Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eames Preserve – a really cold morning!

Eames preserve is located on Harbourton Woodsville Rd in Pennington.

Link to trail map and preserve information.

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The weather has been quite chilly. But after weeks of confinement inside the house with sick kids and obligations, I began to feel claustrophobic. I rarely poke around my home or office in an attempt to find something new.  Usually, I am just trying to “unsee” the mess. But even when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, I am happy to spend time in the woods peering around rocks and turning over logs. There are always some fun new things to discover just beyond the bend of a trail.

It has been six months since I last visited the Sourland’s Eames Preserve.  I used to work on a research project at Eames and I have been there more times than I care to remember, yet I had not explored my way through the entire preserve. When I was working, I would hike to the designated research area and then hike directly out again. Today, the woods at Eames were calling for a deeper exploration.

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A small mushroom with frost emerging from both sides.

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This may be the hoof print of a deer superimposed upon the paw print of a dog. It seems to be the most logical explanation.

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It appears that this coyote devoured another furry creature.

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Although I am really not a fan of the cold weather, I must admit that these frozen puddles are beautiful!

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Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is still holding onto its final blooms from 2018. It reminds me of how we like to believe that we start the New Year fresh with a clean slate, but in reality, we all still carry remnants of the past.

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This bench is situated at the halfway point of the loop. I can imagine hiking here with my family in the summer time and having a picnic. The boys will love to play in the stream!

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A burl! These abnormal growths on trees can be caused by many different things such as an injury or a disease. As the tree grows, generally so does the burl. The burls are not detrimental to the trees, but since burls are prized by woodworkers, they sometimes poach the burls from live trees. Depending upon the size and location, removal of the burl can be catastrophic to the living tree.

Read more about woodworking with tree burls here! I recommend a google image search of “Woodworking Tree Burls”.

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These leaves were frozen in a little vernal pool.

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Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, leaves peeking out through the leaf litter. These little ones most likely sprouted during the warm spell we had two weeks ago but unfortunately with this really cold weather, they will not make it to bloom.

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I wasn’t able to take a picture that truly captured what I was seeing here. These Wineberry canes, Rubus phoenicolasius, were glowing in the understory. I am looking forward to all their berries this spring!

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A bleeding canker.  There are a couple of things that can cause bleeding cankers, but usually it is either a species of Phytophthora (root rot fungus) or bacterial wet wood.

 

Hopewell Borough Park – A rainy Friday morning with my oldest.

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My oldest and I spent the winter solstice together running errands and visiting my office. It was misty, drizzly and almost 60 degrees and we were itching to get outside!  I love warm, rainy days when we can splash around in puddles without fear of freezing!

My husband and I have been reading the “Winnie the Pooh” books to the wild boys quite often lately and they have seen “Pooh’s Grand Adventure”.  Now, my oldest little dude is determined to have a “Grand Adventure” for himself.

So, it is my great honor to present to you, “The Wild Boy’s Rainy Day Grand Adventure!”

IMG_9491At first, my little dude wanted to go to the playground but when he saw the lake-puddle, he changed his mind and decided that he needed to play there instead.

IMG_9496He did not hesitate at the edge of the lake-puddle, but walked straight in.

IMG_9503An island!

IMG_9508We change the world just by being in it.

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IMG_9560This morning, my sweet little dude noticed that I was wearing my Sourland Conservancy shirt and he immediately insisted that he wear his Sourland shirt, also!

IMG_9585Little Dude asked if he could take some pictures. Here is his picture of the waterfall.

IMG_9606“Say ‘Cheese’, Momma!”

IMG_9653I love how something that an adult perceives as a barrier is only a challenge for a child.

IMG_9660Hidden mushrooms. Most likely, the mushrooms growing between the logs have received some protection from the cold.

IMG_9664We still had to check out the playground, of course!

IMG_9679He really wanted to be able to float in his umbrella just like Pooh.

There was a part of me that wished that I had brought my wellies so that I could explore the lake-puddle with him… But I also really loved that I could just watch and let him explore on his own.

