Oceanography 5 – Marine Communities

From: Whales in the Classroom – Oceanography
              By Lawrence Wade

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

Oceanography Lesson 5  – Marine Communities

The ocean has diverse communities within it. These communities are unique places that have creatures only found in those areas. For instance, the rocky shore community has a unique set of creatures specialized for living in a rocky environment. We will be exploring other communities including the sandy beach community, pelagic ocean, and the deep sea abyss. Each one of these communities has special characteristics that are as unique as the animals that live there. The animals that inhabit the community may only be found in that area.

We will also be learning about animal adaptations. An adaptation allows an animal to survive in a particular place. For instance, the bodies of animals that live in the sandy beach community are specialized to allow them to survive in that community.



The Sandy Beach Community

The sandy beach community is on the continental shelf where water is less than 400 feet deep. The area is flat and sandy in all directions. There are no plants and not much visible life. The creatures who live in this area must figure out a way to hide on the bottom or in the sand. Many of the creatures who live in this community are flattened and lay on the sand or burrow into it.

Critters Found in Sandy Areas 


Rays are close relatives of sharks. Their large wings (up to 10 feet in length) are actually pectoral fins, which they use for swimming. Rays are found in shallow sandy or muddy bottoms where they feed on clams and crabs. Rays flap their wing-like fins close to the bottom to expose buried clams. They also use their wings to help bury themselves in the sand. Only the sting rays are harmful to humans since they have a poisonous stinger at the base of their tail. The stinger is 2–3 inches in length and knife-like in shape. Sting rays are not aggressive, but people have been hurt when they accidentally stepped on the back of a ray buried in the shallow sandy water.


The flatfish also is well adapted to life on the bottom. As an adult, its body is flattened like a pancake, with both eyes on one side of its head. Its flattened body allows the fish to easily cover itself with sand. It swims on its side, moving its tail up and down in the same manner as a whale. However, as a fry (newly hatched fish) it looks more like a normal fish. It lives near the surface, swims upright, moves its tail from side to side (like most fish), and has one eye on each side of its head. When the young flatfish grows to one inch long, it begins to transform into the adult. The eyes shift to one side of its head and it begins swimming on its side and living on the bot- tom.Clam

Clams live beneath the ocean floor in sand up to 3 feet deep. Two shells surround the body of the clam for protection. Clams have a siphon tube which they put above the surface of the sand. This siphon is used to filter microscopic plankton for food and to take oxygen from the water. Clams have a muscle called a “foot” that helps them burrow into the sand. This “foot” expands and contracts to push the clam through the sand.

The Rocky Shore Community

The rocky shore community is on the continental shelf where the depth is less than 400 feet. Being in the rocky shore is sort of like being in the woods on a dark windy night. There are seaweeds swaying back and forth and there are many types of fish darting through the weeds. There are a lot of boulders, holes and cliffs which provide homes for many animals. Many of the fish that live in this community have thin bodies to allow them to fit into holes. Many of the invertebrates (animals without backbones) are adapted to holding onto rocks in various ways.

Critters Found in Rocky Areas


Sculpins are thin-bodied fish with large heads. The thin body allows sculpins to explore holes. They have large pectoral fins that help them to turn in tight places. Sculpins are slow, bottom-dwelling fish that feed primarily on crabs, snails, and small fish. The eggs are laid in a nest and are guarded by the parents until hatching. Although the adult sculpins live close to shore, the young may be found in the offshore plankton over 200 miles from land.


Eels have long snake-like bodies (up to 10 feet in length) that allow them to pursue their prey and to hide in small holes. They make their homes in dark holes, and feed mostly at night. They have long needle-like teeth to help them grab and hold fish. Moray eels will attack humans if they are wounded or disturbed.

Sea Urchin

The sea urchin is a bottom-dwelling animal with long spines covering its body. The spines protect the slow-moving urchin from predators. The spines are not poisonous, but a spine lodged into a human foot or hand is difficult to remove and is likely to cause a nasty infection.

The sea urchin scrapes algae and seaweed off the rocks with its five teeth, which are joined together in a cone shape on its underside. If there are not enough predators (sea star, wolf eel and sea otter) to keep sea urchin populations under control, then urchins can devastate entire kelp forests and other seaweeds.

Sea Star

Sea stars are bottom-dwelling animals with 5–40 arms. A sea star is capable of regenerating an arm or part of its body. They move slowly over rocks, searching for mussels (clam-like animals that attach themselves to rocks by threads) and other prey. The sea star will use its strong arms to pry open the 2 shells of a mussel. The stomach then everts (comes out of the sea star) and slips between the mussel shells to digest the mussel. When the sea star has com- pleted its meal, the stomach goes back into the sea star.


Crabs are scavengers, feeding at night on dead or decaying animals and plants. They are covered by a hard outer shell called an exo- skeleton. A crab will shed (molt) its exoskeleton many times. After molting, the new shell is soft. This is the only time that the female is able to mate. She carries her eggs under her abdomen until they hatch.

Pelagic Ocean Community – The Blue Water Community

The pelagic ocean community is off the continental shelf. This community is often called the blue water community and it extends from the water’s surface to 600 feet deep. The animals in this community have no seaweeds, rocks, or ocean floor to hide in. In order to survive in this community, the animals must have a way to escape predators. Speed is very important in this community. Many fish such as baitfish (herring, anchovy, capelin and other small schooling fish) escape predation by the sheer numbers in their schools.

Critters Found in Pelagic Oceans


The great wanderers of the oceans, albatross have long thin wings (up to 10 feet) which they use for gliding. By gliding, albatross can cover long distances without using much energy. This is very important to their survival, since vast areas of the oceans are lacking in sea life. Albatross feed on fish and plankton. They will fly thousands of miles in a year, and may not come to shore for several years. Albatross come to shore only to breed and raise their young. On land they are quite awkward, and islanders that live where there are albatross colonies often call them “goonie birds.”

Flying Fish

The flying fish can glide through the air farther than the distance of 2 football fields. It uses its long wing-like pectoral fins to help it escape its enemies. The lower half of the tail is twice as long as the upper half and helps the fish swim up to 35 miles per hour before lift-off.


Tuna grow to be over 1,000 pounds in weight. The tuna is one of the fastest fish in the world, swimming up to 50 miles per hour. It is a schooling fish and undertakes great migrations, often swimming an entire ocean in a year. Because of its constant motion, the tuna is one of the few fish whose body temperature is higher than the temperature of the water.

