Cold Moon

This super moon is also called the cold moon, as it marks the advent of such weather. The name cold moon is supposedly derived from Native American terminology, but many of the websites I skimmed did not have more specific information, and it is too late to delve into a full-on research project into the tribal origin of this moniker. 🤦🏻‍♀️ At any rate, I can hear the sound of what I hope are snowflakes hitting my window right now. 🙏🏼

I realized earlier today that as of December 1, we have met the six month mark of our state parks bucket list adventure. We have hit almost 30 state parks! (We just hit 29 with my “real” trip to Newport last week). More than the number, though, I am most proud of the quality of our adventures. I have grown to relish the unique experience each park offers versus checking an item off of a bucket list. My wanderlust begets more wanderlust! I have many parks that I would love to return to in every season to more fully savor the changes in season and landscape.

I have been feeling more anxious and sensitive than usual in the last several days, and as I was brushing up on my super moon research today, I found out it was normal to feel overwhelmed by these emotions because of the lunar event. I found these epic suggestions for journaling and taking an bath during this time to revitalize energy and restore balance. I indulged in a bath and journaling session with some Tibetan singing bowls, and I feel incredibly revitalized and restored. Thanks to all the hiking over the last six months, I feel more rooted to nature and more aligned in my energy and intentions. I used to dread the doldrums of a Sunday night, and today I actually feel excited about where the next week will take me! Maybe a bubble bath should be a recurring Sunday night ritual… or at least every full moon?

🌕🌖🌗🌘🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕

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High Cliff Area Travel Guide

High Cliff is our new “home” park! I already miss Harrington Beach State Park, and wonder what the shoreline looks like, but it feels great to be home and closer to family and friends. As a native of Calumet County, I thought I would share some of the closest hidden jewels for anyone who needs to check High Cliff off their state parks bucket list. Rosie and I love playing tourists in our hometown hamlet, and I hope to make a lot of the county’s seasonal offerings new Windorff family traditions.

The trails and topography of High Cliff reflect its history, from as long ago as the formation of the Silurian Seabed some 400 million years ago. You can actually traipse along the fossilized dolomite-limestone sea floor while hiking the Redbird Trail or the trailhead of the Effigy Mound trail.

The effigy mound trail winds through a number of animal-based mounds built by built by nomadic indigenous peoples 1,000 and 1,500 years ago.

The Red Bird trail is named for an Indian warrior of the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk tribe. (The Winnebago/Ho-Chunks were pushed from their original homelands that included the Lake Winnebago area farther west and into parts of Nebraska. Anyone interested in an easy, concise read on the history of Indians in Wisconsin should read Wisconsin Indians by Nancy Oestriech Lurie, curator emerita of anthropology at the Milwaukee Public Museum).

The aptly-named Lime Kiln Trail begins at the ruins of the old lime kiln operated by the Western Lime and Cement Company. The general store that is now run as a museum is additional evidence of the small quarry town, “Clifton,” that preceded the Sherwood area.

A decaying fieldstone fence that runs through the park near the campgrounds evidences early pioneering efforts, and cement paths near the cliff’s edge by the tower and pavilion areas are remnants of the steamboat excursion era when the park was a popular amusement destination – local lore tells of people driving old model T cars off the cliff. Wild!

Although my favorite hiking trails are the Lime Kiln and Red Bird trails for their difficulty, topography, and views of Lake Winnebago, the Butterfly Pond trail is paved and handicap accessible, which makes it also incredibly stroller and toddler friendly.

While you are in the area, here are some favorite area businesses to complement your High Cliff visit:

The Chubby Seagull is right off of the Butterfly Pond Trail, and is the best and closest bet if you are camping. Open seasonally, they serve coffee, espresso, pizza, cheese and charcuterie plates, Cedar Crest ice cream, and a spot-on selection of craft brews and wines. They also have dog-friendly mini golf. If you want a more expansive ice cream selection, Frogg’s Ice Cream is a short drive up the hill. For groceries and provisions, Dick’s Family Foods is a convenient option with a great selection of Wisconsin-made products. They are also right across from Wanick Choute Park, which has an epic (and free!) splash pad in summer, a sledding hill in winter, and link up to a web of paved trails that criss-cross this adorable little village.

