Friday, February 26, 2016

Winter Walks -- Healthy and endorsed by Thoreau

    It was Thoreau, the famous New Englander, who wrote fondly of the winter walk. He wrote the "meadow mouse has slept in his snug gallery in the sod," while we people  are "crunching crisp snow under our feet," as "feathery flakes" come down. Most of us look at winter weather and think ugh, it's cold and uncomfortable out. It doesn't have to be. And it's especially good if you're out in the sun.
   My friend Bud was the first one to point out he went on winter walks during Christmas vacation breaks from school. Winter on the East coast can get pretty darn chilly, and I have to admit my walks have been fairly short when I first tried to do this. Some think wintertime is only for kids, who build snowmen and toss snow balls. As a grownup I've built a snowman (or woman) or two and gotten boots as waterproof as possible for stepping into new or half melted snow. It can be a challenge if there is a layer of ice under the snow as you get older, so I'm sure the snow is more on the crunchy than slippery side.
    Dr. Lynn Millar, a Winston-Salem State University professor of physical therapy, points out that especially as you get older -- I've recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis because I twisted my knee badly last year -- it is important to get out and exercise in winter. The sunlight in winter lifts your mood and provides needed Vitamin D, and is really helpful if you are getting  corticosteroids, which increase the risk of brittle bones, Millar says. I find just "nature watching," noting the woodpeckers and sparrows and cardinals on the trees, whether the squirrels are up and looking for nuts, and what kind of different shapes the tree limbs form, makes for a worthwhile jaunt outside any time. Try a winter walk sometime.
   (A link to more info on winter walks and health: )

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tree Walkng for state champs at Virginia Tech

   It was cold -- a great day for a tree walk? Not really, though the good news was our leader, Jeff Kirwan and a few other ladies, were quite knowledgeable about the trees we were going to see. And we met in a gray parking lot. On Virginia Tech campus.
    Virginia State University and Polytechnic Institute -- a land grant college, with actually a lot of land-- 2600 acres -- is a good place for studying animal husbandry, self driving cars, water testing and nature at thee Hahn Horticultural Center. And on this big campus you find a variety of trees, from white pine to red hickory to a tree dedicated to comic Stephen Colbert!
   Wearing my furry black winter coat and red hat, I went off with several others, starting out in the duck pond area off of Duck Pond Road/Drive. After a handful of steps Jeff brought us slightly uphill, eyeing the president's home in the distance, to a few knotted old trees, what he called state champs. I believe one was a maple. There was also a white willow, on the east side of the duck pond, as we crossed a little foot bridge, also a champ. I think this was the one where it was so wide we couldn't tell its age.
   On the campus proper we headed down the west side of the Drill Field. I was really surprised when he pointed out there was "one" tree left from when the Drill Field wasn't an open area at all, but an arboretum. It is a "burr oak" with  huge acorn cups, a sign near it saying it was planted in 1895, I believe. That's an old and grand tree! Fellow naturalist Beth U. instinctively starting yanking off the English ivy around. It's sad they tore out so many trees for a field.
   With state champs they measure the height and circumference and possibly the rings too. Jeff, a former student, was there when a grand old tree fell in what is "Stadium Woods" behind Lane Stadium, where the football games are played. The rings were measured on the fallen tree and it was 300 years old! No wonder they want to save this woods of white and black oaks! This unique urban woods needs to be preserved. And it is also where a great oak with the sign "Colbert Oak" is nailed to it, as a means to entice comic Stephen Colbert to come. At least, they hope he will come visit, is my understanding.
    In the Hahn Horticultural garden we spied a few interesting, new to me trees, like the triofolate orange, the Alaskan yellow cedar and the kind of hanging down limber pine, also state champs. We traversed part of the garden I hadn't seen before, with a lot of brown wooden planks around a small goldfish pond and curving trails going back out toward the road and parking lots. The weather warmed up; our coats were open, and it was time to get something to eat.
    All in all, it was informative and a few hours of good exercise. Every town should have a "tree walk" like this.