The Magic of Clovers and Fireflies

Clovers in lawn

Soft and fragrant underfoot, clovers naturally fix nitrogen in our lawns.

A man whom Rich hadn’t seen for years recently approached him in a parking lot. “You once wrote a newspaper column suggesting that people not spray their yards for insects or weeds. We took your advice and magic happened,” he said.

He explained that a couple of years after he stopped spraying, white clover appeared in the yard and fireflies graced the evening darkness. “We’re enjoying both,” he added.

A major problem with poison sprays is that they aren’t usually selective. Often people spray to rid their lawn of grubs without realizing they also are killing fireflies, pollinators, and a host of other interesting and beneficial insects and the animals that dine on them. If you poison dandelions, you also kill clover that fixes nitrogen naturally and a wide range of other flowering plants that add diversity to the lawn and buffer it from unusual growing conditions.


What child has not delighted in chasing fireflies on a warm summer evening and, perhaps, catching a few to watch light up the inside of a glass jar? In fact, an adult friend who grew up on the eastern plains of Colorado was enchanted with them when she visited Iowa one summer. Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are common across much of the Eastern United States. Some blink yellow while others green, but whichever color they blink it is probably an effort to seek a mate. Some firefly species live in the West, they just don’t glow! The larvae, sometimes called glow worms often live in rotting wood where they seek insect prey.

To enjoy an evening firefly display leave edges and corners of your yards unmowed. Perhaps position some wood there to gradually rot and provide homes for their larvae. Certainly avoid insecticide spray!


Many species of clover are common across much of North America but the one most often found in unsprayed yards is the White Clover. It can be planted but usually just avoiding herbicides for a few years will encourage it to move in on its own. Clover blooms provide wonderful pollinator food while sprinkling a lawn with attractive white flowers. The plant is a legume, meaning that it is able to fix nitrogen and improve soil health – naturally! Why anyone would want to kill such a valuable and beautiful plant is beyond us.

Sometimes the very best lawn and yard management is simply leaving it alone. Stop spraying and the result is likely…….beauty.

Free Range Kids


Boy Playing by Dock

Children learn by exploring.

Walking to and from school in the 1950s and ‘60s yielded exercise, adventure, learning and fond memories.

Rich walked or bicycled about a mile to and from school down one road, along a woodsy path, across the Rockaway River, and around a wetland to school.  Along the way were frogs to catch, stones to toss in the river, and little melted snow streams to dam with rocks and watch the water flow. The trek to school may have been as educational as the classroom topics and lots more fun.

On her way to a friend’s house in Florida, Marion balanced along logs and stopped to talk with the friendly horse in a pasture. In New Hampshire she and friend, Pete Martell, opted for the hypotenuse route to school. They had just learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line! Instead of following the road through the village and down School Street, they crossed the Piscataquog River on a large pipe above the dam and jagged rocks connecting two factories.  Half way across the pipe, the consequences of a fall dawned on her.  This  one-time “adventure” became a lifelong lesson in thinking through actions.

At a recent conference Blue Zones Director of Innovation and Inspiration, Dan Burden, told us the odds of a child being abducted by strangers has been dropping for years and is lower today than in the 50’s. Ironically, modern parents fear abduction and drive their kids to school, robbing them of exercise, fun, and learning.

Cedar Rapids Community School administrator, Steve Graham, told us that most school districts built schools in residential neighborhoods so children could walk.  Nearby streets were never designed for the heavy traffic that now occurs each morning and afternoon when parents drop off or pick up kids, even when they live just a block or two away.

We were free range kids. Mom and Dad expected us to get to and from destinations and to exercise good judgment. We made mistakes, got skinned knees and mosquito bites, but we learned. In those delicious  walks after school and on weekend rambles we  invented games played in vacant lots with other kids, chased butterflies, stomped in the snow, climbed trees and experienced the world first hand.  We learned.

We’re thankful our parents raised us as free range kids. Mom and Dad set some limits, but we were free to explore our world.  We raised our two children the same way and were delighted when they returned from the woods tired and dirty but full of tales of their afternoon adventure shared around the dinner table.

We’re concerned that few of today’s kids have the freedom to explore that we had. Too many of today’s yards are boring, sprayed monocultures that don’t inspire kids to go outside and play.  Keep visiting our Winding Pathways Website and we’ll share tips on how to make your yard a magical place for kids…..and their parents…….to play.

Kids Write About Playing In The Snow

Kids enthusiasm about playing in the snow is evident with snowmen around town, tracks across yards, piles of wet boots and mittens and gay laughter ringing through the town.  Two children share their reasons they love to “Go Outside and Play!”

