Friday, January 11, 2013

In the Woods...At Night

Remember what mystery the woods held when you were a kid?  Remember what it was like, the first time you walked in the woods at night with a flashlight...and then turned it off?  The darkness, the closeness of the tress, the damp of the night air closing around you.  Only to be able to get back to that feeling. Luckily, living and playing in northern Minnesota I have had the chance to do that many times over the years.

Eight or nine years ago, my wife and I did an adventure race that started near Tofte, Minnesota.  Adventure races generally include mountain biking, orienteering, paddling and often some sort of climbing or rappelling, and require competitors to navigate the entirety of the course using a map and compass.  This particular race started at 11:00 pm and would continue until we finished sometime in the late afternoon of the next day.

Almost immediately upon leaving the lights of the starting area and the glow of the large fire that was burning, we realized the northern lights were in full effect.  They shimmered and danced for two hours or so as we pedaled our bikes on back roads and trails into the night.  Soon after they stopped we saw the Perseid meteor showers and caught glimpses of those throughout the night.  We felt so fortunate to be seeing these things, which we surely would have missed were it not for this great excuse to be out overnight.  The wonders of that race didn't end with daylight though.  Just as the sun was coming up, we got back on our bikes, shivering from a paddle and required swim in a chilly lake.  As we turned a corner we were greeted by a large moose cow and two calves.  Though we were racing, we stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the spectacle.  They disappeared into the deep brush and we continued.

Since that race I have spent many times in the woods in the dark, but another race, brought the true joy of the experience back once again.  A good friend of mine chose to enter the Superior 100, a trail running race on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota.  I have done a few long trail races--a marathon, a 50 kilometer and a 50 mile on the same trail--and when I did it the support I got from my family was invaluable.  So when he told me he planned to run it, I offered to run with him through the night-time hours.

This is not a race report, but it is important to say that my friend was extremely impressive.  I met him about 14 hours into the race (10:30 p.m.) and in the next 10 or so hours we spent together hiking the trail, he was off his feet for no more than 30 minutes.

If you have spent time moving through the deep woods in the dark you know your immediate visual world is only as large as your headlamp or flashlight is bright.  With the ruggedness of the trail, and him leading the way, his eyes were on the roots and rocks immediately in front of him, and I spent almost the entire time looking at his lower calves, his shoes, and the ground over which he had just trod.  As the saying goes, "The view only changes for the lead dog."

But what was amazing were the details we caught as we moved along.  Late in the night we both confessed that there were multiple times we cursed the runners in front of us for dropping wrappers or toilet paper on the ground, only to discover it was birch bark reflecting back at us.  (May have been a little sleep deprivation there, too.) He would point out interesting rock formations or gnarly tress and we would pause slightly to take them in.  These details seemed to stand out in particular in the glow of the flashlight.  I wonder if we would have enjoyed them in the same way in the daytime.

Then there were the vistas. The Superior Hiking Trail provides some stunning views from tall ridges during the day, but experiencing the wide open sky at night is something special as well.  The stars were brilliant and the moon, in its last quarter, was in close proximity to Jupiter and Venus.  After a couple long climbs we turned our headlamps off and took a few minutes to enjoy the view.

Sometimes, I end up out at night because I have no other choice.  If you live in northern regions and work traditional hours, it's plenty dark when you leave work.  The other night I went for a ski on our local trails after work.  It was a beautiful night and really dark with no moon visible through the clouds.  I could actually hear the wolves howling here at the Center as I began to cross a marsh.  Then I caught two eyes in my headlamp.  They were brilliant and I couldn't take my eyes off them.  Suddenly, I heard a noise and caught one more eye bounding off into the woods.  Deer.  I spent the next few minutes in a stare-down with the one that didn't move.  I snorted at it, stomped my skis and did my awful impersonation of a deer wheeze.  It wouldn't move.  Finally, I decided it won the contest and moved on with my ski.  I finished my ski and once again felt fortunate to have had the chance encounter in the woods at night.

