Thursday, January 31, 2019

Where Did the Waves Go?

ed note: Tammy ends our month of one blog post per day.  We hope you enjoy it!


Tammy: "Where did the waves go?" 
Rob: "Don't worry, they'll be back."

We had this exchange during our last full day on Kauai and it made me wonder how much of a metaphor this could be for our life on the farm, work, etc.  We were watching the surfers and those who seemed to be most successful seemed to know how to be patient.  They were actively looking for the right waves and put themselves in the right position to ride that wave.  Sometimes, as they paddled back out, they would dive under a wave rather than be pummeled by the surf.

We hope one take away from this trip is that we remember how to manage the waves that come with farming and teaching, figuring out when to wait for the next wave, deciding when to dive under as the wavers break and looking for ways to ride the wave into shore. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Looking At Things Differently

Those who have been reading the blog for the past several weeks might have figured out that the farmers did, in fact, find a way to 'get away' for at least a little while.  Hopefully, the prior posts have impressed upon those who care to know that we were fully aware that we were needing to get a new perspective on things.  We also hope that the posts shared some of the healing we've been trying to accomplish in the process of going somewhere different.

 One of the things we have done is taken the time to look at things differently.  Sometimes the daily slog causes us to have tunnel vision and we miss some pretty incredible things.  For example, both Tammy and I noticed the colors and textures at this particular location.  I mean, we really NOTICED the colors and textures.  So, we took the photo above to just focus on those things.

 The picture above is a more complete rendering of some of what we were seeing.  The rock at the bottom right is the same one in the first picture.  But, when you look at the second picture, the ocean and mountain seem to grab your attention.  And - that's not really a problem.  It's just a matter of looking at things differently.

 Usually, Rob is the one who sees pictures that might be a little different.  But, Tammy saw the one above and pointed it out to me.  Here's the great news about that.  First, Tammy saw something cool that we might otherwise have stepped right over to get to the ocean overlook.  Second, I knew exactly what she was talking about when she pointed it out.


And, we finally figured out a couple more things about the camera so photos like the one above won't escape us any longer.  It's amazing what you can learn when you start looking at things differently.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Five Ways Local Food Movements Fail to Support Local Food

[editors note: I always hesitate before I write something like this.  Why?  Because the people who take it the hardest are almost always the ones who are already thinking and considering what goes on around them.  I also hesitate because I don't want to point fingers and I don't want to discourage people who have their heart in the right place.  Then, I remember Mr. Kruse and see him in my mind's eye saying, "You meant well..."  That's when I realize I am also doing a disservice if I say nothing.  I stay silent because "I mean well."  But, perhaps that's not consistent with what needs to be done to make things better.]

So, you want to support local foods and diverse, ecologically-friendly farms?  How exactly do you go about doing that successfully?  The easiest answer is to identify local farms and producers and purchase directly from them if they support direct to consumer sales.  The next step is to identify outlets these producers may sell through and patronize those places.  But we understand this is not always practicable for all people at all times.  We realize that there is energy out there to support local food as well.  But, is that energy always being spent in ways that really support the local foods system?

A local farmer on a local tractor?
1. Reinventing the Wheel
It wasn't that long ago that our farm was approached by three different entities that wanted to recruit us to hold a spot at "new" farmers markets that were planned for various neighborhoods within 45 minutes of our farm.  On first blush, it was flattering to be one of the farms asked to join each of these markets.  On the other hand, we suspect they simply went down the Buy Fresh, Buy Local list that we are on.  But, that's not really the point.

We were told, when asked, that they were "certain" that participants would consistently "make it worth our while" to attend these new markets.  We won't get into some of the underlying reasons why a particular location was being considered since the reasons were varied.  But, an underlying theme was that the residents in that 'neighborhood' wanted to support local food by bringing it closer to them.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  We'd be the 'cornerstone' farm for a new market with a whole bunch of avid local food fans.  Competition would be limited to just a few invited farms and they (the neighborhood) would work hard to help us as much as they could.

The first issue we had with this invitation was that they clearly did not understand what the process of preparing for a farmers' market would entail.  But, how could they?  If you haven't experienced the long day that is a market day, you might be tempted to think of it as a relatively short event where a person exchanges a whole bunch of produce for a whole lotta money.  The reality is that a market is a full day of work all by itself.  In short, it isn't a simple matter for a farm to add a market to their itinerary.  There has to be some sound reasons to either add a market or move from one to another.