Calumet County is the supper club capital of Wisconsin, and Sherwood is home to several quality options. The Outpost is more of a bar that serves up live music, classic cocktails, and log cabin ambiance. The Granary is on my list to revisit soon – they have been a Sherwood supper club staple for decades, and their website says they emphasize farm-to-table dining, and serve Wisconsin grown beef and seasonal produce.  Shenanigans is currently closed, but there is a “sold” sign out front, so stay tuned for the next chapter of this historic supper club and bowling alley. High Cliff Restaurant is located across the street from the park entrance, and they also operate the High Cliff golf course, both of which have stunning views of the park and cliff. The golf course was designed in 1968 by Homer Fieldhouse, a notable Wisconsin-grown landscape architect who grew up working on the grounds at Taliesen with his father.

 

Despite the manmade reminders of our local history, I love High Cliff for the reinvigoriation provided by the park’s natural elements. Vines overtake the quarry company buildings. Grass grows over the amusement park ride foundations. There is nothing more comforting than walking along the lakeshore at the foot of the cliff and hearing the wild endlessness of the waves against the shoreline. I love the permanence of nature’s constant change. If you are in the Northeast Wisconsin area for Thanksgiving, make High Cliff your #optoutside destination.

 

Whitefish Dunes State Park

Cave Point County Park >>> Craggy Lake Michigan Dolomite Limestone Shoreline >>> Whitefish Dunes State Park

I feel so fortunate to live close to Door County hiking. The hike from the steep cliffs of Cave Point County Park to the flat, sandy expanse of beach and grassy dune scape is dramatic and soul-quenching.

I visited on a Sunday in November with a crew of dear friends, including my sister, and our dogs. It was a cloudy day, and the air was infused with hints of evergreen, cedar, autumn leaves, lake, and snow. The conversation ranged through adult topics like school districts and mortgages, but we still acted like kids on a scavenger hunt searching for fossils, clambering over craggy dolomite to stare in either direction at the stunning horizon, and romping around on the beach throwing sticks for dogs.

It was a veritable hike through Narnia. The boreal forest changed to sandy beach, which  melted into snow-covered conifers. Then, rose-gold beech leaves began covering the trail. It felt like we hiked through every season in a half hour.

This dynamic landscape is so healing and reenergizing, much like spending time with loved ones.

 

 

 

Hunting and Gathering // Wax Paper Placemats: An Autumn Tradition

As we sloshed our way through leaf-covered trails this autumn, I have thought a lot about which family traditions I would like to continue with Rosie. When I was a child, my mother would haul my younger sister and I out to the woods behind our country home to collect fallen leaves. We would traipse out to the timber lot somewhere between September and Thanksgiving, and would be responsible for collecting enough leaves to make our annual autumnal placemats.

As this summer waned and the leaves changed, I have been reminiscing about restarting this tradition with Rosie. On one of our most recent hikes, Rosie and I picked up and examined a number of freshly fallen leaves – brown oak, red and yellow maple, ash, and cedar. I folded them into a trail map to preserve them until we got home, where I pressed them into a heavy book overnight. Since Rosie is still a bit too young for coloring or leaf-arranging, I had a little arts-and-craft alone time during one of her naps.

I arranged the leaves by color and type on four separate sheets of wax paper. I wanted the leaves to peek out from under a dinner plate, so I used a plate to gauge where I wanted the leaves. Then I gently ironed another sheet of wax paper over the top and trimmed the ends.

This is an activity that lends itself to endless combinations of wax paper, crayon shavings, washi tape, and leaves. My mother had us color the bottom sheet of wax paper and would prep crayon shavings for us to sprinkle over our drawings and leaf arrangements to help seal the wax paper. I wanted to experiment with a more minimal look, and found that a few leaves would stay pressed without crayon shavings.

