Alex and Caleb have decided to share their pictures with me so I can add them to this site where appropriate. It has been a lot of fun looking through them. They both always have their cameras with them while out in service, because you never know when scenes like this one present themselves:

a deer

Sometimes the farm animals steal the show.

a cow

You know you live in the country when you see this on the roadway:

a silo going down the highway

Well, we officially have caught the wandering bug, much to my enjoyment. After our fun roaming the trails a couple weeks earlier, (see our last adventure here) we decided to try another park, known as the Darwin Hill. We'd roamed here once before, which ended with removing wood ticks by the dozens from screaming youngsters. After assuring the gang that those parasites are out of season, the girls and Lee were willing to give it another go.

First stop: the top of the hill. The views are always splendid.

the girls at the top of the hill

One of the trails goes under the highway. The girls thought that was pretty cool until they noticed the horse riders also use the tunnel. And the horses evidently get the urge to do their thing in the tunnel. (Cue the girls screaming "eww!" inside echo chamber, realize that there is an echo, and scream even louder.)

the girls in front of the tunnel

We came upon a small stream with a little walking bridge.

the girls on the bridge

Now, if you know my girls, you know what the next picture is of:

Soon we found ourselves on a boardwalk along a swampy pond area. The cattails were amazingly tall.

the girls with the cattails

Ella loves fallen trees. "I can climb that one!" she proudly proclaims.

Ella on a tree

Homeschooling never takes a break. A forest is like a book, but instead of words to read, it gives clues. It has been a real treat watching the kids learn to read the clues. The first step is nurturing the ability to observe. For example:

a deer track

A deer track, well, that's basic. Now let's form a hypothesis. I ask them questions. Where was the deer going? Was it running or walking? Alone or with other deer? Tell the story. Look for more clues. See if you can prove your conclusion right or wrong. Knowledge is nice, but the ability to reason on it is priceless.

Anyway, back to our wandering. Here's Nora climbing a vine:

Rosa exploring a toppled tree:

Rosa climbing

The girls were thrilled to find tons of little tree frogs here, too.

a treefrog

Anna loves letting Wooly Bears crawl all over her.

Anna with 2 caterpillars

The colors were just starting to hint that autumn was arriving. It made for a nice contrast with all the wildflowers still in full bloom.

We had a lovely wander at The Hill, but we missed being able to roast s'mores for the finale. So we got in our s'more time at Collinwood Park the next evening. Caleb came along with the girls and I to get some birding in. We wandered a bit, then watched the setting sun turn everything orange and pink.

the sunset

the sunset

the sunset turning orange

The gulls were everywhere, skimming the calm waters.


We stuffed ourselves with s'mores as darkness settled in. We all agreed that we will have to move up our wandering time because some of us found ourselves still in the woods when the darkness suddenly enveloped everything. (Which is a lesson I seem to have failed to heed a week later...)

But anyway, our next wander was awesome. I left the crabby Ella with Lee and Alex, and headed out. Corbin even came along. He isn't one to wander the woods with us, but he loves tending the campfire. Here is the little pyromaniac now.

Corbin with a lighter

Yes, I still see faces. This one guards our parking spot.

a tree face

Soon the setting sun turned everything golden again. The girls and I wandered out of the forest to the lake for a look.

the girls

The effect in the forest was wondrous.

the forest

There's nothing like a wander in the woods at dusk.

the trail in the woods

I love mushrooms. Each one is a work of art. These little beauties reminded us of pancakes.


Nora's big find was a racoon skull.

the skull

Soon the sunset arrived...


A cloud moving in from the west fit perfectly into the scene...


After ogling over that for a bit, we headed back to the campfire for some brats and s'mores.

Random pictures of this page: Bubba ready for the sunshine...

Bubba with sunglasses on

and Lizzy soaking up some rays...

Lizzy sunbathing

Continuing on, by now we had settled into a routine of wandering on Wednesdays so Caleb could come with. He loves going off on his own to look for birds. This Wednesday we decided to do Darwin Hill again, since Caleb hadn't been there yet.

Nora, Rosa, Anna, and I headed for the hilltop...

Shannon and the girls

while Caleb headed off on his own adventure:

Caleb wandering

The view was breathtaking. The trees had really changed from just twelve days earlier!

view from the hilltop

Here's Larry, Curly, and Moe at at the top:

Nora, Rosa, and Anna

We even spotted the rare allusive Caleb down below.

Caleb wandering

On the way down we were flanked by grasshoppers, crickets, and bees everywhere. I got a kick out of this bee who kept half-heartedly kicking at the camera while harvesting nectar.

a bee

What I didn't (and probably should have) realized, however, is I now had bee footprints all over my camera lens, so the rest of my photos are all a bit blurry.

