We all know, walking is a great form of exercise. When I go for walks, I try to vary the locations: the grounds of my apartment complex, city streets, beaches, parks, and nature centers. Wherever I walk, I want to be in the moment, enjoying my surroundings, using all my senses. I walk to benefit my soul, as well as my body.
One of my favorite places to walk is Snake Lake Nature Center. It’s a small oasis in the middle of a city, bordered by two busy arterials, and across the street from a high school. One end of the park extends under the overpass of a freeway spur. Trees filter out the noise of traffic and car exhaust. Despite its closeness to residential areas, a shopping center, a ballpark, and the school, few people walk at the Nature Center. That’s fine with me.
Trees breathe out oxygen that we breathe in. As I walk, I inhale the fresh air. After rain, the air smells of loamy earth and wet leaves. On a hot day, you can smell dry, dusty dirt.
While walking I look all around and up and down. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen these white tree fungi growing high on a tree trunk.
One time at Snake Lake, I met a couple walking in the opposite direction.
“Did you see the mushrooms?” I asked.
“What mushrooms?” the woman asked.
“Um, the bright orange ones, in the clearing, next to the path.”
The couple seemed indifferent as they walked past me. Oh, well. Their loss. I wouldn’t want to miss these things. Why do I care about tree fungi, mushrooms, and fallen leaves that to others seem like mere detritus? I don’t know. To me these things are beautiful. However small and insignificant they seem, they’re a part of the earth.
Some people take their exercise much more seriously than I. A jogger, with earbuds, plugged in pounds past me, looking only straight ahead. I want to yell, “Why do you constantly need music blasting into your head? Look around, listen, you don’t know what you’re missing!” But I’m shy, so I mind my own business and keep my mouth shut.
What is he missing? The whisper of wind among the leaves. Something rustling in the undergrowth. Frogs sounding off. Ducks telling each other jokes and quaking up with laughter. The sound of his own footsteps on the path. The chitter of birds in the tree, which stops, as soon as humans approach.
One time I saw a tuft of feathers on the path. “Aha!” I thought. “Someone’s dinner.” I looked up. Sure enough. A great horned owl was sitting on a branch, looking down at me. What a pity I hadn’t brought my camera along that time. I may never see a great horned owl again.
I stroke moss, leaves, bark, and fern fronds. I touch flower petals with one finger. Sometimes, when I walk on a beach, the tide presents me with a pretty rock, so I take it home.
There are blackberry bushes at Snake Lake and many of the other places where I walk. Naturally, I pick and eat them. Getting scratches is a small price to pay for the flavor of wild berries.
When I go home, my senses are gratified. My mind is filled with remembered beauty. I am at peace, with the world and myself.