This is a budget friendly DIY that works for all ages. It fosters engagement with nature and encourages creativity and family bonding at the kitchen table. Making these placemats is an easy way to get extended family or the kids out of the house over the Thanksgiving holiday, helps make kids feel involved in holiday planning and decorating, and (even if you do not have kids) spruces up your autumnal table with a nature-inspired setting. Paired with white linens, candlelight, and heirloom dinnerware, these custom placemats add an elegant, rustic, and memorable touch to the Thanksgiving table.

 

Kohler-Andrae State Park

Kohler-Andrae State Park is one of the most popular state parks for good reason. I feel like Milwaukee-dwellers have an edge on knowing about this park. (Do not get me started on my wanderlust-jealousy of those Wisconsinites who live in the far north-and-southeast reaches of the state = Wyalusing, Wildcat Mountain, Gov. Knowles, Ambicon Falls, Brule River…. 😭I want to go to there.) I had never even heard of, much less been to, Kohler-Andrae until this past summer. Miles of sandy Lake Michigan beach. Cordwalk hiking through immense and relatively undisturbed sand dunes. Rare dune plants. Educational postings about the various micro-climates within the park. Well-apportioned campsites.

I grew up camping. I spent a lot of my teens and early twenties camping. But I was incredibly nervous to tent camp with my then-9-month-old for her first time. Fortunately, my mother kindly agreed to accompany us on our weekday camping adventure. Other than our poor luck of getting rained out the second night, it was quite the confidence-boosting trip. (I certainly had a learning curve over the summer on camping with a baby, and have a blog post planned on my camping-with-baby hacks. Stay tuned for the gear that made it easier.)

For whatever reason, (Nature? Nurture? Chicken? Egg?) my kid is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT child out-of-doors. Instead of being clingy and needy, outdoors she exudes this calm-wonderment. She loves to look at the trees set against the sky. She loves to explore her immediate natural environment. Sticks and leaves and pinecones are much better choices for infant mastication than electrical cords, dog food, and whatever else I have failed to timely remove from our floor. (Roomba, if you are reading, I will absolutely do a shameless affiliate post! 💁🏻😜 Husband, if you are reading, I will NOT cry if I receive a household appliance in the form of a Roomba for Christmas💁🏻😜).

I have nothing but fond memories of our Kohler camping trip. Their Woodland Dunes trail is outstanding, and I only wish it were longer. It meanders through the campground, along the lakeshore, and through the woods near the playground. The trail has signage that teaches neature-nerds like me what different native tree species look like. I seriously had a religious experience near the balsam poplar that grows just on the edge of the sand dunes. The pungency of sun-warmed pine and lakeshore air is just beyond. This particular tree is just off this charming, sandy dune path leading to a spectacularly private section of Kohler’s Lake Michigan beach. The information about balsam poplar and its uses in Native American culture speaks to my like, inner truth or higher vibration. The concept that the balsam poplar “balm of gilead” has been used for postpartum healing and natural pain management just resonates with me as true. The experience of this in the verdant springtime is a must. The mile-long trail meanders through a beautiful variety of forests that have been preserved along this rare ecological area. The trail cuts through a red pine forest and the thundering of distant, crashing waves adds to the forest’s din. Sunlight glimmering off the water begins to peek through the waning trees, and a sandy trail appears out of nowhere. At the trailhead, I was overwhelmed with an intoxicating amalgamation of sunshine, sand, and balsam poplar. It is straight up magical.

All of this ignores the exciting Black River Marsh boardwalk, which is a real-life “Where’s Waldo” of wildlife, as well as the the more-popular and often-photographed cordwalk along the tip-top of the immense Lake Michigan sand dunes. I had no idea anything like this existed outside of Sleeping Bear Dunes, much less along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shore.

It rained the second night that we planned to camp, so we hauled ass back to our apartment and snuggled and watched kids movies. We had a great time eating our camp snacks and cuddling up on the couch while the summer thunderstorm lashed at the patio door.

