Sunday, July 22, 2007

Nature hike, just the two of us

High summer in Wisconsin, and the weather is perfect for being outdoors: sunny, not too hot, mild breezes. I was dying to pick up and find some woods to hike through.

Donald, meantime, wanted nothing other than to relax alone with his final volume of the Harry Potter series, which had arrived in its special muggle-proof cardboard box from in yesterday's mail. The publishing event of the decade, at least.

So Ulysses and I got our hats and water bottles and headed off on our own. We've gone to playgrounds and parties and people's houses, just the two of us, concerts and street fairs, shopping and the library. But this had a heady, first-time air of adventure. Where were we going? Anywhere! How long would we be? As long as we felt like! We'd be deep in the woods, far from our car, following a dirt trail, far from people and things, together.

I decided to go to Cherokee Marsh, just a couple of miles north of our house. A 4000-acre park at the head of the four-lakes system that Madison is built around, it's the largest wetlands in Dane County. The three of us had walked its lovely miles of hiking trails earlier this year, in spring when the May apples hadn't quite blossomed. Ulysses loved it there. It was close, it was free, I knew it was a place we both liked, so we went.

The woods and fields were dense with greenery and a pulsing sense of life. Near the turnoff to the wooden observation tower that overlooked the swamp, a woodpecker rummaged the limbs, drilling for a catch. Ulysses and I crouched on the wooden boardwalk, watching. Coincidentally, it was just the spot where, in spring, the three of us had watched two minks chasing one another across the path and among the trees. It was the first time any of us had ever laid eyes on these secretive creatures -- even though I had tried to mightily a few years ago, when I was working on a piece about them for a local paper.

We climbed the observation tower, and walked back and forth along the short length of the boardwalk (most had been torn out a few years ago, to the outrage of the community). Ulysses called it a "railway" and we made chugga-chugga-choo-choo! noises as we went. Then we climbed the tower again. I think it was a railway trestle, in the choo-choo scheme of things, because chugga-chugga sounds were required to ascend.

Back on the dirt path, we turned onto the narrow, winding, steep trail that Ulysses had liked so much the last time we came. Here and there, wooden beams were set into the dirt, crossing the trail, stair supports to keep the packed earth in place. At the sight of each, Ulysses called out, "Railway!" We balanced on each beam, while Ulysses called, "Careful! Careful!" and then would sway in mock unbalance: "Whoa-oh-oh!" Finally, he'd let his feet slip off the beam, landing on the dirt on the other side, with the announcment, "Bonk."

We saw big rocks along the trail, jutting a foot or so above the earth. "Rock!" Ulysses stood on them and let me swing him off. We saw raspberries ripened on the canes and ate a few. We saw bushes whose flowers left behind sprays of flat, truncated green ovals no bigger than Ulysses's fingernails, that clung stickily to clothes. I picked off a few of these and applied them to our shirts. I wanted to wear them as decoration, like an alligator on my shirt pocket, but Ulysses liked to peel them off wherever he saw them on me. "Sticky!"

Ulysses repeated all the names I called things, so I started repeating every time I'd see another flower. Wood sunflower. Black-eyed Susan. Yellow coneflower. Nightshade (not in bloom).Bergamot. Ood sunfluer! Ah-eye-oo-n! Eh-yee own-fluer! Eye-say! Er-moh! We stopped and looked at this flower and that. Some had great, slow bumblebees collecting pollen. I saw a tiny bee or bee-like insect I'd never seen before, yellow and black stripes, smaller than a grain of rice.

I made a game of the dark pinprick center of Queen Anne's lace, the rough, black-crimson spot that folklore says is the blood spot from Queen Anne's finger -- from when she was making the lace. I'd touch it and then jerk my finger away: "Ouch!"

Two hours had gone by when we got back to the car and the trailhead. I carried Ulysses the last bit, through the open fields and the last stretch of wood. He called out to the butterflies and bees and airplanes we passed along the way.


  1. Wow Vesna. Thanks for that. I felt like I was out on your hike with the 2 of you and enjoying the wonder of the world through U's eyes.

  2. Comment above copied from original blog. Original post by Cat on Wed 12 Sep 2007 10:41 AM CDT