Enjoying the Benefits of Nature Close to Home
By Tiffany Womack, KEEN fan and Outdoor Afro leader
The past six months have given me a profound appreciation for what is around me. Most mornings, the trees towering over our back patio sound like a sanctuary for many feathered friends. This alone can sustain me for a couple of days.
But as time passes — and the uncertainty of when we will come out on the other side of the pandemic continues — the longing to navigate a tree-filled forest, hear the crunch of fallen leaves beneath my feet, or feel the mist of a waterfall on my face becomes difficult to ignore.
I relocated to a city just outside Asheville, North Carolina, from Birmingham, Alabama, about two years ago. Western North Carolina has no shortage of incredible mountain views, forests, and waterfalls. A few weeks ago, I set out to hike a couple of popular trails that I have not been to before along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Pisgah National Forest. I was surprised by the crowds of people visiting from surrounding states.
I decided to challenge myself to reimagine what adventuring looks like. When we think about adventure, we often think of long road trips and even longer flights. I asked myself, what would a weekend of micro adventures look like for me?
After a quick web search, I planned our weekend. First up, back to that crowded waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this time in the late afternoon on a Friday to avoid the crowds.
I have learned you can find adventure and nature healing in a city park, and even in your front yard.
Saturday: Front yard Fungi, Birdwatching, and Hammocking
On Saturday, our front yard was my oasis. Day after day of afternoon showers have brought forth many varieties of fungi throughout our front yard. Identifying them has become a new hobby of mine. Before I knew it, I had spent half an hour taking pictures of mushrooms. I have also spent many days since the pandemic began listening to music (here's my playlist) and birdwatching in my hammock, this afternoon was no different. The canopy of the two maple trees provides the perfect amount of shade. It is incredible how much an afternoon in my hammock relaxes me. By the time I go inside for the day, I feel as light as a feather. Maybe the leaves of those two maple trees wash away the stress of the days before as the wind blows.
Sunday: City Park & Another Waterfall
On Sunday, another waterfall was on our list. We hit the road at 10:00 a.m. and arrived at DuPont State Forest by 10:20. Both parking lots were full. People sought additional parking in a lot farther away and walked along the roadside, which has been fenced off to vehicles to control the crowds. So, it was on to Plan B. We drove to a nearby city park for a little birdwatching. I had never visited this particular park before. It is only 4.8 miles from our home. The birds were not very active. It was late morning when we arrived, but the way the sun shined through the wooded paths was truly a treat. I cannot wait to go back for a bike ride.
Later that day, we decided to give the waterfall another shot. We were excited to find that many visitors had left for the day. So, we set out for a quick hike down to the base of the falls.
Now, I know not everyone lives 20 miles from Transylvania County (also known as the Land of Waterfalls) or a 30-minute drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have learned you can find adventure and nature healing in a city park, and even in your front yard.
Small, close-to-home adventures are fun and bring out the explorer in all of us. A close-to-home adventure might be a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood. It could be camping and stargazing in your yard or a walk along a nearby greenway. The important thing is, the benefits of nature also come in small packages.
What does adventuring and finding nature healing close to home look like for you?
Tiffany Womack is the leader of the Asheville network for Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. KEEN has partnered with Outdoor Afro since 2012. Together we hope to connect more people to outside experiences.