Ian Stewart, Ornithologist
The need to reduce the spread of the coronavirus has led to these strange and uncertain times. Out of an abundance of caution our programs are temporarily cancelled and our buildings are closed. However, our trails remain open for you to enjoy at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford, and the DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Wilmington riverfront, where the adjoining Jack Markell Trail is also open for walking and cycling.
We encourage members and non-members alike to take advantage of these trails because the psychological and physical benefits of being out in nature have never been more valuable than they are now. The mere act of getting out of the fug of your house and breathing in some fresh air as you stroll along our trails will soon blow away the mental cobwebs. Plus, the exercise will give your immune system a timely boost, as will the exposure to natural sunlight and the resulting surge in vitamin D.
Unlike being at a sporting event or rock concert, exploring nature is just as enjoyable if you are by yourself or in a small group. A perfect example of this is forest-bathing, a concept that comes to us from Japan where it is known as shinrin-yoku. Forest-bathing involves sitting quietly in a wood and using all your senses to absorb the experience. How therapeutic would it be to rest against the furrowed bark of a giant tulip poplar tree while watching the dappled sunlight filtering through its leaves? As you sit silently the sweet scent of pine needles drifts through the woods along with the curious falling ping pong ball-like song of a distant Field Sparrow.
Ashland Nature Center has four trails radiating out from the visitor center, each with its own mix of habitats and experiences (maps available in a booth along the entrance path). The under-visited Treetop Trail crosses Barley Mill Road and features some steep slopes through a quiet beech wood overlooking the Red Clay Creek. The gentle-paced Nature’s Bounty trail takes you past a tadpole-filled freshwater marsh where male Red-winged Blackbirds are already giving their raucous ‘konka-ree’ call. The Succession Trail winds along an old farm track and illustrates how the vegetation gradually changes as a grassland matures into a forest. A highlight of this trail is the section that winds down through a grove of white pine trees. It’s hard to beat the feeling of tranquility derived from walking on a carpet of pine needles! My own favorite is the Floodplain Trail, a long strip of level ground which follows the Red Clay Creek along to a small waterfall and is perfect for an easy afternoon amble, especially with small children. This is also where our famous mammoth American sycamore tree can be found and is a pretty place to sit and de-stress by listening to the sound of the water flowing past. On the way back perhaps call in at the bird blind and watch up to a dozen species of birds zipping back and forth to the feeders (don’t forget your camera!).
Maybe a nature walk at Ashland is a metaphor for our current situation. The Succession Trail is quite steep and challenging but there is a peak and once you are over it the end is in sight. Humanity has endured some appalling times which were many times worse than our current state and yet after every one of them we rebounded, as does nature. The sun still rises, the birds still sing, and the flowers still open. I encourage you all to find solace in nature during these difficult times and in the words of the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright;
“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”