The magic of childhood.

Skyview Preserve – a quiet morning with an itty bitty surprise!

Skyview Preserve is located on Marshalls Corner Woodsville Rd, in Hopewell.

Link to hiking map and description.

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Today was just one of those days when no matter how quickly I tried to accomplish the tasks at hand, I was always running about five minutes behind schedule. When I go into the woods, I don’t worry about such things. I usually don’t hike very far, choosing instead to spend my “alone time” in nature looking through leaf litter or searching for flowers. Even though I have studied the plant ecology of this area for over a decade, each time I am in the woods I learn something new. Today was no exception. When I had this new experience, I was almost as excited as my children were when they visited Santa Claus this past weekend. I will tell you more about it, later.

I also would like to take a moment to thank my mother, Nancy, for her help editing this blog. She helps me organize my runaway thoughts and puts it back on the right path.  Thank you, Mom.

It is deer hunting season so it is important to always check and make sure that the preserve you wish to visit is open to the public! Even if the preserve is open for visitors, for your own safety, it is important to wear high visibility colors during deer hunting season.  I always keep my Sourland Conservancy High Visibility baseball cap and beanie, along with an orange vest, in my car so that if I decide to go for a hike, I am prepared!

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I really love this foliose Lichen, which was growing all over the Skyview Preserve. It reminds me of the kale I left in the back of the refrigerator.

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“If it’s hairy, it’s scary!” Once those “leaves of three” fall off, it is a little more difficult to identify Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. If you come across a vine with many aerial roots causing it to appear quite hairy, you can be pretty sure that it is Poison Ivy and not Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Virginia Creeper tendrils tend to be thicker than Poison Ivy’s and don’t look quite as “hairy”. To be on the safe side, it may be prudent to avoid touching a vine you can’t identify!

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It looks like someone was pecking away in a forage for insects.  I don’t know a lot about birds, but I have sometimes wondered if each particular species of wood pecker leaves its own distinctive peck marks? A good question for the National Audubon Society or your nearest ornithology lover.

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This tree was covered in mushrooms, a tell-tale sign that it is not much longer (or is no longer) for this world.

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A forest of sphagnum moss.

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Sporophytes as far as the eye can see!

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A vernal pool! A vernal pool is a body of water which dries out each year (or almost every year) and does not have a resident fish population. It is commonly thought that vernal pools appear in the spring, but the profuse rain this fall has caused the pools to fill. I can imagine all the salamander and frog eggs which will be contained within this pool come spring.

Last year, I really wanted to experience the Sourland Conservancy and Mercer County Parks Commission’s “Remember the Rain” event. I completed the training to be an Amphibian Crossing Guard. Unfortunately, my time “on watch” and the rains were not in sync, so I was unable to chaperone the salamanders and frogs on their migration. I am anticipating the crossing this coming spring and hopefully the rain drops and my “crossing guard” schedule will be in alignment in 2019! Read more about the “Remember the Rain” project here.

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It was an absolutely beautiful morning and not quite as cold as the previous few days. I did not hear many birds or see any mammals besides a few white-tailed deer. I had a pleasant walk in both the woods and in an open field, and I was not too muddy either, considering all of the rain that has been falling lately.

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Ok, so I saved the best for last. While I was walking along the path I happened to look down at a Shagbark Hickory Nut, Carya ovata, and observed what seemed to be teeny, tiny, jumping grains of sand. Can you see them? There are 8 of them in this picture!

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I believe these are Springtails/Collembola, belonging to the order of Symphypleona, but I’m not completely sure. Collembola are very small, sometimes microscopic, insect-like organisms which live in and on the soil. They have an appendage on the underside of their body which can “spring” them away from danger – also known as my boot! These little critters are fascinating! Here is a really great link with tons of great photos and information on collembola. Also, if you have a desire to relax, please watch this video of collembola hanging out by the water’s edge.

 

Hopewell Borough Park – A cold morning walk.

