While I do love living in Chicago, I’ve come to realize that having grown up surrounded by nature, that I am now starting to feel its full calling.  Thankfully, as a dog walker, I am outside for hours each weekday, soaking in the elements.  And, while my city neighborhood that I walk is truly beautiful, with carefully tended flower gardens along my route, there is nothing quite like a hidden trail through the forest.

I was hiking this past weekend through Starved Rock and Matthiessen, in Illinois.  It is absolutely astonishing to discover what is just a few hours from my front door.  Thankfully, my boyfriend is a hiking enthusiast, and knows all the amazing, local honey holes.  What I noticed while we were enjoying the more populated, user-friendly trails, was how many families were present.  It made my heart truly joyous.

It’s been quite wet here lately, and we had hiked down into a canyon to the base of a waterfall; the trek was through thick, slippery mud.  Watching parents who welcomed their children’s muddy shoes and pant legs, all to have them geek out over nature, was inspiring.  The truth is, there is no cartoon that is going to offer that sense of one’s body in nature, that fresh air, or that sense of exploration that encourages appreciation and self-discovery; ; all working together to offer a supportive hand to one another to ensure safe passage.  I’m not a parent, but I found myself feeling incredibly grateful for the amazing families sharing the mucky trails with us.

It seems to me, that embracing these often free, natural wonders, which families could share in for generations, could also bring awareness and, ultimately, conservation to the rapidly-changing landscape due to man-made environmental concerns. I imagine it to be a lot more impactful than just having a recycling side of a kitchen garbage can.  So much of what parents pass on to their children are their values, and I’m hard-pressed to think of something more valuable to instill a love for than our planet.

Personally, since my vision changes, I’ve found that hiking has offered me a chance to grow in my understanding of my limitations, and shed light on the fearful limitations I had been holding over myself.  Knowing that I can traverse rocky paths and muddy ledges; navigate tree roots and downed trees; all the while reaching out for hanging branch support.  It has offered me a greater truth to what my needs actually are, and given me a new-found confidence for what I am actually capable of.  It’s also incredibly great exercise, be it on trail or off.

One of the honey holes we explored this past weekend was called Council Overhang.  One blogger described it as, “A very large cave-type ampitheater carved out of sand stone walls by the rivers made from melting glaciers over 10,000 years ago.”  It is historically known for hosting Native American tribal council gatherings.  Envisioning this, while standing under its unbelievable canopy of rock, just sets the imagination on fire.  Mind you, this was also only about a ten minute hike from the parking lot.

So, as we look to enhance our lives, to incorporate the kinds of tools and resources that I’ve offered over the year, and that you’ve encountered from other sources, I think it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with where to even start.  Personally, I encourage you to do a simply search of walking trails in your area.  If you have a physical limitation, know there are many accommodating, planked trails; and often on level ground.  I would also ask you to evaluate those perceived limitations, much like I have done over this past year, to see if they really are as limiting as you perceive them to be.  Starting in nature is the easiest way to get familiar with your breath.

There is something magical about being outdoors, surrounded by impossible variations of vibrant greens; running your hands along ancient walls of history, and sweating as the cardio has you taking note of your body.  Consider putting down the familiar television remote or hobby that fills your days, and lace up a pair of athletic shoes.  Perhaps you even start to learn with your family about what the tree types are, what the plants are, what the insects are, what the butterflies are?  Now that’s a great bedtime ritual that gets everyone’s soul stirred to embrace and honor this planet we call home.

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