Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Little Piece of Swampy Heaven

To celebrate Andrew's and I's Wetlands Week, I'm going to gush on reason #532381 that I love the Saint Louis Zoo: the Cypress Swamp (or, Erin's Thinkin' Place).

The 1904 World's Fair Flight Cage is the one of only two standing structures left from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (yes, it's true! The World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park wasn't built until 1910. The Art Museum is actually the other building). The people of St. Louis loved the aviary so much that it was purchased from the Smithsonian and handed over to the Saint Louis Zoological Society (which was, and still is, municipal supported) and became one of the cornerstones of the Zoo as it is today.

In 2004, the walk through aviary received a major facelift and became the Cypress Swamp. Missouri and Southern Illinois are part of the Mississippi delta and boast some of the most beautiful wetlands in the United States; the Cypress Swamp is a beautiful ambassador to the majesty of these rapidly declining wetlands.

The thing is, before people realized wetlands were really great at keeping upland places dry and biodiverse, they were basically seen as mosquito factories with no applicable value (a detrimental thought process that proved to be a huge mistake on Florida's part, which I'll write about later this week!). However, because wetlands are great places for nutrients to gather as groundwater gets recycled, when drained the land becomes excellent farmland with nutrient-rich soil. As agrarian as the Midwest (and North America in general) is, one can see how it is that wetlands themselves are on the verge of extinction. 

Today we know so much more about the necessity, both inherent and applicable, of watersheds and wetlands and yet the public perception surrounding the importance of these places still has a long way to go. The Cypress Swamp is an excellent retreat as well as an essential educational tool.

Boasting a variety of  native Facultative (can do equally well with or without water innundation), Obligate (must be inundated at least part of the year), and Upland (don't do so hot being submerged) plants, the Cypress Swamp greets you as an oasis of green. Upon entering, the sights, sounds, and smells of a Cypress Wetland surround zoo visitors while various North American native birds go about their business in the aviary.

Egrets, Ibis, Green Herons, Night Herons, Canvasback, Ruddy, and Wood ducks are just some of the birds encountered swimming in the water, walking on the boardwalk, or watching from the trees. One of my favorite species of bird, the Double Crested Cormorant, even has a few locals taking up residence. It's amazing how many people living in Missouri and Southern Illinois had no idea that these interesting birds lived in the area - often I hear "are they from Africa?" or they assume these came from China, where other species of cormorants call home. The three cormies in the Swamp have especially big personalities and are found most often sitting near (or on!) the boardwalk as if they themselves are just passing through on a leisurely visit. 

By far, the most colorful birds in the Cypress Swamp are the Roseate Spoonbills. Although only found once in a blue moon in the Midwest, these pink birds are very common in southern wetlands. I remember being excited at seeing one in the wild when I moved to Tampa for college - previously, I had only seen them at the Zoo! The Spoonbills are probably one of the best named birds (can you see why?). They use their spoon-like bills to scoop up aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small fish from shallow water and gain their pink plumage the same way flamingos do - caratenoids from their diet. Currently, there is a pair nesting in the Swamp. The morning is my favorite time to be in the Swamp - the birds are active, the shade is plentiful, and the air is cool. It's a very peaceful time and maybe one of the most serene experiences found at the Zoo. 

Of course, 16 or so species of birds and various species of plants an ecosystem does not make. To compensate for the lack of biodiversity within the Cypress Swamp, there are interactive exhibits and signage that weaves a tale of how wetlands provide homes for a variety of different kinds of life. Pressing a hand to a sign, one can hear the call of a Bald Eagle, or feel the heat generated by a patch of Skunk Cabbage, find a Swamp Rabbit, or watch an Alligator Snapping Turtle blow bubbles in the water (not adequately represented: the fact that they facilitate oxygen through their cloaca, i.e, breathe out their butt). The Cypress Swamp wouldn't live up to its name if it didn't represent the pneumataphores (knees) of cypress trees sticking up out of the water (these knees help plants, like cypress and mangroves, to take in oxygen despite being rooted underwater). There's a soft groundspace to stand on, where one can feel what a wetland's soil is like standing on top of. It's kind of bouncy because the soil is so inundated. And the smell! The smell of wet, decaying plant matter, although offensive to some, is earthy and refreshing to me. 

