What was that? A large bird with a bright red crest flew through the woods in the distance, making quite a racket with it’s cawing sound. A Pileated Woodpecker! You know, the big woodpecker that Woody Woodpecker was modeled after, the one that looks similar to the now extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker! I maybe see one every five years. What more could one ask for on a cold winter day?
Perhaps a flock of Bluebirds feasting on yellow berries in a sunny field? A Red-headed Woodpecker searching the side of a tree for goodies. Two White-tailed Deer bounding across the trail? I could have been inside grousing about the weather but Bill and I had decided to check out a park that we had never visited in the northern part of our city. We were being paid back for our effort with a mostly clear sky, dark winter branches against the blue, our warming bodies from the exertion, and some very fun creatures crossing our path.
One of the nice great things about being retired is that you can decide to go for a walk in the woods on a January morning. You can bundle up with long underwear, a warm coat, and head out with your honey or a friend to check out a nearby natural area. It might be 18 degrees out but the sun is shining, the woodpeckers are flitting about and there’s a frozen silver river winding down a deep ravine.
I’ve been trying to walk 7,500 steps daily even though it is pretty chilly in January in Kansas City. My doctor wants me to walk for my bones and I sleep better when I do. In my neighborhood there are a few hardy runners out in the evenings and the dog walkers are hurrying their pets around the small park behind our house. There’s even a Mom or two with the jogging stroller and their little one under a pile of blankets. But mostly people are rushing from house to car to destination. Time to be a contrarian!
The park we decided on is about a half hour drive from home – Hidden Valley Park. Sounds fun doesn’t it? We had a little trouble finding an entrance to the hiking trails in the natural area of the park which is managed by a combination of Kansas City Parks and the Missouri Department of Conservation. We found a parking lot near a shelter house and crossed the road, walked through a field. There was the trail – maintained, but not otherwise marked. In the winter it is easy to see the lay of the land and the hidden valley consisted of some incredible deep ravines with a frozen creek carving its way to the Missouri River, not so far away.
Walking outside has so many advantages. Uneven ground causes you to use all sorts of interesting muscles. While a lot of people worry about falling, research is telling us that practice at maintaining your balance is protective. You lose your abilities if you don’t use them.
What other advantages? – vitamin D from the sun, better sleep, and interesting things to see. But best of all, I always feel happy after a walk in the woods.
Some places to read more about it:
The Pileated Woodpecker at “All About Birds” from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Richard Louv’s blog about the importance of nature in our lives.
Nature: science shows it’s good for the body and mind. AARP Bulletin