Our EverWalk Nation is made up of incredible people from all walks of life. But when naturalist Mel Grosvenor joined the group and became an Ambassador, little did she know that she would become the go-to person for all our “I just saw this while walking. What is it? questions posed by walkers around the world.
Mel is so good-natured about answering these queries that we’ve asked her to share how interacting with the natural world can enhance anyone’s walking experience!
I have been enchanted by nature ever since I was a child and I still feel exhilarated by my encounters with its marvels. Just the other day, I was delighted by the smallest bold jumping spiderling (baby spider) I have ever seen! It could have rested neatly on top of a sesame seed!
When I see things like that, they bring me overwhelming joy and I feel the need to share that with everyone! I enjoy being able to teach others about subjects that I am passionate about. The joy it brings me to see something amazing in nature is MAGNIFIED when I can share it. I am fortunate that I have been able to work as a naturalist for Greene County Parks & Trails in Ohio for the past 17 years. Doing what I love is more like following a passion than simply doing a job.
I continue to work as a naturalist even in my off time because it’s who I am. I love seeing all of the wonderful photos EverWalkers post and I am more than happy to chime in when someone wants to know what flower they saw or why there is a crustacean walking around on land in the mountains! I don’t always know the answers right away and that’s OK. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find out what things are and it’s wonderful that I will always have questions to ponder. Being curious about what we are seeing in nature starts when we are children. Nature is full of secrets to be discovered and when it sparks one’s curiosity, I feel like it rekindles that childlike sense of wonder about the world that so many adults seem to lose touch with.
Keep those questions coming!!
Please check out the following tips to help you see more of nature on your walks:
FOCUS on what’s going on around you. Turn off your music and your phone. When asked on one of the Social Distancing Scavenger Hunts what music I listen to while walking, I was inspired to write a poem to answer that question. It sums it up for me. I listen to the concerto of crickets and cicadas and the symphony of songbirds. The melodious music of water in a stream, the whispering background song of the wind. The tempo is kept by my heartbeat, each breath and the rhythm of my boots hitting the ground accompanied by the soft patter of Charlie’s paws.
BE CURIOUS and stop to see what those flowers smell like or look like with a magnifying glass. Flip over a rock or log along the way. Take a child with you! They are great at noticing things that the rest of us may pass right by.
BE CREPUSCULAR! Many animals are not strictly active at night (nocturnal) or during daylight (diurnal). Crepuscular animals prefer the hours right around dusk and dawn to be active. If you can plan to walk in a natural area just before sunrise or sunset you may be rewarded with many cool encounters. Be aware of your surroundings though and use caution in areas where you are not the top predator!
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. It is sometimes the BEST time to see things. If this intimidates you, find a naturalist-led hike in your area. The naturalist will choose a safe place to hike and get you back to your car afterwards. They will be able to tell you what made that sound, show you the hidden lives of nocturnal creatures and make your EverWalk Mile an adventure!
And try walking with Bird Watchers or a Native Plant Group. It may not be your FASTEST walk, but you will learn SO MUCH about what you see around you. Maybe you could interest those folks into joining EverWalk too!
I want to share a few experiences with you that were particularly memorable on my walks. I was so transfixed during each one, that everything else stopped and I was completely immersed in the moment! That is another perk of being in nature when something amazing happens. We are so easily distracted, and days can go by in a blur. It is sometimes difficult to be present in the moment. Nature helps me do just that. During these moments, nothing else exists for me.
I once did some backpacking in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We were in a deep canyon and it took some time for the light to warm it up in the mornings. When it did, we decided to rest on a large, slanted slab of rock. It was heavenly to soak up that warmth. Since we were lying so still and in an area with very few humans, the lizards started creeping up to join us. Eventually, we were surrounded by lizards who also enjoyed that rock for its heat in the morning. They were coming quite close and bobbing their heads and looking us over. I love it when you become part of the scenery and animals approach you and feel comfortable enough to go about their normal activities. When you are on a walk in a natural area, don’t forget to rest and take it all in. You may be surprised by what happens.
During January and February at work, I make maple syrup. After the long winter months, maple sugaring season is when I start seeing the first glimpses that spring is on its way. One morning, while I was walking the trails to empty sap buckets, I saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers. These are the large ones, close to the size of a crow, with the red flare of feathers sticking up on their heads. They are the ones that Woody Woodpecker was patterned after. This pair was, to use a term from the owl in Bambi, “twitterpated.” They were on either side of a skinny tree and they were mirroring each other’s every move. The male would move his head to one side and the female would move her head to that same side. They did this for some time and then flew up to the side of a steep slope. They were both on a log together and the male hopped to the ground, dropped onto his side, and began to roll down the hill! I was shocked! I had never seen anything like it. At first, I thought that maybe it was an accident. Then he joined the female at the log, hopped to the ground and ROLLED AGAIN! He actually did it about a half dozen times! Twitterpated indeed! I love the moments where it feels like David Attenborough should be narrating the action!
One of my absolute favorite memories was on a trip to Killdeer Plains in Ohio. During the winter months, this is an amazing place to go bird watching, It is especially well known for its raptors. It is likely that we will see bald eagles, northern harriers, long-eared owls, northern saw-whet owls, and rough-legged hawks to name a few of the raptor species that hang out there. I had been hoping to see short-eared owls for the past few trips up there and had not had any luck. It was becoming a joke that if you wanted to see them, you shouldn’t go with me! One day, while walking in a large grassy area, I found myself pretty far from the rest of the group. For some reason, I felt compelled to keep going out further and then, out of nowhere, around 15 short-eared owls flew up out of the grass! They started to fly in circles all around me! I felt as if I was in a Harry Potter movie! It was nothing less than magical! Sometimes having incredible moments in nature simply requires patience.
I have had MANY great walks at night and it’s hard to choose just one memory. I can tell you that I have been able to mimic owls and have them fly into the trees right above me. I have witnessed the migration of HUNDREDS of spotted salamanders heading to their breeding pools. I have been in the middle of deafening frog choruses. I have seen a million sparkling spider eyes reflected in the light of my headlamp like tiny jewels. I have hunted for scorpions that glow with a UV light. It may sound funny, but one of the best places to look for critters on a night walk in a campground is around the shower houses. I usually take one of my kids with me so I don’t get reported for sneaking around the shower house with a flashlight. We have found huge moths of every color, lizards, frogs, and all manner of interesting spiders and insects. It’s on nights like those, that I feel like I haven’t aged one bit since I was 12.
I will end with a humorous story. It was winter and I was hiking at a favorite spot of mine called Fort Hill State Memorial in Ohio. It is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and the trails are very steep. At the top of one of them is a mile and a half long earthen enclosure built by the Hopewell culture. I was the only one there and the only other tracks that I saw in the snow belonged to the deer, coyote and wild turkeys that had traveled ahead of me. The new snow made it very quiet that day. I remember watching a bald eagle soaring above me until I couldn’t see it anymore. I had been hiking for several miles and finally worked my way up to the hill with the earthen enclosure. I was in an absolute state of zen as I traveled through the whiteness. At one point, I came to a log, and just at the moment where I had one leg up in the air to cross over it, I heard a sound like a helicopter lifting off and felt something touch my leg! It was a roughed grouse! I won’t lie, I peed my pants that day! Nature is full of surprises!
I hope that you enjoyed my stories and I encourage all of you to take photos and ask me your nature questions!