Your Travels, Years Later

Candice Gaukel Andrews May 4, 2010 15
Prairie Chickens

Greater prairie chickens prepare to “dance.” ©John T. Andrews.

I know this is going to sound weird, but a month ago I got up at 3:00 a.m. to drive almost 150 miles north of here. I did this just for the opportunity to sit in silence in a plywood box — no bigger than four feet by five feet — for three hours on a below-freezing April morning. My goal was to arrive before 5:00 a.m. and then somehow find this small crate in the dark, set in the middle of 15,000 acres of grasslands (not an easy feat!). Why would I want to do such a crazy thing?

The purpose was to watch from a blind as male greater prairie chickens puffed out their big, orange air sacs on the sides of their necks and madly stomped their feet in a “dance” meant to capture the attention of some rather aloof females.

Most of my friends think I may have finally gone around the bend. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, I stood near a little dam in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, for hours watching muskies (or “muskellunge”) gather to spawn. And last fall, I drove to a lake on my state’s western edge, just this side of the mighty Mississippi River, to stare at a few tundra swans from 300 feet away.

I wasn’t always like this. This strange behavior started after my first Natural Habitat Adventures trip.

It Began with Polar Bears.

Most people who are fortunate enough to be able to travel to see the polar bears of Churchill find themselves moved by the experience. I certainly was, after my trip there in 2002. And I’ve heard others speak about similar journeys, such as witnessing the great herds in Africa or the penguin colonies in Antarctica, in the same tones. Those kinds of experiences can’t help but stir your soul at the moment you see them.

Wildlife Blind

What you don’t expect, though, is how, years after the trip, you have been permanently altered. It isn’t obvious at first; a week or two following your return home, you slide back into your familiar routine. When you do relive your trip with family and friends, you use verbs in the past tense. But six months down the road, you get a hankering to take a walk outside at lunch — something that never interested you before — or stop at a park on the weekend.

Then it begins to snowball. Even though you’re back home, you can still feel a piece of yourself “out there.” You try to force yourself to shake off the dream, but there’s an inkling inside that won’t go away. You look around and discover that your own neighborhood is a stitch in the quilt of nature, too; and you begin to notice as if for the first time the indigenous plants and animals around you. As a guide in Patagonia once said to me, “There are beautiful natural events and phenomena wherever you are in the world.”

Sometimes, you just have to stand somewhere far away to see the things that are close.

The Legacy of Later.

White-tailed deer

You’ll find me following white-tailed deer through the woods in my own back yard. ©John T. Andrews.

For example, since seeing the polar bears eight years ago, I now know that just a few miles from where I live, Karner blue butterflies congregate. It’s one of the few places left in the United States where they do. I know that monarch butterflies pass through Wisconsin on their way to Mexico. I know that baby bison are born in the small town of Poynette just north of me, and elk bugle in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin’s Great Northwoods. And I now know, I want to see it all.

What has going on a Natural Habitat Adventures trip caused you to do differently, once you got back home? What has been the impact of one of your trips, years later?

If your nature travels should take you anywhere near Wisconsin in the future, look me up. Chances are, I’ll be standing for a 12-hour shift somewhere along the Wolf River to make sure that spawning sturgeon are not interrupted during their annual ritual, or following the tracks of white-tailed deer through the woods in my own back yard.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

15 Comments »

  1. Ross Brown May 4, 2010 at 11:03 am - Reply

    After living in South Korea for two years, I returned to Canada and found myself supporting my right hand with my left hand when I was handing something to someone. I stopped myself short of bowing my head as I handed over cash to a store clerk! (This act is s sign of respect.)

    I also found myself placing a hand in front of my mouth when I laughed.

    It’s funny how we subconsciously adopt habits from other countries.

    • Ed Kline May 4, 2010 at 8:03 pm - Reply

      I’ve been in love with the outdoors since I was a kid,and had great adventures as a Girl Scout. Our six NatHab trips intensified our awe of this amazing planet,and also convinced us that traveling with like minded friends made the journeys even more enjoyable.

  2. Carlyn Kline May 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    I’ve been in love with the outdoors since I was a kid, and had great adventures as a Girl Scout. Our six NatHab trips intensified our awe of this amazing planet, and aso convinced us that traveling with like minded friends made the journeys even more enjoyable.
    As for behavior changes: after returning from each of our seven winters spent RV’ing all over Mexico, I found myself speaking Spanish to any and all, not an entirely appropriate action in northwest Missouri {although it would be less suspect lately}.
    Also, after each of my seven trips to China, I came home craving Chinese
    food and much more mindful of people’s personal space, not much in evidence there.
    Further trips around the globe taught me new culinary tricks, added many birds to my life list, and reinforced the idea that personal connections with both the natural world and its inhabitants are the richest source of wisdom and delight.

  3. Carlyn Kline May 4, 2010 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Oops! Somehow Ed’s name got on my response. Let me assure you he was never a Girl Scout!

  4. Travis May 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Still waiting! I’d love to go on a NatHab trip!

  5. C.G.A. May 5, 2010 at 6:49 am - Reply

    I just thought Ed was a trailblazer — a man before his time!

  6. NineQuietLessons May 7, 2010 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    I’ve never been on a Nat Hab trip, but some of my trips to other countries have made me appreciate the infrastructure here in America more.

  7. John May 9, 2010 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    Going on Nat Hab trips always reinforces the importance of not wasting any time. Some of the best moments on a trip are the early morning and late evening hikes, when critters are moving around and the light is low on the horizon.

  8. Susan Kohlback May 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    May Day has taken on a new tradition for my family since our trip to China in 1985. We found ourselves in Beijing on May Day and in the company of millions of sightseers, as families ventured out to celebrate a rare day off from work. There were so many people trying to visit the Forbidden City that day, all I could see were roofs and bobbing heads. Every year since, our family has ordered or cooked Chinese food on May Day to reminisce about our trip.

    Susan Kohlback, Editor
    Wicked Good Travel Tips.com
    Greater Boston Area
    (Originally posted on LinkedIn)

  9. Andrea Granahan May 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    In Greece they celebrate the first day of Orthodox Lent with a holiday called Clean Monday. Everyone goes for picnics in the country and flies kites. Years after I left there, my husband and I built a giant kite and invited friends over for a picnic. It coincided with Shakespeare’s birthday so I wrote his sonnets all over the kite which was made with gold leaf paper someone had given us.

    (Originally posted on LinkedIn)

  10. Susan Kohlback May 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    May Day has taken on a new tradition for my family since our trip to China in 1985. We found ourselves in Beijing on May Day and in the company of millions of sightseers, as families ventured out to celebrate a rare day off from work. There were so many people trying to visit the Forbidden City that day, all I could see were roofs and bobbing heads. Every year since, our family has ordered or cooked Chinese food on May Day to reminisce about our trip.

  11. Dorothy Klinefelter May 11, 2010 at 11:04 am - Reply

    I agree totally. Some travel provides perspectives that are hard to obtain in our normal lives. Sometimes, however, it is not necessary to venture very far. In the mid 1970′s I made a morning trip to Goose Pond near Poynette, Wis. and had the good luck to witness hundreds and hundreds of Tundra Swans feeding and flying at the pond. They flew just 15 feet over our heads in some cases. At that moment a birder was born and I have enjoyed finding and watching birds ever since.

  12. Kit Nordeen May 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Our travels have helped me to apreciate the beauty of walking quietly through
    the woods at our farm with our dog, Cami. She also seems to enjoy watching and listening for birds and any other creatures who pass through.
    I always did enjoy nature, but our travels have made me value each experience even more. (many of them are not that far from home!)

    Kit

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