Making Time for Nature

One of my favorite environmental quotations goes as follows:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive…”  ~Edward Abbey*

These are the words of wisdom I try to remind myself of when I am having a moral crisis over what sort of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store (Plastic vs. Glass??  High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Palm Oil??  Too many decisions!).  While I absolutely want to work as hard as I can to understand and conserve the natural world, I also want to take time to walk around in the woods!  When I am working out in the field, I try and remind myself to stick my toes in the water or gush over a particularly adorable weevil.  This helps keep the balance in my life.  

Lett Lake, Snow Mt. Wilderness Area, 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that requires as much outdoor time as mine does.  Heck, even for those of us that work outside, having unstructured outdoor play time is really important.  Remember, just because you are playing, doesn’t mean you aren’t learning or growing.  How do you think kids learn?  Through play, naturally.  Playing in nature, whatever play means to you, is a great first step to exploration, questioning, and eventual understanding.  The question becomes, how do we fit hours into our busy schedules for outdoor recreation and soul-feeding fresh air?  I am currently on a quest to answer this question in my own busy life.  In an effort to make it happen, my partner and I (editor’s note: Meridith and her partner, too!) have committed to hiking once a week every week.  The life experiment is set to run for the summer (May thru August).  For us, there are no rules aside from “get outside and walk!”  I’m hoping to see some new places and explore spaces nearby that I have under appreciated or overlooked.  As of today, we have gone on a walk-about all but one of the weeks we intended! Not bad overall, and we are only getting started! Would you like to get your outdoor adventure one?  Here are my strategies for making it happen!

     
STS Guide to Making Time for Nature

Schedule Your Nature Time
You schedule your classes, your work week, and time to hang out with friends.  As busy people, most of us know that if an activity doesn’t merit a spot in our calendars, it isn’t likely to happen.  So, pick a time and place and pencil in your next outdoor adventure now!  

Multitask (sort of)
Meridith likes to multitask by visiting
 Joshua Tree NP AND looking fabulous.

No, I don’t mean you should be checking your email while you are out on the trail.  I do mean you should make this time do double duty in your life.  Have you been wanting to read that novel, but cannot find the time?  Bring along an audio book and headphones on your next hike. Heck, you can even listen to a sweet science podcast! Have a friend with whom you need to have a life update?  Bring them with you on your evening walk!  Been meaning to find quiet time alone for yourself?  Do a little yoga or meditation by the lake, or, you know, just sit and watch the bugs on the grass.  I think this could be an especially useful tactic for the busy parents in the crowd.  Spend time with your kids and get them tuckered out simultaneously!  Your time in nature can be just nature time, but it can also be friend time, family time, personal development time, or just you time.

Don’t Get Preoccupied with Exercise
I am 100% completely guilty of this sometimes.  I think this is obvious based on my own personal goal to “hike once each week.”  Exercise keeps me centered, and this is often how I multitask my nature time.  And, sure, getting out into nature can be a wonderful way to get some exercise and breath some fresh air.  Is hiking to the top of a mountain superior to driving out to a lake and having a picnic?  I don’t think so.  It really depends on what you like and what you are trying to get out of this time.  Importantly, you can get different things out of nature at different times.  Sometimes it’s a calorie burn and sometimes its a peaceful nap.

Our local spot:  Stebbins Cold Canyon, UC NRS
Think Local
National Parks are amazing, and there is a reason that Ken Burns called them “America’s Best Idea.”  I’m sure Ken would agree that America has had some other really good ideas, like these cookies,(most) of these famous internet cats, and the numerous state and regional parks across the great ol’ US of A.  Just Google “State parks of (your state name here)” and you will be well on your way!  You can also go straight to Google Maps and type in “State Park.”  Don’t forget to do a little internet sleuthing about regional parks, open space areas, land trust zones, wildlife areas, or Bureau of Land Management Areas (BLM Areas).  Meridith and I particularly love finding new BLM areas because these are public lands, meaning when you find one designated for recreation, you can camp for free!  You might find a gem you didn’t even know about within your 20 mile radius.  That is totally within striking distance, even for the most over-committed weekend warrior!    

