Take a Stroll
I had an occasion yesterday to walk across my governmental campus for perhaps a few hundred yards. Then the same trip back lengthened my journey. Frankly, it took a little out of me because I no longer walk great distances. Indeed, for me, the idea of walking very far, or at a reasonable pace, isn’t possible. But my friends, this is the season in which there is so much to see outside and to appreciate. Alas, some of us are paying a price that comes with old age, illnesses, or a lack of regular exercise. We are in danger of missing this fresh occurrence of warmer weather and all that which is bursting out in full bloom. Now is the time when wonderful, flowering scenes are brightening the world. Nature is celebrating victory over those cold days of hibernation. For those who are able, hiking out in nature can bring delights of all kinds. Even if adventures are fewer between and taking long walks are more difficult, any effort to get out and about has its rewards.
For me in these days it is more about the memories of past walks taken when I was younger. In those days I walked in deep snow and found joy in the snow-globe scenes in nature. While it is all too easy to step into a hole or trip over an embankment, I remember the excitement of seeing rabbit tracks and those left by foxes, or other animals.
It was those spring hikes that were special. I think that is because of the blooms in the trees and the flower beds I saw. Then again, I have always been interested in ‘reading the land,’ to see the old roadbed long abandoned and going no place. I remember finding a place where an old homestead once sat. It was because I saw some plants growing that normally wouldn’t be there. Knowing the local plant life will tell you a lot, like where those tiger lilies came from, or what started a blanketing cover of English Ivy now growing high in the surrounding trees. In the past, I’ve also stumbled on several old, unkempt grave yards that were totally covered with briars and weeds. Tombstones were broken, knocked over, or covered with vegetation. Once, I found an old spring house, but never found the foundation of a house or barn that must have been nearby. I meant to go back and look further, but I never did.
Many people, young and old alike, enjoy walks in the parks. Some count the trips around a golf course as a form of exercise, but regardless of the specific venue, they are worth the investment of the time and energy. While there are state and federal parks and nature preserves, it is often the simpler places that yield very worthwhile experiences. Even short, little trails can build the memories of a life time. I remember walking up the dirt road leading to town hill but at the cutback taking the ridge toward the north. It wasn’t long before I began to find hidden valleys and springs. Knowing that taking a path downhill along a creek can bring you to a beautiful glen or a road not noticed before. I remember coming out of a thick forest to find myself at the home of a school friend. So that’s where they live?
It should not be surprising that a walk in the mountains leads to new vistas, trails, or places that hint of an earlier habitat by earlier generations. On our walk we might see tall grandiose mounds of boulders and forest, or low lying grassy hills. Cliffs, or cuts in mountains display veins of coal or a stream of spring water bubbling out between the rocks makes me wonder about stories of another time, perhaps prehistoric. Whether we find hills covered with deciduous trees, tall pines, huge redwoods, or mountain pastures with scrubs, grass and a wayward brook, for me they are a fresh discovery and a delight to the soul. . A big part of the joy of taking such hikes is how small we seem in the universe. I enjoy the quietness, but also enjoy meeting a fellow traveler on the trail.
Such trips are made better with a walking stick. Maybe they are found along the way, or perhaps purchased at a tourist shop. Maybe you took time to whittle one afresh from a seasoned limb. They give that extra help on a steep terrane or on slippery banks. They can steady one’s ascent or lend control on a steep descent.
The reward on these hikes is that feeling of being part of God’s creation. You can feel as one with the hawks and eagles, and other creatures that may inhabit the area. With luck the dangerous wildlife will hear you coming and hide or run from your approach. You put yourself at risk if you surprise one. Other dangers include falling, getting lost, or being trapped by a sudden change of weather. Watching for darkening clouds has saved me before, usually with a sudden winter storm.
I remember once when trout fishing deep in a national forest, far from paved roads or civilization, that I had suddenly felt a chill. I had to look straight up to see the sky because of the steepness of the mountains on each side of the tumbling stream. I saw dark clouds rushing by overhead. The tree tops at the higher elevation were swaying toward the south. I knew at once I needed to get out of there for winter was planning a surprise. It was more than an hour to get to the pass in my truck. It took yet another hour to get back down to a paved highway. I had to hurry. White flakes were falling as I approached the gap and were coming down heavily before I could reach the state road. Nonetheless, I was able by the skin of my teeth to get out of there and to a hotel. It snowed six to eight inches that night. Had I lingered at the mountain stream I was fishing, it would have been impossible to leave. My supplies were for a day trip and not for staying overnight or longer in freezing weather. I was lucky that I could rest until heading home with my fishing gear and some dirty, smelly clothes.
Hiking with good supportive hiking boots, warm clothing, and extra supplies is not a bad idea, especially if there’s any chance of weather events. There is joy in visiting nature, but little joy in finding yourself helpless or trapped. Use caution and be prepared.
I also remember walking down a deserted beach in the cold months. My wife and I found it peaceful and relaxing. I remember we went to the outer banks in North Carolina one chilly day when no one was about. I was surprised that it was warm on this overcast, autumn day on the beac. The wind, which is almost always blowing cool off the water toward the beaches, was gentle somehow that day. The waves seemed calmer than other times we had visited. The only foot prints in the sand were those of mine and those of my wife. Here there was no need for a walking stick. In fact, it would have been a burden to carry since our main occupation that day was to pick up shells and other finds along the high tide mark. Because there were waves, it wasn’t possible to skip rocks like one would do at the side of a lake, but still I couldn’t resist sending a rock or a shell back to the sea.
Finally, a relaxing walk in a special place such as a historical site, a golf course, a state or national park, or the campus of your alma mater, you may find memories that can bring you sweet memories of other times. For some this is peaceful. I have found that it is possible to walk right within the crowds of a big city and still feel alone. I believe that seeing ourselves as a tourist in life, even if we are just someone out for a simple stroll, walking is a reward worth cashing in.
I think the neatest thing is that walking was often a requirement in our youth when we wanted to go somewhere close by. It may be a healthy option today. Even when you are old and find it difficult to move around, there is usually a way to walk, however slowly, and enjoy the trip. The more you do that, the more you will be able to repeat the experience.
Some of my favorite memories were those little trips on the dirt road up town hill, over the ridge toward Pine Hill Cemetery, or out toward Smoky Valley. A trip out to the fairgrounds in High Bottom brings back some memories when parents could give kids freedom to be out on their own. After all, when I was growing up I usually had two choices for getting somewhere relatively close by. I could ride my bike, or I could walk. Today, I confess I do too little walking and don’t own a bike. With the pandemic we are much more restrained in our leaving home. Between the health threats and uncooperative bodies, we aren’t as active as we used to be. Those readers who are younger should heed the warning and find ways to exercise and enjoy nature.
Even a short trip around the yard brings a chance of seeing a new flower or the growth of a tree recently planted. You get to judge the condition of the woodpile and see the tracks of wild animals that passed by in the night. The trips are twice as enjoyable if you go with someone. Go for a stroll and be careful to stay safe, please.