Her name is Virginia and she walks in the woods.
On a recent afternoon, we were joining her nature walking group. On the way to the neighborhood park, we passed by lots of walkers out enjoying the joys of daytime strolls in their beautiful and peaceful suburban environments. Some were walking solo, others with family, friends or just acquaintances. Walking is one of our beautiful traditions. It can be quite healthy as well. Thanks to a guide named Virginia, it’s also quite educational.
Virginia is an infectiously friendly nature-loving guide who for over 30 years has been walking, talking, exploring and teaching natures laws and the hidden life of the parks to adults and schoolchildren throughout our area.
On this particular day, our group was immersed for two hours, taking in nature’s gifts, as we concentrated on the seasonal changes.
This day, the focus was simply on leaves. Our educator guide Virginia poetically shared how each and every leaf tells its own story. “They free-fall from the trees after holding on for dear life over the past six months or so,” she duly noted. Autumn leaves tell an individual story and create peace in the parks. “Listen to the sounds of nature,” was one of the first things Virginia invited us to do. We were then given an “assignment.” to seek out some of the differences in the leaves that were scattered throughout the trails we were exploring.
As Virginia tells us her nature stories, she suddenly pauses and invites our group to join her sitting cross-legged on the ground she worships. Later as we continue our walk, she points out what she refers to as a bright “Burning Bush” tree, as well as the beechnuts that continue to grow today in our local park. She tells us that Europeans ate beechnuts to survive during the World War II years, adding that on one of her recent park walking tours, a German woman told the group that she survived the war by eating beechnuts in the forest.
At various points during her walks, Virginia shares readings she has discovered through the years. One poem by John Moffit stood out to me. The title: “To Look at Any Thing.”
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these Woods,” will not do –
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
Yes, Virginia, there is nature and knowledge from a walk in the woods. But health-wise, we know that nature walks are quite beneficial as well. An article in the professional “Journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,” by Phoebe Gavin reinforces the health benefits quite effectively. Stanford University researchers suggest that “walking in nature has powerful effects on the brain,” coming simply from 90 minute walks in rural park environments. The study reported that participants who went on 90 minute walks through a natural environment “showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness, compared to those who walked through a busy heavy traffic environment.” According to the article, the results suggested that “accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”
Taking a walk through nature is a gift worth sharing. And now as we celebrate the holiday season with our families and friends, why not take some time out to enjoy the natural beauty of a nearby park. And while you’re out for a walk, listen to the sounds and pick up a leaf. Virginia says that every leaf has a story to tell you. And she’s right.