Thankful for the Experiences of Starting the Day in the Woods

Day 2,047

Instead of our normal run I opted for waking up a little earlier than usual and went for a hike. The woods were dark when I entered but quickly started to lighten up. The weather was just about perfect and there was no one else on the trail when I started.

Just a little ways into the hike I encountered something I have never experienced. An owl started hooting loudly and almost immediately there was a response from another owl. The hooting then got more intense, more rapid, and higher pitched. There was just enough light that I could make out the shape of one owl flying towards another on a branch. Both owls spread their wings to increase the size and they were so close together I could not make out where one stopped and the other started. Within a second the one on the branch took off like a shot and the other took its place. The one that had flown was easily trackable against the dark blue pre-dawn sky and I watched as it settled into a new location. It was awesome!!! I could not believe the luck I had to see such an event.

I then walked up and down the valleys while listening to both the bird songs and their echoes. The sound bounced and resonated through the coulees and added a little extra beauty to the music. I was surprised to hear the changes in the types of birds as the minutes ticked by, it was almost like each species had their own alarms set.

Along the path I scared up a deer. He was well off the trail by the time I saw him. I slowed my pace and was rewarded with an encounter with two more deer, neither or which were startled. It seems as if they know there was no threat to them from me and we spent a few seconds just enjoying the sight of each other before I got back to my trail and they slowly walked and ate.

The woodpeckers all kicked in at about 5:35 and were going hardcore for a good 10-15 minutes. There were at least three different types based on what I saw and observed with their pecking patterns and sounds. A few times I just paused and watched them go to town on top of a dead tree, so entranced by watching them do what woodpeckers were made to do. I was lost in a state of awe watching their heads pile drive into the tree over and over again in rapid succession while also remembering that their tongues wrap around their brains to provide extra cushion. That’s legit, look it up 🙂

By the time I’d reached the top of the bluff and started heading down the sun was up and the woods were as light as ever. Thinking I had enjoyed pretty much all I would see I was left in quite the state of shock when I came across three different deer. They were also not at all spooked by me and took their time crossing the trail. We slowly watched each other as we went our separate ways, me descending, they heading up the bluff. In many ways it felt like going to church, seeing and acknowledging the people you know by sight and haven’t had a conversation with, but you’ve always both smiled at each other. We shared what seemed to be an acknowledgement of each others company, four beings enjoying the wonder of the woods.

My morning was so enriched by the time in the woods. The sights, the sounds, the smells, all of my senses except taste enjoyed the journey. Throughout the day there was a different level of calm I carried with me, a peace which can only be found by spending time in the woods.

I was so struck by it that I used my lunch time as an opportunity to hike a very short distance into the bluffs near my office, put up my hammock, relax and eat lunch, enjoy more of the woods, and then head back to the office in almost exactly 60 minutes. That extra dose of the outdoors time only enhanced my day further.

Late in the morning some friends were texting about current affairs and all I could do was laugh. I responded with a text sharing that I feel like I’m living in a different world and shared all I had seen in my morning hike. I can only imagine so many of the ills of our world would be slowly solved over generations if we all paused to get outside and experience a sense of awe in the outdoors. I know, I’m totally biased on this one, but there are so many wonderful benefits to being outside more often. This was proven to me multiple times today.

So many incredible experiences seemingly in my own backyard on an early morning hike. What a perfect way to start the day!

Thanks!!!

Thankful for a Beautiful Winter Run in the Spring and Making Maple Syrup

Day 2,028

This morning Becky and I went for our long training run for the week. When Becky picked our half marathon it was in the hopes of being able to get some nice trail runs in with some nice Spring weather. As we all know now, that hasn’t really been the case. Due to Mother Nature’s insistence on extending Winter we’ve had neither trail runs (too wet & muddy) nor nice weather (unless you really enjoy 20+ mph winds and temperatures below 20).

The run this morning started off ridiculously frigid as we ran directly into the stiff wind as the snow pelted us in the face. I, as the big dumb animal I sometimes am known to be, opted for shorts in this 20 degree weather which felt like 9 including wind chill. Not my brightest move. The first couple of miles were pretty rough.

Becky had the idea to take a gravel side road through the woods to cut down on the wind. We were immediately significantly warmer due to the woods breaking up the gusts of wind. The road we were on went alongside the Jump River intermittently and gave us some spectacular scenery. There were several turkeys, ducks, pheasants, and a pair of turkey vultures joining us occasionally. At one point Becky and I had a couple of horses in a field joining us from their side of the fence. Everything was so peaceful and chill, it was exactly why I enjoy getting into the woods. I was realizing how the “marathon monks” are really onto the right idea with the running meditations. My favorite part of the scenery was a specific bend in the Jump River. The woods opened up and the river was on full display with a high embankment on the other side making it feel a lot like being up in the UP of Michigan (which we’re really not that far from). It was awesome!