People think I'm crazy that a swamp - one of those icky, nasty, bug filled stink factories - is one of my favorite places to be, but really I'm just simulating the experience of the grandeur of a real swamp until the time comes when I have the time and income to explore the wild wetlands of the world myself. I love educating people about the importance of wetlands* and I urge, for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of these beautiful, mysterious, and oh-so important ecosystems, that you go out and explore a swamp as soon as possible. Take pictures. Wade in the muck. Look for birds, and mammals, and dragonflies, and try to figure out which plants need to live in water and which ones don't. Explore. And if you can't do that, you're always welcome to visit me at the Zoo. You know where to find me. 

* There is another part of the Zoo, on River's Edge, that is supposed to be a Missouri Ozark cabin. It talks about the importance of wetlands and how flooding can be alleviated by wetlands (which act as a natural sponge for rainwater and flooding), but rarely is used to its full potential. It's on my to-do list.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hiking the Lists #2: Horicon NWR

Hike: #2
Title: Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Horicon NWR, near Waupun, WI
Hike list: Wisconsin
Difficulty: Mostly Easy
Duration of Hike: Walking straight through takes about an hour. Longer if you linger on the floating boardwalk looking for birds.

You can't go many places in Wisconsin without encountering somewhere affected by a glacier. When most people think about glacially influenced topography, they look up towards the eskers, kames, and moraines. However, it's not just rocky ridges that the glaciers influenced. Kettle lakes, bogs, and other wetlands were created by the retreating glaciers.

The wetlands of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge are the remnants of an ancient glacial lake. It one of only 22 wetlands in the United States that is considered a "Wetland of International Importance". It is home to thousands of birds living in its wetlands, prairies, and small tracts of woods, as well as temporary respite for many more thousands of migratory birds. If you are a avid bird watcher, this is somewhere you've probably either been, or wish to visit some day.

Horicon would be a great place to visit if wildlife viewing was all you could do there. However, there are several hiking trails to be found, especially near the auto driving tour on the north side of the refuge. It was here that I hiked three loops: Redhead, Red Fox, and Egret. 

To some, it may have been too dreary of a day to hike. For me, however, it was perfect, as the temperatures were in the low sixties and the sky clouded over, keeping the unshielded prairies from becoming too hot. A normal July day, this trail would not have been too fun to walk on, at least not the prairie side.

The prairie section of the trail, which was most of the Redhead and almost all of the Red Fox, teemed with wildflowers of many colors. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn the names of most of these plants, but the flowers were predominantly purple and gold. Alas, what made the day so enjoyable to hike also made it hard to get good pictures of the flowers. Overhead several types of birds, mostly tree swallows, darted down and around the tall grass, going into the small stands of trees or diving close to the water's surface in the marsh areas.

Without a doubt the highlight of the hike was the floating boardwalk, which let you walk out onto the water and see all the birds and animals that hang out there. Of course, there were plenty of Canada geese around. What a surprise to see them in their natural habitat, instead of sitting in ditches at a sewer plant or along retention ponds. Several terns floated in the water, or sat atop posts on the boardwalk. I'm pretty certain i saw a few gulls who may have made their way over from Lake Michigan, and at times saw larger birds flying farther out. Apparently in the summer White Pelicans hang out at the refuge, although I didn't see any. 

After the boardwalk, about half of the walking remained, but it couldn't match just being out on that water. Had I the time, i probably would have sat out there for a few hours, just to see what I might see. Instead, I had a three hour drive awaiting me, and a hike to finish. Unbeknownst to me, the actual length of my walk was longer than what the book said it was, mainly because they had forgot to add the boardwalk's distance to the total. Except for a few short climbs up prairie hills or down towards water (either the wetlands or the Rock River), it was a fairly flat trail. However, the back part of the Redhead trail had some weird footing which I found a bit difficult to deal with. The pitch of the path was pretty steep, as they had just mowed a path along the hillside.

Before I had read about this hike, I had no idea this place existed. I am glad that I found it, as I will be going back again. So far I've walked 2 of the 58 trails on the Wisconsin list, and can't wait to see what other natural wonders those Cheeseheads are hiding up there.