-Savannah.  “I like to play outside when it’s snowing because we can do several different things. We can throw snowballs at each other. We can make big snow forts and hide in them. We also slide down our icy slide so we can go extra fast. So all together, we play in the snow whenever we get the chance.”
-Breanna. “When it’s snowing I like to go outside. The reason I like to go outside is because I like to go sledding really fast down a hill. I also like to build snowmen while my brother and sister go find accessories. I like to find cool foot prints in the snow. And I think it is fun to throw snowballs at my brother and sisters. And that is why I like to go outside.”

North Country Sojourn

What fortune to have contacted Lisa Gidlow Moriarty who was constructing a labyirnth at Healing Waters Health Center in Hudson, WI. Rich and I joined the crew and after the lines were drawn using high technology of a bucket and rope and a tire iron to gouge the circuits, we placed rocks that had been hauled in.  The concentric circuits quickly asserted themselves and the labyirnth was completed in no time at all!  The day was cold, but the hearts and spirits warm.  What a fun experience.

Spotting birds

The children are quick to spot birds and squirrels.

Time with extended family in the Twin Cities was restful and hilarious as the children explored outside, spotted birds with “noculators”, and constructed wonderful toys from Legos.

Thanksgiving morning four of us walked a lovely labyrinth at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Plymouth, MN.  Set down in a barrow area, the labyrinth is formal, well-maintained and has a light feel to it.  While set apart, it is visible and still private.  Well done.





Tundra Swans

Along the Mississippi

Our drive back along the Mississippi River yielded a fabulous view of Tundra Swans near Minneiska, MN, and a really terrific lunch at a humble looking (on the outside) but spectacular on the inside creamery now restaurant, wine tasting stop and cheesery near Alma, WI. Pretty fabulous.  And, the countryside of The Driftless” area (NE Iowa, NW IL, SE MN and SW WI) is gorgeous even on grey November days.  Decorah, IA, boasts are pretty great coffee shop and small businesses.

Magical First Snow Adventures*

First Snow has a magic that draws children to it.  Even some adults “get into” a first snow. Share your adventures and memories – current or past – of a First Snow. (Or any winter adventure you cherish.)  Let us sparkle with life. For those who prefer to enjoy winter inside curled up with a good story, Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On Snowy Evening” or  John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snowbound” both at Poetry Foundation are terrific reads.

*The idea of posting about the magic of first snow was inspired by Wahneta Tonn Dimmer’s FB post and hearing our neighbors’ children laugh as they belly slid down a slope by their home. Yes snow has its hazards and needs to be shoveled.  But we can whistle while we work and appreciate the beauty of an Iowa winter in November.

DevanySouza Musher extraordinaire!

First Snow is magical.

Devany Souza – musher extraordinaire

“I was dog-sledding to Alaska. I had some medicine for the
children and all the grown ups who were sick. I put the medicine
in the box, with a blanket under it and on top of it, so it wouldn’t freeze. And the lead dog was my Husky named ‘Snowflake’.
The dogs’ paws froze and I had to put them in my sled and
push the sled until I got to Alaska. When I got to Alaska, everyone
got out of their cottages and cheered. I let my dogs off their harness and a lot of children came up and started petting them and they built
a statue of the three dogs and a statue of me. The End.”
Devany Souza as dictated to her mom, Kelly Carr Souza.

Summer Bunny and Jumping Bean

Considering their options.

Plotting a Winter Escapade
Summer Bunny and Jumping Bean were two intrepid Tortoise Shell Dutch Bunnies who loved to explore in summer and winter.  They like the paths that we shoved for them best, but they were little deterred by snow.  Hilarious to watch, they would seem to plot their adventures.  Usually their paths took them under the gnarliest branches and into the thorniest thickets.
After a suitable romp they usually were ready to come back to the hutch for  a snack and warming up in their bunny box. They always made winter fun.


Sweet Babo

The infant snuggled close to her mama as snow drifted down outside.

“I made a conscious decision to stay home today. I did not touch my car, or anyone else’s car. We had a warm breakfast. We wore comfortable clothes. Around 11:00 a.m. the neighbor girl came over and drew my older daughter outdoors, where they mostly stayed until about 4:30 p.m., reveling in the newly fallen snow. Too powdery for snowmen or snowballs, but good for pulling a sled! My little one, of course, was intrigued by her older sister’s adventures. I found too-big snow pants for her and rolled up the legs; put on her coat and hat, and held her little hand as she shuffled down the sidewalk. In the afternoon, we had chicken noodle soup and a nap. I read my book. To the little one’s delight, we were not separated by more than an inch for most of the day. My sister came to visit and we toasted with a couple of glasses of wine and ate some salmon. I recently read about Danish “hygge”; there’s no good translation to English but it could be thought of as coziness, togetherness, and well-being that gets us through winter. We may have discovered it in Iowa already this winter! I hope it carries us through.” Sophie Nicholson

 The Magic of Winter 


Snow Clothes

A typical winter scene – an assortment of gloves, mittens, hats, scarves all returned from a day on the snowy slopes.

