Two indispensable daily habits that have become a part of the rhythm of my life are my hiking habit and my treasured sit spot. A Sit Spot is usually the destination of my Hiking Habit and something I will write more about in a future blog. My children are grown but my Jack Russel Terrier, Max, accompanies me and relishes the time outside and the ever enjoyable adventure of these simple timeless routines.
Nature Deficit Disorder
Nature Deficit Disorder is the very real multifaceted human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illness. Nature Deficit Disorder or NDD was coined by author and naturalist, Richard Louv, in his best selling book, Last Child in the Woods, published in 2005. Since 2005 the problem has only compounded with increased time spent indoors and on tech devices so that our culture is solidly built on the shifting sand of distraction, noise, busy yet sedentary, and addicted to technology.
Doctors are prescribing, Eco Therapy, to reduce anxiety and curb depression. “Take a Hike” has a new meaning as it is proven to reduce negative thoughts, boost creative problem solving, reduce ADHD symptoms and boost brain power. People who hike in nature enjoy better health and less stress.” The Japanese are cultivating public woodlands for Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku, and have seen significant improvement in the mental health of those who participate in this time honored practice. I call it a Hiking Habit but it is more than merely hiking in nature, it is hiking with purpose on the same path every day.
The Hiking Habit
A Hiking Habit is walking with purpose on the same safe path every day. When I was a child our cabin was on the shores of a lake a mile from Trails End, where my grandparents lived. Most Summer mornings we hiked through the Pine forest to visit Pop and Ahma. Our Hiking Habit was as much of a delight as arriving to her cinnamon buns and coffee. The trail meandered through pine needle laden paths below an enormous ancient Pine forest. The smell of pine mixed with the aroma of a wood fire emitting swirling smoke from the chimney are such visceral memories that I feel transported there as I type these words. My Dad made these daily hikes an adventure. We never passed a pinecone, acorn or mushroom without gathering something to take to Pop who was a Naturalist and nature lover. He would light up with interest at the sight of our nature offerings and often make spore prints of a newly discovered fungi. Ahma called her Pine forests, These Thy Woods.
How to begin
Find a path or a trail near you, on your land, in neighboring woods, or at a nearby park to begin this daily rhythm. Be sure to get permission if the land is not yours.
Observe the plants that grow along your path. You don’t have to know their names, just observe them growing and appreciate their beauty throughout the seasons. Note their stature, textures, aromas and leaf shapes. Watch the tree branches unfurl leaves from their terminal buds, or the flowers bloom morphing afterwards into fascinating seed pods storing the treasure of their life giving seeds.
Become a nature detective….look for the obvious and the obscure. Ask God for eyes to see the evidence of His glory all around you. Fix your gaze at all levels: the ground, eye level, the crowns of the trees, enjoy the kaleidoscope of the ever changing clouds and the moods of the sky. Take pictures of whatever captures your eye. Identify the seed skeletons of last year’s growth, look for colors, textures, changes from day to day and keep an eye out for telltale tracks and prints in the mud or snow.
Gather nature scraps (acorns, cones, twigs, grape tendrils….gifts hidden in plain view), and of course as a Wild Blessings student you will want to identify all the wild edible plants that are along your chosen path. Be thoughtful in gathering the wild harvest so you can allow these wild edibles to flourish and reseed to promote more abundance next year. I’ve even brought the wild edible plants that I most treasure spotted along my hiking habits, spreading the life in seeds or transplants.
Hiking the same path day after day will help you pay close attention to the plants and trees as they morph with nature’s wave. Say ‘Good Morning’ to each tree, and plant, calling them by name to deepen your connection with them in every season. Just as you would not pass by a friend without acknowledging their presence give the same attention to the plants in order to know them better.
Over time you may wish to develop several Hiking Habits beyond your own back yard – in a pasture, the woods, along the river, in a swamp… to discover ‘who’ likes to live in what eco system.
Go outside in all weather to discover nature in all it’s forms. Hike your paths in various times of day: in the early morning before dawn, mid day, sunset, even in the dark. Sunrise is always a miracle to behold and it is fascinating to experience how the direction of the sun just over the horizon lengthens morning and late afternoon shadows. Learn to guess the time of day by where the sun is in the sky. Observe the sunrising from differing places along the horizon as the months go by. Learn the night sky, the constellations, know what time of year it is by where Orion is in the heavens.
My favorite Hiking Habit of all time is just across the cow fence from our home all along the mountain side. I created pathways to traverse to reach a large white rock mid mountain which provided the perfect sit spot to look out over the mountains and see the sunrise. I knew just how many steps it took to get to the mother Pine tree or to the Blackberry patch or to my sit spots along the path. It was a delight to observe the same trees in the Spring time burgeon forth tiny frail leaves from their distinctive terminal buds. Daily they would expand and mature…creating magical shade and beauty overhead, the anticipated flower buds and resulting flowers from each tree type never ceased to fascinate me. Invasive Blackberries, Barberries, Hawthorns and Wild Rose bloomed, ripening into berries, haws and hips to be gathered for delicious healthy preparations.
