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A walking life lesson
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Some say that a brisk walk does a body good. Others say that reading great literature expands the mind. While I'm sure that there is considerable truth in these statements, I prefer to share another recently discovered bit of wisdom. A leisurely walk in the woods with a 2-year-old grandson replenishes the soul.

The amazing observations of nature by that beloved lad are surpassed only by the joy of watching him discover a part of his natural world for the first time. Now if you are wondering how I'll tie these musings into an educational column that will inspire my faithful readers to do something productive in their yards and gardens, I'm curious concerning that question myself. Oh well, maybe we'll figure something out by the time these ramblings cease.

As a boy I actually spent many of my waking hours in the woods. Between hunting during the fall and winter months and exploring, digging fox holes and building huts, I was a forest rambler for much of my youth. Having spent so many hours in the woods probably caused me to take the beauty and magic of nature for granted. Don't we all do that to some degree? That with which we are the most familiar too often becomes accepted as normal and expected to always be available. Only as I have matured chronologically and philosophically have I learned to appreciate the wonder and uniqueness of the environment of my early years.

Now back to the meanderings of an energetic, young redhead and his attentive (to a fault) Pop Pop. Oh, the things one can learn from a child. Every small rock is thrown, while every large one must be overturned. How often do we hurriedly walk or run by the simple pleasures of our environment without exploring them? As the larger rocks are moved, the little guy crouches with eyes wide open to view the wonders of the underside of the rock.

At first glance he sees nothing. But after encouragement to keep looking, he sees worms, centipedes, ants and all sorts of forest inhabitants. His excitement grows with every new discovery. We gardeners so often want to see quick results and when things don't happen as we think they should, we also want to move on to something else. Good things do come to those who are willing to wait.

Water has always been a large part of my woodland adventures. There were "cricks," ponds, swamps and all other sorts of wetlands for me to fish in, swim in, hunt near and drink from. Who would even think of drinking from a stream today? As my grandson and I rambled through the woods on our most recent excursion, he learned how to make ripples in a pond; tried to throw sticks into a stream; and learned about the trees that grow naturally near water.

We also talked about those plants that make their home on higher ground and observed those that like to live in the understory of the forest. He was most impressed by the sweet gum balls and the baby oaks and pines that will one day turn into giants. Of course, I know that he probably won't remember much of what we chatted about, but he does listen with an absorbing mind and watches with wide-open eyes. We adults, farmers, gardeners and consumers alike can learn much from the attitude of an open mind and clear vision.

Finally, we'll move to the horticultural part of our woods journey. Yes, there is and was something to be learned or at least reminded of for the gardener. As we have walked and talked, I find myself looking down most of the time. That's just what a grandfather does when walking with his 3-foot-tall grandson. With each downward glance, I seem to see a plant that flourishes in complete shade with deep leaves serving as natural mulch.

They have withstood droughts, wet feet, storms, wildlife damage and competition from larger plants.

Yet those plants that are adapted to such locations do well. This should remind all of us to plant the right plant in the right location. The leaves on the forest floor should also remind us that the correct type and amount of mulch works wonders in so many ways.

My ramblings in the woods have always been special, but now they are beyond that. There is much to learn, but more importantly, there is much to enjoy. Why not go searching for the joy that comes with a walk in the woods with a little guy or girl? Who knows, they might just find some of that joy while they double yours.

Gene Anderson is the interim Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994. E-mail genea@uga.edu.

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