On a cold, snowy day in November, I dropped my very excited children off at school. As soon as the car door opened, the carpool crew jumped out and began packing snowballs. Some children were on the ground making snow angels while others were rolling down the snow-covered hill. The walk back to my car involved dodging snowballs and lots of laughter from both children and parents.
Driving to work, I knew that this was the day. This was the one day we had set aside to pre-hike and plan a route for an upcoming program at Richardson Forest Preserve. At first, I was annoyed that Mother Nature decided to blanket the land with snow and fill the air with cold on this particular day. However, taking inspiration from the children, I layered up, filled my thermos with coffee and hit the trail with my coworkers.
From the moment we stepped off the road and entered the preserve, my mind was filled with awe. My annoyance faded completely and I became excited to experience this place in a way I never had before. Just a few feet in, we took time to observe the unique way the water had frozen on the branches of the spicebush, looking like tiny little light bulbs when hit by the sun. I stopped to follow the tracks of squirrels and deer, wondering exactly what they were up to when they passed this way. We choose to walk quietly at times just to take in the beauty around us and we would chat excitedly when we made a new discovery. Still, my brain kept reminding me of the phone calls, emails and other tasks that were waiting for me back in the office.
After reaching the bottom of the hill and crossing the creek, we decided to try a technique we wanted to use with our group the following weekend. We each chose a spot and sat as quietly and still as possible. At first, I found myself watching fellow nature interpreters Susan, as she lay in the snow and looked up at the clouds, and Julie who was sitting quietly on a log nearby watching the flowing creek. I was struggling to find the quiet and calm. It was then I remembered one of the children I saw that morning on the playground. He was quietly picking up handfuls of snow and watching, so I did the same. After scooping up a handful, I took the time to admire the beauty of each delicate flake. I then held my hand in front of me into the sun. As the snow began to melt, my glove became a stage for the crystals as they seemed to dance in my hand. We sat for about 10 minutes before I even realized what was happening in this moment. I found my mind calm and my senses working together. The to-do list for the day was pushed aside and my brain and body were truly present in this very moment. When I finally looked up, I saw this place I’d visited several times through completely new eyes. I found myself discovering details I had overlooked for years and felt a new enthusiasm for sharing this place with our guests.
As nature interpreters, we are well aware of the physical and mental benefits of being in nature. We are in it every day and have the luxury of calling it our job. We see the calm and happiness many of our guests experience walking our trails. We know how a quick walk out the door can bring new insight into a challenging task or reset our minds when we become stuck. I knew this hike into the preserve would be good for me. What we sometimes forget is to approach the natural world with the curiosity of a child. By doing so, we are able to be present in the moment and have experiences we never thought possible.
Nature Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve