I picked an ideal day, place — and period in our collective lives — for my “awe walk.”
Maybe you’ve heard about awe walks? You keep to the usual routine but slow down. Take time to observe the surroundings in a new way. Embrace nature’s mysteries. And reap the emotional benefits.
The New York Times reported earlier this month on a psychological study of the aforementioned walks and their positive effect on healthy older adults. Participants experienced greater joy — and fewer feelings of distress — over time.
Awe walks sound like something naturalists, biologists and a host of others do for a living. Lucky them. There I was at first light Tuesday in the 300-acre preserve surrounding Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township, a place I’ve returned to dozens of times in every season. The awe came quickly: The morning reflected autumn in full.
What follows below are some jottings (with some illustrations by my colleague Mark Boswell) — notes as I looked and listened a little closer in Tamarack’s diverse mix of woodland, water and prairie. It was awesome.
• A red-winged blackbird perched on the highest branch in an old ash tree. Many migrate. He likely is a winter holdover. He showed his red epaulets while in song, opening his wings to sing: a distinctive chirp followed by a longer trill. Maybe defending his territory?
• The big bluestem grass, with its fall hints of reddish-maroon, stood more than 6 feet in some places and was abundant. The seed heads got tossed about in the heavy wind.
• The aspen quaked everywhere. At one point, on a protected boardwalk, it almost sounded like the pitter-patter of a soft spring rain. Aspen is the most common of Minnesota’s 52 native tree species. It really took off after European settlement, which set up conditions for the fast-growing tree.
• Purple aster wildflowers bloomed in the prairie. Goldenrod, too, in spots, adding pops of color. Some goldenrod stems bulged with galls, a few broken open by hungry birds?
• The morning was electric with the golden light of sunrise. The sun officially rose at 7:26 into a cloudless blue. The temperature was 51 but felt colder in the 11 mph winds out of the west. There are 11 hours, 3 minutes of daylight today. Interestingly, there only will be 10 hours, 42 minutes this time next week. We’re getting the slanted light of fall as the position of the sun changes.
• Jack pines were interesting to investigate. The unusual clusters of seed cones tight to the branches were scaly and dry. They looked like something born of a reptile. The jack pine is the second most common species of pine in Minnesota, behind the red pine.
• Leaves on the ground, leaves still swaying in the air. The basswood leaves were the size of small dinner plates.
• A few hours in, the winds had increased to nearly 20 mph. The red oak leaves were staying put, by and by, of course.
• I don’t know much about cattails, but the ones I saw in a small marsh made me curious. I came upon a bunch whose flower heads had exploded like party favors.