Unfortunately our faith in consistent patronage at a new market that will always 'make it worth our while' was not that strong.  How do you 'guarantee' sales that leads to a profitable market for each participating vendor?  We got smart the third time we were contacted and countered with an offer to give a special deal to persons in the neighborhood for CSA shares and we would deliver to that location.  We got no response to that offer.

In the end, the real issue is that our support for local foods can get diluted when we over-saturate with too many 'neighborhood farmers markets' or numerous new 'local food outlets.'  This would be a different matter if the existing markets in the area are flooded with customers and vendors normally have very successful sales days.  But, if the current markets are already soft, adding more will only be likely to lead to a rapid demise of the 'general public' markets that exist AND a fairly rapid decline of vendors as they burn out or realize they aren't making enough money to continue.

If you want to support local foods, get out to the existing markets and make them crowded.  Help the vendors sell out.  Get a CSA share from a local farm and get them sold out too.  Increase the demand and then find more ways to get the product into more venues.  It's not necessarily a matter of this being a bad idea as it is an idea that has to follow, rather than precede, other actions.


2. Failure to "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is"
I have conversations with many people who appear to have strong feelings about local foods.  These people tell me how glad they are that our farm exists and they hope that we are able to succeed.  They have a belief that things in the world aren't so bad because 'farmers like us' work hard to try to do things 'the right way.'

Thanks.

But, then, I see a post from one of these people on Facebook that says, "Just got a whole bunch of eggs at BlahStore for 99 cents a dozen!"  I see it the same day we are trying to get people to buy our farm-fresh eggs for $3.50 a dozen.

Another person sees the two of us on a Saturday morning in August and takes note, "Hey, aren't you supposed to be at farmers' market?"  Our response was that we had ceased to be vendors at that market and hadn't been selling there all year.  And, actually, we had not vended at that market for two years at the least.  Clearly they hadn't been to the market themselves for some time.  I wonder why we stopped trying to sell at that market?

You all have your lives to live and you make your decisions.  We get that.  You (and I) also have the right to be inconsistent with what we say and what we do.  But, if we really want local foods to succeed, we need to be putting some of the money in the same direction that our mouths are running and we need to do that consistently, not just those few times when the spirit moves us.  If we don't do that, when you finally listen to that little voice that says, "Go to the farmers market," the farmers market may not be there anymore.

3.  Falling Prey to the "Convenience Wins Over All" Syndrome
Once again, I have to start by saying that I realize we all have a right to make our choices.  However, if you want to truly say that you support local foods, then you absolutely have to meet the local producers halfway on the convenience meter.  I can assure you that any reasonable business is aware that they need to do some things to make the product work for the customer.  But, I can also tell you that a business that expects to be in business in the future is also going to need to figure out how much convenience they can reasonably provide for their customer and still stay sane while making a little money.

If that isn't enough to convince you that you should put yourself out of your 'convenience zone' just a little bit and support local producers and local businesses, let me try another approach.  List for me some of the reasons you think you should support local foods because it is the 'right thing to do.'  I'll give you three and you can figure out others:
  • local foods are fresher and travel fewer food miles
  • local growers and producers are more responsive to the food dollar
  • local producers tend to pursue sustainable practices
Local farms are often much smaller businesses with fewer resources in terms of tools, workers and finances.  They often have to make difficult decisions about how these resources will be used.  So, if you want your local producers to do a good job for some of the things you think are important, then you need to give them a chance to do those things.  Is it important to you that our farm is certified organic and supports pollinator habitat?  Do you want the freshest, highest quality produce from us?  Well, you need to let us do those things rather than having to spending our resources to stand at your door with a pre-made meal from our farm.

On the other hand, if you need your broccoli cut up for you and measured out with a five step recipe along with the other ingredients, you should expect to get less of the other things you say are important.  It's that simple.

4. Being Content with a Label
Actually, this one sometimes is a bit worse than it sounds initially.  The easiest example I can give is this one.