Sharks are the tigers of the sea. They are some of the fastest swimmers in the ocean and feed on many kinds of fish, including tuna and marlin. They also eat sea turtles, seals, whales, and dolphins. Sharks are often referred to as “perfect killing machines.” They can detect small quantities of blood in water (the equivalent of 1 drop of blood in 25 gallons of water) at distances greater than a quarter mile. The teeth of sharks are adapted for slicing and are one of the hardest materials produced by an animal. The teeth are loosely set into the jaw of the shark. As a result, a shark will have several rows of replacement teeth in its jaw. In 10 years a shark may lose as many as 20,000 teeth. Sharks have strong jaw muscles, capable of biting with a pressure of 44,000 pounds per square inch (a human bite exerts only 150 pounds per inch). The most feared man-eating shark is the great white shark. The largest great white ever caught was 21 feet long, and weighed over 2 tons.

The Abyss – The Deep-water Community

The abyss community is off the continental shelf in deep water (3,000-10,000 feet deep). This is such a desolate area that you would not expect anything to be living there. The animals in this community never see the sun because it is continually dark. The animals in this community rely upon dead things drifting down from the surface for food. Since there is not much food in the abyss, the fish are small, usually less than a foot in length. The fish are slow moving and they have devised many ingenious ways to capture food. Many of the fish will attempt to eat others larger than themselves. Usually their mouth openings are very large. Many have a series of lights called photophores that attract prey to them.

Critters Found in the Abyss


The viperfish is less than 12 inches long and has a large mouth with long, needle-like teeth. Its jaw is very similar to a snake’s, since
it allows the viperfish to swallow things larger than itself. It also has a series of photophores on its side that attract potential prey to it in the darkness.

Black Swallower

The black swallower also has photophores along its side, and a mouth that opens wide. Its stomach will expand many times its normal size to hold the large prey that it captures.


The top of an anglerfish’s head has a small lure with a light. This is used to attract potential prey. The male anglerfish (1/2 inch) attaches itself to the body of the female (3 inches). Its sole function in life is to fertilize the eggs of the female.


So You Want to Be an Oceanographer

Now you are ready to create something beautiful!

What to do:
1. Download the Creature Page
2. Download pages 1 and 2 of the marine community mural and tape them together or redraw mural pages 1 and 2 on 11 x 17 inch paper.
3. Draw or cut out each creature and put them in the community they are most likely to be found.
4. Write 2-4 words beside each sketch that describes the animal’s special adaptation to its marine community (i.e., “ray – flattened body”).


Creature PageDownload Creature Page


Marine Communities Key

Up Close and Personal with a Famous Oceanographer

Dr. Eugenie Clark, Shark Researcher (The Shark lady)



Dr. Eugenie Clark published more than 150 articles (12 for National Geographic) during her life time, wrote 3 books, was featured in 6 documentary films (including “The Sharks,” a National Geographic special), is listed in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and had 4 fish named after her.



At what age did you first become interested in the ocean? Was there one special event that led to your decision to work as an oceanographer?

Age 9, on my first visit to an aquarium.

What do you like most about the career that you’ve chosen?

The fact that I can combine two things I love to do the most: diving in the sea and watching fishes and sharks.

What do you like the least about your career?

The paper work that does not concern my research or teaching. The frustration of not being able to answer all of the wonderful letters I receive, especially those from children (she receives over 1,000 letters a year). Note: Dr. Clark would be most likely to answer letters from students who enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you were to give a young oceanographer one piece of advice, what would you tell him or her?

Follow your dream. You will work much harder and better at what you love to do and study most. There is a lot of hard work ahead and many courses are required (math, statistics, chemistry, physics, etc.) to become a good biologist. But it is worth it!

What skill or personal attribute helped you to attain your goal?

Writing and speaking.

What are your fears for the great oceans of the planet?

I am optimistic that the present change in attitude of younger people (and the obvious need for global conservation) will turn the tide and save the oceans. Young people understand how important this is now!

What dreams do you have for the next 20 years of your life?

I have now retired from full-time teaching and teach one course a year, leaving me more time to scuba dive and do research. I also want to “play” in my Japanese garden. There is no age limit for scuba diving. I hope to be diving when I’m 90. (As of 2010, Dr. Clark has been diving for 65 years and she is 88 years old.)

[Before this interview Dr. Clark traveled to the Sea of Cortez, near La Paz, Mexico, to dive with whale sharks. She wrote an article for National Geographic (Dec. 1992) on whale sharks. This trip was a continuation of her research.]

I was in the Sea of Cortez two weeks ago. We had 30 whale sharks around our boat. We also saw two gray whales, seven fin whales, two Brydes whales and about 50 manta rays. I have never seen such large numbers of plankton feeders. I could see that there was some kind of upwelling occurring. Nutrient material from the upwelling was available to the plankton, so all of these big plankton feeders were coming in to feed.

What is the secret of your vitality?

I’ve never smoked, I watch my cholesterol intake, and when I’m not scuba diving I try to go to the gym 3 times a week for aerobics. I love my work! I’ve taught over 4,000 students about life in the oceans and I’ve ridden 26 whale sharks (the largest was 55 feet long). Once I slipped in the bathtub and knocked myself out—my most dangerous accident. Imagine the newspaper headlines if I had died: “Shark Lady Dies in Bathtub.”

Describe your work at the Red Sea.

For eight years I pushed for Egypt to protect its coastal area. I spoke to Presidents Sadat and Mubarek. In 1983, Egypt finally declared their most beautiful coral reef at Ras Mohammed a national park. It is the first time any country has made a marine park their first national park. And it is still the only national park in the Red Sea.

In the Red Sea, we are studying many types of sand fishes that live near coral reefs. As the reefs crumble, the coral falls into the sand area. The sand around the coral reefs is a good indication of the health of the coral.
A few species of fish thrive on pollution and debris. There are others who are very sensitive to changes in the environment.

Trichonotus nikii, an eel-like fish that I named after my son Niki, has gone from a population of 500,000 to less than 1,000. The change in the population is due to a pollution factor in the environment in the last few years. We believe that the main source of the pollution might be at a new Saudi Arabian port.