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It has been a long time since my last Walk in the Woods and I have been craving a reconnection with the natural world for weeks now. There have been deadlines, meetings and many errands as well as preparing 70+ children for their annual holiday concert at the daycare where I work part time as a music teacher. My own children have been sick- ‘Tis the Season to be Sneezin’- and the myriad of responsibilities that go along with being a human being at the prelude to Winter has had me feeling overwhelmed and depleted.

Just like cooking, some of the responsibilities and joys in my life had to simmer and so my walks in the woods were moved to the back burner as I tried to stir all the pots that were heating on my stove.  My time in the woods replenishes my spirit. The quiet, the smell, the colors and textures, the presence and absence of life in the outdoors is what coaxes me back to my true nature.

As I remember the birth of my youngest, I recall how weak and unwell I felt afterwards.  I could not sit up, yet I still kept struggling to get out of my hospital bed in order to see my little one. The nurse who was taking care of me insisted that I remain lying down.  She said “First, put on your own oxygen mask. You can’t be of help to anyone else unless you have taken care of yourself first.”

Her Words of Wisdom remain true. How often do we compromise our own mental and physical health in order to keep all the pots cooking and the house from burning down? Today’s walk was the comforting and delicious chicken soup which my mind and body so desperately needed. I spent most of my time looking for frost covered leaves so that I could blow on them and watch the ice melt, a nice antidote to all the heat that I had been feeling. It was relaxing and peaceful and exactly what I needed in order to dampen down all the fires which were burning in my life.

For this holiday season I am asking all of you to put on your oxygen mask first and do something which rejuvenates and restores you. Make it a priority to do something for the pleasure of it, not because it is something you have to do.

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Creeping Charlie (ground ivy), Glechoma hederacea, an invasive that is the bane of my flower garden’s existence. No matter how often I pull it out, this recalcitrant vine keeps on creeping back into my flower beds.

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One of my favorite things about a Walk in winter is observing the frost covered earth. This morning, the ground sparkled as if a little fairy had sprinkled glitter all over. My oldest has been talking a lot about pixie dust and flying and I wish that he had been with me this morning so that I could show him the shimmering ground. I could imagine him rolling in the sparkles and then running fast while leaping into the air in an attempt to fly. I remember that I was determined to take flight when I was a child. My brother and I made a hang glider-like contraption with some dowels and a sheet and I ran as fast as I could and jumped off our porch….. and crashed to the ground. I climbed the trees in our yard reaching more than 20 feet up by the time I was four years old (the same age as my oldest) and I can’t imagine the anxiety I caused my parents. My oldest is also a fearless climber and I am sure that the day will come when he tries to build his own wings in order to soar. But for now, pixie dust and his own imagination will take him skywards.

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Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, berries. As the migrating birds pass through there are fewer and fewer berries left behind. These berries were quite shriveled but I am sure they also will be eaten soon.

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I haven’t seen many mushrooms as of late, but these ones looks so neat covered in frost!

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Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata. These two invasive plant species are some of the last to go dormant in the winter and some of the first to awaken in the spring.

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I love how this frozen puddle looks like a topographic map! I am curious about what may have caused it to freeze in this manner. I inspected the puddle carefully and it didn’t appear to be shattered in the center. My husband is a GIS (geographic information systems) developer and I know that he would get a kick out of this ice ‘map’.

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Virginia Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, a native edible hiding beneath the dormant Goldenrod is receiving its last bit of photosynthesis before descending into winter’s sleep.  I love this little bit of foreshadowing of what is to emerge in the spring.  It is something very yummy to look forward to!

 

Otto Farm Preserve – A crisp morning walk after the first hard frost.

Otto Farm Preserve is located on Wertsville Road in Hillsborough.

Link to map and hiking information.