Mushrooms of all shapes and sized abounded in the forest. These tiny ones clung to a fallen tree.

little mushrooms

This little beauty was bigger than Anna's head!

a mushroom

Caleb and I have different views of this woods. While I was busy looking down, he was looking up...

looking up at the trees

I ventured out to get a view of a pond...

a pond

Caleb evidently had the same idea at the same time.

Shannon at the pond

Caleb stayed in the woods. The setting sun made for breathtaking visions.

the forest aglow

The girls and I ventured deep into the forest. At one point we came to a old barbed-wire fence the forest was reclaiming.

a tree growing into the fence

We found ourselves in a meadow surrounded by woods. The girls started to get a bit nervous being so far from any sign of the trail, but I was too busy wandering from one eye-catching treasure...


to another...

a pond

until Nora pointed out to me that it was getting downright dark. Oh yeah, I have the girls with me. They probably wouldn't do so well in the dark woods. No problem! One thing I do have is a really good sense of direction. I knew if we headed due east we would get back to the hill, but to avoid the dark woods I would head south for a bit first. It sounded so simple.

the darkening sky

So I lead the panicky (cue comments like "we're lost!" and "We're never going to see Caleb again!") girls along a soybean field looking for a clearing toward the east. I finally found the perfect spot, and was promptly met with an electric fence. We followed that for a while until the girls' whines reached a crescendo. Fine! I've been zapped by electric fencing plenty in my youth (don't ask), so I decided to see if it was even live. Thankfully it wasn't, so we slipped through and across the pasture. From there we journeyed down a driveway and to the highway. It was about a mile walk back to the hill. By now it was totally dark.

Caleb was totally fine, of course. He had the perfect view of it all from the hilltop.

The worst of it was now the girls are scared to leave the trails again. Sigh.

Thankfully, our next excursion was just the thing to renew their zeal for wandering. Caleb had fallen ill, but big brother Alex decided to tag along. We started off with a picnic dinner. The trees here were getting their autumn dresses on.

a tree starting to change colors

Alex played the role of pyro-technician this visit.

Alex starting a fire.

He conjures up a roaring fire in no time with his friend, lighter fluid.

Alex with a roaring fire

I am not sure what is with the boys' obsession with playing with fire. I much prefer the red glow of autumn leaves, like this little firecracker.

Stomachs full, we ventured down the trail into the woods. Alex clowned it up, and soon the girls forgot to be scared that their evil mother was going to loose them forever in the woods.

Here's Alex in a tree...

Alex in a tree

(And a cool shot Alex took of the inside of said tree:)

the inside of the tree, looking up

and Alex swinging from a vine until he slipped...

Alex in pain on a vine

So soon the girls had enough courage to follow Alex and I off the trails again. Rosa tries out a vine:

Rosa on a vine

We came upon two trees growing close together. So here's Nora and Rosa, best friends, with their tree counterparts.

Nora and Rosa with a two huge trees

The sumac were ridiculously red against the still green world.

I heard a sound coming from the tree canopy I couldn't recognize, so I stopped to have a look.

a raccoon

Three upset raccoons chattered at us as Alex and I took pictures. They seemed unsure what to do, so they just froze where they were. The girls were amazed. They see raccoons as roadkill sadly all too often, but they had never seen raccoons alive in their natural environment.

the raccoons

After a bit we moved on so they could go about their raccoon business.

a raccoon

We'd seen a lot of salamanders along roadways lately, so we were half expecting to find some here. Guess what?

a salamander

Alex was just giddy. The girls were a little unsure at first, but soon they all wanted to touch the fellow.

Alex with the salamander

We came upon a leaf seeming to be levitating. Alex hammed it up while the girls pestered me into showing them how it wasn't falling. (It was hanging from a spider's or caterpillar's silky thread.)

Alex with the leaf

Isn't this mushroom just awesome?

We wandered out onto the prairie trail as it grew darker. Another salamander was soon found.

the kids with the salamander

I totally see a face here. Do you? Alex thought I was nuts. Crazy, perhaps, but nuts?!?

a face in the pond

Alex and the girls soon started complaining about all the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes avoid me like the plague, so I was oblivious to the kids' plight until I looked up.

a face in the pond

Oops. I guess we'd better keep moving, huh?

Alex inherited a Wooly Bear from Anna after it kept pooping on her.

Alex with a caterpillar on him

We got back to the campgrounds right when it really started getting dark. Alex restarted our fire and we gorged ourselves on s'mores.

the girls around the fire

It was the perfect ending to our September wanderings.

the girls around the fire again

Something tells me we will be wandering some more in October, but that's another adventure.

We'll leave with Bubba doing what he does best...

Bubba sleeping

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