Dear Wisconsin…

 

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As you all know, I went to Wisconsin last weekend for some farm touring (hi, welcome to my life) and found Wisconsin to be incredibly pleasing to the eye.

Wisconsin was just so darn charming. It just wouldn’t quit with the red barns and domed silos.

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Cute barns and silos happen to be one of my weak points.

Cheese also happens to be a weak point.

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Endless rows of cornfields as a backdrop for said barns…also, a weak point.

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I wasn’t the only Texan feeling the love for Wisconsin. My fellow Texans pictured here were eating up the scenery.

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Heck, we got out of bed early just to go on a Wisconsin photography tour.

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Then Wisconsin pulled out the big gun: baby dairy cows.

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Is there anything cuter than the face of a baby dairy cow?

No there’s not. (Baby corgis excluded.) Dear Wisconsin, thanks for tugging on my heartstrings.

Wisconsin had another ringer in store for us: wildflowers along the highway.

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Every roadside was decked out in these blue flowers.

Wildflowers along the highway=something we Texans love to see.

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Gorgeous!

Also, just to drive home the point, this barn:

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Need I say more?

We may just move here one day.

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But for now, I must go home to the motherland before I see any more barns or calfs.

Dear Wisconsin, thanks for testing my loyalty to Texas…you did well.

Whitney

A Day at Leopold’s Farm

I don’t know but I’ve been told…

about a man named Leopold,

Wrote an ethic for the land,

Taught us how to understand.

 

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I just got back from a pilgrimage to Aldo Leopold’s farm in Wisconsin. It was incredible. In order for the story I’m about to tell you to make sense, I need to give you a little history. I promise to make it as short and interesting as possible.

About 100 years ago, at a a time when clearing wilderness and hunting without a bag limit was the norm, a man named Aldo Leopold was living a simple life in rural Wisconsin. As he took morning walks with his coffee and his dog (my kind of person!) he took time to contemplate the animals, rivers, trees and general nature of his surroundings.  During these daily walks, Aldo developed a theory–that the value of land was not simply its potential for something else to be put there, like a house, or a cornfield, but its provision of clean water, abundant game, and natural processes to humankind. He believed that man could take from the land–by hunting, fishing, logging, and similar activities–as man was an organism of the land himself. BUT, Aldo said, in doing so, man is responsible for not only using resources wisely but taking action to improve them, such as removing non native grasses, or planting trees in an area that had been cleared.

He wrote all of this down in a book, A Sand County Almanac. 

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It’s pretty much the Bible of conservation, and all this time later, still holds a lot of weight for land owners and managers and outdoor lovers like me.

All of this is to say, I was BEYOND beyond excited to go to Wisconsin this weekend and visit his farm! (Only after stopping for fried cheese curds.)

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As the story goes, Leopold heard this farm was for sale during a cold winter in the 1920’s. On a frigid day in February, he took his family, daughters and wife included, out to see the property. They parked their car and walked along this road, but it was so cold they had to stop and build a fire to warm up.

When they finally reached the farm, this is what they saw.

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Nothing but a clear cut open field.

Under the snow, they would find a very overgrazed and overused parcel of land. The Great Depression was forcing many people to eek out a living from overgrazing and overfarming the land.

But the Leopolds saw its potential and bought it, planting 1,000 trees a year.

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Today, the land looks like this–diverse plant life and thick topsoil.

One thing I love about the Leopolds is they were very focused on staying positive, seeing the land’s potential, not its past, and moving onward and upward.  That’s the attitude you have to have when owning and caring for a piece of property. Don’t regret the decisions of yesterday.

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As we walked through the pine forest Aldo had planted decades earlier, we read excerpts from his book. (Nerd alert.)

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“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke {of the axe} he is writing his signature on the face of the land,” Aldo writes.

Looking into the dense pine forest, that had once been bare ground with little topsoil, brought that line to life.

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“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

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Reading these passages along the way, we walked through the forest to an open meadow on a trail that eventually led to…drumroll, please…

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The shack. Behold, the place where Aldo camped out regularly and wrote down his thoughts. It was an incredibly powerful experience to be here at this place. I imagine it would be like sitting down at Beethoven’s piano or holding Picasso’s palette. Being at this shack reminded me of the first time I went to Italy and saw in person the statues and paintings I had read about in textbooks.

It was a surreal, overwhelming and a completely inspirational feeling to be here.