Towards the end of Summer, Acorns and Hickory nuts dropped to the ground to be gathered and squirreled away for food. Autumn leaves changed their hue from green to brilliant colors preparing to make their final dance to the forest floor turning my hiking habit into a crunchy carpet.
October brings with it a maze of sticky spider webs that often span my well worn path so I hike my paths with a stick waving in front of me to avoid a face plant into but in the morning dew it is easy to spot their silky workmanship and merely duck to avoid destroying it.
The naked lacery of bare branches in the Winter has a beauty of it’s own. I love knowing all my trees by their tell tale terminal buds and the texture of their bark. Monochromes of Winter are still full of color – conifers, moss, lichen and ferns still provide a shock of green, Maples stand out with their reddish twigs, flexible Willow branches hang gracefully sporting a yellow hue. Eventually snow flurries blanket everything transforming the landscape into a purity of dazzling white.
Don’t let stormy days keep you from your daily rhythms. Storms add a dimension that is exciting and well worth exploration. Watching tree branches bend wildly with the wind. Listening to the creaking of tree trunks as they are twisted with the cold blasts. Thrilling at a rainbow spanning the heavens with the return of the sun as it illuminating the atmosphere. You have to be outside to see the magic to feel the magic. Don’t miss it!
Utilize all of your senses while hiking and resist the temptation to fill your ears with technology. Learn to be present. Learn the power of stillness. Learn to relish solitude. Nature has a way of stimulating all of our senses and restoring our spirit.
Hiking habits are fantastic to do together. If you are with a loved one give them the privilege of your full attention as you explore nature together. Some of my best talks with loved ones have been along my well-worn paths shoulder to shoulder enjoying nature. Stop to smell the roses or to feel the warm sun warming your face…together.
I’ve had many hiking habits since those pine laden paths to Trails End with my socks and pockets bulging with acorns and natural treasures. All of them have been special, and I still hike them in my mind, even when they have become inaccessible due to the land being sold. I often wonder how the familiar beloved paths have become overgrown and what surprises are there…unnoticed and unappreciated.
There are risks to anything worth doing. Knowing those risks and planning for them in advance minimizes potential dangers. Simple things like: preparing for weather changes by wearing layers, carrying a water bottle, a hiking stick, spraying natural insect repellant, wearing a hat, avoiding hairy vines and poison ivy, scanning for animal activity, looking up for dead branches… Become Nature Smart and aware of possible dangers so as to anticipate them and be prepared but not scared. Being outside is vitally important for cognitive development and emotional health that we must choose to raise our children and nurture our own souls in nature embracing any risk with confidence.
On my mountain there is a lot of animal activity so I scan for scat of deer, rabbits, raccoons, bears, coyotes…bones from a meal, owl pellets, feathers, snake exoskeletons, I have become acquainted with where the Deer nest and their routine habits of foraging to the creek far below…. There is always something to be in awe of.
Walk with others, as a family, teach the importance of periods of silence and allowing God’s creation to soak into your souls from the outside in. Bond through nature but get outside…every day.
There is Beauty Everywhere
For those that don’t have the beautiful hills of North Carolina to hike ask God where you can go to renew and recharge. If you live near the beach, walk the sandy shores and tide pools, find a rock or a grassy bluff for your sit spot destination. If you live in the city perhaps your daily walk to the subway station can be more purposeful as you carefully observe the trees that line the streets learning them by name and enjoying their seasonal changes. Many cities have planned parks nearby to explore. Central Park in Manhattan is stunning, it’s gorgeous trees and wild edible plants go on endlessly surrounded by skyscrapers and yet buffered from noise by the thousands of mature trees and bird songs. My son lives in the Big Apple and I was fascinated to learn of this website that catalogues every tree in New York City. So whatever your landscape, you can discover what trees and plants line your streets and hiking paths. We value what we can name.
I have a dear friend who was in prison for 20 years, he wrote to us of the gratitude he had for the tiny window high up on his cell wall that would give him a glimpse of the sky. He would lay in his cot watching for the moon and the stars through that tiny window and worship the Lord.
If you don’t have a woods, a swamp, a park or a beach then put potted plants on your porch to tend and watch grow. Grow a garden. Sit by a tree that is near by and enjoy it’s gifts in each season.
Nature deficit disorder is very real. A hiking habit is one of the means to combat this debilitating concern.
Nature restores us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. God placed us in a Garden. He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. The most precious part of my daily hiking habits and sit spots is walking those paths with the One who created it all. Can’t improve on that!!
Share with me in the comments about your hiking habit and how walking those treasured trails has cleared your head, renewed your soul, and connected you with our Creator.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord and sing praises to His name, for You oh Lord, have made me glad by what You have done. I will sing for Joy at the work of Your hands!” Psalms 92:1,4