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Truth be told, I have been putting off coming to  Otto Farm Preserve for quite a while now. I was told that it was “boring…” so I kept delaying my visit. When I finally checked my Sourland Conservancy Hiking Atlas, I realized that I have explored 21 out of the 25 Sourland preserves (There are 24 preserves in the atlas but Zion Crossing was added since the atlas was published). Since I was really itching to see a new preserve and my time was limited, I decided that it was now an opportune moment to check out Otto Farm. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was immediately charmed by the layout of the preserve. As much as I love hiking through the woods, there is something wonderful about open meadows. This time I was hiking solo and the wide mowed paths and open sky at Otto Farm offered me the opportunity to daydream, which is a luxury that as a Mom of Little Dudes, I usually don’t have time to enjoy anymore. Otto Farm is different than the Sourland Preserves I have previously explored. It has its own unique charm and beauty. There were many flowers in seed and I took over 200 photos as I wandered  because at every next step there always seemed to be an even better photo opportunity to be taken. If you are able to get out there please do! It would be a mistake if you missed out on these beautiful fall seeds and daydreams in all their glory.

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Milkweed, Ascelpias syriaca, in seed. I love these seeds and I can’t even count how many times I have seen them disperse through a beam of light cast by the beautiful late afternoon sun. I often contemplate photographing the seeds as they begin their flight.  Unfortunately, in the late afternoon I am often rushing to pick up my Dudes from school or hurrying home to make dinner. Not today! Although I was hiking in the mid-morning, there were still plenty of milkweed plants to be photographed! Watching milkweed seeds float across the sky is a daydream in itself. I have the sense of drifting alongside them in the soft Autumn sunlight and, as we travel, time stands still.

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This is a new-to-me plant, Carolina Horse-nettle, Solanum carolinense. When I first saw it, I knew that it had to be in the Solanaceae family (the nightshades) but the thorns on the stems and on the dried up leaves made it a bit more difficult to identify. This native plant is toxic to horses and from what I have read, it is toxic to humans, too

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Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, in seed. Although this plant is in seed, in my mind’s eye, all I can see are beautiful golden flowers.

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An empty snail shell nestled under the leaves.

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I get giddy when I see stream crossings! I can’t help getting older, but I don’t have to grow old! I could barely contain myself as I leapt from stone to stone. I don’t know what I will do with myself if I ever get tired of stream crossings!

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Can you spot the Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis?

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The slow death of a giant. This beautiful oak tree is dying. You can see the branches snapping off and the bark pealing off the branches that are still attached.

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Another sign of death are all these mushrooms on the branches. Often times a tree covered in mushrooms is dying (or is already dead). Mushrooms (fungi) are the great decayers of this planet and when you see them growing up and down a tree you can be certain that a tree’s end is near.

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Oriental bittersweet, Celasturs orbiculatus, berries. This invasive vine has spectacular fall berries which makes it hard to hate them.

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I will definitely come back to this spot in the summer for a picnic under the shade of this oak tree.

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A goldenrod gall. The larva living inside a goldenrod gall can survive inside even when the air temperatures outside are below freezing.

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Crack! I heard the cracking of the ice before I saw the frozen ground. I love the sounds of Fall and Winter hikes. The crunch of leaves, the snap of ice and the “shhhh” of snow.

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The fade out of Fall. If you had examined this spot in September, you would have seen the deep yellow of the Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, the pale yellow of Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and of course the beautiful pink of Milkweed, Ascelpias syriaca. I am certain that there are some flowers blending into this area of the meadow, that are camouflaged in the Autumn tapestry.

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This damage is called a “Buck Rub”. It is created by a male deer as he rubs his antlers and forehead in order to remove his shedding velvet from his antlers and also to deposit pheromones. There are three rubs in close proximity, so we can be sure that this area is frequented by deer.

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OK, just one more picture of Milkweed…. Sigh… Look at those beautiful seeds that will hopefully find their place in this world.

Poems from the Sourlands – Down by the River by Gretna Wilkinson

Recently the Sourland Conservancy hosted a Train Station Seminar titled “Cool Women Poetry Reading”.  The Cool Women Poets read poems that they wrote about the Sourlands and their words deeply moved me.  I asked them if they would share their poetry with me so I could share it with you.  The first poem I would like to share is titled “Down by the River” by Gretna Wilkinson.

