“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”~Kahlil Gibran
The beautiful weather on Sunday lulled my family out to Ashland Nature Center for a midday trek. The sun shone brightly and the wind teased our hair as we made our way down the steps to the marsh to discover what treasures it held. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the wood frogs, but knew it was still early yet. They need a few warm days with a good rain before they’re ready to emerge from their woodland slumber and meet in the marsh to mate.
We found the usual collection of scat on the marsh boardwalk, evidence of the raccoon and fox that had been there earlier. The sun glinted off the smooth water, and brought my attention to an encrusted, shimmery mass clinging to one of the cattails. I laid down on the boardwalk to stretch out and reach the stalk. Upon investigation, it turned out to be a praying mantis egg case.
We looked around the marsh some more, knowing that in a few weeks, this place will be teeming with life that is easily seen before all the foliage grows back. Wood frogs, spring peepers and red-spotted newts will soon waken and meet their mates in this hot spot.
We decided to go across the street to the forest and made our way to the road, bypassing the lovely white snowdrops still in bloom by the Red Clay Creek. We wound our way through the wetland area, taking note of the emerging skunk cabbage flowers and the small waterfall which fed and moistened the area. We climbed the gentle hill and paused at the large gneiss rock formation for a short break. I began to pick my way along the Nature’s Bounty trail, and was compelled to remove my shoes and hike barefoot through the forest. I don’t normally hike barefoot in February for obvious reasons, but the warmth of the day and the desire to feel the earth directly on my soles took over.
My kids followed suit, removing their shoes, and we slowly hiked up and around the trail. When you hike barefoot, it makes you slow down and enjoy the journey, and it’s quite the sensory experience! You can see and experience things that you would have otherwise missed because you’re moving too fast.
The cool earth beneath our feet was a welcome sensation. Some areas were slightly muddy, or as my daughter so aptly put it, “juicy”. The leaves crunched under our feet, and some areas were slightly warm from their sun-bath. The differing temperatures and textures beneath our feet was a stimulating experience. One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered about hiking barefoot is that it’s easier to climb a hill. Your feet mold to the hillside and it enables you to grip with your toes, moving easily along the curve of the land. Our muscles that had not been used in this manner since the fall were given a good workout!
The second half of the trail back down the hill is peppered with small stones and we picked our way along carefully. We moved out of the forest, with the kids pausing to replace their shoes as we headed into the meadow area. I decided to remain barefoot, giving in to the urge to feel the grass with my toes. We paused briefly to look at the Red Clay Creek, noting it’s depth in some areas, wondering how deep it really was. We took note of a blue bag attached to a silver maple, collecting sap for making into syrup. Then we headed towards the road to resume our journey with the destination of Indian Rill, the creek that runs across the front of Ashland’s property, adjacent to the parking lot. As we crossed the meadow, though, we were greeted by this little beauty, the first dandelion we’ve seen!
We crossed the street and made our way to the path near Indian Rill. This area is often muddy, as it’s low-lying. The kids decided to take their shoes off again and join me in experiencing the soft, grassy path. Sections were not only muddy, but some still had snow on them, making it quite the numbing walk! But there were also spots that had been drenched by the sun, and the warm mud in contrast to the frigid snow was absolute heaven.
The path brought us to a few open sections of the creek, and we delighted in looking at the water. The bank has been quite eroded this season, and the creek was filled with downed branches and tons of leaves. I smiled, as I knew that those leaves and branches provided excellent housing for invertebrates and amphibians throughout the winter, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d get to see some of them scooting around again. Almost as if he heard my thoughts, a lone water strider appeared, gliding along the surface of the water, easily moving in the warmth of the day.
We pulled some trash from the stream, noting how cold and numbing the water was, though one sunny section was quite warm on the surface. Our day’s journey had come to an end. We’d been kissed by the sun, our bare feet tickled by the earth, and our hearts were feeling free as we breathed in the delight of the day.
May you hear the beckoning of the birds, shower yourself in the sun, and feel the arrival of spring in the coming days, finding yourself outside and embracing the joy of earth’s re-awakening!
Love & Light,