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Aging in nature

Susan and Biff Andrews

We walk a lot of trails, beaches and parks. In our peregrinations, we see lots of families, loners, college kids, old folks, and people of every color, shape, and stripe. They’re all enjoying it. A 3 year old, an active adult and a senior citizen react very differently out there. And yet there are truths to be told here….

Young kids go wild in nature, on the beach, hiking woods or along a mountain stream. There is no walking — only running. Every stick, stone and water eddy must be examined for the mysteries they conceal— and NOW! No time to spend here. Move on! Look up ahead! A bird. A butterfly. A minnow. A crab! Run to the next thing….

Parents, indulge them. Let them discover, invent, learn. They’ll soon find out that every creature has a defense system — so warn them, most involve pain. Thus do we learn.

Teens, young adults, and young parents see in nature all sorts of physical activities and challenges. Water skiing, surfing, running a five K, zip lining, rock climbing: it’s all about “Can you do this or top this?” I wish I were 22 again. With young parenthood, however, come the new challenges: time to get your own kids outdoors. The back yard, the park down the street, nearby beaches and water parks all beckon as great ways to amuse the kids — and keep them healthy. The saddest sight in the world to me is an overweight, flabby, pale 9-year-old engrossed in a video game. What’s not to love about seeing a healthy young family enjoying time at a lake? How about a young mother running a stroller through the park? How about a dad teaching his kid to cast?

By mature middle age, you’re now the mom and dad. You’re shepherding the ‘tweeners and teens through the organized sports and outdoor activities. Soccer and baseball, running and youth camps all take place out in the cold, the wind, the rain. Getting caught in a summer thunderstorm on Chesapeake Bay is a rite of passage. Mature campers now replace the 9×9 umbrella tent with a pop-up or trailer, but they’re still taking the kids outdoors. Life is good!

But perhaps the best of the outdoor times come as a senior citizen. The kids are grown and gone. One is free to walk anytime, anywhere. Retirement makes it even better. Local trails, one-day trips to elsewhere in the region with a lovely lunch thrown in, planned trips to state parks and beaches and the mountains— all wonderful. One can find like-minded people who enjoy the same activities, food destinations, parks, beaches and trails. Walking in the woods can be leisurely or as stressful as you wish — there are no time constraints. Gone are the rushing children, the competitive hard bodies, the concerns of what to serve for lunch. Now there are only bird calls, the sound of waves or moving streams, rustling leaves, and woodpeckers.

Outdoor activities change, intensify, change again, and mellow. The end result is serenity. Life is grand, especially outdoor life.

SUSAN and BRADFORD “BIFF” ANDREWS are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.