From Florida to the Forest: A Tour Guide’s Tale

Mar 15 by in General, Nature tagged , , , , with 3 comments


When my family and I relocated to Nebraska City two years ago from Central Gulf Coast Florida, we couldn’t have imagined the natural beauty and outdoor adventures in Nebraska that continue to amaze us even now.

We visited in March for a house hunting trip and were thrilled to experience a Nebraska snowfall during our visit. Honestly, I think the beautiful fireplace at Lied Lodge and the gentle snow were major selling factors for us. The excitement of snow and four distinct seasons charged the enthusiasm of our teenagers.

Upon our official arrival in July 2008, we set out to find our way in this new place.  As a native Floridian, I was enthralled by the rolling hills and plateaus of soybeans and corn in Nebraska, the vast blue sky and the symmetrical tree plantings around farmhouses. A visit to Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure explained that the tree plantings were windbreaks. We received our free tree seedlings from the Lied Greenhouse and took them home to plant on our new homestead west of town.  My son named his tree “Bruce Spruce”, a fitting name for a Colorado Blue Spruce.

The Tree Adventure employees we met on our visit were Midwest friendly – which is to say – delightfully helpful and genuine people. I was recruited on the spot to become a tour guide. As a veteran teacher, the idea of going on field trips every day sounded wonderful.

As the school year began, I trekked the trails with groups of students – reveling in the cool shade of the massive oaks, marveling at the abundance of butterflies and enormous squirrels. Then one day, the bees swarmed out and the geese flew away. My fellow tour guides explained that these are tell-tale signs of autumn officially arriving. In Florida, fall arrives when the snowbirds roll in the week after the elections up north, so this “natural occurrence” caught me off guard.

The trees and vineyard started their glorious show. The apple trees literally appeared to be collapsing under their bounty. Sugar maples instantly became my favorite deciduous tree; the cottonwoods sparkled and the grand oaks each had their own succession of radiant colors.

As the leaves disappeared, the snow arrived. Peaceful and quiet walks in the snow replaced the crunching leafy trails of autumn. I was experiencing nature for the first time without any fear. In Florida, I had always watched the ground for snakes or alligators, but the forests of Arbor Day Farm were safe and inviting. I ventured off the trail and discovered hedge apples or Osage oranges. I could sneak up on turkey and deer, black squirrels and woodchucks. The fields and forests were guarded on high by hawks and eagles.

As the roofs began to drip, spring arrived at Arbor Day Farm. Buds began to sprout on the apple trees and the birds returned.  Imagine my amazement in discovering that a real, live oriole really does looks like the Baltimore Oriole mascot, and all this time I thought it was just a cartoon representation. Goldfinch and red-winged black birds reappeared. Much to my surprise, it seemed every plant had some sort of bloom – color was everywhere! I was accustomed to innumerable shades of green in tropical Florida, but spring in Nebraska City exceeded all my expectations. Crocus and peonies popped out of seemingly abandoned grass.  Apple blossoms popped open and back came the bees.

After my second, excitingly epic and snowy winter in Nebraska, I am eager for the natural opulence of spring again at Arbor Day Farm. I hope you’ll come experience it, too.

Heather Austin is a tour guide and tour coordinator at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. She leads hundreds of students and visitors through the forest to make natural discoveries of their own. Learn more about tours at Arbor Day Farm.

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  • Kate DuBois says:

    Heather, what a lovely post! I was in the forest walking with you as I was reading your writing. Thank you! Your job sounds amazing. Please take photos and post them. I just ran across the most stunning book of tree photos (PersonaliTrees by Joan Joan Klostermann-Ketels that I think you’d really like. Based on what you’re doing, you could do something unique like that book too.

  • Kathy says:

    Heather, what a beautiful picture you painted through your writing. Can’t wait to visit!

  • Jeanne says:

    A true connection to nature is a great gift in life. Enjoy! I’m sure you will help many, many others find the gift as well.

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