Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 117 - Visiting the Aldo Leopold Nature Center/Color Me Mad

I have never been to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. More specifically, I have never been to an adults-only dance party in the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. For some background, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is an education facility on a massive plot of natural grassland and wetland near the center of Monona, Wisconsin. The facility focuses almost exclusively on helping members of the community connect with nature in new ways as a standing tribute to its founder, Aldo Leopold. While visiting the Aldo Leopold Center was something I found appealing in and of itself, I was more than sold on making a trip to the facility when I recently learned it hosts an annual evening dance party at the end of each summer. Referred to as Color Me Mad, the event ties concepts of nature and environmental preservation together with drinks, music, and fun for any interested adults in the community. Realizing this was likely a highly unique experience, I picked up two tickets to the event as soon as I learned about its occurrence. As a result, Rachael and I set aside time to have some fun and attend Color Me Mad for the first time this evening.

The nature center

In an effort to experience the full nature center before night set in, Rachael and I drove to the Color Me Mad event before sunset this evening. Although the event wasn’t scheduled to start until 8:00 pm, we knew an early arrival would give us some time to explore the center grounds before attending the main event. Upon arriving at the facility, Rachael and I took some time to look around inside the center’s only building before heading to the property positioned at the back of the building. As we exited through the building’s back doors we were awestruck by the sight of the nature center grounds. Before us a wide open field of prairie grasses and bright yellow flowers spread out to distant tree lines bordering each side of the nature center’s land. Near the back of the space the grassland was divided by a small body of water before the grasses erupted from the ground once more and carried to a row of willows in the distance. In response to the view of the property I turned to Rachael and said the first thing that popped in my head, “I want to go in it.”

The view from the grassland
Rachael was quick to agree we should try to find our way into the grassland, which set us to work searching for paths cutting through the neck high plants. While we were able to easily locate walking trails through the property, our individual efforts caused us to split somewhere along our course. With Rachael walking a wide path toward the outside of the property, I cut toward the middle of the grassland until I found myself surrounded by the thick plant life I had observed from the nature center minutes earlier. Pressing on, I eventually worked my way back to a path that wrapped around the property’s body of water and led back toward Rachael. After almost stepping on a skunk that was digging in some nearby brush (I was no more than two feet from this thing... Luckily his head was too deep to notice me. Otherwise, my “I have never...” experience for the day would have turned out much, much differently) I met back up with Rachael. We decided to walk near the pond for a brief period before turning back to the nature center. With a little bit of good timing, we met the peak of the sunset as we walked back to the building in preparation for the forthcoming celebration.

...And a beautiful sunset to boot.
Once back inside the nature center, Rachael and I were greeted by a small crowd gathering for the Color Me Mad event. After receiving our formal tickets, Rachael and I took some time to explore the nature center’s displays, which included a self-contained ecosystem, interactive data on global warming trends, and a green screen feature that put the participant before a lot of unique displays. The various exhibits kept us entertained for some time as we moved through the building. We were already having fun and we had yet to work our way down to the beer and the DJ. 

Once we had experienced the bulk of the center’s interactive elements, we started working back toward the center of the building to grab a drink and listen to some music. On our way we encountered a room with a curtain draped over its door that was pumping music into the area. Curious, Rachael and I peered into the room to learn what was occurring inside. What we saw was incredible. In total darkness a massive orb known as a fractal orb sat suspended from the ceiling by a thing wire. The exterior of the orb was illuminated in moving patterns by four projectors in the room’s corners, which shifted the colors patterns, movements, and designs on the surface of the fixture to the beat of the music playing overhead.  The sphere’s changing lights and pictures were mesmerizing in the darkness. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It was amazing.

We spent quite some time before the fractal orb before Rachael and I decided to head back out to the main hall and head down to the opposite end of the building for some drinks and music. Over the next few hours Rachael and I sipped on some beers and talked among a moderately sized crowd of 20-somethings. As the night progressed more people made their way to the dance floor as local DJ Nick Nice spun music spanning several generations over a steady house beat. It was clear everyone in attendance was having a great time at an uncommon event, which made me happy we decided to stop by the Aldo Leopold Nature center tonight... That and the fact that we got to party next to stuffed bear for most of the night.

Can you find the bear?

Eventually, Rachael and I decided to call it a night after spending a few hours at the event (and running out of our drink tickets). Color Me Mad was certainly an event to remember, but I was disappointed I didn’t think to recruit some people to join us tonight when Rachael and I were making our plans earlier this week. While the crowd in attendance was full of good people, I know a lot of our friends would have had a blast experiencing Color Me Mad with us for the first time. The event had the vibe of a good party, but the added touches of the nature center’s unique exhibits, interactive features, and rustic setting made this a truly unique event. I thank all of the folks at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center for putting together Color Me Mad and being so courteous throughout the night. Needless to say, if the Aldo Leopold Nature Center decides to put on this event again next year, I will definitely be placing some calls to put a party crew together.

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