On February 25th, 2015, Eugenie Clark, “The Shark Lady,” died at the age of 92.

Posted in Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Imbolc- From Darkness Towards the Light

Early Morning Ice Fog, Minnehaha Creek                Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Imbolc, Candlemas or Groundhog’s day has always been one of my favorites because the light returns in the seasonal cycles that earth travels in. It is the hope of springtime and warmth. A time to begin planning and planting and growing things. It is a time of renewal. People, way back before calendars, found ways to celebrate and mark the changes in weather, light and the length of their days that happens because the earth is tilted in it’s rotation around the sun.

Imbolc or Imbolg, also called (Saint) Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light or candlemas. This ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox. Some people lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights. People believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter just as, in the United States we have the groundhog that sees it’s shadow.
RMaya Whirry

The Twin Cities has almost 10 hours of sunlight; one hour and 15 minutes more sun than on the winter solstice. By mid February, we will gaining three minutes of sunlight each day. The sun angle is higher, and hope is creeping into the dark places of my soul.
Lawrence Wade

Frozen pieces of art
Photograph by Lawrence Wade


Photograph by Steve Casper

It was a couple of weeks ago during the deep freeze and I had some days to spend with my 14-year-old daughter during holiday break. She said, “How about you help me bake cookies and then we’ll go out walking on Bde Maka Ska (originally named Lake Calhoun).

There we were late in the afternoon, with a temp of 1 degree and windy, walking across Bde Maka Ska, and enjoying every minute. We spent lots of time looking at the depth of the ice, the frozen bubbles, the cracks with new crystals forming, the way the wind forms the snow cover like waves, running and skating across the glare ice; just some great father/daughter time in extreme winter weather. I’m so proud she chose to do that on that particular winter day. And that simple hike with my daughter, who obviously has my love for the great outdoors, was certainly a highlight of my winter.
Steve Casper


Snow Diamonds

Photograph by Linda Jensen

Walking a dog in the suburbs,
with city-ish trappings,
the quiet of snow,
silence of falling flakes.

The fencing of space
but not air.
The snow makes a frosted sculpture
of everything in sight.

A temporary magic
if you are still – long enough to see
the contrast of light and grey,
the white-out that is not white.

It’s peaceful. It’s snow,
crystalized water and light.
Linda Jensen



Fence Post Henge  – Dean Hansen

I have five acres of land just into WI from where I live in Stillwater, MN.  On the top of a hill I have a set of steel fence posts–a standard (gnomon) post and then three posts, each about 30 feet away.  I line up the top of the standard post with the top of a post to the SW; the latter is placed so that the setting sun perches on the top of this post as it hits the horizon on Dec. 21, as seen from the top of the gnomon post.  Ditto for a post marking where the sun hits the horizon at sunset on March 21 and September 21, and finally for the summer solstice, June 21.  Observations are through the filter from an arc welders helmet. 
Dean Hansen

The Gnomon post is the foreground. The Winter Solstice post is in background and the top of it lines up with the horizon line. Photograph by Dean Hansen.


Sunset during the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice Post is in the foreground. Photo taken through a filter. Photo by Dean Hansen


Horticulture Therapy – Dale Antonson

One of my indoor gardens at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
photo by Dale Antonson

As a lifelong Minnesotan, I have cultivated some ways to keep myself connected with nature year round. I often refer to my hobby as ‘Horticulture Therapy’. I enjoy renewing the soil ‘under my fingernails’ during the winter by caring for plants at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, municipal buildings in Minnetonka and throughout my light filled home. I created an LED light stand with an automatic timer and heating mats for my normally 60℉ basement.


The two shelf basement light stand that I created.
photo by Dale Antonson

I’m able to propagate new plants by taking stem cuttings, including colorful aglaonemas and succulents, nurse back ailing plants and germinate seeds. This is a fun way for me to stay connected to ‘the garden that we live in’, even during the coldest of months.
Dale Antonson



Rooster snow drift
Lawrence Wade


Eagle Visions  – Jim Gregory

An Eagle hunting a rabbit on a lake left the evidence in the form of its wings and body. Photograph by Jim Gregory

Eagle                    Artwork by Jim Gregory





I find the opportunity to express myself about nature through painting to be especially rewarding. When I connect through the artwork, there is a feeling that I am a part of nature and my painting confirms that relationship. It takes courage to face the challenge, but always pays off when I do.
Jim Gregory








Lake Winnebago, WI
Jody Harrell

My dog Bravo and I get out twice each day, NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something about the air, the sounds, the lack of other sounds, the light, the snow laden branches, the critter tracks in the snow and the beckoning woods – it makes it all worthwhile for a farm girl at heart and her frisky British Lab.
Gretchen Alford



River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

I have never actually seen a river otter on Minnehaha Creek, but I can feel their presence so deeply, when I see otter slides, plunge holes, scat and chewed up fish heads .
Lawrence Wade


photo by Jody Harrell

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Winter | 2 Comments

Discover Something Wonderful

Little Miracles – Holly Einess

Photo by Holly Einess

Sometimes I get to spend time with a creature that seems too cool to be real. While walking at the MN Landscape Arboretum last July I glimpsed a hovering something drinking nectar from swamp milkweed blooms. Was it a hummingbird? Some kind of large insect? When I tried to get a closer look it took off, and I was left feeling both disappointed and frustrated; I wanted to make the acquaintance of that mysterious, winged creature!

Lucky for me, later in my walk I spotted another, and this one was in no hurry to leave my company. Lots of photos and a little research later, I determined that my new friend was a hummingbird clearwing moth. How did such a marvelous bug come to be?! The see-through wings, the furry segmented body, the impressive antennae and improbably long proboscis? I’m just happy to know this little miracle exists, and hope to meet many more such wonders in future wanderings.
Holly Einess

photo by Holly Einess

A Blessed Goodbye – Becky Knickerbocker

Last night a female cardinal left our bird feeder and flew into our patio door window. It fell to the snow and was barely moving. Remembering what you once taught my Kindergartners, I grabbed a bath towel, picked it up with the towel and brought it inside with me. I sat on the sofa, in front of the fireplace, with this precious one, wrapped up and on my chest. I stroked it’s small head with a finger and it’s eye opened and it looked at me. I whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” I prayed that it would survive. It closed it’s eye and there was no more movement. What a blessing for me that I got to spend it’s last earthy moments with her!