I asked a class what they liked about farmers' markets.  One person said that they liked getting organic produce.  I then asked how many people thought this was the case and half of the people agreed.  I had to break it to them that a certified organic grower at a farmers market is actually a rarity in Iowa.  But, there are a whole bunch of growers who use prohibited chemicals only when they 'really need to.'  Um, sorry.  That is NOT organic.

So, the label is 'farmers market vendor' and the incorrect assumption is 'organic.'  Another is the restaurant or grocery that says they stock 'local foods.'  We can tell you that there are far too many instances where one of these entities have purchased once from a grower, but then spend a whole season (or more) claiming they have product from that farm.  Often, the farm isn't aware of the claim until a customer says, "it is so nice to see your product at such and such a place."  And, you realize, "hey, we only sold them a couple of pounds of lettuce two years ago."

And now you are asking, what's the point of this particular issue?

The point is that people who truly want to support local foods need expect to make a little effort asking some questions about the labels they see that make claims.  That includes asking local growers questions about how they do things.  Invest yourself a bit into the process of gaining knowledge about local foods, where they are being grown, raised and processes and where they are being sold.  A knowledgeable local foods supporter is valuable to the entire movement - and we need more of them.

5. SQUIRREL! - Distractability
If I were to write this post all over again from positive viewpoint "How Local Food Movements Could Best Support Local Food" (and don't give up, I may just do that too!), I would put becoming a consistent and reliable customer of local food producers/purveyors at the top of that list.  Sadly, what tends to happen is that the very people who have the most energy for local foods can be the most frustrating ones for the local producers.  Why is that?  Well, in their zeal to support local products, they tend to dance from one cause to another and one vendor to another, forsaking any prior conquest because their job was 'done' there.

We've been in the local food business long enough now that we've seen people who have hopped from new producer to new producer and new concept of local foods to another new concept of local foods over time to 'help them get going.'  The sentiment is nice, but I believe the results are not what they are intending.  First, a long time business still needs the income to keep going, just like the new business.  So, abandoning the established businesses is only going to hasten to that day when everyone is 'shocked' when they close their doors.  Second, patronizing a new business and then hopping off the bandwagon may encourage them to have set unrealistic goals or projections because your patronage was not something solid they should have based their plans on.  But, how were they to know that you were going to hop to someone else after a while?  Perhaps it would be better if you found a new customer that doesn't already support local foods and get THEM hooked as well?  There's an idea that has merit!

We've seen the same thing happen with the concept of  CSA's, then farmers' markets, then food hubs, etc.  People run from one 'hot button' label to the next, leaving the producers and businesses scrambling to figure out where they are supposed to be going with their product.

Once again, everyone is entitled to patronize whomever they wish and they are also allowed to end that patronage and go elsewhere anytime they wish.  But, if one of your goals is to support local business and local producers, please think a little bit about how your actions support or fail to support them.

Thank you for listening.  You may now go about your normal business.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Best Picture - 2018

You may have noticed a couple of things about the blog recently.
1. We made a goal of providing a quality post every day through the month of January, starting December 27 of last year.  It is entirely possibly we will reach that goal.  Yay us!
2. We took our best photos of 2018 and gave each their own blog post.

We have taken the time to link the best photo blog posts in this one so you can find them and enjoy them from one location.  We have also selected what we believe are the best FIVE photo/writing combinations of the group and we want you to tell us which ones you like the most!  Give us a comment here, or an email, or a Facebook response and we'll let everyone know how the voting played out.  And, if you really don't like that we left one of the others out, vote for it instead, we're not going to stop you.  Please vote by February 4!


The Complete List in the Series:
The Nominees for Best Post/Picture Combination:

Not every part of a working farm needs to be 'cleaned up' and not every gate has to 'go somewhere.'
 


There is healing for the soul if you can just transport yourself to that field that is covered in flowers. 
 

This perfectly still evening is very nearly perfectly silent except for the dull roar the stillness brings with it.
 

They'll come back to the building again tonight.  They will find their perches and their straw.  And they will sleep so they can again dream of grain, dust baths, clover and the shade of the great willow in their pasture.



The farmer might be caught humming pleasantly to himself as he harvests a crop that has done well.  But, you might catch that same farmer looking back over the row with a look that hints at melancholy. 


