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