It meant so much to me because I am a hospice volunteer and I’ve learned how important it is for people who are dying to not have to die alone. I wanted to do that for the beautiful cardinal.

Becky Knickerbocker


An Inspirational Partnership – Ken Brown

Photo by Ken Brown

I didn’t know that male and female Robins are so maternal! These two have nested on a floodlight next to my home-office window for the last three years. Both apparently forage for nesting material and food, but while his partner is building the nest, he constantly brings her nesting material and earthworms or grubs. When laying starts the mother rarely leaves the nest and the father doubles his food-gathering efforts. After the bright-blue eggs hatch, both parents look after the nestlings. However, after they feather, the male increases time spent tending them, I expect so the female can re-build her strength for the next laying – at least two times over a Minnesota summer. What an inspirational partnership.
Ken Brown


Hidden Gems – Angie Adamek

Hidden Gems
Angie Adamek


Moments are fleeting, and there are no exceptions to that in the natural world. ‘Bud break’ is a special time to glimpse the awakening of life in the plant world, but we have to take the time to stop and allow it to be discovered. Take a moment in time to pause and really look around you, and your spirit may be lifted.
Angie Adamek


A Forest Blessing – Lawrence Wade

Barred Owlet
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Hello little one
Stay safe in your cozy tree hollow
May you be taught well by your elders
And take your place as the tiger of the woods
You are a blessing to behold.

                       Lawrence Wade


Discovering Something Wonderful  – Jim Ikhaml

Rabbit Bounding Track
Photo by Lawrence Wade

I have been teaching kindergarten and 1st grade students from Gatewood Elementary about animal tracks. Together we can not help but get excited at every little mark we see in the snow. The best part is when these tiny people learn a few tracks and passionately pass their skill onto everyone who will listen. They don’t care that Mom or Dad had a long day. It never occurs to them that the grown-ups already know what a rabbit track looks like. All they know is that they discovered something wonderful and they need to share it with the rest of the world. Get out there and pass a little something on to the next generation, the future keepers of the wild things. You won’t regret the time spent.

Jim Ikhaml – Gatewood School Naturalist


A Ducky Summer – Val McGruder

Photo by Val McGruder

One morning as I walked out to get our paper, a movement startled me along the front of our house. It was a female duck and she flew off.   Within a week we had spotted her a couple more times. I realized that she had found a spot right behind one of the tall Karl Forester grasses. The date was June 10th.   Each day I spotted an egg but then she would leave and I thought she might not come back. She did return. On June 18th, I made sure not to scare her but I did get close enough to see that she had 10 eggs in the nest.   I wanted to know what to expect and found a web site that discussed the life cycle of a mallard. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory

One of the things I learned was that after all the eggs are laid, the mother duck sits on the eggs continuously. The gestation period is approximately 28 days. I wanted to help her be successful in this most important job. Since she would sit on the nest all day I put out a shallow container of water and another of cracked corn.   Each day I would replenish the water and add corn as needed. She seemed to know I was not going to harm her. I also talked to her softly and gave her daily encouragement. I kept track of the days on the calendar so I would know when the eggs would hatch. The weather turned extremely hot in mid June and one day I noticed it looked like she was panting. The website mentioned that extreme heat is dangerous to the eggs and the mother duck.  The location she had chosen was in direct sun so I decided that I would set up some sort of shield to give her some relief. After trying various things, I set up a portable table over the top, a cardboard cutting board in front and some large beach towels draped over the top. I also plugged in a small fan, which allowed her to have some circulating air. Needless to say, this was not attractive and caused some neighbors to comment.   When they heard about the mama duck and her little family, they were very supportive and would inquire about her well being. I noticed that she would leave every evening between 5-7 p.m.

Duckling hatches
Photo by Val McGruder

Around 5:30 on July 8th I went out to replenish water and food. Mama was gone but as I got near, I noticed that something was moving in the nest. I realized it was 2 baby ducks and they had hatched out!   I was so excited!   The next morning I had an eye Dr. appointment at 7:30 a.m. As I sat in the waiting room my husband sent me a text with a picture of mama duck and her 10 little babies heading for the small lake a block away. He said the smallest chick had a difficult time keeping up with all the others and mama was loudly quacking to keep them all in line. I was so disappointed that I missed her departure but I was happy to know that they all hatched.   The next morning as I joined my neighborhood friends for our daily walk, we passed by the small nearby lake. We stopped and scanned the water. Towards the middle amongst the lily pads we saw a group of 10 tiny ducks with a mama duck.   I don’t know if I helped her that summer… but she sure helped me.   There is a quote I found that speaks to me:

When I finally got my ducks in a row, I realized that they aren’t even my ducks!”

Mama Duck and family
Photo by Val McGruder


Moon Ring – Cheryl Smith

Moon Ring
Photo by Cheryl Smith

Ice Crystals Dark Sky
December moon ring bodes of
Looming winter storm

                       Cheryl Smith


Doing for others  –  Dewey Hassig

“What you do for yourself dies with you; what you do for others lives forever”. Sharing garden produce with the Orchard Park Childcare kids.
Dewey Hassig

photos by Marietta Hassig

Wake up Call – Lawrence Wade

Male Pileated Woodpecker
Photo by Lawrence Wade

My alarm clock is a pileated woodpecker. Every day between 7:30-8am, I hear its call and know it is time to get up and start my day.
Lawrence Wade

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Animal Tracking Basics

Below is an excerpt from an expert tracker,  Jonathan Poppele. He wrote the book Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition:

Tracking is the study and interpretation of the footprints and other signs left behind by animals as they go about their lives. Tracking does not necessarily mean following a string of footprints to locate the animal that made them. It means understanding the footprints, scrapes, chews, digs, and scat that we inevitably run across when we are out in nature. Tracking begins with identifying the animal that left the tracks and signs behind for us to see, and grows into an understanding of the intimate details of that animal’s life.”

Animal Tracks Gallery

fox walking pattern. The animal is registering – meaning that the hind foot steps in the front foot track. Animals who register are trying to conserve their energy.


River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Two  river otters – body Slide – push off – body slide        Photo by Lawrence Wade


Owl making an attempted to kill a mouse. The left wing is on the left – tail is below and head is above. photo by Lawrence Wade


Crow Wing prints in the snow. The bird must have been flying low, but did not land.
photo by Lawrence Wade

Opossum Tracks w/ tail drag
photograph by Faith Frankel, Boonton, NJ.
Faith said that she lives in town and the opossum lives somewhere in her yard.