Kohler-Andrae is a dear place to me. It was at this park that I previously decided to commit to this state parks/hiking project. I was determined to resolve my wanderlust with my competing anxiety about mothering my infant. After the MOST ridiculous journey of pushing my sleeping daughter in her stroller over the cordwalk and along the narrow beach, I achieved that lovely glow of accomplishment that is so unique to hiking. Kohler was the perfect place to hang with my own mother (for whom I continue to develop an ever-deepening appreciation in the wake of motherhood), and to jumpstart my daughter’s lifetime of camping adventures.

I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.

Friends of Wisconsin State Parks: A Call To Action

In 2015, Governor Walker eliminated state-sponsored funding for Wisconsin’s State Parks and mandated that they become self-sustaining. A comprehensive summary of this budgetary action is summarized here.

Depressing as it is, there are so many of us in this x-ennial/millennial-generation who use these parks on a weekly basis. (Just search Instagram for any State Park’s hashtag – its so empowering to find a tribe of like-minded nature geeks in your home park!) However, given the dismantling of the state’s funding system and the fledgling funding system the Friends of State Parks groups are attempting to patch together, our generation of hikers, bikers, campers, swimmers, paddlers, and parks-goers needs to do more. We need to mobilize. We need to take up the torch. We need to get our Leslie Knope pantsuits on and attend some local parks board meetings and help our parks thrive and last for generations to come.

I did the thing! I emailed the DNR, who got me in touch with the Friends of High Cliff board. All that I needed to do was apparently just show up. I attended my first board meeting last night! It. Was. Awesome. In today’s divisive political climate, it gave me solace to know that a group of men and women from different age groups, backgrounds, and credos could unite around a common goal to better our community in a democratic and respectful manner.

However, I was the youngest person there by a few decades. Judging from the makeup of this Friends group, I think it is safe to assume other groups have similar demographics. My takeaway was that Wisconsin’s Friends groups desperately need people from our generation to take parks online and generate a social media presence to get more people through the park entrance. They need our generation to put up tents and pick up litter. They need our generation to be the next generation of leaders in our communities. They need any and all help to raise funds to further maintain and preserve the increasingly rare spots of true wilderness in our state.

If you are interested in contributing further time, energy, or money to the maintenance and preservation of our state’s great parks, head here to check out your closest local Friends group.

The High Cliff board meets once a month. You will have to check with your local Friends group to see when their board meets. If you are interested in helping out at High Cliff, they can add you to their email notifications list for volunteer opportunities at the park. They ALSO offer memberships, which is an annual fee ranging from $10-25 depending on if you are a student/senior or adult/family. A list of things that membership fees help accomplish at High Cliff can be found here.

Why do I want to build this park so bad? Maybe because a pit filled with garbage isn’t the best that we can do in America. You know, in Russia they could pretend that pit was a park. Bring their kids down there, ‘Hey Vlad, uh, look at these rocks. Let’s pretend they’re potatoes. Nikolai, do you want to swim in the dirt?’ But not here, okay? ‘Cause we’re a nation of dreamers and it is my dream to build a park that I one day visit with my White House staff on my birthday. And they say, ‘President Knope, this park is awesome. Now we understand why you are the first female President of the United States.’

~ Leslie Knope

 

High Cliff State Park

There is something about High Cliff, the state of Wisconsin, monarch butterflies, and the passage of time that I cannot quite satisfactorily synthesize. The combination is obviously a larger metaphor for the seasons of life, but there is more to it than that.

I recently learned from Candice Gaukel Andrews’ book Travel Wild Wisconsin that monarch butterflies are born with crazy-sensitive circadian clocks to be able to know whether and where to mate or migrate. Or, as my father remarked upon watching one of the 40+ chrysalis’ hatch and fly out of my mother’s monarch caterpillar garage nursery, “it’s like they Google their route!”

There is something equally mystical and magical about how Wisconsin is home to so many effigy mounds and ancient peoples. Participating in the nurturing of monarch butterflies or walking along the Effigy Mound Trail at High Cliff is akin to the feeling I get when I am on the shore of a Great Lake. Power. Wildness. Some kind of osmotic explanation for life’s origins. I can feel it just by sitting with wilderness rather than wading through technical, scientific jargon.

