A woman in the great outdoors, part 3

Please read parts 1 and 2 before reading this.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 3

I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep in on Sunday morning. Breakfast was at 8. I made some coffee in my room to tide me over (powdered creamer, though, ugh) and grabbed my lens ball out of my camera bag to get some shots of the lake.

I took the same trail from the previous morning, and I saw three deer. One stopped to check me out for a bit.

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The morning buffet was fixings for breakfast burritos. This was the last meal included in our weekend, so I ate well. I had some time before my final session – nature photography – and it was held onsite. No bus to catch anywhere. I finished packing up my stuff and taking it out to the car so I could check out before my session started.

My session started at 10. The instructor went over some photography fundamentals with DSLR and cellphone cameras (since not all of us had camera gear). He said we would focus on aperture priority mode so we could get some close-up shots of flowers – at least as close to macro as we could get without a macro lens. And still get that nice blur/bokeh in the background.

When we were ready, we went outside photograph the flower beds and containers outside the lodge. I took two shots that were kind of neat. The rest weren’t very interesting.

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Since I have photography experience, the instructor focused most of his energy on some of the other participants. I was fine with that. I just loved seeing his photographs and getting inspired.

Things wrapped up at noon. But before I headed home, I stopped in Loudonville to see the Wolf Creek Grist Mill. All the times I’ve been in the area, and I never stopped there. It was worth a brief visit (and the $1 entry fee) for some nice landscape photos.

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I was sad when the weekend ended. I had the chance to experience some new things and challenge myself in an encouraging and relaxed environment. I hope I can go again next year, but understandably, priority is given to first-timers. Still, ODNR offers programs to OWOA alumni, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they offer.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, click here.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 2

I am up on Saturday morning before dawn, as I am most mornings. Breakfast isn’t until 7:00, so I wander around the lodge grounds, hoping to catch the sunrise. From the terrace behind the lodge, I can see the harvest moon setting over Pleasant Hill Lake. I take the trail at the lodge back into the woods, to a different spot with a better view of where the sun is rising over the lake. By then, it’s just after 7:00.

 

Once the sun is up, I join the other early risers in the ballroom for our breakfast buffet. We have a bus to catch out to the marina at 8:30. I eat a good breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries, potatoes. I need a lot of energy for two+ hours of kayaking. I have enough time once I’m finished to go back to my room and change into a swimsuit and some quick-dry shorts. And I needed to grab my life vest.

I was back in the ballroom before 8:00, when they had a presentation and gave out some door prizes. (I didn’t win anything.) It was a bit chilly when we left for the marina, but I didn’t exactly want to wear layers under a life vest. Once we got our brief instruction on kayaking and got out on the water, the exertion of paddling warmed me up. This was my first time in a kayak. I’ve always canoed in the past (and tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time a week prior).

 

It was a beautiful morning. Even though it was a bit chilly at first and the paddle constantly dripped water all over me, I wasn’t really bothered by it much. The kayaking instructors pointed out things of interest. We saw two green herons, a kingfisher, several cormorants, an osprey, and countless seagulls. My shoulders started to ache after a while (and I have arthritis in my neck and chronically stiff shoulder muscles, which doesn’t help), but I took frequent breaks. It was a great time.

We had a little time to kill after we finished our session. I wandered around the marina to see what some of the other OWOA groups were doing. Some women were fly fishing on the beach. Others were stand-up paddle boarding. Others were learning jug fishing. The bus was waiting for us in the parking lot, so I finally just got on and waited to be taken back to the lodge.

It was lunchtime when I got back. They had boxed lunches sitting out on tables for us – a grab and go situation. I just took mine and went back to my room. It was noon and I had a couple hours until my next session, which was archery. So, I was able to eat and watch a bit of the Ohio State game against Indiana.

By the time 2:00 rolled around and the archery session was starting, my shoulders and back ached pretty significantly. And I was just so tired. I listened to the archery instructor and practiced the shooting position he taught us, but then it was time to actually do it. With the other women in the group watching.

I was the second person to go. My target was a foam deer. I hit it in the neck. The next arrow went into its heart. I basically only missed twice during my practice round. Once everyone had a turn, we were free to shoot at will. The instructor told us that we could come and go as we pleased, so I shot off maybe another 10 arrows (my practice round was better), and I just couldn’t keep going.

Thankfully, we were at the lodge for our archery session, so it was a short walk back to my room. I crashed hard for almost two hours. I guess I needed the sleep.

I woke up at 5:15 or so, and dinner was at 6. We had an Italian buffet at dinner, and more door prizes were given away. I WON!!! It’s a great prize, too – a $50 gift certificate for camping at either Charles Mill Park or Pleasant Hill Park (Pleasant Hill being the marina where I kayaked that morning). Looking forward to using it, though it probably won’t be until next spring or summer.