“Children know how to do it right, celebrate winter that is! Watch the excitement in their eyes as the first snow flakes fall, then as the snow begins to accumulate on the grass, trees, patio swing and sidewalk. “Do you think it will be enough to go sledding, Mom?” my son asked.

“As a child I was fortunate enough to grow up in a five acre wood that was once home to a ski jump in rural Wisconsin. My brother, two cousins and friends from the neighborhood would bundle up and brave the Wisconsin winter cold for the thrill of the descent. From our side of the hill, we would climb a narrow, well worn trail through the woods. As we approached the top the ski slope would open up to reveal the valley to the south. We were well protected from any wintery winds by the tall hardwoods that lined the ski slope.

“The ride down was well worth the long trek up through the woods. The hill always kept its promise of a fast and exciting ride down. We would often have races to see who could reach the bottom first! I can only imagine in the stillness of the snowy countryside, that our giggles and squeals could be heard far and wide. When we just couldn’t bear walking up the hill one more time, our sled seemed like 50 pounds instead of five, our mittens were just too wet and our toes too cold, we would trek back down the trail in the woods. Mom would surely have hot cocoa and warm wintery treats waiting upon our return. She would welcome us home, pink cheeks and all. She would want to hear every detail of our adventure.

“What strikes me most in hindsight is the realization that we never worried about the time. We were so engrossed in the wonderful experience, the joy of it, the thrill of it, that we had not a care in the world. We were truly present and enthralled by the experiences that winter had blessed us with.

“An old friend once said, “It is not really about bad weather. It is really about having the right gear.” Whether you choose to bundle up and dive into the snow and cold or have the opportunity to witness the magic through a child’s eyes, allow yourself to get caught up in it. Magic is all around us. Take time to see it and experience it!” Wahneta Tonn Dimmer

The Severins welcome winter’s first snow with
the magical spirit of children.
First Snow Dinner Out!

The Severins take on winter with a smile and dinner out!

“The first snowfall of the season descended in large fluffy clumps … the kind of snowflakes you want to try to catch on your tongue … the kind of snowflakes that sparkle and glisten in the light from the street lamps. We ventured out into the snowy night and shared in its magic.”

Kid Camping

picture of kids and a tent in backyard

Our son and daughter loved kid camping in the back yard. Warm month Holidays and each summer, usually a week or so before school started, they’d invite a few friends for an overnight adventure.

Today’s well insulated and screened homes keep out frigid temperatures and summer insects. Unfortunately insulation also masks nature’s wondrous late summer sounds.

Children take to camping out. Even a tiny backyard can easily be converted into a temporary campground. Equipment is simple. August weather is warm enough that a sheet and blanket eliminate the need for a sleeping bag. All that’s needed is a simple inexpensive tent, blankets, flashlights, a pillow and some parental guidance.

We won’t forget the night our daughter, then about eight, and her friends came running back into the house after “WHOO WHOO COOKS FOR YOU!” loudly entered their tent from a nearby elm. We went out with a flashlight seeking the elusive, but common, barred owl.

After catching a fleeting glimpse of the bird flying off the girls settled down in the tent to giggle, chat, and maybe even get a little sleep that night.

Here’s what you need to help your child and friends enjoy a night of kid camping right out the back door.

A simple inexpensive tent with a sewed in floor and mosquito netting. Being in a tent gives a feeling of security while keeping out bugs

  • Flashlight
  • Insect repellent
  • Blanket and sheet to ward off evening chilly weather. An inexpensive sleeping bag is better
  • Pillow
  • Snacks and bottle of drinking water.
  • Teddy bear and anything else that gives comfort to a sleeping child

The kids may want to bring a cell phone and games into the tent, although these might distract from listening to the sounds of the yard.

Parents can help make kid camping more entertaining and fun by guiding the kids in simple activities that might include:

FIRE: Gather dry sticks in the yard and neighborhood. Dig a small hole in the yard and build the fire in it. Show the kids how to build a tiny fire. Instruct them in fire safety. Grill hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks gathered from the yard. Enjoy story telling.

STARS: Unfortunately, light pollution and smog limit astronomy in most cities, but the major stars can usually be seen. Help the children find the Big Dipper and North Star. A free phone app helps initially until children are used to searching the night sky.

WALK IN THE DARK: Take a short walk in the dark yard and encourage kids to be comfortable without the pervasive lights of today’s society. Sit for several minutes in the dark yard to let your eyes adjust to night vision. Enjoy the sounds and feel of the evening. You may be surprised how your senses clue you in to the wonders of the night.

ENJOY SOUNDS: August is cricket and cicada month. But lots of creatures call from even the smallest and most urban yard. If lucky owls will call.

Follow up the night’s adventure with breakfast and conversation on what the kids heard and saw on their night outside.