Remember those two really nice days last week? We spent them doing field research, seeking signs of spring.
And we found them. The two spring wildflowers that, to us, signify that spring has sprung: the spring beauty and the trout lily. Both are featured in the accompanying video, shot along the banks of the Eno River in both Durham and Orange counties. Our search is also the topic of this week’s GetHiking! Southeast Podcast, which you may find here.read more
When I was growing up in Colorado, my countdown to spring began when pitchers and catchers reported for training. It wasn’t warm enough to play baseball where I was, but it would be in six weeks or so. Spring was on the horizon.
Today, I use a different standard to count down to spring: the appearance of the first trout lily.read more
OK, today’s nudge for spring is more of a tease: today, it’s in the 70s and sunny, tomorrow it will barely top 40 and it looks like rain. Sunday, though, the sun returns, the high temp reaches into the more seasonal upper 50s. So let yourself be inspired to go out Sunday in search of your first trout lily and be serenaded by spring peepers. We found them today at Ayr Mount, on the Poet’s Walk, Hillsborough, and at the recently opened Brumley Forest North in Chapel Hill.
And, you can join our GetHiking! Triangle group in search of spring Sunday morning on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Falls Lake. Learn more about that 5-mile hike here.
News that the company that designs crash-test dummies has bulked up its replicas to better reflect a … growing America — creating a dummy that weighs 273 pounds compared to the previous 167-pounder — immediately made me think, of course, of hiking. If these crash-test dummies had been out hiking instead of parked behind the wheel, they no doubt could retain their svelte, under-35 BMI physiques of just 20 years ago.
The plight of the corpulent crash-test dummies was a reminder that we fail to appreciate that, in addition to clearing our minds, when we hit the trail it’s doing our bodies a world of good. First, as underscored by the dummies, hiking can play a key role in controlling weight. Consider: A 180-pound person burns about 500 calories an hour on a vigorous hike (throw on a 30-pound pack and that figure climbs over 650 calories per hour). Granted, we need to replace some of those calories to keep fueled, but still, that’s some serious calorie burning.
Other examples of how hiking can improve your health:
• Hiking on a regular basis can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 10 points. (Case in point — and pardon me if I’ve told this story: On a recent Corporate hike, a hiker who has been with us for a year now told me she’d just had her annual health assessment for work. A year ago, her blood pressure was 130 / 80; today, a year later, it’s down 10 points to 120 / 72.)
• Hiking reduces your chances of heart disease.
• A frequent walk in the woods can help reduce your chances of getting diabetes. If you already have the disease, hiking, combined with a proper diet, can reduce or even eliminate the need for insulin therapy.
• As a weight-bearing, impact exercise, hiking can help stave off osteoporosis.
• A walk in the woods can clear your head — and that’s not us talking, that’s your endorphins, according to recent studies. It’s also effective at reducing stress and relieving anxiety.
• Hiking improves muscle fitness.
• Hiking can lower your risk of high cholesterol and triglycerides.
• Hiking can lower your risk of colon and breast cancer.
• After a good hike you’ll sleep better.
For most of us, lowering our blood pressure or building stronger bones isn’t our main motivation for hiking: it’s those first spring beauties and trout lilies along the Eno River, those crystal clear vistas from the AT through the Shenandoah, those mountain coves rich with ancient hardwoods in the Southern Appalachians. But it’s nice to know that what may seem an indulgence (particularly when we’ve left pressing chores back home) is doing our bodies a world of good.
Better a hiker than a crash-test dummy.
It’s about this time of year that I begin getting distracted on the trail. I stumble over tree roots and rocks more, my attention diverted from the trail itself to three, five, 10 feet into the neighboring terrain. Scanning, constantly. I grow quieter on group hikes; my responses to fellow hikers limited to a delayed “right” or “sure,” wondering later if I offered to bring a main course to a pot luck.
It’s early, I know, not even mid-February. Still, you never know. It’s been relatively warm, sufficiently wet … down there somewhere may be that harbinger of spring that means so much more than a groundhog seeing its shadow. Down there, somewhere, the first budding wildflowers of spring, the season’s true first responder. (Well, first true visual responder; the spring peeper often weeks it out as the first aural hint of the season.)
Tiny, delicate, these early risers desperately need those first rays of the season for energy, to fuel their growth, to survive and prosper. The oaks, the elms, the hickories, the beech of the lofty reaches of a deciduous forest can afford to sleep in; dominators of the forest canopy, they have all summer to hog precious sunlight. Down here on the forest floor it’s a another matter. Spring wildflowers have a narrow window. They must work fast to meet their needs. They have a week, two tops, before the flora a level above leafs out and blocks the sun. Then the level above that an so on up the food chain until the understory — dogwoods, redbuds — begin the massive suck-up of sun, drawing the curtain on the spring wildflower show. But that’s a ways off.
Today, the focus is on the forest floor, in search of the first, delicate droopy mottled leaf that will, shortly, yield an equally delicate yellow petal with maroon pinstripes. That first trout lily is hard to spot, but once it presents itself, a dozen neighbors step forward, then, a little ways up the trail, a dozen more. Or, if you’re not on higher, drier, rocky trail, if you’re hiking a lowland prone to wetness, your first sighting may instead be a spring beauty, a lovely (and yes, tiny) white petaled bloom that is more apt to emerge en masse, as a carpet of white blanketing the forest.
So yes, maybe I am a little ahead of the game (though Dave Cook in his “Piedmont Almanac” writes of the third week in February: “On slopes with southern exposure the first trout lilies and spring beauties might adventurously appear.” But the temperature was in the 70s last week, it’s in the mid-60s as I write. And the sun is unfettered by clouds to do its life-giving thing.
Too early? Perhaps.
But close enough that I can’t take the chance of missing out.