I first experienced the meditative peace of walking during the eighteen months I lived with my mother after my father’s death. My friend Cathleen and I walked the wooded pathways of a nearby park three times a week. We did it for exercise, but also saw it as a chance to talk freely about our lives. It deepened our connection, got our hearts pumping, and cleared our minds; however, it is the solace that came from those walks that has stayed with me ever since.
Whatcom Falls Park, where we took our walks, is full of ancient evergreen trees. Its woods are home to ravens, spotted owl, deer, squirrels, and a plethora of wild birds. We usually took the same route each day, crossing down to the entrance of the park, and then heading for the duck pond. Once in a while I brought bread to feed the ducks, and a large scramble of mallards and their ducklings immediately surrounded the waters in front of me, begging and squawking as bread sailed through the air. Occasionally, even a seagull who had flown up from Bellingham Bay several miles away, joined in the fun. After we fed the birds, we’d head down a pathway that led deep into the park, crossing a small bridge over Whatcom Creek to get into a large cathedral of trees that felt like sacred ground to me.
Crossing under that thicket of trees, sunlight spattering the ground, birds calling in the distance — there was nothing that could have offered me more in terms of assuaging my grief over my father’s death, and the other losses that coincided with it, including the break-up of a long term relationship with my boyfriend. It was almost as though the trees knew me, knew my sorrows, and offered themselves as living examples of how to endure. That’s why I love trees — everything from mesquite to saguaro to willow to redwood. They endure. Barring interference from human beings, most trees will outlive us. They were here before we were born, and they will likely be standing with their branches touching the sky on the day each one of us dies. The act of walking in any natural setting — whether a state park, a mountain trail, or through someplace urban and lovely like the Desert Botanical Gardens here in Phoenix — allows us to reconnect with silence, with God, with the sound of our footsteps and heartbeat, with spirituality, and with the slow grace that accompanies peace.
Walking in nature is a meditative act. Nature can truly be a balm for whatever ails us.
I remember walking through grief. I remember the way the sky looked through an umbrella of tangled branches. I remember the sound of the river and coming face-to-face with my ability to continue living, even in the face of a very real death.
In our society’s quick worship of the automobile, some people have never had the very real pleasure of taking a walk. Try it. Go to a local park and take a stroll; hike into the raw beauty of the mesas surrounding your home. Walk at dawn or by moonlight. Reconnect with your inner life and find out how healing a walk in nature can be.
© 2008 Shavawn M. Berry
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