Sunday, January 27, 2019

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, the sun goes down.  And sometimes it paints a picture for us to enjoy.
Sometimes, it sneaks its way to the horizon behind a wall of clouds, letting a few rays of light make the announcement that the sun has done its job for this trip and that's all it has for us.
Then there are days where there are no clouds at all and the sun blazes its way through the evening hours until it looks like it might melt the ground or boil the ocean.



The end of a mid-January day in Duluth finds the sun diving for the shelter of the edge of the earth so it can hide its embarrassment that it did such a poor job warming the landscape this time around.
A day spent in the woods resulted in the sun playing hide and seek between the tree limbs until it finally found that sweet spot above the horizon but below the canopy so it could bathe the trail in light for a few short minutes.
But, on this day, the sun danced over the mountains and teased the clouds.  Its beams of light found ways to sneak back out to play even after the sun had finally gone to bed.  And, you could hear it chuckling in a self-satisfied way as it slowly pulled the sunbeams back into itself.  And it finally sank into the West.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Inspiration

What do you do when someone picks a label or descriptor for you and you aren't certain about its accuracy?

I had the privilege to serve as a tutor/counselor for the Luther College Upward Bound Summer Program after my Junior and Senior years of college.  Apparently, I did well enough then that I was asked to help as a faculty person some years later when we lived in Decorah.  To say that my first Summer Program experience was a significant growth experience would not be an understatement - and that was as a tutor-counselor, not a student.  I have since witnessed exactly how much the Luther College UB experience meant to many people who were fortunate to be a part of that program and had the privilege to be mentored by some truly outstanding people.

Some outstanding people
My first UB Summer Program as a tutor/counselor was after my Junior year in college.  At that time, the permanent UB staff at Luther consisted of Melanie Hoffner, Laurie Cottingham and Phyllis Gray.  In addition to these three, Dave Hunt was a staff member who had significant experience with the Upward Bound program.  To say that I think highly of these people would be a bit of an understatement. But, there is no way to quantify the respect and gratitude I have for their efforts on behalf of disadvantaged youth in Northeast Iowa over the years.  So, I'll just leave it at that.

My motivation for returning to this subject was the passing of Phyllis Gray last November.  If you are one of the many who interacted with Phyllis during her life-time, you have been given a special blessing.  If you are not one of those people, you can have some hope that maybe you will be privileged to meet her in the next.  Phyllis was a creative personality who somehow managed to provide a consistent and stable foundation for a long line of struggling young people to stand on.  Phyllis was very clear that everyone had responsibility for their actions.  She could be stern and enforce consequences without making the students she was dealing with feel that she didn't care.  In fact, that was one of the most obvious things about her - she cared.  Phyllis was strong, confident and capable and she wanted the students in her program to become their own versions of strong, confident and capable.  Did Phyllis Gray have faults?  Of course she did, and she was the first to admit it.  But, she would also point out that the way we overcome those faults and shortcomings is also part of what makes us who we are.

So, what do you do when someone like Phyllis, along with Melanie, David and Laurie, decide that the word to describe you at the end of your first Summer as a staff person for Upward Bound is "Inspire?"

Phyllis' explanation for it was that I was a generally quiet person, being one of the strongest introverts in a group that featured many extroverts.  But, sometimes I would offer up an opinion and people would listen.  And, then I would stop talking and looked a little surprised at myself.  There was also some commentary about how students responded to me, which was gratifying as well.  But... why "inspire" exactly?

Looking back on it, I have to say that I can't ever tell exactly if I have ever been truly inspiring to anyone.  That's fine, since I think it would be awfully presumptuous of me to assume I have done anything in particular for anyone else that was inspiring.  On the other hand, I can say that I have always believed in the concept of the 'self-fulfilling prophesy.'  The idea is that if someone labels a young person (or any person) as a failure, that young person is more likely to meet that criteria.  On the other hand, if you tell them they are capable or fun to be around, guess what?  They just might start really believing positive things about themselves and they might want to pursue that characteristic as a life goal. 

This makes me wonder if this was just another gift that I was given while I was involved in the Luther College UB Program?  A gift of a life goal to be inspired and to inspire in whatever ways seem best as I travel through this life.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether it was a description of what some people I respect saw in me or if it was a gift of a goal that I should reach for.  What matters is that I can be counted among those who was given something valuable by some good people.  And I am grateful for it.

