Chant with the seasons’ flowing rhythms — and dream

Kathy Meany has competed in triathlons, and last Sunday she ran in a half-marathon. She is fit and competitive.

But when she is in the Bozen Kill Preserve, she does not run. She walks. She breathes deeply, and takes in her surroundings.

“It’s almost like a walking meditation,” Meany said of the experience.

She is a steward for the preserve, on the outskirts of Altamont, which is overseen by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. A third trail will open at the preserve on Oct. 23, for a total of three miles round trip.

As a steward, Meany walks the trails once a month, looking for litter or vandalism. She hasn’t found much. “People have been extremely respectful and appreciative,” she said.

Meany helped to build the new trail. After John Schlepp with the conservancy routed the trail and took down the big trees, volunteers used axes, rakes, and picks to clear the rock and rubble.

“When I would hike, I assumed these trails were left over from the Indians or something,” Meany said. Now she knows and appreciates the work involved.

We walked on the new trail last weekend, following the red flags that led us through sun-filtered woods. We crossed old stone walls that must have once divided farmers’ fields. Leaves rustled underfoot and the Bozenkill was at our side.

We were mindful of Dr. Milford Becker, the Bird Man of Altamont, a veterinarian who helped wild birds when they were hurt and who had once cared for our basset hound.

Dr. Becker loved walking these woods where he had lived, familiar enough with its birds that he could not only recognize them, but also could imitate their calls. After his death, his children saw to it that his wish to preserve the land was fulfilled.

The Beckers sold the land at a price far below market value, Mark King, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, told us in 2014. That was the year when his conservancy, the Open Space Institute, and The Nature Conservancy together had bought 154 acres along the Bozenkill from the Beckers.

“If the land were to sell at full market value, we probably could not have managed it,” said King.

The purchase created a continuous preservation area of 214 acres, important for conservation because it protects the Bozenkill, which feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

But the Bozenkill is also worth preserving for its natural beauty, with its stunning shale cliffs and waterfalls.

Will Christman, a 19th-Century author and farmer, who lived along the Bozenkill on land that is now the Christman Sanctuary, wrote in one of his many books of poetry:

This is a stream that races

through the wild steep hills.

I have heard it pouring seaward

in great and gouging flood;

In a summer twilight

it chuckles in its mirth.

It grows old and maunders

like a man that dreams,

Oh! Let me sing

the praises of the Bozen Kill.

Will Christman had a son, Lansing Christman, also a poet, who was the editor of The Altamont Enterprise in the 1930s. Late in his life, he wrote a column for The Enterprise, “Countryside Gleanings,” in which he expressed thoughts similar to Kathy Meany’s about walking in the woods.

“Come walk with me…” wrote Lansing Christman in 2002. “We take the seasons as they come; the music may change, but it never ends. There is love and there is peace. There is tranquility in the way Nature unfolds her seasons of song and bloom. I always find myself in step with the year. The pace is good. I can smile with the hills, and I can meditate. I can chant with the seasons’ flowing rhythms, and I can dream.”

“It gives you a sense of calm and connection to the rhythms of nature,” Meany said.

Many of us feel buoyed by a walk in the woods. Scientific studies bear out what we know intuitively. One example is a 2010 paper on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “forest-bathing” or taking in the atmosphere of a forest, as written up in the United States National Library of Medicine.

The field experiments were conducted across 24 forests in Japan where subjects walked similar distances in a forest area one day and in a city area the next day. “The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” the study concluded.

So, yes, a walk in the woods is calming. Other studies show the benefits for lifting depression, helping with respiratory disorder, increasing heart health, helping stroke survivors, and helping dementia patients.

People at the other end of the age spectrum benefit, too. Modern American kids, unlike in Lansing Christman’s generation, spend as few as 30 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and more than seven hours daily in front of an electronic screen. It is not coincidental that, in the last three decades, obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen sharply. In 2000, one out of every eight American children was taking Ritalin for treatment of behavioral disorders.

A 2000 study, “At Home with Nature,” showed that children who are exposed to natural settings receive benefits to their cognitive health, such as reduction of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms.

Another study showed that school performance increased for students in environmental education studies. One study, published in the “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin” in 2009, “Can Nature Make Us More Caring?” concluded that increased time in nature enhanced social interactions and generosity.

So we will join with Will Christman in singing the praises of the Bozen Kill. We urge our readers to go the trail opening, and celebrate the preserve.

Make time in the midst of your busy life to take a walk in the woods. We’re lucky, here in the Capital Region, to have plenty of places in our midst to connect with nature. Carve out the time for you and your kids.

You’ll be calmer, happier, and nicer.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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