Nature is Still Open

This COVID-19 pandemic is freaking scary. People are dying from it every day. I can barely look at social media or watch/read the news. it’s so depressing, scary and sad. The hardest part for me so far is not being able to see my grown daughters in person. The other hardest part is not being able to go out and do some of the things I love. Neither are dire or life-threatening, just a challenge. I’m not complaining (well I’m a little pissed off about this whole thing) but I am coming up with game plans to help me stay sane in case of a complete lock down where I am not able to leave the homestead. But in the mean time, here is a reminder that even though many things are closed, the majority of parks (in Ohio at least) are still open (unless you are in an area that is not allowed non-essential travel).

Now I feel like I have to make a disclaimer, you have to use common sense and realize they don’t know everything there is about this virus so I suggest visiting parks that aren’t heavily visited and taking every precaution especially when using public facilities as restrooms. This virus lives on surfaces for a long time. I try not to use any of the public facilities and if a park is pretty much vacant, there’s always the woods. Hey, it’s what long distance hikers/backpackers do, they don’t have port-a-potties along the Appalachian Trail every few miles. I can’t promise that you won’t come in contact with this shitty virus at a park facility. Don’t touch things that others might have like fences, benches, picnic tables and so on. Like I said, just assume the f’ing virus is on every surface. Look but don’t touch. If you have children, I’d definitely avoid any playgrounds or play equipment.

In Ohio, there are numerous nature preserves that are hardly ever visited. Do some research in your area to find the lesser visited natural areas. Many parks are closing their facilities like rest rooms in response to the pandemic so check their website and/or call ahead. You may have to plan around the lack of bathrooms open, etc. Pack snacks and water. Just think ahead especially if you have kids. But even if a park is more visited, usually the trails are wide enough that you can give each other plenty of room. I’ve found the times I’ve been out in parks, they are fairly deserted compared to normal and those out are very polite giving room where needed.

Taking a short car ride to a natural area can help with cabin fever. Spending time outside in nature has a stress-relieving effect. Take time to breathe in the fresh air, notice the plants and trees around you. If you’re quiet, you may see some interesting wildlife. Also, this gives you a sense of normalcy in a time that is nothing near normal for most of us. Focusing on your surroundings allows you mindful moments where you can forget about all that is going on around us. Right now, spring wildflowers are starting to bloom as the days are getting longer and warmer. Brush off those guidebooks and take them with you, maybe you’ll discover a rare plant.

If you are in an area that the weather is cooperating and you own your home, there is usually plenty of yard projects you can get into. Trimming bushes, pruning plants, cleaning flower beds and so on. Depending on what restrictions are happening in your area, you may be able to fertilize and/or reseed your lawn if you are comfortable going to the home store to buy the supplies. Right now, it’s cold and rainy without much relief in site for my area for the next week, but I have gear for the weather, I may be out walking in the rain.

Unless prohibited if we go on lock down, I’m going to be walking my dog for miles and miles on our country roads. There are several old cemeteries that I can stop and visit which may sound creepy, but trust me, I’m not going to run across a living human there. I can take a sketch book and my charcoals to sketch the surrounding farm land. Or take my camera and challenge myself to find new shots right around my yard or the surrounding area. It wouldn’t hurt for my photography skills to look at subjects in a different way. This will force me to become more creative and maybe even figure out some of those little-used features on my DSLR.

No one knows how long this may last but the one blessing is that better weather is coming soon. It will be time to resurrect the hammock and patio furniture. Get out the fire ring and spend some evenings around a fire. Pull a blanket out as a I did as a kid and read on a makeshift outdoor bed. I had thought about buying a stand-alone basketball hoop for my driveway and a basketball a few months ago and I’m wishing I had done that earlier before all of this. In a way, it reminds me of when you were a kid and you had to entertain yourself on summer vacation. Well, if you were a child of the 1970’s or 80’s, we had to entertain ourselves in the summer after our parents shoved us out the door and told us don’t come back until dinner.

As I write this, I am seeing news stories about the first COVID-19 deaths in Ohio. This shit is scary. My heart breaks for the loved ones of these people as well as the loss of their lives. I’m so angry at all of this. I don’t know why it is happening or could it had been stopped, but it just pisses me off. But it is out of my control and at some point it will pass like everything else. Though the aftermath is already changing people’s lives, their family dynamics forever. It seems like in 2020, this shouldn’t happen but here it is, bearing down on us like the grim reaper.

This shows you that you never know what could happen in life, no matter how well you prepare, no matter the best laid plans, life as we know it can come to a screeching halt. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or in a month, but I plan on taking it day by day, hour by hour. I’m going to self-quarantine as much as I can even though it totally sucks. I’m cancelling my spring break trip to Kentucky with my daughter which was happening over Easter weekend. Hell, we might not even be able to get together for Easter. It’s so hard to tell. But if we can’t, we can’t. It’s a small price to pay if it means someone will not die from the virus.