Friday, January 25, 2019

At Odds

It is still January in Iowa and I've already witnessed a chasm growing between two groups of people in the state when it comes to one word...

Spring

If you listen to what seems like a majority of the people you would conclude that those who are in favor of Winter are that 'small, oddball group' of individuals who enjoy Winter sports, such as snowball throwing and waterer de-icing.  Actually, to be honest, I have been known to put a snowball or two in the freezer just so I can throw one in July... or whenever it seems like we might be having the hottest day of the year.  One important rule to remember if you decide to do that: don't throw the snowball at anything you would rather not damage.  Things like someone's head or a priceless vase are off-limits.  Ok, both of those are probably off-limits in Winter too, but I think you get the point.

Well folks, there is another group of people who are often quite content to let Winter be Winter during its normal months of the year.  This group is inclined to get very grumpy if Winter decides to encroach at other points in time, but when it is time to be Winter, these folk are just fine with it being what it is.  And, in fact, they often prefer that Winter do its thing and Spring need not arrive early to the party.  Just in time is just fine.

Who are these people?

Farmers

Look, most of us have gone through school systems that included a Summer vacation, right?  Do you remember how you felt when the calendar was turned to August and all of those irritating "Back to School" flyers and advertisements could be seen everywhere you looked?  That's ALMOST how farmers feel once the words, "I'm sure you can't wait for Spring!" cross the lips of another individual who might know what a rutabega plant looks like.  Actually, the gardeners are often the worst of the lot when it comes to asking the farmer about looking forward to Spring.  They're more likely to know what a rutabega plant looks like, but they probably don't know what it is like to care for a few thousand of them and all of their relatives at one time.

Teachers of all sorts know exactly what I am talking about here.  Winter is a farmer's Summer vacation.  Yes, yes.  There is still plenty to do, but the all-absorbing nature of teaching or farming when it is the season can leave us feeling a bit jealous of our time when it is NOT the season.  It's not that teachers and farmers don't like what they do.  In fact, they probably need to like it quite a bit in order to keep doing these jobs.  But, farmers and teachers like having a little time to do all of the other things in life that they don't get to do during the school year / growing season. 

So.  Are we looking forward to Spring?  Sure.  Are we ready for Spring? No.  But, we will be when it is time for Spring to be here.  And, I'll be sure to have a few snowballs in the freezer as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Meeting the Ents

The search begins.
There were myths and legends that said they might still exist in the world, the tree-men and walkers-of-the-wood.  But, we discounted the stories as part of the over-active imaginations of fans of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Or, maybe it wasn't so hard to decide they were not real.  After all, we'd read the stories and we understood that they were fictional creations.

And yet, I think we kind of hoped we might prove the truth behind the fiction, at least where the Ents, or tree people, were concerned.  So, we took walks in the woods, looking for a sign - any sign - that they walked the earth.

But, the problem we had from the beginning is that we weren't sure exactly what an Ent looked like.  Should we rely on the drawings of artists like Alan Lee or the written descriptions of Tolkien?  Were these based on fact or only imagination?

For that matter, we weren't sure if Ents even moved in a way that made sense within our own sense of time.  After all, Ents are supposed to be ancient creatures who are anything but 'hasty.'  Tolkien tells us in the Two Towers that ents are slow to act, in part because there is so much history to them.  In the words of Treebeard he writes:

"...my name is growing all the time, and I've lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.
Tammy and I went looking for ents anyway.

We didn't know Entish, so that wasn't going to help.  For that matter, there was no telling if they would speak fast enough for us to tell that words were being said at all?  How big were they?  What did they eat?  Where were the best places to look for them?  We just didn't know.



But, Tammy and I went looking for them anyway.

There were all sorts of trees in the places we walked.  It made sense to us that we should try all types of woods.  After all, both Lewis and Tolkien ascribed different characteristics to tree-people that matched tree types.