Hiking Training Plan: Week 6 Recap

Week: July 15 - July 21
Miles Hiked (Week): 8.02
Miles Hiked (Month): 17.51
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 10
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 25.05
Pounds Lost (Week): 5.2
Pounds Lost (Total): 15.4

Week 6 was a good week. I hit my monthly hiking goal, lost weight, and save for dinner on Friday and Sunday did pretty good overall. I hope to have more weeks like this one than the previous week.

The biggest part of that hiking was done on Saturday. I walked at two different places in Wisconsin, the loop around the John Muir Memorial State Natural Area and three loops of varying sizes at Horicon NWR*. Neither were too bad as far as terrain or footing goes, and it was a perfect day for hiking. I capped off the weekend with an easy 1.5 mile walk to and from the Fox River at Chain-O-Lakes State Park in northern Illinois.

Because of my hiking, and because of an overall moderation of food, I actually lost a small amount of weight over the weekend. Hopefully I will be able to make it two weeks in a row. This will be the last weekend in a while I won't be going somewhere or doing something, so I need to be careful that I don't wreck it with junk food and sitting still. There are plenty of places close to Schaumburg I can go to hike, so I'm not too worried.

*Both will be featured in their own posts as part of Wetlands Week.

Monday, July 29, 2013

It's Wetlands Week on Red Faces, White Blazes!

Wetlands are a crucial and endangered part nature. They help prevent catastrophic flooding, clean up water, and provide food and shelter for countless animals that either live there or use it as a stopover during migrations. They can be found at almost all latitudes, from boreal bogs in colder climates, to sweltering tropical swamps teeming with life. Wetlands come in all shapes and sizes, from the soggy grassy areas around your subdivision's pond, to the massive sea of grass known as the Everglades.

As crucial as they are, they are some of the most threatened ecosystems on our planet. Eradication of wetlands is not a new thing, as we have been draining swamps and channeling waterways away from wetlands for centuries. In the United States alone, areas such as the Everglades, the Mississippi River delta, the sloughs along the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and the bogs and marshes of Northern Michigan are a fraction of what they used to be. And of what is left, much of it is threatened by overdevelopment, pollution, and often just general carelessness on our part.

However, all is not lost. Over the past century, we have begun to learn how important these lands are to ecological balance, and have worked to preserve and protect what is left. In many places, we've even begun to reclaim wetlands, and have seen amazing comebacks of some of the most threatened residents, such as the American alligator, the beaver, the bald eagle, and the Canada goose.

Even if they were just ecologically important, wetlands would be worthy of discussion on this blog. However, they are also great places to visit, provided you don't mind wet boots and a "few" mosquitoes. Many of them have great hiking trails and boardwalks to explore. In addition, they are great places to take a canoe or kayak and explore. And above all, they are a great place to just go with your binoculars and field guides, and watch for animals large and small. Just mind you don't go to near an alligator or that water moccasin over there.

Because of the ecological, scenic, and recreational value of wetlands, we here at Red Faces, White Blazes have decided to make to name this week "Wetlands Week" in their honor. Both of us will be writing posts about wetlands, including our experiences hiking through and around them. So put on your best watertight boots and come join us to celebrate Wetlands Week. Just be sure to watch where you are stepping when walking through a bog. Otherwise, you might find yourself neck deep in peat.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nature and City Livin' - a Nighttime Observation

I just cannot keep myself together. THIS week, since I got off-topic last week and talked about animals and weather, was going to be about wetlands. Then I got depressed because I spent my day off job searching, as my zoo job will be coming to an end in a couple short months. You know what I need? I need to go outside.

That's why I'm sitting on the "balcony" of the second floor overlooking the street - sure, it's not green space, and the sun has gone down, but in the distance I can see the last bit of sunset dimming in the horizon. Frogs, cicadas, and crickets are making a spectacular chorus, and my street has lots of trees on it - I can see the outline of the trunks and leaves in the dark. A bat just flew over my head, and there's a cool breeze courtesy of this very lovely weather we've been having recently in St. Louis. I can even see a few stars shining in the sky. Even in the middle of the city, I'm surrounded by those comforting sounds and smells and sensations of nature.

It's easy to forget that these urban areas are ecosystems all in their own. My roommate hates the squirrels that come into the yard and eat the garden, and he is irked by the carpenter bees that have made homes in his deck (and I promise, that pollinator post IS coming!). I'm tempted to put a bird feeder in the backyard, but then I'd just be adding to a local food chain -attracting cats and hawks and all sorts of things that would very much like to eat the buffet of song birds caught off guard.