Animal Tracking Tutorial 101

In winter, studying animal tracks will give you a lot of information about who is active in your area. The best snow depth to read animal tracks is 1-4 inches. When there is more snow, it is difficult to see the patterns that each animal leaves. Tracking is all about looking at patterns and knowing where an animal is most likely to be found.

There are three basic groups of track patterns to learn.

Mouse tracks show the drag of the tail
Photo by Cindy Eyden

Rabbit Bounding Track
“F” is the smaller front foot. They hit the ground first.
“H” is the larger hind foot which jumps over the front feet.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Squirrel Tracks – often end at a tree
“F” is the front foot which hits the ground first
“H” is the larger hind foot which hops over the front foot.


2. Walkers – “big foot” and “little foot”
In identifying the three species below, the important things to look for is the size of the track and the position of the front foot and the hind foot. Also, the beaver and muskrat are only found in wetland areas, whereas raccoons are found in many different habitats     including wetlands.In all cases the hind foot is larger than the smaller front foot.


Raccoon tracks
The arrow shows the direction of travel
“H” shows the larger hind foot
“F” shows the smaller front foot

muskrat Tracks
Muskrats rarely leave their huts in the winter, unless they run out of food or the population is too high.  Photo by Lawrence Wade

3. Straight-line walkers

Both deer and fox step with the hind foot falling exactly in the track of the front foot. Thus, the pattern in the snow appears that the animals are two-legged. This behavior is called “registering”and it helps the animal to conserve energy when walking in deep snow.

Fox Tracks crossing the creek.

deer tracks showing the hoofs










After you determine whether it is a hopper, straight line walker, or a “big foot-little foot”, Look at the pattern closely and notice how many inches there are between tracks or clumps of tracks. Also, think about the habitat you are seeing the tracks. Some animals are restricted to certain habitats (ie beaver, mink, and muskrat are found in wetlands).



fox tracks

Dog Tracks

Foxes leave a neat pattern in the snow because the hind foot steps in the front foot track (registering). Registering helps a fox to conserve energy, when walking in deep snow. It’s cousin, the dog,  does not register and leaves a much sloppier track. Deer also register, with the hind foot walking in the front foot track. Also, a deer hoof is easy to see when the snow is packed, and they usually drag their hooves. However, in deep snow, the hooves are more spread out and the dew claw is visible in the back of the track.

Mink Tracks along Minnehaha Creek
One foot is slightly ahead of another
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Expert tracker and author, Linda Spielman, made the following comment about mink:

Larry, I see that you have put the mustelids (weasel family) in the section with the straight-line walkers, but they don’t belong there. Sometimes mink are more like the hoppers but at other times they lope or gallop like deer and dogs. Mink are known to walk, but not very often. Maybe you need a fourth category. 


A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast
by Linda J. Spielman
Paperback, published by Countryman Press, released July 4, 2017     192 pages, 6 X 9 inches
ISBN-13: 978-1682680643

My book contains between 6 and 12 drawings for each of 40 species, each drawing meticulously and accurately copied from one or several photographs.

Each species treatment also includes written sections that discuss important details and point out differences and similarities between different species. Gait patterns can be as important as individual tracks for identification, so the typical gaits for each species are illustrated with diagrams and explained in written discussions. Measurements are given for tracks and gaits, and there is also a short section on habitat, sign, and scat.

By focusing on the tracks themselves and limiting other topics I was able to produce a book that is easily carried in a day pack and yet remarkably comprehensive. My book arises out of my own experience tracking northeastern mammals, but the approach will be beneficial for trackers in any region. A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast is available from major booksellers. I can also ship it directly to you. You can send a check for $15.66 ($13.00 + $2.66 media mail) to Linda Spielman, PO Box 955, Dryden, NY 13053. I welcome your comments; visit www.lindajspielman.com, or contact me at lindajspielman@gmail.com.


Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
by Jonathan Poppele.
Published by Adventure Publications


Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition is a pocket sized guide to the tracks and sign of Midwestern mammals. Excellent illustrations and quick identification tips help you get started. Track pattern illustrations, scat photos and descriptions of other signs that animals leave behind provide more clues to help to with identification. The information is easy enough for beginners yet detailed enough for experienced trackers.

Praise for Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition
“There are many great guides to identifying animal tracks. A few are truly excellent and some others are surprisingly misleading. Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition by Jonathan Poppele is a book that surprised me. It has fantastic track drawings, accurate information, and a very smart organization method. This book is inexpensive and worth adding to your library.”–Jonah Evans, tracking expert and State Mammalogist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The book is widely available at State Parks, Wildlife Refuges, major book sellers, and online book sellers. The Second Edition is scheduled for release by January 2021. Readers can order directly from the publisher, Adventure Publications 1-800-678-7006.


Posted in Nature Notes, Winter | 7 Comments

Call for Stories and Photos

Call for Stories, Poems and Art

Have you had an interaction or made a connection with a living creature/plant that touched you? Would you like to share a story, a photo, a poem,  and art? Don’t be shy! All contributions great and small will be celebrated.
To see some examples from a previous  group post  see below:

Send your stories, poetry, art and a photo. Try to limit your text to 2 paragraphs (some of us may have a hard time doing that).  Send your material to:

The last day to send a story will be Friday January 21, 2022. The stories will be posted the week of January 24, 2022.

Below is an example sent in by Ken Brown

Photo by Ken Brown

I didn’t know that male and female Robins are so maternal! These two have nested on a floodlight next to my home-office window for the last three years. Both apparently forage for nesting material and food, but while his partner is building the nest, he constantly brings her nesting material and earthworms or grubs. When laying starts the mother rarely leaves the nest and the father double his food-gathering efforts. After the bright-blue eggs hatch, both parents look after the nestlings. However, after they feather, the male increases time spent tending them, I expect so the female can re-build her strength for the next laying – at least two times over a Minnesota summer. What an inspirational partnership.
Ken Brown



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Oceanography Lesson 4 – Rivers in the Sea

Oceanography 4 – Rivers in the Sea

Ocean Currents, Prevailing Winds, and the Coriolis Effect

From: Whales in the Classroom – Oceanography
              By Lawrence Wade

Graphics by Stephen Bolles

The ocean currents of the world play a very important role in our ocean system. The currents move throughout the oceans like the blood that moves through a body. They are “rivers in the sea” and they circulate ocean water throughout the world. Although the oceans are surrounded by continents and have been given special names (Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, etc), the water is actually mixed by currents into one huge planetary ocean. In fact, if you could follow a drop of ocean water, you would find that it would travel from one end of the Earth to the other.