Expand Your Concept of Nature
Take the suggestion above, and go even further.  Sure, nothing really beats being in a large natural area like a park (national or otherwise).  However, the green belt running through my town is beautiful, and I love walking and running along it.  Does your town have a green belt?  Do you even know what a green belt is?  You can also check out local arboretums and botanical gardens.  Find a local green space and play some Frisbee or lay in the grass!  Don’t get me wrong, if I could, I would be at Olympic National Park every single day, but I can’t.  I can, however, take a walk through the restored riparian area along the local drainage ditch anytime I want.  Even if you live right down the road from some great regional, state, or national parks, I would encourage you to take a little bit of time to explore these non-traditional nature experiences.

Build to Something Bigger
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I am super goal oriented.  For me, setting a goal encourages me to do things I would never have made time for otherwise.  For example my 10-year goal to see all the US National Parks has resulted in numerous adventures that I’m not sure I would have facilitated otherwise.  Just two weeks ago, our household goal to hike once a week this summer lead us to take a short detour to Point Reyes National Seashore after attending a family graduation.  Giving your everyday actions context in the larger picture of you life gets you jazzed and propels you out the door.  And that, really, is what it’s all about.


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So there you have it! What are your plans for getting outside this summer? Any big outdoor oriented goals you want to share?



*Emphasis is my own

Eco-Inspiration: Love Letter to the USA National Parks

Olympic NP, July 2012.  Holds the distinction of
being my FAVORITE NP.

I know I’m late to the party, but I hope that everyone had an amazing holiday weekend and a great 4th of July.  If you are a puppy, or if you love a puppy, then I hope that Thursday wasn’t too stressful for you!  I always think the 4th of July is really interesting, and I do try to take time and reflect on things that I really appreciate about the USA.  I know we aren’t a perfect country, but we are a country of big bold ideas.  And one of the biggest and boldest of those ideas is the American National Park Service and the system of parks they manage.  I am absolutely in love with visiting national parks, and as of 2010, I made it my 10-year goal to see all of my country’s national parks.  A lofty goal, perhaps.  A worthy journey, most certainly.

The National Park Service does a lot more than just manage the 59 recognized national parks in the system. They also look after national lake shores, battlefields, historic sites, heritage areas, sea shores, rivers and so much more (get a full list here)!  But, as that bring the count of parks to see way (way) up, my goal is just to see the 59 official parks.  As I am writing this, I can say I have been to 16 parks and driven through another two, though I don’t plan to count those unless it comes down to the wire.  I have plans to visit Alaska, which boasts a high score of 8 national parks, once I finish my PhD.  So, between then and now, I guess I have to see the rest!

Great Smoky Mts. NP, April 2009
Great Smoky Mts. NP, April 2009

The rest of this post will just be pictures from each park I’ve visited.  The thing that inspires me about the US national parks, and why they make me truly proud to be an American, is their diversity and the respect they inspire.  There are so many different species, vistas, and ecosystems protected under the same governmental system!  What’s more, every time I visit a national park, I hear three or more different languages being spoken.  Tourists from all over the nation and all over the world recognize the significance and importance of the US national parks.  These places can inspire us all.  They most certainly inspire me.  So, happy late Independence Day.  Take a listen to Woody Guthrie, and gander at my current progress toward my favorite long-term goal.

Carlsbad Caverns NP, July 2012

Grand Canyon NP, Oct 2010.  Impossible to get a picture to do the
GC justice…so you have to look at my face.

Joshua Tree NP, March 2010.  FYI, that’s a J-tree.
Petrified Forest NP, Aug 2009
Yosemite NP, July 2010.  Also the most adorable picture of my parents EVER. 
                
Sequoia NP, June 2011
Sequoia NP, June 2011.  My boo, big tree.

Mammoth Cave NP, July 2012.  Pictured: Disappearing River
Zion NP, July 2012.  Hiking the Narrows.
Arches NP, July 2012.  Landscape Arch, can you see the part that most recently fell off?
Rocky Mt. NP, July 2012
Yellowstone NP, July 2012.  My girl Meridith, ridge walking.
Yellowstone, NP.  July 2012.

Glacier NP, July 2012.  Hidden Lake with Bear’s Tail in the foreground.  
Redwoods NP, Aug 2012.  The Chelsea is for scale.
Mt. Ranier NP, Aug 2012

Mt. Ranier NP, Aug 2012.  The best wildflowers.

Guest Blog: Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail

This is my little sister, Sara!!!!