"Lucy ... saw that it was a crowd of human shapes. Pale birch-girls were tossing their heads, willow-women pushed back their hair from their brooding faces ... the queenly beeches stood still ... shaggy oak-men, lean and melancholy elms, shock-headed hollies (dark themselves, but their wives all bright with berries) and gay rowans"  C.S. Lewis - Prince Caspian
 
Maybe some Ents would be more willing to be seen than others?  Perhaps some would very much prefer not to be noticed, while others might not mind.  Lewis' descriptions made us wonder if we should avoid some of the tree types because they sounded a little less welcoming.  Would a 'queenly' beech deign to recognize us?  And, what, exactly were the willows brooding over?

A fine tree friend!
We found many beautiful trees on our hikes.  Some might well have been Ents, but we could not tell for certain.  The forest was full of the sound of trees, but that was likely just the wind playing a tune with their leaves and branches.  Tammy found one impressive tree that was willing to pose for a photograph.  Maybe it was an Ent, or maybe it was a Huorn - an Ent that has gotten tree-ish?  Or maybe, it was just a tree. 

In the end, it didn't matter, because we still thought well of it, whether it was an Ent or not.  We will never know whether it thought well of us, but that probably doesn't matter anyway.

In fact, there were many magnificent trees that we 'met' on our travels.  We thought no less of them for being tree-ish.  In fact, it is the tree-ishness of Ents that makes us want to meet one.  But, it is the Entish part that is necessary for us to understand them.  At least, that's what we thought.


An Ent looking over the ridge?


At one point, we thought we saw an Ent looking over a ridge in the valley.  At first glace, we didn't see it and the next, it was there.  Did we just miss it the first time, or had it actually moved into place from one moment to another?  It didn't move again while we watched, but is it possible it was aware of our gaze and it didn't want to give itself away?  We couldn't tell.  And we weren't patient enough to wait it out.

Yes, we talked a little about staying and watching to see if it would move again until we realized that trees have a bit more time to spend on patience than we do.  So, we moved on without our answer to our question.  If it was an Ent, we wished it well.  For that matter, if it was a tree, we also wished it well, which is what the Ents would want us to do anyway.

We think there is an ent here!  Look to the right of Tammy!
After one of our walks, we looked at our pictures and found the photo you see above.  There it was.  A face in a tree.  Could that be an Ent?  Did we move past too quickly before it could form its slow greeting for us?  Or maybe it was a warning?  We'll likely never know because we were too quick and we didn't know what we were listening or looking for.

We waited for it to speak

We walked some more and came upon a tree that had a face.  At least it was close enough to what we would call a face that we thought maybe it was an Ent.  We stopped and talked to it.  We were as polite as we could be because we know the trees are dangerous when they are roused.  Maybe it understood us.  Perhaps it was considering whether it should wake itself enough to greet us - or maybe tell us to get off its roots.

We told it that we were hoping that Ents were real in this world and that they were continuing to care for the trees in the forests as they had in prior ages.  We assured it that we would continue to look for the Ent-wives.  We waited for it to speak.  The tree, Huorn or Ent did not respond to us.  But, when we looked back, we thought we saw it wink in our direction.

An ENT!

It was late on yet another walk and we were getting tired.  We were no longer so keen to look for Ents.  After all, one gets discouraged when there is little reward for what is perceived as great effort - even if that effort is not great enough.  So, we trudged up the path on the way back home.  Thoughts of taking shoes off and rubbing sore feet and something cold to drink kept us moving forward.

And then we both stopped.

Because something was moving around the bend ahead of us.

It could be a wild pig or a feral goat or....  But, it sounded big.  Very big. And yet, it didn't sound so big as all that.  What could it be?

I looked at Tammy and she looked back at me.  Do we go on?  If we don't go on, what do we do?  Neither of us was going to outrun anything if that was called for on this trail.

We listened a bit more and decided that the sound was moving away from us.  So, we cautiously rounded the corner.

And saw....
An ENT!

And ANOTHER ENT!
It was walking down the trail ahead of us, intent on going somewhere we probably couldn't or shouldn't follow.  We had finally found one, but neither of us was able to make a sound or move from our spot.  I was just able to bring the camera up to my face and take a picture as it moved to the right off of the trail.

Given the size of the creature, it was actually surprising how little sound it made as it moved off the trail.  As we watched, it seemed as if branches held themselves out of the Ent's way and rocks tilted ever so slightly to make what might have been a precarious step secure.  But, once the Ent passed, everything returned to their original position as if the Ent had never been there at all.