We capped off dinner with a sundae bar, then the evening activities began. The lodge had a community bonfire with games like giant Jenga and cornhole. Our group also had the option of participating in axe throwing, which was set up by the front entrance. We had to wear wristbands, since it was limited only to OWOA. (I didn’t axe throw – not with my shoulders aching the way they did – but I watched for a bit.)

It was a wonderful evening. We watched the sun set.

 

We roasted marshmallows over the fire, talking and laughing like old friends.

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I had only met these women the day before, but we were already bonding over this shared experience. Some ordered drinks from the bar. I had a bottle of wine in my room, so I just smuggled some out to the firepit. It was a great way to end day 2.

Continue to part 3.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 1

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Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 1

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a weekend program every year called Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure (OWOA). Women from all walks of life spend the weekend at a state park lodge learning outdoor skills. Activities include fishing, boating, shooting, archery, Dutch oven cooking, orienteering, geocaching … the list goes on and on.

I wanted to sign up last year – the first year I heard about it. I had a scheduling conflict, but at least it was on my radar.

This year, I was lucky enough to be on Facebook at almost the precise moment the ODNR posted that registration was now open for this event. Better yet, they were holding it at Mohican State Park, which is my favorite place in Ohio. For $320, you get a two-night stay at Mohican State Park Lodge and Resort (with all the amenities offered), five meals, snacks, a t-shirt, four activity sessions, a field trip to Malabar Farm State Park, and the use of equipment.

I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Take my money.

I eagerly anticipated this weekend for three whole months. Finally, it was time! Last Friday, I took the day off work and drove to the lodge, arriving late in the morning. Registration was quick and efficient. I signed in, got my swag bag (we got some free goodies courtesy of some of the sponsors), got fitted for a life vest, and got checked into my room. This was all before lunch, and the event didn’t start until 1 p.m.

I got lunch at the onsite restaurant and was ready and waiting in the ballroom for the opening presentation. It gave me a chance to meet some of the other participants and chat about our expectations for the weekend.

After the short ceremony, we all went to our activities. Mine was hiking, so I got in the passenger van taking us to Lyons Falls Trail. (The sign pictured below is actually incorrect. It is Lyons, not Lyon.)

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This is my favorite trail at Mohican, one I’ve walked many times. But this time we had a naturalist leading us, and she gave us all sorts of fascinating information about the geologic history of the area, as well as flora and fauna. We also hiked further on this trail than I ever had previously. It’s two miles to Big Lyons Falls (the first of two), and I always turned around at that point and hiked back.

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Not this time. Our group went on to Little Lyons Falls and then to Pleasant Hill Dam, which is at the three-mile point.

The driver met us at the dam, in case some of us wanted to go back. I could have kept hiking, but I was also eager to get the early bus out to Malabar Farm State Park. It was already going on 4 p.m., and the first bus for Malabar was scheduled for 5. It was also hot and humid, so I was drenched in sweat and in need of a shower.

So, I grabbed the ride back to the lodge at that point and freshened up.

At this point, I should say that I was expecting a roommate. I had her name, but at that point, I hadn’t met her yet. Nor was there any evidence that she had made it to the room.

Anyway, I grabbed a spot on the 5:00 coach to Malabar. A woman asked if she could sit next to me. We started chatting, and that’s when we realized we were supposed to be roommates. We were given keys to different rooms, so we each had rooms of our own. Sweet! I got to know her better than anyone else over the weekend, and she’s really cool. She also lives near me!

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I had never been to Malabar Farm before. It’s one of those places I wish I had visited sooner. It’s still a working farm (and it’s allegedly haunted), but its claim to fame is that it was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, and the wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was held there in 1945. The grounds are beautiful, and the main house is a time capsule of 1940’s life. We had a barbecue buffet on the grounds before the tours started.

 

 

I was on the 8:00 bus back to the lodge, and I just hung out in my room for the rest of the night. A thunderstorm rolled in after 9:00, and it was nice to sit on the balcony (first floor, HAHA) and watch the storm.

That’s the end of day one. OWOA was off to a great start!

Continue on to part 2.

The Nest

For me, one of the great joys of spring is when birds choose to nest in my yard. We had robins and mourning doves last year, and we did again this year.

The robins decided to nest in my weeping cherry tree, low enough that I could photograph it fairly easily. The babies just left the nest earlier this week (bittersweet!), but it was a fun two weeks watching them.

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The dove nest appears to only have one baby. Got my first glimpse of it today.