There are two great forces that create our ocean currents. The prevailing winds cause the water to move. Just as the currents are the blood of the ocean, the prevailing winds are the breath of the ocean. The prevailing winds blow continually and set the water in motion.



The second great force that creates our currents is the Coriolis Effect and it is caused by the rotation of the Earth. If you were a drop of water north of the Equator, you would move throughout that ocean in a clockwise direction. If you were a drop of water south of the equator, you would move in a counter-clockwise direction. This force give currents their direction of flow.

Coriolis Effect

The prevailing winds generates the ocean currents. However, the Coriolis Effect causes the currents to be deflected 45° from the direction of the prevailing wind.

What to do:
Download page 40 (map below), then draw the accurate direction of the ocean current from the wind arrows. The green arrow is an example of the direction the ocean currents take in relation to the wind in the Northern Hemisphere and another in the Southern Hemisphere.

Download page 40

Use the key at the end of the post to determine how well you did on page 40.

Ocean Currents, Continents and the Coriolis Effect

When a current comes in contact with a continent, the water builds up and must either flow north or south. The direction the water takes depends upon the Coriolis Effect. As you know, in the Northern Hemisphere the currents moves clockwise and in the Southern Hemisphere it move counterclockwise.

What to do:

Download page 41. Now complete the flow of the North Atlantic current system by drawing an arrow to show the direction the current flows after it comes in contact with Europe and North America.

Page 41

Download page 41

Use the key at the end of the post to determine how well you did on page 41.


The Big Challenge

Now are you ready for the “big challenge”? You will be plotting the ocean currents in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Buenos suerte ( good luck)!

What to Do:
Download pages 42-43. Apply what you have learned in the previous exercises and complete diagram below. The South Equatorial current in the Southern Pacific Ocean is completed for you.

In addition to plotting the currents, label three “Current Superstars”.

1. Gulf Stream – is in the North Atlantic Ocean and flow NE along the coast of North America. The Gulf Stream flows as fast as 10 miles/hour.
2. California Current is in the North Pacific Ocean and flows south along the West Coast of North America. The current creates an environment rich with sealife.
3. Peru Current –  is in the South Pacific and flows north along the west coast of South America.  It is one of the richest areas in the world for sealife and fishing.

Download page 42-43

Use the key at the end of the post to determine how well you did on pages 42-43.

Keys to the exercises.

Posted in Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Animal Homes

Animal Homes

This is a great time of year to study Animal Homes.  Below you will see a Youtube video I created in a park near my house.

As you are watching the video, follow along and try to figure out what type of animal home you are seeing. To help you identify the animal homes use the handout below, from my book, Nature Seeker Workbook.

From Nature Seeker Workbook. Lawrence Wade


To download handout, click here:  Animal HomesPDF copy


If you would like to view another Old Naturalist posting on animal homes that shows the inside of different animal’s homes go to:


Inside a Fox Den


How do you tell the difference between a Crow/hawk/owl nest and a squirrel nest? Look at the two photos below and see if you can tell the difference.

Squirrel Nest
photo by Lawrence Wade

Crow Nest

The Crow/hawk/owl nest is made mostly of sticks and is flat on the top. Whereas the squirrel nest is mostly leaves and is rounded at the top. See if you can tell the difference when you are taking your own nature hike.

Photo by Weston Yost (My Grandson)

Using  your Animal Homes handout what type of nest is this? This nest is made out of paper.  If you are thinking, bald faced hornet, that is correct. Before the first hard frost the queen leaves the nest and hibernates under a log nearby. All of the workers die after the first hard frost. Do not bring the nest inside your home unless it has gotten very cold. The larvae may still be alive inside the nest, if so, they will hatch into adult hornets inside your home (scary!).

Now see if you can make a bar graph based upon the animal homes you found:To download the handout, click here: AnimalHomesBarGraph

Frequent Contributor, Dale Antonson added an observation:

In September of 2020, I was hiking through Minneopa State Park near Mankato, MN. Along Minneopa Creek, I discovered this three story home within the network of roots under a magnificent oak.  It was a magical place.

Photo by Dale Antonson


Posted in Animals, Mammals, Nature Notes | 2 Comments

White-Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer

photograph by Dale Antonson

If you live in a suburban area, white tail deer can be pests eating  hostas and vegetables in your garden; destroying a young tree by making it a rubbing post during the rutting (mating) season.

But white tails are the largest wild mammal in our neighborhoods, and are incredibly beautiful and sleek. There is something special about taking a morning hike and watching doe and yearling bound away with their tails “flagging” in the air.

White-tail “flagging”
Photograph by Larry Wade

Below are some stories about white-tail encounters:

  •  My wife and I were hiking and our dog, Hug, was barking wildly ahead of us. Hug had recently weaned her pups. We rushed up to see a wobbly newborn fawn nursing from Hug’s teats. The dog was standing with a bewildered look on her face, not sure if she  should try to take bite out of the fawn or lick it. Time slowed down to one frame per second. My wife, picked the fawn up and cradled it. Then we both realized what she has done and she laid the fawn down in the weeds. We continued down the trail, wondering if the whole event had even happened.
    Larry Wade

Photograph by Dale Antonson

  • I had the good fortune to have a free hour to spend before our worship service last Sunday, so I ventured over to Lake Ann in Chanhassen for a hike in the beautiful forest there. I was alone, so I prefer to move through the woods carefully and quietly. I was pleased to come upon a pair of deer. I paused and took some of the photos for this posting. Look carefully in the photo above and you can see the doe who blends so well into the background (circled in red). As I began to walk away from them and  the buck began to follow after me, which made me a little nervous. Thankfully, I was able to move up a hillside and lose his sight line.
    story by Dale Antonson
  • Many years ago, I was working with a group of 6 graders at a nature center. We were doing a deer study near a deer feeding station. I was showing the students how you could tell the age of the deer by looking at the scat (poop). I was getting less than 10 % interest from the group. So, having a few milk duds in my pocket, I reached down pretending to pick up some deer scat. I said to the group, “You don’t need to be so freaked out, because deer scat tastes pretty good”. Then I popped the milk dud into my mouth. I’ll never forget the look on those kid’s faces. Their jaws dropped and eyes bugged out, as they tried to fathom what had just happened.
    Larry Wade

 If you have a favorite white tail story post it in the comments section.

