Mariton: The Rhythm of Nature…Walking

January 18, 2021

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

In college, I took lots of walks.  The main campus was pretty sprawling with lots of open space between the different buildings.  But the real treasure for a country boy was that campus had a large forest beyond all the buildings that most students didn’t realize existed.   It had a few trails and a two track for maintenance, but it was rarely used by anyone other than me.  I spent a fair amount of time in those woods.

I had a friend who was a favorite walking companion during college because we walked at the same pace.  She was raised in the suburbs and I was raised in the country.  She made me feel comfortable when we explored cities, and she let me guide her through the woods.  We had a standing joke about our gracefulness – and our lack thereof.  While I could cruise through the forest at night, I just could not manage to walk down a sidewalk without tripping several times.  Meanwhile, she was as graceful as a ballerina, but get her off the paved surface and she stumbled over every molehill and rise in the path.

There is a trick to walking in wild places.  It has a lot to do with pace and how you lift your feet.  The same motion I use while woods walking will catch every raised edge of sidewalk.  Meanwhile, her ability to glide along man-made surfaces would lead to stumbles on natural surfaces.

When going up or down, we should take smaller steps and keep our weight over our feet.  Examining tracks at Mariton, one of the biggest problems I see is that people don’t keep their weight over their feet.  If one leans back while walking downhill their feet can slide out and they will land on their butt.  (Downhill skiers know exactly what I’m talking about.)  Likewise, people tend to lean forward when going uphill.  Leaning forward moves the weight off their feet, and they fall forward.  One learns this lesson quickly in cross-country skiing.  We need to keep our weight over our feet.

We all tend to watch our feet too much when we walk. Staring at our feet weakens our mental acuity and physical balance, which leads to stumbling.  Watch long distance runners.  They never look down because watching their feet saps their energy.  Try to look ahead at least 30 feet.  Your brain will automatically comprehend and calculate the surface changes.  When we no longer stare at our feet, we can take in the sights around us.

There are lots of little tricks to walking gracefully and silently in the woods.  Most of them our primordial brain already knows, our bodies just need practice.  So, slow down and look around.  There are birds and trees and clouds to watch as we walk.