The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Secrets (page 1 of 3)

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.

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

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

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

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)

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

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! (Drop a line in the comments–what is one thing you do for fun outside?)

Growing into a Forest Therapy Guide

I admit it. I have a zillion interests to pursue and not enough time to chase them all. (Please tell me this happens to you also?!) As I’ve begun to talk about becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, I’ve gotten push-back from some family and friends. Over the years they have often asked if I’ve gotten “it” out of my system yet. They question how long I will stick with THIS interest. They mock me for never finishing things. This has been a challenge all the way back to my growing up years. (To be clear—I have other supportive family and friends who always cheer me on and love to hear about my latest adventures…)

For some reason, this latest round of criticism made me sit back and ponder. Is there truth in what they throw at me? Am I failing at the task of “growing up”? Do I NEED to pick one interest and pursue it single-mindedly? I know that is a common path for many people…but is it the right path for me?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy –

I had an “aha” moment while reading a book by Amos Clifford, the founder of the organization that certifies Forest Therapy Guides.  He writes about different stages in his life being part of the whole of who he is. This helped me realize that the various interests I have explored over the years are all related. They are parts of my unique tree of life. Let me explain:

I am growing up from strong roots and a sturdy trunk into a forest therapy guide

I look back and see that foundational to everything I have pursued is a deep curiosity about the world. This began in young childhood when I wanted to know more about the people I met, the places we went, and the things I saw. (I probably drove my parents crazy by asking so many questions!) I have had a lifelong passion for exploring and learning.

When I was growing up, I became a Story Seeker. (I have written more about this HERE) I want to hear people’s stories. At first this story gathering was a way of feeding my own curiosity about the world. Gradually, I used what I was hearing to support my personal growth. Today, I know that sharing bits of those stories can be of great encouragement to others I meet. This has been a strong “trunk”—supporting everything else I do in life.

From the roots of curiosity and the trunk of gathering stories, I became a teacher. Sometimes this is a formal role (such as teaching cello to young students, becoming an instructor for National Ski Patrol or being a paid tutor in a Native American school). Other times this has been an informal role. Over the years, I continue to have a deep need to share what I learn with others.

As an adult, I have put out many branches. Some were tiny shoots that withered or broke off. Others have become solid parts of who I am. I am creative and express that originality through photography and art and painting and writing. I am a mentor, reaching behind me from whatever season of life I am in, and taking the hands of others to encourage them as they walk a similar path. And I am a peer counselor, listening and asking questions to help folks untie knots, climb over obstacles, and pursue their own wellness and passion.

Counter to the accusations of the nay-sayers, I am not constantly changing directions. I am not a small boat being thrown this way and that as I am buffeted by winds of “new” and “different” interests. I am a unique tree. All of the seemingly unrelated passions I have pursued are actually solid branches growing from strong roots and a sturdy trunk. I am growing up and maturing. And I have discovered that becoming a Forest Therapy Guide is a way to use all these parts of me to help others.

“I am not afraid of my truth anymore. I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.”

This weekend I start the six month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. I will write more about that process in the next few weeks and months. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about, I have written a FAQ you can read HERE.

I would love to hear 1-2 “branches” on your Tree of Life. Please share your passion(s) in the comments below!

 

10 Homeschooling Myths

It is not yet officially fall according to the calendar. But the season is changing. Pumpkin Spice everything is showing up in all the stores. School supplies are purchased and the obligatory back-to-school photos have been posted on social media. I’ve made my lists and done the paperwork. We are starting year 26 of homeschooling for our family. In those decades, we have heard so many homeschooling myths from concerned family and friends:

1—(Public/Private/Home)schooling is the BEST choice: Every family tends to believe that they are making the best decision regarding schooling their kids. Reality is that different children will thrive in different settings. First, don’t make any form of schooling into an “idol.” Second, what’s right for one family really would be wrong for another family. Moms, our job of parenting is hard enough, let’s quit arguing and build each other up!