Ironically, my neighbors, who probably are drinking wine on their balcony enjoying the night ambiance, are probably more than a little annoyed at the fact that I've come outside and am illuminating the space 20 feet away from them with the light from my lap-top and the incessant "tick-a-tap-tick" of my typing. Sorry, neighbors. I'm just enjoying the grandeur of our little urban paradise in my own way.

Quiet, introspective moments like these are one of my favorite things in life to experience. It's also a good time to remind myself that life is a balance of progress and natural order - that if I want to maintain these comfortable, small segments of time and experience them again, I need to bring that balance to my own life. Recycle, conserve, observe, enjoy the awe of the little things that make this so very urban and yet Midwest (and I say that in the most loving way possible) all at once. And I love that St. Louis seems dedicated to maintaining this balance, as well. Community gardens are not uncommon, at least in this neck of the city, and the Zoo and Botanical Gardens are two of the top attractions (as well as major players in conservation and education, of course). Many of the neighborhoods are old but look like they're straight out of 1903. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - the history, the nature, the progress, even the work that still needs to be done -it all adds up to this beautiful evening that I'm writing about now.

So what if the 757 flying overhead on its way to Lambert Airport harmonizes with the choir of frogs? Of course it isn't a perfect balance yet, but in this moment, on my balcony, it's pretty close.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Darn...and Hooray!

Just got the 2nd Edition of 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains, and two of the hikes I walked in the 1st Edition were cut, with none of the new ones being trails I've hiked. Oh well, I'll still be writing about those hikes, and both books are valid in my "Hiking the Lists".

Also, I just discovered that the L.P. Michigan book has 60 hikes, like the Wisconsin one. So instead of 317 hikes, it's more like ~335 hikes.

Just means more hiking for me, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 5 Recap

Week: July 15 - July 21
Miles Hiked (Week): 0
Miles Hiked (Month): 9.5
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 10
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 17.03
Pounds Lost (Week): 0.6
Pounds Lost (Total): 10.2

Sometimes it is good to just take a weekend and relax. I had intended to make it out to Forest Glen while I was home visiting my family, but rain and lethargy kept me from it. Considering this, and how poorly I ate over the weekend, I'm a bit surprised that I ended up losing weight for the week. I've gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep at it during the week. Weekends, however, are still a problem.

So, here I sit, with only one weekend left in July and a half mile left to hit my monthly goal. I suppose now would be a good time to share what constitutes a hike. Basically, any amount of walking that is either done with a pack on my back, or is done on a surface that isn't paved, or is a trail in nature. In other words, there is some leeway. For example, road walking at a state park or forest preserve would count as hiking, but walking along a road in my neighborhood does not. Basically, if I'm doing it after work, it is walking, not hiking. As such, I only really have two days to hit that goal. I think I can hike half a mile either Saturday or Sunday.

With the significant loss of weight, I've been noticing my clothes fitting better. I've also noticed an increase in energy, and an improvement in how I handle inclines and strenuous terrain. Instead of being absolutely spent when I go uphill, and I'm now only mostly spent. It's a small but noticeable improvement.

Hiking the Lists #1: Au Sable Lighthouse

Hike: #1
Title: Au Sable Lighthouse
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Hike list: U.P. Michigan
Difficulty: Easy
Duration of Hike: A couple leisurely hours

It started with a book I bought in the Fall of 2010 titled 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains, by Johnny Molloy. Once I had read a few entries in the book, I decided I would start keeping track of them all, hopefully at some point finishing them. I didn't get all of them in when I lived in Chattanooga, but I did get several (and got another couple later on).

Now it's 2013, and I still have that book to complete. However, those 50 hikes have been joined by 160 more from three different books in the same series. There are 60 hikes in Wisconsin, and 50 each for the Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Michigan. In addition, I have a big book of Illinois day hikes, which isn't part of that series, but is still a worthy book to go through and check off hikes.

Every so often, I'll be sharing my adventures following the trails from these books. For hikes that I've yet to hike, I will share those tales shortly after I check them off. For the many I've already hiked, well, that's what off weeks are for. We start today with the mostly easy, yet scenic, out and back along the North Country trail to the Au Sable Lighthouse.

