The restorative power of a nature walk
That’s it, I told my son. I’m moving into the woods.
It’s not his fault. He’s not entirely responsible for using and abandoning every glass in the cupboard over the course of the day, and leaving them for me to wash when I get home from work. He’s certainly not responsible for me being cooped up in a building all day long, while outdoors it is warm and sunny, or hot and windy, or even dreary, gusty or stormy.
I don’t care what it’s like outside. I just want to be out there. And the fact that the boy is on his bike or up a tree or hiding in the woods to avoid chores as soon as he gets home from school doesn’t make my work afternoons any better.
Last week I was off from work, spending half the time at home and half in New York City. At home I was in the garden or walking in the woods or around the lake. In the city I was doing pretty much the same thing.
I tend to treat the city as an extended hike, especially now that so much of the waterfront is parkland.
One morning my friend and I walked downtown along the river, comparing the smell of beach roses and their more domesticated cousins. We measured the purple globe allium blooms to see if they really were bigger than our heads (not quite), and tried to remember the name of those beautiful lavender spikes (some sort of salvia).
“Walking by water is important,” my friend tells me. She grew up in Croatia, near the Adriatic, and tells anyone who needs a pick-me-up about the positive effects of negative ions, the kind found on a breeze over the river, in mountain air or in the splash of a waterfall or ocean wave.
Noontime that same day, I wandered the financial district, finding pocket parks and islands of greenery, sculpture and fountains amid the shops and businesses. In the afternoon we walked with another friend in Central Park.
“We’ll meet you by the golden horse guy,” I had told that third friend who, sure enough, was waiting for us by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his faithful guide. We walked around the southern end of the park, admiring stonework and trees, squirrels and jays. We headed north to the reservoir and stopped to watch a cormorant diving for fish. I figured later that day I had put in about 10 miles, about half of it near water.
The next day my daughter and I took some of her friends to the beach by subway, wading in a very cold ocean and visiting the sea lions in the aquarium. It was our good luck to find that the aquarium is free on Friday afternoons.
Back home, our country neighbors stop by and express shock that our country daughter could feel so at home in the big city. They are sure it is all concrete and traffic, bright lights and loud noises. And they are partially right.
But the girl was raised in trees, and she knows where to find them. On her days off from ballet school, she heads to the park with a book. She climbs rocks and trees and sits by the water. When she needs to smell the ocean, she heads out to Coney Island. She loves urban life — the music, the people, the museums — but knows where you can use a kayak on the Hudson for free. She’s acclimated well.
“Want me to help you plant,” she asks me as I head out to the garden with a flat of tomatoes we started from seed back when it was still winter. I suggest she take a few back to her dorm to put in pots in that sorry little courtyard outside her building’s laundry room. She scoffs at the idea. She’s a city girl now, happy to come home for a week at a time to wander wilder woods with her brother, and happy to go back to where the wilderness is landscaped.
I’m not sure she’ll even have time for a mountain hike on her one-week visit. But the boy and I will have lots over the summer, overnights in the woods, long hikes on weekends and shorter evening hikes on the long summer days after I get home from work. We’ll have time to float on our backs on the lake, looking at the mountains and the sky.
Or we will if he doesn’t leave me all his dishes to wash. Otherwise I might really have to move into the woods.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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