Just off the Trail
For many of us hiking and walking along nature trails is nothing new. We enjoy the energy and clarity it brings while admiring the plant and animal life around us. But how much do you really see? We know there’s more out there but only see a small portion of it. Some things I’ve learnt from my biology field trips is there’s much more beyond what we initially see and it’s closer than we think. Sometimes all you have to do is look down or just off the trail.
Start by walking along one of your favourite paths, one that’s preferably out of the city limits. Walk until you are completely alone and undisturbed. Now close your eyes, take some deep breaths and quiet your thoughts. With your eyes still closed, what do you hear? Running water? Birds chirping? How many different bird songs can you hear? Without opening your eyes, try to distinguish how many different bird songs you can identify. Each species has a different song. What direction are they coming from?
Now open your eyes and look around. Start by looking up. How many different species of trees can you see? You don’t need to be able to identify them but how many different ones are there? Are there any shrubs or other plants growing from the trees? Look closely at the branches and bark. Is there anything on them? The picture below shows dust lichen growing on the bark of a Western Red Cedar tree. The lichen is in a symbiotic relationship with the tree, obtaining nutrients from the bark. Many lichens are vulnerable to environmental disturbance and can be indicators of a healthy forest. For example, along the west coast of British Columbia you’ll find Witch’s Hair Lichen, long green strands hanging from the trees. A healthy forest will have plenty of this lichen on the branches. In turn, lichen is a primary food source for Caribou, especially during the winter months when other food is scarce.
Back to exploring our surroundings. Now that you’ve looked at the trees, gradually move your gaze down. How many species or shrubs and small plants can you count? Is there any debris on the forest floor? Do you see any smaller species of plants growing along the trail? If you carefully move a few leaves and pieces of decaying wood can you uncover anything else? Of course you may see the usual scurry of insects. Is there anything you haven’t seen before? Get on your hands and knees if you like.
I was walking along a trail in one of our protected parks when I came across these two trees. The wood was set up before them as if they were a passage into another world. I couldn’t resist approaching, as if it were drawing me to it.
It was when I carefully uncovered one of the pieces of wood that I discovered this salamander. It’s rare that you will see them out in the open. I took a few pictures and then gently placed the piece of wood back where I found it.
What experiences have you had while out in nature? Have any of them stayed with you?
“I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” ~Martha Washington