We looked on the path and saw odd markings, or footprints, it had left behind.  But the earth was rapidly healing them over.  By the time we thought to try to take a picture, we couldn't find them anymore.

We looked again off the trail and saw no further movement.  We couldn't tell where it had gone or where it might be now.  Perhaps Ents can stop and freeze themselves in place when they need to.  Or maybe they know secret paths that take them places far more quickly than we might expect.

Since the sun was on its way down, we trudged back the final half mile of our hike for the day.  As we got into the car to head home Tammy said, "You know, I think we heard something similar earlier in our walk."  I agreed, so we went straight home so we could view the pictures from our search.  Sure enough, we found what could be a second Ent from our walk during that day.

It was dark, so we couldn't go back to check that spot in the trail - but we went back the next day to see what we could see.  There was no ent shaped tree at that location anymore.  I took many photos to document the change and we rushed home to see what we had.

Every photo was blurred beyond recognition.  Every single one.  We had no proof.  We only had our experience and our word to you.  The Ents are alive and they walk in the woods.  Treat the trees with respect, because you can't know whether they hear you or if they notice you.  We're certainly going to continue to do what we can to honor our natural areas.  And we're not giving up until we can show everyone proof that Ents do exist.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Pathways

I am afraid I've been thinking again - it's a dangerous pastime.  But, you already knew that, didn't you?


I have an affinity for attempting to take photographs of paths, trails or pathways of any other sort.  I realize other people probably do this too and there are certainly far more talented photographers out there than I.  Nonetheless, during hikes that Tammy and I take, Tammy has to tolerate my desire to have the camera out to see if I can capture some of the process of going from here to there.

I was wondering what fascinated me so much with this until I looked at the bridge picture at the left.  This is not far from the entry to the Kuamo'o trail that meets up with the Nounou trail in Kauai.  When you stand on this side of the bridge, can you tell where it goes?  What will you see when you cross to the other side?  It's a hike in Kauai, so it probably leads to something wonderful to view, right?

Well, it does - and we'll show you later.  But, it clarified for me something I've thought for some time.  Too much of the time, too many of us focus on the big goals at the end of a process and too few of us recognize the beauty, joy or satisfaction of being right where we are.  It's the bridge that holds much of the beauty,  believe it or not.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't dream or strive for bigger goals.  And, there are certainly times when you need to ignore some of the details as you pass through on the way to somewhere else.  What it means is that we are often cheating ourselves when we are unwilling to put forth some effort to appreciate the process and where we are right now.

Just off the Awaawapuhi Trail in Koke'e State Park
Awaawapuhi is listed as a "difficult" hike on a few internet or published guides.  We have to admit that no particular part of this trek was all that hard.  There were no super steep climbs or drops.  There were plenty of roots and rocks and places were muddy.  But, that's true of many Kauai hikes.  The difficulty for us came with the final mile on the way back.  The total hike length (down and back) is about 6.5 miles.  But, it's the 2100 foot drop in altitude that you have to climb back up that got us.  Some people have reviewed the hike as being 'boring' until you get to the end.  But, we found it to be quite interesting.
Official end of the Awaawapuhi Trial
We've taken the Canyon Trail several times now.  There are some nice trail spots along the way, but we went with a shot on the ridge as our 'along the way' picture this time.  We've not been on the trail with the interesting shadows coming from the trees onto the trail before.  There was a light breeze, which made it tempting to sit and just absorb the surroundings for hours.
Canyon Trail near Waipo'o Falls
 The light wasn't the best for canyon photos this time around, but it was still great viewing in person.  I've been enamored with the natural arch on the ridge just across from the trail since the first time we came here. 
Waimea Canyon from the Canyon Trail
 For some reason, the Kuilau Ridge Trail came as a last minute hike the last time we visited the island.  This time, it was high on our list of hikes we wanted to take.  It's a good one to get back into shape for the kind of hiking you need to be prepared for on Kauai.  It also gives lots of opportunities to stop and enjoy the changing landscape.
Kuilau Ridge Trail
This trail is one of the smoothest to take, though it still has a climb to it.  Even so, Kauai reminds you frequently that to view her, you need to stop to look around.  Otherwise, you need to keep your concentration on where your feet are going.  Otherwise, your face just might meet Mother Earth up close and personal when that little lump in the trail turns out to have a little hook for your foot.
View from Kiulau Ridge Trails
The Mahaulepu trail was a first time trip for Tammy and I.  I realize the 'trail' picture this time sort of cheats by having a mountain in the background.  But, none of the trail pictures really made me want to post it this time.  It's not the trail's fault.  Blame the camera operator.