As we strive to learn more about the natural world and wolves' connection to it, I believe it is important to experience it in as many ways as possible.  Moving through the woods at night I can't help but think about the wolves that are moving through them too.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Joy of First Snow

In northern Minnesota, November can be tough.  Decreasing daylight, little sun (as little as 30% of possible sunlight peeks through overcast days) and dropping temperatures all make it tough to get outside and enjoy the natural world.

But, the first good snow changes all that.  Everything seems a little brighter, the negative spell of November is broken and those of us who choose to call the northwoods home have a little spring in our step.

This weekend we received six to eight inches of beautiful, white snow.  The temperature dropped dramatically as well (It is currently 9 degrees Fahrenheit.) and it looks and feels great outside.  This morning, my kids were out the door before 7 AM, shoveling snow, sledding and generally just romping around.  There was no struggle to get them out the door for school, and everyone in the house was ready for the day.

Snow also allows us to see what is going on in our backyard.  Like many people we traveled over the holiday weekend.  When we got back to all the snow we barely put our things inside before heading back out to play.

We live in the town of Ely, but right on the edge, and we share a chunk of woods with our neighbors that borders public land.  So there is a pretty good and contiguous green space near our property.  It is common for us to see coyotes, deer, grouse and a fox now and again.  The first snow lets us see what exactly is traveling through the yard.

As we looked into the backyard, we immediately saw tracks heading to our compost bin.  We quickly figured out two deer had stopped by and enjoyed a little rotting watermelon and a few bites from flowers edging our garden. 

We followed those tracks a bit and saw some canine tracks following those.  At one point the canine was walking and then began to run.  Did a coyote possibly come across the deer and give chase or did one of our neighbor's dogs just cut through our yard?  No way to tell.

A little farther on, fresh snowshoe hare tracks greeted us.  Very cool.  It is amazing to see the large holes in the snow left by those massive feet.  Our family fanned out, checking all of the tracks in the woods and following them to see if we could find anything.

We checked out tracks and played in the snow for about an hour, before heading back into the warmth of the house and our wood stove.  What a great way to end the weekend but more importantly what an awesome way begin winter.

November's not quite over, but the snow and cold has let us know we have transitioned to winter.  All I can say is, YES!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grant Writing: An Alternative Funding Source for Educators

With budgets getting cut, providing outstanding educational experiences for students is proving to be a challenge for schools, administration, teachers and parents.  However, there are alternative funds available to make sure that students are still able to have a quality and memorable educational experience. 

Grants are monies given by an organization for a particular purpose.  Grants are some of the simplest requests for funds.  If you have an educational opportunity in mind, consider the following tips to help get the ball rolling as you plan a grant proposal and resources currently available in the field of education.

Grant Writing (Tips from Darcy Berus, our development director)
1.                  Research into grant opportunities has been made easier and far more accessible thanks to the internet. That's great for everyone.
2.                  Sign up for resources specific to your field.  An example would be the Sharing Environmental Education Knowledge (SEEK) Bulletin.  SEEK sends out regular emails announcing grant opportunities.
3.                  Consider exploring small grants made available by vendors in your community.  Examples might include your neighborhood Target store or Sam's Club. These often involve relatively modest applications that underscore funds going back into the communities these vendors serve.
4.                  It is critical to follow guidelines and restrictions (geographic area, audience served, use of funds) identified in each grant application.
5.                  Just like we teachers expect, grantors look for neatness, proper spelling and grammar and careful adherence to the application.
6.                  Nonprofit organizations often have resources — including subsidized programs, transportation fees, etc. — available to teachers. The International Wolf Center, for example, has videoconferencing programs available at no cost to qualifying teachers.

Read more…
For further tips on putting together a competitive grant proposal check out:

Education Grant Resources
Thank you for educating the next generation.  Let us know if we can help out with any educational opportunities with your students. All the best to you in your in your upcoming school year!