Take a Walk in the Woods
A walk in the woods can be very relaxing. It’s cool and shady. It’s quiet. You can hear the wind sighing softly in the trees. All the little creatures are going about their business, content to be what they are.
There’s no bad time to go for a walk in the woods. Each season has its own special aspects to enjoy.
In the Midwest, spring is the time for bluebells. They tend to grow in the low parts of the woods. Occasionally they’re flooded out before they flower, but in most years they cover large areas. The buds are deep purple and the blooms are bright blue.
There are many other varieties of spring flowers, too. Most spring flowers are small and like to hide in little nooks, including harbinger-of-spring and Jacob’s-ladder. The ones that grow in the shade are often darker colors, and the ones in the sun are lighter colors. An exception is the hawthorn, a large bush that grows beautiful white flowers deep in the woods.
Spring is a good time to run into creatures, too. I’ve seen garter snakes and green snakes sunning themselves on cool days. You can also see raccoons and, occasionally, a fox. Raccoons like to run around the back side of a tree, like squirrels, so you can’t see them. Near waterways you can catch a glimpse of beavers and see their long, narrow paw prints by the edge of the water.
In summer there are large, bright flowers like the wild rose. If you touch a wild rose, it will wither and die. It’s as though it can’t live without its wildness intact. It’s usually best not to touch flowers in the woods at all. Wild roses often have little visitors on them, such as dark green beetles. The beetles are easy to see against the brilliant magenta and pink of the rose.
In summer the thick growth of leaves makes the deep woods dark and shadowy. You can often hear more than you can see. You can hear the sharp drumming of a woodpecker and the hum of tree frogs. As you walk by a pond, you can hear little frogs jump into the water. You can hear the tick-tick-tick of little grasshoppers that jump so fast they’re almost invisible.
Late summer brings a host of spiders spinning their webs. Some of the webs are surprisingly large, stretching across the width of a trail. Sometimes leaves get caught in an invisible strand, and seem to be floating in the air.
Fall is my favorite time to walk in the woods. The mosquitoes are gone and the humidity is down. The air is crisp, the colors are bright, and the fallen leaves smell rich and fruity. The geese fly overhead, honking impatiently. In a bare tree you can sometimes see an owl, serenely surveying the woods during the day.
Once the leaves have fallen, you have a good chance of seeing deer. Both late summer and fall are good times to see deer. Their fawns are almost grown, so the deer are not as shy as before. If you’re quiet in the woods, you have a better chance of seeing them. They’ll often look at you for a long time before moving on; when they do move, they make little or no noise. If you look at their paw prints in the dirt, you see that their hooves are very small, considering how big they are. This allows them to move very stealthily.
Don’t give up going to the woods in the winter. Bundle up and head out. The trees block a lot of the winter wind, which makes walking easier. Also, winter has its own stark beauty. The pure white snow contrasts with the dark trees, and the icicles on the branches sparkle. The frozen ponds shimmer like silver. You’ll find that you often have the woods to yourself, which can be very good for stress.
You’ll have a better walk if you do a few things. Walk slowly and enjoy the sights around you. Look for interesting things—plants, birds, butterflies, mushrooms.
In the summer, wear insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes. Wear sturdy shoes and socks, not sandals. There are a number of things in the woods that can bite, including insects and spiders. There are bigger creatures that bite, too. Rat snakes are harmless, but can be aggressive. They like to coil and strike repeatedly. I had to laugh one day when I saw a very angry little baby rat snake do that.
Dress appropriately for the weather. Stay on the trails and keep track of where you are. Bring some water. Be sure to end your walk well before dark.
The woods are a world away from the turmoil of the daily grind. You can feel refreshed and renewed after a walk there.
Picture by Kathleen Murphy