Add a little more nature to your life

December 22, 2010|Celeste Maiorana
  • In recognition of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, get out and walk along the C&O Canal National Historical Park towpath. This site, upstream of the bridge to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is seen as it appeared in January 2010.
By Celeste Maiorana

In recognition of the importance of trees and forest communities to planetary health, the United Nations has declared 2011the International Year of Forests. Hopefully, all nations will work together to retain and improve the world's forests.

While large forest systems affect global climate, they are managed mostly on a local level. Ultimately, forests will be retained because people recognize their full value.

We care about what we know. Let 2011 be the year when you become better acquainted with trees and forest communities.

With most of our holiday festivities behind us, and the calendar page about to turn over into a new year, many of us will soon resolve to make ourselves into a better version of our last year's selves. Regular nature walks are a great way to improve mood and health.

Take a walk in a forest today. Then resolve to take one every week or so.

 Don't hurry. Take your time. Look all around, including upwards at that blue sky through those gracefully arching branches. Don't let a little snow stop you. You can study tracks and learn that the forest is not as empty of animal life as it sometimes seems. Turkey tracks, fox, deer, squirrel, chipmunk raccoon, weasel, 'possum, and more  — they're there, if you look.

Is it raining a little? That's fine. Put on some waterproofs and go on out. The quieting of your footsteps by the wet leaves will make for better hearing and seeing.

Foggy? Even better. The winter forest seems magical in the fog. The shapes of the trees and the rocks pop up suddenly from the opaque, unseen distance. Your vision is muted; sounds are amplified. Anything seems possible.

By walking at regular intervals, you will notice small changes as the days grow longer and the sun feels a little warmer on your face. Mosses and trees begin to bloom, leaf buds swell and flowers spring up from beneath the dull brown leaves. Birds begin to sing. Before you know it, the leaves are growing out their greens translucent, the sun shining through them.

While our late spring and summer forests are beautiful, filled with new life and resounding with birdsong, the warmth also brings biting insects and discomfort. At this point you might prefer running to strolling and dawdling.

A hat and a little bug spray can help if you wish to persevere in regular walking. But if you do take a break from the forests, you can try a float or paddle on a river, or a swim in a park lake. You can still get a good look at trees and forests and the animals that live within them. In any event, return when the leaves begin to change their colors. Check out those acorns — food for now and through the winter for a multitude of creatures. Pick up a couple. Use them for decorations. Maybe plant a couple.

Hopefully, you will enjoy your time in the forest. Perhaps your time among the trees will create a desire to protect them. Planting or promoting the planting of trees in your community is a relatively easy way to make the planet a little bit healthier.

Consider that a white pine tree might live for 400 years and a white oak for 600. Planting a tree is a small act that grows and yields benefits for much longer than your lifetime and the lifetimes of your children and grandchildren.    

Start with a walk today. Plant a tree — soon.

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