Atacama Crossing Blogs 2020
View All Posts 2020 From : Robert Ripley
31 May 2020 10:51 am (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana
A Walk in the Woods (part 1)
Every morning, unless something like work, travel, or a dentist appointment gets in the way, Nancy and I go walk in the woods.
(Thankfulness note: I am thankful that we live near enough to walk to the woods.)
Usually we walk for 2-3 miles. Always we take a couple of mongrel dogs with us. Since we live in the high desert, our forest is not the densely wooded, mossy floored, arboreal forest that blots out the sky with green foliage. Our forest has a sandy floor with grass and sagebrush and randomly spaced juniper and ponderosa pine. Our forest belongs mostly to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and has been logged before and will be again. Logging roads traverse it, as well as single track bicycle and horse tracks. And, because the flora is scattered, in most places one can wander through the woods without a specific trail. And because you can usually see the sky and often the Cascade mountains to the west, it is hard to get lost. Although I have managed.
North Sister Cascade volcano pokes up through the trees, upper right
Our little piece of forest is in the process of transformation. For over one hundred years, open canals (or ditches) have brought irrigation water from the mountains through these woods to the fields below. (Our little 3.5 acre pasture among them). When we first started walking here a few years ago, there were miles of ditches running like streams (from April to October) through the forest. But here in the desert, water is a valuable commodity. Everyone wants their share: the farmers and ranchers, the anglers and boaters, even the endangered spotted frog. And the value of the water has reached a point where the loss to evaporation and seepage from the ditches has made it economically viable to put the water in buried pipes. While I am sure that the frogs upstream and the ranchers downstream appreciate the extra water, the piping project has left large swaths of gravel in the woods where there once were 100 year old pine trees and winding paths along the burbling ditches. We lament the loss of the sound of running water.
Cody by an open ditch
A piped ditch with some leftover pipe
On our walks we loosen up our joints and muscles and, by massaging a little caffeine into the grey matter, loosen up our minds as well. Usually we talk about days past or future, but sometimes all we do is appreciate the crisp air, the trees and fleeting glimpses of wildlife.
The health benefits of walking are pretty much undisputed. And walking in the woods is even better for you than walking the sidewalk:
Reportedly, walking in the woods makes you healthier in a number of ways:
- boosts the immune system
- lowers blood pressure
- reduces stress
- improves mood
- increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
- increases energy level
- improves sleep
In Japan they recommend forest bathing—shinrin-yoku, slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion. Dr. Quing Li has written the book on Forest Bathing and how trees can help you find health and happiness. Apparently trees even emit pheromones that can help you fight cancer. Maybe these cancer fighting trees only grow in Japan.
I’m not sure that describing one of our walks as bathing would be entirely accurate. We do immerse ourselves, but we return home with dust between our toes.
And, although the health benefits of walking a dog, are also indisputable, it is a little unclear if we are walking our dogs, or if they are merely deigning to allow us to tag along on their hunt. While Nancy and I trot out 2-3 miles in our hour of walking, Holly and Cody might traverse twice that, occasionally circling back to see if we are still upright and carrying the bag of treats.
As my muscles warm up on the walk, I stop for my stretching exercises. It isn’t pretty. My running coach warned me 40 plus years ago about the dangers of not stretching. I’m sure he’d be surprised to know that I am still running, but I’m sure he would not be surprised by my level of inflexibility. Stiffness that led to a number of minor injuries and then a nasty hamstring tear in 2017. Brenda, my physical therapist, after causing me a great deal of pain, finally convinced me I should stretch. Length is strength she tells me. My goal is to stretch three muscle groups, hamstrings, quads and gastrocs (with Achilles) for three 20 second repetitions, once a day. Six minutes. Even I can do that. I think it’s working.
And then we come home from our walk and start our day. The pasture needs mowing. The alpaca can’t eat fast enough to keep up with the late spring growth. Some of the irrigation heads need cleaned out. There’s always weeding. And work. Not til tomorrow night. And then there’s training. That’s still a thing. I’ve been slowly upping my running mileage as well as the hours on my bike. It’s getting there. I hope.
This year’s alpacas! Can you guess who’s been wrestling?