April 26, 2013

My 40-hour sojourn in Milwaukee

rocks

Last week, I began training to become a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer. Over the course of the next several weeks, our group will complete 40 hours of training in natural history, interpretation, and conservation stewardship.

Since the program is new in Wisconsin, we're the first group in the state to be officially certified!

What does that have to do with a "sojourn in Milwaukee"? The training is held at the Wehr Nature Center, in southwestern Milwaukee County. It's a lovely 220-acre property, with more than five miles of trails linking the center's five natural communities: woodland, wetland, prairie, Oak savanna, and lake.

At our class this week, as we explored the forest, I found myself thinking about different types of forests, and how they can feel welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

Related to this thought, back in January I decided to write at least one post a month that includes a nod to John Muir. And when we went to Florida last month, I found myself thinking about Muir's "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf." In it, Muir recounts his adventures and impressions of the back roads and trails he traveled on his way to Florida.

tropical

Though I'd been to the Sunshine State several times before, I'd never really "hiked" in a Florida forest until last month's trip. People warn you about alligators if you go too far off the beaten track, so we stuck to a trail in a planned community. (I didn't have my camera along, so photos shown here were taken at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden.)

The vegetation along our Florida forest hike was so different from any other forests I've experienced. Strange bird calls and unique animal sounds made me a little uneasy. And huge Philodendrons--the largest I've ever seen--covered the trunks and dangled from the branches of Live Oaks and other trees.

tropical1

Muir had a similar impression: "Florida is so watery and vine-tied that pathless wanderings are not easily possible in any direction ... It is impossible to write the dimmest picture of plant grandeur so redundant, unfathomable ... Oftentimes, I was tangled in a labyrinth of armed vines like a fly in a spider-web."

mangroves

As incredible as it is, a Florida forest can seem intimidating to a northerner.

wehrtrees

But then, so can a northern forest--with all its seasonal changes--to someone from the south. And either type of forest might seem scary to a person who has rarely stepped foot in one. But a forest of any kind is an incredible resource.

log

The rich fertility of a forest offers some of the best opportunities to study incredibly diverse life forms.

I'm looking forward to more exploring in the Wehr Nature Center. As the weeks of training continue, I'll share some of the highlights.

deer

26 comments:

  1. Good for you for joining this program, Beth! A few of my classmates in my MG class a few years ago went on to take the Master Naturalist course. It certainly sounded intriguing, but at the time I didn't think I could manage all the hours required for both. I know you're going to enjoy it, and I'm looking forward to learning from your experiences.

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    1. Thanks, Rose. I've thought about going through the Master Gardener training for years. I still might do that someday. But for some reason, I was more attracted to the MN program.

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful program. Congrats to you and thank you for giving back to your community!

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    1. Thanks, Christy. So far, it has been very rewarding. I'm learning so much my brain hurts. ;-)

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  3. How exciting! This is the first time I've heard of a Master Naturalist. Once you are an MN what will you do with your shiny new qualification?

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    1. Good question, Diana. Mostly it has been a great learning experience, and a chance to give back to the community and the state. To remain certified, we have to complete 40 volunteer hours throughout the year--which should be pretty easy to do.

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  4. Best wishes on your Master Naturalist training! I had to laugh at Muir's description of Florida's vines. We are located not too far from Florida, and I am acquainted similar forests. If we abandoned our property, a 'labyrinth of armed vines' would quickly return!

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    1. Thanks, Deb. Regarding the vines--I believe it! On previous trips to Florida I hadn't been in the "wild places" as much. ;-)

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  5. How exciting to be taking this on! I wish you well with the classes. I can only imagine how jungle-like a forest must be in Florida, with all the plants continually growing in their mild climate. You are right that forests all over the country are different - but we don't usually think about that. Here, the forests are full of briars.

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    1. Thanks, Holley. Our forests are full of briars, too. Lots of Black Raspberry canes, wild Roses, and others. But with a few trails and clearings, they seem welcoming to me.

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  6. Naturalist courses are wonderful. I took the courses last year but declined to become certified because that implied a willingness to commit to a huge volunteer workload that I don't have time for. During the school year, just staying on top of my grading, etc is enough. But it was fun to meet other people as interested in nature as I am and I learned a ton. :o)

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    1. I understand the time constraints! I put off investigating MG programs before I started working for myself. Now I have a lot more flexibility with my time.

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  7. What a great thing to become a master naturalist. I'm sure you will get lots out of the training. Are you familiar with the blog A Tidewater Gardener? He just wrote a post about taking the exact same program in Virginia.

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    1. Thanks. Yeah, I need to visit that blog more. Thanks for the reminder--I'll check it out!

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  8. So much to learn, but well worth the effort I am sure. I wish you luck in completing your program. It would be something I would enjoy, but also would not have the time for in volunteering. That becomes the hardest part after a few years. I am assuming you need to meet yearly hours?

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    1. Thanks, Donna. I know what you mean about the time commitment. I wasn't able to do it until recently, when I started working for myself. But actually the biggest time commitment is right now, with 40 hours of classes by mid-June. After that, I only need to commit 40 hours per year, which will be rewarding and should be very doable.

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  9. Congratulations on your new venture!! It's exciting and you're sure to learn a LOT plus you'll be a great teacher/volunteer. All that vegetation in Florida does look incredible, especially when it's been brown here for the last six months!!!

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    1. Thanks, Kathleen. Yeah, the colors in Florida give you a bit of a sensory overload after a long winter of white, brown, and gray. But things are really greening up around here now!

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  10. Hi Beth, the volunteer job with its training sounds wonderful. It's great to get out of our own gardens, and into the big garden outside. I adore your photos with their subdued colours.

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    1. Thank you! "The big garden outside"--that's an excellent way to look at it. It also communicates how the opportunities are endless. Thanks for that perspective!

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  11. Congratulations Beth...I'm so glad you are taking the Master Naturalist classes. I want to do the same here in northern VA. After going through the classes and becoming an MG I currently am involved with that program, but several of my MG friends are also MN's in this area. We do several activities that overlap, as well. I think once I am an 'empty nester' I may have more time for that pursuit. I am sure you are going to enjoy it immensely!!

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    1. I'm really enjoying it, Jan. Thanks! There are a couple of MGs in my class, too. I might complete those courses at some point, too. For some reason, the MN courses seemed like the right path for me at this stage. The program is very fulfilling, and I'm sure the volunteering will be rewarding, too.

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  12. Sounds like a great project to be involved in. I know what you mean about forests, and different kinds having different feels to them. I always find large coniferous forests spooky, I think because they tend to lack the dappled sunlit glades of decidious forests, and fewer birds so a sense of hush. We all get a little spooked when out of our normal environment.

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    1. Janet: That is so true--it's all about what we're used to. I grew up near northern coniferous and deciduous forests, so they seem welcoming to me, while tropical forests are a little scary. But all are fascinating.

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  13. Beth this is very exciting...I wish we had this program closer than 7 hours South. I love this idea of stewardship and I agree the forest can seem intimidating and especially those that might have human eating animals. Looking forward to more on your program.

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    1. Hi Donna: That would make it more difficult. I'm only driving a little more than an hour to get to my classes, which isn't too tough. Still a time commitment, though. Yes, the human-eating animals do make things scarier. ;-) All part of the web, though.

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