In the meantime, I will get outside, get into nature and of course, keep a lot of social distance by using the resources that are seldom visited or just in my own yard or neighborhood. Stay healthy and safe. We will get through this together.

Winter Dream

Winter Dream

By

Laura M Heffner

December 10, 2018

The snow and cold hushed nature,

The sun brightened her with a sparkling crown,

Trails were magical and empty,

Barely a soul to be found.

The air, sharp and sweet,

The only sound, made by my own feet,

Winter spun her magic,

In which I feel free

No worries, no troubles, no demands,

A moment in which,

It is only me…

Davey Woods – Ohio State Nature Preserve

Davey Woods SNP is located in Champaign county at 7661 Lonesome Road, St. Paris, Ohio east of Piqua, Ohio.  I love the name of the road.  It is a very quiet and fitting for it’s moniker, Lonesome.  This is a 130 acre wooded tract with almost 2.0 miles of trail that winds up through gentle hills of old-growth woods.  The Conrad Trail is 1.4 miles and the Short Loop trail is 0.6 miles.  There is a gravel parking area right next to the road with the sign proclaiming that this is indeed Davey Woods. There are no facilities and no pets allowed.  Bring plenty of water.  

To the left of the signs, you walk down a wide path in the woods that was once a road bed now grass.  In mid-July everything is a beautiful lush green as we have not had any dry spells yet.  You come to a kiosk which has the trail map on it and you can elect to go left or right.  We chose left because we saw a dark wood bridge.  The bridge always wins.  There is also a small donation box with the kiosk if you so choose to help fund these great preserves.  The bridge crossed a small creek and headed up into the woods.  

The trail is well traversed, very shady and I am sure offers wonderful wild flowers and beautiful fall foliage in other seasons.  There are several small bridge crossings as the trail winds up through the trees and hills.  Quite simply, we walked on an extremely hot day but did not feel the heat within the woods.  Of course you want bug spray and sunscreen even though it is shady.  The trails give you a bit of challenge going up and down but mostly they are moderate and easy to traverse.   Short Loop breaks off of Conrad Trail so we only did just Contrad Trail this trip.  We want to return soon to do both trails we enjoyed this nature preserve so much.   It reminds us a bit of the Lake Hope area, with very large trees such as oaks and tulip trees.  

There was no one on the trails with us that day and only one spot of Conrad trail had a little bit of road noise.  Otherwise, you are ensconced in the sweet peacefulness of wooded bliss.  Toward the last part of the loop back to the kiosk area, we climbed a hill and came across a little surprise.  Three old gravestones which had been set flat into concrete to protect them in the place in what the sign stated was the Pence Family Cemetery.  David Pence and his wife, Barbara, moved to this spot from Shenandoah County, Viriginia in the early 1800’s.  We had to pause and pay our respects as well as read the gravestones which were worn by time and the elements.  

At this point the trail started to descend and brought us out on the other side of the kiosk.  We could have extended our hike by taking the Short Loop.  Quite a pleasant trek.  We will certainly do this one again as it has beautiful and quiet woods as well as enough trail length and challenge to break a good sweat.  This one is good for anyone in relatively decent shape as there is ups and downs over the hills but I would not call it much more than a mild hike for the average person.  You do feel though as if you were transported into an era before even the Pence’s settled the land.   One of my favorite preserves so far!

Siegenthaler – Kaestner Esker – Ohio State Nature Preserve

Siegenthaler – Kaestner Esker SNP is located near West Liberty, Ohio, at 5505 Couchman Road and consists of 37-acres which contains an esker, kame and kettle which are glacial landforms which I had never heard of or learned in school and completely forgot.  

Parking area


Some definitions as per the ODNR site:

Esker – long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel deposited in layers according to grain size by running water with steep sides and a sinuous shape.  Or to me, a long narrow hill.  

Kame – Knolls formed by piles of gravel that were dropped into pits and crevices in the glacier when meltwater streams flowing on top of the ice.  Or as I would call them, small hills.  Often associated with kettles.

Kettle – A pond formed when a block of ice remained and surrounded by till.  When the ice melted, a depression was left and filled with ground water.  Or to me, simply a pond.

Black sandy, silty soil at base of esker


In other words, geology buffs will love this glacial area or simply nature lovers who like a gentle stroll in a quiet area.  We literally drove right by this preserve and had to turn around and go back.   The parking area is a grassy area which you can easily miss for a field.  You park in the grassy area, driving through a narrow former gate area between two fence posts, where there is a sign and kiosk for the preserve.  Like most preserves, there are no facilities.  Remember to bring water, bug spray, sunscreen and pack out any trash.  Don’t remove any natural materials.  Pretty much the same instructions for most nature preserves.  Oh and no pets.  

