I have always loved walking through nature. When I was a kid, summertime camping trips weren't complete without hikes through the woods of New Hampshire, discovering secret streams, seeing beaver dams and trees that they had chewed through, and even spotting the occasional snake. I always knew that my daughter would love nature walks, too. At almost five years old, Chloe is curious about everything in the natural world, and is always eager to explore.
For years, though, I never took Chloe on any nature walks. She has spina bifida and walks with the help of a gait trainer, so I knew she wouldn't have the endurance for the kind of long, meandering, all-day nature walks that I took as a kid. I felt so sad that such adventures might be out of her reach.
But I recently learned that we don't need to venture deep into the woods or walk very far to make amazing discoveries and spend hours in the forest. And I learned that the "walking" part of a nature walk is really beside the point. The most important part is the nature itself.
I work as a magazine writer, and one of my story assignments required me to take a guided walk through a local nature preserve. So I packed up Chloe and a jogging stroller, and warned the guide that we wouldn't be able to walk far, or over terrain that was too rough or rocky. I wasn't sure the "hike" would be a success. She gave us a nature book about the trail, and we set off.
With the trail book in hand, and a curious preschooler in tow, I needn't have worried. We walked less than a quarter-mile in total, but oh, what wonders we discovered along the way. Chloe hopped out of her stroller every few feet and sat on the ground to explore. We saw a beautiful pink lady's slipper flower - a kind of rare, wild orchid - peeking its delicate head up out of the forest floor. We counted the whorls of a white pine tree to check its age (it was 21 years old) and learned that Native Americans used to brew the tree's vitamin-C rich needles into tea. We crushed leaves of the sassafras plant in our hands and sniffed its sweet smell - and also experienced the rancid odor of skunk cabbage. We scooped a beetle larva into a bug box and examined its body through a magnifying glass. We saw poison ivy, and learned to steer clear of leaves of three. And the best part: We flipped over a rotting log and discovered a red salamander, who looked just as surprised to see as us as we were to see him.
We spent almost two hours in the woods, squatting, sniffing, and touching; turning over rocks and logs, and watching bugs. We didn't need to hike for miles; just being outside and experiencing the forest was perfect. Our nature walk wasn't a walk at all. It was a nature experience. And I have a feeling it was only the first of many.
About Alexandra Pecci
Alex is a freelance lifestyle writer and sometimes-blogger at http://burningdownmykitchen.blogspot.com/. She loves spending time with her husband and four-year-old daughter, who are always willing to sample her kitchen successes (homemade taco seasoning) and failures (homemade mozzarella). She also loves to write, travel, cook, eat, and laugh loudly with friends.