Learning to walk in the woods

So, file this under “Living here for most of the past 10 years and still get to see something new!” On my trail walk a couple days ago I had my first extended viewing of an owl. I’ve caught sight of them several times while walking but usually it’s when they leave one tree and fly to another and are then out of sight. But on this particular walk I saw one fly and it landed in a tree further down in the direction I was headed. I kept an eye on it and found it in the tree as I got closer. I was able to look for a full minute or so. I could have stayed longer as it didn’t fly away but it was up high enough that I couldn’t see details without binoculars. But still, had a good look. My immediate thoughts were that I need to remember to look up more often rather than my usual focus on the path in front of me.

Yesterday while walking after a lot of rain I was stopping often to photograph and video the streams and little water falls. It got me into a more observational mode. While I had to watch the path for slippery spots I was walking more slowly and just generally being in a more observational mode rather than walking for exercise mode. I stopped and just stood still looking off through the woods. With the trees and lower level foliage still bare it’s possible to see a much longer distance. Within just a minute of stopping and looking deeper into the woods, at about the limit of my eyesight, I caught sight of a fox. I should note that I’m not 100% certain given the distance but given the size, shape and movement of the animal I’m fairly certain it was a fox. It was only a glimpse but still, exciting!

Again, I was reminded what a poor observer I often am. My habit when walking is to be walking. Even if I do rememer to look up I’m usually still moving. So, another lesson learned is that not only do I need to look up more often but that I need to stop and stand still more often. I think that act, of being still for at least a few minutes is what will really allow for much deeper observation of the landscape and what is happening around me. Not only that but were I to carry a small sitting stool or be willing to stop and sit on the ground for say, ten or twenty minutes, that extended stillness would also allow for my becoming less visible to other animals, notably those I rarely see such as fox.

Really it’s an obvious thing I’m stating here but I suspect it’s also something others might forget to do while in the woods. It’s an easy thing to forget to do, especially when provided nice walking paths, to just stop and hold. Also, I’ll note that when I go for walks it is for the purpose of exercise. To walk for observation is a different thing and I’ll need to remember that and find a balance between the two.

Spring is here and all around green buds are popping. In the next few weeks the open understory of the woods will fill with foliage and the long view I’m enjoying now will shrink to a much smaller distance. I plan to practice a more active observation with more frequent stopping and suspect that will be beneficial but it will likely be in the winter months that such a practice will really prove helpful both in terms of wildlife observation as well as developing a better understanding of the topography of the land.

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