A morning, or even just an hour, spent walking in a quiet, natural setting can do wonders to ease your mind, de-stress and keep things in perspective. That’s exactly what we did Sunday morning on the 3 miles of Rancocas Nature Center trails, which stretch across the wide range of habitats found within the 210-acre Rancocas State Park.
It was a beautiful walk through meadows, wetlands, and pines, with lots of bridges and boardwalks for Mae to run on. (She’s got a thing with bridges.) We saw just one other person, a runner lucky and smart enough to opt for trails over pavement.
It was downright peaceful for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a couple days after Black Friday with the holiday craze in full swing. Most of the plants had already died back or turned to seed, but the area had not lost its allure. Seeing a field of flowers after their peak season is a reminder that the outdoors should be enjoyed and appreciated year-round.
The browns, grays, and purples with pops of green is a palette I like, and somehow brings on an even deeper sense of calm than the colors of spring and summer.
When we started down the trail from the main building, Mae spotted a goldenrod that had turned brown and gone to seed and said, “Flower!” I was impressed, because it didn’t look like the flowers we see in most of her books. Kids, man. They’re awesome.
We got there before the building had opened, so we’ll have to return soon to check out the turtles and other wildlife on display. I guess it was about 10AM, and look at that light in the photo above. It was pretty much perfect, though I don’t doubt that an earlier or later walk would be just as good.
I could feel the temperature drop as we walked from the sunny meadow into the pines, which made me wish again that our neighborhood was full of trees (ahem, summer utility bills), but Mae didn’t agree. That was the exact moment she wanted to take off her coat and run around.
One of the other neat things about late-fall and winter hikes is that berries, evergreens, and mosses that might not be as visible at other times of the year burst through the many shades of brown.
For gardeners, getting out in natural settings this time of the year is also beneficial for strategizing. You can notice what leaves are still hanging on, where the interest remains, and add those plants to your little plot of land if the conditions are similar. I spotted a little eastern red cedar that stood out when it otherwise wouldn’t, and just seeing it there pretty and green proved Tim right that it could work nicely along our back fence.
It’s funny how both having a child and learning more about native plant gardening has changed my perspective. Together, they’ve made me walk slower, look for new things to discover (like, really look), and recognize the beauty in flowers not longer full of life and color.
I cannot wait to go back and take photos of the same scenes again as the seasons change. Mae will love the butterfly house, the bees, and the dragonfly pond that will come alive in the summer, and we hope to get some snow so that we can experience it there among the trees.
We didn’t spot any wildlife other than a turkey vulture and a woodpecker, but I’m sure we will during future visits at different times in different seasons.
Also, we weren’t exactly quiet, since we basically had the trails to ourselves and gave Mae the opportunity to run wild a bit. Next time we’ll practice our whisper in hopes of seeing a deer.
The Rancocas Nature Center offers events and educational programs for all ages. They have a summer camp and is just a couple of miles off 295 and a 25-minute drive from Collingswood. The nature center is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, 10-4 PM, and Sunday 12-4 PM. The trails are open every day until dusk.
Oh, and I should say, because it is Giving Tuesday: It didn’t require more than one visit to Rancocas Nature Center for us to decide on membership. (Note: RNC requires you to apply via snail mail, so we’re not members yet!) All fees all go toward “the continued environmental education of our children,” a cause we can certainly get behind. After all, we should always have places like this to take our children and to escape for a few hours ourselves.