A Short Friday Walk at Mendon Ponds Park

This past Friday, I was crazy hectic, and silly stressed (as we all can be).  It was the last day of school for my boys, before the holiday week.  I had spent the day before packing my oldest son’s clothes and essentials for a basketball tournament in Boston.  And, I needed to run some errands for the house.  I kept telling myself – this is easy.  It was only my husband and son traveling.  If the whole family was going, and if we needed to board the dog – it would be even more demanding. 

I knew I only had a few hours.  Run out – get gas, shop for the weekend (my younger son had a local basketball tournament) – and , my reward for getting my responsibilities completed quickly, would be a short walk in Mendon Ponds Park.  I chose a park that was close by the stores that I was going to.  (No need to add more anxiety.)  I also knew that I only had about an hour for my walk, so I didn’t choose a trail that was too ambitious.  I packed my camera, boots and a light jacket – along with my chore list, so that I was ready if time permitted. 

Every day that I can fit a walk in, I do.  It helps to take away physical tension in my body – legs, back, shoulders. Also – it is excellent for relieving emotional strain.  It keeps me in the present and in the “now.” When walking, I need to watch the ground, so that I don’t trip over a tree root (or, snake – lol).  I watch the trees for small movements – birds, chipmunks, squirrels.  I watch the ripples on the water for fish, ducks, turtles.  I look at decomposing tree logs for gorgeous mushrooms, sprouts, moss and insects. With this careful inspection of the sites around me – I don’t have the brain space to worry about the past (“Did I say the right things on that phone call?”) or the future (“Did I remember to pack deodorant and toothpaste for my son’s trip?”).  Those thoughts are usually things that could be easily remedied anyway – right?  If I misspoke, it will be sorted out in the next conversation.  If I forgot to pack something, there are stores in Boston. 

The here and now – this is where your brain can heal.  The present gives your mind new stimulation.  Excitement when you see something you have never seen before.  Inspiration when you see a new creature or color. Motivation to go home and research something new.  The present is enthusiasm, enjoyment, elation and exhilaration.  It is restorative time.  It is essential for me!

On Friday – when I arrived at Mendon Ponds – my goal was to see water fowl.  I had read on the local newspapers Instagram account, that a photographer had spotted ring-necked and bufflehead ducks.  I thought that would be neat to see.  Spoiler – I did not see any ducks on my walk. 

The first thing I saw on my short walk Friday was deer.  The deer were everywhere!  Most were grazing by the side of the road as I was driving through the park.  But, my favorite trio of deer were along my hike.  I had parked at the Welcome Center lot, and was only about four minutes into my hike, when through the trees we spotted each other.  I often wonder – did I see them, or did they see me first?  I am fairly certain that nature always spots humans first.  They certainly use their sense of hearing, sight and smell so much more efficiently than we do.  We are so caught up in our daily worries. 

Making eye contact with three beautiful creatures takes away all the anxiety of the day.  I just soak up all of their loveliness. And, I silently pray that they don’t run.  I just want to take it in for a moment longer.  I stood quietly. We locked eyes for a bit.  They continued munching on the new spring grass and clover (I assume that is what they were pulling from the ground – lol).  And, after a few minutes they turned around, flipped their beautiful white tails, and walked away deeper into the woods.  My heart was pounding.  My thoughts racing.  I had just experienced something so divine and wonderful!

The next new thing I saw on my short walk Friday, was a bird.  I see lots of birds all of the time at my house.  But, I have only seen blue birds once before (a few months ago).  I was so enthused by the small flock of blue birds that flew over my deck at home, that I researched “what attracts blue birds” on the Internet.  Meal worms are one food that blue birds enjoy.  So, gross as it seems, I went to my local garden store and bought a bag of meal worms.  I put them out a few months ago, and so far, it has only attracted starlings.  Starlings are pretty.  But, everything in the yard attracts the starlings. I still appreciate them, but I dream that I will look out the window and see a blue bird perched at the feeder. Everyday, I look!  Everyday, it’s a starling – lol. 

On my walk – my expectations were exceeded!  Blue birds!!  I saw three.  They were in the trees, by the shore of the pond I was hiking near.  I couldn’t believe how brilliant blue their feathers were.  Especially when they would fly overhead.  My photos don’t do them justice.  Their backside was almost indigo in color.  Their breast was fluffy brown feathers.  I was so excited I couldn’t think straight.  Yet, so focused, I was slow, silent and stealth in my movement.  Intentionally moving as quietly as possible.  Trying to get close enough to take in every detail of their splendor, without disturbing or disrupting them.  It was a magnificent few minutes of observation.  Seeing such exquisiteness is therapy for the SOUL!  My spirit certainly was restored in those moments.  I always say “thank you” for blessings such as these. 

The third new thing that I saw on my short walk Friday was Eastern skunk cabbage.  I did not know that this was what this plant was called.  I just saw beautiful clumps of purple and green plants near the ponds edge.  It was so striking, because it has still been so cold here in Upstate NY.  So, there really is not much foliage out yet.  There are some daffodils and purple crocus buds blooming along the roadsides.  But, on a hike, only the grass is green.  In contrast, the skunk cabbage was mature, full and brightly covering the ground. 

When I came home, I did an Internet search for “Mendon Ponds,” “Pond Plants,” “Purple and Green” and (oddly) “Cabbage” (because it did look like cabbage leaves).  Eastern skunk cabbage came up, with images that matched the photos I had taken.  My cousin John is a scientist and professor at a local college.  He follows my Insta feed, and he confirmed the name.  He also said that the reason that the plant is so mature, fully developed and bright, in contrast to other foliage that is just starting to grow (or is non-existent) this early in the season, is because skunk cabbage has the ability to generate its own heat.  Pretty neat, right?  So, while other plants are under the frozen ground, skunk cabbage is warming the ground and melting the snow around it.  So, it has a jump start. 

My walk wasn’t the only relaxing part of my Friday.  Coming home and learning more about what I saw, continued that discovery process. 

I made time for this walk, because it is just as important as medicine, sleep, nutrition and spirituality in treating my Crohn’s disease and related anxiety.  I was blessed to see so many amazing sights on my walk.  Each was a gift.  Each was therapy.  Each touched my soul! 

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