I was at Otto Farm Preserve on Monday (blog post coming soon!) and I hadn’t looked at the map before I started my walk.  I didn’t realize that there was a stream there, but as I wandered along the path I heard water flowing over rocks and this poem jumped in my head.  I started searching for a place to move through the brush to see the water.  There is something so soothing and refreshing about the sound of flowing water that whenever I hear it, I must find it.

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Down By The River
Gretna Wilkinson

Week after week I come

to my best friendly rock

at the edge of this water,

scrub dirt out of clothes

frustrations out of me

 

This rock holds up

under the weight of my worries

without judgement, without echo

 

There’s no sound more beautiful

than the river rushing by

minding its own business.

 

Gretna Wilkinson was born and raised in Guyana, South America, and began her teaching career as a missionary teacher in the jungles there. Her full-length collection is entitled Opening the Drawer (Cool Women Press). She has also published five chapbooks. Dodge Poet, she was recently named Monmouth County Arts Educator of the Year and is Red Banks Teacher of the Year.

 

 

Sourland Mountain Preserve: A lesson in surrendering.

Sourland Mountain Preserve (Hunterdon) is located on Rileyville Rd in Ringoes.

Link to map and hike description.

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To say that my Friday was a bad day might be an understatement.  The morning started out so promising and then quickly went downhill.  My littlest generously offered my computer a cup of hot coffee which it graciously consumed.  Then, just a mere few hours later at my place of employment, my oldest was sitting at my desk very patiently waiting for me.  Out of nowhere he slowly fell off my chair, flinging his beverage across the room and covered the desk, printer, filing cabinet, chair and carpet.  I stood and stared in disbelief, began to laugh… and then I cried. We try so hard to control our lives, believing that we can be the master of our own future. But sometimes things happen which we don’t expect and we have to abandon our illusion of control.  After this office debacle, I decided to surrender to the universe. I relinquished my plans and decided not to push my own agenda. We went into the woods and played and because of this I was only able to take a few photos.  We spent most of our hike talking about leaf color, size, shape and textures . The wild boys and I climbed rocks, searched for lichens, discussed the softness of moss and crunched as many leaves as possible under our feet.

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The Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, has lost most of its leaves revealing its dense thickets of impenetrable fence.  Multiflora rose and Green briar, Smilax rotundifolia,  were the bane of my fieldwork life.  When doing field work for my Masters degree, I bled through my shirts and pants from the thorns of these two plants.  Multiflora Rose is non-native while Greenbriar is native, but I really detest both plants. When I see this fence of brambles, I thank goodness that no one is requiring me to walk through them!

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As much as I don’t enjoy the temperatures becoming colder and the days shorter, I love watching the forest preparing for its winter slumber.  The plants are dropping their leaves and tucking in the forest floor until the days start to lengthen again and the ground begins to thaw.

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Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, in bloom.  I love this pretty shrub with such wild- looking flowers!  They possess a somewhat inconspicuous quality as they blend in with the Fall colors.  Yet, they are one of the most outrageous flowers in the woods and so fantastical with their party-streamer like petals.  I am always on the hunt for these unique beauties in Autumn.

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When we finished our hike, we made a pile of the leaves we collected in the woods.  Rough leaves, smooth leaves, big leaves, small leaves, yellow/green/red/orange/brown and even polka-dotted leaves!  Children love to play games, so we played “I spy” and looked for red leaves, then big leaves, then pointy leaves and so on.  My littlest is on the young side for some of the adjectives I gave to my oldest, but he did happily participate with color and size prompts.  Children learn through direct experience with Nature and being able to work on shapes and colors while outside is a double bonus.

I love taking my boys out on hikes not just for the exercise (and post-hike naps!) but also because they explore and use their imaginations.  My oldest decided that he was a mountain lion and ran and roared at the top of his lungs. My littlest copied his brother but also went off on his own exploration.

I am happy to report that this hike lifted my spirits and restored me to a place of well-being.  Even though this morning seemed like a complete and utter disaster, at the end of the day we were all healthy and safe.  What more could I ask for?