I found myself in the back of the REI store on Connecticut Avenue, during the Winter of 2018, sitting in a circle with a small group of fellow outdoor lovers. Our topic of choice that day was snowshoeing. As we fumbled with rubber straps and metal tubes, we decided collectively that we couldn’t wait to try those bad boys out in the snowy white stuff. That weekend, the fun fluff never came, so I decided to clean out my car, which had gained a penchant for morning croissant crumbs, during my commutes to Stamford. As I reached between the center console I found an old guide for a trail cleanup day, which I’d attended in June, either the year prior or even the year before that. It listed nearby trails and I flipped to a page that reminded me that there was a nice little trail right behind the Oak Hills Park golf course, just a 30-minute walk from where I live on North Taylor Avenue. Being an unusually mild day, I decided to put my feet to pavement and enjoy the sunshine, while trying not to enjoy it too much because, well, this weather is of course a result of climate change. I made a mental note to call one of my colleagues the following week to see if they wanted to bike into work with me a little more often.
By the time I got to the end of North Taylor Ave., and made a left on Fillow Street, I had already noticed some familiar neighbors: the Northern Cardinal, American Robin and the endlessly who-whoing Mourning Doves. Upon reaching the golf course, I took a moment to look out among the vast green and take in the view. Breathing in deeply, and breathing out generously.
These walks and those breaths have offered an opportunity to create space between the good that our earth has to offer and the uncertainty and pain that the pandemic has created. Mother Nature will always be there to provide for us, if we do the work to care for her, protect her and leave her better than we found her. Visiting the Oak Hills Park Nature Trail has become a priority for me, in maintaining wellness of body, mind and soul, a connection with the quiet peace of nature and a reminder that slowing down in life can be rewarding in very unexpected ways.
As I’ve walked the Oak Hills Park Nature Trail this year, I have learned about curiosity from the Blacktail Doe, observance from the squirrel that enjoys folding its hands together (very cute!) and persistence from multiple birds that canvas the Great Lawn on any given day, looking for seeds or prey. These creatures and their surroundings have been an incredible reminder that nature can help us appreciate quite a lot, even in a life-changing year.
It can also provide for us in ways we don’t often think about. The sunshine that keeps us warm while walking on a winter day. The luck that will pop into our lives when we least expect it. I remember for a week straight, I’d been hoping to see the coyotes that had been rumored to travel the trail from the Twin Ledge entrance, but in the back of my mind, didn’t think it would happen. I’d walked the trail multiple times over the course of the year and had not seen more than the droppings they’d left behind.
Unexpectedly, in the course of that week of hoping, wishing and thinking about the rare opportunity, I not only saw the Eastern Coyote lounging out on the Great Lawn, but the next day, I saw a gorgeous Red Fox as I looked ahead on the blue trail, something I had never thought I would have the opportunity to see in my lifetime. It hasn’t happened again, serving as a reminder that when we are given such rare opportunities to hold onto and appreciate them.
As we enter the New Year, my hope for everyone beyond health, safety, equity, peace, love and hope is for everyone to give themselves the opportunity to take lessons from nature, to hope and know that moments of joy can oftentimes be just a walk away. I live in a tiny apartment extremely close to I95, yet, an enjoyable walk of a half-an-hour will take me into an entirely different, fresh, green, healthy world. If you are reading this, please consider taking a few steps up your street, and a few more the next day and look up and around to see what nature has in store for you. When you have gotten yourself to a spot that feels green and fresh, take a moment and breathe in deeply, exhale generously, and let nature embrace you.