When I think back on my happiest times in nature, I find myself thinking about trails close to home that I have walked often. Don't get me wrong, I also love to get away and explore new places, but there is something special and intimate about walking the same trail often.
Pick out a few trails near your home and try them out. At first, you will notice just surface things: how pretty it is, how long the trail is and if there is a bathroom nearby! Are things blooming? Can you hear birds? I have found that my favorite trails aren’t the prettiest on first glance, or the busiest. The ones I like the most change with the seasons and have a lot of wildlife!
After traversing your trail a few times, you may be in danger of thinking it is boring. Persist! You’ll be amazed at what is going on all around you! Keep your ears open and widen your peripheral vision. Bring along your binoculars, and be willing to stand still and quiet. If you can, find a bird watcher or naturalist to hike along with you and you’ll see even more! With a little help, you’ll start to see nests, and even birds sleeping in the trees at night.
Become friends with the trees. Notice how they each react differently to the elements and changing seasons. Sometimes, you will sadly lose a tree friend to age, disease, or erosion, but watch how it recycles itself, becoming host to new insects, and feeding another generation of life.
Walk your trail at different times of day, and you’ll see different things. Very early morning is special, and so is dusk. But even midday, when most animals are scarce, you’ll see evidence when you start to look. Beaver trails, heron footprints in the sand, matted grass where the deer slept, missing berries eaten by birds.
If you like to eat, open your eyes up to what the forest can offer. This may take a little study, but it's worth the effort! Mushrooms, wild salads, berries, and edible flowers. Be sure to look up local laws and regulations about what you can take and in what quantities. It's important to leave plenty for our wild friends and for re-propagation for next year!
Dress for success outside. The answer is fast-drying layers. Here are some recommendations: (Hiking Group, SoftWik, QuikLite, Soft Shell Jackets). I also leave a set of dry clothes, shoes and socks in my car. I don’t mind getting wet if I know I can get dry! I travel with an umbrella, sun hat, sunglasses, binoculars, sunscreen and bug spray, and some garden gloves. It’s funny how often I’m reaching for them, even for urban excursions.
Your trail is a special experience just for you. I expect the animals and birds will start to look for you as you become a regular part of their environment. “Oh, here she comes again.” The crows will call their alerts on you at first, and when they know you, they no longer need to. That little red squirrel will see you and come forward to say hi, then run away. All is right in your little world. Breathe it all in and enjoy!