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California

I returned yesterday from a week in California – a vacation that was part solo adventuring, part family visit. My brother lives in Vacaville, near Sacramento. I flew in on Saturday the 16th and rented a car. (My layover was in Phoenix, and the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento took us over Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Luckily, I had a window seat.)

I didn’t go sightseeing every day I was there. It rained steadily for a couple of days, so I stayed in and streamed movies and TV (something I rarely do, so it was a luxury in and of itself). I went on a couple hikes with my brother and nieces at local parks. Our hike last Sunday at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield (4 miles total) was pretty challenging, especially due to some pretty serious erosion of the trails from all the recent rain. But we soldiered through and awarded ourselves with ice cream from Fosters Freeze afterwards.

Mostly, I want to talk about my solo adventures, which took place Tuesday and Thursday.

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning, I drove to Suisun Marsh and visited Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. It’s a dream destination for birdwatchers and/or photographers. They also have a population of Tule Elk there, which are somewhat elusive, from my understanding. It was a happy accident that I was scanning the landscape through my camera’s zoom lens and spotted one. Unfortunately, it was too far away for my camera to get a decent shot. I took photos, but they’re not the best – only enough to prove that I saw one.

Here are a few other shots I took that day. (Note that I generally only do some cropping and maybe slight color correction. I rarely do heavy photo editing.)

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The driving tour of Grizzly Island took about two hours (with photo stops at almost every parking lot). It was lunchtime as I finished up my adventuring there, so I drove back into Suisun City to find something to eat. I ended up at Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue. I was lame and ordered the barbecue chicken bowl, which was basically just marinated chicken, vegetables, and rice. It was good but kind of boring. I bet I would have enjoyed it more if I had ordered something different. (They had Spam on their menu, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I don’t think there is any possible way to cook it that would make it taste good to me.)

Since I was in wine country (not Napa, which is nearby – been there, done that), I thought I should go to one of the less touristy wineries in Suisun Valley. Several of them were closed (on a Tuesday?), so I set my Google Map directions toward the first one I came across in Google that had Tuesday hours. It just so happened to be Wooden Valley Winery, which has excellent reviews. I was not disappointed. I thought the Riesling was particularly good, and I was informed that if I purchased a bottle for $16, the tasting fee ($15) would be waived. That’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned.

I also bought a glass of Riesling so I could relax on their beautiful patio and enjoy the perfect weather. I was given a free wine glass with their logo on it, which is actually one of those shatterproof stemless ones made out of plastic. That’s sort of perfect because I need a wine glass for our travel trailer anyway. (I collect wine glasses and I don’t have room for any more in my kitchen cabinets.)

So, if you happen to be in Suisun Valley and you want some wine, this place gets a big thumbs up from me. And I’m not a wine novice, for what it’s worth.

Thursday

I set my sights on the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden for Thursday. Gardens are a particular passion of mine, especially for photography. I’ve visited many public gardens across the U.S. and Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. This is one of the finest public gardens I’ve seen, full stop. And yes, it is California, but even so, I was amazed at everything that was blooming so early in the spring.

I’ll let my photos do most of the talking here. This place was unbelievable.

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Trust me, these photos don’t even do it justice.

This was my first trip out to California in six years, and I don’t want that much time to pass before going out there again. My nieces are growing so fast.

Canon or Nikon?

I have a Nikon camera. For everyday use, my cellphone has a pretty great camera on it. But when I’m deliberately out taking photos, I bring the Nikon.

A couple weeks ago, I took my mom to Pickerington Ponds Metro Park. A Roseate Spoonbill had taken up residence there, and while we did see it, it was too far away for me to get a good shot – even with my zoom lens. This photo won the day.

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In fact, this was one of three photos that I entered into a nature photo contest last weekend (which will be exhibited around the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks starting next weekend).

I’m still learning. But I’m a serious hobbyist, and I particularly love shooting nature.

This morning, I attended an event at another metro park. Midwest Photo and Canon hosted the event. For $15, I got to borrow Canon equipment of my choosing and go on a walk with an Audubon guide.

The equipment I chose was no joke.

img_20181007_084718It was a 45-minute walk, otherwise this thing would have seriously started to hurt my neck and shoulders. It was HEAVY.

But it was an unfamiliar camera, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. So I focused and clicked and hoped for the best.

I did okay.

Female monarch

Egret in flight

Egret perched in a tree above Scioto River

This last photo was but a white blob in the distance to the naked eye – 400 mm zoom, hell yeah! My zoom on the Nikon maxes out at 300 mm.

It was fun to try new equipment, but I’ll stick with my trusty Nikon. I just need to get some more lenses for it.

Maybe I should experiment with macro lenses.