseball games, golf tournaments, and bicycle and running racers to cheer on as they race. Summer Fun, Knox County Jazz Orchestra

Now is the time to squeeze in a few more activities before the dog-days of summer turn into the crisp, cool days of fall. What other ways do you and your family have fun in the summertime? Please share your best ideas in the comments below!

(Did you miss these posts? Read about some of our local discoveries HERE. Find ideas about finding your town’s history HERE.)

Find the History…

So you can’t get time off work for the next few months. Or you’ve already used up all your vacation days for the year. What in the world can you do in your boring corner of the world? Try going on a History SCAVENGER HUNT!

Some places are obvious: the restored train depot beside the tracks, the fancy mansions hiding behind wrought iron fences. The factory ruins turned into event center at the local park.

Historic Station, Train Tracks

gothic style, wrought iron fence

Ariel Park, renovation, factory re-used

GATHER INFORMATION: Find the stories that go with the obviously old buildings in town. But also look for hidden treasure! Do a quick internet search for the history of your town. Stop by your local tourist information center to ask about maps of local landmarks or walking tours. Talk to the old-timers in your neighborhood. They often have stories to tell about long-ago businesses or events in your area. Even the gift shop or local book store might have clues—found in the books and post cards they sell.

GO FOR A WALK: The best way to discover local history is to walk. At the slower pace, you will notice cornerstones, dates on buildings, and signs describing historic events. (We found out that the county office building used to be the local hospital. Even some of the old-timers didn’t know that tidbit of information!) Talk to folks as you pass by. Workers explained the reason for the swampy low spot near one house—it used to be flooded and frozen in the winter to harvest ice blocks to be stored and used year round. Another family proudly told us about the blocked off passageway in their basement—possibly remnants of a stop to help protect runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Mercy Hospital

Historic Block Ice Field

escape tunnel, underground railroad, local history

WANDER THE SIDE STREETS: Pay close attention to what might be around the next corner! There will most certainly be hidden gardens and quirky architectural details. But you never know what other treasures you might discover. We found a colony of gnome-homes in our little town. But that’s another story for another day…

One Gray Week–Two Stories (Part 1)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. Today I share the first part…)

Last Monday was a gray day; a dismal, dreary, drizzly day. It was a stay-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-coffee sort of day. I used to easily find color-filled activities to turn days like this one upside-down. But after the death of a son ten years ago, I just wanna crawl in a hole on gloomy days.

So I burrowed under the blankets on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I glanced at a friend’s post. Mariah described a very difficult day including a trip to the ER. Then she said “One plus, it’s raining! I love rain!!! It’s calming, slows the world down a bit, and gives you an excuse to stop and enjoy life.” That stopped me in my tracks.

I was alone in the house for 24 hours. That should have been an opportunity for doing things just for me—whether writing, making art, or pampering myself. But instead I was having a pity party. My friend’s words woke me up. I forced myself off the couch and out the door into the rain.

By the time I got to the local park, the rain had turned to mist. I started down the leaf-covered, mud-smeared trail. I noticed this jumble of dead branches. I took a photo since it was a good illustration of my day.

But then, Nature started its healing therapy. When I looked beyond the mess, I noticed a beautiful tree with golden leaves dancing in the breeze. And when I looked more closely into the pile, I discovered the quiet colors of lichens on the bark.

I kept walking, following the sounds of a rushing stream at the bottom of the hilly path. It was invigorating to find that the heavy rain had turned the trail into its own unexpected waterfall.

You can, of course, guess what happened next…mud, slick leaves, flowing water, hillside path… Yep, I slipped and ended up covered with mud! Now, you might guess that would have made my day worse, right? But somehow, I started laughing. That muddy fall turned my day around! I felt alive again, back to my usual “Susie-Sunshine” self.

Later in the week, I had a last-minute opportunity to travel with my middle daughter for a few days in Virginia. While she went to interviews, I was free to explore the area. The dismal, gray weather continued, but I had learned a lesson. Instead of hanging out at a coffee shop, working on writing projects (or feeling sorry for myself), I decided to get outside. I didn’t have energy for a full hike, but found a nearby cave tour. Ahhh… Since I was a little girl, I have always loved being in a cave. Beauty, peaceful quiet, a sense of timelessness… somehow, I fully relax in a cave.

I finished that day by sitting beside a quiet river. This dreary week held an important reminder. Nature brings peace and contentment when I make the effort to get outside!

(You can read the second story HERE…)

Looking for Treasures in the Every Day

I’m sure I’ve told you this before: I like adventure, Big Epic Adventures! But that’s not where most of us live our everyday lives. Realities of money, time, and responsibilities get in the way of wandering. What’s an adventurer to do? Look for treasures while exploring the local surroundings, of course!

“Walk your small town day after day, and you will find treasures along the way!”

Rather than mope around at home, after our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail last fall, Daughter and I made a drastic change. We now WALK whenever possible. For local errands, our car is left behind, looking lonely and abandoned. (Poor car…) We walk to the library. We walk to meet friends. We walk to buy snacks…or fast food. We walk just to walk. We even walk to church…wait, nope, we take the car to church. We don’t want to be all sweaty and grimy by the time we get there. Haha!

Sometimes we walk in the historic shopping district of our small town; oohing and aahing over the treasures in the windows. Most of the time, however, we walk through neighborhoods. We notice little details on porches and around windows. We find tiny parks and pretty landscaping. We are learning to recognize where we are by what we feel under our feet: cobblestone lanes, broken sidewalks, upscale brick walkways, steep hills, flat rail-trails. Author Terry Pratchett describes this way of knowing place: “Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.”

When we slowly walk through town, we notice different things than when we whiz down the main roads in our car, hurrying to check errands off our to-do list. We learn about old buildings: this one was a hospital, that one was a tiny jail. We find out bits of local history: an early airplane engine was made here, civil war debates occurred, now empty land once held thriving factories. Other landmarks have been reclaimed and renovated: a new science center in a warehouse, a party center in a train depot, a walking path on an old railway.

Slowly, surely, we learn our little town through our feet and through the tiny details we see. We add landmarks to our mental map. We add stories to our memories. We have become a new kind of Indiana Jones as we find treasures in the everyday!

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and special perception together.” – Rebecca Solnit

Go for a walk in YOUR town. What small treasures do you discover along the way?

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

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