2—Whatever you decide, you are stuck forever with that type of schooling: There is certainly something to be said for consistency and perseverance. However, it is important to choose what is best for each child (and for your family as a whole) each year. Every one of our kids spent some time in both private and public schools, even though we homeschooled for most grades. (True confessions, sometimes we even switched directions in mid-year!)

(My kids getting on the bus for 1st & 3rd grades. Homeschooling Myth: must only choose 1 type of schooling ever!)

3—“But what about Socialization?” This is one of the most commonly heard homeschooling myths. Many people assume the Public/Private school pattern of segregating children by age is important. However, experience shows that this age stratification often leads to damaging peer pressure and bullying. Research shows that multi-age relationships are healthier for children and better model adult life. In reality, there are actually too many opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time with other children—in classes, co-ops, clubs, and community activities. If we pursued all of these options, we would have no time for academic work! Instead our family chooses to join one or two groups each year. We also love to meet regularly with another homeschooling family for fun and learning.

(homeschooling myth buster--daughter meets regularly with friends to complete academic work...and have FUN!)

4—Homeschooling will fix everything: This is one of the homeschooling myths which masquerades as strong motivation for avid homeschoolers. The corollary from proponents of public/private school is that homeschooling is to blame for every dysfunctional adult who was kept out of school. Yes, an individualized setting can help children thrive, especially when they have life challenges (learning disabilities, mental health issues, social anxiety, etc)…BUT, these issues MUST be directly addressed during school years for students to be able to function in the world as an adult. NO form of schooling alone can “fix” our kids! (Read about how I advocate for my daughter HERE)

5—“I would go crazy if I was stuck at home all day”: Some families do spend most days at home. Others experience life in their local community. And the entire world could have the perfect destination for amazing field-trips to solidify what is being learned! (True confessions: Most of us also enjoy the benefits of off-season travel and vacations…) (Read about our travels to National Parks to collect Junior Ranger Badges HERE. Read about our Little School in the Woods HERE)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: if we are stuck at home to homeschool then I'm a failure!)

6—Worksheets and homework are necessary for effective learning: If a student understands what is being taught, more time spent doing homework will not improve learning. If a student is lost in that subject, homework can leave them more confused. It is a public/private-schooling myth that worksheets, books reports and tests are the best ways to measure learning—they are fine methods for some students. But more commonly, these paper-assignments are a method of crowd control in the classroom and make grading easier for teachers. With homeschooling there is greater scope for individualized education, active learning and creative final projects.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: hands on projects and field trips are far more effective than worksheets and tests.)

7—“I could NEVER teach high school…” That’s okay. I can’t teach every subject either! But my six older kids successfully completed high school at home. By teen years, students have (hopefully) developed skills to be self-learners. In addition, families join co-ops for shared teaching, find mentors to pursue student passions, and use community and college classes for more difficult subjects. It is always possible to find others who have the training and experience to provide what our kids need.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: If mom had to teach robotics, it would never happen!)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: Good thing grandpa knows how to rebuild cars. Mom certainly couldn't teach this!)

8—Homeschoolers can’t get into college: WRONG! This is another one of the common homeschooling myths. Many top universities actively recruit students with alternative educations who bring diversity to the campus. Homeschooled students often have strong independent study skills and a determination to pursue passions. And yes, many homeschooled students receive academic scholarships. Having solid standardized test scores and providing a (self-written) high school transcript helps with the college application process. (Read about our family’s recent graduates HERE)

9—Values are taught: This is another of the homeschooling myths that cause some families to bring their students home to “make sure” their kids follow family values. No matter how much we explicitly teach values and share interests with our children, deeper values are actually “caught” by seeing what the parents do. (This applies to all families, regardless of which type of schooling they choose.) Most homeschooling parents are “out of the box thinkers” to persist in going against mainstream culture to school their children. These same parents are often shocked when their children grow up to be independent thinkers themselves. In our family, we wandered to follow new opportunities…and now our grown kids are scattered across the country—pursuing their dreams. These particular values were caught not taught!

