by John Berge
I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, and from the age of five on, I lived with the University of Wisconsin Arboretum as my backyard, literally so for the first house and within a block for the second house. After school, on weekends and all summer long, I probably walked every inch of every trail many times over. I explored off the trails, too, back in those days when that was permitted. I learned about nature and learned to love and respect the natural world. Walking those paths and trails has had a strong influence upon me.
I still walk the paths and trails around Racine and Southeastern Wisconsin, sometimes disturbing the walk by taking along the golf clubs. My favorite paths through restored natural areas are along the Pike River Pathway, along the Root River Pathway through Colonial Woods, in Chiwaukee Prairie and along the Ice Age Trail.
The environmental writer Jerry Apps quotes his father teaching him how to walk those trails with the simple but profound phrase, “Listen for the whispers and look in the shadows”. John Muir wrote, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Or to quote Jens Jensen, “Trails are the footprints of the ages.”
I don’t have the actual quotation in front of me, but I have always agreed with a philosophy that Aldo Leopold expressed in several ways in his Sand County Almanac: “To protect and advocate for nature we must first love it, and to love it we must first know it, and to know it we must first get out and experience it.” Nature and other scientific programs on television may have changed that sequence slightly, but the essence remains true.
How does all of this apply to you? To paraphrase the introduction to the old television program, “Mission Impossible,” your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to go out and find a trail through a natural area and take a walk for as long as you are able, listening for the whispers and looking in the shadows. Take a child with you if at all possible. The first walk will not be enough, so I urge it to become a habit. Learn to know and love the natural world so that you become a practitioner and an advocate for good environmental stewardship. As Rachel Carson once wrote, “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”