I am typing and contemplating this while holding my giant, sleeping, almost-one-year-old daughter. That warm weight a sleeping child gives is soul-soothing. Somehow, holding her and listening to an impending thunderstorm blowing in is part of this same brand of inexplicable Wisconsin magic.

We hiked at High Cliff yesterday. High Cliff is so special to me. It is where I came of age. It is where, in summer, my sister and I would spend all afternoon reading on the hill at the beach, swimming, biking, and hiking. We climbed all over that cliff. It is where, as I got older, I could walk and walk and unpack my anxious mind. It is where, at Halloween, they would open the pavilion on the ledge, serve hot chocolate by the roaring fire in the limestone fireplace, have pumpkin-carving and costume contests, and light candles in paper lanterns for hikers along the Red Bird Trail. It’s where I had my senior pictures taken. It is where I had my maternity pictures taken. It is where Wisconsin’s seasons can be most keenly felt because of the sweeping vistas of the lake and valley.

Personally, the most peaceful place in the whole park is the Effigy Mound Trail. It sounds strange even to me, but it makes me feel so comforted to know that aeons ago, people picked such a beautiful place to bury and honor their loved ones. The trail is always quiet and dappled with sunlight. It is a few steps away from an extraordinary overlook of Lake Winnebago and the Fox Valley. It was especially beautiful yesterday; a perfect late September afternoon. For all my waxing poetic about the trail, I actually had not planned on stopping, but Rosie had dropped her wubbanub along the trail that skirts the campground, and I had to double back. That, too, is some kind of small dose of destiny that is part of this mythical narrative.

It is past 10:30 now. Rosie has been teething – for a baby born 6 weeks prematurely, she has been on time with her teeth – early, even. She will be up every hour through the couple nights when the pain peaks and the tooth slices through the gums. Sleeping on or closely next to me seems to be her cure-all, which sounds adorable in theory, but is so exhausting when the cycle of sleep, thrashing, waking, screaming is repeated hourly throughout the night.

Motherhood, too, is somehow part of this magical wheel of life. I am talking about something more than the cycle of reproduction. I am trying to descriptively pinpoint and define the instincts that power everything, from butterfly migrations to what feels true as a parent and human. The gravitational pull of a large body of water. The serenity of a forest with a dearth of other people. The religion that causes native people to travel hundreds of miles in spring to bury their dead in effigy mounds in the shapes of animals. The complete bliss of your sleeping baby’s soft skin on your chest, her small belly rising against yours with even, unconscious breath. The silent catharsis of a freshly-hatched monarch butterfly fanning its wings to dry.

I think a monarch sighting is lucky anytime I see it, sort of in the same way a cardinal sighting is meaningful. That brilliant orange and black flash! The way they pulse and rest on a plant, and then alight again in an instant. Their delicate appearance belies their hardiness, considering their annual migration to Mexico. Apparently they can even still fly with a quarter of a wing missing.

It was cathartic for me to return to High Cliff to hike at that specific time. We had maternity photos taken there approximately a year earlier, and I remember being so swollen and so terrified of new motherhood. It was hard for me, a year ago, to foresee the growth and joy that would occur in the forthcoming year because I had so much anxiety at that time about my delivery. This sporadic hike helped demarcate the endings and beginnings of one year. It was a lovely way to gauge how much I have grown as a person and mother, and how far I really came in my postpartum journey.

It is tempting to conclude this piece with a cliche analogy about butterflies or a quote from a famous conservationist that more succinctly articulates the relationship humanity has with wilderness. This contemplation of magic? science? both? inspires me to actually go and read some writings of people like John Muir, Aldo Leopoldo, or Teddy Roosevelt to get closer to that truth of the wild. I think that unanswered quality is part of the magical pull that leads most nature-lovers to return to the woods. The more I can sit with nature, the closer I can feel to some kind of origins story.

For now, I will just sit until my adorable mess of a teething child wakes up again.