(Values Caught Not Taught, Kids don't stay home when parents model wandering!)

10—Homeschooling Guarantees Harmony at Home: Oh, if only this were true! Homeschooling builds many shared memories. But siblings will still fight and children will still argue with both their mother and their teacher (made worse when that is the same person.) (True confessions: sometimes our kids fought terribly. But occasionally they could be seen enjoying each other’s company in public…) Like all parents, we hope our family remains close when the nest is someday empty!

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: sometimes siblings fight, sometimes there is harmony)

The new school year has started. Let’s applaud the students … and let’s encourage fellow parents, no matter which method of schooling they choose for their families!

I would love to encourage YOU. Please share your family’s chosen schooling path in the comments below.

The Best Things about Car Camping

As you know, Daughter and I spend much of our outdoor adventure time backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This involves sleeping in the woods—either in a small tent or in a primitive 3-walled shelter. (Read more about it HERE ) But occasionally, when we go on road trips, we are reminded of the glorious benefits of car camping.

“Car Camping”: driving to a place where you camp close to your car so loading and unloading is easy

Here are some of the best things  about driving to a campgrounds to spend a night outside:

COMFORT:

With no need to count every ounce that we must carry on our backs, we can enjoy the comfort of lounging in lawn chairs. To fight the bugs, we can easily bring a mosquito coil or even an entire screen house.

Macedon NY City park, mosquito coil and lawn chairs

Most campgrounds provide each site with a fire ring, wood for purchase, and a picnic table. No balancing on a log with dinner on our knees? Ahhhh…luxury!

Relaxing at Ohio Pyle State Park

A CAR IS HANDY:

When we head to a campsite with our car, we can bring a cooler filled with fresh food and cold drinks. We don’t have to worry about weight, so fruit and salad can be included along with hotdogs and buns, condiments, and, of course, ingredients for s’mores. Backpacking food gives us the fuel we need to hike; Car Camping food fills our bellies and our souls!

yummy, juicy food is possible when car camping

Having a car handy makes it easy to run to a nearby town for food, for entertainment, and for more ice for the cooler. The car becomes a huge locker to store all of the extra “stuff” we might need or want on our adventure. It also means we don’t have to hang a “bear bag” to keep critters away from our goodies. Hallelujah! (Read about the trials and tribulations of hanging a bear bag while backpacking HERE and HERE)

The back of the car is filled with stuff, including hikers who need a ride!

EXTRA FUN:

When we go on a backpacking adventure, the hiking itself is the primary “fun” of the trip. With car camping, we still have walking trails right outside our tent door. We can leisurely wander those paths for a few hours without the stress of pushing to get to the next flat ground to set up camp for the night.

National Parks have many locations for car camping 

With easy access to our car, we can also take advantage of entertainment in the surrounding area. We might take a canoe trip, explore a cave, do some antique shopping, or just go have dinner in a quirky restaurant. Having options is delightful!

Lots of opportunities for fun when car camping

BETTER SLEEP:

It is usually more comfortable to camp near our vehicle. We aren’t exhausted from a day of hiking up and down mountains, but we often sleep better with a few “luxuries.” We can bring our favorite pillows and blankets…

We can bring blankets and pillows from home when we car camp, Acadia NP

Sometimes we choose to bring our large tent which has space for … COTS! Not as comfy as a bed, but surely less hard than sleeping on the ground.

Sleeping on a cot when car camping is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground

Car Camping Comparison:

We prefer to spend extended time in the mountains and woods. That means we will continue backpacking and sleeping far from our vehicle. But occasional trips to a campground are still enjoyable. Some of our favorite parts of camping are available in both settings. We will never grow tired of waking up to bird-song and watching trees sway in the breeze from our tent “windows.”

We can still see trees from our tent when we are car camping

Sitting around a campfire is a perfect end to a day spent outdoors. When backpacking, we rarely have the energy to start a fire, plus most hikers are asleep by the time the sun sets. But sharing stories and laughing with friends around a crackling fire is a special treat whenever it happens.