Photograph by Dale Antonson

Special Facts about Deer




Flagging is an alarm signal to other deer in the herd, telling the herd that danger is near. The white tail of the deer goes up and the deer bounds off. Before a deer flags, it may warn others in the herd by stamping the ground with its foreleg.



Growing antlers still in “velvet”.


The antlers are grown and shed each year. In late spring, the buck’s antlers begin to grow. The antlers of a healthy buck can grow as much as 1/2 inch per day. The antlers are covered by a thin layer of skin called “velvet” which is hair-like, short and fuzzy. Under the velvet are thousands of tiny blood vessels. High levels of calcium in the blood helps the antlers grow. Also, during the breeding season, the neck swells to almost twice its normal size ( See Dale Antonson’s very first photo).

The size of the antlers depends upon the age and food available to the deer. In areas where there is very little browse (food) available, the antlers remain small even if the buck is an adult. In January and February, the antlers begin to drop off (ordinarily just one at a time). Antlers have been called “nature’s drug store”, since they are rich in vitamins and minerals. After falling on the forest floor, antlers are quickly chewed up by mice, squirrels, fox, and other animals of the forest.

Deer Bed

Deer Bed

Deer bed down in the evening and remain there most of the day. Deer will not bed in windy areas because they need to conserve their body heat in the winter. Most deer beds are found in areas protected from the wind, and on south-facing hillsides. South-facing hills are warmed by the sun sooner on cold wintry days and allow deer to conserve body heat.


Hoof A deer actually walks on its hoof which are the toe nails of two toes. The other two toes are called dew claws and are positioned a few inches above the ground. Dew claws help slow a deer if it is sliding down a hill. The unique shape of the foot allows a deer to run up to 30 miles/hour in short bursts. Deer are also capable of jumping eight feet high from a standing position.


Deer are herbivores, meaning that they feed only on plants. Their diet varies with the season. In summer their main food is the leaves of green plants; while in the fall they may rumeneat acorns; in the winter they eat primarily buds and twigs. A deer eats six to eight pounds daily of plant material. In the winter, they may get as little as two or three pounds and still survive. A deer has a total of 4 stomachs, allowing it to get more nutrition from the food it eats. The deer is a ruminant mammal. A ruminant feeds on plant material and then stores the food in its first stomach (known as a rumen). Then later when it laying down in a safe area, it “burps up” the food and re-chews it. This is a called “chewing the cud”. Many mammals ruminants including cows and goats. Chewing cud allows an animal to get more nutrition out of its food.

Deer have excellent eyesight and can detect the slightest movement. Even the blinking of an eye can cause a deer to “bolt”. However, deer are color blind. So if you are hunting and wearing “blaze orange” for hunter safety, deer will not be afraid of the color. Their hearing is excellent and their ears can move, allowing them to pick up sounds of possible danger. Possibly their strongest sense is their ability to smell a scent from a distance of over 1/3 of a mile.

Deer Population Study

Do you have a deer herd in your neighborhood? What is the population make-up the herd? By recording some simple field observations, you can get a good idea what age groups of deer live in your neighborhood. Below are three tools for studying deer populations including: scat analysis; measuring the size of deer beds; and analyzing hoof size.

Deer bed

What to do: Go out into woods looking for deer signs: including scat, tracks, and beds. You will need a tape measure to determine the deer bed size. When it comes to analyzing scat, count a clump of scat as one observation. Make a tally for each of the signs that you find. The number of tallies that you make for each age class, will give a good idea what the population structure is in your neighborhood.

Petroglyph Canyon de Chelly

Petroglyph Canyon de Chelly






Posted in Animals, Mammals | 2 Comments

A personal note….

Dear Readers, Friends, Students, and All Who Love the Earth:

I have been in the publishing business since 1994. This journey has given me so much joy, but now it is time to let go of that part of my work.

For that reason I am pricing all inventory of my three books at $10/ book which includes shipping and sales tax. To learn more about each book and purchasing, go to the sidebar and click on the book you are interested in.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Going Solo in the BWCA

Holly Einess has a Biology degree from St. Olaf College and is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. Her dream is for humans to welcome nature into their everyday lives and to live in kinship with their fellow creatures on this planet.

“You’re in good health and fit right now and you’re not getting any younger; if you’ve been wanting to try this, now is the perfect time,” says my husband Brian reassuringly. So I quiet the what-ifs and, both nervous and excited, set off for my first-ever solo trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I hit the road at 6 am, pick up a canoe in Ely at 10, get my permit at the ranger station (where I’m told the summer’s drought has resulted in higher-than-normal bear activity–gulp), and head for the put-in.

About a mile down the road the canoe starts sliding sideways. Uh oh. I pull over, cinch the straps tighter, and take off. Again, the canoe slides to the side. Again I pull over, now slightly panicked, thinking this is the sort of thing Brian usually handles. And I tell myself, “Well, he’s not here. So you get to figure it out yourself!” I move some straps around, and once again set off. This time the canoe stays in place (hallelujah!).

At the entry point I get help lifting the canoe off the car, load up, and start paddling. Then portage. Then paddle some more. And portage again. And paddle. And portage. And I’m IN! Lake One. I nab the first open campsite I see, put up my tent and hammock, and text Brian, letting him know I’ve made it in safely. (I send the text with no small amount of humility and abashedness, having for years opined loudly, to anyone who’d listen, “No cell towers in view of the BWCA! If people are going into the wilderness, they should leave their phones at home! Disconnect for a few days!”) Hearing back from him is surprisingly comforting.

My campsite (at tip of pine needle). Red and blue dots indicate campsites, red lines indicate portages. My entry point is at the top of the map (#30: Lake One Access*). 

