Thursday, July 20, 2017

Photo Essay: An enchanting walk in the County Grounds

Showy tick trefoil in bloom on the County Grounds
Dawn is my favorite time of day. I was thinking this as I rolled over in bed one recent morning, right about dawn. My joints were stiff and my eyes reluctant to open, though my heart raced and I was no longer sleepy. There was a time when I would have popped out of bed in the morning, jumped on my bike and raced along the Menomonee River Parkway. Or walked in the woods. First thing in the morning I’d get my nature fix. Then I was ready to face the day, relaxed and clear headed.

Instead, now I propped up a pillow, stretched creaky limbs, and reached for the book I’d been reading by Florence Williams, “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.” Seriously. The irony dawned on me when, after a couple of pages, I read, “The more I made myself get outside, the better I slept and felt.” I got out of bed then. Although I’d missed the sunrise, I decided to get a dose of nature after all. A half-hour walk would wake me up good and proper.

My next decision was to leave my camera behind. For once, I thought, I would go out free of the obligation and effort that the camera requires and attend to my surroundings more purely. Williams devotes many chapters in her book to the healing effects of nature and walking in nature in particular. I didn’t need her book to convince me of a truth I’d felt all my life. But of late I had come to wonder if the work of photography—for, whatever its virtues, the act of photographing is work—might interfere with and to some extent diminish those healing effects.

On my way out the door I impulsively grabbed my cell phone.

In other words, I cheated. Snug in my pocket, the phone doesn’t feel like a camera and whipping it out now and then to shoot a picture doesn’t feel like working. Besides, I reasoned, ordinarily when I go out walking I never pull it from my pocket. But this turned out to be no ordinary morning.

Daisy fleabane, Hoyt Park
Walking across Hoyt Park’s iconic footbridge over the Menomonee River—something I’ve done innumerable times—was suddenly, inexplicably like falling down a rabbit hole. But instead of Alice in a place growing curiouser and curiouser, I felt like a rabbit sans top hat and pocket watch. At the end of the bridge was a slope that had been denuded a year ago during the reconstruction of the historic structure. Now it was a field of wildflowers that, at rabbit’s-eye level, was an enchanting wonderland.

Bergamot, aka bee balm, County Grounds
The magic didn’t wear off after one patch of flowers either, as my photo essay should testify. I consider myself very fortunate to live near Hoyt Park and the Milwaukee County Grounds. But, as Williams is quick to point out, nature is as close as the nearest tree and you can get your nature fix on far less territory than I covered that morning. In fact, Milwaukee County is well enough endowed with parks so diverse in size and character that you can choose a quick hit in a neighborhood pocket park or something more akin to the urban wilderness I prefer.

Dry pepperweed bracts, County Grounds
In her book Williams describes joining a study that posed a “30x30 nature challenge,” which is 30 minutes of walking for 30 days in a row. “One of the most interesting findings,” she reported, “was that we seemed to like being in nature so much, we doubled our weekly green time by the end of the month.” My own half-hour nature fix that day turned into an hour and a half.

Happier, healthier and more creative? Well, my fix left me happier at least, and definitely invigorated. Perhaps that’s healthier. As for creativity, sometimes all it takes is a rabbit’s-eye view to make the world new again. Try your own nature challenge. I bet you’ll feel better, too.

Black mustard in bloom, County Grounds
Foxtail barley bunchgrass, County Grounds
Wild Mint, Hoyt Park
Red maple, County Grounds
Chicory and sweet clover, County Grounds
Milkweed and Swan Blvd., County Grounds
Bottlebrush grass, Hoyt Park
Highbush cranberry reaching through the Hoyt Park Pool fence.
Morning light over the east detention basin, County Grounds

See more photos of the County Grounds on Flickr.


  1. What a nice story. Great pics to. I felt like I was right there.... although there's nothing like the real thing.

    1. No indeed. My point exactly! Get out for your own nature fix asap.