Chairs, Tripod, and lots of food are possible at a campfire when car camping.

ALTERNATIVES:

Not sure if you want to “rough it” in a tent? Remember, many places have cozy alternatives. Consider renting a cabin at a state park. Or try more unusual options such as a caboose or a tepee. (Read about our Tepee Dreaming HERE ) On your next vacation, plan to sleep a night or two in NATURE!

Car camping is not only sleeping in tents, it includes alternate lodging as well.

I would love to know how YOU choose to spend time outdoors—whether you take a day-trip or spend a weekend sleeping in the woods. Let me know in the comments…

The Tiny-Mes Visit the Big Apple

We recently finished a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes, of course, joined us along with their new travel buddy, Tiny-Dox (TD). Today we tell the story of their adventures in the “Big Apple.” (If you missed their time in upstate NY and Maine, read about it HERE. To start at the beginning of our adventures with the Tiny-Mes, click HERE. )

When we got to New York City, we drove straight to our lodging on Far Rockaway. Our plan was to park the car, avoid traffic and use transit to get around the Big Apple. (Tiny-A is a growing teen who is always hungry—she wants to know why NYC has that funny nickname anyways?!) Both Tiny-Mes are a bit nervous about our navigation skills when there are no trails or white blazed trees to follow. They carefully studied the transit map to help decide the best mix of ferries and trains to get us to our chosen sight-seeing destinations.*

Tiny-Mes, Lego tourists, planning

Tiny-Dox (TD) took control of the ferry timetable. Who’s a good-boy?!

Doxie, Planning

We spent our first day following the path taken by floods of immigrants to the USA in the late 1800s. Good thing we had reservations—there are floods of tourists today. Lady Liberty is still the most iconic Welcome symbol in the world!

Big Apple icon

Tiny-Dox was adamant that we had to spend time exploring Ellis Island. After all, his ancestors might well have arrived at this entry point. Dachshunds ARE from Germany, you know! Tiny-A and Tiny-S were sad that THEIR ancestors arrived much earlier from Germany and Sweden and weren’t represented at Ellis Island…

Heritage, Ancestors, Lego, Dachshund

All of us enjoyed the ease of commuting by ferry to get to the Big Apple. The lower deck is enclosed, with plenty of seats, a snack bar, and plugs to recharge electronics. The Tiny-Mes enjoyed sprawling on the wide sill to stare out the huge windows. They were amazed at the container ships that lumbered past, looming above the ferry. They were thrilled by tiny boats with bright colored sails, and excited to go under famous bridges and gawk at the city skyline.

Lego travel buddies, East River, Big Apple

We all stayed dry inside when it poured down rain. But one sunny day, the Tiny-Mes begged to go up to the open top deck. They laughed at the gulls dancing above the ferry. BUT WAIT! Where is Tiny-Dox? Someone grab him, quick! It’s not safe to balance on the railing in the wind! Whew! Let’s go back downstairs…

Doxie, hudson river

After transferring ferries to travel further up the East River, we got off at the 34th Street Terminal. Entering the maze of tall skyscrapers with crowds rushing and taxi-horns blaring was overwhelming!** Tiny pocket-parks of green were a comfort. And the occasional statue or street art was entertaining. TD was quite excited when he saw this quirky Dalmatian statue. He ran around this way and that, trying to find a taxi to balance on HIS nose. Silly Doxie!

Doxie, Dogs rule!

We walked to find famous landmarks in the Big Apple. Grand Central Station is beautiful inside…but far less stressful to just enjoy it from a distance, away from the crowds. We noticed TD’s nose sniffing the air, but didn’t think anything of it. (Oops! Bad idea…)

 NYC transit, Lego travel buddies,

Oh, no! Come back, Tiny-Dox! He led us on a merry chase—dodging this way and that to sniff food truck after food truck and enjoy the wondrous scents coming from restaurants above and below street level. “Woof!” said TD when we finally caught up with him. He was right…that pizza was delicious!

