Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why should you explore locally?

Exploring often brings about images of climbing big mountains or sailing uncharted waters, but the best part is that it can occur everywhere, no matter where you are even just waiting at the bus stop there are things to be noticed, watched and understood.

Your everyday haunts might not seem as exciting as all the places on your bucket list but exploring wherever you find yourself can be extremely rewarding and help you develop the skills to really appreciate the natural world as you travel outside of your local biome.

My brothers at Bare Bluffs, UP of Michigan
Before moving to Arkansas I lived in the U.P of Michigan for almost four years while getting my bachelors degree. Houghton was the first place I lived away from home and so it was the first place that I remember learning for the first time. 

During college I was introduced to lots of new places through my classes and friends. I went to the porcupine mountains for the first time as part of a class, some friends took me on my first camping trip on the shores of Lake Superior. A tip from a professor took my family and I on a beautiful hike up Bare Bluffs one summer.

While I loved traveling around the UP and the rest of the Upper Midwest school often took priority and so I spent time discovering cool places that I could check in on every day. This is the kind of local exploring really connected me to Houghton, and still makes me a bit homesick for it. The little forest patch I walked by every day to and from school, the old field that bloomed so pretty with wildflowers in the spring, these were both places that aren't on a map, that aren't on anyone's top 10 of places to go in the UP but they were special to me. Finding a place like this can help you feel grounded in a new town or new job, and ever since I've left the UP I've always tried to find places like that.

Lake Fayetteville, Arkansas
Last fall I moved to Arkansas to start graduate school, having never been to Arkansas. I knew very little about Arkansas before moving here but luckily there is a lot to The Natural State and I'm starting to peel away the layers. Finding that place took awhile since I got a bit overwhelmed with the start of school but one of the first places that my husband Jon and I explored in Arkansas was Lake Fayetteville, a park owned by the city of Fayetteville. It's a great place to go birding close to town, is beautiful, especially in the fall and is just far enough of a walk to wear out the dog! While this park isn't Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, it is a great place to watch the seasons change and learn more about this particular area.

I walk the dog on the bike trail a few nights a week and I really enjoy seeing the change of the seasons along the stream that follows the trail. The water level comes and goes, right now the creek is starting to freeze over and things are dying back. The bike trail has become a grounding place for me, a quiet strip of habitat just outside my door to connect me back to why I am in graduate school. 

Understanding what makes NW Arkansas unique helps me better appreciate where I am and how lucky I am to be here. The seasons are different here, the colors change more slowly in the fall, the warblers come through earlier in the spring, we get most of our rain in the fall. All these things are unique and wonderful about Arkansas, and knowing them can help me better plan the trips I take around the area and better understand when I want to put the money into more extensive endeavors and when I should just go for a hike on a Saturday afternoon. If I didn't spend this time exploring what is right here in Fayetteville I would lose part of what living here really is and never would have found Lake Fayetteville or Woolsely Wet Prairie, both great areas to explore and most importantly, go birding.

So spend some time getting grounded in your current hometown, watch the seasons change, see what is special there. Honing your ability to observe the world around you will help you on your next big trip and might help you get more out of it since you'll be able to better appreciate the little places between the big shiny landmarks.

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