(These are some favorite photos from our High Cliff maternity session by Shaunae Teske Photography).

Governor Thompson State Park

A trip up to Crivitz has been on my mom’s summer bucket list for years. (At the beginning of every summer, she compiles an ambitiously-long to-do list, exclaiming “Summer of Bonnie!”) We spent a large portion of my teenage years camping in Crivitz and at our cabin in Wausaukee, and the nostalgic pull to return proved too strong to resist. Luckily for Summer of Bonnie, Governor Thompson State Park is in the area.

We decided to camp for two nights given the distance from home and the laundry list of beloved spots we wanted to visit. Unfortunately, it monsoon-rained out of nowhere on the evening of the second day. We were not prepared to sleep in a leaky tent with a 9-month-old, so we cheated and rented a room from the nearby Popp’s Resort. (This is also a great place for water rentals and easy High Falls Flowage access.)

Governor Thompson is a park that earned a stamp of “I plan on returning” approval – both to hike the park AND to enjoy the quality and serenity of this campground. The campsites were the most secluded I have seen at any Wisconsin State Park thus far. They were spacious, far enough away from the pit toilets that you couldn’t smell them, and the layout of the loops is great. One of the park’s hiking trails cuts right through the campground, and there are smaller footpaths that shortcut through the long loops. Translation: I found the campground easily navigable at midnight with a dim flashlight and the light of the stars to guide me. And that starry night sky! So. Magical.

I can go days without showering and can rough-it with the best of them, but, these amenities! 🙌🏻 The shower building is basically brand-spanking new. Each shower stall is equipped with a private toilet, sink, and huge walk-in shower area with TWO SHOWERHEADS. TWO SHOWERHEADS AT A CAMPGROUND, PEOPLE. This place is seriously a spa. That double-showerheaded-shower was like being reborn after traversing the northwoods and setting up camp.

The park was also teeming with wildlife. The night we slept at the campsite, we watched fireflies pop out of the dusky darkness. A number of white-tailed deer and endless rafters of baby turkeys zig-zagged across the road. Although we had a bit too much insect contact for comfort at the beach, Woods Lake was otherwise quiet, cool, and not visibly polluted like many other state parks waters. The ranger’s office offers kayak and paddleboard rentals for Woods Lake as well. Talk about a classic Wisconsin camping experience. I so enjoyed revisiting the nostalgia of my childhood with my mother and daughter that I think a trip to Crivitz needs to become a perennial tradition! Long live Summer of Bonnie!

We did zero hiking at Governor Thompson, partly due to the rain, but mostly due to the fact that we were too busy discovering what has changed in the past decade. To our delight, most of our favorite haunts remain. Although we did not hit everything on this trip, some of my family’s tried and true summer spots include:

  • Charlie’s Island Cafe is a decent price point for a solid breakfast buffet. Their decor is also the right level of tolerable kitsch.
  • Head up to Athelstane to the Nimrod Inn for drinks and some “older than dirt” northwoods ambiance.
  • Littleland Community Playground in Crivitz’s Veteran’s Park is perfect for any age range. If planning to visit in summer, try to stay abreast of their movies in the park.
  • (Bacteria-free) tubing, whitewater, or camping on the Peshtigo River is a MUST for a hot summer day. 1) Kosirs offers all three, 2) Peshtigo River Campground offers tubing and camping, or 3) if a strong swimmer, have large tubes, and are with a group, DIY your own tubing adventure by putting in you tubes in “downtown” Crivitz just east of the intersection of FJ St and Main, and have someone pick you up at the parking lot near the hwy 141 bridge.
  • Peshtigo Fire Museum is a great rainy-day activity to learn about the deadliest fire in US history.
  • The WE Store is a locally-owned thrift store, and a great spot to score some SWEET vintage finds. Feel good about contributing to a community-based rehabilitation facility in Wausaukee.
  • Although the place we used to frequent for mid-boat-cruise, colossal-sized Hansen’s Ice Cream waffle cones is no more (RIP Parkside!), The Ice Cream Station in Wausaukee is a great new contender. Although it lacks Parkside’s proximity to the High Falls Flowage, this ice cream joint is housed in an adorable repurposed railroad depot and slings a mean soft serve.
  • If it is summer, don’t miss the Twin Bridge Water Ski Team. Grab a blanket and a picnic basket and hit the beach for their 6:30 show.
  • Marinette County is Wisconsin’s waterfalls capitol, and our favorite swimming hole is at Veteran’s Falls County Park. Slide down the falls into a deep pool carved by the icy Peshtigo River. Dave’s Falls and the falls at Goodman Park are also solid options.