Doxie, Dachshund foodie

Once every crumb of pizza was devoured, we insisted it was time to start moving again. We wanted to see the Empire State Building before rush hour clogged the streets and sidewalks with hordes of commuters. We walked block after block, but the icon never seemed to get any closer. Eventually, Tiny-S and Tiny-A sat on a step and refused to move. They insisted they needed something sweet to give them energy to continue. And Tiny-S claimed she *needed* to refill her coffee mug. Fortunately, we were close to a tiny bakery…

Dessert

Finally, we got to our destination. We loved the ornate, art-deco lobby. The Tiny-Mes preferred marveling over the sheer height of the building. (Daughter Andowen was excited to see the site of modern day Mt Olympus—made famous by Percy Jackson books…but that’s a story for another day!)

Big Apple icon, Lego tourists, Percy Jackson Mt Olympus

As we headed back to the ferry terminal, Andowen joined the Tiny-Mes in demanding yet another snack. (I guess teens and TMs are ALWAYS hungry!) This time we found a Tower of Fries…perhaps a fitting way to celebrate the many square miles of skyscrapers towering over this big city.

 Fancy Snacks, Sidewalk Cafe

Each evening, we enjoyed watching the city skyline pass by as we rode the ferry back to our lodgings. On the last night, we were a little sad to say Farewell to the Big Apple! We will be back again someday…but for now we are happy to be heading home. And Tiny-Dox is excited to get back to his family!

Big Apple skyline, East River, Tiny-Mes

NOTES:

*   Eventually we discovered there is a website to help plan effective travel in NYC once you get to town from the ferry. If you are ever a tourist in the Big Apple, you can find transit options HERE

** Read about how Andowen (and the rest of us) survived the chaos of the Big City HERE

Which is your favorite Big City to visit? I’d love to read your answer in the comments below!

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there? Drop your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

City Mouse — Country Mouse

Do you know the classic story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse? Each visited the other but hated what they found there.  They were afraid of the unknowns and stressed by the different sights and sounds when away from their home settings. Humans tend to be the same.

Are you a City Mouse? Perhaps you love the hustle and bustle of the Big City. There is always something going on—even late into the night. Everything is larger here—more people, more buildings, more cars, more noise. (I might like living in the middle of everything in a city…but I know I hate the suburbs, where everyone spends as many hours in their cars as if they lived in the country but without the laid-back lifestyle!) (Read about Nature Girl in the Big City HERE )

City Mouse, Urban Gray

City Mouse, Transit, City Nights

Are you a Country Mouse? Perhaps you enjoy the peace of rural living. The only traffic jams are getting stuck behind slow farm equipment during planting and harvesting seasons. Fewer people mean each one is acknowledged, at least by “throwing up a hand” to wave as you drive past. A slower pace and a more direct connection with nature allow the Country Mouse to watch the seasons change and notice weather patterns. Yes, you really CAN smell the rain moving toward you across the fields!

Kokosing River, Country Mouse, Bridge

Seasons Change, Country Mouse

For humans, I suspect that cities are even more jarring places than they are for a little Country Mouse. As I’ve mentioned before (HERE and HERE), humans need regular time in Nature. This is harder to find in a Big City. Studies have shown that even the colors we look at affect our moods:

“Our eyes weren’t designed to look at cityscapes… Studies on the effect of colours on emotions have shown that we find the blues and greens of nature the most restful. They make us less anxious and reduce our stress. The greys of an urban scene, however, have been shown to make us unhappier and more aggressive.” (p 172, Forest-Bathing by Dr. Qing Li)

Are you wondering who I am? I enjoyed many years of being a Country Mouse. And I enjoy visiting the Big City occasionally—knowing I will soon be back to my rural life. But I have a confession to make: I love my Small-Town living best of all. Seems to me, I get the best of both worlds—slower pace, few traffic jams, close to parks and nature but also walkable to many shops, plus more activities available than I have time to attend! And, with plenty of porches that people actually use, there is always someone to chat with on a summer evening. (Read about some of our local discoveries HERE )

Summer Living, Small Town

I’m a Small-Town Mouse…Which one are YOU?! (Drop me a line in the comments below…)

Tepee Dreams

Have you ever dreamed of sleeping in a tepee? For many of us, tepees and Indians on horseback were one of the mythic stories from our childhood. In the past six months, daughter A and I have had the opportunity to sleep in a tepee not just once but twice!

