Outdoors

Outdoor walks aren't always measured by distance

The Nature Call: Author finds walking slowly leads to living richly

A December walk through Vining Hills in Tama County taught John Lawrence Hanson that distance isn’t always measured by feet, yards or miles. (John Lawrence Hansen/correspondent)
A December walk through Vining Hills in Tama County taught John Lawrence Hanson that distance isn’t always measured by feet, yards or miles. (John Lawrence Hansen/correspondent)
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Lest I turned into Rip Van Winkle, I rolled over to get on my knees, and then to my feet.

Not quite a nap but certainly more refreshing than leaning against a tree.

During my supine rest, I alternated between snoozing and paying attention to the competition between white and blue for dominance of the sky. The clouds had the upper hand.

Alas, my time to tarry had ended and some distance to my destination remained — a distance of exactly one turkey, two hawks and three deer.

My walk through the Vining Hills in Tama County was a coordinated effort. We three had traveled from the east in pursuit of whitetail deer. Or more honestly, worthy bucks. Pardon was to be granted for all others. My task was to amble east, northeast, west southwest and then due south. Our rendezvous would be the sit locations for the late hours of the day.

My companions wished me well. As they drove off to their spots of departure one reminded me to walk s-l-o-w-l-y. He drew out the words for emphasis.

Ex post facto, Google Maps reported the distance to be one mile as the crow flew, but two-and-a-half as meandered. In running gear it would take no time. Even in full hunting kit, the course would take little time or effort.

But that wasn’t the point. The point was to apply stealth, if not sloth, to the approach.

To keep keen I would need to invent a new measurement to keep my mind alert and my pace unnaturally slow. I tallied markers of nature.

Treading slowly through a pasture was a hard start. It had all the interest of a parking lot, save the hazards of cow pies. The pasture was viciously overgrazed. Water from the recent rain coursed down the eroded draws and cow paths. The barbed wire marked not only the boundary of movement but also vegetation. Add three pastures to the length.

For late December there was too much running water for my tastes. I crossed a second rivulet. Its frantic gurgling was about the only melody of the day. The voices of the summer sparrows were long since gone.

I kept an eye out for signs of beaver but found none. Add four water crossings to the length.

The low angled sun, coupled with the glaze of ice on the trees, produced striking images. I wished I had brought the good camera (I really wished I knew how to use it properly, too).

It was the second buck rub that framed a satisfying picture, even with just an iPhone. Add two buck rubs to the length.

The fatigue of traveling so deliberately had caught up to me in the final pasture. I got caught not paying attention, the lopping form out the corner of my eye was a coyote. It was moving at a determined pace to put distance between it and me. Enjoying the show, I failed to notice its two companions loitering.

Had I stood still they might have, too. At 50 yards, they were magnificent, even to the naked eye. But I hadn’t. With less care than their mate they trotted off in the opposite direction. Their brown, black and gray hackles swirled in the wind. The bush wolves crested the hill and then were gone. Count three coyotes to the length.

One CRP field intact and one recently mowed were added. The latter had easier walking but the former had all the interest. Two wooded draws included the aforementioned hawks, deer and turkey

I verified one cottontail rabbit. But I can’t be certain about the squirrels, maybe five or maybe six fox squirrels. I think one of the treetop acrobats played a trick on me to vanish only then to reappear in a location suggesting a bending of the laws of physics.

Another hour on foot, two flocks of crows and one owl of an undetermined race rounded out the final measurements.

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I made my destination with time to spare. Maybe I should have counted more things. The dusky hour fell and our day was done.

It was a good problem to have, to walk slowly. So often our only choice in life is fast or faster. Perhaps it’s customary for us to walk quickly if we measure our distance in yards or miles. But I for one will try to measure my distance more often by other gauges that make the journey more important than the destination.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

l John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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