Yes, the weather and conditions were less than ideal. That said, as is the case with anything in life, it is up to each of us to choose where we put our focus and the lens through which we view the world around us. I chose to focus on the beauty of the outdoors, the time in the woods, and the appreciation of doing something out in the wild with Becky. Totally one of my favorite activities in the world.

After we got back and showered up I had an opportunity to help my in laws make maple syrup. They were kind enough to save about 50 gallons of sap to boil down specifically with us. The timing hasn’t worked out in the past for us to help and participate in this activity in the past, I was so pumped to help out this time around!

The entire process was incredible to experience. The time and energy it took to boil out all the water out of the sap to go from 50 gallons of sap to just over a gallon of syrup was wild! Throughout we took out samples, tested the sugar content, and kept the sap boiling. In addition to the fun of observing the process I got a ton of bonus time with my father in law, always something I appreciate. Having the opportunity to shoot the bull with him was awesome, he had me smiling and laughing the entire time. I can’t begin to put into words how much I appreciate my father in law, he’s amazing in so many ways!

Being able to say I helped to make syrup still has me smiling. Each time I gobble up some maple syrup I’ll be sure to remember all the work that goes into making it and will be even more grateful for everyone who made it for us.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,979 – Thankful for Creating Space in Nature in a City

I am currently sitting outside our hotel and convention center. If I look with my eyes there are people everywhere, buildings, concrete, fake grass, and palm trees with 2×4 board supports. Anything but being outside in nature. The smell of chlorine, food, and cigarette smoke linger in the air. The breeze blows the sounds of people talking, traffic, and rushing water from the water park towards me and into my ears.

I can choose to focus on this if I wish. If I choose nothing specific to put my attention towards they suffocate my senses. They lock me into a place I don’t find peace, the put me into a self selected purgatory of sorts.

I have made the choice to not see it, to not hear it, to not smell it. I am outside, under the sun, and in nature.

I close my eyes and think about my recent walk around the large pond. Though it may technically be a retaining pool it was a treasure trove of the outdoors for me. The only sounds I heard were those of turtles splashing into the water as I walked by, the wings of birds propelling themselves across the lake in search of fish, and the quiet stillness of the breeze. I don’t see the traffic on the nearby interstate, I choose to see all the miracles of nature in the water. So many birds, fish, and turtles. No gators like earlier in the day, but still so much to see.

I am thankful for the reminder today of how being out in nature is a mindset that is ours to choose and seek out, even when surrounded by people and in urban areas. It’s all a matter of intentionally choosing what I want to focus my thoughts and energy on.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,975 – Thankful for Driving On Snowy Roads

This may sound crazy, but I’m thankful for snowy roads today. My commute to Eau Claire was a bit longer than usual due to the road conditions. Between snow, ice, & wind the speeds in all directions were significantly slower than usual. This led to a couple of unexpected benefits.

Thanks to the slickness of the roads I knew I’d be in for a long ride. With that mindset I calmed way down, accepted whatever was thrown my way, and I could feel my blood pressure drop. It was so much more relaxing when I knew I was in no hurry. Instead I leaned into the slower pace and totally chilled while driving.

The extra time in the car also helped me make some serious progress on the next book I’ve been reading. With the added calmness I felt as if I were able to retain significantly more than usual which was great! There was also time to pause, reflect, plan, and then get back to the book itself. Bonus reading time!

Sure, it’s not ideal, but if I choose the right mindset there’s even something to be thankful for on snowy roads.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,966 – Thankful for Camping with My Boys and Sleeping Outdoors, Even When It’s -5f

The temperature yesterday was a little chilly. The lowest I saw was -5 degrees with the windchill dropping the feel to about -16. A little cool, but nothing to get in the way of having a great time in the woods with my boys. We went for an outing with Scouts and the cold air only added to the fun and memorableness. We also learned a few lessons along the way, like the fact that butane tanks don’t like to stay pressurized in the extreme cold… and that the tanks can be warmed up to the right temperature by putting them against your chest inside a pair of bibs and jacket with a couple of hand warmers for about 15-20 minutes.

I’m always grateful for time in the woods with my family. Sharing my happy place with those I love is amongst my favorite activities. Whether camping, hiking, traveling, snowshoeing, running, or anything – time outside in nature with my family is always rewarding, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate or is less than ideal.

