Autumn Odyssey 4: A Sense of Wonder!
December 6, 2022 | Topics: Stories
By Eddee Daniel
Have you exercised your sense of wonder lately? I’ve been practicing. The word, wonder, has two related but distinct meanings: 1) to be in a state of astonishment and/or admiration, and 2) to feel curiosity. For example, I wonder (am curious) how many lovely parks and preserves there are to visit within an hour’s drive. I am engaged in an ongoing quest to find them. I have yet to exhaust the potential inventory. When I do discover a new place to explore I never cease to be filled with wonder (admiration and astonishment) at the natural beauty we have all around us, within easy reach.
As I said, I’ve been practicing. Children have an innate sense of wonder. Everything to them feels new. I’ve raised two and now have the privilege and great pleasure of observing two grandchildren as they grow. I find it invigorating; it helps me recharge my own sense of wonder. It can atrophy, without practice, like muscles. It is essential to exercise your mind on a regular basis—and I find one of the best ways is to take a hike in a nearby forest or field and pay attention to everything I can. This too takes practice. But it’s more than worth the effort, for the more you look the more you see.
Our parks are rich with plants and animals, with textures, shapes, and (especially in autumn) colors. My Autumn Odyssey, now in its fourth installment, brings you the fruits of my practice and explorations—a little at a time.
We begin this episode at Thoma Preserve, near Little Cedar Lake, southwest of West Bend in Washington County. Thoma is owned and managed by Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, a land trust that is located nearby. My first visit was on an overcast day, which is ideal conditions for bringing out rich autumn colors. However, although it was still early October, much of the foliage was already beyond peak. Not a problem! My practice includes curiosity about the subtle things in nature as well as the spectacular, such as the somber, muted colors in a flower-spotted meadow.
I returned to Thoma on a brilliant sunny day. I was able to capture a few nice shots, but in fact, I consider my previous outing more successful. The landscape of Thoma Preserve has a split personality—quite literally, as well as figuratively. Half of the property is prairie, while half is a pine plantation forest. They are divided by a road leading to residential properties along the lake.
Thoma is immediately adjacent to Ackerman’s Grove County Park. In fact, the land trust acquired the parcel when the county decided to save the land from likely development when the county decided to divest for fiscal reasons. The hiking trail that loops through both lobes of Thoma still connects with the trail system in the county park. Having been to Ackerman’s Grove before, I didn’t venture far into the park. However, that was where I found the most beautiful patch of poison ivy—dappled with autumn asters. It’s a practice, remember! If you go around thinking of poison ivy as merely a noxious plant to be avoided you will not see how wondrous it can be. Just don’t wade through and you’ll be fine.
Next stop, not far from Thoma and Ackerman’s Grove, is Heritage Trails, another Washington County park. Here the season’s colors were still in their infancy, proof that it’s hard to predict where autumn will strike and when. Some advice, for those of you ready to engage your sense of wonder: if you’re hiking along with the sun behind you, slow down and turn around now and then to catch the foliage you pass when it is backlit, as I did with this tuft of tall wild grass.
The highlight for me at Heritage Trails was when I came across an enormous patch of milkweed that had gone to seed. Talk about slowing down and paying close attention; I spent a good half hour admiring (and shooting) the seed pods from every angle and direction.
It is often easier to get excited about exploring new places, as I like to do, than to discover something new about old familiar ones. But I make that part of my practice too. I am fortunate to live next to Hoyt Park and the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa and have photographed them too many times to recall. But I continually challenge myself to see them with new eyes—with that childlike sense of wonder. I share with you here three shots that I feel succeed on that score.
Finally, I wrap up this episode with one of the more surprising finds of the season: Kisdon Hill Park in Waukesha. I’ve driven right by this small (13-acre) city park many times on my way to nearby Retzer Nature Center. Stopping there to explore has been on my to-do list for so long that I finally took advantage of fall to finally do so. My expectations were low, considering its size and the fact that it is surrounded by residential subdivisions and an adjoining sports recreation center with all of the requisite athletic fields. But my sense of wonder was rewarded —astonishment and admiration ensued.
From giant oaks soaring overhead to fat fungi underfoot, from woodland to prairie, this park’s thirteen acres pack in a lot of nature! It wouldn’t take but a few minutes for an energetic hiker to make it around the trail loop, but for those of us taking it slow and practicing our sense of wonder…well, it took me over an hour.
For more information and photos of the featured parks:
Previous installments of Autumn Odyssey 2022:
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. The featured photo at the top of the page is from Kisdon Hill Park, Waukesha.