View near the beginning of Mahaulepu Trail
 The strange thing about this trail is it actually has all kinds of options for you to follow at the beginning.  It's awfully tempting to stay next to the cliffs by the ocean.  Why?  Because you can see this.

View from Mahaulepu
If the light is right and the waves are right, you have plenty of opportunity to have fun with picture taking on Mahaulepu. 

Another new hike for us was the Kuamo'o Trail that leads eventually to the east Nounou trail.  Like many of the "there and back" trails, you tend to forget the difficult parts you passed early on when you weren't as tired. 

Yes, sections of Kuamo'o Trail were covered with roots like THIS!
There were also trees that bent over the trail so you had to duck at times.  But, there were a couple of clearings on the ridge facing to the interior of Kauai and you could see Waialeale if you managed to catch it without a complete cloud mantel. 
Waialeale from Kuamo'o Trail
 Another thing we enjoy is the changes in the surroundings as we traverse a trail in Kauai.  We moved from all of the twisty, bendy trunks of trees on Kuamo'o to some proud, stately evergreens on Nounou.  They both have their beauty, but I think Tammy and I were more enamored with the pines.
Kuamo'o/Nounou (east) pine area.
There was a bit more climbing than either of us typically likes at the end of Nounou (Sleeping Giant), so we actually opted to go with a different vista rather than completing to the top of the Sleeping Giant.  But, part of it is the reality that I actually like having some of the mountain left to provide some context for what we're seeing in our picture!
Nounou (the Sleeping Giant)
Then, there is the Pihea Trail.  It's an easy trail to take for a while and turn back or go all the way to the end (which requires a little climbing for the last bit).  The hard pat for this one is that you keep getting views of the Kalalau Valley which make you want to stop and gawk.
Pihea Trail - early stages
Yet, there are all kinds of interesting places along the way that have their own beauty and I was happy to try to give them their due as I was able. 
Pihea Trail - middle stages
Sometimes, the clouds move in and perform the 'giant eraser' trick on the vista that is the Kalalau Valley.  It might be tempting to be disappointed by that, except it makes you pay more attention to where you are, encouraging you to see more than the high wire act in the big tent. 
Kalalau Valley

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Favorite Place

Thank goodness there are places in this world that speak to us.  Perhaps the places that speak to me are not the same as those that speak to you.  But, I sincerely hope that everyone can recognize and listen when they encounter such a place.




 Waimea Canyon speaks to both Tammy and I and it draws us back over and over again.  Pictures do not do it justice and are but a shadow of what we experience.  Yet, the pictures are a window that allows us to recollect and imagine the conversation with nature we had while we were there.


Waimea Canyon is not the only place in this world that speaks to the two of us.  Many of the places that do are not nearly so grand and they hold their beauty in completely different ways.  Often, those places are subtler.  But, there are times when we need the big show to come along and remind us to listen a bit more carefully.  We are awed to silence as we walk to the railing and look down... and around... and we find ourselves paying full attention.  At last.

Sometimes we get discouraged when it seems that other people don't see or hear when they walk up to those railings and overlooks.  One person came up next to us and gushed, "That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"  They took a quick selfie with the canyon in the background and left after what amounted to about a 10 second visit.  Another young lady complained to her mother and (presumably) her grandmother, "I can't get service!  I want to talk to people.  I don't like it!"  She proceeded to turn her back to the canyon and stare hopefully at her phone, moving around to try and catch a signal while the other two tried to enjoy the view.

Then, someone appears that restores our faith.  They walk up and audibly gasp.  Then they stand, dumbstruck, while the canyon tells them stories of grandeur, beauty and wonder.

How long did it take for these lands to build up, with countless eruptions of volcanoes and periods of calm between?  And then how long to wear down, so we could see the beautiful bones of the earth, still able to sustain life?
Right now, all we need to know is that it took as long as it needed to so it could be here to speak to us.  We just need to open up our ears to listen.