OWLS sauntering program gets seniors back to nature

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The Clayton County OWLS group met on May 16. Participants enjoyed a guided "saunter" through the Osborne Nature Center archery range woods, stopping to reflect on essays written by Emerson and Thoreau. Front from left are John Franta, Ann Franta, Joe Ihm, Jean Marie Hall, Joyce Marovets and conservationist Abby Harkraker; back row, Randy Vaske, Lucille Eberhardt, Diane Breitsprecher, Judi Siebrecht, Arlene Doepke, Cathy Boyer, Dorthy Lucas and Jane Metcalf. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Clayton County Naturalist Abby Harkrader has been sharing her passion for nature with visitors and staff at the Osborne Nature Center since the fall of 2008. 

Osborne Nature Center is located five miles south of Elkader on Highway 13 and features a native wildlife exhibit, walking trails, open shelters, a welcome center and gift shop. 

The mission of the Clayton County Conservation Board affiliated with the center is: To promote the health and general welfare of the people; and to encourage preservation, conservation, education and recreation through responsible use and appreciation of our natural resources and cultural heritage. 

Harkrader grew up in Adel and received her degree in 1998 from Upper Iowa University in conservation management.   

Harkrader shares her life with her husband, Rick, and their two children in rural Clayton County.She enjoys working with children and adults and introducing them to the natural world. Her wealth of knowledge and calm demeanor makes learning about the environment an enlightening experience.

OWLS

Older, Wiser, Livelier, Souls (OWLS) is an educational nature series geared toward retirees. Programming is held on the third Thursday of each month year round

Linda Zalatel, a naturalist from Story County, was the creator of the OWLS program. It was originally called Older, Wiser, Livelier, Seniors. The name has changed slightly throughout the years, but the format has remained the same — to educate retirees about the history of the area and the natural world.  

Harkrader told The Press, "The Clayton County OWLS program began in 2008. When the program began our attendance was pretty sparse. In 2010, we decided to try something new and added some more excursions. We visited many of the parks throughout Clayton County, which increased the popularity of the program. We now have to take reservations ahead of time for our field trips, events and speaker programs." Harkrader went on to say, "Additional interest in the program was also created by freelance writer Jean Marie Hall. She wrote several pieces about our OWLS adventures and shared her writing with several local newspapers."

OWLS Saunter Program

On the first official warm humid day in May, seniors from all walks of life, a variety of ages, with a nice mix of men and women, gathered together for Harkrader's Sauntering program. 

Armed with a variety of walking sticks — one collapsible, a pair of shared cross country ski poles, a yellow broom handle and a last-minute stick broken off along the side of the trail from a downed branch— the lively seniors set off on a course for inspirational nature investigation. 

Harkrader led the group along the trail, stopping at various points of interest to share famous essays and quotes from renowned naturalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

The naturalist encouraged the group to "Think outside the box," and experience nature through the unfiltered eyes of their souls.
Harkrader left all things to the imagination and allowed time for group sharing and reflection. 

There were many discoveries made and discussed along the group's "saunter" through the woods. 

One of the participants discovered a "Jack-in-the-Pulpit," another found a toad along the path, which produced a lively discussion on spring toad mating rituals. A discussion of tree identification, using the leaves and the bark as an identification tool, encouraged a shared discussion on the elusiveness of the famed morel mushroom, and its relationship to the elm tree. There was a sharing of ideas concerning the garlic mustard infestation, and questions arose about responsible farming practices and extinction of endangered species. 

The group found an area along the trail that had several discarded turkey feathers. The discussion covered reasons for the loss of the turkey's feathers. 

All along the walk, Harkrader shared her wisdom and knowledge with the group. 

As a final analysis of the day I spent with these wise, young-at-heart souls, I will end with a favorite quote shared by poet/writer Jean Marie Hall: I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home.— Henry David Thoreau.

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