June 15, 2013
by David Ryan
One of the major themes of The Gentle Art of Wandering is that you can wander anywhere. In urban and industrial areas there are plenty of creases and corridors where nature thrives. They are perfect places for wandering.
The book includes a description of a corridor on an old Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad right-of-way near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore just outside of Chicago. When Petey and I went to the Mississippi River area in April to visit public stairway communities we also paid a visit to the old rail corridor.
We parked near the Paul H. Douglas Environmental Education Center at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (Paul Douglas was the Senator from Illinois who was instrumental in protecting the Dunes in the early 1960s.) From there we were soon walking along the rail corridor.
The corridor passes through dunes, wetlands, and an oak savannah. The railroad was built to service steel mills in the area. Continue Reading →
June 6, 2013
by David Ryan
There are many techniques that you can use to hone or deepen your awareness. A good place to start is by listening. The next time you go on a walk or a hike consider stopping every now and then just to listen. You might hear an airplane flying overhead or a truck shifting gears in the distance. You might notice the birds around you and the different calls that they make. Or you might hear the quiet of absolute stillness.
As you continue your walk, you might notice how the sounds differ depending upon where you are. If you stop in a meadow, you might hear the buzz of bees moving from flower to flower. If you are deep in a pine forest you might hear the breeze whistling through the woods. In an aspen grove, the quaking leaves fluttering against each other might sound like the patter of a light rain. One of my most distinct memories while hiking on the Appalachian Trail was when thousands of grasshoppers were stirring the downed leaves, sounding as if they were making popcorn.
You can also emphasize other senses to deepen your awareness. You may notice how the light changes throughout the day. Or you could notice the shadows and how they get shorter and then longer as the day progresses. Or you might want to count how many different types of wildflowers there are in the next 100 yards.
Or you could notice the different smells as you walk through the woods. I still remember the distinct smell when walking through a forest in Pennsylvania full of thigh high ferns right after a rain. I wish I could assign a specific scent to it, but I can’t. It was like breathing in peacefulness. The more you pay attention to these little things, the more automatic awareness will become. It will be what you do when you go out.
This is the fern field along the Appalachian Trail in southern Pennsylvania.
As your awareness deepens, you’ll not only see the obvious
You’ll also start noticing the little things that are all around you
“Enhancing Your Awareness” is an excerpt from the book The Gentle Art of Wandering by David Ryan.
May 27, 2013
by David Ryan
Galena in the far northwestern corner of Illinois was a boom town during much of the 1840’s and 1850’s. Its economy was based on lead mining and its river port on the Fever River (six miles upriver from its junction with the Mississippi).
By the time Ulysses S. Grant moved to Galena just before the Civil War in 1860, the town was already in decline. (He moved there after a series of personal setbacks to work in his father’s leather business.) As for Galena, the lead mines were playing out; the river port was silting up; and commerce was shifting from river boats to railroads.
The economic stimulus of the Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant’s personal success during the war were not enough to halt Galena’s decline. As a result, its population shrunk and not much happened. Because of this there was no impetus to replace Galena’s 1840s and 1850s buildings with newer and more imposing structures.
150 years later, Galena’s mid-19th Century feel has made it a popular destination for weekend and day trips. With it being less than three hours from Chicago and its many hills, Galena has also become a favored location for second homes. The only drawback, if it can be called that, is that most commerce is oriented to the tourist trade.
Petey and I visited Galena on a cool but sunny Saturday in April. We didn’t go there to check out the shops lining Main Street. We went there to see if public stairways have a role in this very hilly river town.
We found a parking place at the north end of Main Street and started walking south.
As you can see by the number of cars, business must be good on Main Street. Continue Reading →