Save for a nerve-wracking (at least for me) descent down sandy stairs, and a few tricky sandstone outcroppings on the beach, this wasn't the most challenging trail. However, it had plenty of great views of Lake Superior, shipwrecks, and the lighthouse on Au Sable point. The walk was mostly level along both the beach and the trail, and the trail footing was mostly gravel, as it is also the access road to the lighthouse.

Although I just walked this about a month ago, this is actually the first one of these hikes that I ever walked. You see, this was one of the walks my family and I took when we went to the U.P. in the 1990s. I remember the lighthouse and the shipwrecks, but I didn't remember having to climb over small rocks and a few sandstone outcroppings out on the beach. We must have only walked along part of the beach, as there are few real ways to access the beach from the trail.

All in all, it was a perfect day to be out there. The sun was shining, and the lake and the sky were beautiful shades of blue. It wasn't cold, but it wasn't hot either. The only part that wasn't really enjoyable was walking down the "stairs" from the lighthouse to the beach. The stairs were basically waterbars across the sandy hillside. The wooden bars were not really conducive to standing upon, and when you stepped in the sand behind them, it would shift down the hill. If you weren't careful where you put your feet, they could get trapped under the bar. Not wanting to hurt myself, I was extra careful on this part.

Considerably more fun were the parts of the beach that weren't sand. Although I had to be careful that I didn't turn a knee or ankle on them, it was kind of fun making my way through the small and medium sized rocks found at several points. It was also a nice challenge figuring out the best way across a sandstone outcropping, which eventually resulted in me having to get my feet a bit wet in the cold waters of Lake Superior.

I imagine there are times when the place is pretty busy (although I doubt it is ever as busy as Miner's Castle), but that day was not one of them. Except for a family that arrived as I was heading down to the beach, I had the lighthouse area to myself. Walking back along the beach I only met one group of people.

It wasn't the longest (although definitely not the shortest) hike from these lists, and it wasn't arduous, but it was a good way to stretch my legs, and the views (at least at the lighthouse and along the beach) were well worth it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's hot and I wish I had ossicones (or at least a pool)

For my first post back at Walk With Nature, I was going to talk about the importance of pollinators. I've really grown to love our backyard friends, especially the little understood native bee species that help our gardens and fields look amazing and grow amazing food.

However, I became sidetracked last night about 5 sentences in and then today I was flat out too hot to do anything worthwhile on the internet. For someone who loves the outdoors and nature as much as I do, I was ready to curl into a ball in the freezer and curse the sun for the blazing hot madness that is the inside of my apartment. I believe the heat index hit around 105 today.

I know what you're saying. "But Erin! You went to college in central Florida! You've spent many summers in the Midwest! At least its not a drought like it was last year!". You, my protesting friend, are absolutely correct. That doesn't change the fact that when it gets really hot, it gets miserable.

Do you know what kangaroos do to cope with the extreme heat of the Australian Outback? Other than being primarily active at night, they spit on their forearms and rub that spit on their faces, then face the wind and as the spit evaporates, it cools them (much like sweat does, only without the gross part where it secretes from all over your body). They're already built for that heat, though - it can get to be 120 degrees in the Outback. At my job, we simulate the 'roo experience by having kids put "kangaroo spit" on their hands and hold them up to the breeze. Think it might smell like hand sanitizer? Well, now you know where hand sanitizer comes from.

We are not kangaroos. Nor are we camels. Camels have specialized blood cells that are more oval as opposed to our own circular ones. That means they can have adequate blood flow even when substantially dehydrated because their red blood cells are streamlined even when the vessel is constricted. We totally can't do that. I feel like I would do a lot better in the heat if I knew I had some leeway before, you know, death.

Sadly, we don't have ossicones like giraffes, either. You know, those little horn thingies on their heads that may help with thermoregulation (because they actually have blood flow through them). Too hot? Just pump that nonsense right out of your permanent doodle-boppers.

Ultimately, it's those privileged few who have the luxury of accessing a swimming pool that really stay cool during the blistering heat. You don't even have to swim; just stand there and enjoy the shade. One thing does bother me, though; do tigers wrinkle if left in the water too long? With a heat index of 105 degrees, it doesn't really matter. I don't think I'd EVER leave. Unless, of course, I was sharing my pool with a tiger. Then I'd feel as though I've overstayed my welcome. Better yet for our tigre amigo? He doesn't even have to get out to get himself a nice cold tasty drink.