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Immediately, when I walked in the shack, I could tell this place had stories to tell.  There was a big stone hearth, which Aldo found himself. I could imagine the family huddled around a fire here during a blistery Wisconsin winter.

I sat in Estella, Aldo’s youngest daughter’s chair, and could imagine her sitting beside the fire and idly looking out the window.

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On the roof beam, the family’s pet owl would perch and keep a lookout.

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I can just imagine how full the shack would have seemed with Aldo, his wife, their four children, a pet dog, and a pet owl, all crammed in this little shack.

 

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Upon the shack wall hung an old saw, which was used to hew “The Good Oak,” an ancient oak tree struck by lightning one July night while the family was in the cabin.

Aldo wrote about his experience sawing it and it’s one of the more famous parts of the book. Here’s the annotated verison: The Good Oak.

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After getting our fill of the shack–and while I could have sat there all day, I don’t think it’s what Aldo would have wanted–we headed down to the sandy banks of the Wisconsin river.

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We could see for miles across this wide and deep river and there was not a soul in sight.

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In Texas, it’s hard to find a stretch of river that doesn’t have at least some small sign of mankind–be it something so small as a dock or piece of trash. But the Wisconsin river was still truly wild.

The only sign of life was a deer track!

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“The good life of any river may depend on the perception of its music, and the preservation of some music to perceive.” — Aldo Leopold

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Heading away from the river, we walked through a maple forest to the site of the good oak. After that, we did a little gift shopping at headquarters!

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Headquarters of the Aldo Leopold Foundation is, by the way, Platinum LEED certified. Only the best at Aldo’s place.

I left feeling inspired, motivated, sentimental, and hungry. Thank goodness Wisconsin is the home of cheese, too!

Wisconsin, I will definitely be seeing you again.

 

If These Walls Could Talk…

Happy Monday! Here few close-ups I took this weekend at the National Ranching Heritage Center.

These homes, barns, storehouses, and dugouts tell the story of the settlers who built them and lived on the frontier, and were witness to the days when Texas was a no-man’s land.

If these walls could talk…

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…they would tell stories of the time when Texas ruled by banditos and Indians.

They would tell stories of being shot by arrows and bullets….

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…and the settlers that patched up the mud between the logs after hard rains.

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If these walls could talk, they would tell stories of covered wagons, the pony express, and cowboys sleeping out in the open range.

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They would tell stories of the very first barbed wire being unrolled across the plains.

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If these walls could talk, they would tell stories of a time when women only had two outfits: one for every day and one for Sunday.

Two outfits.

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If these walls could talk, they would tell stories of pioneer women, who were concerned about the roof falling in during the rain, cattle stepping in a hole and breaking an ankle, and Indian attacks.

If these fences could talk, they would tell stories of being delivered to the frontier on a train.

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They would tell us of the women who ordered them out of a Sears & Roebuck catalog.

If these barn doors could talk…

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…they would tell stories of cowboys rising before dawn and headed out to check fence line and count cattle. They would tell stories of cattle rustlers and horses and the smell of leather and manure.

If these trees could talk, they would tell about the prairie soils, wildfires, and passersby.

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My family settled in Texas during this time, and as my boots clunked across the wood floors of these houses, I felt like I had stepped into their era.

If you like art, history, archaeology, cows, spurs, wranglers, air conditioning, the outdoors, or native plants, then you must visit the National Ranching Heritage Center. If you don’t like any of those things, I cannot help you.

More info: nrhc.ttu.edu

 

Nutella and Strawberry S’mores…OMG

S’mores are one of my favorite sweet treats of all time. The taste of roasted sugar in an oozing marshmallow, the straightforward simplicity of milk chocolate, the crunch of a graham cracker, and the sound of a crackling campfire combine to form ultimate dessert perfection.

They say If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But over Valentine’s Day, I tampered with the sacred s’more.

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Brandon and I were camping at Colorado bend as our “romantic Valentine’s Day getaway” and I was looking to make the weekend special, so I looked no further than Nutella.

Why not try spreading Nutella on the graham cracker instead of Hershey’s? I thought. And add strawberries as a nod to a traditional Valentines day fruit?

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It worked. They were heavenly.  I probably had Nutella on my face that night but oh well. At least it’s dark around the campfire.

Here’s how to make them.

What You’ll Need

  • One box of graham crackers
  • One bag of marshmallows
  • One jar of Nutella
  • A dull knife (for spreading)
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Long sticks or skewers (I recommend these telescoping skewers from the camping section Academy – under $5 ea)

NOTE: Before you leave, slice the strawberries and put in Ziploc bag.