Although we visited Crivitz in the middle of the week in early July, I imagine anytime now through the end of October would be equally as spectacular given Wisconsin’s proclivity for rich autumnal displays. Crivitz is an easy and scenic drive from Green Bay and the Fox Cities, especially if you are looking for a quietly-awesome fall travel locale. Things I added to my bucket list for a return trip include, (but are not limited to):

Note that most of these activities would be perfectly suited to our crisp Wisconsin fall season. 😍 I still have to hit Copper Culture State Park in Oconto, so maybe I can work some of these items into that trip. Stay tuned for Autumn of Carley! 😜🍁🍂

Devils Lake State Park

I had not been to Devils Lake since a childhood camping trip. I was shocked at how busy it was on the weekday I sporadically decided to visit. After I spent some time there, I realized the throngs of people were justified – it is such a magical example of Wisconsin’s driftless area and our glacial history. This is definitely on my list of parks to return to for a family camping trip.

After a picnic lunch and a short perusal of the beach, dog beach, and concession lodge (um, what an epic spot to get married), I mapped out our hike on the Balanced Rocks Trail. While I was gearing up in the parking lot at the base of the cliff, I encountered a couple was very concerned that I was taking my baby up this particular trail. I figured that even if it was a vertical staircase, it seemed short enough to handle in an hour. They were then concerned that I was not leaving a window cracked for my dog, and became straight up alarmed when I brightly said he was coming with me. Somewhat horrified, the woman opened the trunk of her hatchback and gave me her hiking stick, telling me I would need it more than she did.

This woman is the voice inside me telling me I am stupid, my ideas are stupid, and I am never going to succeed at anything.

I started this project so I could nurture my writerly aspirations that have been neglected in the wake of my legal career. I love practicing law, but I also love traveling and writing. Am I a travel writer based on whether I am paid or affiliated with a certain organization? No. I am a travel writer because I write about my travels. The doing is the thing.

I hiked up that mountain in full sun with my twenty-pound, ten-month-old baby wrapped tight against my sweaty body while my trusty energetic lab skirted the rocks ahead of us. I did not have water. I usually do not bring any on a hike that is an hour or less. I did not have hiking boots. I had on my $12 backup Walmart sneakers with added insoles for arch support. I did not have a backpack. I knew my own route and what I could handle and I did that. I could not make up a more perfect life analogy. No one should ever caution you against doing what your soul thirsts to accomplish, and if they do, smile politely, throw their suggestions to the wind, strap your baby to your chest, and hike on.

I met plenty of people on that cliff trail who told me “good for you” as we all stopped at various points midway up the cliff to rest in the shade against boulders. Those are the type of people I want to hang around. People who hike up the side of a mountain and give encouragement to others. (And also people who tell you what a cool dog you have).

When we reached the top, the view was stunning. I love chasing that feeling of physical exertion and accomplishment.

As we swam afterwards, basking in the lake basin, in the shadow of that cliff face, I saw that my daughter’s eyes are the exact green brown blue of the lakewater. Sunshine liquid on her skin, her bubbly giggle rang and danced over the water as she tentatively splashed. With each post hike dip (is there anything more luxurious than swimming after a hike?), Rosie becomes more confident in the water. She used to whimper and cling to me as I waded into the lake. She now begins to stretch her arms and legs, and dips her face towards the water.

I want to be an example to my daughter of fearlessness, of confidence, of all-around-badassery, and that would not be possible if I listened to the woman with the hiking stick.