No, sadly, I do not have any of these things at my disposal. Sweating is just the worst because it smells awful on top of being uncomfortable - really, ossicones were the way to go, I think. Which is why I'm sitting in a dark room, drinking frozen cucumber water (since we don't have an ice maker and I have used up the completely frozen ice in the ice tray) and lamenting what feels like an inevitable fiery-yet-humid death.

I know I'm being a bit melodramatic; hey, at least I'm not out on the trail, right?

I have absolutely no experience with heat when it comes to camping; somehow, all of my misadventures in the wilderness involving temperature are with cold weather (refer back to Grand Canyon camping 2012). I'll have to do some research into how to stay cool during a particularly warm night on the trail.

Andrew and I are going camping in Southern Missouri next month, and then a week after that some of my coworkers and I will be camping. It'll be a good way to find out how, exactly, one doesn't sweat to death over night. Since hiking the Appalachian Trail is still on our to-do list, I think this is the kind of knowledge that REALLY matters. Stay tuned for part 2 (coming after said camping adventures) where I discuss what I've learned.

Here'a picture of a totes relaxed kangaroo, just rubbing in the fact that he can tolerate the weather better than myself (who, from his point of view, probably looks like some poor human who has succumbed to some sort of sweaty zombie-ism). Stay cool, everyone!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Journey: My Hiking Training Plan

As the handful of longtime readers may know, I started a "regular" feature called "The Journey". It was an attempt to share my triumphs and tribulations as I worked to lose weight and become a better hiker. Although I made several posts and lost some weight, I never kept up with it as regularly as I would have liked, particularly after I fell down walking in June of 2012.

After about a year of no real forward momentum in my efforts to lose weight and get in better shape, it was time for a change. Starting on June 17 of this year, I began a hiking training plan. The goal is within one year to be in good enough shape to tackle a multiday backpacking trip. In two years, the goal is to be good enough shape that I could hike a long-distance trail such as the Appalachian Trail.

There are two parts to my weekly plan, the weekday part and the weekend part. Because I have to work during the week, the weekday part is mainly built around hitting calorie goals and walking at least 60 minutes every day (sometimes fewer, if I'm taking a rest day after a weekend). I've been using to keep track of my calories and my exercise, and it has worked out pretty well. I have a clearer picture of the caloric cost of what I eat, and have made better decisions because of it. I don't always hit the goal, but I usually come pretty close, at least during the week.

On weekends, it becomes a different story, as I use most Saturdays and Sundays to get out on the trails. Starting with 10 miles in July, I am setting a mileage goal every month. Although that is a fairly low goal, it will accelerate sharply as I go through the next few months, until tailing back off during the winter.

In addition, I've also been camping to get used to sleeping in a tent. My goal for this is about one or two nights a month through October (maybe November if I find somewhere to the south a bit to camp). As of right now this is car camping, although I am hoping to spend at least one night this season on the trail. It hasn't gone that well so far, at least as far as getting myself to sleep. However, with enough time I am confident I'll get used to it.

Starting next week, I will make updates about my hiking training plan a regular weekly feature on here. So please come back every week, and feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Back on the (Blogging) Trail again

Au Sable Lighthouse, from the beach along Lake Superior. Not Pictured: The sandy hell that was the walk down.

If you look at the previous post before this one, there hasn't been much activity here at Red Faces, White Blazes. A lot of that was because real life had intervened, as I took a new job and moved. Because of this, as well as a rather stubborn winter up here in the north, I didn't get a good start on hiking until this summer. Thus, I really didn't have much to write about, so I didn't write.

I am happy to say that this won't be the case for much longer. Since last month, I've had a chance to hike several places in the upper Midwest (MI, MN, WI, IA, and Northern IL), including Pictured Rocks. I've also started a concerted plan to get myself into hiking shape, so I can actually enjoy hiking long distances. I will be sharing my thoughts on these hikes, as well as keep you updated with my plan's progress.

In addition, you'll be seeing more of Erin around here. Of course, her posts are an even rarer occurrence than mine, but she has a lot of thoughts on nature, ecology, and hiking to share with us, and I can't wait to read what she writes.

Please check back often!