Walking for exercise became walking for exploration

Back in early March, when I bought myself a Fitbit Flex Wristband, I had no idea I would be unleashing my inner naturalist.

A Fitbit is one of those little thing-a-ma-jiggies (see picture and Amazon link at the bottom of this post) you either clip or strap to your body to measure how many steps you're taking every day (mine is on a wrist strap). My goal is 10,000 steps a day—about five miles. That's almost an hour and a half of walking in addition to the normal walking I do in a day's time, so I've gotten in the habit of starting early before it gets too hot and walking the roads in my rural neighborhood.

At first it seemed like a chore and a hardship, but after a few days, something amazing happened…

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace along the roadside

I began to pay attention

Same route, same scenery, right?


As I started focusing on my surroundings, I realized with delight there was something new to see and enjoy every single day.

That spider's web wasn't there yesterday, but today it glistens with morning dew and reflected sunlight.

Honeysuckle on the roadside

Honeysuckle is beautiful, but it can smother other plants.

That honeysuckle was mostly green with tight blossoms two days ago, but today it's in full bloom and its fragrance wafts heavy in the moist, warm air. The scent takes me back to my childhood on a Virginia farm, and instantly, in my mind's eye, I'm lying on the grass, gently pulling out the stamen of a honeysuckle blossom to extract the drop of sweet nectar from the bottom.

One morning, I might flush up a white-tailed deer family from their morning foraging. Another day, the birds will take center stage as they sing and squawk and swoop near me, making sure I stay away from their nests. Almost every day, I enjoy watching rabbits in the yard and squirrels scurrying up and down the tree trunks, often carrying a piece of fruit or nut in their mouths.

The sounds of summer

Now it's July, and I'm into my second season of walking. In the spring, the predominant sounds were wind and birds. Now I hear the noise of a nearby construction site: hammers banging and voices of workmen calling to each other. In another direction, the sound of a farmer's tractor tells me I'm not the only one trying to get my outdoor work done before it gets too hot. It sounds like he's baling hay.

Shenandoah River, north fork, off of Zion Church Road east of Maurertown

Shenandoah River, north fork, off of Zion Church Road east of Maurertown

When there's been a heavy rain, I can hear the swollen north fork of the Shenandoah River long before it comes into view. When it's been dry, I have to get right down to the low water bridge before I can hear the lovely rippling sound as it tumbles over rocks and logs. When I'm lucky, I'll catch the Great Blue Heron fishing from a craggy branch in the middle of the river.

We've had some Cooper's Hawks in our yard for a month or so, and their squeals and screams are quite distinctive. They love the tall pine trees for a perch, but last week, I saw one chase a rabbit under a big lilac bush. It hopped around in frustration, unwilling to go into the bush where it couldn't flap its large wings.



What's in bloom?

The roadside along the route of my walk changes from week to week, and I've loved getting more intimately familiar with the blooming cycles of my favorite wildflowers and trees. April and May were a riot of color from the likes of dogwood, redbud, flowering fruit trees, columbine, grape hyacinths and Virginia bluebells. June ushered in the prolific dandelions, soft purple clover, prickly thistle, and common mullein with its spiky shaft of yellow blossoms. July has presented me with lovely blue chicory, Queen Anne's Lace, sweet pea, thistles, and daylilies. By watching every day, I've enjoyed noticing their growth and unfurling into full glory.

How's the weather?

My husband and I have long been serious weather watchers. We have an excellent rain gauge and record precipitation every day (See Become a Professional Rain Tracker).

Walking, however, has given me a whole new appreciation for weather and how quickly it changes. More than once, I've been caught in a shower. Often I have walked with an umbrella. Some mornings it's so foggy, I can't even see the mountain right behind our house. Other days, the air is so crisp and clear, you feel you can see forever.

And the clouds…I'll never tire of their ever-changing shapes and textures. Once again, I'm remembering the games we played outside as children, lying on our backs and imagining what we were seeing in the shapes of the clouds.

Forsythia blooming under gathering storm clouds

Forsythia in front of our barn, blooming under gathering storm clouds

Wherever you are—take a walk!

I'd love to take you along with me on these walks, but don't wait for an invitation. Wherever you live, the wonders of your natural surroundings are waiting for you to slow down long enough to discover and appreciate them. Oh, and by the way, since March I've lost 15 pounds, I'm sleeping better, and I get lots of great thinking done while I'm walking.

There's no doubt about it: walking is good for your body and good for your soul.

Where's your favorite place to walk?



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