Instructions

Break the graham cracker in half

Liberally spread Nutella on the graham cracker. When you think you have enough, add more.

Press sliced strawberries into the Nutella

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Roast a marshmallow over the campfire to your version of perfection. What qualifies as the perfectly roasted marshmallow is a hotly contested issue. (Get it, hotly contested?)

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Rest the marshmallow on the Nutella-covered graham cracker

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Using the other half of the graham cracker, guide the melty mallow off the stick.

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Press down gently and enjoy!

Relish in the deliciousness that is Nutella and strawberry s’mores, and see if it doesn’t add a romantic twist to your evening by the campfire.

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I’m drooling, how about you?

 

Packing List: Camping at Colorado Bend

Brandon and I just got back from Colorado Bend State Park, where we spent the weekend camping next to the Colorado River and hiking through the hills with Trooper.  It was a little Valentine’s day getaway and the park was beautiful. Rustic, but beautiful.

In case you find yourself planning for a trip to Colorado Bend, or any state park this year, below is a list of what I cooked and packed. Enjoy!

Menu

Dutch oven cinnamon rolls (heavenly…and easy)

Strawberry and Nutella S’mores (again, heavenly)

Foil dinners (the way to Brandon and Trooper’s hearts is meat and potatoes)

Grilled venison sausage wrapped in a crescent roll and cooked over a fire (yum)

Fresh fruit, sandwiches, and yogurt/granola for lunch and snacks

Cooking Equipment

Paper towel roll

Skewers

Foil

Plastic plates and silverware

Plastic cups

Trashbags (some for recycling and some for trash, you will have to haul out your recycling)

Dutch oven for above recipes

Tongs (long handled is better)

Oven mitts

Dutch oven lid lifter

Dish scrubber/sponge

Fire poker

Spatula (long handled is better – preferably one from a grill tool set)

or you could just bring a fire tool set, that would include the above

Newspaper (firestarter)

Gear

Camp Chairs

Cooler

Tent

Extension cord and multiplug – for your string lights, cell phone charger, Nespresso machine (What?) etc — NOTE: Colorado Bend does not have electricity at its campsites, so I ended up not needing this, however I would call your state park ahead of time and check.

Flashlight and lantern – Coleman popup lantern available at Target – stands up on picnic table, letting you be handsfree for s’more making and whatnot (Because what is a camping trip without a perfect s’more making experience?)

Camera and charger

Mini daypack for carrying water and other necessities on dayhikes

Extra batteries

String lights (again, not necessary if you have no electrical outlets on site)

cell phone charger

Bucket for hand washing – water spicket on site at Colorado Bend

Large jug – fill with drinking water via spicket provided at Colorado Bend and use at campsite for washing face, brushing teeth, etc.

Dog Accoutrements

Leash and harness/collar

Food

Towel (even in a drought, Trooper somehow manages to get covered in mud)

Tie out – stake and cable

Rawhide and treat for being so cute

Linens & Bedding Situation

Air Mattress (this is the way to go, I’m telling you!)

Sheets

Pillows

Down comforter or quilts

NOTE: As we found out the hard way, air mattresses wick away body heat like it’s their job. While this can be a great thing during the summer, it is terrible during 35 degree weather.  Yes 35 degrees in our tent. I almost turned into a popsicle. Our solution was to unzip Brandon’s sleeping bag all the way and lay on top of it, with the more quilts and blankets on top of us. This kept the heat in and fortunately, last night, we slept like babies. I would definitely plan for this when camping in the winter.

Clothing

Hiking shoes (Merrell Siren Sport is what I have)

Shorts – Columbia is making some cute ones these days for hiking

Good pair of hiking pants (Prana Halle is what I swear by)

Cotton tees or fishing shirts – wick away moisture best!

Sunscreen

Toiletries

Hand soap – not always provided in restrooms

Moccasins or flip flops – for hanging around campsite

PJ’s

Jacket – I just got the North Face apex bionic soft shell and loooove it.

Vest – I go for layering whenever outside in a Texas winter. I just got the Barbour Cavalry Quilted vest from Nordstrom and love everything about it.

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Games

My favorite time of day on camping trips is the late afternoon, when you’ve returned from a grueling hike, changed into your flip flops, and are sitting down, reflecting on the day.

This is a great time to get out games!

Horseshoes and corn hole are excellent options.

Cards are always fun too.

They help distract hungry campers while you make dinner… #protip