Milwaukee River Greenway: Moments of Gratitude
By Sierra Taliaferro
Photographs by Eddee Daniel
When I step onto the West Bank Trail at Capitol Drive, I extend my gratitude to the hands and minds who designed it so that nature-lovers like me can enjoy it. It brings me pleasure to share this space with relatives that bless us with their presence—both plants and animals. A gentle reminder that we coexist on this land, not one species dominating the other, but simply living together. Nature is healing, it is abundant, and all around us. When I’m hiking or birding, I am reminded of not only the beauty around me, but the beauty within me, because Nature is a reflection of ourselves.
It is autumn; the season brings forth a new color scheme, full of red and orange hues in the treetops, and a variety of yellow, purple, and white flowers below. Asters and goldenrods line the trails that greet you in this pocket of paradise, and their bright colors and patterns capture my attention.
The flowers provide beauty to the human eye as they provide a livelihood for the bumblebee. These fall blooms are a lifesaver as winter approaches. And, as the sun warms the landscape, the flash of dark-eyed juncos and other migrating warblers as they zip through the woods remind me to embrace the Indian summer and enjoy the nice weather while it lasts.
The farther I walk away from Capitol and the commotion of city life, the more immersed I am in the natural landscape along the Greenway, which allows me to use all of my senses for observation and exploration. Access to the water along the riverbank provides an up-close view of waterfowl swimming upstream and herring gulls hanging out on a sandbar across the way. I see fishermen trying to get a good catch, and a few fish that mischievously get away.
Walking along the trail I find a vast array of blue stem and zig-zag goldenrods in the understory, displaying their best flowers in the morning sunlight. I also appreciate the presence of silver maples and white oaks standing strong in the canopy overhead, and the historical relics left behind, leading me to imagine what life here must have been like in an earlier time. As I walk along a floodplain that has gone through such significant changes, I consider humanity’s ability to adapt.
The Greenway is full of our relatives—from the trees that tower above us, the plants that stand with us, to the soil that nurtures them below us. All of these relatives have a presence and a role in this space. I often wonder what they have gone through in their time. How much have they adapted as the world evolves while also contributing to the greater good of nature? Despite it all, they stand there in full abundance and let us explore this pocket of paradise to reconnect to nature in our own capacities.
What a privilege it is to have living elders and teachers such as them in our midst, allowing us to authentically enjoy ourselves in their presence and this space that we all share. The flowers that bloom, the wildlife that thrives, and the water that connects us. It all truly makes me happy, keeps me at peace, and above all—grateful.
Nature is so important for the vitality of our spirits, especially in these unusual times. I hope you find your grounding in Nature to maintain your joy, wherever it leads you. May you find your own pocket of paradise among the woodlands, along the Milwaukee river surrounded by elders—a symphony of plants and animals—and that you be reminded that you are never too far from an outdoor adventure in this urban oasis.
Photographer’s note: I am grateful to be able to hike with a naturalist as knowledgeable as Sierra, who can identify all the plants and animals for me!
Sierra Taliaferro is a Milwaukee-based naturalist. Eddee Daniel is an Artist in Residence in the Milwaukee River Greenway for the River Revitalization Foundation and Project Director of A Wealth of Nature.