When I was a lot younger, I ran two miles every day, rain or shine. When I developed shin splints, I shifted down to race-walking. Decades later, I am a plain old walker. I am also strengthening my right knee (replacement, then a few months ago, a revision), and use a cane when walking long distances.
But I found something wonderful in just walking; the walks have turned into “appreciation walks.” I stopped mourning the fact that I can no longer run (and you know, I really don’t miss it anymore!), and began looking and listening while I walked.
My favorite walk is around our town pond. It is ringed with reeds and cat-o-nine tails, yellow iris, buttercups, dandelions, purple vetch, honeysuckle, daisies, etc. On a sunny days, the turtles like to cluster on a few logs to sun themselves. Most days there will be ducks and a few Canadian geese in the pond, and, in summer, a few gorgeous white swans appear as well. Red-wing blackbirds build their nests in the reeds, and the males are very territorial and will dive bomb you if they see you as a threat.
Blue herons like to fish in the pond. As they are my favorite bird, I love to watch them standing still, waiting for breakfast to swim by. They strike lightning fast and then slowly move to another area to stand and wait.
Their wingspan is nearly six feet, and their long legs trail behind them as they fly. They build their nests in tall trees, preferably near marshes and streams. It’s hard to imagine those long tall birds nesting, but they fold up their legs just as neatly as a folding ruler.
One day I was standing still and watching a blue heron in the reeds, as usual waiting for fish. However, the spot he chose was very close to a red-wing blackbird’s nest, and the male was visibly agitated that the heron was so close to it. As I watched, the male red-wing dive-bombed the heron to no avail; it just kept standing there, watching for minnows.
Finally the red-wing male jumped onto the heron’s back and hopped up and down on it, trying to get it to move. I had to stifle my laughter watching this; honestly it was that funny. Had there been thought-balloons over the two birds’ heads, they probably would have looked like this:
Red-wing male: “Hey, you—go away! You’re too close to my nest!”
Heron: “I have no interest in your nest; I am merely trying to catch my breakfast.”
Red-wing male: “Go, go, go! Move it”
Heron: “As I told you, I am just fishing; I don’t care about your nest!”
Red-wing male: “Move it now or I will peck you to death!”
Heron: (sighing) “All right, you annoying little twit!” and flew off to better (and quieter) feeding grounds.
When I was a child, my grandmother and I used to pick the dried milkweed pods filled with their silky silvery fluff and run with them to scatter the seeds. It was lovely to see all those little parachutes of fluff with one tiny brown seed at the bottom float off in the breeze.
It was she who taught me about birds and their habits, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, rabbits and deer. It is she whom I think of each and every time I walk down to the pond. I can almost hear her voice in my ear; “watch and listen!” And I do.
I have never come back from one of these appreciation walks without feeling happy and grateful.