Thursday, March 31, 2016

A reminder of how soul-restoring a simple walk can be

Avalon Pond, Everett Crowley Park.
So I'm sitting at home, looking out the window at the birds flitting about at the numerous feeders in 
our yard, with two of our three parrots sitting on the same time, I'm scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed on my iPhone.

I come upon a post in a group I belong to, "The Best Reasons for You to Walk in a Park," by Erin Acton. Now it turns out Wednesday was "National Take a Walk in a Park Day" (yes, there is such a day, I looked it up, there are plenty of websites dedicated to the topic.) I start reading the blog post, watching her video, and it start to resonate with me.

I'd been having a bad week, no, make that a bad week-and-a-half up to that point, one of those weeks where nothing seems to work or go one's way. It was starting to get depressing. But Erin's well-sourced suggestions about how a walk in nature, getting out in nature, can really help alleviate stress, struck a chord in me.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it's like I needed a nudge, a reminder, that taking a few hours out of the day to go for a walk, aside from the physical health benefits, offers larger benefits for the soul.

It's like I forgot what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his treatise, "Walking" on the matter:

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day, at least... sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
Thoreau and Emerson had it right.
Again, it's not like I was re-inventing the wheel; I just had to decided enough was enough, I needed to get out and get some fresh air, a bit of exercise (which I'd been neglecting the past several days for a variety of reasons), and commune with nature, albeit in an urban setting.

So I packed up my camera and tripod, and headed off to Everett Crowley Park, a 40-hectare park barely a five-minute drive from where I live, less than 500 metres from busy SE Marine Drive in Vancouver. I've been there before, but hadn't visited since 2008.

It has changed a little; there is an additional trail that has been cut, parallel to an existing one. One of the things I do remember is a lookout along the Vista Trail, which provides a view of the Fraser River, less than a kilometre to the south. When I was last there eight or nine years ago, that portion of the river was all trees and other greenery; it's now all buildings and development along the shoreline. A bit sad, since I don't necessarily agree that's "progress." So far, the walk wasn't really lifting my spirits as I'd hoped it might.

But, I persisted on and a few minutes later down the trail, the magic of nature started to re-emerge.

I heard a woodpecker hammering away on a tree nearby. I located it, high overhead. Then I heard a chirping in the brush near the trail, the unmistakable sound of a hummingbird. Never managed to spot it, though.

Then still higher overhead, a hawk glided by, returning in the opposite direction a few minutes later.

Further along the trail, off to the left about 30 metres away sat a hawk on a tree branch. Of course, the bird flew away before I could get set up to shoot some photos, but it was still magical.

Eventually, I made my way over to Avalon Pond at the northeast corner of the park. There were always ducks there - usually mallards - and I'd even seen a heron there, once, high up in a tree.

The mallards were there...and so were a pair of mated buffleheads.

A male bufflehead patrols the pond.

Buffleheads are really cool diving ducks. Smaller than mallards and very unique looking. Plus, it's just a cool word to say - "bufflehead."

 Try it. Say it out loud a few times. It almost sounds like the kind of insulting name Bugs Bunny would call Daffy Duck in the old Loony Tunes cartoons.

But it's not - it's the common name for Bucephala albeola. A friend of mine calls them "saddle shoe ducks," which gives you an idea of what they look like, if you didn't already know.

Anyway, I tried shooting some photos and video from a trail that ran alongside the pond, then found a spot at one end where I could sit down a log, set up my tripod in an easy-access position and took the better part of an hour watching them swim and dive back and forth among the mallards. I even got a few good shots.

The mallards always seem friendly at Avalon.

Letting go, breathing - really breathing - I could feel a sense of peace and perspective start to take root in my being. I noticed some of the songbirds flitting about in the bushes around me. I spotted several hummingbirds and out of the corner of my eye a larger bird dodging about in the hardwoods 50 yards away (maybe a pileated woodpecker?)

That two hours I spent did wonders for me - other responsibilities kept me from a four-hour sojourn as Dr. Thoreau prescribed - got me back on the rail properly, which I was in danger of falling off (and with the fall, could a potential train-wreck be far off?)

Walking back to my car, doing some shopping for groceries, talking with people I met - it all just seemed better, following my walk.

While I enjoy watching the visitors to the birdfeeders in our yard immensely, sometimes a walk rewards one with different kinds of benefits. I resolved not to let it get to this point again, to take time to re-connect with nature via a walk in the woods, not just from my living room window.

And next time, I don't think I'll wait another eight years to go back to that little park that can offer such a balm for my soul.

Trail map for Everett Crowley Park.


  1. Wow John. Congratulations on taking action on the inspiration you got from my post. It turned into what sounds like was an amazing outing. Just awesome. Wishing you many more moments like you gave yourself that day.