Last night we laughed, enjoyed time together, and stayed warm. While I rested in my solo tent with a double layer of tarps and a triple sleeping bag set up I kept smiling while listening to the laughing coming from the boys’ tent next to me. They were joking around and goofing off just the way kids are supposed to. Doing it outside in crazy weather made it all the more perfect. Times together like this will hopefully continue to instill a passion for time in the wilderness for both of them.

Not gonna lie, at one point it got so warm I had to unzip my sleeping bags and cool off!

Thanks!!!

Day 1,876 – Thankful for Dominic’s Courage to Do Anything

Dominic is starting to work on his Eagle Scout project. The potential project includes creating a dog park in our neighborhood. The first step before he can even put his proposal together is to ask all the nearby home owners if they would be okay with that.

No worries, Dominic just put on his Scout uniform, grabbed his notepad, and started knocking on doors. How wild is that? Even better, he doesn’t know who more than half the people are! Dominic is basically going out and doing cold calls voluntarily in support of a good cause.

That simple action makes me so proud. It’s be so easy to take the easy way out and find a different project, use a over, or some other form of communication. Nope, he’s grabbing the bull by the horns and has received some tremendous feedback already.

One more reason I’m proud of Dominic, he understands that some of the best things in life lay well beyond the point of discomfort. Never give in to fear when courage is the right answer.

Super proud of you dude! Love you bud!

Thanks!!!

Day 1,873 – Thankful for Walking Meditation and Stillness in the Woods

Rather than boarding a flight to an ocean beach I was wandering the woods in the snow. Quite the contrast, right? I was exactly where I should be.

Becky and I spent most of our morning at Pike’s Peak outside of MacGregor, Iowa. Due to the cold weather and snowfall we were amongst the few in the entire park. Once we were more than 100 yards from the observation area we never saw another soul.

I drew in breaths of fresh autumn air through my nose and concentrated on soaking in each exquisite little detail of the sights and sensations around me. The bright red leaves and even more scarlet berries of one type of plant. The drops of water resting on the waxy underside of oak leaves. Each little “brick” in the elaborate lattice work of the limestone rock outcroppings. The sensation of the cool winter-ish breeze and snow rushing against my face and tickling the hairs of my beard. The lighting of the woods shifting and transforming as the sun danced amongst the clouds. The music of Becky’s voice as we shared our joys of the wilderness. Each step. Each breath. Each individual second. Pure magic, pure joy.

Our morning was spent in a walking meditation in the stillness of the woods. Exactly where I was called to be in those moments.

If this were my last day I would go peacefully, full of joy, fully satisfied, and with a heart full of love. Today I have lived.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,868 – Thankful for Taking Advantage of the Unseasonably Warm November Weather

Wow!!! How awesome is this weather??? Comfortably hiking in a t-shirt and shorts at the end of the first week of November? This is amazing!

Throughout the day we’ve been working on maximizing our time outside. As I blog I’m sitting on our deck and enjoying the smells of fall leaves. Earlier we took the dogs for a walk in the sun. Lunch was grilled and eaten outside. We hit Perrot State Park to enjoy the perfect hiking weather. This has been AMAZING!!!

One of my biggest goals this year was to maximize my time spent outdoors. Unseasonably warm weather like this makes it all the easier to follow through on that goal.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,857 – Thankful for Scenic Hiking Side Trips

Day 1,857 – Thankful for Scenic Hiking Side Trips

Becky had a brilliant idea for our trip to Madison this morning. She grabbed her Wisconsin State Parks map and found a couple parks we’ve never explored just off the beaten path we were traveling.

Talk about enjoying the journey and not just the destination!

Nothing like almost empty state parks early on a fall morning shortly after the sunrise. Fresh and crisp autumn air, a cool breeze, and the smell of forests and leaves were all around us as we saw beautiful vistas and fantastic rock formations.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,856 – Thankful for a Stunning Sunrise and a Serendipitous Shelf Shuffle

Day 1,856 – Thankful for a Stunning Sunrise and a Serendipitous Shelf Shuffle

The drive up the Mississippi River Valley was so stunning I felt compelled to pull over and grab a picture. The steam was again rising from the river into the cool air while the sky was positively pink and purple in one direction and blue and orange in the other.

When a day starts like this there is no doubt it will be a great one should I choose to carry the stillness of that moment into my day.

Later in the afternoon I was looking for a book on my shelf. In the process of looking I moved a couple of books around. For some reason my eyes were drawn to the back of How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. Most books have a summary on the back, but this one had a quote instead:

Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.

Jim Collins

Sometimes the world is trying to help us hear the message we really need at a specific time. Other times it goes so far as to tie it to another message – in this case the irony of the title in the context of a recent challenge. Regardless, I am very thankful for the serendipitous shuffling of books on my shelf today!

Thanks!!!