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NASH COLUMN: Take a break in the outdoors

NASH COLUMN: Take a break in the outdoors

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Lately, I’ve longed for the days in northern Minnesota, when we had no television or computers, the phone hung on the wall and even though there was one nosy person out of five on our party line that was the only irritant because there were no robocalls. We were too far out of town to get a paper delivered, and the only radio station we received was Canadian, and that was so staticky we never bothered to listen. It was heavenly.

Today, I don’t have a smartphone and I don’t want one, but I do have a television, a computer and get the newspaper. But I’m beginning to feel I need to wean myself off the news, especially on television.

How many videos of people getting vaccinated can anyone tolerate? You’d think the media would be more creative and stop showing clips of that all day long. But the most disturbing are stories of mass shootings, deaths from COVID, violence against black people and Asian Americans, never-ending political partisanship that results in nothing being accomplished, and, well, you know the rest. Although the regular networks usually show one positive story at the end of their evening news shows, 99% of the news is bleak and depressing. That’s why I need to escape and go to the woods whenever I can.

Not that there isn’t death in the woods and meadows. Big, beautiful trees eventually die and fall to the ground. But it’s easy to see how their rotting bodies encourage and protect new growth. There are remnants of rabbits along the trails where coyotes enjoyed a meal, but, unlike humans, they don’t kill what they don’t need to survive. Deer forage on tender plants, and their droppings become fertilizer for yet more growth. It’s all an amazing cycle of death and new, vibrant life.

The other day in the woods, I sat on a large boulder and wished it and the massive outcropping it fell from could tell me all they’d witnessed in the almost two-billion-years since they were formed—those rocks are some of the oldest in the world. The massive outcropping would have been perfect shelter for Native Americans when they finally came on the scene. On the south side of the rocks, they would have been protected from the fierce north winds. The rock formations’ enormous height, along with deep crevices, would have provided early humans a safe place to sleep, cook, and socialize. And there would have been plenty of wood for making fires.

Long before people arrived, trees grew from the eroded earth, their seeds dropped by birds or buried by squirrels. Since scientists have determined squirrels have been in North America for millions of years, they would have had lots of time to plant them by the time humans arrived. The Native Americans also harvested and planted acorns and used fire for what’s called “cultural burning.” Look it up; it’s fascinating, as is the history of the Baraboo Bluffs.

When I find a fallen log or rock to sit on, I revel in the sounds the forest whispers, like those of the trees’ upper branches rubbing against one another. And when I put my ear against the trunks, I can hear it even better as the sound reverberates through the wood.

The other day, in the meadow beside the woods, I found a huge ant hill and sat down beside it to watch the ants go about their business. And they were all business. Each one brought out of the tunnels a piece of grass or small twig. They seemed pretty fussy as they decided where to deposit them. A couple of ants carried twigs as thick as they were, and four times as long. They backed up when they had to, climbed over barriers, and finally dropped them far from the tunnels’ entrances. Then they went back underground to find more. They all worked for a common purpose, and I wondered why more humans haven’t figured out how to do that.

I also wondered if ants and other insects ever take a break or horse around together like rabbits, squirrels and other mammals. Come to think of it, birds don’t seem to play, either. Their survival depends on a constant search for food and shelter.

Speaking of birds, I love watching them in the yard. The funny male grackles strut and fluff up as they approach female grackles that pretend not to notice. Watching them along with the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks, as well as my trips to the woods, have saved me from the despair I feel after watching the news. I don’t know what I’d do if I lived in a big city. I guess that’s why I don’t.

Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at

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