Tipi, Tepee, Teepee

The first time we were in a tepee was in the backyard of Woodchuck Hiker Hostel in Damascus, VA. (More details HERE ) On our recent Epic Road Trip, we stayed at the Devils Tower Tipi Camping near the National Monument inWY. (More details HERE ) At both locations, we enjoyed wandering the surrounding areas. Damascus, VA is a friendly small town with restaurants, outfitters, parks, and a little library. At Devils Tower I explored their private land, ending up on a point with deep, red-rocked canyons falling away on each side and the Devils Tower rock formation floating on the horizon in front of me.

Devils Tower National Monument

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Sleeping in a Tepee is a form of primitive camping…not a hotel or “glamping.” Although tepees bring feelings of romance and adventure, there is nothing glamorous about sleeping on the ground in a structure with no screens, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. The Devils Tower Tipi Camping location includes a small table, a bench out front, a propane stove and lantern, and filtered water. For an extra fee, the owner will set up a mattress and nice bedding inside the tepee. Otherwise, it is typical to provide your own camping gear bedding. For us, a tepee is a special treat since it is much fancier and larger than our tiny backpacking tent.

Primitive Camping, Tipi, Teepee, Tepee

If it rains, when you sleep in a Tepee everything will get damp. Unlike a cabin, a tepee lacks a shingled roof to keep out the rain. Unlike a tent, a tepee has no rainfly. There is a hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the traditional fire in the center of the tepee floor. If big storms are coming, there is some protection by adjusting the high flaps. Even if no rain falls directly into the tepee, the moisture in the air makes your bedding and clothes feel damp. Yes, this was a worry for me. On the other hand, I loved the art and symmetry of looking up to the roof peak!

tipi, teepee, tepee, vent, poles

If the forecast predicts a cold night, bundle up! Because tourist tepees have no fire in the middle of the floor or electricity for a heater, when it gets cold outside, you need to have proper gear to stay warm. We used our sleeping pads (insulation from the cold ground), plus sleeping bags rated to 20 degrees, plus layers of sleeping clothes. This is the same thing we do on cold nights in our tent. The biggest difference is that a tepee is too large of an area for your body heat to keep it warm through the night. The tepee in Damascus had double-walls which add to the insulation value of the structure. 

tipi, teepee, tepee, floor sleeping, canvas walls

Figure out how to adjust the tepee to deal with various weather conditions. As mentioned above, if it is cold, close the top vent and hope that there are double canvas walls. If it is rainy, close the top flaps. If it is extremely hot, open the vent at the top of the tepee and roll up the side walls to leave a gap at the bottom of the walls. This flexibility is an advantage of both tents and tepees in contrast to staying in a cabin.

tipi, teepee, tepee

And one bonus only found when sleeping in a tepee: We enjoy waking up in the mornings in a tent, with sunlight glowing through the walls and hearing birds singing. Some tepees add another layer of magic. When there are pictures and animals painted on the outside walls, the bright sun makes it appear like the images are watching over us as we wake up. And going to sleep with others still sitting around a campfire outside, makes the ghostly images “dance” on the tepee walls. I’ve thought about painting a few animals on our backpacking tent…if only I could figure out how to do that without risking damage to the waterproofing!

tipi, teepee, tepee, wall paintings

In our wandering, we have discovered other structures that would be interesting to spend some time in. Someday I hope to stay in a yurt…and a treehouse…and even an earth lodge.

mandan, knife river nhs

Have you ever slept in an unusual structure? I would love to hear about your experience! Please share in the comments below…

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