As I take the trail up to the latrine I’m suddenly very aware that I’m BY MYSELF. My usual camping friends aren’t sitting around the fire grate preparing supper, or getting ready to head out fishing. It’s just me. I feel a little disoriented, the memories of their presence on past trips coming alive such that I almost expect them to be there when I return to the campsite. And a truth I’ve always known about myself comes into sharp focus: I am not a loner.

It’s relatively early—4 pm or so—but I‘m hungry. And hey, I’m on my own! I can eat whenever I want! So I “make” dinner (boil water and re-hydrate a freeze-dried backpack meal), then grab my kindle and binoculars and settle into my hammock.

I notice the sun getting lower in the sky. Savor the lingering warmth. Appreciate the pointy tips of the fir trees. Very briefly consider opening my kindle and doing some reading. Do not open my kindle. Feel the breeze on my cheeks. Am aware of the quietness of my breathing; of the way my chest rises and falls. Compare the blue of this particular sky to the blue of other skies. Hear a bird calling. See that the sun is about to dip out of sight. Watch the sky change color near the horizon—yellow, orange, a deeper blue. Welcome a bright planet as she appears low in the sky, then a faint star high overhead. Join the star party as more and more show up. Start to feel chilled. Realize I’ve spent three hours doing nothing. And it was time well spent.

I awake at first light and emerge from my tent, eager to see whether one of my favorite Boundary Waters phenomena—Mist on a Still Lake at Dawn—is in effect. It is, sort of. Way off across the lake. And I turn into a petulant three-year-old, nearly stomping my foot, the voice in my head saying “I want the mist HERE!!!” and the grown-up voice calmly responding, “Well then, why don’t you GO to the mist?” And with the gleeful realization that I can do just that, I skip down to the canoe, hop in, and paddle to the mist. Oh, what a lovely hour I spend, feeling the chill of the damp air on my skin, drinking in the near-full moon floating in the sky, watching the rising sun appear like a bonfire.

Back at camp I once again boil water (this time for tea and instant oatmeal; I am truly loving not having to wash dishes!), then pack a lunch (cheese, crackers, and salami) and go paddling some more. It is another perfect day of mid-70s, sunshine, and light winds. I chat for a bit with a couple camping around the bend from me, pulling up to their shore to get some love from their golden retriever, Grace. I meander past islands, getting out to hike around one with passable trails, and eat lunch at an empty campsite.

I return to my site mid-afternoon and go for a swim in the chilly water, then stretch out to dry on a sunny rock and nearly fall asleep. Rousing myself, I consider my options for what to do next. I’ve sometimes wondered how wild animals—squirrels, for example (or even my dog, for that matter)—decide how to spend their day. I presume they don’t consciously plan. And yet… do they operate purely on instinct? Or is it something in between?

I check in with my mammalian self, and discern what’s pulling me. Another walk! So I head on foot toward the portage, again grateful for the semblance of a trail, and do some boulder-hopping over the lake outlet to get there, pausing for a time to enjoy the sound of running water. The portage is short, but still makes for a sweet little out-and-back, especially as I’m unencumbered by canoe or gear.

I return to my campsite hungry, and once again dine unfashionably early. Then into the hammock I go, this time reading for a good while before welcoming that first luminous evening planet.

The next morning dawns cloudy and still. I decide to paddle back to the put-in to retrieve something I’d forgotten in my car. I only entertain doing this because I heard the day before that there’s a way to get into Lake One without doing any portages, and I’m eager to check out that option. So off I go, raingear at the ready. All along the way the shore is reflected in the water so perfectly that I have moments of near-vertigo, losing track of where land and water stop and start. A loud slap and a disappearing tail tells me I’ve startled a beaver. I wait a moment until he reappears, little ripples bunching up in front of his face as he swims to shore.

I’m back at camp within two hours, arriving just as it starts to rain. I shelter briefly in the vestibule of my tent, but am feeling antsy to move to the appealing campsite I’d passed earlier, worried it might get taken by others. As soon as the rain lightens I quickly pack up and head out, and am relieved to find my new site unoccupied. There’s a break in the rain just long enough for me to get set up and have breakfast. As I’m rinsing out my oatmeal bowl it starts up again, so I crawl into my tent and sleeping bag, read for maybe 10 minutes, and fall happily to sleep. I wake periodically, appreciating the sound of the rain on my snug, waterproof tent, then drift off again. This goes on for several hours, until I’m well rested and the rain stops for good.

Because I had a late breakfast and slept through lunch, I once more have an early dinner. A family with young children is camping within earshot. Their entertaining chatter includes lots of “Daddy, look at this!” and curiously, “One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two, one two, one-two …” How lucky those kids are, to grow up in a family that values wilderness experiences.

I set up my camp chair on a rock that juts into the water and do a little writing in my journal. The retreating clouds create lovely skyscapes, their reflections in the water equally beautiful.

The temperature is quickly dropping. I keep adding layers until I’m wearing nearly everything I brought, including long underwear, two fleeces, a winter hat, and gloves.

I stay in my chair, alternating between reading and stargazing, until full dark.

I wake before first light and have breakfast by moonlight, savoring the absolute silence. It’s still early when I push off, gear loaded somewhat haphazardly, knowing I don’t have any portages on my way out. The wind kicks up as I paddle, and as I struggle to keep a straight course I see a head pop out of the water a little ways off, then another, and another. Otters! One of them, head tilted back, chews with relish some tasty morsel, arcs out of the water, and dives back in. All three tussle and play, disappearing underwater, then bobbing again to the surface in a new spot. I set my paddle down and let the wind have its way with the canoe as I twist around to keep an eye on the fun.

The otters’ course takes them in the opposite direction to mine, so I carry on and eventually pull into the landing. Several parties are loading up for departure, including a couple with a dog and a 2-year-old. They tell me it’s their son’s first trip to the Boundary Waters; from the fresh, outdoorsy look of them, I suspect it won’t be his last. They offer help lifting my canoe onto my car, and I gratefully accept. It’s not lost on me that my first-ever solo BWCA trip included plenty of interactions with and help from others; a reminder that even when doing things alone, I’m still connected to and can lean into a larger community.

I tell my husband on the drive home that I haven’t decided whether this was a one-time, check-it-off-the-bucket-list adventure, or whether it will become an annual event. Either way, I intend to continue looking for ways to step outside my comfort zone, taking things I already love and expanding them a bit. I may not be getting younger, but my life still has room to grow.


Posted in Nature Notes, Photography/Art | 17 Comments