The trail is like a lollipop and approximately 1 mile long depending on if you decide to also traverse the summit of eskers as well.  The initial part of the trail is much like walking along a narrow, grassy country road with fence on both sides.  One side during our hike was a crop field (soybeans) and the other side appeared to be a livestock field, probably cattle.  There are mature trees on one side and then you slip into a more wooded area, make a sharp right turn and down a hill to where the trail tees at the first esker.  You can go either left or right, the trail will loop around to itself.  The day we visited, the trail had been recently mowed but be cautious of the poison ivy if you go during the late spring to fall months.  I am beginning to think the state plant should be poison ivy.  

Start of trail from parking area


We turned right initially, choosing to walk in the more open sunny area first followed by what seemed would be more shady.  The day was hot but not unbearable as there was a nice breeze most of the time.  One we rounded the first bend in the loop, we took the trail that went up to the summit of the first esker or hill to me.  You can see larger rocks where they have mowed a trail among the grass meaning that the heavy rock was deposited on top.  Again, be cautious of the poison ivy.  The hills are narrow and long and there are two of them with old trees, such as oaks growing there as well as many wild raspberry bushes.  When we went down the first esker, and came around to the trail going up the second one, we decided it looked too overgrown with poison ivy to chance walking the top so we chose the lower trail that went between the base of the hill and the fence.  

Mowed trail taverses top of esker


As we walked, we noticed the dirt that was exposed was black and sandy different from the brown dirt we saw on the other portion of the trail.  Curious, we bent down to touch it and it was soft and silty which means the finer till was deposited on the bottom of the esker.  Admist the thick growth we saw wild delphinium, a white phlox  and a red bell type flower growing on a vine.  When we rounded the far side of the furthest esker, the trail became more overgrown with thistles and a grass (and poison ivy) so we had to be careful to step around the plants otherwise the thistles would have scratched us.  You return to the start of the loop and turn back right to return to the parking area.  

Vining flower, unidentified


Due to the overgrowth of poison ivy, this may be better an early spring, late fall or winter hike or if you are brave like us, you just go and dance around the poison ivy.  This is a pretty area, open and peaceful.  If you have an interest in glaciers and/or geology, this is also a good place to visit.  It could be an easy stroll with kids though again, poison ivy might be a concern, maybe older children.  The trail is about half shad and half sun so if it’s extremely hot, you may want an earlier morning hike or later evening.  Open dawn to dusk.  

Ohio’s Nature Preserves – Little Hidden Gems

So I’ve been lacking ideas for posts.  I go back and forth and around on what to write.  Today my youngest daughter and I decided to go do some hiking even though it was going to be in the 90’s, we figured if we could find wooded trails, it wouldn’t be too unbearable.   There is a small preserve not far from my home, that is set into a woods with a half mile boardwalk.  At the trail head, there is an announcement board/kiosk with information regarding the preserve plus a brochure on Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s  (ODNR) other preserves.  My daughter picked on of those up on our way back out to my truck.

We were sitting in the air conditioning trying to decide what to do next.  On the last page of the brochure is a map of Ohio with all the current preserves pinned on it with each preserve’s name.  We realized we hadn’t been to most of these places on the map and the idea for a new blog direction and many possible adventures cropped up in our mind.  We would visit them, take pictures and write a review of each preserve.  To us, they feel like little hidden gems that usually are empty of other people, though some preserves such as Conkles Hollow in Hocking Hills are much more well known.  We, being the lovers of solitude in nature, gravitate toward lesser known and used areas and are excited to explore these areas.

Ohio’s nature preserves in general do not allow pets, they do not usually have any facilities such as bathrooms or water and you must pack out your trash usually.  Some may not even have clearly designated parking areas (you may just pull off the side of the road).  Trails may be somewhat more rugged and less maintained.  You are not allowed to pick or remove any natural items such as flowers or rocks.  However, you will find a varied landscape in each preserve along with endangered species of plants, insects and birds.  This land is set aside to “preserve” what is left of unsettled or reclaim formerly settled lands to their natural state.  

According to ODNR there are 136 nature preserves with ore than 30,000 acres in the great state of Ohio.  Partners such as businesses and groups as well as volunteers assist the state in keeping these lands available for our enjoyment and use.  Most of the time, you probably just drive by a nature preserve without even realizing it.  They are usually only marked with a dark brown sign with white lettering and a kiosk/ message board.  There is no big sign announcing their presence such as Ohio’s state park system so you have to look just a little bit harder for a preserve.  Sometimes, you pull into the parking lot and are hesitant to explore because the area isn’t developed like state parks or metro parks may be.   The goal is to preserve the land and leave it as untouched as possible by humans while letting people enjoy the land as well.  

As we (or me) explore each nature preserve, I will update this post to include the preserve’s name as well as a link to the review post for that particular park.  I hope you enjoy this adventure with me as I have already started and have found as my daughter state, some hidden gems, we had no clue existed.  Just remember to pack plenty of water and prepare for minimal or no facilities.  Happy trails!  

Gross Memorial Woods

Sigenthaler-Kaestner Esker Nature Preseve