Note from Rachel:  I’m really excited today to have the very first guest post of this blog’s (short) history!  Allow me to introduce my kid sister, Sara.  When I describe her to people I usually give these stats:  she’s a scientist, she plays competitive roller derby, she’s way smarter than me, and she’s one of the coolest people you could ever meet.  She just graduated with a BS in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Wildlife Management from my alma mater Western Kentucky University.  In college, she had some pretty amazing adventures and some really cool scientific experiences.  Check out this write-up of her long-term internship with the National Parks Service and this article about an African wildlife management course she participated in last summer (here is a video about the course…she’s basically the star).  After her graduation and the completion of her honor’s thesis this spring (she examined song bird use of restored old-fields), she decided to take a much deserved break from the world.  And what better way to get away from it all  than to go hiking, right?  

Never really known for moderation, my sister doesn’t just decided to go camping for a few weeks.  No, no.  She decides to hike about 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  And, because I think a big portion of this blog should always be dedicated to enjoying nature, I’ve asked her to write a few guest posts along the way.  So here you go.  Two girls, two hammocks, one dog, and about a million trees.  What could go wrong?  

Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail- 6/29/13


Hello!  To avoid starting my own blog to later abandon, I will be sharing my summer 2013 adventures on my sister’s already established blog- thanks Rachel!

We (Holly, our 4 legged friend Annie, our gracious chauffeur Nathan,  and myself) started our adventure on June 19th.  We left KY and headed up to New York City to see my friend, the incredible Austin Brown. While there, we visited The Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and the Stonewall Inn. On Sunday, June 23rd, we left New York and headed to Harper’s Ferry, WV to start our two month, 600 mile, trek through the woods of Appalachia.  Nathan dropped us off just before night fell, and the three of us were on our way!

After a rough first night (rain and a tree falling on Holly and Annie), we had a great first day on the trail. There is nothing like waking up in the woods. We walked about 10 miles our first day, even with a stop to hide from a pretty bad summer storm (Note from Rachel:  Sara’s current Facebook status is, “All it does is rain on the Appalachian Trail”). The first night we staying in David Lesser Memorial Shelter camping area, which had plenty of good hammock hanging trees (our means of “shelter”).

Holly, with the tree that feel on her on day one!

The next morning, we started “the roller coaster,” a 13.5 mile stretch of tightly packed accents and descents. I had heard that days 2 and 3 are the worst days of adjustment for long distance hikers.  So that, added to the roller coaster, made for a pretty intense first week. Luckily, for every accents there is a view, making for a beautiful first few days.  By day 4 we had our trail legs. We started the day with the end of the roller coaster, and soon doubled our mile time. By the end of the day we’d hiked over 15 miles and got to see Sky Meadows State Park, which put a huge smile on everyone’s face.

Sara looking out over Sky Meadows

We made it to Front Royal by day 5 and hitch-hiked into town (sorry Mom!). It was out first hitching experience but getting picked up in a trail town with packs on your back isn’t very hard. We got a ride to Nate’s Garage, owned by Holly’s friends, who opened their home to us for the weekend. From the garage, we went to Lucky Star, the local bar they frequent. It was a very cool place; we quickly put the killing on some nachos and beer and met a ton of new friends.

The next morning, everyone woke up with a headache, but we were still ready to go for a paddle on the Shenandoah River. After scoring some free grub by crashing a graduation party (just kidding, we were invited), we launched our boat to paddle 10+ miles. This was a great way to spend our first zero day (zero day= zero miles hiked in long distance trekker speak).  We got to rest our hiking muscles, while working out the only muscles we’ve been neglecting!

Paddling the Shenandoah River
Annie contemplating her float.

Nate and Liz have been so great to us, not to mention they live in one of the prettiest places I’ve been in the eastern US.  I’d love to make it back here someday.  We are having a lazy Sunday, resting up and resupplying. We plan to get back on the trail later on today (Sunday June 29) and head on towards Waynesboro, VA.

Blog Spot:  Annie’s Trail

Trail Dog!

Our little puppy friend, Annie, is having a blast! She loves the woods and it has brought out a new side to her personality. The shy, skittish puppy who left KY has a different sort of confidence about her.  She has decided she’s our protector and lets everyone we meet know it- growling until we reprimand her. She was so protective from the very first day we decided AT stood for “Annie’s Trial.”  She has gotten the most trail magic so far, mostly in the form if food scraps, and she’s made lots of puppy friends.  She has enjoyed her zero days but did not enjoy the river, she’s a trail dog I guess.  Everything she does amuses us! She’s been a great addition to the company.