GRAYLING - We’re slipping into that time of year when our days end a little earlier, nights run a little longer and I’m sometimes woken up by the sound of the furnace burning away the early-morning chill. As much as I frown at the thought of my propane tank slowly draining, the rumble of those gas burners is a warm reminder that colorful fall hikes in the woods are in my near future.

If we’ve learned anything about ourselves over these last five months, it’s that time spent outdoors is essential to our physical and mental health. Even if it’s just a stroll to the mailbox or around the yard to gather windblown branches, these brief moments of fresh air are a chance to recharge during days of working from home. These weeks and months of living and working in a pandemic run together for all of us but earlier sunsets, later sunrises and the occasional sound of a furnace switching on are gentle nudges that the world is still turning and the seasons will undoubtedly change.

Retrieving the mail and doing some yard work is fine and good for breaking up a work day but the outdoors is best enjoyed in substantial chunks when we have time to immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings. An hour, a day or a whole weekend spent outside offers exponentially more opportunities to let our minds and bodies unwind from the rigors of our daily routines.

That’s true for all ages. Kaitlyn Grieb is the Fitness & Wellness Coordinator for Crawford County Commission on Aging (CCCOA) who leads a walking program for seniors to spend a couple hours exploring a different local trail or pathway each week.

“Going with a friend or group is always a great idea,” she said. “It’s motivating and, in case of an emergency, they always have someone there with them.”

She also encourages the use of walking or hiking sticks for better exercise.

“They’re extremely helpful for stability and balance, especially if the terrain isn’t very friendly,” she said. “When you use walking sticks you use your arms, so your core is engaged and you get a better workout. They also promote good posture.”

Jennifer Klemm is the Huron Pines AmeriCorps member partnering with CCCOA to host a series of walks and hikes this fall in the Grayling area. The Unwind Outside series will tie in activities like nature observation, mindfulness exercises and journaling to help participants get the most out of their day. Funding to support the planning of this partnership was provided in part by the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities through the Healthy Watersheds Consortium program.

“So often we just blow past things we might not notice but if we want to make the most of our experiences we have to be present,” Klemm said. “Slowing down helps us do that.”

Here’s a few of Klemm’s suggestions for ways to slow down and unwind outside:

Zoom out, zoom in: Focus on a natural feature at least five feet away. Spend a few minutes observing, drawing or writing what you see. After that, get closer to one element of your observation area — this might be a single object or part of an object — and spend a few more minutes observing, paying special attention to things that weren’t visible from far away. This can also be done with a partner to discover things you may not have noticed.

5-minute listen: Spend five minutes listening to your surroundings. You may sit or stand, whichever is more comfortable, but try to single out individual sounds and make notes of each if you like. (This type of activity can be very useful for bird- and amphibian-monitoring efforts.) Reflect on what you heard and whether anything sounded out of place or was unexpected.

Nature journaling: Create a basic journal entry with your name, date, time, location, weather information, who you were with and anything notable you observed. These are a great tool for tracking environmental changes over time and documenting your experiences for future generations.

Take some time out of your daily routine this fall to get outdoors. While you’re out there, set aside a few minutes to be quiet, listen and immerse yourself in your natural world. Your body and mind will be better off for it.

The Unwind Outside walking series runs weekly Sept 3 to Oct 8. Learn more at CrawfordCOA.org. Chris Engle is Communications Associate for Huron Pines, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Gaylord and Alpena to conserve and enhance Northern Michigan’s natural resources to ensure healthy water, protected places and vibrant communities. Huron Pines strives to improve economic, environmental, educational and recreational opportunities throughout Northern Michigan. Learn more at huronpines.org.

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